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Soapbox: How a Niche PS Vita Exclusive Made Me Feel Wanted

Posted by Kerry Brunskill

Kerry Brunskill has been wooed

This sort of topic tends to get emotions running high and insults flying faster than you can shout “Burn the witch”, so I thought that it would be a good idea to lay a few points on the table first. To begin, this is not an anti-male article or even a pro-feminist one; this is just a collection of my own personal thoughts based on my own personal gaming experiences. Secondly, this is not a rallying call for people to go out and burn copies of Leisure Suit Larry or whatever the heck it is that we’re supposed to be upset about this week, so can we please put the torches down before somebody singes their eyebrows.

There has always been, and there always will be amazing games out there that aren’t carefully gender balanced – just look at the Devil May Cry series, for example. Capcom’s classic combat franchise is a big ball of daft fun, and you’ll have to prise my copy of Devil May Cry 3 from my cold, dead hands before I ever part with it.

As such, it’s not that I mind games having giant bouncy boobs or skimpy outfits on the female characters, and I don’t even mind being a minority in my own hobby – but it’s very nice when I’m not, and it took a PlayStation Vita game to remind me of that.

A recent Japanese PlayStation Plus update enabled users the opportunity to play Beast Master and Prince, a Japan-only ‘otome’ game released last year on Sony’s flagship handheld that was previously available on both the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 2. For those not in the loop, this genre can be described as romantically-inclined adventure games, where the twist is that the lead character is a woman and all of the male characters are created with female gamers in mind. If you’d like to think of an English language equivalent, consider Hakuoki: Demon of the Fleeting Bosom, and you’re on exactly the right sort of lines.

Now then, the abovementioned Idea Factory title’s story of a teenage girl and her four talking animal friends – that are, of course, actually princes cursed by an evil spell – isn’t in danger of winning any awards or changing the face of gaming as we know it, but I found myself absolutely enchanted by it regardless, and a lot of that was simply because it was the first game in a very long time that acknowledged me as both a gamer and a woman – just for once, I didn’t have to leave my gender at the door. And it achieved all of that without drowning me in pink or tying its narrative into some awful toy license, too.

As a result, when I play the portable title, it’s partly to see if not-lion Prince Matheus is finally going to notice the undivided attention my character’s been lavishing on him, but it’s also just to experience what it’s like to be in a game’s main target demographic for once. As someone’s who’s trained herself to sharp-elbow her way into a hobby that can be unwelcoming and in some cases downright threatening to anyone that’s not part of the perceived ‘norm’, it’s a strangely novel feeling to come across a series that’s actively pursuing me as a consumer.

And that’s why I can also understand why certain gamers are so quick to defend traditional male-orientated gaming clichés, like the stereotypically attractive female sidekicks, impossibly cool power-fantasy leads, and anything else that reinforces how ace it is to be a straight guy gamer. After all, it’s a nice feeling when you’re being catered to – and I wouldn’t want to take that away from anyone.

This is where it gets puzzling, though. Books, films, and television each manage to have something for everyone – and the games market could do, too, if it tried. ‘Chick lit’ doesn’t stop manly spy thrillers from existing. The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift can sit next to The Full Monty on the DVD shelf at home, and nobody even bats an eyelid – unless, of course, it’s your great gran’s collection. And neither of these extremes prevent a range of mainstream, niche, arty, blockbuster, and nerd media from happily existing in between.

I don’t want to wipe all of gaming off the map and start over; I love the medium, and I always have. Not every game ever created needs to appeal to my interests, gender, or sexual persuasion. However, Beast Master and Prince has reminded me that I would at least like to be taken seriously as a potential customer in my hobby – and not have that experience limited to niche-of-a-niche otome games and smartphone puzzle titles. Publishers should take note: I have money and a pile of consoles and handhelds. I want to be your consumer – so please, occasionally, treat me like one.


Would you like to see more studios stray away from the typical gamer stereotype? Do you think the issue stems from developers, publishers, or gaming culture itself? Do you think that there’s even a problem at all? Let us know in the comments section below.

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User Comments (27)

MadchesterManc

#1

MadchesterManc said:

Wait. There's actually games developed in Japan aimed at female Gamers? Blasphemy lol You honestly wouldn't think it with all the white Knight crusading against titles like Senran Kagura, with the western press making Japan seem sexist beyond belief. Yet here is an article discussing a Japanese game on the other end of the spectrum :) They even have whole areas of stores dedicated to these kind of games, it's surreal compared to the west. I guess that's why you find a lot of female Gamers being drawn to eastern titles as they tend to have more than enough variety to cater to both sexes.

There's quite a few of these type of games on PsP, and as much as they don't interest for obvious reasons, they do intrigue. In guessing they are like visual novels?

