Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Know What Happens When You Assume

This is a general message, but it's something I really want decision-makers in the nerd community to hear: stop assuming what men and women want. It's getting old.

Game developers assume their audience is mostly white, heterosexual teenage boys, so they cater to what they THINK that demographic wants. Vendors at conventions use booth babes because they assume the (presumably male dominated) audience wants to see. Anime club officers will mostly show anime aimed at men, because they assume that the women won't care if all the club watches is robots and pantyshots and the men won't want to watch anything that remotely appeals to a female audience.

Fact is, men don't necessarily need to see impossibly hot women in impossibly skimpy outfits in order to enjoy a video game. A poll on the PAX website showed that convention attendees preferred to have knowledgeable people working at booths rather than just attractive women who don't know much about the product. Statistics show that many male gamers actually prefer to play as women in games where they can choose to play as a man or woman, because the male option is so hypermasculine that they actually relate to the woman more than the man (not to mention the female avatars tend to look more human than the male options). Plenty of male gamers find it refreshing and therefore interesting when the hero in a game happens to be a woman. Plenty of guys enjoy watching Studio Ghibli movies, many of which feature strong female protagonists. When my anime club watched anime featuring female protagonists, or just had a strong presence of women, they guys didn't run away screaming, their junk didn't fall off, most of them ENJOYED the series.

Now, I wonder what the actual standards are for what constitutes a strong female character. I feels like female protagonists are often under a lot of scrutiny and are expected to be nothing less than superheroes with hearts and minds of steel, with very little femininity to speak of. There's still this femiphobic idea that a woman cannot be both feminine and strong, she has to be one or the other. I also get the feeling that female leads have to be REALLY awesome in order to win the attention of male viewers. BUT the fact remains that men don't have quite the aversion to female characters that a lot of executives seem to think.

Ultimately, decision makers in the nerd community need to do a little more market research before just assuming what their male and female demographics want. Because as it turns out, they're not always correct.

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