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Stereotypes have been important to human evolution and our survival as a species, for as long as we have existed. It’s a way for our brains to group and categorize information that pours into our eye and ear balls all day long without us having to consciously think about it. It’s a way for our brains to immediately recall information, shared or learned, about a particular person, place, or object. The reasons behind these instinctual notions, by and large, no longer plague humanity and so stereotyping has been re-purposed in the modern world; unfortunately, not always to the best effect. So what does this have to do with gaming?
Well, quite a lot actually. I had a chance during PAXAus this year to speak with Ron Curry, CEO of the IGEA, to speak about the current state of gaming in Australia and where it’s heading. His insights really provided me some context on the way we think about games in general, and the people who play them. Things were different in the early days of the industry and while games have moved on in terms of what they’re capable of, it seems that the gaming community has not. In the rush to improve as much as possible as fast as possible, it seems we’ve overlooked the purpose of stereotypes and allowed them to get the better of us. I’m talking about things like…
It’s an argument which has been one of the hottest topics and a source of much vitriol from all sides in the gaming community recently. There is no one hard-and-fast definition for either a casual or hardcore gamer, at least not ones which can be universally agreed upon, though I’ll do my best to provide some. A “hardcore” gamer might be someone who plays games more than the average person, perhaps with above average to high levels of skill, and a wider taste for genre. A “casual” gamer might be seen as someone who seldom plays games and, when they do, will opt for easier, less stressful games with the stereotype favoring browser or mobile gaming in particular.
The implication is that hardcore gamers are “elite,” the best of the best, while casual gamers are terrible at most games and don’t really understand the medium. Taking the implications to their next logical step, as many tend to do during this same argument, you end up with two conclusions. One, hardcore gamers are “true” gamers who appreciate the medium for what it is and attempt to keep it that way. Two, casual gamers are destroying the industry by supporting pay-to-win games and their developers in pursuit of an “easy” good time. I don’t believe this to be particularly true of either group, however, those are the stereotypes which are most frequently believed by various online communities.
Literally worse than Hitler.
These stereotypes can be held by all sorts of people, including notable figure heads. Or at least it might seem that way when you’re looking for confirmation of what you already believe. Shigeru Miyamoto of Nintendo was recently quoted, a lot, as saying that the attitude of casual gamers is pathetic. (Though I paraphrase a little there, myself.) Like, holy hell – people totally lost their shit when he said this and thought that he was giving the finger to casual gamers. The general speculation was that this was the case and I very nearly believed much the same until I read this article. Firstly, Miyamoto’s English isn’t the greatest: the quote may not be the best interpretation of what Miyamoto said and thus not the greatest conveyance of what he actually meant. Secondly, it’s not all that was said.
The bit that had people swinging from the roof and flinging poop over was this: “Their attitude is, ‘OK, I am the customer. You are supposed to entertain me.’ It’s kind of a passive attitude they’re taking, and to me it’s kind of a pathetic thing.” On its own, that sounds like Shiggy’s fed up with filthy casuals and has had enough. He actually goes on to say, however: “They do not know how interesting it is if you move one step further and try to challenge yourself. [If you do that,] you’re going to learn how fun it is.” That, to me, sounds more like he wants to encourage all players to want more out of games and not simply entertain the passiveness of which casuals are supposedly infamous for. It doesn’t say anything about wanting to give grief to anyone in particular; saying anything otherwise at this stage would be premature, frothing ravings, driven by a hate on for casuals.
“WILL THIS MAN DELIVER US FROM CASUAL SIN? OPEN THIS CLICKBAIT LINK TO FIND OUT!”
It seems that when this argument comes to the fore, there can be no middle ground and everyone is wrong. Gamers just can’t be generally interested in games, or even just have a very passionate fandom for one particular series, without being branded a casual. Moreover, this is a pretty derogatory term in the community at present and has generated a bad rep for an entire genre of games. However, as bad as the vitriol that “casuals” garner for simply existing, it’s nothing in comparison to…
Gender identity issues have been a pretty hot topic in the community lately #gamergate. The argument stems not just from women not being accommodated for within the industry and the community, but that both can be outright hostile towards women at times. There’s certainly a nugget of truth to that, as I’m sure many women have had some less than pleasant experiences online. Equally, it’s not unfair to say that the “fairer” gender has had some poor portrayals over the years, ranging from distasteful to outright offensive. Gaming, like every industry, has had to learn some difficult lessons about how to play nice with everyone (not just on issues like gender, but race, religion, etc..). Like other industries, it’s made it’s fair share of mistakes.
