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Thanks for the memories  July 26, 2012

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CNET Editor

Michelle Starr is the tiger force at the core of all things. She also writes about cool stuff and apps as CNET Australia's Crave editor. But mostly the tiger force thing.

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Nintendo: girls are not gamers

(Credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo's new television ads aren't completely terrible, but they do continue a troublesome tradition from the company of codifying women.

Over the last couple of weeks, Nintendo has released a few television ads: the "not a gamer" series for the 3DS and the first TV ad for the Wii U.

The "not a gamer" series features high-profile women extolling the virtues of the 3DS. Sarah Hyland from Modern Family is not a gamer; she's a stylist.

Dianna Agron of Glee is not a gamer; she's an artist.

Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas is not a gamer; she's a coin-collecting champion.

What Nintendo is trying to do here is clear: tap into the market of "non-gamers" by showing that the Nintendo 3DS is accessible to those who find the "gamer" label intimidating. This is not a bad goal, really, and using well-known faces in the US to do so is sure to help shift units off the shelves and into the hands of new customers.

It's the subtext that's troubling. Although individually, this is relatively minor, in the larger gaming community context that continually codifies women as incompetent at gaming, narratives like these simply serve as reinforcement for that stereotype.

(Credit: Nintendo)

In the Hyland and Agron advertisements, the women are playing "girly" games about fashion and art — an attitude that demonstrates the idea that women should primarily play girl-appropriate non-games. We've seen this from Nintendo before in its hand-held console bundles. Even the Douglas advertisement, in which she is playing Mario, one of the most popular video-game franchises of all time, states that she is "not a gamer".

Then there was this Wii U advertisement in the UK, in which a pouty girlfriend wants to use the TV. Everything about her body language and vocal intonation fits into the stereotype of the sulky non-gamer girlfriend who cramps her gamer boyfriend's style.

The 3DS message that Nintendo is trying to convey isn't a terrible one — that you don't have to buy into the gamer mythos in order to enjoy video games — but doing it at the expense of women's credibility as people who play video games is pretty uncool. It would be easy to redress, too: just shoot more ads with men proudly declaring their non-gamer status.

I'll be waiting with bated breath.

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MatthewP6 posted a comment   

Hi Michelle, not being a Gamer myself ;) (never owned Nintendo, PS3, Wii, etc), I'm a little lost. From other articles you've posted about female portrayals in video games, it would seem that you don't like, or are concerned about: 1. violence against women in games, 2. bullying of female "gamers" in online forums, 3.perception of female gamers, 4. perception that girls should play girly (non)-games.

Overall, what is your point? I'm only asking, coz your overall message just seems to lack a little clarity. Are you raising these points as a Gamer issue, or a Sexist issue, Violence against Women issue, or something other? If you could bring these issues, concerns, theories, into a single article it might help to bring a bit more definition to what you are saying.

A lot of Anime and Manga very succinctly sexually objective and/or princess-ify girls. A lot of magazines, after school cartoons, clothing commercials, princess-ify girls. So, is your concern a subset of the broader issue of treatment of women?

If the portrayal of women in games is directly or indirectly affecting the way Gamers interact with women, that must be a concern - like the age old argument of violence on TV. But is this even part of what you are trying to get across?


Michelle Starr posted a reply   

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for reading :)

1. I am concerned about sexualised violence; i.e., violence portrayed in such a way that indicates that the (male) audience is supposed to find it arousing. I don't think that violence should be linked with sex in a way that normalises it and makes it acceptable. That is rape culture, which is worth reading up on.

2. I am against bullying. Full stop.

3 & 4. Women are not a monolith. Different women like different things. It is okay for a woman to like "girly" games, just as it is okay for men to like "girly" games (and by extension, other "girly" things). What I don't find okay is when women are pigeon-holed and stereotyped as different to men. All people are different to each other, and I think it reinforces incorrect gender roles when marketing materials say "Girls like X and boys like Y". Some girls may like X, but so may some boys ... and what about the girls and boys who like Z?

These things can be all interlinked if you like, but I wrote them as individual pieces highlighting different problem areas. And the reason they're about gaming primarily is because this is CNET. Look up "Women in tech: are we there yet?" and "Beyond the pink veneer" for my non-gaming-specific pieces that cover similar subject matter.


MatthewP6 posted a reply   

Cool! Thanks for the reply; it certainly clarifies elements. I think part of the problem is the portrayal of women in media at large. You said: "I am concerned about sexualised violence; i.e., violence portrayed in such a way that indicates that the (male) audience is supposed to find it arousing."

This happens not just in games, but also in: TV shows, movies, Anime, Manga, Graphic novels, etc, etc. This portrayal of women is pervasive - despite noble attempts to the contrary. As I'm getting older (damn) this becomes more obvious and therefore less appealling - the sexploitation that is. We need to see healthier portrayals of women in all media - not just the sexed up type. Women are so much more than the sum of their reproductive organs...try telling that to the main stream media at large - and the drooling intended target audience.

Kids, especially boys, get the impression that it is fine to get aroused by this treatment of women, in all the media noted above.

I think this sexploitation is probably more stylised in games, and so more violent than in more pervasive media, e.g., tv. Maybe as video games saturate the social construct more, then the need to tone down violence and sexploitation will arise.

Finally, unfortunately, stereotypes are a neat (if highly inaccurate) way of trying to make sense of the world. It is an easy but lazy perspective of everything around us.

Aargh, this is CNET, not a Descartes to read your other articles, then off to play with my barbie doll...just don't tell me wife :)


Michelle Starr posted a reply   

You are absolutely correct; and the other thing with games is that the majority of them are made with a young male audience in mind (i.e., late teen to 30 or so), and sex is often used as a (lazy) way to draw that audience in.

No problems, glad I could clear it up for you!


MatthewP6 posted a reply   

It could be risky for a Gaming House to do so, but creating games that provide alternative, healthier potrayals and attitudes towards women, to the late teen to 30 demographic, could be a solution. Rather than the rescue the Princess, rape and pillage the villagers, etc., just maintain or extrapolate the status quo: rape culture.

Is there any sort of lobbying in this direction to Gaming Houses? Like I said, I am not a gamer so know nothing.

The bigger challenge, rather than feed dirty habits, is to promote healthy habit changes. It's easier, cheaper, less risky to satisfy the urges (e.g., raunchy babes in Video Games) rather than attempt to modify the behaviour (e.g., demonstrated healthy female interaction in a Video Game). Who would buy said game?

Games don't have to be destructive in nature, but can be highly constructive. But I bet the shoot 'em up, sexed up games are the ones that sell best.

I think it can be very hard for businesses to move beyond the old adage: sex sells.


MatthewP6 posted a reply   

Oh, I did go and read those other two articles. I commend your noble cause Michael...ooops, Michelle :)


Michelle Starr posted a reply   

I knew I should have shaved off this luxurious, manly beard :(

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