GamesBeat

E3 proves that publishers are still out of touch with half the population

My 2011 obsessions are the Fallout and Mass Effect franchises, I was dedicated to massively multiplayer online, role-playing games for six years, I named my cat Guybrush, I can quote Cave Johnson speeches with the best of them, I play casual games on my PC and Android, and I'm planning to start catching up on the Deus Ex games next week so that I'm ready when Deus Ex: Human Revolution comes out this summer.

My name is Kate Cox, and I'm a gamer.

I'm also a woman. I don't hide that particular fact really, but I'm stating it for the record. I'm married to a gamer guy, but I had the pastime 20 years before I had him. The hobby brought us together; he didn't "convince his girlfriend" to try it.

Why the recap of my life story? Because apparently Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and others still don't believe that I actually exist, and I'm not sure how else to convince them that I do.

 

I hadn't been planning to write about E3 at all; the shiny-new-things marketing circuit isn't really my beat. But I ended up watching the streams of all of Monday's big press conferences…then was home sick on Tuesday, so I left the T.V. on G4 and caught that round as well.

Where in the last six months in particular I have felt very comfortable writing about games and interacting (via Twitter and various sites) with other writers and game designers, sometimes I get one of those heavy-handed reminders that I am still neither the target demographic of these products, nor a demographic these marketers particularly care to court. I might, they concede, occasionally use the game machine that my husband, boyfriend, father, or brother insists on keeping in the living room, but the "core" games are best kept far away from me.

And how do the big companies tell me this? Passively and actively.

Every person on stage for the Microsoft presentation was male…up until they got to the "soft" presentations of Kinect-ready, non-core, non-gaming fluff.  For Mass Effect 3, Shepard and his player were both men, but talking to the console and asking for it to find Lego, Star Wars, and Harry Potter titles was a woman.

In addition to the actual on-stage presence, issues of body language persisted. The men were nearly all standing and assertive (though some were just focused on playing their demos). The first woman to appear on stage was seated, and spoke on cue. The other girls and women to appear in the Microsoft event were mainly all in the "embarrassingly awkward and pointless" half of the line-up, with the exception of the female half of the two-player Dance Central team. (Although dance games aren't my thing, I didn't find that team's presentation awkward or unbearable, and the dancers both worked equally hard.) The one woman to be featured alone and not speaking on others' cues was there to show how her personal style can be scanned into an Xbox Live avatar.

And then, of course, we had the Tomb Raider preview…featuring a screaming, moaning, bound, and struggling woman. This is the best they can do for Lara Croft? This is the woman who, for 15 years, has been the go-to example for the "chest diameter does not equal protagonist incompetence" crowd. She was the female answer to Indiana Jones, and the inspiration for the Uncharted franchise. And now she's reduced to half-orgasmic, torture-porn screamer?

Granted, I don't know that a trailer or even a gameplay demo ever speaks accurately of the entire content of a game, but my opinion is certainly less than stellar so far. With a chance to reboot the franchise and take it beyond the "boobies hurr hurr hurr" demographic and into "intelligent, action-adventure gaming," they've kept at least the marketing still firmly planted in "male gaze" territory.

EA was no better as far as gender representation. Their games look excellent (I'm not going to lie — I pretty much drooled on myself watching the Mass Effect 3 material…even in the complete absence of FemShep), but they certainly didn't seem inclined to acknowledge that women exist. I also don't recall much in the way of any female presence at Sony's event, though, it is possible I have forgotten. The fourth major media circus of the day can be hard to remember.

The lack of acknowledgement that I exist isn't the worst a company can do. It's thoughtless, and shows the male privilege that a lot of the marketers, designers, and other relevant players have, but it's not malicious. In fact, I'm going to say it's probably still better than what Ubisoft did.

My jaw dropped as I watched this event unfold, and It seems I was not alone. I mean, really, Ubisoft?  I've linked a nearly-full, 76-minute video there, but everything wrong with it can be summed up in two words: Mr. Caffeine.

He (real name: Aaron Priceman) is apparently a personality designed to market products to us.  Not a game designer, as so many of the awkward executive speakers at E3 are, but very obviously a salesman. This is the person Ubisoft chose to emcee and to be the voice of their 2011 and 2012 blockbuster announcements. And what did this corporate mouthpiece say?

You see, the world of technology has changed a lot since 1986, and so has gaming.  Today, 97% of young people play video games! 40% of them? Are women! And 89% of them? Are smokin' hot. I know this, I've investigated.

Now this has made a whole new group of pick-up lines available, I'm sure you guys know, like: "Hey! Wanna come over and play my Wii?" "We should Kinect!" "Hey, thanks for the Sony Move! Here, hold my joy wand." Yes, I'm not afraid of a few dick jokes, thank you.

In the video linked above, this segment runs from roughly between 12:30 and 12:40.  But notice the edit at 12:35, where it cuts to a wide shot?  All of the references to women (and their hotness) have been edited out.

To see the original, cue up to 12:33 in this version:

I really don't know what to make of the choice to edit the remark out of the first video. On the one hand, someone clever realized just how boneheaded and offensive it was. On the other hand, that script made it through rehearsal, onto the teleprompter, and out of Priceman's mouth before anyone clever managed to realize just how boneheaded and offensive it was. I am just glad that I was able to find a copy of the original.

Mr. Caffeine was right about one thing, though, and that was just how many of us laydeez are out there. In fact, the 2011 ESA Survey does indicate that I'm in good company and less alone than ever.  82% of gamers are over 18. 42% are girls or women. And 37% of us are both.

Let me repeat that: Nearly 40% of all video-game consumers are adult women. Boys 17 and younger represent 13% of gamers.

This leaves us with the perennial conundrum: Why does gaming marketing remain so heavily focused on the juvenile few and so exclusionary toward the adult many? Faced with a true statistic — that we form over 40% of a potential consumer base, just as we form roughly 50% of the actual population — Ubisoft goes the stupid route. They could have embraced us, or at least tolerated us, or tried in some way to convince us to buy their games. Instead, they brainlessly alienated us, and kept setting us aside as the other. (And the "pickup lines" weren't even funny; his entire presentation was a crime against comedy.)

Here's a protip, Ubisoft: it's not all just Peggle out our way in female territory. Some of us like games where you shoot stuff. Some of us even really like games where you're sneaky and stab stuff. Oh, wait! You make one of those!

In the future, can we maybe skip the casual sexism and go right to the gaming? (Because that really is a fantastic trailer, and I like it more every time I watch it.) You do that, and I won't object to giving you my money. And hey, who knows…maybe giving you more of my hard-earned U.S. dollars will convince you I exist. That hasn't yet happened in the 25 years of your illustrious history, but for this gamer, hope springs eternal.


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