I’m interested in learning more about the discourses between feminism and videogames. I’ve come across a video blog called ‘Feminist Frequency’ by Anita Sarkeesian who deals with the representations of women in videogames in a 3 part series entitled ‘Tropes vs. Women’. Sarkeesian discusses the history of gendered gaming from older games like Ms. Pac-Man to the present.
In part 1, Sarkeeian explores how gaming has created strict gender binaries in the way that women are represented. Sarkeeian points out that many female characters are often seen as a feminized version of their male counterpart such as Ms. Pac-Man or Dixie Kong. Many female characters in games are highlighted as female by sporting hyper-feminine accessories. These accessories will often take the form of bows, exaggerated make-up, eyelashes and heels. These female character accessories are meant to conceptualize ‘woman’ but also invoke the idea of ‘girlhood’, which is problematic in itself.
These gendered signifiers mark characters as female. To expand, when designers rely on these feminizing accessories they create a gender bindery where women are ‘marked’ as women and very little else. On the flipside, their male counterparts are unmarked by signifiers- meaning that their personality has the potential to be explored in numerous different ways- defining them by personality rather than gender. This means that the identity of a female character is limited because of superficial signifiers. For many female characters their only defining characteristics are sadly limited to gender.
Sarkeeian also refers to a term called ‘Smurfette Syndrome’ which speaks to the idea of the ‘token’ female. When choosing a gaming character we are often given the choice of a collection of male characters with varying personality types and maybe one or two female characters whose only defining characteristic is the fact that they’re female. Katha Pollit who coined the term ‘Smurfette Syndrome’ in the early 90’s was quoted to say-
“The message is clear, boys are the norm, girls are the variation; boys are central, girls are peripheral; boys are individuals; girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of value. Girls only exist in relation to boys.”
This first video blog of the three covers mostly surface level information on this topic but helps us to recognize larger gendered trends in gaming as parts 2 and 3 expand on these issues.
Here is the link to the blog
I think these trends are true of older games that I know of, but I would be interested to start a discussion thread about some more contemporary games that break gender stereotypes or enforce them.
Here is a list of indie games mentioned in the blog that resist gendered stereotypes.
(Thomas was Alone) Super Claire