"Girlfriend Mode" my ass! or Casual sexism in the game industry
After this morning's insane comments from Gearbox, my mind went racing with how stupid "Girlfriend Mode" is. With a few quotes and some anecdotal pieces, I write a short piece on how developers need to treat women better.
Editor's Note: To Gearbox's credit, President Randy Pitchford seems pretty pissed about the whole situation. He took to Twitter stating "Borderlands 2 does NOT have a girlfriend mode. Anyone that says otherwise is misinformed or trying to stir up something that isn't there... The future DLC Mechromancer class has a skill tree that makes it easier for less skilled coop partners (any gender!) to play and be useful." Pitchford didn't deny Hemingway's statement, citing it as a "personal anecdote" and following with "there is no universe where Hemmingway is a sexist - all the women at Gearbox would beat his and anyone else's ass." But that still doesn't change the fact that sexism continues to be an important issue in the gaming industry and culture as a whole.
Developers and stupid comments seem to be going hand in hand these days. First we get Crystal Dynamics shooting themselves in the foot and now we have Gearbox making asshats out of themselves. It’s insane to think how grown adults can’t figure out how to properly speak to journalists about their games.
Still, the most recent instance with Gearbox’s John Hemingway just does not make sense to me. Are the developers intentionally trying to not sell their product to women? When I first read the quick blip for Eurogamer’s article, I immediately thought of a mode where the female character would bond to one character and heal them.
Instead, the gaming world is now treated to something unintentionally sexist. To say that female gamers require additional assistance in their games is ludicrous. If the main idea was to appeal to significant others who are bad at video games, why not just label the mechanic as noob mode?
Still, I’m a white male and I’m getting outraged at something that doesn’t really impact me. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a woman and have people constantly harassing me, so I took to Twitter for some quick comments.
I asked my co-worker’s girlfriend and another co-worker of mine (the now infamous Jozie). Both play games and while they may not be experts or as hardcore as I am, they certainly can hold their own in terms of ability.
As you can clearly see, both aren’t too happy about Hemingway’s comment. While he may not be a ravenous sexist, he certainly is unfounded and ignorant. Just like the controversy over Dead Island and their “Feminist Whore” skill, developers need to realize that in-jokes aren’t funny to the masses and knocks against female stereotypes are unfounded and ridiculous.
To further drive the point home, an old friend of mine was quite the gamer. She couldn’t best me in Call of Duty or Gears of War, but she certainly wasn’t a slouch either. Gaming with her on “Hard Mode” wasn’t some futile attempt to make myself look better. She honestly was up for the challenge and liked not having the game be a cakewalk.
I’ve also known quite a few female workers from local GameStop’s that are interested in some pretty awesome stuff. My best friend Jim’s old boss loved “Dark Souls,” a game that makes most grown men cry. This very lovely girl, Jen, was a huge fan of Fable and Call of Duty and she used to ask me pointers on how to get better, instead of cowering in fear of harder difficulties.
I also recall of two twins who were gigantic Pokémon fans. While that may not be the most daunting of titles to topple, just having the sheer dexterity to finish any of those titles is a pretty monumental accomplishment. I’ve only ever beaten two Pokémon games and I sink hundreds of hours into each.
My point is I don’t understand why developers are still treating women like unskilled peons. According to ESRB polls, around 40% of gamers are women. If you total up all sales of the previous “Borderlands” (as presented by VGChartz.com), you get about 4.55 million copies. Imagine if 40% did not buy the sequel. You’d sell close to 2 million copies less.
That is something that Gearbox probably doesn’t want to face. Sadly, they may see a pretty big decline come September. Borderlands didn’t have the easiest start of any new IP, but it did well on the charm of its gameplay and word of mouth from gamers.
If the new word of mouth is that Gearbox is a bunch of sexist idiots, maybe Borderlands 2 won’t sell so well. While I can’t predict what will happen, I will say that developers need to start treating their potential customers a lot better.
Enough of the bullshit where women apparently suck or that being offended is solely your fault. Start thinking about what you say and maybe I’ll give a shit about your work. Until then, you’ve lost a prospective customer.
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Wow that's...ridiculous. Perhaps people did take that "joke" too seriously, but that's certainly not the way to gain fans by any means.
A lot of games, particularly after the revival of the industry in '85, were geared towards boys, and later men, young men specifically, so naturally the content reflects that. A number of developers don't realize that the demographic isn't as narrow as we're lead to believe, but then, I guess that's not the only narrow thing here.
