Why Aren’t More Women Playing Videogames?

A few days ago Leigh Alexander posted this video to Sexy Videogameland that was made by Daniel Floyd with her assistance. It’s a fantastic look at some of the reasons women don’t play big blockbuster videogames. I highly recommend watching it. My thoughts follow.

The section that I want to talk about in this video is a little more than half-way through. Everything before that point is great too, but I don’t particularly feel the need to comment on it at this moment. What I do want to talk about is the section about marketing. Mr. Floyd and Ms. Alexander have managed to directly address the biggest problem with the marketing of female characters here. No matter how smart, strong, interesting and well-written a character is, it all becomes irrelevant if she is marketed as a sex object.

I wanted to specifically point this out and bring it up because one of the most common arguments you hear when the issue of how women characters are portrayed comes up is “but she’s really a great, powerful character, you’d know that if you played the game!” That’s lovely and often is very true, but the point here is that it really doesn’t matter. No matter how fantastic the character is, how empowering or how heroic, if she’s posing naked in Playboy or being featured in Play‘s Girls of Gaming that makes it pretty hard to take her seriously. It’s even harder for me to look at that character and believe that female players are being invited to play her game at all.

And yes, you do need to invite women in. This does not mean that the only way to get women to play is to build a big “kiddie pool” out of Imagine games and pink controllers. I’m starting to think that such things are doing more to keep women out than to invite them in. Making “girl games” does more to label everything else as “boy games” than anything else possibly could. Think about it, if The Sims is a “girl game”, what makes it so? And what does that mean? Does it mean that only girls can play it or that girls can only play games with that label on them? If it doesn’t mean either of those things, why have the label on it at all?

But this isn’t to say that the Imagine games or The Sims shouldn’t be made. They should. They have fans, just like Halo or BioShock do. In fact, The Sims has considerably more fans than either of those games. And Bejeweled has probably even more. So why aren’t they taken seriously? And that’s the second point I wanted to talk about from the video. The video claims that casual games could be gateway drugs to bring women into… what? “Real” games? I don’t even know how to phrase that. And that’s the problem. What makes Halo any more real or valid than Bejeweled?

The gaming community has gotten very elitist. We remember things like Pac-Man with nostalgia, but we scoff at modern puzzle games in the same vein like Zuma. Why is that? What made Pac-Man any more a “real” game than Zuma? And how can we honestly say that Halo is a more valid game than Mystery Case Files – Return to Ravenhurst, which is supposedly Pop Cap Games’ most popular download, implying it has more players than Halo ever has? How can we honestly say that my husband is more of a gamer than his mother, when I’m pretty sure she puts in as many hours gaming a week as he does, except that he’s playing Fallout and she’s playing Mystery Case Files? Why doesn’t her game count? It should.

And the fact that it doesn’t might be a reason women aren’t becoming gamers too. They already are gamers and perhaps the fact that they aren’t being treated as such doesn’t make them feel like becoming any more interested in the industry than they already are. My mother loves her Nintendo DS and the games on it and was very proud of herself for being a gamer, but if you told her she wasn’t one just because she pretty much sticks to games like Professor Layton, she would probably be annoyed. Maybe girls stop gaming, or at least don’t play the types of games the industry would like to lure them to (the ones that cost $50 or more a pop), because they get told “oh, girls aren’t as good at this stuff, they’re good at puzzle games and stuff”. Well, if you don’t think I’ll be good at it and no one will want to play with me, why should I spend the money or try this again?

It’s not rocket science, but there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle. No one change is going to suddenly bring women into “real” gaming and balance the statistics of who plays. But just because you can’t fix all of it doesn’t mean you can’t help with parts of it. In the industry? Great, work from that angle to make more women-friendly games and characters marketed as if to women, not as if to the readers of Playboy. Just a regular gamer? Awesome, invite women you know to play, don’t condescend to them, treat them like they are every bit as good as any other player. And no matter what, don’t think that just because a girl is a gamer she must be looking to hook up with a gamer. It’s a hobby just like any other. Guy gamers marry and date non-gamer girls all the time. Why should girls be any different? Don’t expect her to fall for you just because you like the same games.

