Beauty and the Geek?

In one of my very first articles in June last year, I discussed what I consider to be an archaic and unhealthy division between those that society proposes ‘should’ and ‘should not’ play games; to be precise, the blokes that should, and the girls that should not.

Now, the traditional image of the bespectacled teenage boy in a darkened room surrounded by Cheeto crumbs and an intriguing odour is strongly embedded in our culture. However, it is now so utterly outdated with the explosion of games into mainstream entertainment that if anything, more games are played either socially over the internet, or out in the big wide world on mobile devices, tablets and other gadgets. The traditional stereotype may still apply in some cases, but for the most part, games have moved on, and the people that play games have become far more varied in a variety of respects.

This applies in no small part to the gender of gamers today. I would stress of course, that there have always been ‘girl gamers’, or simply, gamers that happen to be female, since the dawn of the medium. However, there has been a notable increase in numbers of female players, especially in this current console cycle. So, why do we insist on still segregating out these players? It is damaging in a number of ways; it makes the industry itself appear archaic, stuck in stereotypes spawned in the 80’s; it makes the male gaming populace look like social morons, so incapable of associating comfortably with the opposite sex that they have to refer to the ‘girl gamer’ like some sort of mythical creature, or alien being; and it encourages ridiculous, cheap and tawdry attachments to our beloved medium such as Maxim’s Gamer Girl competition.

This is, in effect, simply a popularity contest and a beauty pageant that happens to have the words ‘Gamer Girl’ emblazoned on it. The kicker however, is that the winner of this competition will be employed by Virgin Gaming as a sort of spokeswoman – a public-facing industry representative, for all intents and purposes. Now, stop me if I’m wrong, but this seems like hiring someone for an industry role based entirely on their perceived beauty, and, presumably, appeal to this outdated concept of the stereotypical gaming geek.

This strikes me as also being somewhat insulting for those women trying to break into the industry (or that are indeed already in it) that got there, not on their looks or ability to pose in swimwear, but for their passion for games and their ability to design, develop or produce them – you know, the things that matter in a professional context? When we think of notable male figures in the industry – Miyamoto, Kojima, Molyneux, Chen, or just about anybody for that matter, we recognise them for their achievements, not for how much sex appeal they have (sorry chaps, no offense intended!) so why should we treat industry females any differently?

Now some people will argue that we shouldn’t take it so seriously – it’s a competition being run by a classic ‘Lad’s Mag’, intended as a marketing campaign and a way to appease their core readership. However, the fact remains that it is reinforcing a damaging view of the industry, and of the people that have or are looking for careers in it. The media does a fantastic job of suggesting to girls all the way through their upbringing that they can and indeed, should use their looks to get ahead in life – and all this type of marketing does is continue that on into the professional world. With all of the work being done across the industry to encourage more women to take up positions in development roles, it feels like Maxim is actively undermining that in order to further its own agenda and bring in more readers.

Do us a favour, and keep the smut masquerading as a beauty contest out of the games industry, it is nothing but damaging in the long run.