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.