It’s going to take a while for things to change, but that’s just more reason to be working towards it now.

Avatar Art: Why Women Aren’t Men with Breasts

A few days ago the art director from Wizards of the Coast, Jon Schindehette, wrote a post on his blog about halflings. He posted some concept images of this core race from Dungeons and Dragons as well as information about their physiology, typical outlook and environment. This is always cool to see because it gives us, as players, some insight into what the designers are thinking about our game and it gives us bullet-pointed background information, which can be useful.

I was a little taken aback, however, by the art itself. I don’t know who the artist was (there is no signature and Schindehette does not credit it). The first thing I thought when I saw the piece above (the first one in his post) was “it’s a guy with breasts”.

You see, men and women are built very differently, and the difference is bigger than ‘women have breasts’. To start with, everyone has a center of balance. For men, it’s up in their shoulders. For women, it’s down in their hips. This dictates in large part the way we stand and the way we move (particularly the way we walk). The woman in that image does not look like her center of balance is in her hips, she looks like it’s in her shoulders.

Beyond that, she’s going to have other problems from having such tiny hips. A very athletic woman’s hips are usually around the same size around as her upper torso (where her breasts are). This is important because she has organs that need to fit there, she needs to be able to menstruate and she possibly needs to use those hips to give birth (narrow hips make that harder). I assume halflings have all of those needs as well (we’re told that they’re built like small humans, so presumably they reproduce like small humans). This woman is going to have serious problems. Oh, and she lives in a place without modern medicine.

Don’t get me wrong here, I really like seeing this art and I think a lot of it is very good (I was thrilled to see two women in great armor lower down). And I don’t want to see that muscular guy next to a waif of a girl who has no business being an adventurer, because that’s what these characters are, not just regular people. But I do want her to be female, not just a guy with breasts. Women are not just men with breasts. There can be a whole range of heroic women who look nothing like Marvel’s stick figure pin-up girls, but who are also female. Yeah, armor is going to hide a lot of that female figure, but she’s stripped down to a loin cloth. That shouldn’t be the problem here!

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I’m generally thrilled with a lot of the art coming out of WOTC right now, this shows me that there’s still something to be desired. Honestly, though, I’d rather this problem than the opposite (see nearly any cover from Marvel or almost any screenshot from Age of Conan).

An Arguement for Passive Powers

I doubt it will come as a big surprise to anyone that superheroes and all things related to them are a common topic of conversation in my life right now. For the most part, these have been fun, light discussions about superhero lore, favorite types of characters and storylines, even a discussion about the colors of the Lantern Corps and the implications of that recent breakdown. I had two discussions yesterday, however, that got me thinking about different kinds of powers and how perhaps passive powers aren’t given enough respect. I really want to thank K., in particular, since it was the discussion with her that got me thinking about powers in this way. I’m going to start playing City of Heroes again this week with some friends and the discussion I had with her really put me into an interesting frame of mind when I was sitting down to consider what powers to take for a new character in the game.

Super powers can be categorized in many, many different kinds of ways, but one way of looking at them is as “active” or “passive”. “Active” powers are powers that act outwardly and upon something else – laser eyebeams that shoot things, flame powers that burn things, lantern rings that create things, and sonic calls that stun people and break objects are all examples of powers that act on something other than the superhero who wields them. “Passive” powers act for the user, most commonly as protective or telepathic types of powers, and do not typically forcibly affect something other than the person possessing the power – telepathy, shapechanging, force fields and invisibility are all typical “passive” powers.

The thing about powers, though, is that they are really only tools. In the hands of an idiot a flame shooter will still make fire, but what if you give it to a genius? What might she do with it? Probably more than just make fire, but whatever she does is still likely to involve flames.

