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The very wonderful Alice Taylor responds to the lack of female representation in the recent “The Game Developer 50” from Gamasutra.

http://www.kotaku.com.au/2010/04/a-long-way-to-go/

Go Alice!

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The online booking system for the WIG2010 conference is now open at http://www.womeningames.com

You can pay by credit or debit card, or download and print our offline booking form for cheque payments.

Full conference passes are £200 (or £125 NUS/unwaged), or £125 for a single day pass. The conference dinner is an optional extra at £35 (venue TBA).

Hope to see you there!

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The University of Bradford in collaboration with Bradford College are hosting Women In Games 2010 on March 25th and 26th. Women In Games is in its 7th year and Bradford brings a strong technological and cultural background to this internationally recognised event, designed to highlight and discuss the issues of women working in game development, women as subjects of games, and women gamers.

The conference is a meeting of the academy and the industry and this year will focus on the theme of Diversity; diversity in markets, in demographics, in development methodologies and platforms, as well as cultural and ethnical diversity surrounding games. This year we are proud to announce keynote speakers Lorna Evans from TIGA and Professor Valerie Walkerdine, author of ‘Children, Gender, Video Games’.

WIG2010 has extended the deadline for calls for papers to February 12th, and is looking for speakers and sponsorship partners. If interested please check out http://www.womeningames.com or contact the conference chairs at enquiries@womeiningames.com for more information.

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Anne-Mette’s work  was on how identity was constructed, with particular reference to Turkle’s self-representation through the text, Taylor’s “duality of presence”, Gee’s “projective identity”, and the idea of cyborg identities. Anne-Mette was particularly interested in gender identities in virtual communities, whereby a male could play a female but also have a different presence in an online forum, and so forth. She described her approach as literary/ludic with postmodernism.

In this particular forum, the only place accessible to non-members of the guild is the recruitment page. Beyond this page, players are able to make texts about themselves and their characters, and these texts encompass self-description at many levels. Here, Anne-Mette showed us one player’s descriptions by way of an example. This, she said, showed a typical example of the player’s coherency and ability to shift between texts.

We looked at said individual’s application to join the guild, whereby he stated himself as male and his profession, at which point the text was changed (he stated that he had Worg pups rather than children, a reference to the game). He then switched directly into the game as he spoke around the character of his female dwarf and congratulated himself for choosing her rather than a Night Elf. Anne-Mette questioned here whether this was because he related to the characteristics of the Dwarf better. Finally, he stated that he could be online for two afternoons per week.

Later, after being accepted into the guild, this individual posted about joining in the action, the later about what had happened. Later still, he posted a YouTube clip of something outside of the game. He also on occasion invited other guild members to stay at his.

Anne-Mette discussed the matter of the description of the main character being in the third person and how this might complicate matters and how players are shifting between positions and identities without issue. Finally, she brought up the idea of the cyborg: these self-stories might be reminiscent of the cyborg being assembled and disassembled. Furthermore, the cyborg as a symbolic figure of the breakdown of dualities was an interesting element. I would be interested to see what conclusions Anne-Mette draws from looking at other player/characters.

Questions were regarding Anne-Mette’s position in the guild, how she was accepted as a researcher in the guild, how the other guild members react to this, and Anne-Mette’s desire to be accepted both as a player and as a researcher.

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Before I begin my write-up of this talk, I would just like to state that the sound quality on the video made it rather difficult to follow at times. I hope I got the main points, though! Because Shira was not available to answer questions, but she can be contacted through her website, http://www.shirachess.com.

Shira’s talk involved the entitlement of women to leisure time, how this is achieved, and how the structure of certain games might be seen to reflect this structure. Shira spoke about how women manage their time, Simulated Productive Play, and the idea of simulation and the spectator as housing a duplicated identity which might be achieved through both physical and representational spaces.

Developer Big Fish Games had the following to say of their franchise: “Manage time, customers, and money in games for the serious goal-setter.” Shira pointed out here that this hardly sounds like a game at all. She moved on to speak more on the Diner Dash series, whose audience is apparently 95% female of average age 35, with 60 million downloads in the franchise, giving it quite an expansive network. Shira explained that the reason these titles were so popular with women was because it represented the household, the stereotypical domain of the woman. The labour, she stated, is emotional, and this household structure is replicated through the game. It is productive: the structure involves waiting on tables, seating customers, cleaning messes, and so forth. This is work in a game.

Shira mentioned the third Diner Dash game, where the main character is on vacation and is roped into assisting on a cruise ship after an incident in which the crew quits. Shira stated this as the main character using her traits as a powerful woman to case for others.

Finally, Shira asked about Simulated Productive Play and whether or not that was a third shift for many women.

If you want to know more about Shira’s work, please do contact her with questions at the aforementioned site.