There’s somewhat of a tainted image of females in gaming going around. Between “gamer grlz,” booth babes, a lack of representation of positive female role models within the industry and heroines commonly having great, stonking tits, women have had a rough time of things. The great thing, however, is that people have recently been trying to address these issues. Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox, spoke during a panel at PAXAus this year about women in gaming. He said that more than half of the world’s population were women, something he’d like to see reflected in the staff of his own company. The reason for this, he stated, was that he wants his games to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Having a team which equally represents the community they’re being made for, he said, is the best way to do this. He went on to say that he wants this trend to carry on in Gearbox’s games, citing that the gender balance of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s original cast of characters was influenced by this philosophy.
An issue which has been addressed to a far lesser extent, however, is how the gender debate has affected men. We’re entering territory here which is very much my own opinion, I don’t have any fancy anecdotes from gaming industry figureheads dispensing similarly minded wisdom here. This is just what I’ve come to believe, based on my experience as a gamer since I was old enough to drool over the gamepad. Are you ready? Men fall victim to many of the same gaming-related stereotypes and have for pretty much gaming’s entire existence. Crazy, right? No, not me, I mean that– what I just said, I mean… Let me explain. You know the idea of the stereotypical nerd? Thick glasses, high shorts and socks, into video games and D&D but not really into social skills? A lot of people might say that’s an outdated concept and that no one thinks like that anymore about people who play video games. It isn’t an idea that’s disappeared though, it simply evolved into neck beards, and screaming pre-teens, and we kept on laughing anyway.
Which, I mean… Sometimes it’s hard not to, you know?
Sometimes when complaints about mistreatment of females in gaming comes up, it feels as though they’re made with an air of accusation. There’s an idea that men have been deliberately and maliciously perpetuating some unsavory ideas about women because of… reasons? I’m not saying that every female journalist, developer, and industry employee is of this opinion because the truth is that it’s only a loud minority that say stupid shit. The complaints aren’t without merit either, because women absolutely are frequently sexualised in video games. Women are also treated horribly in the industry and the community, including being on the occasional receiving end of some completely unbalanced psychos.
However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that male developers have also been on the receiving end of equally terrible things for a very long time – it happens in every medium. This is to say nothing of what the community says and does to one another all the time, just spend a few minutes in the LoL forums if you don’t believe me. As for sexualisation? Well, I don’t look like this:
I look like this:
And I don’t look or act even remotely like this, either:
I’m more like this:
Not saying that I want my part-dragon warriors and secret agents to look like slightly overweight twenty-somethings, but you get the idea. Unfortunately, stereotypes exist for a reason and male game characters more often resemble Adonis than your average schlub like me. I’m not saying that women don’t have a right to complain (because that would be a dick thing to say and I don’t like receiving justified hate mail), but the problem isn’t gender. Nor is it some kind of a collaborative effort from all men everywhere in gaming to oppress women. It’s more deep-seated (and less crazy) than that and it goes back a long way, which brings me nicely to my next point.
Back in the early gays of video games, the technology we played them on wasn’t exactly powerful. By our standards, I should qualify; to people back then like my dad or whatever it would’ve been like the future was happening right before their eyes. It still couldn’t do a huge amount, though, and so games were really short in terms of what had to be done in order to complete them. Developers often made up for them by making them harder than an exhibit of orangutans on school excursion day, thus artificially inflating the length of time it took to beat the game. You feel like a god damned hero after beating some of those old games, like you’ve accomplished something out of the reach of mere mortals.
Heh, heh… Some of you had better get this one.
Technology improved and so did the potential for content in video games; thus, developers started exploring what could be done with the new medium. Sometimes games still stayed incredibly hard because developers had absolutely no idea what they were doing or how to convey to players the rules of their game. If you want an example of this, you should watch this Egoraptor video in which he explains the insanely awful design of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde for the NES. Sometimes games just stayed really, really hard. Like Jurassic Park for the SNES – have you played that? Who would make that for what was effectively a children’s entertainment system at the time? Satan? Was this guy secretly cackling behind the scenes?
