I’ve never been your typical girly girl. At 5 I quit ballet to be the only girl on the local footy team, I didn’t really like dolls other than Motorcycle Barbie, and I’ve never quite grasped the art of makeup. It’s hard to tell whether all that is just because I’m a raging homosexual, or because I gravitated towards male-dominated hobbies where the only women who were included “weren’t like the other girls” and were “one of the boys”.
Femininity has long been seen as a weakness in Western culture. “Don’t be such a girl” and “you’re crying like a girl” are some of the worst insults you can throw at a macho man, as though there’s some virtue in repressing your feelings until they violently burst out.
Gaming has long been one of the worst spaces for this (after organised sports). I’ve been playing video games for more than 25 years, and writing about them professionally for almost 15, and it’s been fascinating watching the sexism in the industry ebb and flow, even though 46% of gamers are female. There’s the nasty, overt stuff, like GamerGate, and the alleged horrible treatment of women working at Activision Blizzard and other studios. Then there’s the more subtle stuff, like gatekeeping dudes trying to redefine what a “gamer” is to exclude anyone who doesn’t obsessively play Call of Duty, YouTubers telling me that women don’t play games because most of their channel’s viewers are men, and the developer at E3 who told the all-male team of journalists to “go easy against the girls” in a racing game. (For the record, we destroyed those guys who thankfully chose not to go easy on us.)
So, I’ve been really heartened to see both Sony and Microsoft introducing more feminine accessories and collaborations this year, without infantilising feminine players. Usually, when a company tries to make a gaming accessory for women, they make it hot pink and put cat ears on it, then market it like a children’s toy.
Earlier this year Sony introduced three new PlayStation 5 controllers in bright pink, deep purple and pastel blue, with a marketing campaign that focussed on how nice they look, rather than them being for girls. Pink isn’t really a girl’s colour, it’s for everyone, but it’s also a colour that’s gotten a lot of misplaced hatred because of its proximity to femininity.
This week, Microsoft and Xbox upped the anti by locally launching a range of nail polishes in partnership with legendary nail polish brand OPI. What I love about that collaboration is that they didn’t just tie it to a kid’s game, or only games with female protagonists, but to car racing game Forza Horizon 5 and first-person shooter series Halo. Not only are the nail polishes named after aspects of the games, but they also come with codes so you can get a car or armour that matches your nails. It’s unashamedly feminine, while not being annexed to the girly table for babies.
These steps are small, and they’re not going to single-handedly fix the problems within the industry, but anything that signals more people are welcome to play and that being ‘like the other girls’ is good, because girls are awesome and we need to stop forgetting that. Sure, this is just another cynical marketing ploy to make money, but it’s a cynical marketing ploy to make money off a forgotten audience.
Now that this door has been opened, what’s coming next? Gaming merch in women’s sizes that actually fits a range of women and other boob-owners? A Gran Turismo 7 eyeshadow palette? A code for badass blood stained DLC armour free with a pack of U by Kotex sanitary napkins? I am unironically and most fervently here for all those future collaborations.
Phil Spencer, head of gaming at Xbox, is right when he says “when everyone plays, we all win”, because all storytelling and entertainment mediums get better when more voices are heard.
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