This month, Opinion is presented in conjunction with NOW99, Nottingham's festival of arts for today. The NOW festival is ten years old, and through a decade of bold and innovative programming, it has become one of the most exciting festivals of its kind in the UK today, bringing to Nottingham some of the most groundbreaking artists and commissions of the 90's. http://www.nowfestival.org.uk
The Age of the Online Female is here. Women saturate the Net in all its glory, digitally pirouetting through a domain previously reserved for the male whilst embracing endlessly spawning technologies and tools, shouting "Viva la Cyberfeminism" at every textual opportunity.
Am I taking the proverbial piss? Maybe. Or rather, am I imbuing my text with a heavy dose of Socratic irony? Possibly. Whether you are a Rampantly Devoted Advocate of the Order of Statistics and believe that women are flocking to get connected, jilled [as opposed to jacked] in, wired to the eyeballs at an alarming rate or alternatively we are largely wallowing in a State of Neo-Ludditeism is up to you. What I want to alert you to is the fact that although "women" en masse seem to be actively engaging with/in the technosphere and wrestling with various online masculine-drenched niches, one significant area of female online exploration - that of gaming - seems to be sliding almost unnoticed past the majority of post-modem feminist critiqu[h]ers.
I love the renowned pop-iconic representations of the brash tailor-made-for-war female [Id type Grrl but that just seems so spicegirly passť] like Xena, Aeon Flux, Tank Girl - all tough, fictional, fantasized symbols of a gender seeking to translate itself into a cultural zone usually reserved for the hero type, as in online game scenarios. What tugs my interest tendril is that if females are actively participating in these online games, whether these first person perspective shoot-em-up game spaces with limited narrative parameters and action choices [such as is presented in games such as Quake 1 & 2 and Everquest] encourage certain traits that link intrinsically to a masculine way of thinking.
Not that thinking in a masculine way is in itself undesirable, and not all male players choose to convey a dominant, ruthless, controlling-based style of gameplay. What I want to assert here is that games played online largely seem to cater for those [both male and female] that are comfortable with fitting into a power structure replete with gender imbalances and awkward representations of the both sexes. Some games try to combat this mentality, such as in Everquest; where the choice to be male or female does not influence your skill base and both sexes are equal in this regard. However, when real-life players are thrown into the mentality mix a different set of values take over - such as real life males deliberately choosing to be a sexy humanoid female character in order to get other male players to be more overtly charitable. Despite the lovely irony apparent here [a male giving a poor helpless Mlady a swathe of gold who isnt a lady at all] the masculine [read dominant, ruthless, experientially based] attitude becomes more than apparent, in that the power play is obviously carried out in a style designed to promote an inherent advantage through a controlling act. In order to progress/advance/complete the game [i.e.win], these types of tactics seem hardwired into the gameplay itself.
What would happen, however, if the reverse held true? If the overarching purpose of these multiplayer games was to turn competition into altruism, make winning a secondary adjunct to the nature of the game itself? Would a more feminine/female aesthetic become pronounced and sell just as many games and be as voraciously popular?
Hopefully the answer is lurking just around the next cyberfeminist respawn point.
Read the responses to this Opinion