I read an article in the Guardian that was doing the rounds on Twitter today which you can read here – “Video games have a diversity problem that runs deeper than race or gender“, and was over the moon. It completely hit the nail on the head. My response falls under ‘too long to tweet’ and ‘maybe too short to blog’ as it’s pretty much total agreement with the author.
I write this as a woman who games, I grew up with video games and despite being one of the minority who clung to the hobby as I aged, I can see why many girls drifted away. It could be for a myriad of reasons as stated in the article – games marketed towards boys, girls being teased by their peers for geeky interests, the myth that ‘gaming is for kids’ and so on, but the fact that mainstream games became less and less imaginative really strikes a chord. I may play video games more than I used to but I’m also playing less titles than I did in my childhood. I’m buying very few new releases each year because despite enjoying the mayhem, death and destruction of shooters, I can get that fix from a handful of major releases. In recent years I’ve scratched that itch with GTA, Destiny, Halo, Battlefield and the Modern Warfare series, but that’s just a drop in the ocean considering the amount of FPS’s that are released. Even then, I play those a lot due to having a network of gamer pals who make the incessant ‘respawn, run, death’ cycle amusing. There’s that crucial social element that come with those titles.
For a single player game to really grab me, then it has to be quirky and fairly unique, not reliant on AMAZING graphics or BRUTAL gameplay. I sometimes find this in indie releases or less popular games such as Don’t Starve, Fez and Beautiful Katamari. I’ve gone back in time and played Mario 3 again using my daughters’ Wii and wished so many times I could replay Magic Pockets without the faff of failing to get an emulator working.
I think back to the short period of time that I spent playing video games with girls at primary school. Those same girls who drifted away from our brilliantly fun hobby. We’d play Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, New Zealand Story and Rod Land. We’d fail to get very far in Gauntlet or Paperboy. We’d laugh at the girlfriend giving us grief in Out Run. We could dabble with early shooters or badly play Kick Off but as video games became more financially successful, it felt like the cute and imaginative lost out to popular but repetitive mechanics. On the occasions a woman does enjoy her Wii or smart phone games, then we often sneer and whisper about these ‘casuals’. She’s not a ‘casual’, she’s into those games because they’re closer to what she grew up with than the likes of Rainbow Six: Siege.
While I completely appreciate the indie devs and small studios that are trying something new or paying homage to games of our youth, it’s now too late for my childhood friends. They’re happy as they are and will probably always view gaming as ‘that thing I did when I was ten’. It’s not about luring these people back. They won’t hear about 10/10 indie games as they’re no longer in ‘geek circles’. I, and I’m sure many other female and male gamers, hope that some of these elements will come creeping back in to popular games. I don’t want to ban Call of Duty or other FPS’s as I enjoy those too, I just wish more imagination could be used in other future titles, that risks could be taken with new IPs. I’d love a new Katamari or Theme Hospital type game on my PS4. Cute does not equal easy. Katamari and Tropico have me howling with frustration at the difficulty just as much as an FPS on hardcore mode. The only game I can eagerly await that falls under the ‘unique’ label right now is No Man’s Sky. I don’t live in a ‘gaming was better in my youth’ bubble, I love many of today’s titles and appreciate the work that goes into them, but I hope for a future with more nods to the genres and gameplay we enjoyed growing up. I want my daughters to have access to and appreciate many different types of games as they mature but I can only point them in a few directions for now, the console-based games industry needs to help me out a little.
EDIT – I banged this out quickly while ignoring my children’s cries for dinner and completely forgot to address the sad fact that the author of the original Guardian article chose to remain anonymous. How absolutely frustrating in this day and age that the fear of online abuse is so high that she would rather not get credit for her work. I despise how we seem to no longer be able to have opinions online without facing the wrath of angry hordes who don’t simply disagree with an opinion but will resort to obscenities and threats. The article rang true for me and many others, so on the MASSIVELY rare chance the author ever sees this – thank you for writing it.