Now what about a force field? The most obvious use of it is to protect. You put up a force field and nothing hits you. But what if you make it more portable, as Violet did in The Incredibles? It’s not really anything more than just a simple force field, but it’s hard to deny that surrounding a speedster with it was a clever use (combining two passive powers, by the way). But what if you wanted to do even more with it? What else can a force field do? Well, as Sue Storm illustrates in the panels here, it can easily be used to punch holes in things. She’s also been known to use her force fields to stop up the air passages of her enemies, and to block the passages to their hearts. Clever uses indeed, and not likely what the writers who originally decided to give her the power intended!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Superspeed is a passive power, but the Flash can do any number of amazing things with it, the most common of which is creating funnel clouds that lift or push things and people around (including himself). Rogue of the X-Men has what is arguably the most passive power of all – she “borrows” other people’s powers. This allows her to do some pretty amazing things, however, and she is considered one of the most powerful members of the team because of her ability to turn the tide of a battle so effectively with her unique power. The Martian Manhunter of the Justice League is telepathic and telekinetic and this allows him to not only know if someone is telling him the truth, but also to find hidden memories they didn’t even know they had and to shapeshift into incredibly powerful creatures (dragon-like serpents are a favorite of his).

And yet, passive powers are generally not as desirable as active ones. The established characters have a pretty good spread of both (although the female characters tend to be more likely to have passive powers than the male ones). But open a superhero themed video game and try to make a character with passive powers and you will find that it’s extremely difficult. Superspeed is about the only one reliably there. Force fields, shapeshifting, any kind of telepathy (even telekinesis), all are largely unheard of in videogames.

I can definitely see how passive powers could be more difficult to program, especially since effective use of them generally involves some creativity, but they seem absent even in their uncreative forms. Force fields could be very useful, even if you can’t kill or push someone with them. Controlled shapeshifting could be a fun element as well, especially since it could give a character access to a set of powers they only have while in their other form. Personally, I’d love to see these. I’d love to see more interesting powers and more creative uses of traditional powers in general. And perhaps, when it gets right down to it, that’s why I find passive powers so interesting – because they foster creativity so very effectively.

Obviously, this isn’t the most organized of posts, but I’m still pondering these things and I doubt that I’m going to come to any satisfying conclusions any time soon. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on powers in general and the way that videogames use them, so if you have anything to share, please comment!

Some examples of types of passive powers and characters with them:
Telepathy/Telekinesis: The Martian Manhunter, Jean Gray, Professor X, Marvel Girl
Force Fields: The Invisible Woman, Violet Incredible
Borrowing/Mimicking: Rogue, Mimic, Synch
Superspeed: The Flash, Dash Incredible
Shapechanging/Stretching: The Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Mr. Fantastic, Elastigirl, The Wasp
Teleportation: Misfit, Spectre, Nightcrawler
Healing Factor: Wolverine, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel

When Games Break Your Heart

It’s rare that a videogame holds my interest long enough for me to get very far into the actual plot of the game. It’s even more rare for a game to reach me on a real emotional level. So it really hurts when one of the few that does breaks my heart, and not by design.

I’ve been playing a lot of Fable II lately. The plot is vaguely interesting, but what’s really grabbed my interest is the rest of the game. The buying and managing of businesses, the social elements (there’s something sadly funny about hordes of villagers following my character around begging her to marry them), and most importantly the ability to have a family. I get the dog thing, I like my dog, but what I’m really attached to is my family – my husband and daughter.

So I’m not understating it when I say that it ruined the experience of the game for me when they broke. I went off on one of the main plot portions of the game and left my family behind for a time. This was the portion that I’ve disliked more than any other and in just about any other game would have made me give up on the game entirely for lack of fun. However, I spent the whole time thinking “it’s ok, when I get through this stupid section I can go back to my loving husband who probably has another present for me (because he always does) and see my pretty baby daughter grown up into a little girl” and I got through it and didn’t give up on the game. Then I got back to my house to find my husband nowhere in sight and my daughter frozen and less responsive than when she was a bassinet.

So I called in my resident videogame expert, my real life husband. He poked at the game briefly and confirmed that my in-game husband wasn’t anywhere to be found and my daughter seemed pretty comatose. Then he turned to the internet for some help, since he knew this was a make-or-break issue for me with this game. And what did he find? It’s broken. Not only is my family gone, but I can’t even really finish the game the way that I probably would have because it requires a working family to do so.

