Boys at my university are usually surprised to learn that I am a gamer. “I’ve never met one before,” they would say before taking a moment to decide if they were impressed or concerned with a girl playing games.
When the PlayStation 4 launched, Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow was surprised when gamer and writer Charlie Brooker challenged his claim that “there were probably no women” playing.
It’s true. Girls do play games. In fact, the games industry is bigger business than Hollywood, so it’s more than likely that a few of us are chipping into that pot. Then there’s the fact we represent close to 50 per cent of the gaming population. Considering this, it’s alarming that we are invisible to the general public as well as to the people who make the games we play. Unfortunately it’s all too easy to understand and experience the reasons why.
In September, Grand Theft Auto Five (GTA V) became the fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion, breaking records previously held by films The Avengers, Avatar and Titanic. It’s been critically acclaimed but it has also faced accusations of misogyny due to the way it objectifies female characters. If GTA V has anything like the cultural impact of films such as Titanic, then this is something to be seriously concerned about.
Many adults see the games’ treatment of women as an exaggerated picture of modern culture, but many more don’t even question what they see. While volunteering at my old primary school, a particularly testy kid told a story about his adventures in GTA: he slept with a hooker before murdering her to get his money back. Misogyny from an adult is one thing, but this from a nine year old boy was an altogether more disturbing experience. It was the first time I had made the link between what happens in games like GTA and how impressionable people learn about how to perceive women.
Boys at my university told me the same sort of story about their childhood experiences of GTA. Although they laughed about it, I wondered if they had really left it behind. The lad culture on Student Union nights suggested perhaps not.
People are mostly bemused when I talk about games, but female journalists in the media spotlight have had a much tougher ordeal; one that makes me anxious about pursuing games analysis in my own blog. Misogyny tends to be louder where the internet enables anonymity. When one journalist questioned GTA V’s treatment of women, she received a barrage of abuse. Take a look at the comments under her post if you want some excellent examples of trolling. I wonder how many women have been put off journalism, computer programming, or even from picking up a game due to the machismo culture that discourages their participation.
Gaming is fast becoming one of the world’s most significant cultural outputs and it’s unacceptable that women are objectified as characters and ignored as consumers. Though I don’t hope to tackle the trolls head-on in my blog, I believe that one more woman talking about games can help shift the machismo culture to make gaming a more accessible and enjoyable experience for all.
About the author
Emily Wells is studying for an MA in Digital Publishing at Oxford Brookes University and is working towards a career in the publishing industry. She writes about games and digital fiction at her website www.techpoet.org