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Video games & RepresentationMAC129 - Cyberculture
Economic success: e.g. GTA IV Released April 2008 Day 1 sales: 3.6 million ($310m) Week 1 sales: 6 million (£500m) August 2008 Sales: 10 million June 2009Source: Sales: 13.2 millionhttp://www.vgchartz.com/games/index.php?name=grand+theft+auto+IV
Released November 2009 Day 1 sales: 4.7 million ($310m) Day 5 sales = $550 million January 2010 > $1 billion November 2010 > 20 million copies sold on console alone
Historical business A struggle to define a place for early games No guarantee that games would be successful (see Marvin, 1988; Poole, 2004) Historical accounts tend to be lists of names and dates
First game? Tennis For Two 1958 (William Higginbotham) Spacewar! 1962 (Steven Russell)5
Cold War kids1950s…. Emerged during a period of intense socio-economic and geo-political changes: Space Race (USSR) Cold War paranoia (nuclear anxiety) Decline of heavy industry Major changes in life style Advent of domestic mass communication Consumer confidence
Game development… Largely due to “university computing departments, the military, the interest of the first game developers, the first games and the subsequent development of game playing as an activity embraced largely by young males” (Kerr, 2006: 14; see also Haddon, 1988; 1993)
The console wars http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Console_wars
The console wars today (Oct 2012) Sales (millions) 68.91 67.23 PS3 Wii Xbox 360 96.93
Controversial claims about video games Negative associations – health and violence http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCuKQIMg0I4 Columbine shooting: Doom http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1295920.stm Car-jacking: Grand Theft Auto http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3680481.stm Stabbings: Manhunt http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3936237.stm
(Un)popular claims about video games Positive claims? Surgeons who played games for at least 3 hours a week made „37% fewer errors, were 27% faster‟ than surgeons who did not play games. (Hall, 2007) Safe environment to enact fantasy Creativity of „modders‟
Games emerge from a cultural context US military funding?
Always a „politics‟ in every representation Representations are never innocent. Representations are always a „construction‟ in accordance with the producer‟s politics. Representations reflect cultural attitudes and beliefs.
“Orientalism” and “the Other” Edward Said (1978), Orientalism Western discourse on the Orient has constructed a knowledge of the East and a body of power-knowledge relations which serve the interests of the powerful West. The Orient was invented by Europe, through specific scientific and artistic representations, as its „contrasting image‟ (p.1-2)
Discourse and power/knowledge Michel Foucault (1981) The History of Sexuality The discourse that circulates around sexuality constitutes the reality of sexuality, and embodies „power- knowledge‟ relations It is difficult to step outside of discourse or challenge the assumptions we have been imbrued with
Ways of seeing and „The Gaze‟ John Berger (1972) Ways of Seeing In European art from the Renaissance onwards women were depicted as being „aware of being seen by a [male] spectator‟ The ideal spectator position in western media products appears to be male, heterosexual, post puberty and white
Under-representation = social inequality “In television, it was always a landmark moment when some minority or disenfranchised group appeared on the screen for the first time” “That kind of visibility is really the first step toward leading to public consciousness and equal treatment. These cultural markers matter.” D. Williams et al (2009), New Media & Society
Representation and race Black culture as animalistic, subservient , sexual, violent and dangerous
Race and technological identities The default Internet identity is White, male, and middle class and the majority of videogame protagonists are White Nearly 80% of video game protagonists are white males Williams, D., Martins, N., Consalvo, M., & Ivory, J. (2009). The virtual census: Representations of gender, race and age in video games. New Media and Society, 11, 815-834.
