Last week at GDC the results of an interesting new study about gender and gaming were shared. The study, conducted by Ashly Burch and Rosalind Wiseman, asked students in middle and high school a variety of questions about their gaming habits, including topics like what gender characters they prefer playing, if those preferences effect how likely they are to play a game, and how they feel about how female characters are typically handled. The lesson Burch and Wiseman are hoping the industry learns from their study is that kids are more progressive than we tend to think, even when it comes to games lead by someone other than the standard grizzled white guy heroes. For instance, a surprising number of boys don't care whether their characters are male or not, compared to a much larger number of equally game-savvy girls who prefer playing as female characters.
While the bottom line is that these numbers should inform development decisions and help in the push for increased diversity in games, as I was reading about this study I couldn't help but let my mind wander a bit. Specifically, it wandered to all the people (mostly men) who have asked me in the past why I care so much about the gender of the characters I play...
Frankly 'asked' is too polite a word for some of those encounters. But it's easy to forget that they're not necessarily upset because one more female character for me is one less male character for them, but more likely because they really don't care, and they just can't wrap their head around why I really, really do. So they assume I'm making a big deal out of something that doesn't matter, that I'm throwing a temper-tantrum, that it's not really important to me because it's just not important to them. It's an argument a lot of people like me have gotten into time and time again, not necessarily because the people arguing are jerks (sometimes they are) but often because they personally don't have that inclination in their own head.
All tangents aside, be sure to check out Charlie Hall's write-up of Burch and Wiseman's GDC presentation over on Polygon for a summary of their findings as well as their slides.Tweet
Janine Hawkins (@bleatingheart on Twitter, Iris Ophelia in Second Life) has been writing about virtual worlds and video games for nearly a decade, and has had her work featured on Paste, Kotaku, Jezebel and The Mary Sue.