Ask Not ...

Ask Not ...
The Double-X Factor

Erin Hoffman | 7 Nov 2006 11:01
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Hot or Not
Women that are deviants in the world of the politically correct: Enter the "grrl" phenomenon and the media circus. One aspect of the subculture response to the alienation effect has been a strong "girl power" movement that loves to highlight sexy, young women who play games competitively.

But isn't this just another form of subjugation? (Uh oh, she used the s-word, get out the feminist-beating sticks!) It's certainly objectification, and sure, it's fun to be sexy, but women shouldn't have to do this to keep their cred and be accepted as developers and gamers. A housewife mother of four who loves Precious Moments has every bit as much a right to this industry as a Frag Doll or a live-at-home 20-something with delicious disposable income. But this demographic disappears because it is not as media-glamorous as an all grrl Quake clan with a catchy anarchist-cyberpunk nickname. Come and stare at the spectacle! Women who play videogames! And they're hot!

It should come as no surprise that, whatever noble intentions might have been lurking in the marketing neuron high up in UbiSoft's shared brain, the Frag Dolls found themselves sadly but rapidly relegated to booth babe status.

The problem is that if your body type or personal style differs from the Hollywood femme-du-jour, you get called a dog - which, considering the source of these comments, is pretty damn ludicrous on its own - and if you're attractive, it isn't much better. Guys on the internet even seem to think they mean well in drooling over an attractive woman associated in any way with the industry, and it can be flattering at first, but in the end, it's the same old debasement, the same old problem in a nicer wrapper: You can only be worth something as a woman if you are - scratch that, if your body is eye candy.

Is there anything wrong with the grrl clans? No, of course not, and watching them wipe the floor with cocky adolescent hot shots is a unique and singular pleasure. But we should never fall victim to the illusion that they represent women in the industry, or - and this is worse - that they help solve the problem of gender disparity. A solution to that issue would be one that does not involve a photograph clipped to the resume.

The Mirror Ceiling
This is not to say that sexuality, however, is what keeps women out of games; the game development working environment often does that well enough on its own. And it certainly isn't alone in its sins. But the solution, like pulling out of a tailspin at six hundred miles an hour, isn't easy and it isn't simple.

The "feeder" conduits that bring people into games provide a natural starting point. So, let's look at schools. One telling point for diversity is that women excel in professional computing environments, but often struggle in, or fail to enter, technical schools. Real-life development requires communication skill, social skill and teamwork, three things rarely taught in technical instruction facilities. Instead, they focus on an isolating independent project atmosphere that is largely out of touch with the reality of professional software development. Female programmers, some of my friends among them, often find themselves doing the work by accident as part of another job, and then finding - to their surprise - that they like it and are good at it.

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