Wii for Women and the Gaming Gender Divide

Times like this, I wish we had a woman on the PopMatters Multimedia staff (and hey, any who wish to apply only have to click here and follow the directions).

It being the case that we don't, I decided to go ahead and check out this past Sunday's Best Buy "Wii for Women" event myself. In case you hadn't heard of the event, either through Best Buy itself or the countless blogs that went ahead and did some of Best Buy's advertising for them, here's the flyer:

Right from the outset, it looks a little bit suspect -- I mean, we have a flyer that's attempting to lure women to a video game based event by making a point of offering non-video game stuff. Granted, it's Best Buy, so the GPS sort of makes sense, but raffling off spa visits? Do we even have spas in Buffalo?

(Oh, stop that. Of course we do. Somewhere.)

The event itself really wasn't much of an event, although based on coverage of other Best Buy locations' takes on the whole thing, the experience probably varied from place to place. There were two tables set up in the back of the store for the event, not the most ideal of locations but probably understandable given that a) it forces people who show up for the thing to walk through aisles of CDs and games, and b) the home theater demo center is back there. Walking up to the first table, I was assaulted by a collection of pretty much every game thus far that has caused the so-called hardcore gaming community to come to the conclusion that Nintendo is utterly abandoning them. Mario Party 8, Carnival Games, Guitar Hero 3 (itself perhaps the most stereotypically "male" product on display), Super Mario Galaxy, and, of course, Cooking Mama: Cook Off (you know, because women can relate to cooking) were all there, backed by a (very friendly) Best Buy employee whose sole job was to corrall people to the display and explain the games to people who asked.

The second table was where the good stuff was: A whole pile of Lindor truffles (white chocolate Lindor truffles are truly one of life's great pleasures), a vase full of carnations for all the boyfriends dragging their significant others along, some Wii Fit paraphernalia like green and white Wii Fit pins and green Livestrong-style Wii Fit bracelets, with the raffle tickets and a brochure explaining the ESRB completing the grab bag o' stuff. After downing a truffle and being politely informed that I could not enter the raffle because, well, this was a "Wii for Women" event, I checked out the media room.

There were two big screen TVs. On the first, a happy couple was playing a spirited round of Wii Sports' bowling, with a small audience watching. On the other was a lonely, abandoned game of Carnival Games. Seriously, people, which of you bought Carnival Games? They've shipped a cool million copies of that thing, and I still haven't met anyone who says "Ooooh, Carnival Games? Awesome game." They've announced a sequel.


Slightly nonplussed, I yoinked one more of those truffles (mmm...dark chocolate this time) and got out.

I spent the entire drive home conflicted. On one hand, I was appalled at the blatant sexism on display, as a couple of large corporations' marketing teams knocked their heads together and created something that felt like the most stereotypical representation of the female gaming experience ever concocted. On the other hand, there is statistical evidence to back up the stereotype, so despite the fact that most gamers know a female or two that could whomp our asses to next Tuesday in Gears of War or whatever, it doesn't change statistics like 62% of casual gamers being female or 90% of the people who bought Diner Dash being female. Who am I to begrudge a corporation the opportunity to maximize its bottom line by playing it safe statistically? It's not like there were crickets chirping and tumbleweeds ambling by over at Best Buy, they actually drew a crowd, a crowd that seemed to be enjoying itself.

Jade Raymond makes the
boys swoon.

Also not helping matters is the blatant catering of the gaming media to the male ideal of what a "hardcore" female gamer should be; that is, not only does the female gamer need to enjoy and succeed at games, but she'd also better be hot. Think of the prominent women in the gaming community, and you're bound to think of IGN's Jessica Chobot (who still hasn't lived down the infamous PSP-licking thing), Ubisoft's Jade Raymond, or G4's Morgan Webb, all of whom have established sizable fanbases/cult followings in no small part thanks to sex appeal. This is not to discredit them by any means, but it's a little bit sad to think of the number of intelligent thoughts out there that may have been ignored by the masses simply because nobody wants to give someone marginally less physically attractive the time of day. While the aforementioned three may exist as proof that female gamers beyond the Bejeweled crowd do exist, they still play to a male-dominated stereotype, which doesn't help at all when trying to establish an even gender playing field.

This of course led me to wonder whether greased-up beefcake shots of myself would help to increase the Moving Pixels audience, but perhaps that's a blog post for another time.

Regardless, Wii for Women was an interesting event, if a bit uncomfortable for a male travelling alone. For those who care about such things, the mere establishment of an event like Wii for Women manages to point out the current state of the gaming gender divide better than any silly little essay or set of observations could ever hope to.





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