Games reproduce dominant discourses GTA: San Andreas portrayed ghettoized, hyperviolent Black protagonists and NPCs, all sanctioned by popular culture, gamers, and academics who praised the game for its mechanics, narrative reach, and creativity. Idealizes Black and Hispanic gang culture Leonard, D. (2006). Not a hater, just keepin‟ it real: The importance of race- and gender-based game studies. Games
Kotaku‟s responseIgnores theoriginal argumentto focus on thegame and functionof zombiesSeems ignorant ofthe fact thatzombies areinherently linkedwith black history(Vodun/Vodou)
André Brock (2011) Games & Culture „„When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong‟‟: Resident Evil 5, Racial Representation, and Gamers Looks at race and gender via: discourse (reviews of the game and reactions by gamers) play mechanics, narrative, and genre software (the game‟s imagery and aesthetics)
Mechanics, narrative, genre RE5 controls specifically awkward to evoke fear via „fight or flight‟ mechanic Simple gameplay: shoot enemies, keep your partner alive, conserve resources, and collect things. Co-op AI player, Sheva, lacks skill and wastes valuable resources Sheva becomes a mule to carry equipment. The player must organize her inventory, ration her ammunition, and heal her. Frustrating rather than sympathetic
Imagery Survival horror convention: innocence vs evil Typically coded and white vs black, light vs darkness, west vs rest, etc “Early in RE5, the team sees a (extremely) White woman dragged screaming by an African into a second-story apartment. This scene evokes allusions of Black-on- White rape because of the woman‟s Whiteness as well as historical connotations of Black desire for „„pure‟‟ White women. There are no random choices in videogames; the developers chose that pairing to fit in with the horror aesthetic of the game” Brock, 2011: p.433-434
RE5, however, utilizes a character set more frequently seen in action movies: a skilled, laconic White mercenary type teamed up with an exotic female partner. Sheva‟s African origins lead one to believe that she will serve as a native guide, but her AI capabilities are not robust enough to allow her to survive autonomously plus she is apparently unfamiliar with the area. At all times, she requires Chris‟ assistance to fend off enemies and provide direction … In her role as support person, Sheva does little to challenge gendered and racialized stereotypes of women in media
Sheva Alomar “Sheva Alomar‟s depiction evokes possibilities of changing industry perspectives on female videogame leads. Unfortunately, Sheva’s character conforms to Western hegemonic conceptions of femininity and race: she is brown, inarticulate, and supportive of the White hero. Sheva‟s alternate costumes make it clear that she is window-dressing; a sexualized mule that lovingly carries tools of domination and death for her White partner to use against her people.” Brock, 2011: p.434
Representations of Arabs and Muslims Post 9/11 Islam portrayed as a threat; linked with terrorism; ordinary Muslims marginalized
Depictions of „Others‟ Games set against the backdrop of current real-world conflicts? The narratives help shape understandings of the conflict: its morality Hero-ification of some groups Dehumanising others Normalizing warfare “These types of images […] reinforce the perception of Arabs and Muslims as racialized Others, bloodthirsty terrorists whose acts of aggression are inherently illegitimate, while any by the Coalition forces are, by definition, moral and justifiable in the face of such an enemy.” Gwen Sharp, 2010, Sociological Images
Representations of gender 1950s Women as domestic, maternal, n aïve, consumers, etc
Representation of gender Feminist critics have argued that many media texts represent women as: Sex objects Dutiful housewives / virginal daughters Mad, bad, dangerous women who need punishment Are video games any different? Jiggle physics? http://archive.gamespy.com/fargo/january02/jiggle/ See also: „Top 10 Boobies in Video Games‟ „Sexy Video Game Babes‟
Game design Studies of digital games have noted a „consistent pattern of male technocratic privilege‟ Williams, cited in Kerr, 2006: 19 Game development & design, production, marketing & construction, dominated by heterosexual masculine fantasies Gansmo et al, 2003
Gender in games Traditional stereotype of femininity evoked Relationships Romance Emotions Role-play Gansmo (2003): little understanding within the industry about how game design might be linked to gender socialisation
Consequences of stereotypes… Games are a „prime example of the social construction of gender‟ (Cassell and Jenkins, 1998: 37) and they may significantly influence people‟s attitudes towards the use of computers in school or later career choices
Women do play games!? Funk (1993): 75% of females play games at home (90% males) Colwell and Payne (2000): 88% of females aged 12-14 play games regularly ESA (2004): 39% of US gamers are female and females account for 40% of online players. Krotoski (2004): approx 25% of gamers are female in Europe, compared to 70% in Korea Crawford & Gosling (2005): Women much less likely to play the older they get Alexanda (2009): Female console gamers grew from 23 to 28 percent in 2009
The Wii and women? „Nintendos Wii console captures new game market‟ John Sterlicchi, Oct 2007 http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2007/oct/10/usnews.i nternationalnews
Domestic access Access to gadgets in home is not gender neutral Highly masculine and potentially hostile to females Is this changing? www.girlzclan.com www.everground.com www.girlgamer.com http://female-gamer.com/
Domestic context Space a greater percentage of girls‟ play has been centred in or around the home Time females still spend more time engaged in domestic labour than males (typically 1.5 hours per day more than males in the UK)
Gaming spaces outside the home Predominantly masculine environments arcades, pubs, motorway service stations Women at LAN parties tend to be in a supportive role When they do compete the media portrays them as: Exotic Sexualised
Game content Relatively low number of playable female characters Abundance of stereotypes Masculine themes The damsel in distress?