He was sympathetic and advised me to start the game over or give up entirely. I haven’t decided which route to take yet. It wouldn’t even be a question except that I was really looking forward to playing during my upcoming recovery-from-foot-surgery period. I may end up starting over then, but right now I don’t feel like it. I’d miss my family too much. I’ll probably just bury myself in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise instead.

But I’m very sad that Fable II had such a game-breaking bug for me because I fear it’s going to affect my approach to future games. I feel like this was a major bug and should have been found in beta. It ruined a game for me, and there’s a decent chance I’m not the only one. To bad too, since it was a fun game. At least I got to see the climax when my husband finished it a week ago.

“I Want to Play Her”: Prepared Leader

Look! I have two great images of the same great character! It’s completely unprecedented! As soon as I saw these book covers, this girl caught my eye. She looks totally prepared for anything. Aliens attacking? She’s ready. Zombie hamster? No problem. (Yes, that is a zombie hamster on that cover.) She’s even dressed for action in a practical jumpsuit that’s easy to move in and looks comfortable or a tee-shirt and hoodie with her hair back in a ponytail. Her companion seems a bit less ready for anything, but he’ll be ok since he’s with her. Besides, his main job seems to be to protect the little dog that is their constant companion. When she’s fighting zombie hamsters and alien invaders, this hardly seems like a taxing job, does it? This girl looks awesome. She appears inquisitive, attentive and prepared. I would love to play her! She’d make a great hero character in an action game! By the way, the cover art is done by Scott M. Fischer.

A Response to Ars Technica on the Portrayal of Women in Media

Ben Kuchera reported today on Ars Technica that the Women’s Rights Committee of the European Parliament has issued a report in which they make the assertion that women aren’t portrayed very well in electronic media, including video games. They’re asking for this trend in stereotyped portrayals to change. I think that’s awesome and well overdue. I wish our government here in the United States would ask for something like that instead of alternately ignoring the industry and screaming about it being terribly dangerous in some nebulous and unclear way.

Kuchera goes on in his article to discuss this statement about the portrayals of women in video games. He claims that it’s an unfair statement to make and that the Parliament is incredibly vague about what they’re asking to change. I’m sure they are vague (you’d be hard pressed to find a government document of this nature that isn’t vague), but they aren’t wrong. He states that the videogame industry is getting better in their portrayal of women, and I would agree with that, although I don’t think I think they’ve made as much progress as he does.

Where I really take issue with him is his claim that videogames are no worse than movies in this area. He says “The truth remains that, in a movie rental establishment and a video game store, it’s just as easy to find games that treat women well as films, and that should be applauded.” This is simply untrue. There are games that “treat women well” (or at least portray them realistically and respectfully), but they are not so easy to find.

If you walk into a video store, it’s pretty easy to find a movie that portrays women pretty well. They’re the movies that are marketed to women. The romantic comedies, the sisterhood-type bonding movies, and the heartfelt family dramas all have many, many titles with realistically shaped actresses, realistically flawed characters and competent women who aren’t always ordering their lives around a man. There is a good smattering of such characters in just about every other genre of film as well. I’m not saying film is perfect, because they absolutely have a long way to go in their portrayal of women, but good women characters and female-friendly stories are not unheard-of there. They’re just not nearly as common as they should be.

If you walk into a videogame store, you’re going to have a harder time finding a game with the same qualities in gender portrayal. First, you have to find a game with female characters, which is not always as easy as it sounds. Then, you have to find one where they are both realistically shaped and clothed. This is extremely difficult, especially if the box art is most of what you have to go on. Finally, you need a character with depth. This is very hard. Even if her whole story revolves around the men in the game, she must stand alone as a person and be believable or she’s little more than cardboard. It’s a rare find in a videogame. Alyx Vance is one in a million. Portal is downright unique.

