The loneliest female gamer

Women still only make up 8 percent of the gaming workforce. Meanwhile, the industry continues its obsession with breast jiggle.

Published April 4, 2008 9:30AM (EDT)

The video game industry has been fighting its way into American mainstream. The E3 Media and Business Summit, the annual video game trade show in California, has become a huge media event -- attracting celebrities and international media coverage -- and game criticism has increasingly been popping up in mainstream publications like the New York Times. The industry, however, is still saddled with a few undesirable stigmas: that it's peopled by awkward and unattractive geeks, and that it's a field dominated by men.

As an article in today's Independent points out, while the former stereotype may no longer be true, the latter definitely is. Women represent a paltry 8 percent of the gaming workforce, and while some are starting to occupy positions of power within the industry (at Electronic Arts, for example), that's a recent development. As the piece makes clear, video games are, in the vast majority of cases, still created by men.

One hilarious place where this gender discrepancy is manifest is in female game characters' breasts. As a somewhat awkward article on Clubskill, a video gaming Web site, points out, back in the mid-'90s, bouncing breasts in video games were a novel idea. As some of us remember from our teenage years, when game characters jumped around fighting Wario or giant mushrooms, everybody's chest stayed comfortably still. But when Tomonobu Itagaki created "Dead or Alive," a mid-'90s fighting game, he provided female characters with pneumatic chests that -- when the subtly named "bouncing breast mode" was activated -- flew around like cantaloupes in tube socks.

Since then, a term -- breast physics -- has been coined to describe a game's ability to simulate realistic breast movement, and as an article on Gaming Today points out, there are now games that are "built and sold completely around [breast physics]."

Among them is "Dead or Alive: Xtreme II," one of Itagaki's titles for the Xbox 360, a beach volleyball game in which players can take female characters shopping for bikinis and "pool hopping." It allows players to customize their characters' breast jiggle -- by changing their ages, which range from 13 (!) to 99 -- and even gives each breast its own set of physics, allowing them to bounce independently.

This kind of weirdness is to be expected from a product commonly associated with teenage boys, and video games and comic books have always trafficked in exaggerated body shapes, both male and female. But the video game industry is aggressively trying to court female players (who now compose 39 percent of the American gaming market). In 2006, Electronic Arts CEO David Gardner admitted that female players weren't becoming lifelong players and that the video game industry was still "failing women."

If video games are going to attract mainstream respect, a juvenile obsession with "breast physics" probably isn't going to help. Female gamers, however, can take comfort in one statistic, as found in a study by Gametart, a British game-rental service: Compared with men, they're still having way more sex.

By Thomas Rogers

Thomas Rogers is Salon's former Arts Editor. He has written for the Globe & Mail, the Village Voice and other publications. He can be reached at @thomasmaxrogers.

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