I'd like my women friends to play the games I love. Especially my sister. She is a beautiful, super smart business woman who shares my love for storytelling, and we frequently advise each other on what books to read or what movies to watch. She is not as much into SciFi as I am, but sometimes she caves in to my demands and later gets to love the imaginative, dystopian, weird worlds I introduce her to. In turn, I get to learn a bit about the real world through her eyes and recommendations - this amazing world I spent far too little time think about.
But I can't get her to play video games.
I KNOW she'd love it, I simply know it. I could totally envision a wonderful debate with her about whether or not the cake is a lie, or about astro tourism and colonization, we'd very much obsess about creating the perfect, most beautiful house we'd like to live in, in Minecraft. But games are prohibitive in themselves for her, and I am prohibitive in luring her in.
It's my fault. It is our fault as game developers because we are trapped in a box and because we are presumptuous arrogant pricks who think our way is the only way and cannot conceive different. I don't think it has as much to do with gender, as it has with a way of life we all were privileged to get accustomed to (the priviledge part is questionable, perhaps. Maybe we were all doomed to get trapped in this box at an age where we learned to make this the norm).
- an·i·mate ( n -m t ) tr.v. an·i·mat·ed, an·i·mat·ing, an·i·mates
1. To give life to; fill with life.
2. To impart interest or zest to; enliven: "The party was animated by all kinds of men and women" (René Dubos).
3. To fill with spirit, courage, or resolution; encourage. See Synonyms at encourage.
4. To inspire to action; prompt.
5. To impart motion or activity to.
6. To make, design, or produce (a cartoon, for example) so as to create the illusion of motion.
My poor non gamer girl friends all went through this experience: they came for a visit, and I placed them in front of my awesome not 1, not 2, but 3 wide screens to play some game!!! It's usually Minecraft because I love it and because its just not about killing stuff, but sometimes it's just to take a walk in a beautifully created digital world, like Skyrim (look, look, can you see the Northern Lights?? Aren't they beautiful?) or like Guild Wars (can you look around and observe the details, how real, how big this city feels like?) . Sometimes it's so they can experience thrills, like in Mirrors Edge (can you jump, can you?? Don't look down!) or in Portal (just create a portal there to pass! Oh look, you found the Companion Cube <3!)
Many get put off in the first minute, for failing to move or to control the camera, and their hands don't naturally lay on WSAD, something so built in in me, and I always find myself amazed that they don't grasp the moves immediately. How can you enjoy something you can't even experience?
But I think they are put off way before they even reach my PC, because of my way to describe the game, even when I am careful not to slip into my oh so natural game jargon. Inventory, HUD, save, log, strafe, sneak, kmon people, why are we hating our games so much that we managed to build entire industries out of this infuriating language that only says one thing: YOU, my dear, YOU are NO gamer. You don't even know how to move, so how can I entrust you to use that special ability where you need to be so fast at hitting space, then click click, and then turn with the mouse? You are such a n00b, you need to MASTER this, you need to spent TIME in this, otherwise you will never be any better and all the people you ever hope to play with, man, will they "welcome" you online!
Reading a review must be like reading a medical article, for my sister and for all my non gamer friends. I wonder what we would all think, if the movies were presented like this:
Vikings! A new episodic action oriented adventure, full of special effects and computer generated battles, where you get to see a lot of muscles and gore, sprinkled with sexual drama here and there. It's like Game of Thrones minus the dragons and the watermelons, but with super cool vikings instead. It has awesome sounds and graphics, and the heroes are the way you want them to be, big muscular hulks that encompasses every one's aspirations. They use big weapons. But the fights are shorter than in other battle movies. An episode takes 40 minutes which is less than Game of Thrones which takes 45 minutes. It features several historical references which is really cool cause it is a bit similar with a legendary movie we watched and loved 20 years ago (and if you didn't, don't bother watching this movie).
Women, especially the older ones who did not grow up with PCs and smartphones and tablets as a built in part of their daily life, are having the hardest time right now, I think. There is much to grasp anyhow, every day, in this rapidly changing world where you don't use a cook book anymore, where you need to book a restaurant online, or where you have to share your shopping list through your iPhone. Some of them are barely discovering the wonders of Facebook. Yet we criticize them so much, analyze them so much for playing FarmVille and Candy Crush, and we label them CASUAL gamers, and we complain about the fact that they spend too much time playing?!! ....when instead we should rejoice that their timid, clumsy, non competitive, DIFFERENT steps bring them closer to our distorted world. Do we really deserve their companionship? I think we should earn it instead...
But women are really hard to animate.
In fact, if we plan to lure them into games the way we always did, women are impossible to animate. We need to change our perspective. We need to change the way we think.
We need to stop arguing whether Gone Home is a game or not. We need to stop creating labels like Casual/ Hardcore games. We need to slow down looking back to the classics, as Zelda is one really neat argument for barring women out of this dystopian world of ours. What if I don't want to save the princess?? We need to stop associating games with competition, with the idea of BEATING someone at something, we need to open our minds and accept the fact that games, the amazing, creative force that they are, are limitless in possibilities. And that women are every bit of ready and deserving of them as anyone else, but we need to do a far better job at understanding what they want, and how can we best provide it.
Women are too hard to animate?
Well that's just saying we cannot do it. Its too hard for us, we don't know how. We feel at a loss. We have no idea how to inspire the love for games in women.
Some do, though. I think those are the ones who don't put themselves in a creative block where they need to question whether or not they should have a female character, too. Those are the ones who have a story to tell, an experience to give. And they concentrate on that creative bit they own themselves to let free, before thinking of target groups and trends and the latest tech bits. I think that's why I loved Morrowind, and Diablo, and Portal, and Lifeless Planet, and Mirror's Edge, and World of Goo, and Neverwinter Nights, and so many other games I played, and obsessed about. They all had a focus, an experience that was well thought of, a story they really believed needed expressing. So choices like the unconventional characters you get to play, the race and gender you get to pick, the tasks you are presented with, those came naturally, driven by the core vision of those projects. We need to do better though. We have to do good enough so I can get my syster to play.
We have the power to change everything we want to change.
For example, the power of the wallet. Don't buy shady stuff. Don't support developers who cannot stop to say such nonsense publicly. They have all the right NOT to want our money, so why don't we oblige them? Those experiences are really not meant for all, why are we all jumping at buying into the likes of Ubisoft and EA and Activision when there are so many amazing alternatives now? Are we really not tired of Assassin's Creed 3476?? Do we really want 25 more Call of Dutys? I mean, we complain that we are facing a problem of discoverability of good games on Steam, yet we get upset for one game gone astray? Please, we have thousands of games just waiting to be discovered by us. Our wallets speak. We get the games we buy.
We can also Speak Up. In fact, we owe this to the world, if we really do want some changes. We have far more influence than we think we have, look what happened with #womenaretoohardtoanimate - and this is just one tiny example.
And we can stop judging, and try to open up instead. Stop labeling. Try to understand why non standard games have a way to capture so many people. Stop hating a success we don't understand. This is a conscious effort, meaning, we need to consciously, actively try to do something about it, and it IS an effort, because we've been trapped for so long in this elitist hardcore gamer box and we became blind. Changing is hard. But it's worth it.