Graduate Exhibition: Gender and Video Games – Why Wii Play

So that’s it, it’s over. Done. Finito. The last bit of work for my visual culture degree was this exhibition on my dissertation. My show summarises the intentions and conclusion of my research on Video game culture and the Wii, but focuses on one particular aspect of my work, my theories on gendered play.  I produced a poster and a video to showcase this theory, and encourage viewers to put this to the test through a very short questionnaire.

The private view was on Saturday and many of the tutors came up to me to discuss my research, many referenced their own or their children’s experiences with video games. Fingers crossed for results day next Thursday!

The exhibition is on show until the Thursday 10th, open from 12pm-4pm, at Pavillion Parade. I will be invidulating myself Tuesday 8th June from 12pm – 1pm, so please come down and say hello. The Brilliant ‘Bored of Brighton’ blog were even kind enough to mention the show yesterday, which is in my mind is code red for must see! But if you are not able to make it, all of the information published is featured below, except you wont be able to take part in the little survey at the end to test my play theory. Which is a shame, maybe leave me a comment saying which game you would like to play instead?

Gender and Video Games – Why Wii Play

Video games are a relatively new media form, with the social effects of this type of play only recently being investigated. Both the creators and the consumers of video games imply a patriarchal stereotype through both the game content and the play identities available. As a result video game culture is seen as an adolescent pastime. However, several market crashes during the 1980’s made video game publishers realise that the male market was over saturated. Games aimed specifically at girls and first-time gamers started appearing in the early 90’s, the most popular of these being Barbie Fashion Designer. While it sold over 500,000 copies in its first two months of release, it still encouraged traditional gender stereotypes.

My dissertation charts a patriarchal history of video games and technology, where women use technology as a tool while men use it as a plaything. But when the Nintendo Wii was released in 2006, its revolutionary motion sensor controls and diverse game catalogue encouraged women and first time gamers to play together in a new type of social play. But does the Wii have the ability to change the way women interact with video games, or does the console further alienate their understanding of technology?

I suggest that video games are objects of male desire and even games aimed at females encourage gender stereotypes. This exhibition demonstrates my theories on gendered play from my own research, questionnaires and observations.

Games for Girls?

Women are represented in video games as either hyper sexualised and available objects, or as passive sensitive women that are easily dominated or kidnapped. This is seen very clearly in the Mario series, the most popular video games series in the world, in the character of Princess Toadstool. Technology has been appropriated by men as a plaything to experiment with their own desires and fantasies. Consequently women have been forced to use technology only as a tool and have limited use of it for leisure. Technology therefore is a patriarchal devise to dominate and control women and I think that video games play a part in that power struggle.

In the ancient Greek language, the words education/culture (paideia), play (paidia) and children (paides) all have the same root. Play is a social function integral to the formation of our identity. According to John Huizinga life must be lived as play as a ‘training for serious life’ but also an ‘outlet for harmful impulses.’ I believe that men always adopt a more competitive and dominant position to lose their identity during video game play, while women are positioned as submissive and use play socially to experiment with their identity.

Roger Caillois suggests that the types of games that we play can also be divided into four types, competition, chance, simulation and vertigo. There are also two ends of the gaming spectrum, Paidia where players use games to explore fantasy and escape reality, whereas shorter social Ludus games involve patience to learn skills. There is a video game for every play type, and my research has lead me to believe that boys prefer immersive Paidia game-play, while girls prefer skill based Ludus play.

To test my theory on gendered play in video games, look at the table below and the video featuring footage from these games. Which game would you like to play the most? Tick the box on the slip provided and post it in the Wii.

(Sorry, this version of the video is longer than the one on show, I lost the most recent copy from my desktop)

I’m sorry but games with loads of guns in appeal to blokes, end of. Games with fluffy bunnies are for girls.

It allows me to escape the drudgery of everyday life, to compete against others and to gain satisfaction by winning.

I play games to keep my brain occupied. I like games like Tetris and BeJeweled that I can play whilst doing other things.

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