Anyone even remotely interested in, or impacted by, the video gaming industry will be aware that there is a lot of controversy surrounding the availability and treatment of women characters in modern video games. There have been multiple articles written and studies done on the depiction of women in video games, from the lack of availability of female characters all the way through to so-called strong women with huge cleavage (to attract male gamers, you know) and the prevalence of games that use violence against women as “plot points” to either encourage a male character to action, or force a female character to be “strong”.
I’ve had no interest in writing about that debate.
First, I’m not a gamer. Despite my addiction to the original Civilisation and X-Com games in my youth, it’s a long time since I’ve had any interest in losing myself in a computer game.
Secondly, everything that needs to be said has already been said by people more vocal and informed on the issue than me.
But here I am writing about it anyway. You may be wondering why. (Or you may be wishing I would just get to the point.)
The reason is simple: My “Mother” button was pushed.
I’ve mentioned before that my children don’t watch TV. They also don’t play video games. At least, not as part of their usual routine. But as a very special holiday treat, when we go stay with my parents, Big Brother is allowed to play their Wii. He really only plays one game — Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing — and he’s limited to a maximum of 30 minutes at a time, up to twice a day. But he plays a video game and he loves it.
If you haven’t seen this game, it’s one of those racing games in the style of Mario Kart. It came free with my parents’ Wii when they bought it a few years ago. It’s a bit of a mish-mash of 20 favourite Sega characters, each of whom has a different car, bike or hovercraft. They race around various tracks, picking up power-ups and blowing up their opponents. Oh, and they all have an individual All-Star move.
We’ve been playing this game a few times a year for the last couple of years, and I certainly enjoy it as much as Big Brother does. I’ve never given any thought to gender equality in the game, or any other hot-button video gaming issue for that matter. I mean, it’s a family racing game.
Or I hadn’t until last week.
Completely out of the blue, Big Brother said to me, “Mummy, you know the racing game at Nana and Grandad’s house? Why are there lots of boy racers and only two girl racers?”
I had to stop and think. Really hard. There must be more female options than that, surely.
But after straining my brain, I could only remember one.
“Who are the girl racers?” I asked.
“There’s Ulala and Amy,” said Big Brother. “Amy is a hedgehog like Sonic. And Ulala is pretty and has a bottle of perfume for her All-Star.”
A few little alarm bells started ringing in the back of my head. “What’s Amy’s All-Star?” I asked. Because I honestly couldn’t remember. I don’t think I’ve ever played one of the female characters.
“She has a giant, sparkly pink hammer.”
Right. So there’s 18 male racers with All-Star moves like martial arts, super-speed, and turret guns. Then, for the girls, there’s a choice between Sonic’s girlfriend with her sparkly pink hammer, or the hot chick with a bottle of perfume.
But wait. This game isn’t exactly breaking new territory when it comes to characters. It’s a mascot game, a “best of” game, full of Sega’s most beloved characters. So surely the game itself can’t be held accountable.
Maybe so. But consider the fact that Sega looked through their backlog of games and chose the most interesting, unique, and loved characters they could find. This game includes characters from 14 different game worlds (assuming you class all the Sonic games as a single world). And from 14 games, they only chose two female characters. Sega has a grand total of two interesting, unique and lovable female characters.
Tell me you don’t think it’s a little concerning that this is what our children are seeing when they turn on a non-violent, child-safe video game.
Tell me you don’t think it’s a little concerning that I’m so used to not having female characters to choose from, it didn’t even register with me that there were only two of them.
Or tell me that you agree with Big Brother’s statement:
“That’s really not fair. There should be the same number of boy racers and girl racers. Because there’s the same number of boys and girls in the world.”
Have you noticed gender-inequality in children’s TV or video games?