Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Misconceptions About the Female Avatar

Got a twofer for ya.

Michael Abbott invited me onto the Brainy Gamer Confab for a discussion about 2009. It's a refreshing variety of topics: EA's PR stunts, design trends, and the growing glut of games that continue to become formulaic without ever being bad. I was paired off with Ben Fritz and Nick LaLone and the result was a discussion about cultural trends more than any specific game concept. Fritz pondered why a well-received IP on the DS didn't sell while I ramble about a design pattern I noticed in DS & Wii FPS games that seems like a step backwards. LaLone capped this off with a question about innovation itself, where new ideas come from and how those can be produced. They're all very interesting chats that continue to make this podcast the best one on the internet. It was a huge honor to be invited on there.

The second is this week's BPM post, which engages with an assumption that people still make in games. There is a difference between our relationship with an attractive character that you are controlling instead of one you are looking at. You are sexualizing the player in this moment because they are projecting their identity into this avatar.

I'm not sure any blanket statement about how someone should feel about that will ever ring fully true. Some people enjoy it, some people don't care, and others think it's just a game. What I do think is that the oft-lambasted primary demographic of 18 to 35 year old heterosexual men are not overly fond of this. It conflicts with the nature of an empowerment fantasy, which I'm assuming is the chief selling point of being a giant space marine. Being an objectified sexual object, in this case a woman in a bikini etc., is mostly going to conflict with that activity.

I found a lab study that demonstrates this in action: a survey of men and women showed men did not prefer playing as a hypersexualized avatar. Oddly, women did, though there are outside explanations for that. I also bring in some Laura Mulvey to put all of this into perspective. Her work with film noir, films which are often similar to games because of how male-oriented they are, has helped me get a better grip on the cinematic techniques of the male empowerment fantasy.

Makes you wonder about something like Bayonetta, doesn't it?

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