Despite the Microsoft announcement at last E3 that women were going to be brought into the fold and the introduction of higher fines for scantily clad booth babes, women are still on the fringes of gaming. Slowly we approach equality, moving through the same motions as any fight for equality in any area.
First, there are the radical few. Small groups of women band together, screaming out that they are better than the boys. Thus the Frag Dolls and other such groups are born.
Next, comes the insistence that women are different and need games catered to them. Thus Barbie gaming is born. Barbie Fashion Designer actually outsold Mortal Kombat back in 1996 and broke every previous CD ROM sale record. Grrl Gaming becomes a thing in the early part of this century and then dies as Mattel buys out most of the creative stuff for girls out there.
Now we have entered era where companies are realizing that women will in fact play games and that they are a huge untapped market. The Sims and Final Fantasy games have huge followings among women. People uncover the fact that women play more downloadable games, such as solitaire or Rollercoaster Tycoon than men. Also, more women than men actually buy games due to who traditionally does the holiday and birthday shopping in the family. So, women are gaming (shocking!), but they’re just not playing traditional blockbuster hits in the numbers that EA would like to see. Microsoft grabs onto the FF titles in hopes of weaning women to the 360 and Sony keeps it up for the PS3. As if women are going to buy that console simply to sigh over the next Cloud-clone.
But they’re going about it all wrong. In the end, gaming is about fantasy and release. Like a good book, or movie, a good game is one where you can imagine yourself in that world and want to stick around for awhile. Sexism boots us out of that world quicker than a bad connection. The easiest way to make sure that women can feel enveloped in a world is to have some female game designers and then create an atmosphere where they feel that they can speak up. I bet Lara Croft’s boobs would not be so huge if any woman felt free to go, wtf. If Halo 3 has more female soldiers in it, just a couple more voices, that goes a long way. The design team that created The Sims was half female.
In the end, there are also just certain games that appeal more to women, for whatever chemical or socialized reasons. Simulation games, The Sims, and ones that plunge epics, FF, for some reason are always going to have a larger female audience for the same reason that soap operas and romance books sell so well. But, games like KOTOR that have more realistic women and games that go beyond including a Princess Peach are also going to garner more women because they don’t break down our fantasy barrier. They don’t make me step outside the world and go what the hell.
Equality often comes in little steps.