Gaming for Girl Power: An Industry Takes a Look in the Mirror

If there is a growing consensus that video games do not cause violence and can be used as valuable learning tools, there are also challenges ahead for an industry that is widely seen as a boys club. 

Following the masacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden has met with many stakeholder groups including gun control advocates, gun rights advocates, victims' families, Hollywood, and the gaming industry. The task force is expected to submit proposals on how to limit gun violence today

While everyone expects to see some new gun regulations, will the task force advocate curbing violence in gaming, the fastest growing form of media today? Early indications from Biden's meeting with top industry executives suggest the answer is no. In fact, according to Yannick LeJacq, the tone of Biden's discussion represents "a sea-change in public opinion" away from the kind of instantaneous rush to judgment we have seen in the wake of previous school shootings, such as Columbine. 

Nonetheless, while Biden told the gaming industry he was "agnostic" about the connection between violent video games and aggressive behavior, he did advise those on hand to clean up their image. 

If Biden's remarks indicate a growing consensus that video games do not cause violence and can be used as valuable learning tools, the Vice President also highlighted an outstanding challenge for the industry. Gaming is seen by many as a boys club, a male dominated space that has not only been criticized for promoting violence, but also for its portrayal of women. 

Media critic Anita Sarkeesian argues "it is no secret that the video game industry propagates the most downright oppressive portrayals of women in any medium." To illustrate this point, Sarkeesian shared a chilling personal anecdote in this TEDxTalk. After Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter project to study portrayals of women in video games, she says she found herself the target of a "massive online hate campaign." Sarkeesian says that in addition to many other forms of online harassment, pornographic images were created in her likeness, and these images were then raped by video game characters. A "game" was also launched that involved an image of Sarkeesian becoming increasingly battered and bruised with each click on the screen.  

What is still more disturbing, according to Sarkeesian, is that the "cybermob" was not simply made up of immature teenage boys. Grown men were participating in this behavior, which they considered "gaming," a social interaction with an informal reward system for the attacks.    

There was a light at the end of the tunnel for Sarkeesian, however. Her Kickstarter campaign blew up, and she was able to vastly increase the scope of her Tropes Vs Women in Video Games project. She says her success is the result of what is in fact a significant cultural shift within the gaming community. Girls are gaming

As gaming designer Jane McGonigal tells Big Think, there's a great misconception when it comes to girls and video games. In fact, 40 percent of gamers are women and 94 percent under the age of 18 play them regularly. As McGonigal points out, women tend to be interested in different types of games -- social gaming rather than solo gaming, for instance. And this surge in participation is having an impact, as we will want boys and men to develop the same skills and ways of problem solving that women and girls are currently developing in their own gaming renaissance. 

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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