The technology was always improving though and with every generation the idea of what constituted a game was consistently challenged. Popularity for gaming in general grew, which means more people taking an interest in order to generate that popularity. It would be ridiculous to think that not a single gamer in those early days was female, though it would be safe to suggest that gamers were predominantly male. It’s certainly what’s indicated by the growing number under “female” in the female-to-male ratio of gamers in the latest Digital Australia report from the IGEA. When the reports began running back in 2005 the number of female gamers was fewer than that of males (approx. 38% at the time); It’s easy to see that the large female presence within gaming today was not always there.
There wasn’t a whole lot of this.
What’s the point of all of this? Well, it means that, for a very long time, the majority of people consuming video games as a medium were young-to-young-adult males. This wasn’t the renaissance, people weren’t just commissioning expensive games because they had lots of money and were crazed from syphilis. Developers still had to sell games to get paid and afford food, which meant that whatever they were making had to appeal to as large a demographic as possible. Are you… is this starting to come together for everyone? Let’s throw in the fact that media of all kinds have historically had issues with realistic or balanced portrayals of everything and anything. So, while video games as a medium have evolved in terms of what it’s capable of over the years…
I’m not just explaining the sorry beginnings of the current state of video games for no reason, here, there is actually a point to all this. That point is while gaming technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since the days of pong, the emotional maturity of the community, for the most part, has remained firmly stunted. Let’s start with “casuals are destroying video games, because publishers are spewing out easy, pay-to-win, or cookie cutter games to accommodate them and are ignoring the hardcore crowd.” This sounds very much like, “not every game is being made to my standards and preferences,” since there have been many notably difficult, involved, and challenging games over the years – and recently, too. This isn’t the only complaint (something, something, “Snobbery and console peasants causing terrible graphics, which would take a whole other article to address”), but it’s certainly the most common.
They came with Friend Requests…
A growing industry is going to attract people of all kinds, whose combined preferences will form a deranged rainbow which serves as a “to do” list for businesses operating in that industry. Gaming is a creative and interactive medium, which means the desires and sensitivities of those who consume it are never going to be universally standard. The more people there are playing games, there more there are making them and we’re starting to see some amazing stuff on a regular basis as a result. Sure there’s some stuff going on in the industry which the community has almost unanimously condemned, like micro-transactions, pay-to-win, and annual releases. These aren’t the be all and end all of the gaming industry, nor are they the fault of newcomers to the community. If anything, they’re the predatory actions of publishers who’re trying to cash in on new gamers who wouldn’t know any better.
This leads into the idea of the portrayal and general treatment of women within the gaming industry. You’ll find that the majority of men who play games either couldn’t care less if women wanted to play games, or not, and many openly welcome their inclusion. The few who take things too far, then take it further into dangerous and insane territories, are the kinds of people whose contributions would be shunned by any community. These people are reviled by society at large for many reasons outside of gaming, some even resorting to straight up crazy in order to make their demented point. They’re hardly representative of the gaming community at large, however, and to think so would be doing a disservice to many.
This isn’t what you’d call “typical.”
As for the way women are generally portrayed in the medium? There’s really no excuse for a lot of it, though there is a likely explanation. As aforementioned, the audience that the gaming industry catered to consisted mostly of young men and boys for a good, long while. When you’re making decisions by what makes most business sense and not by what makes the most artistic sense, creative sense, or the sense of common decency, some… Things are going to slip through the cracks. It doesn’t excuse what’s past, as I said, but it does mean that those going forward can set a better example. There have already been some great games that try to address not just gender issues, but issues of all kinds as well. Games are great, that way – they’re so versatile.
Sometimes… very versatile.
It really does seem that, while gaming itself has evolved, we’ve still got a lot of outdated ideas about the people who play them. More to the point, while there some in the community are resistant to these changes, the rest of us are paying them far too much attention. The last couple of years has seen the gaming community get bogged down in a lot of fighting and squabbling between different groups of different identities, with many even saying that the identity of “gamer” is dead. An identity like gamer shouldn’t be something that divides people, it should be something that brings people together, despite their differences, to enjoy a common interest. Let’s all allow the definition of “gamer” to just naturally change as it always has, stop acting so childish and focus on what’s important, like playing some games.
*Statistics taken from the IGEA DA14 report relate exclusively to Australian participants of the survey.