Positive moves!? 1991: Nintendo release Barbie Game Girl for Game Boy 1996: Mattel release Barbie Fashion Designer 2000: The Sims 2003: Linden Research launches Second Life 2004: The Sims 2 2004: SCEEurope release karaoke title SingStar on PS2 2006: Sony launches pink PS2 and PSP 2006: Cooking Mama released 2008: Wii Fit released 2009: Farmville success on Facebook
Children Now study (2000) 92% games have a male lead (54% female) 50% women portrayed in a stereotypical way. 38% displayed women with significant body exposure (23% breasts; 31% thighs; 15% backsides; 31% stomachs/midriffs) Female characters defined by „disproportionately large‟ breasts (38%) and „excessively tiny‟ waists (46%) 56
„Truly unique‟? Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 2 See Tom Cross, 2010, Gamasutra
Conclusion History of games has been male dominated Industry can be conservative and not welcome change (can be risky) Women increasingly more important to the industry Positive changes ahead?
Sources and further reading Leigh Alexander, 2009, „NPD: Female Gamer Population Increasing On Consoles‟, Gamasutra, http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24245 Jo Bryce & Jason Rutter, 2003, „Gender dynamics and the social and spatial organisation of computer gaming‟, Leisure Studies, 22: 1-15 Jo Bryce, Jason Rutter and Cath Sullivan, 2006, „Digital games and gender‟, in Jason Rutter & Jo Bryce (eds.), Understanding Digital Games, London: Sage. Judith Butler, 1990, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, London: Routledge. Children Now, 2000, Girls and Gaming: A Console Video Game Content Analysis, Oakland, CA: Children Now J. Colwell & J. Payne, 2000, „Negative correlates of computer game play in adolescents‟, British Journal of Psychology, 91: 295-310. G. Crawford & V. Gosling, 2005, „Toys for boys? Women‟s marginalization and participation as digital gamers‟, Sociological Research Online, 10, (1), http://www.socresonline.org.uk/10/1/crawford.html M. Cundy, 2009, “Absolutely terrifying „sexy‟ images of 8-bit „babes‟”, Games Radar, http://www.gamesradar.com/f/absolutely-terrifying-sexy-images-of-8-bit-babes/a- 2009093014448271099 T.L. Dietz, 1998, „An Examination of violence and gender role portrayals in video games‟, Sex Roles, 38 (5-6): 425-42 J. B. Funk, 1993, „Re-evaluating the impact of computer games‟, Clinical Paediatrics, 32: 86-90 Aleks Krotoski, 2004, „Chicks and joysticks: an exploration of women and gaming‟, ELSPA white paper, http://www.elspa.com/assets/files/c/chicksandjoysticksanexplorationofwomenandgaming_176.pdf Carolyn Marvin, 1988, When Old Technologies Were New. Thinking about Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century, New York: Oxford University Press Steven Poole, 2000, Trigger Happy: the inner life of videogames, London: Fourth Estate Steven Poole, 2004, Trigger Happy: videogames and the entertainment revolution, New York: Arcade Publishing G. R. Schott & K.R. Horrell, 2000, „Girl gamers and their relationship with the gaming culture‟ Convergence, 6: 36-53 D. Willams, N. Martins, M. Consalvo & J.D. Ivory, 2009, „The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games‟ in New Media & Society, Vol 11, No 5.
Some questions to consider? What are your earliest video game memories? Have you ever played a game where the represented characters seem problematic? Has gender/race/sexuality ever caused you to question the representation? Do games evoke stereotypes and cliches, and should we be concerned about these? Games are often regulated (ratings system). Does regulation work to protect people?