Chances are if you are playing a game in a medieval fantasy setting you will find that all the guys are buff, grizzly chest hair wielding badasses while the women have a chest size that even Pamela Anderson would be jealous of. If you are like me and find absolutely nothing wrong or abnormal about this then you are part of the problem demographic explained in Fron et all’s “Hegenomy of Play”. The paper details the gaming clichés and standards that dominate the game industry and dictate how most games are made and appear. That’s not to say that these game developers, companies and enthusiasts are the root of all evil, in fact, Hegenomy of Play comes about simply because the majority of the demographic that enjoys a particular genre and theme of gameplay just dominates the industry
“We are not trying to suggest that game publishers or
developers are insincere. Rather we are trying to call
attention to the power structures that surround game
technologies, game production and game consumption.
These power structures perpetuate a particular set of values
and norms concerning games and game play, which tend to
subordinate and ghettoize minority players and play styles.” (Fron et all, 2)
Champions of Norrath is probably the staple for their argument. In it you can choose between five races, typical of a D&D setting, and are dropped into a world to kill hordes and hordes of enemies. It does have a story, but I’ve never followed it. However I do know that it is something along the lines of “Those guys over there are bad, go kill them.” All of the males are so muscular they are almost square in shape, while the women are so well endowed that they even released a calendar with images of them for every month for nerds alike to geek out about them. In Laurel's Utopian Entrepreneur she talks about the advertising techniques of most companies and how these techniques are typically offensive to women. This is largely because most companies believe in the phrase "Sex sells". Champions is not excluded from this population. The cover of the game features a female dark elf, and pretty much any feminine character you meet in the game will wear scantily clad clothes and a large chest. One npc in particular seems to zoom in on that area when you go to talk to her. Sony even released a calendar of the game featuring the scantily clad characters for each month of the year.
Gameplay is pretty rudimentary as well, press x to attack, square to loot and occasionally the circle and triangle buttons to use spells. If the aesthetics weren’t unappealing enough for most demographics, the loot system allows for one player to be able to pick up absolutely everything if the other players aren’t fast enough. That means that magic users and bow users who aren’t anywhere near the enemies they are fighting have very little chance compared to say a barbarian who is in the thick of the fight to pick up items. For players who like to share loot, take their time to explore or stay on an even playing field as others, this is not the game for them. Yet all of these aspects of the game are very typical of most games today. Champions of Norrath provides a very linear experience. Players are dropped into the world, and expected to go through a gauntlet of enemies. This style of gameplay tends to be a very masculine notion. As Jenkins explains in "Complete Freedom of movement" males prefer a very focussed experience, one with goals and objectives. On the other hand, females prefer open spaces, with no other objectives other than to explore the environment and make one's own fun. Unless you forgot which direction you were heading when you get out of a cave or something, Champions of Norrath is a very on rails experience.
While Fullerton et all focus mostly on the male fascination with first person shooters and sci fi settings, they do manage to describe the mood of Champions of Norrath very well as a masculine game,
“Thematically, these games revolve around narratives of warfare,
anti-terrorism, invading aliens, zombies, science fiction, combat
with robots, etc. Aesthetically, their settings tend to be highly
rectilinear, typically manmade spaces, often the bruised and
embattled remains of an urban environment, warehouse, office
building, space ship, space colony, or high tech laboratory gone
horribly wrong. They are typically constructed of hard materials:
cinder block, metal grid work, HVAC infrastructure, with
heavily mechanical components, reinforced by the sound effects
of footsteps echoing on metal or concrete floors.” (Fullerton et all, 3)
Champions of Norrath, while in a fantasy setting, focuses on a post-war filled world where evil prevailed and it is your job to set things right. Through barbarian moves like slam, you can send enemies flying and in pieces with a simple push of a button. Coming from someone who likes that sort of thing, yes…it is very satisfying…well, at least for me. But not everyone is into that sort of thing, in fact most aren’t and are therefore left in the dark for the majority of games currently released.
But if big chested women and buff mcmanly men in video games completely baffle you, you have to go back when games were young and look at the people who played them. The guys sitting behind their computer monitors 35 years ago weren’t interested in Sims or Barbie goes to the zoo. In fact, most could recite more lines from the D&D rule book than the names of women they knew and talked to. So of course the games that they made would be about their interests. As we have progressed through time however, this group of people is becoming smaller and smaller compared to the overall market of people who want to play videogames. Yet these structures, genres and clichés are still the most dominant. As Fron et all explain in the paper, this narrow scope of gameplay and genre makes the industry very difficult for minority groups such as women to get into. Its a double edged sword. On the one hand, the games that companies make are what they enjoy doing, and in this sense I think they have every right to continue doing it. Its like telling RL Stein that he's not allowed to make children's horror stories anymore. You can't force someone to change their artistic style (yes I mentioned art in a games blog, your move Roger Ebert). On the other hand, the most popular intellectual properties have always been the most risky. Who could have known that wii sports with its simplified graphics and gameplay would be so successful? Because of this, the constraints are more of the economy itself than the industry. Producers don't want to invest in games that they don't know how well they perform. Each game released by a company at this point is make or break. Because of this, in order to dilute the market with genres for everyone I believe it first needs to start on a smaller scale. People are able to get into the game industry now much easier than ever before thanks to distributing platforms like steam, psn, xbla, etc. With so many ways to let indy developers get their game out there, it is only a matter of time before the successful small scale games get picked up by bigger developers due to initial success. With bigger developers backing different styles of games, hegemony of play will slowly dissipate, it is only a matter of time.
Fron, J., Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). The Hegemony of Play. In Situated Play: Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2007 Conference. Tokyo, Japan. 1-10.
Fullerton, T., Morie, J. & Pearce, C. (2007). A Game Of Ones Own: Towards a New Gendered Poetics of Game Space. In Proceedings, Digital Arts & Culture 2007, Perth, Australia. 1-11.
Jenkins, H. (2004). Game design as narrative architecture. The Game Design Reader, 670-686.
Laurel, B. (2001). Utopian Entrepreneur. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.