Highbrow High Score

The Art of Gaming Intellectually

Girlz Play, Too (but only if it’s pink or about cooking)!

with 9 comments

Let me start with this:

I rarely bring up gender in gaming voluntarily, but there’s something amiss with this picture. Maybe I’m looking into it too deeply, but I would attest this illustrates the world of gendered gaming pretty perfectly. Both released on the Wii with “E for Everyone” ratings, these games targeted a younger demographic of gamers and non-gamers and both set clear expectations of what the games are about.

Cooking Mama introduces a woman who cooks; Science Papa gives us a man who is (presumably) a scientist. Socially, this represents a dichotomous relationship between genders and professions. I have not played these games and cannot determine if they’re good or bad, but I assume they were never a “hot” item for the majority of gamers.

But the fact that such a binary relationship exists in video game form is not surprising. Games like Cooking Mama, Nintendogs, Catz, Horsez (think of an animal, but a “Z” in the title and you’ve got yourself a Nintendo DS game), and others pander to the perceived skills and social expectations set for women. I know for a fact that women play more games than the ones marketed to them, but even with that under consideration, most of the “video game culture” is geared towards a male audience. I noted this when reading a Game Informer magazine and counted how many ads were targeted at men (I don’t remember the number, but it was a lot) and how many were targeted at women: I may not have counted exactly, but it was in the neighborhood of one… And it was this one…

A purple PSP bundled with a Hannah Montana game!? My ovaries need this...

Whatever justification behind this ad, it was obviously released on the assumption that in order to market to the female demographic, “femininity” is defined by a love of all things pastel, pop music, and internet acronyms. This isn’t limited to Sony handheld’s; after reading an article on themarysue.com about female gamers, the phrase “shrink-it-and-pink-it” appeared quite a bit in reference to how games are sold to women.

In my mind, it’s pretty apparent that broad ad campaigns targeted at women and girls are sexist and stereotypical. But even after a quick Google search for “games for girls” returns results for cooking games, make-up, dress-up, celebrity, and Barbie games. (By the way, a search for “games for boys” yields “exciting action” games, LEGO building sims, and racing games) I am not convinced this is unintentional, but I understand that social constructs exist that make this dichotomous relationship possible – and it is interesting to note that while a girl can (and this girl did) play games “outside” of those sexist games marketed to her, it may strike a parent odd to find their little boy playing a dress-up game. What we find unacceptable is often more telling than what we find acceptable, but I digress…

This may have been a bit of a rant, but it’s something that (pardon my French) burns my buns. Ideally, games would be for anyone who found them interesting, regardless of their biological sex. What do you think? Can gaming transcend the fabricated societal norms?


Written by highbrowhighscore

October 3, 2011 at 5:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses

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  1. I asked for you opinion on this one so here’s mine:
    First off, I’m interested in marketing games to girls/women for purely selfish reasons.
    Girl: I had a lot of fun tonight, want to come back to my place and play Super Smash Bros on my N64?
    Me: TOTES!

    More to the point though, I wonder if companies are really so incompetent at advertising or if they just don’t have any interest in selling Cooking Mama. I don’t have real data, but base this theory on the advertising I see on XBL, Steam, Metacritic and specific game review sites, and the little amount of TV I watch.
    I’ve never seen a TV spot for Cooking Mama. I think I remember seeing one for Nintendogz back when the DS first released However, I have seen a lot of ad space dedicated to BF3, MW3 and Gears3 [trilogyfest?] I have seen an ad or two for Skyrim. I remember Halo having a TON of ads. Granted XBL and Steam can hardly be expected to advertise for Nintendo titles.
    I think companies might not care how the Cooking Mamas and Science Papas do. There is no chance of them really becoming major titles, but maybe the goal isn’t to make major titles. Instead maybe Nintendo [since they dominate the kidsy game market] is going the route of pushing out a ton of little games to sell the concept of videogames to kids or more accurately, to parents. Cooking Mama and Science Papa are games a parent feels okay about buying for their child. Opposed to Gears of War. I mean, I just chainsawed a guy in half and blood splattered all across the screen. A parent isn’t going to buy that for a 10 year old.
    Also I’m under the impression that all of Nintendo’s games are developed in house; in a region with different ideas about the gender roles in society. I’m not sure it’s as much a factor, but if games are being thought up by business men who believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, wouldn’t it follow that the games would reflect that mentality. Raise our daughters to be good wives?


