Level Up Your Princess Is No Longer In Another Castle Michele Morrow

After my first two columns for HelloGiggles, What Kind Of Gamer Are You: Part 1 and Part 2, several people asked me why I left out the term “Girl Gamer” in my list of Gamer Types.

Hey, I’m not against being a girl.  And I’m definitely not against being a “Girl Gamer”.  But I don’t believe that gender necessarily defines the kind of games we play.

For instance, women who are mothers are generally really good at time management – they have to plan their entire days around hectic kid schedules.  Many moms would probably excel at Real Time Strategy (RTS) games on their off-time, like Starcraft II or Tower Defense / RTS Plants vs. Zombies… but advertisers don’t think this way.  Moms aren’t really their “target” audience.  Moms are told to play games like Bejeweled instead, and that’s totally fine.  I LOVE a good game of Bejeweled before bedtime.

It really all comes down to marketing.

Pretty much every kid I knew growing up played some sort of video game, whether it was Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo or arcades.  However, as I look back at old video game commercials on YouTube, early 80’s Atari was the dominant company with both male and female actors.  For examples, check these out: Pacman and Missile Command.

But as the decade went on, the marketing took a sharp turn toward boys in America… as in no girl actors. Check it out: The Legend of ZeldaMetroidPaperboyMarble MadnessToys R Us NES PackageSegaSuper Nintendo NESNinja Gaiden, and Star Wars.  Super Mario Bros 2 was the only franchise (that I can find archived on YouTube) that chose to use no actors at all.  However, Japan (where Nintendo is from) used female actors in their NES (also called “Famicom” – as in “family”) commercials: Super Mario Bros / Legend of Zelda.

Weird right?  I thought, well, maybe I’m the exception and girls just weren’t fitting the American demographic.  Maybe girls didn’t like video games as much as I did.  Or, maybe I was just oblivious.

In 1983, there was an event referred to as the great video game crash.  Atari and the whole lot died out until Nintendo resurged the American console market, becoming widely successful in 1987.  However, in 1986, a company named Cooper and Mackie conducted a study where they researched 88 5th graders – 44 boys and 44 girls - by having them play either Missile Command (high violent), Pac-Man (low violent) or a maze-solving paper game (the control).  After playing these games, the kids were set free to recess and given a variety of toys to play with:

Playing Missile Command had no effect on boys’ preference on the types of toys during free play, but there was an effect for girls in that they played the aggressive-typed toy (a Shogun samurai that spits fists and darts) as often as the boys.

…and where can I get one of these Shogun samurais????

I can’t find research that proves American marketers used this data in their blatant exclusion of girls in video game commercials.  I also can’t prove that they thought – heaven forbid — a boy could get defeated by a girl. And if girls started liking the same toys as boys, then, what would happen to Barbie, My Little Pony and Care Bears?!  Would various superheroes, Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kill the “girl” toy market?
Maybe this is crazy high concept, but something about all of this reminds me of the 1940′s World War II marketing campaign that encouraged women to take jobs while men were overseas.  And after proving we were totally capable of doing the same work as men, the boys returned and wanted their jobs back. The manipulation and sexism of the whole thing makes me want to scream.   Take a look at the iconic  Rosie the Riveter’s “We Can Do It” poster compared to the post-war propaganda “We Never Figured You Could Do A Man-Size Job!” poster… or as I read it: “Sweet! Now get back in the kitchen and ready yourself for the 1950s, kay?”

Females became virtually non-existent in the eyes of American video game advertisers which effected the genders. Many girls still gamed, but the gap had certainly widened.  We weren’t all just kids playing games anymore.  Now, it was a gender thing and I’m postulating that this inadvertently caused the term “Girl Gamer”.  The term “Girl Gamer” was (and occasionally still is) used as a derogatory term to mean “guys are better than you at video games”.   And the truth is, a lot of dudes still need to believe that to survive.  I’ve been in Call of Duty: Black Ops or World of Warcraft games where the mere sound of a female voice in the lobby causes a man to point it out, “YOU’RE A GIRL!” or “SAY SOMETHING SEXY!” Some girls go with it for the attention… and whatever, let them take that course.  I personally choose to make fun of them.

Being a “Girl Gamer” isn’t a bad thing, but its taken a lot of women to break barriers for the rest of us. Several all-girl Pro Gamer teams have helped forge the way for female gamers everywhere. For example, the talented Ubisoft Frag Dolls have always advocated and supported the ladies. From their website:

The Frag Dolls are known not only for being skilled gamers in multiple games, but for their advocacy of female gamers. [They] have spoken on panels at the Women’s Game Conference, Women in Games International, Penny Arcade Expo, Game Developers Conference, and the Austin Game Developers Conference. They have been vocal about their support of female gamers and game developers, and have grown an online community around the interests shared of a diverse segment of the gaming population. The team has cited their social networking outreach on Twitter, facebook, and myspace as part of a larger effort to raise awareness about video games as a legitimate pastime and career for women. This is in response to the continuing perpetuation of video games as a male-dominated pursuit.