People need to lighten up. Girlfriend mode makes sense to me. Would it be better if he called it little brother mode. I doubt it because then people would say he was advocating that kids play a mature game. How bout "people who sit around bored watching me play a video game because they love me and I don't want them screwing up my game because they suck and this way they can feel like they are actually contributing mode"? I think girlfriend mode suffices.
Agree with you here - I'm afriad that "sexist" and "misogynistic" are two phrases used too readily as of late. Certainly, there are instances where this is the case - but I worry.....
If we use the sexist card on situations where a designer happens to call it "gf" mode instead of TRUE sexist issues, is this a case of 'the boy who cried wolf'?
But for the record, girls do smell better. ;)
Its not actually called girlfriend mode. It's... best friend forever skill tree or something. A handful of people however are calling it "girlfriend mode" as a joke and people are taking it waaaaaay too seriosly
Well, hopefully Hemingway will now be more cognizant of how butt-hurt this whole industry is on labeling. Who cares if he called it girlfriend mode? Sure, minor PR slip up, but obviously Randy & GB feel strongly otherwise (and kudos for them for the quick response). I think this snafu highlights a disturbing underlying trend within the industry – too many are hypersensitive and are quick to jump on any “label” that makes them feel marginalized. I’m a female gamer, and I’m actually open to co-op modes that can be at varying levels compared to the first player. My husband is awesome at FPS while I excel at RPGs. We could change our respective level based on our skill set. This “girlfriend mode” hoopla covers up the true story – that more companies are gearing games towards entry level players. This is excellent news for the industry.
Thanks KingSigy for the well thought out, well written article. I completely agree that Hemingway will probably learn his lesson on this one. I also appreciate that you did cover a gender-related topic without throwing the term “misogyny” at Randy et al. This is another label that I’ve seen more often in the last year – a very serious accusation often used too lightly.
Whatever dude. I'm not gonna allow a silly empty joke prevent me from purchasing a potentially great game.
I took it like most people should have taken it, as a joke, and that's likely as the man intended it.
I am seriously tired of these politically correct charged gaming articles. I say to people...if you don't like how the current generation of female characters are portrayed, get into the gaming biz and change it yourself. When did people all of a sudden become so damn hyper sensitive? I play games to get away from politics.
this might actually be one of the reasons why gaming is "boys club" and i'm 100% sure that it will stay majority of that until the dawn of...batman..? idunno. but i got nothing against female players. almost every female i know of do not even care about gaming to begin with... and most of them refuse to even regocnize it as a hobby. WHICH REALLY DOES BRING MY PISS TO A BOIL.
so yeah. if more female's come to gaming...then maybe people will not be so ignorant about gaming beeing a hobby.
i mean there's still old people but....they can go suck a stick as far as i'm concerned... uh oh... *achievement get : age based discrimination*
"developers need to realize that in-jokes aren’t funny" yes they are, that's why they are called jokes
Gaming is still very man-oriented hobby, rude jokes are rude jokes and if you don't like them, ignore them.
why would chicks have harder time playing games than dudes?
As always evil ivan, you bring some reality and commons sense in response to retarded feminism and political correctness. You rock.
The reason sexism in gaming exists is because the majority of people who claim gaming as a serious hobby are men, and with more hours spent on games more guys have more practice. That said, there clearly are exceptions and it is truly unfortunate that this creates such sexism and that such sexism exists. Put simply, games are nearly all reflexes, strategy and thinking, something neither gender has any physical advantage over, so there is no real difference between a girl gamer and a guy gamer who play the same thing. So sexism is bull anyways. I know a few girls who can kick my ass in some games, the only thing is that they are far less common in number.
Gamers are gamers regardless of gender, now everybody please calm the hell down.
I've been gaming for a long time and am a woman. For a long time gaming was viewed as basically a "boys club" as gaming has grown and branches out there are growing pains and this is one of them. When I look at the statement I can only think people will say what they will say. What is more important to me is how that comment is handled. In the article it said that President Randy Pitchford denounced the comment. Gearbox acknowledges that the comment could be/is offensive and responded to me this was a proper response. Sexism does exist in the gaming community as it does in any other but freaking out about one comment doesn't help. If this is a big issue for us we have to take a long hard look and work to truly change it bit by bit not lash out but offer constructive criticism so we can grow. The fact that we as a community are actually talking about this shows progress. These may be better questions to ask: Are we trying to keep it a boys club? Can we be more inclusive for everyone or are we pushing people away? How do we actually deal with the -isms in gaming and not stick with window dressing? What do we do if a girl/woman owns us in a game?