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Alison’s talk involved women’s access to gaming and the implications of this. She asked us to think about how games are situated gender-wise and the focus on masculinity in games. She stated that it was a very heteronormative and hypermasculine practice, and that females were trespassers on the ground of the male player.

An “historical construction of maleness” is central to video games, Alison stated. Women in this situation are considered unlikely to be audiences and are therefore marginalised. There is, Alison said, a tendency to make anything in gaming that does not follow hetereonormative convention inferior, and that action and adventure should be left to the male audience.

Alison argued that games are played based on access to them and that girls might not specifically choose to play games because they simply were not offered the choice to do so. Because of the perceived increase in access, men claim expertise over games, Alison stated, which undermines the female connection to them. She considered that girls who did not have access to games might think that they were for boys and therefore not play them. This affects future perceptions of such matters.

After speaking about the Wii and its lack of an ideal market, Alison also addressed the divide between the hardcore and casual gamers and stated that although many people do both, there is a perceived gender divide in place. Female play in this way is scorned. Games which are quick to pick up and play are ideal for people in a situation where they might not be able to spend time on working towards mastery or finding a save point.

Alison pointed out that there is a shrinking gap between male and female players, but female players are nonetheless framed as sexualised, in part due to structures embedded within the games themselves.

Alison stated that a possible future research direction might be to look at trends in handheld devices and the access and practices associated with such play.

Questions included those regarding the hierarchies in place, the discourse of the industry, types of masculinities and femininities that come into play,the manipulation of the female player (the PC as masculine and consoles as feminine, for example) and therefore the language of games/marginalisation.

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Ben’s talk was explained as looking at the representations of LGBT within the gaming world. His intention was to look at the theory and raise some of the issues of this representation.

Ben had been studying a site known as Gaydar, a large dating site designed to assist men in finding other men, which he described as making money from gay men a niche market. In this, he described, there are certain tensions in classification and representation. At this point we were shown a chart of how many gay men used hair straighteners in comparison to the number of straight men who did the same. This kind of study is designed to reinforce stereotypes and representations of people.

Ben moved on to how LGBT individuals are represented in games. http://www.GayGamer.net has a list titled ‘Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters’. This interested Ben because it showed how people connected with games beyond the intention of the designer and also beyond play. He referenced Jenson and de Castell (2008) and the requirement for a rethink of gender assumptions with relation to games. He then moved on to list some of the games and characters that LGBT people identify with and some games that have included LGBT content.

SingStar Anthems was labelled ‘queer edition’ due to the perceived identification of the LGBT community with certain tracks. Ben also described the box art, whereby it seems that one of the men is looking at the other, and the same with the women. Ben stated his surprise when he realised just how much LGBT content there was to find. This included a playable ‘camp’ character by the name of Ash from Streets of Rage 3 who was removed from play in the US version of the game, and the developing relationship between two female characters in Fear Effect 2 which was later said to be revealed to be included for teenage boys who wanted to see such things. Ben questioned why such content would be included in games and answered himself with a statement about “commodification of difference”. Further examples cited included Bully: Scholarship Edition, in which one can kiss girls and boys and even gain points for homosexual encounters. The Temple of Elemental Evil, Fable, and Fallout included the serious possibility of gay marriage. Ben stated that developers claim to aim for a more rounded experience in games with such content.

Cho Aniki is a game involving a sexual relationship between two men. Ben described said title as being filled with hypermasculinity and highly sexualised content (such as using sperm as a weapon). He also stated that some individuals considered the characters of Dance Summit 2001 as drag queens, which brought him to what I considered as perhaps his most central point of the talk. Ben pointed out that it doesn’t actually matter with these characters whether they are LGBT or not, it’s the case that if someone has thought that way about them then it is important. This brought with it further examples, including the infamous Tingle character from the Zelda series (incidentally, this character made #1 on the GayGamer.net aforementioned top twenty). This character is important, states Ben, because of the on- and offline commentary regarding the character and how that interacts with itself. These are, Ben says, contested characters.

As a final two examples of content in games, Ben cited games in which one must run away from gay characters or, more alarmingly, kill them. The final example mentioned was what is apparently considered to be a bug, in which one could partner and even have children with someone of the same sex.

To conclude, Ben stated that there is much content in games intended to make humourous statements, or to be homophobic and hetero-normative. However, there is also an inter-textual element in which characters are hidden, and the idea of guessing on contested subjects. Ben will be working ethnographically in future with the game SingStar and the LGBT networks forming within that community. He wanted to observe the ‘gaymers’ versus ‘gamers’ divide and the idea that individuals play games because they want to play them, not simply because they are LGBT. Finally, Ben urged us to look at pre-determinism and stated that perhaps women only play certain games because that is what they are comfortable doing, and not because of their sex.

Ben received a number of questions and spoke about the situation of inclusion of content and whether it can become more political, the interest (or lack thereof) of content being directed towards LGBT gamers, and the discourse of men playing the SingStar games.

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