So, that’s why I left “Girl Gamer” out of my list.  All females are “Girl Gamers”.  It’s a gender, not a Gamer Type.  I wanted all of you to challenge yourselves and ask what kind of games you enjoy – puzzles, action, role-playing, strategy?  See what else is out there and challenge yourselves!   Don’t just rely on companies and marketing to tell you what you like.

At least one little girl has it figured out.  I will leave you with 4 year old, Riley Maida, and her rant on girl vs. boy marketing.

Images via: The Gamers Garden, The Society Pages, About.comKnowYourMeme and Frag Dolls Official Facebook

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  1. My girlfriend has never really been a gamer (despite a brief fling with Harry Potter on the GameCube) so when we got together I presumed she wouldn’t want to join me on forays into the worlds of zombie blasting and baddie slashing. Not because she’s female, but because it’s never really been her thing. More fool me apparently. After powering through her third dungeon on Skyrim the other night, destroying zombie after zombie with her favourite battle-axe, she turned, punched the air and bellowed a war-cry: “Raaaaaaarrrrgghhh”. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved her more.

    On a side note, I agree we should all be referred to as ‘Gamers’. But if we are to be given devisive monikers, can we be ‘Gentleman Gamers’ and ‘Lady Gamers’? It appeals more to my formal sensibilities. :)

  2. So true…yet, so much has changed for the better compred to when I was growing up!

  3. Girls are always separated into their own category..just last night on jeopardy (yes..jeopardy) there was a “Famous Women” category. There would never ever be a “Famous Men” category…

  4. If by bubble you mean “Morph Ball”, she’s one of the most important female protagonists in video game history. Due to the fact she was orphaned, I named my adopted kitten after Samus Aran: http://on.fb.me/yC13uR :3 :3

  5. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the main character from Metroid (Samus Aran) is a woman.

  6. I whole heartily agree with you leaving out the term “Girl Gamer”. We don’t call guys “Boy Gamer”s. Why specialise in gender? And Gender doesn’t equalise what sort of games you play. That’s all down to the person, not their gender. I don’t play FPS, but that’s because I’ve sucky co-ordination, and I’ve known guys with the same problem. I prefer problem solving and collecting (Adventure, RPGS) where as I know guys that get bored of that for too long, where as I keep going and going. That’s what I loved about your other articles on this, and was pleasently surprised when I saw and read them. We’re gamers, not “girl gamers”.

  7. Pretty nice post. I Personally think there is a lack in a lot of things in the gaming world going towards women. Though it’s not always apparent they too do play games. But the mass majority of games are, as stated usually geared towards men in america. You can see that, in shooters and such. Though they are opening their eyes a bit.

    All in all, pretty sic read. didn’t know about the ad stuff back in the 80′s ( be it i wouldn’t since i was born in 89 XD) so it’s interesting to see how much we didn’t really move forward XD

  8. I love that little girl. And the lack of “girl gamer” as well. “Girl gamer” essentializes girls, and we have enough of that!

  9. I was glad you didn’t include “Girl Gamer” in your original posts. :)
    I very much agree with the little girl in the video. It’s annoying looking for toys these days. I remember always being in the lego section when I was little. I think I had a total of 1 barbie doll growing up, and I only kept that one because my grandma gave it to me. LOL
    Great post, thanks for sharing!

  10. this seems slightly hypocritical coming from someone who’s on a top ten hottest chicks to play WoW list. Isn’t that just perpetuating what you’re talking about happening in dungeons and raids?

    • It’s not hypocritical since she didn’t create the list and put herself on it. If you click the link, the list was created by a girl. It was for fun. It doesn’t do anyone any good discrediting a female because of their looks, hot or not.

    • It’s not hypocritical. I just don’t believe that gender necessarily defines the types of games we like to play. I’m not advocating that women should or should not behave differently than men. I’m simply talking about the way marketers chose to advertise based on gender… decades before I was on any “top 10″ list. However, I feel your frustration over misogyny during gameplay – sometimes guys can make us feel inferior, objectified or both. In my guild, that doesn’t happen, but I’m the Guild Leader. Maybe in the future I’ll do a post about it!

  11. YA! I had the toughest time at best buy once, I wanted to get some gameboy game because it had the Olson twins on it, but the salesperson laughed at me, so I got pokemon silver. Im super glad I did but still! it up to us to stop PIGA (protect internet gender act) haha

  12. This. I know as many female gamers as male, and the male gamers I know are quick to tell me that all the online games they play have a lot of female players.

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