Week 9 of the MOOC introduces the theme of sexuality and how it is explored in video games.
In video 1, they focus on the first games that introduced sexuality — adventure games like Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork. Or how most of the text adventure games were relatively straightforward, yet Japan started introducing some sexual role-playing content with Night Life while America was still playing Kings Quest by Sierra. But mostly the video is about the development history of text games from basic parsers to added parsing, added exploration, added audio, added graphics, and expanded narrative arcs. It’s an okay start, but mostly it is just to give you the background so they can then talk about:
- The history of sex in gaming
- Five ways to imagine sex in gaming
- Role of women in the industry
The second video talks about the examples of how it is introduced:
- marketers using sex to “sell” to generally single heterosexual males;
- designers including sex content (Sierra’s Soft Porn Adventure and eventually Leisure Suit Larry);
- exploration of gender through cyber-sex roles; and,
- creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as reactions to games with sex and/or violence.
Interestingly, while some of the big FPS games like Doom do have strong male markets, other games with bigger audiences — Myst, Sims, Farmvilles — have much bigger female markets. But those markets are often dismissed as not “real video games”.
The third, fourth and fifth videos introduce five ways sex and sexuality can appear in games:
a. Sex as an abstraction — namely as a simplified representation, to reduce explicitness, and to add rationality and linear logic for game play, with similar approaches to how it is done in film, literature and advertising;
b. Sex as a game goal — using lust as a motivation (such as an early strip poker game), and with little diversity in the target market (where the gamer objectifies and identifies with sexualized game characters, namely white men pursuing women);
c. Sex as a mechanic (part of design) — some games make the character’s sex irrelevant while others make it explicit, but not necessarily obviously (such as Super Mario Brothers 2 where the male characters are stronger and faster than Princess Peach who can float), but there are some other still who use sex and gender to create a sense of agency;
d. Sex as an aesthetic (part of gamer experience) — some games are heteronormative (with assumptions of inherent differences matching societal perceptions) in their gamer experience, and while important, there’s also the risk of objectification, such as is argued by Lara Croft’s outfits and proportion in the Tomb Raider series; and,
e. Sex as emergent gameplay — some players have imported outside constructions like online weddings into an MMO game, but this pales in comparison to Second Life (with sold services, toys and club memberships).
For the role of women in the industry, they note that women not only play games, they also critique and make games. And while 45% of gamers are female (although that stat includes a bunch of games that some gamers don’t really consider games at all), only 11% of production crew are women, which goes even lower when you exclude HR, admin, etc. and focus on engineering or designers.
Overall, it was a solid week, just not with much depth. In most places, it just lightly touches on the concepts. Which was disappointing. For example, I expected them to talk about Tomb Raider, and they did; however, they could use TR as an entire study in and of itself, with some pretty complex elements. They don’t even mention the agency aspect that you have a strong female character as the protagonist, smart, attractive, strong…a bad ass who makes Indiana Jones look wimpy. They only cover the superficial controversy, without much attention paid to the counter-argument (although they do mention the puzzle-solving aspects). Grumble, grumble.
I’m also disappointed with the timing of the original recording. But they recorded all their stuff (I think) before #GamerGate started (2014), and so there is no mention of it at all. They mention in passing that there are those who face some harassment online, but it is a throwaway line at most. Obviously if they were doing the same pieces now, GamerGate would likely figure prominently in a discussion of women in the industry.
In the meantime, two more weeks to go…