It’s time to tackle video game gender tropes
Too often, video gaming has been viewed as a domain dominated by men. But women make up a significant proportion of the gaming community and are increasingly involved in the design of games. How is their presence being felt?
Concordia women who enjoy, study and create games will discuss their impact on the gaming world in a round table on March 31.
The participants are Mia Consalvo, Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design, a professor in the Department of Communication Studies and executive board member of Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) research centre; Gina Haraszti, creative director of TAG; Lynn Hughes, Concordia University Research Chair in Interactive Design and Games Innovation, co-director of TAG, and associate professor in the Department of Studio Arts; Rilla Khaled, associate professor in the Department of Design and Computation Arts, and member of TAG; Amanda Tom, a computer science student and creator of (un)done; and Jessica Rose Marcotte, game designer with Tweed Couch Games and member of TAG.
An expert view on gaming’s changing landscape
What are the five greatest things about being a woman who creates games?
Jessica Rose Marcotte:
- I can make games that represent different kinds of experiences, more varied than the standard pop culture depiction of games.
- I can push the boundaries of a medium that needs its boundaries pushed.
- I can encourage others who might not currently feel like there's space for them in games to come make or study games.
- I can watch games mature and come into their own thanks to the first three things.
- I get to spend time with people who are as excited about games and the first four things as I am.
What advice would you give a female student who is contemplating a career in gaming?
JRM: I'm an independent game designer and a student academic, which is how I'm connected to games. My situation is probably quite different than someone who is entering the industry. But what has been really helpful to me is the community of people around me, especially those who are similarly marginalized in games (women, LGBTIQ folk, non-binary folk, people of colour).
We support each other, and that is really important (although there's a whole other conversation to be had about emotional labour there). It's okay to have women-only spaces. It's okay to have non-binary-people-only spaces. Don't let anyone make you feel bad for making those spaces.
Another piece of advice for people who don't fit the standard game-developer profile (this goes for women, LGBTIQ folk, non-binary folk, people of colour and more): your feelings are valid. It's not just your imagination.
If you feel subtly unwelcomed or if you don't feel okay with something that someone in a space has said or done, those are valid feelings. Micro-aggressions happen all the time in games-related spaces. I wish I could say that there were always effective systems in place to deal with those situations, but it isn't the case.
Can you give us some examples of games that have a positive social impact?
I don't want to conflate games that have a social impact with games that have a social message. I think there are loads of games that say interesting things about society without necessarily having a measurable impact.
One of my own games, In Tune, seeks to raise awareness through practice of consent issues, both for physical consent and beyond (consent is about more than just sexual consent). I really enjoyed Papers, Please as a commentary, and Foldit is a really neat game where players work to solve protein-folding puzzles that contribute to scientific research.
When you design a game, are you concerned about the representation of women characters? What are some of the traits you appreciate in female characters?
I like female characters in my games to portray the broad range of female experience. For me, it's about many different kinds of experiences portrayed in games, not just one perfect version of what a female character should be. We're not all the same, and video game characters shouldn't be, either.
What I don't want to see is more of the same tropes — to name a few: the damsel in distress, the woman who is just there to motivate the main character (usually male), often by dying, the female character who is only there for the straight male gaze (usually hypersexualized for that gaze).
Listen to the round table on women in gaming this Thursday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m. in Room EV-11.491 of the Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (1515 Ste-Catherine St. W.).
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