The Better Bombshell

In our third (of four) posts about women in the video game industry, Better Bombshell Artistic Director Siolo Thompson talks to Paula Cuneo, Vice President of Transmedia Marketing at Meteor Entertainment, about industry and in-game gender dynamics and why male gamers often choose female avatars.

BB: The video game development industry has recently seen more female administrators, developers, and artists. Will this shift in demographics affect video game art? For example, do you anticipate any changes in the way female avatars and characters are modeled?

Gender stereotypes still abound in gaming, but I think we forget that male stereotypes are as prevalent as female stereotypes. Maybe even more so, as there are significantly more male characters than female ones: it’s boobs versus brawn. There’s lots of work to be done in creating rich, compelling characters of all sexes, and having more women working inside the industry engenders knowledge and empathy across the sexes. When they’re working side by side with the guys, women are being viewed less as the ‘other’ and more as a vital team member.

BB: Gender dynamics inside game worlds is a fascinating subject. In games like WOW [World of Warcraft], approximately 50% of men play female avatars. (This gender-bending seems to occur even when there is no advantage to the player — for example, men play female Spartans in HALO.) Why do you think this occurs?

Because they can! Cross gender exploration is the ultimate roleplay, and it affords the player the opportunity to create a multivalent character with attributes that might help them play better. The dichotomy of the female identity is compelling: powerful yet vulnerable, smart and strategic. She embodies the magic and mystery of creating life. She is seen as a healer, a nurturer, and a relentless defender of her brood, her clan. How badass is a character that encompasses all those traits?

BB: Video games have traditionally been a male realm, but female subcultures are adopting contemporary video games designed for males. For example, some analytics report that 30% of the new FPS players are female. When did this happen and why are women now moving toward FPS style games, traditionally a ‘boys only’ style of play?

As women move more aggressively and competitively into arenas previously ‘owned’ by men, you tend to see two specific reactions. First, folks say, “Wow, I didn’t know there were women who did this,” and then they say, “Damn, I don’t want a girl to be able to beat me at this.” I think this holds true with FPS gaming. Girls have been playing shooters forever. I’ll bet you a roll of quarters I can still kick any dude’s ass at Area 51! Now that on-line gaming incorporates text and chat, players are no longer anonymous. Surprise! A chick just shot your ass. Women see a lot of backlash and trash talk, but it is getting better. Gaming isn’t like the Olympics, where competition is still segregated by gender. The guys are getting over it: the women are coming to get them.

BB: You are the Vice President of Transmedia Marketing and Promotions at Meteor Entertainment. How do games like HAWKEN reach a female user base?

We maintain a strong dialogue with female-focused gamers and gaming outlets to ensure that the game is compelling across genres and that we form friendships and partnerships with women gamers who can help us make the game better, more fun and more accessible broadly. HAWKEN is also a transmedia franchise, with a gorgeous original graphic novel coming out in March and a serialized novel coming out next year.

BB: HAWKEN is a mech game and the few times you see humans inside the game they are in the repair bay with their backs turned. Is HAWKEN a genderless game?

This is a great question. The HAWKEN universe is not genderless. The backstory is replete with female characters; heroines, love interests, daughters, warriors…all of which address gender dynamics in a variety of ways. HAWKEN gameplay, however, is genderless. Tactics, strategy, and customization…it is all about the individual and the team. You are the mech, and the mech is you. Men and women play and compete inside machines whose strength and capabilities usurp human ability. In this war, women and men are physically equal. The mech is the great equalizer; you have to bring your brain!

Big thanks to Meteor Entertainment, Paula Cuneo, and the Better Bombshell team. Stay tuned for next week’s final installment in our month-long series about women in the video game industry!

Categories: The Better Bombshell
  • Vardan Azizyan

    I believe that we are now, in this period of time, at an age where gender is less and less relevant in many previously ‘man owned’ activities. Gaming has always been such a male dominated activity and I am glad to see that women are becoming more aggressively involved, let alone, becoming the characters that males play. The fact that males play female avatars seems to have an advantage for the player because it allows males to use power along with the strengths and attributes that a female character brings to the table. I also believe that many ‘macho’ males have a keen interest in what it would be like to be a ‘kick-ass woman’, especially after conquering male character games, and by playing a female character they are able to bring that fantasy to life. Gender dynamics has given gaming a turn for the better, because of all its possibilities as well as equality.

    • siolo

      Thank you for the thoughtful reply Vardan! As a (female) gamer myself I really enjoy the freedom gaming provides. Walking around in the world I am always aware of my gender – in a game I often forget or simply follow the story. I just finished playing Dishonored and although I was a male character it had very little bearing on the story or my experience in the game, it’s actually pretty liberating.