So I’m thrilled about the report from the EU. I’m glad that Kuchera wrote his article bringing attention to it. I have to say, though, we haven’t come nearly as far as he’d like to think. The EU is very right in the seriousness of the issue. This is a big issue. It’s bigger than we usually want to admit and it’s something that should be talked about and that we should be working to change.

“I Want to Play Her”: Champion

My husband gets the Pathfinder modules in the mail from Paizo and usually I at least glance at the character on the cover when they arrive, but I somehow missed this one! When I finally came across it I was wowed (and annoyed that he hadn’t shown it to me, since he should have known I’d flip for this particular piece of art). You have to click through on this one and see the full piece, the details are amazing. This woman is badass. She’s fully armored and even has a helmet in her hand. Her armor is full plate and I counted at least five visible weapons plus a large heavy-looking shield. She’s got a great, believable sword, a longbow and full quiver of arrows, various small weapons, everything she might possibly need in combat. This is a woman who knows what she’s doing.

And check out that expression on her face! She’s determined and smart too! She may not be the strategist in her party, but she’s certainly not just a “tank” either. She’s got brains under that helmet and is clearly someone who weighs in on the advisability of a given course of action and probably the moral implications as well. I could see her being given a definite set of orders, weighing them in her mind and deciding to not follow them because to do so would be against the code that she holds herself, and likely everyone around her, to. This might easily be a holy warrior, but it doesn’t have to be. She could as easily be a fighter with as strong a sense of responsibility to something as a paladin. Maybe she even works for a crown. Or maybe she’s fighting against them. Who knows? Whatever she’s fighting for, she’s decided to do so after careful consideration and possibly a lifetime of lessons. This would be such a great character to play. I don’t think she’s necessarily the leader of her party (although she certainly could be), but she is definitely not merely a follower either. I love seeing fighters with more to them than just muscle and this woman most definitely fits the bill. An image of a male warrior with this same armor and expression would have drawn my attention too, the fact that she’s a woman is icing on the cake! This is a total win!

As a side note – I’m having trouble finding images for this series. There are painfully few great pieces of art featuring women who I would want to play. I’ve done enough of these that it should be clear what I’m looking for (to see all of them, check out the “I Want to Play Her” page). If you know of a piece of art you think might appeal to me, please let me know! It can be from anywhere. I tend to look for gaming art, but art from novels, animation, comic books, anything really is fair game. I don’t care the source as long as it fits the bill! Leave a link in the comments or send me an email at katie at pixiepalace dot com! Thanks!

Women in Videogame Promotional Art: NCsoft’s Game Girls

Tabula Rasa Promo ArtI’m always on the lookout for gaming art with images of women that make me want to play the game or, even better, play that particular female character. I was a kid in the era when Ms. Pac-Man and Princess Peach were about the only female characters that were terribly prominent in the video game world. This led me to believe for a long time that video games weren’t really for me. I didn’t really want to be a princess in a pink frilly dress who constantly needed rescuing (What is up with that anyway? Somebody needs to buy Peach some books on how to be self-reliant!). Anyway, we’re beyond that now. These days, women are everywhere in the world of video games. Unfortunately, they still have a ways to go when it comes to being attractive as avatar images for women.

Not too long ago I got an email from NCsoft advertising their various Massive games (I play one of their games, so I get emails from them periodically). For each game there was an accompanying piece of promotional art. The art did not please me very much. At the top of the email was an image for the game Tabula Rasa featuring a man and a woman (it’s the top image in this post). The man is fully armored, is wearing a helmet, and is holding a large weapon out in front of him. He looks ready for action, if maybe not as well protected in the facial area as one might wish. The woman, on the other hand, wears no protective gear on her head at all (except for the stylin’ shades that appear to really be goggles of some kind) and her “armor” is skin-tight leather. Skin-tight to the point where even her nipples are showing. She’s also in a really dumb pose entirely designed to throw her breasts forward. It’s actually pretty uncomfortable to stand that way in real life (I tried it before writing this post). It also looks stupid in real life. So, to recap on this image – the man is armored and looks ready to fight the ‘Bane’ while the woman is dressed and posed like a sex object. Presumably they are both in situations where bullets are flying at them. Yeah, that makes sense.

