I finally got around to finishing Halo 4 last night and the ending troubled me. Not because I thought it was incoherent or unsatisfying, but rather I didn't know what to make of its attitude towards women--or, rather, what assumptions it seems to make about the player's attitude towards them. One thing really stood out to me: clothing and the lack thereof. I looked around the net to see what others had written about Cortana, and quickly discovered I'm far from the only one who has some issues with it. As Jon W of Gamasutra puts it: "It doesn't seem particularly fair to permaban pumped-up teenage boys from acting like immature sexists when that is exactly what the game has trained them to be." Warning: there are some spoilers here.
Games.net has an eye-opening video up about sexy female avatars (particularly DOA) and women's responses to them (Warning: Link has no nudity, but still might not be WS). Predictably, most of the women are disappointed by such tendencies, but do point out positive female avatars like Jade and Nancy Drew (I might add Kate from Syberia and April from The Longest Journey). Unfortunately, most developers seem determined to reduce games to the status of soft porn--even though more and more male as well as female gamers are demanding more mature content (and not in the x-rated sense!).
If you haven't ever heard of Her Interactive, it's about damn time you did. They're the world's only--only!--developer focused squarely on the girl market, and they've been churning out amazing games based on the classic girl detective series, Nancy Drew. What I want to do here is introduce the games and talk a bit about why I think Her Interactive has been so successful. Though many people would like to pretend Her Interactive didn't exist when ranting about "the industry's failure toward women" and the like, I think it's important to look at these games and try to figure out why they're so much better than the average "girl game."
Why are so few women interested in gaming? The answer is simple: Itâ€™s the binary, stupid.
Every six months or so there's a little flare up in the media about how the videogame industry has failed women. The usual argument is that 99.9% of games are designed for and marketed exclusively for young males, and women (as well as gay players) are ignored. Game developers and publishers donâ€™t care about women because women donâ€™t care about videogames. And so it goes. While this argument is ill-informed (it totally ignores the amazing success of Her Interactive's Nancy Drew series, which has been a hit among pre-teens as well as adult women of all ages), Iâ€™m the first to admit that there is a problem when the few games that do feature women use them primarily as sex objects. However, rather than blame the game industry and give the same old tired statistics and claims, I think it's time someone pointed out that the true problem is the hardware: or, more specifically, the architecture of the computer itself. It is my belief that the computer's architecture was itself designed with and for a particular mindset, one most comfortable in the world of "binary," or simple either/or decisions--in short, the masculine mind. This fact has made it especially difficult for women to become proficient in programming and, by extension, the computer industry as a whole, since all programs (applications as well as games) have been built on this masculine framework.