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Friday, 13 April 2012

Beauty and the Geek?

In one of my very first articles in June last year, I discussed what I consider to be an archaic and unhealthy division between those that society proposes 'should' and 'should not' play games; to be precise, the blokes that should, and the girls that should not.

Now, the traditional image of the bespectacled teenage boy in a darkened room surrounded by Cheeto crumbs and an intriguing odour is strongly embedded in our culture. However, it is now so utterly outdated with the explosion of games into mainstream entertainment that if anything, more games are played either socially over the internet, or out in the big wide world on mobile devices, tablets and other gadgets. The traditional stereotype may still apply in some cases, but for the most part, games have moved on, and the people that play games have become far more varied in a variety of respects. 

This applies in no small part to the gender of gamers today. I would stress of course, that there have always been 'girl gamers', or simply, gamers that happen to be female, since the dawn of the medium. However, there has been a notable increase in numbers of female players, especially in this current console cycle. So, why do we insist on still segregating out these players? It is damaging in a number of ways; it makes the industry itself appear archaic, stuck in stereotypes spawned in the 80's; it makes the male gaming populace look like social morons, so incapable of associating comfortably with the opposite sex that they have to refer to the 'girl gamer' like some sort of mythical creature, or alien being; and it encourages ridiculous, cheap and tawdry attachments to our beloved medium such as Maxim's Gamer Girl competition.


This is, in effect, simply a popularity contest and a beauty pageant that happens to have the words 'Gamer Girl' emblazoned on it. The kicker however, is that the winner of this competition will be employed by Virgin Gaming as a sort of spokeswoman - a public-facing industry representative, for all intents and purposes. Now, stop me if I'm wrong, but this seems like hiring someone for an industry role based entirely on their perceived beauty, and, presumably, appeal to this outdated concept of the stereotypical gaming geek. 

This strikes me as also being somewhat insulting for those women trying to break into the industry (or that are indeed already in it) that got there, not on their looks or ability to pose in swimwear, but for their passion for games and their ability to design, develop or produce them - you know, the things that matter in a professional context? When we think of notable male figures in the industry - Miyamoto, Kojima, Molyneux, Chen, or just about anybody for that matter, we recognise them for their achievements, not for how much sex appeal they have (sorry chaps, no offense intended!) so why should we treat industry females any differently?

Now some people will argue that we shouldn't take it so seriously - it's a competition being run by a classic 'Lad's Mag', intended as a marketing campaign and a way to appease their core readership. However, the fact remains that it is reinforcing a damaging view of the industry, and of the people that have or are looking for careers in it. The media does a fantastic job of suggesting to girls all the way through their upbringing that they can and indeed, should use their looks to get ahead in life - and all this type of marketing does is continue that on into the professional world. With all of the work being done across the industry to encourage more women to take up positions in development roles, it feels like Maxim is actively undermining that in order to further its own agenda and bring in more readers.

Do us a favour, and keep the smut masquerading as a beauty contest out of the games industry, it is nothing but damaging in the long run.


Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Level Up: PhD Transfer Review

Today was the day of my MPhil to PhD transfer review - and also the first 'graded' presentation I've done in about two years - why do they never get any easier?

Anyways, I'm pleased to say that I passed! Some really useful discussion came out of the review session too, and I have a couple of important considerations to take in mind as I continue on the next phase of the research. Primarily, the most controversial aspect of the research stemmed from its development-led, very much 'non-standard' (in terms of academic research) approach. 

It was always going to be challenging to argue a strong academic basis for a research project so heavily invested and geared towards the development and commercial side of the games industry. The credibility of the approach comes from the very fact that it is being applied in a scenario that is as guided, and in some cases restricted, by the same limitations and considerations as any other development project would be. Working within those limitations gives the data coming out of the study that much more viability in terms of commercial use, and in terms of making meaningful strides in commercial game design.

Development-led research in games is very much an untrodden path. There are a handful of other practitioners also working with similar methodologies, but it is very much a book being partially written as it is discovered. This is the biggest challenge in terms of the PhD, but also the biggest potential reward. 


This strip from www.phdcomics.com made me think of one of my supervisors...

Ok, he's not quite that mean.

Yet.

The other main issue that arose out of the review was my use of Schema Theory as a framing tool for the study. Whilst it was agreed that using schema theory as a lens to look upon player expectation with was a viable standpoint, it was a less comfortable fit in terms of the actual process of subverting, or otherwise altering, those player expectations in some way. This is fair criticism I feel - indeed, there have been plenty of discussions between me and my supervisors over the appropriate working title of the PhD - at one point we almost gave up and settled with "Doing Interesting Things With Games", but figured that probably wasn't particularly academic enough. The same argument goes for my suggestion of "Fucking with Players' Heads"... but I digress...

Both of these issues are certainly important to keep in mind, but I think having them highlighted now will make solving the attached challenges much easier from now on in. Here's to the next two years of my life magically disappearing into a nice big black hole! 

As long as the black hole has a coffee machine, I'll be fine.