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Girlfriend Mode

So somebody at Gearbox, a company which made a game where you anally rape players with bullets, called a mode in Borderlands 2 designed to bring in inexperienced players into a game with you, the girlfriend mode. Cue panic, hysteria, outrage and outraged hysterical white knights setting things on fire while female devs explain how language like this shuts them out of the industry. The pearl clutching over this makes so-called game sites suddenly sound as crazy and alarmist as Jack Thompson out on a moral panic.

girl gamer

Now that everyone is properly outraged… what percentage of multiplayer First Person Shooter players are female? And I don’t mean corporate stunts like the frag dolls. I’m sure they exist. I’m also sure they’re not the majority or the target audience for a Gearbox game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Borderlands players are not the target audience for The Sims Online. Neither of them are the target audience for a stats heavy flight simulator.

Did it become sexist to not pretend that female gamers are as likely to sit down with a round of Halo as any teenage boy. That’s not what sexist means. Sexist means assuming that because fewer women will play Halo that they’re incapable of it or that playing Halo is an absolute value that makes men superior to women. Do we have to also start pretending that men are as likely to read Twilight?

The outraged will rely on statistics like the ESA’s gaming roundup which says that gamers are 58 percent male and 42 percent female. But the ESA is an industry trade group and runs things like this because it makes gaming seem more mainstream. But the ESA defines games as playing Farmville. Those same statistics show that 47 percent of their idea of “online gamers”  play puzzle and board games online. Only 33 percent play actual multiplayer games.

There’s this study, which like most studies you can take issue with.

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.

“Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are territory- and aggression-type games,” he pointed out.

But it’s just telling us what we already know. Games where the goal is to shoot a hundred people in ten minutes are more likely to appeal to men than to women.  The few FPS gender demographics that I have seen lean heavily male.

Back to Girlfriend Mode. The name can be read as a stereotype that women are worse gamers and need a crutch. But then it would be Girl Mode. It’s Girlfriend Mode because it lets players who wouldn’t normally play a male skewed game do a couples thing. Is it offensive? At least one romantic comedy told women how to get their boyfriends to come with them as part of their marketing. That was their Boyfriend Mode.

Sexism isn’t going to go away if we construct a magical universe where men and women like the same exact things and shout at everyone who says otherwise. It’s going to go away if we’re honest about boundaries and feelings. Pretending that there aren’t gender differences in style and gameplay doesn’t serve anyone.

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