A Female-Friendly DC Universe


Wonder Woman


When discussing gender in videogames, I approach with caution. I doubt this will come as a surprise, but the videogame industry is not known for its tactful portrayal of either sex. Yet with the booming casual market grabbing publishers’ attentions, some developers are thinking twice about female players and their perceptions of dominant gender norms. While I encourage this type of introspection, some folks are a little too eager to slap on hastily prepared design choices to make a game more "female-friendly." Recently, Tracey John of MTV multiplayer received some information regarding the "female-friendly" aspects of DC Universe from creative director Jens Andersen:

 "A lot of my friends play with their significant other or spouse, and they usually like to play the stuff that’s not so up-front combat-wise; they like to do the healing, the support, the buffing, and that sort of group management. So we made sure that we tried to make that more than just watching people’s health bars on the side of the screen. It wasn’t just playing the interface; it was actually still just playing the game. So our concepts for having the support people involved are very different from what other MMOs have."

I appreciate that the development team put thought into developing a support class that is as much fun to play as the combative class, but I am not certain how important gender is in this decision. I have years of "support class" experience as a healer, though I am not a woman, I too can appreciate a well designed control scheme for alternative class players. Had the DC Universe not considered female players, would they have scrapped healers entirely? Will focusing so heavily on the non-combat characteristics of the supposedly female-oriented characters really make female players feel at home, or are they creating characters based upon gender norms? Only the final release can reveal exactly how much support classes were designed to cater to female tastes. If the team focuses too strongly towards a gendered class, even female players may feel cheated out of an experience that should ideally be designed for all to enjoy. A tip: the best way to attract female players to your MMO is to design a game that is fun regardless of gender. Oh, avoiding stereotypes and misogyny also helps. Jen Andersen thinks he’s got that covered:

"Wonder Woman is in our game; she’s one of the most recognizable female characters in the world. So the appeal that we have as far as just female presence in the [intellectual property] is very large. The amount of customization that you get to do – we’re taking a lot of care in terms of like what types of characters and archetypes that women gravitate to when they play – have the cute character, we have the motherly character, we have the sexy character – all the different kind of traits you can kind of choose from and can identify with."

Again, I have yet to see the character creation process in action, but I am naturally suspicious of Andersen’s archetype options as design choices. I understand women may in fact gravitate to cute, motherly, or sexy characters (to some extent they are gender norms because they are marketable as such). However, I question the efficacy of a top-down plan to attract players who would find such archetypes appealing. Surely a creation interface that allows a myriad of options is a good thing, particularly if it allows players to imbue their avatars with identities of their own. If a woman can create a "motherly" male character who likes to burn things now and again, well then I think the developers have succeeded in creating a universally receptive role-playing game.

It seems like marketing a franchise to a casual female market by adapting game design around supposedly "female" characteristics might become popular. Earlier last month Eidos revealed they may be giving Lara Croft a "female-friendly makeover." Though we all know Lara Croft could use an update, I’m with Leigh Alexander in calling the move an attempt at refreshing the franchise with "guesses about what appeals to women." If this is all just rhetoric, than PR should try to frame this issue a little better. Trying to design gendered games around perceived marketing flaws may end up catering to stereotypes, potentially ostracizing female gamers who don’t take kindly to "female-friendly," and should be avoided.


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Author: Jorge Albor View all posts by

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