This blog post is part of a series which aims to explore the female gamer experience, in particular on streaming sites such as Twitch. I should note that within this post I will not be going into depth about his topic directly, but rather will be setting up the ground work involved in analysing this subject through a media archeology approach.
A media archaeology approach will allow for a deeper understanding of the practices and attitudes we adhere to modernly within gaming, giving possibilities to how they formed and why they exist today. Female participation within gaming historically has been limited, with representations of females within games often being hyper-sexualised. Although modernly, females have increased access to gaming and face less sexualisation within the games themselves, there still are number of attitudes towards female gamers which have been formed potentially due to the historical roots of gaming.
Historically women were often denied the ability to participate in gaming due to it being seen as a male pastime. One of the main reasons for this being that the physical spaces which games occupied were seen as male leisure spaces (Dickey 2006). During the late 19th century there were a number of breakthroughs within the newly emerging ‘gaming’ community with gambling machines, strength testers and fortune tellers rising to popularity. These games found their ways into a number of different locations, yet despite their modernity they failed to prevail over existing gender divisions. Erkki Huhtamo (2005) notes that these machines belonged to ‘male territory’ with gambling machines for example being located primarily in bars – an area in which females had limited access. In this way, Huhtamo states “The havens of gambling machines were largely closed off from women who were concerned about their reputation.” These societal norms meant that women were unable to participate in gaming due to their inability to access the spaces in which the games existed. Although modernly females do have physical access to games, a number of negative stereotypes surrounding female gamers still exists. These stereotypes and attitudes towards female gamers (whether warranted or unwarranted) can amount to an apprehension for females to become involved within the gaming community in fear of being mislabelled, misrepresented or facing prejudice.
There has always been a popularity within games to hyper-sexualise female characters – although this is becoming less commonplace. There has been a number of notable games throughout history which were controversial due to their representation of women or motives behind game play.
A game where an unusually short, yet loveable loser attempts to have sex with as many women as possible with a very limited bank account.
A game produced by Mystique in 1982 as a series of adult games produced for the Atari 2600. The game featured two naked women running back and fourth with the goal to catch semen in their mouths from a man above pleasuring himself. Mystiques games were often controversial, but ‘Custer’s Revenge‘ takes the cake for the worst of them all.
A game which actually featured a version of the singer/model Samantha Fox. Here the player would face Samantha Fox in a game of strip poker, if a game was won she would remove an article of clothing until she was naked.
The above games were all examples of soft core porn, a genre of video game which sexualised women with the goal to (hopefully) give viewing pleasure to the playing audience. Because of this, sexualising women was one of the main components of the games, regardless of how distasteful some of them are (Beat ‘em & eat ‘em I’m looking at you). Hyper sexualising female characters not only exists in games falling under the soft core porn category, but in a range of different genres – in particular fighting or adventure style games. A popular example being Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, her debut in 1996 saw the character presented wearing short shorts, a tight crop top and an extremely unrealistic figure. This trend continued right through until 2013 where we saw Lara Croft finally given pants appropriate for a survivalist. This type of sexualisation of females within game play was not uncommon for the time, with Lynch et al. (2016) noting that developers tended to sexualise characters cast in secondary roles, with female characters cast in secondary roles outnumbering primary characters. Luckily enough, there has been a decrease in sexualisation from 2007 to 2014, suggesting that widespread sexualisation of females in games is on the decline.
Although the position of women within gaming throughout history hasn’t always been the most positive, there has been slow and continuous improvements to increase the amount of positive female representations within games. In particular, I am interested in examining the experience of the female gamer on the streaming service Twitch to better understand the current gaming landscape. I will be doing this through analysing current media examples such as Alinity’s animal abuse and Quqco’s cosplay attire as well as research into the types of messages females receive when streaming and the pressures female streamers face.
E. Huhtamo 2005, ‘Slots of Fun, Slots of Trouble – An Archeology of Arcade Gaming’ Handbook of Computer Games Studies, accessed 2 September 2019, <http://classes.dma.ucla.edu/Fall08/10/HuhtamoGame%20Culture.pdf>
M. Dickey 2006, ‘Girl Gamers: The controversy of girl games and the relevance of female-oriented game design for instructional design’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 37, no. 5, accessed 2 September 2019, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227643383_Girl_gamers_The_controversy_of_girl_games_and_the_relevance_of_female-oriented_game_design_for_instructional_design>
T. Lynch, I. Driel, J. Tompkins, N. Fritz, 2016, ‘Sexy, Strong and Secondary: A Content Analysis of Female Characters in Video Games across 31 Years: Female Game Characters across 31 Years’, Journal of Communication, vol. 66, no. 4, accessed 4 September 2019, <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304661662_Sexy_Strong_and_Secondary_A_Content_Analysis_of_Female_Characters_in_Video_Games_across_31_Years_Female_Game_Characters_across_31_Years>