April 21, 2012

Pet Peeve of the Day: Gender in Gaming

Filed under: Uncategorized — nascentnovelist @ 10:37 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve just backed my first kickstarter project: Shadowrun. Shadowrun was the first urban fantasy book series I read, I was obsessed with the RPG and it was the setting for one of my first short stories, so when they asked for backing, I was in.

Then I watched the pitch video (you know, the please-give-us-all-your-money video), and I got the distinct feeling that it wasn’t aimed at me. I haven’t analyzed all of it, but I know the sentence that alienated me completely: “I love making games and I’ve been making them for a really, really long time. You may have heard of some of them, or maybe your dad has, games like…”

1. Way to make me feel old. I’ve heard of the games he mentioned, so I must be old enough to have kids backing these projects.

2. Or maybe your dad has. Your dad. Not your parents. Not your mom. Your dad. Because girls don’t play games, right?

Now, of course, I buried these peeves and still backed the project. I love Shadowrun, and I’m not going to let the uncomfortable feeling in my tummy telling me that he’s not pitching this game to me dictate whether or not I support it. After all, I know I’ll love this game, even if its creators think that only (old? young?) men will.

Then I got update message number 8 in my email inbox. Along with other news, it said that if you back the game with $60, you get a special backer tee-shirt. Sweet, I thought. Maybe I should back for more money, after all I’m in love with this game, and how cute would I be in a backer tee-shirt. Let’s take a look at them.

You probably already know what’s coming, right? That’s right: three nicely designed tee-shirts, all of them for men. No girly tees. Now, I know there are girls working on this project. I saw them far in the background of the pitch video. Don’t you think they’d like a tee-shirt that fits? In fact, have you ever been in a position where all the participatory tee-shirts are designed for women and men just have to live with it? I didn’t think so.

It’s not so much the fact that I want everything to be catered to me (although I’d love it if mainstream cinema was), it’s the fact that I feel like they haven’t given my demographic a thought at all. The girl gamer is expected to suck it up and wear menswear, ignore problematic gender issues in the games they play and accept that their entertainment will be aimed at others. And I don’t think that’s fair.

This is not a call to arms for fluffy bunnies and more interactive versions of playing house, I love shooting zombies as much as the next person. What this is, is a call for gaming companies to realize that they already have a whole group of people willing to back their projects, but they’re not pitching to them.

I could go into an even longer rant about this, but Bob from the escapist has covered the subject really well in five minutes, so I highly suggest you watch that.



  1. Yes! This! I have two other friends who are seriously into Shadowrun and guess what? Also girls! A girl who takes ninjutsu and a roller derby girl, both of whom could kick my ass and have concrete plans for the zombie apocalypse. I’m blessed with having many strong gamer girl friends in my life and I hear about this problem all the time. It vexes me. Why alienate an appreciable percentage of your market like that? By just using language that’s a little bit more gender-inclusive and giving options (like the garments you mentioned) they won’t alienate their male audience and at least extend an olive branch toward a demographic that usually feels ignored or turned into a sexual object.

    This happens all the time in just about every fantasy, urban-fantasy, sci-fi, hell just about every strand of fiction there is and it’s ridiculously easy to fix. I just do not understand why no one seems to think about it. It’s everywhere. Take MMORPGs for example. Your guy friend links his really cool armour to you and you try it on your character but instead of a protective ankle-length hauberk, it’s a cleavage-bearing bikini top and a friggin SKIRT. What gives? I’m telling you, giving players options – REAL options – is a winning formula. Look at how many people flipped their lids with joy at the ability to play a female Sheppherd (I think I spelled that wrong) or the ability to woo anyone they wanted regardless of gender in Dragon Age.

