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The art of Randy Thom

 Sound designer (FW35)

Women and videogames
Filmwaves 35

MZ - Video-games are today a mainstream cultural practice, what is the situation in terms of women’s input (designing, developing) and women’s fruition (playing) of video-games.

KE - There tend to be more women in the ‘creative’ or ‘production’ roles in this industry: artists, animators, production mangers etc. Having said this, we have our fair share of coders and in general the number of women on teams and in the industry grows every year. Having said this we still have the shortest toilet queue at Christmas parties and long may that be the case! Creative input tends to come from all angles in this industry... if it’s a good idea it can come from the most junior to the most senior member of a team regardless of sex. The women I know certainly hold their own when it comes to creative banter. In terms of game players, that is more a question for the marketeers. The titles I’ve worked on tend to be more male oriented; meaning we sell to the guys and some of the more hardcore female players. However, with the growth of social gaming such as Singstar, Eyetoy, Guitar Hero the fan-base has certainly crossed gender.

MZ - Do men and women, boys and girls, like different types of games and seek different pleasure from playing? For example do men prefer direct competition (e.g. killing the opponent in order to win) versus indirect competition (e.g. winning doesn’t necessarily imply hurting some other character in the game).

KE - I can only offer up my opinion on this one since I’m sure there are far more scientific, sociological and psychological studies going on around the country. Generally speaking, I’m a firm believer in individuals. I know some girls that are Halo mad, others that can’t stand the kitsch of The Sims. Games are certainly gendered in terms of overall themes, packaging and what lures a certain type of gamer to a game. Having said that, when it comes down to the low level activity of pressing buttons, moving controllers or waving your hands (or whatever the mechanic is), some games nail it, others don’t. For instance, I’m not sure I would ever have picked The Getaway if I hadn’t been working on it. I had to learn to play it properly, but once I did, it was addictive. The same goes for Halo, Tekken, God of War any of these games that you have to nail the ‘knack’ before you can enjoy. Regardless of gender I believe that if a game plays well, anyone will get into it given time. It’s the initial lure and latter longevity that might be geared more towards female or male... e.g. the story might emotionally grip you (such as the classic Japanese title Ico) or the characters might be a-typical or cute-to-look-at (such as the forthcoming Little Big Planet) or it might be very pickup- and-play (Locco Rocco). These qualities might be seen as feminine.

MZ - Should we create ‘games for girls’ or inclusive games? Do girls play in a different way?

KE - I think we do create inclusive games, and the number is rising. But this is market-lead and the most common comment I hear from girls is "I don’t want to get sucked into it for hours." Thus they give it five minutes and if they’re not hooked they put it down. Guys tend to be more persistent. They tend to view game play more as learning a skill. You get out what you put in. Gamers can have talent and improve, I just think the perception for a lot of women is that it’s wasted talent. Perhaps guys just tend to be more competitive and girls more creative, but even saying this, I realise it’s such a vast generalisation. If you take me and my brother playing games together as kids: he was always better at the physical act of pressing buttons, fast reactions or precision aiming (the hand-eye coordination stuff). I was better at figuring out the puzzles, finding the next door; the slower paced more thoughtful aspects of a game. Whether we can take this and relate it to the whole gaming population of men and women is beyond me. MZJ - Female characters in video-games are represented as stereotypes, and usually are not fully playable characters, why are so few leading characters in video-games women? Are there any notable exceptions? And how did they come about? KE - I think this is an archaic view. The games which represent female characters as stereotypes actually represent all of their characters as stereotypes regardless of sex. Over the last five years I think dev teams have made progress in characterisation and storytelling in general... not just female characters. You might say that games have to tackle the same hurdles as action movies when it comes to characterisation. Usually characters who kill, or fight or drive fast aren’t your usual Joe (or Joanna) next door. Thus we’re starting with atypical people. To make that leap to a female lead is also dependent on believability. Is she going to be a hulking hard as nails chick... or a ninja from birth. As for strong women leads I can name a few: Lara Croft from Tombraider, Nariko from Heavenly Sword, Jen from Primal. How did these characters come about... someone put care and thought into them.

MZ - Is Lara Croft an empowering feminist icon or a digital sex object?

KE - Tricky one. I first played as Lara when I was 18, and I thought she was great. I’ve heard various stories (from people who were there) about the meetings discussing the size of her breasts. We’ve also all seen the PR screen shots that have been released over the years which show her naked (like a pin-up) without any relation to her role in the games. Whether or not titillation was involved in the creation or marketing of Lara, the fact remains, she’s a very adept and capable woman. She’s empowered. She’s not feminist. She is digital. And she is definitely sexy. She gets my vote.

MZ - What is to be gained from a more diverse game development community?

KE - Masses. The more varied the market and therefore the more varied the games. The golden age of gaming, which many people refer to as the 80s, saw such creativity, diversity and freshness in the games that were developed. We’re currently in the age of the sequel and the copy cat game. Don’t get me wrong, every so often something is released that really makes a difference and carves a new space for itself, but there is plenty of stagnation and repetition on the market. Designing for the sure hit, rather than the outside chance. More variety ‘out there’ will demand more variety ‘in here’. Soon we will see an ‘art house’ of gaming emerge. MZ - What is, for you, the relationship between film and video-games?

KE - The production of them especially. There are such transferable skills between those working in film post production and games that we are seeing a greater cross over of talent and ideas. I think that the games made of films and films made of games is a tenuous relationship... unless story threads truly weave through both. I think in games we’ve learnt so much about cameras and story from the movie industry.