Monday, December 10, 2007

Gaming stereotypes

Computer games are always a hot and contentious topic. They're often at the centre of heated debates about censorship and their influence on young minds.

The gaming world is traditionally seen as a male one, with war games, medieval role plays and gangster shoot-ups all themes long assumed as typically masculine.

Recently the mobile gaming company 'Champagne for the Ladies' released 'Coolest Girl in School'; a game they see as targeting a largely untapped female gaming audience.

So, if guns and violence are the attraction for males to games, what ingredients are seen to lure women?

Holly Owen co-producer, writer and director of 'Coolest Girl in School'gives producer Aimee McInstosh a description of the game.

"Coolest Girl in School lets players live out their high school fantasies by inviting them to experiment with fashion, spread rumours, while avoiding real-life embarrassment. Lie, bitch and flirt your way to the top of the high school ladder".

Holly adds the game doesn't claim to meet every woman's interests.

"The thing that's important to remember when we talk about making a game specifically for women is no two women are the same, their likes and dislikes are going to vary significantly. We're not claiming that every woman on earth will love this game".

"We wanted to make a game that focussed on things central to that teenage girl's universe. It draws very much on high school movies and television shows".

Even though 'Coolest Girl in School' has not yet been released it has attracted a lot of attention from parent groups, angry that a game would promote behaviours they see as unsuitable.

Debate about how influential computer games are on people are common in many fields. Aimee asked James Tulip, head of the Games Technology course at Charles Sturt University, if he believed games can influence the way people see the world.

"It's got to be said there are some games that are the equivalent of violent pornography, and it's been shown time after time that consumers of violent pornography are more likely to indulge in those behaviours.

So bottom line is if your game shows bad attitudes toward women, kids are going to pick up bad attitudes towards women, if your games show racism, they are more likely to show racist attitudes".

Computer gaming is coming to be seen as more significant in popular culture and entertainment than Hollywood so it would seem that it's potential influence is hugely significant.

So what are the images being displayed in these games? In the area of gender there actually seems to be a mix of both male and female heroes. In some games they battle against each other and females are not the weak and submissive stereotypes women have tried to fight for so long.

However Kate Seymour, a lecturer in gender politics at Charles Sturt University, said this new power woman might just offer another unattainable stereotype.

"It's a fraught issue because it's definately a positive thing to be presenting different images of women around women being strong. However, I'd be hard pressed to think of any female heroine that hasn't also been very much sexualised.

I think it's a bit of a double edged sword in that messages about power and strength for females to be taking on are good, positive messages. However those imgages tend to be very much associated with those very stereoptypical bodies".

Aimee asked Holly if she felt 'Coolest Girl in School', which requires players to manipultate in order to succeed was also reinforcing negative female stereotypes.

"Not at all, this game is about playing with stereotypes, it's about critically engaging with them and subverting them".

Kate Seymour wonders how much of a challenge can be made to stereotypes in the context of a game like 'Coolest Girl in School'.

"I can't really imagine how a mobile phone game could in itself challenge stereotypes. If if stimulates discussion and debate on a broader level than that's potentially productive but how that would actually work on an individual level I can't see how that would work".

So how much responsibility should the gaming industry be taking for its influence on the way people see and interact with the world?

"Gaming or popular culture can have a role in shifting stereotypes but I don't think it can produce change in itself, it can only gradually shift. But, having said that, I think that is the answer around shifting stereotypes in the way of presenting figures that aren't stereoptypical in all sorts of ways." Kate said.

'Coolest Girl in School' is a joint production of Holly Owen of Champagne for the Ladies and Karyn Lanthois of Kukan Studio

1 comment:

yesimcool said...

The game has been released in Australia now, so for anyone who wants to have their own (informed) opinion, you can download it if you sms 'coolest' to 19PUNK86.
The website is also pretty good.