it’s great to see this kind of progress towards gender equality

Some of you may realize that I am a total video game nerd. Others among you may realize that I am, by and large, greatly in favor of gender equality. And what all of you probably realize is that I rarely find these two parts of my nature in collision.

That is, until things like this occur.

During a recent trip to Target I happened to pass through the video game aisle and stopped, struck dumb for some time by what I saw. Come, allow me to take you on a brief journey through gender roles as explained in video games.

There will not be a quiz.

The games intended for males were what you might expect:

We have titles like “Sins of a Solar Empire,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Command and Conquer,” and “Flight Simulator X.” I’m fairly sure these are intended for males, and imply we can be emperors, commanders, pilots, really muscular (and green) and should be doing things like fighting and dominating.

And these trends continue with “Supreme Commander,” an entire series on the “Age of Empires,” and a whole new emphasis on heroism with “Company of Heroes,” and “Heroes V.”

So, boys are supposed to be violent, aggressive, strong, dominant, and rule others. What about girls?

I’m glad you asked:

We have “Wedding Dash,” “Diner Dash: Flo on the Go,” and “Diner Dash: Hometown Hero,” where women are waitresses. There are the related titles “Burger Island,” and “Turbo Pizza,” which are basically the same thing (Burger Island promises “Burger flippin fun” whatever that means). We have “Jane’s Hotel” which seems to be the exciting game of service labor and, finally, “Cooking Quest,” which seems to require no explanation.

Then we have “Nanny Mania,” and “Babysitting Mania.” Don’t get enough of that gendered labor for money, young women? Now you can do it for free on your computer! Woot! That “Miss Popularity” game just scares the heck out of me.

And finally, we see some women in reasonably advanced roles but, really, only so much. Apparently an educated woman can be a vet. It’s not too restrictive, however, as she can be a “Farm Vet” or a “Pet Vet” who has “Australian Adventures.” She can run a regular kind of “Animal Hospital” in 3D or branch out to a “Wild Animal Hospital.” And of course, she has to be perky like “Dr. Daisy.” And I’ll be honest with you- “Pinkie Pie’s Party Parade” makes me want to kill myself. Seriously, stare too long into her eyes and feel your sanity begin to melt away.

Am I saying that these games cause gender inequality? Nah, I really don’t think this is where we should focus our energy. Rather, I think these games reflect some very persistent ideas about gender in our society and they’re just as dysfunctional for girls, who apparently are only allowed to be vets, child care workers, or service labor, as they are for boys, who are being told to be violent, dominant and destructive.

So, really, no need to blow this out of proportion but, at the same time, can’t we do a little better than this?

7 thoughts on “it’s great to see this kind of progress towards gender equality”

  1. To what degree do you think that the games available for girls reflect what the market will pay for? How inefficient do you believe the video game market is?

    (I ask seriously, not as a fundamentalist free-marketer)

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  2. But doesn’t this make you wonder about the *trend* towards gendered video games? I’m just saying that in my day (I’m generation NES-original/last part of Atari and arcade games), the games seemed more gender neutral, or rather, there were more popular but fairly neutral games.

    I’m talking about games like donkey kong, galaga, centipede, bubble bobble (oh how I love it), pac man, turbo racing, etc. Even games like Mario Bros. which are somewhat gendered, do not stress extremes of gender roles. Instead, this games points out that even Italian, plumber brothers can save princesses from the evil koopa.

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  3. OK, this is such an idiosyncratic delight that I don’t know why I am commenting it, but that Australian Adventures Pet Vet cover has two numbats! I might buy it. If there was a quokka on the front I totally would.

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  4. llimllib: I actually think the video game market is quite inefficient. Granted, they try to design things that will sell but there has been a definite tendency to just crank out another first-person shooter game rather than innovate. The oncoming “Spore,” for example, is a rare creative risk. By and large I think games are either too expensive for companies to want to take a chance or, if they’re cheap, done too quickly to develop a new dynamic.

    gradjest: I guess you could say that games are more self-consciously gendered now, but I don’t know that they were not gendered previously. Think of “Ms. Pac-Man” or (so help me) “Custer’s Revenge.” If anything the upswing in gendering we’re seeing now is probably a consequence of the growing popularity of games in general. Back in the day there may have been less gendering simply because the pool of users was overwhelmingly male. So, really, why bother?

    mom: Thanks.

    jeremy: I am quite pleased to hear I may have added a little something to your life! Want me to pick one up and FedEx it to you?

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  5. Real women play Diablo. But seriously, growing up at the beginning of video games, I played the same games as the boys. All they had was “games.” I was a bit insulted least year when it was announced that someone was now catering to girls because their game console was available in pink.

    Most of the “girl” games that I have seen are horrible, but some girls do like them. But technically these games seem to be several generations behind the “male” games, which implies to me that there just isn’t enough profit in them to bother with a more advanced game.

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  6. Look at that wombat on the front, too. Australian animals never get their due. Zoos stock no end of middling creatures, while you can’t see a real numbat unless you go to Perth.

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