Bliquid

#2

Bliquid said:

Have you ever tried a game called, i think, Style Savvy, for Nintendo DS? I did, as i was curious and found it mildly captivating for a modest while.
That game kept on referring to me as a girl, with no chances for me to to change that (clearly a sign of which was the target for such software), leaving me yelling at the 2 screens "i'm a duude, bro!" (No, i didn't).
Thing is, it made me feel uneasy, i couldn't get into it head first like i usually try to do with videogames, and that's because it didn't care who i was, didn't care i was ( i still am) male gendered. It actually didn't WANT me to be male.
What i'm trying to say is, due to that experience, i think i can roughly understand what you are saying here, and i found a very interesting read.
I don't know if i could be as passionate about videogames as i am, if every game i played made me feel like that. Like it wasn't made to communicate to me.

Superconsole

#3

Superconsole said:

Great read Kerry :) I totally agree that there needs to be more otome games on the shelves, and was so glad when I heard Hakuoki was being released in the UK.

While normally I don't give a damn about what gender the main character of a game is (it's the gameplay that counts!), you are spot on in saying it's nice to have a game targeted towards the female market without it being some stereotypical fashion/pet sim/cooking sim title once in a while. I really don't mind playing as a male character, but as @Bliquid says, it can be a little disheartening when a game you enjoy continually makes you feel like it really wasn't intended for you :/

Diversity in the market - that's what we need!

Fire-and-Water

#4

Fire-and-Water said:

The game reminds me of those dating sims I stumbled upon when I was still facing puberty and the internet.

Anyway great article.

Gemuarto

#5

Gemuarto said:

otome no jidai =))) Playing Sengoku Basara 4 at the moment and must say that half of new characters are obviously made for female audience =(. Meh, I really hate them....

I don't like gender oriented games, especially garem games. No matter what gender they are made for. Don't know why.... Maybe because I see how they are trying to appeal and manipulate by very cheap means... I mean, I like when games respect my mind more than my gender =). I think that everyone like that in the end, except perverts =). No offence to perverts =).

Look at those screenshots, so stupid and stereotypical characters, and that furry theme, OMG, disgusting.

BornOfEvil

#6

BornOfEvil said:

@Gemuarto There's nothing wrong with these characters, also you don't have to be a pervert to be drawn to the male or female body.

Faustek

#7

Faustek said:

Heh i can totally see it Kerry. If you are part of a minority it's always such a giant."wtf..." followed by childish joy knowing that even you can be acknowledged.

Offtopic:
Nice to see you writing here Kerry. But! I'm sorry to say this but if I ever meet you, I'll buy you cakes, sweets, dresses, swords, long bows and heavy armor(light armor is wussy) until you show of your amazing gaming collection <3

Faustek

#8

Faustek said:

@Gemuarto I'm a pervert....and i dream of conquering the world together with Kanbei. I don't mind feeling attracted to the bishies as well but a hulking piece of "manbeef" will always tip my Kinsey scale.

get2sammybAdmin

#9

get2sammyb said:

It's an interesting topic this, and one that I've never really thought about much until reading this article. I can relate, though. One game I recently played that totally took me out of my 'comfort zone' was Beyond: Two Souls. There's a scene where you're playing as Jodie and getting hit on by a male character, and it's really interesting how it's scenario I couldn't even possibly relate to, because I've never been in that situation. In that scenario, I suspect it was a case of David Cage's trademark 'emotion' at play, and it was fascinating in that regard - but I can't imagine every game I play feeling that way.

Great article.

moomoo

#10

moomoo said:

This article reminded me of why I loved Persona 3 Portable so much. The option to play as a girl was really cool, mainly because what you were doing in the game wasn't gender-neutral; the game changed in big and unique ways based on the gender you played as, which gave me a great reason to play through it twice.

divinelite

#11

divinelite said:

3ds even have vitamin x plus which is... More than ecchi than even senran kagura. Can't even read the info that much don't wanna burn my eyes

And on vita latest otome is Amnesia if I'm not wrong. I saw the title here at game store (import) along with other VN games

ObviouslyAdachi

#14

ObviouslyAdachi said:

I think they should have more games aimed at the female audience. That being said, they need to do it right. Female characters are often unintentionally portrayed as weaker and more annoying. Take Aveline from AC: Liberation, for example. I know that Liberation wasn't specifically geared toward female gamers, but I turn her voice down and put a hood on her whenever I play because she's just so annoying and I can't feel badass with her awful voice acting. I think that the problem with games that are geared toward girls is not the quantity, but the quality.

SimonAdebisi

#16

SimonAdebisi said:

Not really fussed if a game is biased either way but in the west there isn't much choice. A huge chunk of games revolve around men killing stuff. It does get a bit tiresome. The greatest game of all time 'Shenmue' of course, has instances of romance in the story, its mostly just teenage awkwardness though and quite funny. It would be nice to have at least some triple a games in the near future on the ps4 that change it up a little, wouldn't mind some quirky nonsense romance.

charlesnarles

#17

charlesnarles said:

I think The Sims serves as a good medium for desensitizing yourself from your gender or preference, although it's always kinda embarrassing to play as someone trying to "woohoo" with someone else. I guess she didn't like the Deep Down news : P
P.s. I need to see if choosing male in VK3 changes the clerks to guys or makes you touch women (lol great article)

Gemuarto

#18

Gemuarto said:

@BornOfEvil You need to learn anime culture more, to see those things, son =)))

@Faustek Did you mean Kuroda Kambei? OMG!!! Glad that you are proud of your pervertness, if I understood you correctly. I like perverts, actually... But can't take harems, ecchi, cute girls in anime and vocaloids. More power to real men, bro =).(

Faustek

#19

Faustek said:

@ObviouslyAdachi ahh yes quality. It's so annoying that some of the sweetest, according to some who should know, stories can be found in ecchi/hentai games. I can't play those in public :(

Remember reading Axa like 20 years ago and ny teachers saw that topless picture of this female warrior mow down her intended rapist with a machete. My parents had a hell of a time explaining how it wasn't port but about, for those times, a strong female character that didn't see her gender or nakedness something to be ashamed of.

@Gemuarto ahh yes Kuroda is totally my jam :)

Cloud7794

#20

Cloud7794 said:

@BornOfEvil A game having "appealing" imagery doesn't denote a perverted target demographic, however some games are so obviously catered to a demographic that it's nearly sickening (take Girl Fight on our very own PSN).

I believe that game companies should target other demographics more often in just about every way. I was surprised to find that Zen Pinball had such a huge following, and Project Diva F did better than I'd have (I'd've?) thought as well. Then we have things like Farming Simulator, and the upcoming Goat Simulator. Then, some games have "strong female leads" but largely detract you from the fact that you are playing a female by just not pointing it out much, e.g, Final Fantasy 13 & 13-2. More female-oriented games may stop some of the eye-rolling when girls hear about killstreaks, dash-cancels, edge-hogging, +78 Onyx Swords, and Ray Spheres.

Incidentally, I watch "Kill la Kill", and while the show most obviously caters strongly to a male audience and is rife with fan service (which is more amusing than sexy anyways), it also throws in a good amount of female-oriented fan service. It's a strange feeling when the shoe is on the other foot.

KimimiStaff

#21

Kimimi said:

Well, it's lovely to wake up to comments like these! I was expecting the usual backlash that occurs whenever someone mentions women and games (in any context), so Push Square readers should all give yourselves a pat on the back for:
a) Actually reading the article and,
b) Responding in a thoughtful and reasonable way

Thumbs up from me!

Now to respond to a few things that have caught my eye in the comments -

@Bliquid - That's an excellent example, and (in a way) I'm glad you got to experience that sort of automatic exclusion because that is indeed what the vast majority of games (and their advertising) are like to women. If I notice it then I really can't imagine what it's like for a curious new gamer trying to get into the hobby :/

@Gemuarto - The game is not "furry themed". When the princes are in animal form it's played one of two ways - comedic or cute. There's no romance or sexual insinuations there: and while I'm on the subject, there's not actually any sexual content at all.

@Faustek - I'm more into Japanese Saturn games and old imported computer games than cakes and dresses, but I appreciate the thought all the same ;)

@AceSpadeS - Proof that my knowledge of films is inversely proportional to my knowledge of games ;)

Faustek

#22

Faustek said:

@Kimimi the cakes, dresses and weaponry was all goods I could be gifted in a old game I played as a wacked out princess. Don't remember the name :(

And the games...no way! I'll keep those :D But I didn't see a no to the weapons...good to know ;)

Sanquine

#25

Sanquine said:

@Gemuarto

To love Ru
Highschool dxd ( Classic) Issei becoming harem king.
Highschool of dead

Every possible harem anime is fun in my book Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is the anime i am currently watching:P .Also like maken-ki because i enjoy it:P ( I really need to feel shame huh for liking maken - ki)

AG_Awesome

#26

AG_Awesome said:

Gender discussions towards video games have always been a fascinating subject to me. Personally I have never had an issue playing a game with a female protagonist. It doesn’t matter if it's Tomb Raider, Bayonetta, or even a female fighter in Mortal Kombat. I still enjoy the game and see it for exactly what it is (a means to experieince and control someone other than yourself). Having said that, Ive only ever played a game where you create your own character and created a female ONCE. I guess that may sound weird but I usually do custom characters based on one of three things: Myself, a movie/tv show/book/singer character than I like, or a stat based thing and the male character builds usually have the stronger physical stats that I like to use (warrior classes, etc).

I also wanted to add that Ive only known three female gamers in my entire life. I think it is awesome that there are girls out there who play video games and wish there was more of them. My wife in particular since she hates gaming and is terrible at it unless it's Animal Crossing. Lol.

QuietlyWrong

#27

QuietlyWrong said:

Thank you Kerry for a fascinating article and a new and interesting take on an issue of gender in gaming. I'd love to hear more articles along these lines. As a man who isn't always comfortable with some of the masculine gaming sterotypes - powerful muscular, weapon-toting characters I think it's important that games look to diversify as much as possible, for the good of the whole market. Give me more Guybrush Threepwoods to empathise with!
By coincidence I've recently picked up Hakuoki: Memories of the Shinsengumi so it'll be interesting to play that. I'm intrigued by Style Boutique (Style Savvy) now, having been quite intrigued by the demo...

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