    October 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

  2. I think some of it is perpetuation of a standard. Right or wrong, games had pretty much always been targeted to boys, and look at how much money they make—by the time the next generation of consoles comes around, game development budgets will rival those of many summer blockbuster films, going into the hundreds of millions of dollars. They’ll recoup that and make more besides.

    As for whether games can “transcend” societal norms—that’s another problem as we move to a “global village”. Such things won’t change in gaming until they change in us as people, all over the world—and it has to be all all over the world, because of the aforementioned “global village” idea we’re all apparently heading toward. I believe it will happen, I really do—just not any time soon. With things like the concept of “sister wives” can still raise hackles—and then you have Chaz Bono. I don’t know how well he dances, but I’ve been told nearly three times a day about his sex-change operation.

    Add to that the continued proliferation of negative “isms”, and I just don’t see human societal evolution being thrown off that quickly.

    The Retro-ish Gaming Critic

    October 21, 2011 at 4:57 am

    • The gendered marketing techniques are not exclusive to games obviously, but it’s that correlation and causation effect that really irks me. Whether or not games are made with males in mind is one thing; the idea that only males play games is another. It’s interesting that you bring up “globalization” as it relates to sexism – we’re seeing a much wider spectrum of sexuality on TV now and it’s causing some second thoughts about the preconceived notions we have about gender, but could it just be out of a morbid curiosity?


      October 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm

      • I think it’s the initial stages of the very throwing-off of such silly tripe as you and I both seem to be all for. But–it’s only the initial stages. These things, seeing a wider spectrum of sexuality on television–it’s baby steps in the right direction. Right now, though, on television, there’s still only “gay” or “straight”; people are portrayed as one hundred percent in either direction, without any, eh, variation, I suppose. Yet that’s still better than it was not that long ago. Again, it’s baby steps in the right direction.

        Look at the proliferation of “girl gaming” groups/clans/web sites/whatever else, talking about a girl enjoying, say, Halo as much as her boyfriend, if not more so. I’m reminded of the earlier days of orientation-equality in the media–it really feels similar, here. Soon–I’d say within five years–we’ll start seeing a few more games made to include female players. Granted, they’ll likely be more dress-up things and such, but like the over-simplification of sexual orientation on television, it, too, will be baby steps in the right direction.

        Really, I’d consider myself lucky if I saw true headway made in targeting female gamers in the next decade or so—but I do believe it will happen.

        The Retro-ish Gaming Critic

        October 21, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      • I don’t want to derail, but I hate the “girl gamer” image those clans/groups/websites present as a rule. And you’ll respond with, but didn’t you say you enjoy girls who play videogames?” Yes. I totally do, but what I despise is when I’m in a Halo lobby to use your example, and a girl comes on the mic, two things happen.
        First, she rags on about being a girl playing games. We get it, I can tell by your voice. I don’t need you to rant about how cool it makes you.
        Second, nobody wants to shit talk her. Or even worse try to hit on her. Seriously guys, what the fuck? Getting drunk with some friends and talking a bunch of shit in the lobby is what Halo is about. Let’s not take that away just because a girl is on the sticks.
        Oh and Halo is also about ruining some 14 year old kid’s day and laughing at his voice cracking on the mic.


        October 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm

      • I’ll disagree on both points… from my experience anyway. I have generic handles for all my online accounts and get on the mic to try to be somewhat useful in the team-oriented games, ex. “Oh shit, a Boomer!” And it’s always a gamble in what lobbies I’ll get asked if I’m a girl or a little boy… which I don’t really mind. Also, I’ll talk shit all day long and can take it when it’s game related and I’ll teabag the hell out of anyone! But when I start getting called names by teammates for no reason, I don’t think that’s something I have to put up with just because I’m a girl.


        October 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm

      • To be fair, highbrow–getting called names for no reason pretty much is the on-line experience. If it’s not because you’re female, it’s because of one (or ten) of a hundred other reasons. Which is, admittedly, one of the reasons I really don’t get into playing games on-line, but eh. Whole ‘nother discussion, that.

      • I agree, D, on both counts. Thankfully, there are plenty of girl gamers who agree, also, and just want to play the effing game, not sit through other girls being attention whores, as well as loving them some day-ruining, as well. I like to think the ones you mentioned are the exceptions. I haven’t any data to back that up, but it’s a dearly held-onto hope.

      • Undoubtedly Retro. I’m sure it’s a case of one bad apple spoiling the bunch, but that’s the group that is most outspoken about girls gaming so that’s what the image is. I don’t think it is an accurate representation of the female population in lobbies, but it’s certainly the one I’m most aware of.


        October 22, 2011 at 5:37 pm

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