Girl Gamers Gone Wild

by Desiré

A few weeks ago I came across an online petition written by a "girl gamer" stating that, essentially, Nintendo needs to make a Legend of Zelda game starring none other than Princess Zelda. I happily added my name to the ever growing list for approximately three reasons. First and foremost, she kicked ass in Super Smash Bros. Melee. The obvious second is that another Zelda game is always a good thing. Now watch the birdie for Reason Number Three one because it sums up pretty well the direction this article is headed: I'd really like to play a game as a female character I can respect and idolize, like boys can with the Links, the James Bonds, the Leon Kennedys, and every other super cool male lead in the industry. I mean, sure, there were the CDi games in the 90's that featured a certain Hyrulian Princess as the savior to a captive Link, but the game was far less than stellar, not a damn person ever played it other than those who did so just to be ironic, and Nintendo didn't even make it. So while Nintendo is making progress on a DS game starring an unusually heroic Princess Peach, that's still leaving me pretty starved for my girly gaming fix.

Last year, the big N introduced a pink Game Boy Advance SP in an attempt to appeal to female gamers, half of their potential demographic that is very often left behind. There is also a DS suited in the most feminine of colors available in Japan (which is funny because everyone that I know who owns a pink DS or GBA is male). Pink. That's what we women get. Don't get me wrong, pink has to be my favorite color, and I was elated to hear about the pink DS that will one day be mine, but when I sat down and actually thought about it, the concept was almost offensive. Nintendo reaches out to female gamers with... a slight variation of the console's casing? Not by developing and publishing more games in which female characters (who aren't dressed like they belong on some street corner) are empowered and do the rescuing rather than needing to be rescued? Now one could argue that we have Samus Aran, of the Metroid game series, but come on. First off, she's a cyborg, and although most see her as one of the few non-sexualized characters in the video gaming world, she's often portrayed in some pretty revealing outfits outside of her Chozo-designed Power suit. The only major protagonist I can even think of off the top of my head who isn't dressed in something so tight their circulation might get cut off is Hello Kitty, and even her skirts get a little short at times!

Who wears short shorts?
Really, think about it. This is the year 2005, and yet there are still, generally speaking of course, two major types of females in the gaming world: the demure princess types that are fragile and helpless, or girls who can kick ass, but only while dressed like porn stars and provided with ample "bouncing" physics. Sure, there may be a few rare exceptions, but for the most part these are the types of characters that we see in the world of video games. How is that supposed to bring in the virtually untouched female market? By drawing again and again from the same stereotypical well, what's to make a potential player who just happens to be female want to play these games?

I've passed up on many a game that might have ended up being something pretty fun just because it looked as if it was marketed towards hormone-addled teenage boys rather than serious gamers. Maybe DOA: Extreme Beach Volleyball was an excellent volleyball sim, but it was entirely marketed as fap fodder for boys, so as a heterosexual girl why would I even bother giving the game a second thought? I personally like playing games as a female character, but the few that I get to choose from aren't anything that I can really connect to. No matter how much I wish I were one, I'm not a mystical fairy tale princess. And no matter how much Jared wishes I were one, I'm certainly not some pornstar sex-kitten disguised half-heartedly as some kind of ninja.

Now granted, most of the guys who play as Link are definitely not elf-warriors, but at least Link's whole persona is engineered to be cool to boys. When a girl warrior kicks high so you can see up her skirt or jiggles what the programmers gave her, that's still engineered to be cool (or hot) to boys. And then there's the fragile princesses, whose purpose is to once again appeal to the guys, by stroking their ego when great odds are defeated to save the beautiful gals. The outside option is the "X chromosome copout", the often-only woman put in a game just to avoid having the game be a total sausage fest. Kaede from Capcom's latest Killer 7 is a good example, being the only out of eight playable characters who comes complete with ovaries. And while she manages to be fairly non-sexualized for having such a short skirt, Kaede also continues the female tradition of being weaker than virtually every male character, and features an amazing level of ineptitude with firearms for someone portrayed as a world-class assassin. In the cutscene shown whenever a character reloads, Kaede struggles for what seems like forever to fit a new bullet clip into the magazine of her handgun, wheras even the men who sport revolvers are shown reloading in one fluid stroke. We'll go ahead and ignore that her special technique is a "blood spray" and just throw a hearty thanks to Capcom from women everywhere so we can move on.

Don't get me wrong, things are changing. Lara Croft's body has become a healthier representation of the female figure and she still kicks as much ass as ever. The upcoming Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life gives the female perspective of sim farming, where girl gamers can expect more or less the same goals and abilities as were offered in the original (which featured a male lead), building up a farm on your own power and then even getting your choice of men to make your husband. And I know that the game developers are trying (sometimes ineptly) to appeal to the fairer sex, but I can tell you that from where I'm sitting, it's a slow process.

Taki, Taki, Taki... invest in a sports bra, your poor thing.
I don't remember a time when I didn't love video games and I know that there are many other girls in the world who would agree with me, but the fact of the matter is that if more games were geared towards them, more girls would play. Plain and simple. It's not brain surgery that most women consider video gaming something of a "boys club" and with good reason. Outside of the issue of the objectification of women in gaming, it's just a matter of men having staked out a claim to the industry with women having to break through afterwards, just like always. So now we have all these men in the industry who see the potential big bucks that they could sink their teeth into by drawing in the female demographic, and what with being computer nerds they don't really have much of an idea of what girls like, so we're offered Mary Kate & Ashley games and a dose of Princess Peach to keep up happy. It's almost funny despite how frustrating it can be.

All is not lost for girl gaming however. There are more female players than ever before and the numbers are growing. Nintendo has been releasing more and more games that appeal to everyone, regardless of gender, for the new generation of handhelds, with a promise to continue the trend with the upcoming Revolution. The non-gaming game Nintendogs for the DS is a perfect example of such: training a dog is something that anyone can do. Later this year, the release of Trauma Center: Under the Knife will also bridge the gap between the sexes, where anyone can be the surgeon. Puyo Pop Fever, Kirby's Canvas Curse, even Meteos are also games that aren't really gender identified and yet are rising in popularity.

And you know what? Maybe the boys will have to meet us halfway. Already there seem to be at least quite a few that are more than willing to. Animal Crossing's premise sold like mad even among boys who were having too much fun to realize they were playing house. Boys spend quarters by the ton to dance to techno beats for hours at the arcade. The much anticipated Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix will bring even more Nintendo fanboys to the party, and Karaoke Revolution will certainly have teenage boys across the country cracking their vocal chords to show tunes and Cyndi Lauper hits (all three of them). It's not about the feminization of gaming, though, any more than playing a round of blasting heads off zombies is about the masculinization of female gamers. It's just about finding something that's fun, for both the boys and the girls, and isn't that what gaming is all about? The last hope for netting the female demographic is to make games that are just flat-out fun for anyone, and luckily it looks like Nintendo is very excited to move in that direction in the upcoming generation.