Guild Wars Promo ArtThe next game in the email was Guild Wars, specifically an ad for the Eye of the North expansion. The expansion’s promo art so far has given me the impression that it has sort of a Norse theme. That’s pretty cool. I would have loved to have seen a Valkyrie or something in the ad, but instead I get this girl (see the image to the left). She’s standing in what appears to be a pretty cold place (whites and blues and frosty effects) and she’s in front of a bear-like creature. You’d think she’d be wearing armor or fur or something to protect her from the cold. She’d need protection when she goes out fighting scary ice creatures with her cool bear companion or whatever he is, right? Instead she’s dressed like a stripper in a gold bra, connected by the thinnest strip to a tiny swimsuit bottom of thin straps that seems designed to expose every bit of flesh possible. Her arms are completely covered by cool sleeves, but those sleeves connect to absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, they’re probably the only thing keeping her warm at all. Not that it would help, since she’s still going to die of frostbite long before she even finds the ice creatures, bear companion or no. This is not encouraging, and makes me wonder how that picture can represent the same game as this one. I actually really like some of the promotional art for this game, but it seems like for every empowering piece there are two like this.

City of Heroes/City of Villains Promo ArtNext up are the paired games City of Heroes and City of Villains. There are three people in this image – two men and a woman. This time all three are equally armed with swords of various types (see image to the right). The men, however, are fully covered. One even has serious shoulder armor to protect him, while the other sports more of a corporate-samurai look. On one of the men you can’t see a scrap of skin below the neck while on the other only the thinnest strip around the elbows is visible. The woman, on the other hand, is not so well protected. She’s in a short, pleated skirt (really practical for fighting crime, I’m sure) and a halter top. Her knee-high boots leave much of her legs exposed and her cute little wrist-length gloves aren’t really any protection for her arms. But she’s a superhero, right? Maybe she’s invulnerable. I’ll buy that. It’s that kind of game (although why girls who are invulnerable run around wearing very little and guys still cover up is a mystery to me). The problem still stands that she looks like an overdeveloped schoolgirl while the guys look like grown-men to be taken seriously. I’m not saying that overgrown schoolgirl superheroes shouldn’t exist, I’m just saying maybe this isn’t the best image for NCsoft to have chosen to represent female characters in the game. If you’re going for a bad-ass look to the image (and the weapons, poses and two of the figures’ outfits suggest you are), don’t decide to go with an infantalized image for the one woman – make her bad-ass too.

Dungeon Runners Promo ArtThe fourth game discussed in the email is one I’d not previously heard of – Dungeon Runners. The image in the email (see left) shows a tall, thin redhead wearing a skin-tight cat suit of sorts. It’s cut out from her neck to below her navel and only held shut by a small gold clip. The cat suit is sleeveless, but the woman wears separate three-quarter sleeves, apparently for style since her shoulders are completely bare. A belt that clearly carries nothing hangs stylishly at her hips. Since the game description suggested a D&D-style dungeon-crawling game, I wondered about this outfit. It’s useless as armor, the woman bears no weapon, has no equipment or even a backpack, and generally appears more ready for an evening in a nightclub than a dungeon-crawl of any kind. The few screenshots I could find of this game suggest that the in-game characters appear nothing like this – they look more squashed, cartoony and (shocker, here) armored. So where this piece of art came from and who decided it was good promo art for the game I have no idea. I do know that this particular piece of art does not make me want to play. It makes me wonder if the game follows the classic fantasy gaming rule of inverse armor (where the higher your level, the less skin you cover if you play a female character), which definitely doesn’t make me want to play. If I’m going to be fighting someone with claws or a sword, I’m going to be doing it with a breastplate (or something, anyway) on, thank you very much!

