Girl in the Machine
Monday, August 27, 2007
Femininity: Whose Problem is It?

So I wandered into my local EB Games the other day and found myself distracted by an unusually large shock of pink that stood smack in the center of the store. "GAMES FOR GIRLS" screamed the bedazzled display in metallic pink lettering, showcasing such prime choices as Bratz, Barbie, My Little Ponies, and even Cooking Mama (which did not deserve to be there). I had to take a step back for a moment to drink it all in. Somehow, I felt I had to appreciate this sight in all its audacious glory.

"Games for girls." That phrase stuck in my mind. Not that it was a terribly unfamiliar sight -- overprettified, cartoonish games with difficulty levels that a three-year-old could master. As if, over and over, game developers were hit by the earth-shattering idea that humans of the female persuasion are suddenly playing games, gathering in masses of uninitiated, credit card-waving, pony-riding, lipstick-smeared frenzy. Eureka, indeed.

Yes, the concept of "girl games" has been around for quite a while. I recall my mother renting Barbie Supermodel for me as a child, and I also remember abandoning it quickly for Final Fantasy II on the Super Nintendo. It's nothing new for "girl games" to exude consumerism with shopping adventures or puzzles involving cosmetics. It's timeless, really, for them to treat female gamers as nescient and wide-eyed with a narrow range of interests. Compared to "normal" games that involve saving the world or beating the bad guys, "girl games" are a thousand times more frivolous, more full of fluff and dusted with glitter.

And that's what I find interesting. When game developers deign to market toward women, they specifically -- almost purposefully -- target young girls while completely ignoring the 18 to early 30s demographic, which is the target male audience. These are the people, myself included, that have grown up with video games since the beginning. So why do they pretend we don't exist?

Let's take a moment to examine how these "girl games" hurt female gamers by taking a look at the bigger picture. Masculine hegemony characterizes femininity as frivolous, idiotic, weak, and ultimately different. Now, most of us who call ourselves women may come to despise traditional femininity because of the aforementioned prejudices, which have become part of the mainstream attitude. And if the patriarchy makes femininity what it is, why not?

To combat this, it's imperative for us -- for all women -- for everyone -- to change our own perceptions of femininity so that they aren't tainted by prejudice and to make of ourselves based on our minds. The goal here is to spread knowledge, critical thinking, awareness, and choice. In a perfect world, one could ride ponies covered in glitter all day with reckless abandon.

And what does this have to do with video games? We sneer and recoil at these "girl games," designed by men for women. These are stupid, we think, and by extension: those who play these games are stupid. Therefore, women are stupid. Rarely do we automatically separate intended audience from the motivations and attitudes of the creators themselves. Therefore, our own prejudices arise, and the separation of "girls" from "the rest of the world" feels unfortunately familiar. It's a social construct that molds our personal opinions in a million subtle ways until we accept things such as sexism as normal. Stereotypes formulate: Barbie, the blond-haired bimbo who loves to shop. And so, in the modern mind, women are no more than a consumerist society with nothing better to do than shop or cook or do their makeup all day.

Awareness prevents this. Progressive thought prevents this. And feminism is, indubitably, the key.

So what would a proper "girl game" be like? Mere female presence isn't enough, as we've all come to know. A female spirit is necessary, a sense of familiarity, or humanity. It's a concept that's both difficult and easy to picture at the same time: easy because the same has been done for men a million times before, and difficult because mainstream attitudes have made women strangers, even sometimes to each other.

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 Posted by BomberGirl
 1:06 PM + Link to this post
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