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PAX East 2010: Girls And Games

Among my favorite female protagonists.

Outside of our own panel (which was recorded, and which we should have up at some point) and Kotaku and Croal, I only had the opportunity to attend one more: Girls and Games: The Growing Role of Women in the Game Industry. As someone who self-identifies as feminist, I felt it was not a panel I could miss.

The panel consisted of moderator Jeff Kalles (of Penny Arcade), Brittany Vincent (Editor-in-Chief at Spawn Kill), Julie Furman (a founder of SFX360), Alexis Hebert (a community manager at Terminal Reality), Padma Fuller (a marketing manager at Sanrio Digital), and Kate Paiz (Senior Producer at Turbine). While this was the first panel I attended, among the first things I noticed that the entirety of it was Q&A. This would mean that the panel would largely depend on the questions the audience brought forth.

Thankfully the audience asked many intelligent and both general and more focused questions. Unfortunately, the panel seemed at a loss to answer them in any satisfying manner (for the most part, a few exceptions applied).

For a bit more of a look at the panel, hit the jump below.

When asked about the recent site, the response was largely one that this was to be expected. In talking about XBox LIVE and identifying as a female on the service, there was a feeling that it was an ordeal they would rather not face. In large, it seemed as if they were resigned to this fact and would rather not engage the topics. Understandable, if perhaps a little disappointing.

Perhaps what left me with a frown firmly set on my face was when asked about the objectification of women in games, and how we can go about changing that, the response given was that games are fantasy. We have to expect this. After all, no one expects males to live up to the fantasy portrayed by the muscles of Gears of War. Of course, the problem with the Gears analogy is that there exist different standards and histories of objectification for men and women. It felt like sidestepping the question and refocusing it entirely.

When more questions were asked about the industry itself, the standard set forth was one that put women in a double-bind. They must not try to be 'just one of the guys,' but at the same time outdo themselves. Prove themselves superior to their male counterparts. This may well be the case, but it contrasted sharply with the message the panel gave that the industry itself does not see sex, instead focusing on accomplishment. If sex did not matter, women would not have to go out of their way to prove themselves better, as the assumed default would not be male.

One gentleman even asked how males could make the industry more inviting to women. Sadly, it was the moderator who came up with the better response to the question, quoting from a book he was reading at the time, Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women by Virginia Valian. He noted that women are often psychologically set up to fail in the tech and hard sciences industries because they are brought up with the stereotypes that they must be paragons of math and science if they wish to progress in those fields. The answer became one of making sure women get the encouragement they need, and to be able to get them to look past stereotypes.

A dubious, but generally positive note, came from the question asked about what the panel saw as changes that were being made as more companies acknowledged females' presence. The answer concluded that games are becoming more social, easier to comprehend, and allowing for more busy lives. While I do not see this as necessarily hinging on female presence, it is something from which all of us can benefit.

Unfortunately, I wanted these women to succeed. Their stories of why they involved themselves in the gaming industry put in as much passion and dedication as you will find of many gamers. Stories were passed around about competitions with siblings, wanting to see how games evolve, seeing where they take us next, and the community that exists around gaming.

Perhaps the best note was in response to the question asking how we move casual female gamers from Facebook to the more general gaming audience. The rather spot-on response stated that we cannot cater to these audiences if we assume their demographic based off Facebook. This is all beside the point anyway, as these women are gamers. Facebook games are games. If they are not to your taste, that is simply a preference you have.

In general, the format did not seem to allow for a successful panel. Since the focus was so decentered, I would often be asked afterward if the panel was more about women in games or in the games industry. The answer was both, but it never really delved deep into the subject matter of either. Given this obvious handicap, it was hard to imagine from whom I would want to hear on a panel. Here is to hoping that because of its robust attendance, and disappointed write-ups in other places, we'll see a stronger presence next year.

Just this afternoon, Brittany Vincent responded to the criticisms and elaborated on how it felt for her, and where she saw her own shortcomings and of the format she was handed in the LiveJournal Girl Gamers community.


Limeade said:

I appreciate this article so much. I would have loved to attend this panel, being a feminist myself, but from how it sounds I think that I, too, would end up unsatisfied and disappointed.

This is an important panel, just just for women in the industry and women portrayals in games, but for the industry and games in general. How we can improve on games, on the industry, on portrayal of characters, is as fundamental and important as anything else.

I definitely do agree with (and get upset by) the double-standard explanation of hypersexualization of women in games. Deflecting the issue and pointing out that men are sexualized and created to be the idealized version of men/masculinity is such a poor reference comparison. The subtle but HUGE difference is that men are idealized for strength, power, and capability, to give the sense of 'badassitude' and to give the player a sense of fantasy living through that character's prowess. This is not the same for women, where the female characters are emphasized in their appearance, their scanty clothes, their hypersexualized personalities and interactions with male characters/the male audience, to be more of a desirable objectification for men rather than something all women could play and feel empowered by.

When male characters reach the point where camera angles pan slowly over their arses, crotches, and bulging muscles in skimpy unrealistic attire, and where male characters have entire cutscenes of fanservice, and are created to be attractive objects of desire, then any comparison to the two would be reasonable. As it still stands commonly now? No.

These are the important factors and motivational 'umph' topics that I think they should have been speaking out on. These are the topics that need to be talked about and pointed out, rather than shrug and say 'oh, it is fantasy, we're women and we are accepting of these portrayals because we grow up in a society where the media constantly throw objectified beauty at us.' And that's part of what I think it is -- this inaction and lack of motivation. Women are more accepting than not of 'the way things are' in a male heteronormative world, so they're more willing to let things be. Or not want to make a fuss to stir up job opportunities, if they're in the industry.

I mean, peen shown in games gets huge reactions from the media and the fanbase, but hundreds of nearly naked/topless women (like in Godfather II or Saboteur) doesn't get an eyebat. It doesn't feel right. And it is definitely alienating for women, the objectification and sexualization in our games. That isn't a motivating factor to play them, after all.

Scott Madin said:

Thanks for the link! I had (perhaps unrealistically) high hopes for that panel, and I was sad that they didn't take full advantage of the opportunity.
(I was also sad that I didn't make it to the GayGamer panel — but I'd missed the first PA Q&A, so I couldn't pass up the chance for the second. I'll be certain to come to y'all's panel next year!)

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Scott Madin on PAX East 2010: Girls And Games: Thanks for the link! I had (perhaps unrealistically) high hopes for that panel, and I was sad that they didn't...

Limeade on PAX East 2010: Girls And Games: I appreciate this article so much. I would have loved to attend this panel, being a feminist myself, but from...

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