Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love the Candy Crush Feminist Revolution
In his landmark study Homo Ludens, Johan Huizinga suggests that “through…playing…society expresses its interpretation of life and the world.” If that hypothesis is sound, what does the gaming industry as a form of play say about culture, gender, and equality overall? As a woman, while I reflexively focus on women’s outsider status as game developer and the resulting hyper-sexualization of female characters in games themselves given that exile, a class I’m taking on gaming culture has expanded my intellectual understanding of what’s in play.
Dr. Alexandra Layne’s course at Metro State, Video Game Culture, explores these concepts in great detail. I was first introduced to the academic world of gaming studies last semester when I took a course titled Children, Adolescents, and the Media: The Culture of Video Games. Exploring how children’s development is affected by the media sparked my interest in the academic world of gaming. This course helped give me a new understanding and appreciation for the art of gaming (gamers and designers), while opening my mind to all types of questions surrounding the gaming industry.
Given this fascination, when I found out that Metropolitan State was going to be offering a course on the subject of video gaming culture, I enrolled. Through it, I am finding myself, as I do in most college courses. Where do I fit in the bigger picture of the gaming industry? I’ve learned that no one gamer’s experience is identical to another. Factors such as game preference, game availability, and personal/cultural beliefs all figure into an individual’s gaming experience.
This large range of experiences helps shape the digital divide. The class has led me to consider where in the divide do I, as a woman, fit in. Ironically, women make up majority of game console owners, according to a 2015 survey. Women also represent over 50 percent of the PC gamer population; this figure includes social media games. While we are the majority of consumers, very few women are engaged in the development stage of the gaming industry. Although the percentage of women in the gaming industry has doubled since 2009, it was still quite low five years later at 22 percent in 2014. Additionally, according to Gamespot, over 76 percent of the gaming industry work force remains male.
Given this divide, I can understand why women chose mobile games over console games. In many console games created by all-male teams, “the narrow range of body types available for gameplay certainly deprives female players of the right to control their data images in ways that feel comfortable to them” (Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet). The sex appeal of female avatars in gaming is geared to the tastes of the male consumer, rather than female self-image. Sex sells, but console game developers create those female personas for the gaze of the male eye. We simply don’t see ourselves in the tiny-waists, large breasts and seductive eyes of the standard female characters in many console games.
Fortunately, the rise of the mobile gaming industry is forcing the rest of the gaming industry to adapt its thinking to include not only younger women gamers, but women gamers of all ages. I would consider myself to be more of a casual-mobile gamer (specifically games like Candy Crush, and Two Dots). People often laugh at the mention of mobile games such as Candy Crush or Farmville; however, these games allow women the option to enjoy play without being embodied by the unrealistic feminine avatar of the female hardcore game character.
Even with my lack of hardcore gaming experience, I don’t feel lost or out of the loop in Dr. Layne’s class. The course explores not only the psychological aspect of the gaming industry, but instinctual ideas surrounding play. The research readings assigned for the course explore material dating as far back as the early 19th century to the present, while examining topics like racism, sexism, technology, and cultural influences as they relate to gaming.
I’ve learned this semester that gaming is more than a pastime, but a means for self-expression and human play as well. Every game created has a story, an artist, a purpose, and a specific strategy for winning. The games one chooses to play may be selected solely for pleasure, for therapy, or for self-expression of thoughts and frustrations safely in a controlled environment. Games can also influence or reinforce behavior and beliefs. With the reach of the Internet, gaming can be a starting point for cultural exploration, new friendships, and round-the-world adventures.
Dr. Layne’s teaching toolkit includes a unique ability to expand the subject matter beyond gaming to applying the core concepts of the course to daily life. I have learned so much in this course–and it’s only been a month into the semester. Imagine what I will have learned in the next few months. If you’re a critical thinker who enjoys analyzing culture and industry, this may be a good class for you. This course is about more than gaming—it’s about the human need and desire to play.
Shanetria Bady is a professional communication student at Metropolitan State. She transferred from Normandale Community College after receiving her associate’s. After Shanetria graduates in May, she plans to enter the technical communication graduate program.