Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I wrote an editorial:

The strong issue of the separation of the sexes over the past fifty years or so has left a strong imprint on all of society. Throughout all of history, boys have had boy toys and girls have had girl toys, and only relatively recently, even within the lifetimes of many who are still around today, have these ideas been challenged. Should men and women be targeted as different groups and developed for differently by companies who produce products designed to address specific needs of a demographic?

There are some strong questions tied up in that. Certainly the genders do differ in many ways that anyone can see. Is it even right or fair to teach children from the time of birth to be as different from each other as possible though encouraging or discouraging their tastes based on what their tastes should be and suppressing what their tastes in reality actually are. There are those who feel this is a serious issue with raising people in general. All this has been around, but it is only slowly pushing its way into gaming as gaming grows up and achieves the audience that it lacked when it was ruled totally by guys playing with the most basic and difficult programming you can imagine in a basement while being frowned upon as a social misfit.

No company can be taken to task for doing what it feels is the best way to produce value for their stockholders. On the other hand, it is very clear that by producing games of extremely low quality that focus on Barbie and Ken and dressing them up, the entire industry is failing as a whole. The concept of a female gamer should be the same as the current concept of the male gamer. That is to say, the average girl gamer is the mature woman, rather than the Barbie doll, bright eyed little girl. Despite this statistical fact, there are calls for games that appeal to women as a specific demographic. There is something inherently sickening at the concept of Laura Croft being a champion of women everywhere, when it’s clear her entire appeal is as a giant pair of breasts with nice, long legs to carry them around with. Such “championship” is degrading to the gender as a whole. How is anyone supposed to take that seriously?

Certainly there is something to be said about finding new and untapped markets, and developing products that they’ll enjoy. As with every other point here, true success in this venture can only come from objectively marketing to people as individuals. Not all women are the same, as not men are all the same. Suppose that studies found that the majority of women are not playing computer games for the same reasons that old people do not play games. There are serious what ifs involved in this, what if women who avoid playing games do so because all their lives they have been simply taught that it is not an activity for them. It is a constantly supported image of the entire industry that it is solely for adolescent boys rather than for people who are genuinely interested in it as the form of expression and entertainment that it is growing to become. In this case, it is the stereotypes that people build themselves on, and the attitude of the market, which needs to mature. Like any other industry, gaming will most certainly mature along with the market it serves by integrating developers who come from gamers and wish to produce games that they would themselves love, and as more voting dollars call for games with different focus.

There are certainly counterpoints available to this market. Certainly the very definition of a game denies the potential of The Horse Whisperer for the Playstation 2 ever being made. By very nature the conflict of a video game requires the player to be actively seeking a resolution to a conflict. This has never before stopped quality games from being released that have great emotional impact on players and even equal literature, though, it must be pointed out that such games never did well at retail even when they were heralded as brilliant.

As an emerging medium, and as a new form of entertainment, gaming has a great deal to learn about from more established forms such as film. There are strong advantages to this, as the advent of film was recent enough that gaming can not only look at where the state of the medium is now, developers and gamers alike can easily look back on the development of the medium to draw examples of how others dealt with the very problems being faced now. As a medium, gaming is not going beyond the boundaries of what literature, art, and film have previously charted, but it is clearly finding a whole new path to all the same destinations. Film, music, and even literature are all at their lowest and most base form when they pander or target any single specific group of people based on a difference that makes them feel different. Children’s books for children are never as good as books that are accessible to children, and still maintaining a quality to be enjoyed by everyone who reads them.

Can anyone say whether a movie such as Shawshank Redemption was targeted at men, women, or instead was simply made with the intention of telling the best story possible for whoever watches it? Something can be said for the fact that Everquest has such an extremely large following of women. The quality of games, eventually, and in many cases currently, appeals to girl games and guy gamers equally. It is funny that no one ever notices the poor sales of games that are targeted at men, purely on the stereotype of the immature and base behavior of the common gaming guy. Take for example The Guy Game. These markets have as much legitimacy as the Dress Barbie genre.

Equality is there to be had, but it is not there in the way that the most vocal supporters of the games for girls’ movement are asking for it. Better quality, better story, better game-play, newer fresher ideas, and truly original settings and designs are better for the industry as a whole. The dollar is a vote, and the women who like to play games are already voting, and they are not voting for crud, or divisive programs. That, after all, is the defining point of the whole system that allows such passions and marketplaces to develop for the world.

In the worst case scenario, there is an inherent challenge offered up to those who feel they are not being represented by the games on the market, but who feel that gaming should appeal to them. If the passion is strong enough, then make the game. Rather than place the burden on the marketplace, be an active participant and develop what others have failed to develop. Challenge people by putting out what is lacking, and changing the face of what is considered acceptable and unacceptable by the whole world at large when it is confronted with its own questionable segregation of the sexes based on stereotypes of media demographics. That is the beauty of the whole system after all, and if the idea is right, the execution well done, and if the demand exists, why feel guilty about doing something that could net a genuine career and a successful reputation in a growing and profitable industry. The whole world is waiting.
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