"YOU ARE GOING TO PUT ELLIE ON THAT DAMN COVER!"
Well here we go with this topic again. A narrative designer by the name of Tom Abernathy has made a bold declaration: Women are the new core audience in gaming. Shortly after, Gamespots own Carolyn Petit posted an article backing the guy up and adding her own two cents. They both make a very good point, and there is a lot of truth in their words. But there's one thing I think they're both missing here. Or to be fair, one thing they don't emphasize as much as "Women are the new core"
Abernathy claims that women are the new core and that we should be making a more diverse range of games that appeal to this new core. But women are just one part of that new core. Thinking ONLY about women ignores the wide variety of other groups that are also a part of gaming, yet are seen as equally unimportant or even nonexistent. The groups hardly get any games that specifically speak to them because those types of games "aren't profitable." These groups are a wide variety of races, backgrounds, ages, and can be of either gender. They also have a wide variety of things they want more of in gaming, including but not limited to: more complex and diverse gameplay, more interesting tones and worlds, and richer narratives.
Now, there are two reasons why this subject gets people angry and up in arms. One: they think this is secretly a "men vs. women," or "whites vs. minorities issue." Two: They think anyone who dares to suggest that maybe games can be a little better is a nut who wants to get rid of wildly popular games like Call of Duty and God of War. Because "Ew David Cage, I dont want all games to be interactive movies" or "Ew female game designer, I don't want to play girly games." The point of this blog is to debunk both of those beliefs. That, and point to what the real issue is here. And the real issue has nothing to do with race or gender. And the real solution doesn't mean the death of AAA games aimed at teenage boys and young adult men.
It's no secret that games are primarily geared toward 15-25 year old males. Or at least, that's mainly how publishers see it when deciding which kind of games they want to throw their money at. And these publishers are intent on catering to this crowd in the most stereotypical way possible: with big guns, extreme violence, blood, and carnage, all done by the big burly male main character. Oh and breasts. Can't forget the breasts.
The problem isn't that these games exist. After all, movies and literature that contain the exact same content exist. And people love it. They eat it up. But movies and TV shows allow for more than just adrenaline pumping action flicks. They cover a wider variety of themes and genres. That's not to say that video games don't have variety. They do. But no matter how you paint it, the variety in gaming is quite limited when compared to movies, television shows, and literature. Those other mediums cater to wider variety of people of all demographics. And they're rolling in money while doing it.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not out to demonize men and make it seem like games are idiotic and childish because of them. As I stated above, people tend to get all heated about this subject due to gender factoring into the discussions. But here's what I think is the real problem here. And guess what? It has nothing to do with this whole Men vs. Women gender debate:
By pandering to one demographic, you're severely limiting the variety of entertainment that you can put out there. You're stifling potentially creative and innovative new ideas by rejecting anything that doesn't cater to that demographic. You're alienating large groups of people and their piles of cash. This isn't really worrisome if its just a few games. After all, not every game needs to appeal to everyone. But its a problem when it spans across most of an industry. So you see the problem isn't gender. I'd still be making this blog even if I was in a parallel universe where video games catered to mostly 15-25 year old women, or mostly 65 year old grandparents, or mostly 10 year old kids.
Creativity cannot flourish and new ideas cannot spring about when developers are told that they cannot do something that doesn't please this one group of people. Nor can it flourish when they are expected to resort to stereotypes and common tropes to please said group of people. They cannot even gain confidence in their ideas if publishers are going to laugh in their face and say that "You can't do that! No dude wants to see that!"
Also, a lot of people tend to get all bent out of shape when this subject arises because they think people want to get rid of any game that caters to the 15-25 year old male demographic. But really the solution is not to get rid of AAA games like Call of Duty, God of War, Gears of War, or Assassins Creed. And anyone who says that that is the solution is delusional. New and creative games that don't cater to the same demographic can coexist peacefully alongside these games. Why should we need to compromise either? There is room for both. "Variety is the spice of life" after all.
Its just a matter of convincing publishers of this fact. Crap like this should not be happening. Creative new IPs should not be refused just because they don't cater to the same demographic that a million other games are. Creative new games should not be given less advertising than generic and formulaic games that don't do anything new. Of course, businesses are businesses after all. Its hard to ignore that fact.
Even still, it feels as if theres a shift in attitudes coming along in gaming. Sure there are some companies, publishers, and developers intent on churning out the same old boring tripe. But some others are speaking out. They're saying that maybe, just maybe, games could be much more than they are. They're going against the archaic attitudes of the publishers. Which is why when articles like this or this pop up, I feel like the developers aren't even saying that to us gamers (since the collective "DURRR" that always ends up in the comments implies that gamers already know that). I feel like they're saying it to the publishers who rejected them and told them to "take the lady off the cover."
And thankfully, when they decide to branch out to bigger and better things, they have alternatives like steam/psn/xbl and kickstarter to back them up when no publisher wants to. For all peoples talk of nothing new happening in the coming gen, I'm seeing a lot of potential for change. It seems we're witnessing a complete shift in attitudes that's in its very early stages.
Look at this issue from another perspective as well. How long are we going to stereotype every single male as someone who will automatically drool with pleasure over anything that has violence, blood, and breasts? Who's to say that male gamers don't want more variety too? What if a 40 year old male gamer, who's been gaming since he was at the wee age of 10, is also getting just a little bit tired of the same old story of an emotionless man with a gun, devoid of any personality, who's only goal is to mow down aliens or other people? What if there are several male gamers who are about 30 and up and want a game that doesn't have juvenile humor and dialogue that sounds like it was written by someone half his age?
Anyway, that's really what it boils down too. This isn't about sexism, racism, gender roles, or being politically correct, even though people try to make it out to be like it is. Its about a medium we all love growing and maturing into something bigger and better. A medium that expands beyond pandering to the stereotypes of only one demographic. A medium that can satisfy the wide variety of people it attracts. Women aren't the only new core. It's also the wide range of both men and women who don't fall into the "15-25 year old male who won't touch anything that has no explosions, violence, and guns" demographic. They're the ones who want something more from the medium than only blood, violence, gratuitous profanity, and inappropriately placed sex scenes. We are all the new core.
And it'll be interesting to see what kind of games we'll get once this realization finally takes root in all of the industry.