Lineage II Promo ArtThe last game discussed in the email was Lineage II. Now, this game’s primary market is Korea and other parts of Asia and the art is very Anime-like. I realize that asking for non-striper, non-infantalized women is a stretch, but this image still bothered me (see right). The girl in this image is so stupidly dressed that it’s actually really hard for me not to laugh at her. The bodice looks just like a rubber one I saw on a booth babe at Gen Con a few years back. And what’s with the ridiculously armored panties? Seriously, armored panties are about the dumbest thing ever and these ones look like they’ll stab her with their pointy decorative bits. Of course, not as badly as her shoulder piece will if she happens to tilt her head a little too far. And again, what’s with covering up her arm completely and leaving her torso nearly naked? What, arms aren’t sexy so they can be used to kind of suggest armor, but heaven forbid we cover up anything with sex appeal to it! This outfit just doesn’t make any sense at all. I just want to wrap her in a towel and tell her it’s going to be ok.

Seriously, I like videogames. I even like NCsoft’s games. I just can’t figure out what’s up with the art that is used to promote games. I could as easily have picked just about any other major game company to pick on for this post (and the idea for the post had been in my head long before I got this particular email). NCsoft just happened to send me the perfect set of sample images all in one place. The thing is, SOE’s images are just as bad (check out any of the Everquest or EQII promo art). So are Blizzard’s (I’ve even talked about their avatars before). By and large, the art that’s out there is just awful when it comes to portraying women. I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions because there are. NCsoft has even made some of those exceptions. The problem is that if so much of it is bad, it doesn’t exactly draw women to play.

Like I said, I already like videogames. I play them. But I pick up a videogame magazine and generally find myself feeling sick. Flipping through the ads in a typical gaming magazine generally makes me not want to play anything – except maybe Viva Pinata – for several days. This is clearly a problem. And it’s not just a problem with me. There are mountains of articles out there talking about how the gaming industry isn’t reaching out to women, how it isn’t making them feel welcome, asking where all the women gamers are and how to create more of them. Maybe rather than making “girl games”, which pretty much everyone agrees generally suck, the industry could try to better brand the games they have so that women felt invited to play them like men did. I know it’s kind of a radical concept, but we know there are women who like to play these games already. Why not advertise them in such a way that is going to make them appear appealing to other women?

Hint number one: half-clothed women and chest-thrusting poses that look really dumb when tried by real women are not the way to do that.

“I Want to Play Her”: Monster Hunter

Ramona the PestThere is a tabletop roleplaying game called “Little Fears” where you play a little kid fighting closet monsters. The image of Ramona by Tracy Dockray on the cover of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest strikes me as a great character image for that game! Look at that no-nonsense pose! And those are totally monster-stoppin’ boots! She even has a war wound covered with a cute Band-Aid on her knee! I think she would make a fabulous and incredibly fun character in “Little Fears” or a game like it! I totally want to play her!

“I Want to Play Her”: Chosen Knight

The Woman Who Rides Like a ManMany of Tamora Pierce’s books have strong female characters on the covers because that’s what she writes about, but The Woman Who Rides Like a Man from the “Song of the Lioness” series stood out for me. This cover image is by David Wyatt who has done at least one of the other pieces of art that will appear in this series. I love this piece for a lot of reasons. What makes this image special isn’t just that the girl is dressed in the armor of a knight or that she’s astride a barded horse, although those are remarkable enough in their way. What I noticed first was that she was looking right at the viewer, not off to one side or down. That’s actually remarkably rare (although extremely common for men in fantasy art). I also love her pose! The horse is clearly in motion, but the rider is still in full command, she’s not even thinking about it. Riding comes second nature to her at this point. That’s important, especially if she plans to ride into battle. The other thing I love is the upraised sword being struck by lightning. It’s very much a sign of power and control, since she is completely unconcerned by the lightning and clearly in control of her weapon. Her expression is serious because she’s dealing with a serious situation (most situations involving barded horses, armor, swords and lightning are). A smile would have seemed quite out of place. She’s even able to handle a cat being on her saddle, although that can’t be entirely convenient. This is clearly a competent warrior woman who is well practiced and knows exactly what she’s doing. She will protect those behind her and is prepared for what’s ahead, whatever that may be. I definitely want to play her!

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