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by Nik Peachey
Computer games have been criticised for quite some time over a whole range of issues. Some people say they are overly violent and encourage violent behaviour, particularly in children. Others say that they make children hyperactive, unsociable, and are bad for their eyes. Some have even attributed falling standards of literacy and a lack of interest in reading to them. Now, however, it seems that computer games have also become a feminist issue.
Game manufacturers have, for some time, been looking to increase the number of female game players. The vast majority of computer games still sell to a mainly male market. Perhaps this is because the violent nature of many of the games appeals more to males or perhaps because many of the main characters in the games are male. Manufacturers' attempts to produce more female characters and so increase their share of the female gaming market have met with serious criticism from many women's groups.
Whilst heroines such as Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider game are seen as providing positive role models of strong women, many believe that the character's unrealistic Barbie-like proportions are subconsciously setting unattainable standards in the minds of young women. Perhaps a stronger criticism is that although many games now include female characters, their role is often secondary and they support the main, male action characters within the games. Of course, the nature of many of the games remains violent and destructive and this in itself could well continue to put off female gamers.
There are now, however, a number of websites springing up on the World Wide Web to help women deal with this issue. Sites such as Game Girlz, Women Gamers and Game Gal offer game reviews, articles, discussion forums and even employment opportunities for women interested in becoming part of the rapidly expanding games industry. The games are reviewed by women from a very female perspective. Some rate the games from one to ten across a range of criteria which include the appearance of the female characters, the degree of intelligence attributed to them in the game and even the marketing attitude adopted by the company. The sites are obviously looking for games that move away from the very male-dominated and violent nature of the majority of computer games. Many of them review games that are more constructive and developmental. Although the common fantasy themes of knights, witches and goblins still exist within these games, the aims are often very different. Instead of destroying opposing armies, the aim of the game can be to make peace with them.
With this increased degree of awareness and involvement from women in the games industry, many positive changes could be made that could encourage more women and young girls to become enthusiastic about technology and what it has to offer them. Perhaps we may even find more male gamers moving away from the traditional violent and destructive games towards the more positive values promoted by these more feminine role models – after all, Tomb Raider is still one of the most popular computer games on the market – but perhaps that's too much to ask.