Title: Casual Threats: The Feminization of Casual Video Games
Author: John Vanderhoef
Published in: ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media & Technology. Issue #2: Feminist Game Studies
Original URL: http://adanewmedia.org/2013/06/issue2-vanderhoef/
Moms playing Wii Sports: The greatest threat to a hardcore gamer’s pride. #casual
To the hardest of the hardcore gamer, “Casual” is a dirty word. In many more minds, that word is often associated with “Female”.
Ours is a world where the masculine is celebrated, and where the feminine is ridiculed – where bacon is a gift from the gods, but pumpkin spice lattes are ridiculed as girly indulgences. The world of gaming is no different, even in cases where games are created to be gender-neutral rather than outright feminine. In aiming for broad appeal that includes everyone and rejecting aspects that are associated with hardcore games (such as gun violence, complex mechanics and high skill ceilings), casual games and the people who play them earn the ire of hardcore gamers who see these games and their players as not just a threat to their hobby, but an invasion of their gaming space.
Both the industry itself and those who partake in it maintain a barrier between “casual” and “hardcore” players – to hardcore players as a sort of “keep out” fence of the hobby they enjoy, a way to segregate the games they don’t approve of and to belittle those who partake in them. To both the industry and the players themselves, there is no greater symbol of a casual gamer than The Mom: Someone who doesn’t play games that often, older than most hardcore players, and most importantly, probably female. Yet despite this ghettoization, the industry itself has seen this audience as a valuable market sector to tap into, though despite the increased attention (or because of it), the industry and players both see fit to marginalize this group of gamers as something outside the spectrum of “true” gamers.
Between 2006 and 2011, Nintendo were a large driving force in the rise of the casual market with the Wii and DS systems, choosing to target a new audience outside the hardcore crowd to increase their profits. From the way the products were advertised, we saw a clear push towards catering to casual gamers, especially women, showcasing non-traditional gaming activities and female celebrities enjoying Nintendo’s products. The problem here is that by emphasizing the female market in these ads, Nintendo may have contributed to the general idea of casual games as feminine, even when the games themselves are somewhat gender-neutral. Since then, the casual market has moved largely to mobile devices and social platforms, but has still earned no less scorn and derision from the hardcore crowd.
When both the industry and the players treat casual games and their players as inferior and promote the stereotype of the older, female casual gamer, we can see all kinds of sexist false equivalencies. As long as casual games are associated with women and also considered inferior to “real games”, gamers build fences and climb into treehouses, not wanting to get cooties all over their precious toys. The climate may be changing, but many still rise to defend the status quo, for better or for worse.