Monday, June 30, 2008

Summary of “Chess for Girls? Feminism and Computer Games” by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins.

This article focuses on a topic familiar to our class discussion, video games and girls. The article begins by talking about the game Chess, and the idea of “Chess for Girls,” a parody commercial from Saturday Night Live. The article moves on to explain that it is going to be about exploring the different attempts to answer the question of why video games are seen as “boy’s games,” and attempts to offer ways that games can become a medium enjoyed equally by both sexes. The authors show how one of the reasons that gender roles are so tightly associated to video games comes from a “commoditization of gender.” The problem is that the marketing of products has become so thickly engrained in genders that it is difficult to break the cycle.

The article then moves into describing the kinds of games, which have been made to appeal to female gamers. Certain types of games, and certain types of language, have become representative of how games are talked when it comes to marking for girls. A lot of the article focuses on different studies of what is defined as masculine compared to what is defined as feminine. Then, there is a fairly generic description of how to define different kinds of video games. Examples are given of the roles of female characters in games. Most are either overly sexualized heroines, or damsels in distress. After a detailed breakdown of what these roles mean in popular culture, the authors reassert the fact that violent video games are the best-selling, and that most of these games do not provide strong female characters, or if they do, there is a problem of sexualizing certain kinds of violence. Furthermore, violence is seen as an aspect that alienates girls from videogames.

Next up is a challenge of basic stereotypes about men and women when it comes to computers in general. Men are supposedly more interested in, and more proficient with, computers. The fear is that if we don’t make computers more interesting to girls, then we are putting them at a disadvantage when it comes to computer technology. This is described as creating an “alien culture” for girls. Tests have shown that boys more than girls, when given the option, will indeed play with computers.

The toy stores are taken to task for the way that they demand that games are immediate hits, and for the way that they genderized their toys. Barbie is brought up as being both good and bad. Some argue that Barbie is the best way to market games to young girls, and that she is not just an bimbo but in fact a character who helps feed into stereotypes about women. From here a description of different “games for girls,” and the positives and negatives implied in each.

The latter section of the article discusses the more militant, feminist calls for girls and games. One section discusses how the only attempts for making games for girls so far is just adapting women into games which are still meant for boys. They call for a reevaluation of the basic systems of games, that the platforms themselves need overalls. They can’t just “put the game in a pink box” (18), so to speak. A larger debate on the
kind of products and programs that are for children then arises. From this, there is more discussion of specific feminine characters meant to balance the field between strong male characters and strong female characters. Lara Croft is discussed, as is Barbie (again). To me, the article sort of began to repeat itself at this point. There was another discussion of media portrayal of women in video game ads, and the way that there is more media specialization for what are commonly thought of as men’s interest compared to what is commonly thought of as women’s interest. Then, women in other sources of media (such as books, Anne Rice novels specifically) are brought up. A page or so later the big question of the article is brought up. The “core question” is whether changing the market of games for girls should involve “changing the generic base of the game industry” or “shifting the kinds of cultural competencies recognized within the existing generic repertoire” (32).

At the end, the article picked up again with its discussion of girls who are doing their best to embrace violent video games through their feminist views. They seek to take command of both sexual imagery of women and the stereotype that games, partially violent video games, are man’s territory. This type of gamer is frequently referred to as a “Game Grrl.” In the end, these girls still play with male characters, but they seek a very different kind of relationship with them. They have groups that help with harassment online, and do their best to take online gaming by siege. After this, there is a short summary of the arguments that have been made, the sources of stereotype involved (toy stores, marking, social constructions), and the efforts that are being made to break down the barriers between girl and game.

8 comments:

Eric M said...

Obviously after reading this article, there are many culprits responsible for the general disinterest girls have in games, but the most compelling one to me is the type of game and creating a game that appeals to guys and girls. To me, a random game, let's dub it "Barbie Goes to France", similar to the other games described in this article, just doensn't have the appeal that other games do that are in the market. It's not that these games don't mean well, it's just that they don't sound very compelling and I think that is what would capture a girl in gaming. Have a game that is fun to play and has lasting appeal, and if that means little violence, etc. then so be it. It just seems like the industry turns a blind eye to this huge potential market and is foolish to do so because I don't think it would be very difficult to start creating games that appeal to girls as well. Just make games that are fun for girls to play. What exactly that entails, I'm not sure, but it's worth a try.

Eric M said...

However, now realizing the great difficulty in something I made sound very simplistic, the idea of getting girls interested has to also combat the idea that girls don't think gaming is cool and it is looked down upon socially. That is also an issue I think would make an impact in girls participation in video gaming as well.

Adrian said...

I think one of the hardest things about this problem is the thing that has constantly been struggled with in explorations of gender: the fight between homogenization and differentiation. To differentiate runs the risk of essentializing ideas of gender (women are this, men are theat). To homogenize runs the risk that we simply maintain the relative invisibility of femaleness in the face of normative maleness.

While interesting, the thing that is hard is that these things are much larger than videogames. Bringing awareness of the situation to the form is still a worthy cause, but I still find myself wondering if this is a battle that should be fought on macro or micro levels...

Nick S said...

I really feel that a main reason girls aren't as active in video games is how games are marketed to young kids. I don't know if it was mentioned in this article or the Carr one, but there was a bit about how the ps2 was a top idea for a boy gift but for girls it was a karaoke machine. Why shouldn't the ps2 be a top gift for girls as well? This is why tween girls think video games are uncool.

Marlon Heimerl said...

It is my opinion, influenced in large part by what I read in this article, that video games appeal to the male audience because of a supply/demand echo chamber, wherein technology has often been looked upon as a masculine field and so parents have enforced this societal norm upon their children in implicit ways, by buying Tommy a remote-control car for Christmas and Betsy an Easy Bake Oven, or leading Jimmy to the technology section at Target while taking Betsy to get a new dress—god forbid anyone is that cliché.

Though I certainly am not saying that this means that no girls are interested in technology, no, no; it is interesting to question whether the chicken came before the egg in this case, that is, whether girls are normalized to stay away from video games and other traditionally male pursuits, while it is reinforced as an integral part of boy culture. Evidence of this double-standard stems from the stark differences struck between male to male interactions versus male to female interactions on online games. Indeed, girls can sometimes be harassed by boys, one of many populations crafting the glass ceiling that pervades basically all walks of life, from one degree to another.

Sarah. R. said...

I think Adrian is really onto something, and it's the issue that media and culture critics, feminists and progressive marketers (let's face it, there's a huge untapped market out there) deal with all the time. I think there are no easy answers, because the issues cropping up in the video game world are, as Adrian alluded to, just manifestations of a phenomenon (or several) emanating from the culture at large.

So where best to attack the problem? On all fronts?

Jasun said...

Working in a rapidly evolving marketplace, especially one based soley on technology, presents a number of pitfalls, and this article unfortunately falls victim. Since publication the level of acceptance for women/girls playing videogames has increased, as have the available selections appealing to a wider range of players. The rise of the Wii, and WiiFit, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Nintendogs and even (goodness forbid) the Tamagatchi and Furby (shudder) have all been signs of an increasing convergence and growth in cross-gender games.

rtaylor said...

One article which I found for my three week paper made an interesting finding. It said that the idea that only guys play video games, or at least predominantly do, is only an appearance and not reality. Since this was taken from a study which was not conducted by the author of the paper it is hard to say whether or not this has much validity. However, it definitely does seem that the market for video games is more directed towards guys, and that when characters in a game are sexualized it is more often than not the women who behold the stereotypes. I do believe though that there should and ought to be more and BETTER games for the female market.