    If I keep talking about MMO female armour I’m gonna start spitting foam so … novels! Shopping around for cover artists for a book I’ve got on the go and what do I find? Okay, standard, one character, simple background, cheapish. Have to pay extra for another character on the front, fine. I have two protagonists so I have to eat the extra cost, no prob. Where am I going with this? One of these artists would charge me extra because one of the protagonists is a broadsword-wielding woman of colour with enough muscle to make it believable that she could swing the thing more than twice without falling over. Costs extra for that. Cause he’s not used to painting women who look like that. A fantasy artist who’s been painting things like this for decades, literally, is not used to painting women of colour. Warrior women. I say all this cause it kind of gives some more concrete perspective of how white Anglo-Saxon male dominated the fantasy industry is. And I don’t get it. We can imagine dragons and throwing fireballs out of our hands but not a hero who is black or Asian or a woman with defined biceps? Guess what? I’m paying the extra. I want her on my cover, as described. Because clearly she needs to be there.

    Also, yes, I have bought a tee-shirt designed for women because there were none for guys. At an anime convention. It said “Got Yaoi?” If you Google with images on at work, I accept NO responsibility. But yeah, have yet another good LOL at the weird, weird world of gender in fandoms.

    Comment by Ethan Kincaid — April 21, 2012 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

    • Word.

      Has something happened to your story that I don’t know about? I thought your kickass black warrior woman was the antagonist, not the protagonist? (And yes, you should have her on the cover. Can’t believe he’d ask for extra to make a non-sexified non-white woman. WTF.)

      Comment by nascentnovelist — April 21, 2012 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

      • Uh, no. She’s a good guy. Also, middle-eastern inspired, not black. As they say “brown.”

        Comment by Ethan Kincaid — April 21, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

    • Oh, right. Back on! I know who she is. Thanks for commenting, and explaining.

      Comment by nascentnovelist — April 21, 2012 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

  2. I remember a few of those books, and the ones I remember were published 91-92, and your brother probably got them fairly early. So for the sake of the argument let’s just say that you read your first Shadowrun novel when you were 10. Probably “Never deal with a dragon” cause that’s the kind of title that would appeal to a 10 year old girl who just read Sagaen om Isfolket.

    OK, I’m being a bit mean here, but my point is that we (your brothers gaming group) played Battletech and Shadowrun about 20 years ago and you stumbled in on the world of elven biker gangs and troll bouncers by way of your brothers RPG books and spin-off novels a few years later. Teh other games are a bit newer, and Hero Clix is still going strong among the superhero fans. Me, I’d rather paint skavens and skinks, but I guess we all have our vices.

    The Kickstarter project is probably aimed mostly at the computer gamers who fondly remember the old Shadowrun computer games, and the last of them is just 5 years old. So if he is talking to the 18 year old computer gamer who liked the 2007 Shadowrun shooter from when he was 13, it makes sense to talk about the games their dads might have.

    So in gaming terms you are old, and your brother had he still played would have been ancient.
    The younger part of his audience cannot imagine a world without cellphones, but when I played Shadowrun we marveled at the idea of having a phone you could use anywhere and carry in your pocket (and in the game we could).

    So yeah, you are old now. You played the OLD World of Darkness games (when they were still in print).
    You work in the MMO business now, MMOs did not exist when you started playing RPGs, so yeah…

    In the real world however you are still just a young geek writer who managed to pick up the right parts of popular culture from your brothers and their friends. Be glad that you are wise beyond your years in the world of Shadowrun.

    As for the gender issue.
    I agree.

    Not much more to say about that.

    Oh, and if you move back to Norway and feel like running a Shadowrun game I have an ork shaman with a tailor made tweed suit and a bowler hat I’d like to play.

    Comment by gaute — April 22, 2012 @ 2:35 am | Reply

    • “Never Deal with a Dragon” was the one, yeah. Never before has anyone said I was old quite so nicely. So, thank you.

      And yes, if/when I move back, I’m gonna take you up on that. Shadowrun game would be awesome.

      Comment by nascentnovelist — April 22, 2012 @ 6:31 pm | Reply

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