A Brief History of and Reflection on Games
I feel like I should declare a minor in game theory at this point.
Since we don’t have a huge amount of time for this module, I decided to begin by looking at my world. Just in my living room, there is a milk crate full of videogames, three game systems, and a separate crate of board and card games. However, only several board games belong to me as I am what is known as A Filthy Casual. I don’t like first person games, I’m bad at quicktime events, and I don’t have the patience for MMOs. My Steam library has games such as Hatoful Boyfriend, Undertale, Bastion, and Minecraft. There are many games I enjoy watching others play, but that I don’t play myself for various reasons. League of Legends, Assassin’s Creed, Fallout 4, and the Zelda series come to mind. Generally, these are console games that I can’t invest hundreds of dollars into, or have gameplay elements I don’t like.
But where did my tastes come from? And were they my decision or has society pushed me along?
Growing up, my mom never had much disposable income. We weren’t destitute by any means, but my friends would get presents of game systems and designer backpacks for Christmas when I got science kits and school clothes. I would sometimes play games like SSB Melee or Kirby Air Ride at their houses, but at home I had a collection of PC games from cereal boxes and a multi-pack of STEM games (National Geographic, if I remember correctly?). I did love flash games, though and would play those for hours. As a result, I never saw the gradual tonal shift from children’s games to more “adult” war games like Halo or COD.
I don’t appreciate the hypermasculinity and gore of some more mass-market games, but my female roommates love them. They play games in a series, as the milk crate contains multiple installments of Fallout, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed, and Halo. Granted, these are all fairly story-heavy and less Kill Everyone. Yet, the idea of video games being a Boys’ Club still persists, even though female gamers have surpassed men in number.
In fact, video games are the fastest-growing entertainment genre. This is clearly seen on the most popular channels on YouTube, as 18 of 50 are gaming channels. Let’s Players can make enough money to support themselves by partnerships and ad revenue from their videos- many of which get thousands of views, if not the tens of thousands that popular gamers command. We live in an era when professional gamers are scouted young, live and train in houses, sell team gear, and then quit around 30 due to injuries or wanting to settle down. Largely, these elite players are men.
Where did this idea come from? When videogames were created, they were marketed as a family entertainment system. In fact, Ms. (not Mrs.) PacMan came out shortly after PacMan due to the number of female players, under the direction of a production team that included plenty of women. There was no Y-chromosome-only fence put around the Atari, which leads us to…
The Videogame Crash of 1983
You see, what happened is that early videogames were popular and profitable enough that development companies began releasing sub-par product such as I Want My Mommy, re-skins of popular games, and games such as E.T. and Fire Fly that were so bad, they annihilated sales of previously top-tier consoles.
These development companies also released glorified commercials that consumers either bought for a premium, or could get for “free” by sending in a certain number of certificates, box tops, wrappers, etc.
At the beginning of 1983, the video game industry as a whole peaked with revenues of $3.2 bil. By the end of 1985, this fell to roughly $100 mil, or a 97% decrease. To put this into context, the most recent stock market crash of 2008 decreased 54% from its peak in Oct. 2007 to March 2009 when it began to recover.
So how do you rebound from something like this? A little company called Nintendo had the answer: call something an entertainment system instead, and sell it as a toy rather than an electronic where consumers would be wary of it.
You may notice that this system looks different than its predecessors. In fact, it looks a bit like a VCR, right? This was absolutely intentional, as a way to further the NES from older consoles. By this point, though, the toy aisles of many stores were segregated into pink and blue, so when Nintendo had to make a decision of how they would market their new “toy”, they chose blue. The NES was marketed almost exclusively to boys, and this marketing followed them as they grew older, further objectifying women.
Other companies followed suit, riding in the tracks Nintendo cleared.
In 2012, the combined sales of sport, action, and shooting games released controlled 58.8% of total video game sales.
Modern companies seem to be getting the idea that girls play videogames too, though they market in a similarly heinous way. This is an ad from Sony’s Girlz Play Too campaign
This absolutely reminds me of what is currently happening with Lego Friends. Legos are just plastic bricks. They are not and have no reason to be a gendered toy. However, the girls I nanny only have Leggo friends sets in their pastel hues, pre-designed sets, and Polly Pocket-esuqe dolls. They build houses and shops one time, rather than building and rebuilding to use their imagination (thus buying fewer sets). Another horrific win for gendered marketing.
This brings me back to my original question- are my tastes in videogames my own, or were they implanted as a result of being too poor to own a variety of consoles and being a girl? I would like to think that they are my own, of course. Nobody wants to acknowledge the effect that marketing has on them. Though, maybe it’s just a coincidence that some of my favorite games have heart icons…