Swedish women’s magazine interviews ‘Boobgate’ games journalist
Back in December 2010 I was approached by Malin Ericsson, a journalist from Plaza Kvinna, a Swedish women’s magazine, who wanted to interview me for a magazine feature she was writing about female gamers. Why me? Because I wrote a notorious blog called ‘Top 10 side-boobs in games’. Some games writers began referring to the fallout that followed this article as ‘Boobgate’ (not to be confused with Sarah Palin’s ‘Boob-gate’).
Malin has also posted this additional blog, which doesn’t include quotes from me, but does mention me by name (link is auto-translated from Swedish to English).
I agreed to the interview on the condition that I could post an unedited version here on xb1.co.uk once the Plaza Kvinna article was published, so here it is…
Malin Ericsson: Do you think it is hard for female gamers to fit in to the gamers platform?
Gavin Mackenzie: If you’re referring to online gaming, then yes. But I think it’s hard for most people to fit into it. There’s a lot of elitism, rudeness and intolerance in online gaming. Online players in most games are predominantly male, so a lot of that negativity is directed at women and girls, but it’s far from exclusively at them. The majority of male gamers I know – including me and other games journalists like me who you might think would find it easy to fit in – are put off by the anti-social behaviour of online gamers and prefer to play with friends instead.
ME: Do you think that a change of attitude towards female players is in order?
GM: Anyone who’s being rude or abusive towards anyone else during online games should stop it. I think the attitude is that people can get away with certain behaviours in online games that they couldn’t get away with elsewhere, and this is true all over the internet, not just in gaming. In online gaming negativity towards women is certainly one of these behaviours because it is such a predominantly male space, but it’s part of a broader problem.
ME: What do you think about the ideals in games, with macho men and superheat girls?
GM:They’re not what I call ideal. But they reflect easy, safe options for game makers who apparently see more interesting, realistic characters as too risky or too challenging. They’re eye-catching on a base level, but ultimately boring. I rarely engage with or invest in game characters, relying on good gameplay to keep me interested. But there are exceptions, and their numbers are slowly growing. Personally, my favourite character in any game by far is Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2, and I’m sure many would agree with that choice.
ME: Why is it necessary to portrait the women this way?
GM: It’s not necessary, but it’s seen as safe and easy, and it is eye-catching. And don’t you mean ‘men and women’? Both genders are poorly, inaccurately, unrealistically and stereotypically represented in games.
ME: Isn’t it necessary to also have normal female heroes so the girls have something to identify themselves with?
GM: It’s preferable, and it’s preferable to have normal male heroes too. And I don’t think it’s just about girls identifying with female heroes. I identify with Alyx Vance because she’s actually like a real person, and I am a real person. The player character in Half-Life 2 is male, but he’s a ‘blank canvas’ who doesn’t speak and isn’t seen, so the events of the game are given meaning largely through Alyx – the player identifies with her, and it’s a game very popular with male players. Unfortunately, Half-Life is very much an exception. Its developer, Valve, works in a very different way to most studios. It’s not commercially driven in quite the same way most studios are, yet hugely successful nonetheless.
ME: Do you feel that you, as a journalist and editor, has any responsibility to improve the attitude towards female gamers?
GM: Well, as I say, I think negative attitudes towards female gamers are part of broader, more complex problems in gaming as a whole and in society as a whole. I don’t think I have a responsibility to solve these problems. However, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore or deny them, or to ignore or deny female gamers and their views. That doesn’t mean I will always agree with them. For example, we had a female gamer write into PLAY who said that making games should be left to the men because they know what they’re doing. I let her have her say, but responded with a long list of all the women involved in making Uncharted 2: Among Thieves who, I’m pretty sure, would disagree.
ME: Where did you get the idea to your lists on Play’s website? (top 10 under-boobs, top 10 side-boobs, hottest redheads, hottest blondes, top 10 bras)?
GM: From our traffic data, and from similar articles on other sites that attract a lot of attention. If something works, I’ll do more of it. I try not to make any assumptions or judgments as to why it works.
ME: How do you think the gamers feel about these lists?
GM: I know that they’re popular. Some gamers visit them because they like them, some gamers visit them because they object to them. I certainly wholly reject the notion that the majority of the visitors to these articles are horny teenage boys. Boobs are eye-catching to almost everyone for a wide variety of reasons. I know that around 3,000 people clicked that they liked ‘Top 10 side-boobs in games’ on Facebook, and I was able to browse their names and faces and see that they were a broad cross-section of gender and age. I can’t say why they liked it, and I don’t think it’s possible to generalise. I hope that many enjoyed the humour of it.
I do know that people who didn’t like it, who are always more vocal with their feedback, felt that it was a celebration of shallow representations of the female form in games. It was certainly exploitation of how eye-catching these representations are, but the tone of the writing is very over-the-top and takes what I feel are some pretty obvious swipes at the games these characters feature in and the companies that make them. So I don’t believe I was celebrating it, I was showing it up for what it is.
But it’s healthy that these pieces piss people off because they make gaming’s culture and industry look bad. I don’t think it’s healthy to direct all this anger at me though. I’ve been accused of reinforcing a negative aspect of gaming and of holding back productive discussion of gaming and gender, but all I did was highlight something that others might prefer to ignore or deny. I certainly don’t see how I’ve held any discussion back. The fact that I’m being interviewed by a mainstream Swedish women’s lifestyle magazine as a result of posting these articles would suggest the exact opposite.
ME: We had a Swedish all girl team who were portrayed in an American magazine with the title The Sexy game girls of Sweden, why is it that girls cant be good gamers?
GM: They can, but few people will care. Just as few people will care that boys are good gamers. I can name just one male gamer who is famous for his gaming skills, and I can’t even remember his real name. He is known as Fatal1ty and I think is still the most successful professional gamer ever. But to most people he’s quite boring, and not at all sexy. I couldn’t name any others because I find other people being really good at games quite dull.
I would ask you, why hasn’t your magazine run an article called The Sexy Game Boys Of America? Why can’t boys who are good at gaming be sexy?
Sexy Swedish girls are eye-catching. That might seem unfair on ordinary gaming girls who are better gamers than the sexy Swedish ones, but isn’t it unfair on the ordinary boys too?
ME: While playing online, many of the girls I’ve spoken to and myself as well, meet a lot of comments like “girls should not play” or nasty invited, what should we do to prevent this?
GM: You can’t prevent idiocy. You can avoid it by playing private games with friends. You can mute idiots so that you at least can’t hear them. You can report their behaviour if it contravenes the rules of whatever online gaming service you’re using. Oh, and you can beat them. That might shut them up. But there is no prevention. Platform holders like Sony and Microsoft could no doubt do more to police their online services, but it would be impossible to stamp out abuse altogether. Ultimately, they take a commercial decision, weighing up how much revenue they might lose from people being put off against how much it would cost to increase policing.
I’d also like to add that I get a lot of nasty comments for belonging to a minority group too. It seems that many gamers stupid enough to be homophobic are also stupid enough to mistake ‘Gav’ for ‘Gay’ (I’m absolutely serious about this), so don’t think I don’t know what it’s like.
One more option is to form or join a gaming clan. Clans tend to be thought of as quite hardcore because they originated from competitive gaming, but more and more clans form for social reasons these days. It’s just a way of finding like-minded people to game with. There are a lot of girls-only clans and I’d guess most of them have formed as a response to exactly the kind of problems you describe.