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Analysis: Modern Warfare 2 - Is It Really 'No Girls Allowed'?

Does the release of Modern Warfare 2 mean "an army of women" is about to take up arms against losing their menfolk to the console? Columnist Lewis Denby finds himself refuting an unsettling argument.

Lewis Denby, Blogger

November 13, 2009

6 Min Read

[Does the release of Modern Warfare 2 mean "an army of women" is about to take up arms against losing their menfolk to the console? Columnist Lewis Denby finds himself refuting an unsettling argument.] It seems that I, and the entirety of the male gaming population, should be on-guard at the moment. According to Telegraph writer Hannah Betts, “an army of women” is about to argue with us. In a fascinating piece of writing - which I'd like to think is tongue-in-cheek, but really struggle to believe that's true - Ms. Betts clings onto various gender stereotypes for dear life as she attempts to assign her frustration at the male species to the evils of video games. And with the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 this week, she appears to have found her perfect opportunity to do so. Writing for the Telegraph, Ms. Betts begins by describing the game’s launch as “something momentous [for] The World Of Men, something that those living in The World of Women – that is, largely, The Real World – may yet be unaware of.” This is an astonishing article, one rooted in traditional male/female values and behaviours. They’re assigned behaviours that gender research has attempted for years to disprove and dissipate, her language the sort that critical linguistics has battled against for almost as long. The notion of gaming being a male pastime is one that’s existed for many years. It’s become engrained in a sort of folk-sociological culture as a boys’ sport, a no-girls-allowed club, and it’s been subject to much discussion. Heather Chaplin’s rant at this year’s Game Developers Conference, in which she accused mainstream gaming of being deeply embedded in “guy culture”, is but one notable example. But times are a-changing. Recent surveys suggest that the margin between male and female gamers is significantly narrowing, and that now, as many as 42 per cent of those playing video games are of the fairer sex. I suspect it’s safe to assume Ms. Betts is unfamiliar with these statistics or, worse, determined to ignore them at all cost for the greater good of her furious diatribe. “Should you be a reader of the female persuasion,” speculates Betts, “your reaction [to the article] is likely to be mystification followed by the dawning realisation that this accounts for your partner’s having since gone AWOL.” Is that really “likely”? Really? “The gaming widow has become a fixture of contemporary culture in the way that the pub or football widow was wont to be, except that the extent of her abandonment is considerably more profound,” she continues. “He may be with you in (increasingly pallid and flabby) body, but his soul is elsewhere.” Now, it just so happens that, while I earn my keep by writing about video games, my education is in linguistics. And there’s a whole, enormous field of study into this sort of flabbergasting writing that maintains gender stereotypes by simply throwing the blame between the sexes, assuming that ‘men do this, but women do that’, until the greater population simply laps up these behaviours without second thought. It’s known as the Differences Model. It’s a tempting view to take, but once you scratch beneath the surface it’s an approach that’s demonstrably untrue. Gender is a behavioural concept. It’s something you “do”, rather than something you “are”. You are your sex, and that's biological. But we choose our behaviours based on what is expected of our own social grouping, whether that’s as a straight man, a straight woman, a gay man, a gay woman, an atypical straight man, an atypical gay woman, and so on. These groupings are social constructs, but they’re so deep-rooted that they now seem impossible to escape from. Consider how many times you’ve heard someone say “be a man!” to a male of apparently cowardly demeanour, or call a young girl who enjoys playing in the mud a “tomboy”. Now, Ms. Betts attempts to keep these stereotypes alive through the medium of video games. The most alarming realisation for me, upon reading her article, is that these stereotypes are just assumed, and never challenged. They form the whole basis for her argument: that video games, which are surely a male-only pastime, are leaving girlfriends and wives everywhere forlorn and alone, without their big strong man on-hand to get them through the day. “For legions of British women,” Betts writes, “gaming is a ghost at the feast in their relationship,” before relaying the account of a poor woman whose husband is addicted to his Nintendo DS – a console that has in fact been largely associated with, among other groups outside the core gaming populace, females. Of course, what Hannah Betts is actually writing about is the notion of gaming addiction, an area that’s being increasingly explored, most hideously in a recent documentary on British television channel ITV, which included such “expert” claims as “gaming addiction could well be more dangerous than regular, chemical addiction.” That’s a whole different area of discussion, but Betts appears not to have realised this. Indeed, so certain is she of this exclusively male dependency that she went on to scour the ‘net, finding “the plaintive lament of a woman whose newborn has been entirely ignored in favour of Warcraft.” But some women, bless their hearts, can learn to live with this, Betts says. She points to one email from an acquaintance, who said that his wife assigns a single morning on which she takes the children out so he can stay in to play games. “Within seconds [his email] had 12 replies: 10 stating that she was having an affair, two with links to detective agencies,” adds Betts, unfathomably. Is she serious? In one meagre attempt to balance her piece, Ms. Betts refers to a single “idyllic scenario”, in which the fiancee of the Telegraph’s Games Correspondent discusses her own way of dealing with her partner’s gaming obsession. “I’m quite crafty so I can be off sewing while he’s on his Xbox,” she says. Thank goodness: while we men are all busy playing games, our women still have time to get the sewing done. Hopefully they’ll factor in the time it takes to wash the dishes and make sure dinner’s on the table at six o’clock, as well. In no way am I suggesting that there’s isn’t a problem with gender inequality within gaming, its industry and its consumer base. I’ve written about some of the issues at length, in fact. But trying to assign gaming dependency to some sort of biologically male urge is preposterous, and has resulted in the sort of sexist discourse that will only maintain the problems both men and women face in our wider society. [Lewis Denby is editor of Resolution Magazine and general freelance busybody for anyone that'll have him. Wander over to his website for a blog, more information and contact details.]

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