Bringing Gender Neutrality To Video Game Marketing
To see the point I’m trying to make, one merely needs to turn on the TV. That point being, that women gamers are divided into two camps. We are either stereotypically feminine, loving cute animals, the colour pink and fashion, OR those who want to work out during gaming time, prancing around the living room with friends, getting sweaty doing Zumba, treating gaming as a social activity.
While I’m not condemning either of these things, I do find it frustrating that women who play games are primarily viewed as only belonging to these two niches. I find it frustrating that what these types of advertisements say about women is that we are focused on appearance, whether it be through clothing or through working out. I’m frustrated that marketing is focused on ‘casual’ female gamers. When I look at the marketing for the games I would rather play, I’m simply unable to find that much that says “Both genders can enjoy this gaming experience!” Game marketing seems to be focused on this idea of gender binaries; females enjoy cutesy things and men enjoy violence and/or sex. There is no blurry middle-ground in which it is possible for men AND women to enjoy the same gaming experience (because, I know from personal experience, women do enjoy violent video games as well).
Although my comments about the marketing toward female gamers may seem disparaging, as though liking the colour pink is somehow un-feminist, I’m more focused on wanting to make the marketing of games gender neutral. There is no blue controller specifically aimed at younger male gamers, because typically, boys play games and will be buying the hardware and games without needing to be ‘encouraged’ into this. I don’t feel ignored as a gamer who happens to be a female, I just feel as though the marketing is misguided and somewhat ignorant as to who the consumers actually are.
One example of really bizarre marketing I’ve seen was the ‘Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2’ campaign.
Ignoring the fact that it hails back to parental disapproval (we’ve all had it), I just don’t get why this campaign was focused entirely around one gender in one age group. Clearly, as funny as it may be, you aren’t going to put a large group of seven-year-old girls into a room and ask them to watch clips from Dead Space 2. But, I’m asking myself, why was it just women? Where are the older guys who are also opposed to gore and violence? Why weren’t they put into a room and used as part of this campaign? My day job involves a lot of interaction with men of a certain generation, and I know that their responses would be synonymous to the ‘mom responses.’ I also know that if my mum played Dead Space, she’d probably laugh at a lot of it – where are those women in this campaign? Honestly, I do find this campaign funny, and I’d hate for people to think I’m getting on my high-horse about it because it is focused on a female stereotype; I’m more frustrated that there wasn’t a balance of middle-aged people opposed to violence and furrowing their brows and cursing at the scenes of gore in Dead Space 2.
I’m also not pointing the finger at ‘men in suits’ because, as consumers, we should be letting companies know what is good and bad about their product so hopefully things will change. If we don’t speak up, things won’t change – it’s simple. This is more me saying that, as a female, I need to take some personal responsibility to get in touch with the marketing departments of various gaming companies and say “Yo, my gender doesn’t define me or my hobbies, so let’s see both men and women playing co-op in Black Ops 2 if you want to feature IRL people in your adverts.”
There have been attempts that I consider encouraging, however, to involve gamers as a collective unit (no gender segregation!) with making decisions for a marketing/advertising campaign, and that was with a company I love – hi there, Bioware. In the Summer of 2011, they made the decision to let the consumers choose how they wanted the iconic female Shepard to look in all the marketing for Mass Effect 3. Although it could be argued that this campaign does not feature real people like the campaigns I mentioned previously, I really feel as though was a step in the right direction. Not only was a strong female character taking centre stage, but we, as the consumers, were being allowed to speak our minds about how we wanted one aspect of the marketing, and indeed the game, to look.
Considering only 18% of players play as Femshep, I was thrilled to see the minority be acknowledged when they so could have easily continued to have been ignored. The final Femshep design wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but my friends and I went berserk with happiness when the video featuring her was finally released this year. We had all been involved and loved the final result.
I am under no illusions that gender stereotyping will always be featured within the marketing for video games, and that this may well be seen as detrimental for both men and women. What I want, though, is to see games being marketed fairly. If companies really believe that men only play Game A and women only play Game B, then quite frankly, they are ridiculous and are ignoring some of their potential audience. Similarly, I know you can’t advertise to everyone BUT, as the minds at Bioware have proven, you don’t need to do a lot to let your community feel included and make a fan base very very happy.
What do you think of the gender binary in video game marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Written by Becci Yare