Monday, March 27, 2006

Proposal and Request for Comments

Leisure Suit Larry would not score highly on the proposed rating system
I have an idea and I need some feedback on the details. I am setting up a site to rate the gender inclusivity of games based on a pre-defined set of criteria. I'll set out my thoughts below, and I would appreciate your comments (hopefully Haloscan should be working now and you should not see the Blogger comment page - any problems please email me at srednivashtar at fmail dot co dot uk).

What we are aiming to do
  • Create a place where women can find out what other women think of various games.

  • Review games from a feminist, gender inclusive viewpoint.

  • Encourage readers to review games they own through use of a standardised set of criteria.

  • Educate game developers on how they can increase the appeal of their games to women and expand their market.

The hope is that popularity will grow to the extent that game developers start to take notice and consider during production the rating their games will get on the site, making them consider gender inclusive design. The success of the site is dependent on having a sufficiently high readership and this is dependent on having reviews of a sufficiently high quality and number of games. This necessitates reader submission of reviews to keep the workload manageable. The content would be moderated by a small team of editors to ensure consistency of style. I personally think that the reviews should be written by women only, but in practice this would be impossible to enforce. The editors should all be women. Kat from The Geeky Feminist has agreed to be the editor in chief (please contact her if you would like to be an editor). My role will be administration and publicity.

The idea of having a standardised template is to ensure that the reviews remain consistent despite being written by many different people and to try to ensure that all key inclusivity issues are addressed in a systematic manner. I see the score being a percentage. There will be a total of 100 points available, broken down into key categories. This is where I really need help - defining those categories. Let me know what matters to you, what I've missed out, or what should not be included. My initial ideas are:

Name
The name will be important - it should be easy to remember, succinct and descriptive. All suggestions are welcome. Kat and I have come up with these so far:

Feminist Game Reviews
Feminist Game Ratings
Gender Inclusive Games
Inclusive Game Reviews/Ratings
The Female Analysis

What type of games should be rated?
I think that if a particular section does not apply to the game under review, then that section should default to 10 points. Similarly, a reviewer does not have to complete all sections - there can be multiple reviews but only one rating, perhaps where ratings differ the final rating would be the average of them. If that were the case then a chess game would default to quite a high score, and maybe this is a good thing, as the absence of discrimination must surely be beneficial, whether it results from conscious planning or is simply impossible due to the mechanics of the game. This method would punish 'Bikini Strip Chess' while rewarding a plain Chess game.

1. Ratio of female to male characters - 10 points
This should cover PCs and NPCs. I think this might be scored a a percentage (e.g. if 50% of characters are female then score 5, if 80% are female then score 8). If there is no female player character then score in this section should always be zero. There are a lot of problems with this one, like should weight be given to the relative importance of characters (I think so) and if so how? There is also the difficulty of games like Rumble Roses XX which would get 10 points for having an all female cast. I have been thinking about this and I hope that because the system is broken down in to relatively small chunks it will be able to avoid being unduly influenced by any single point. In the case of Rumble Roses, it is not the inclusion of female characters that is objectionable (of course) but their portrayal. So, while it might get 10 in this section, it would get zero in most other sections.

2. Female representation (visual) - 10 points
Reviewer should consider how female characters are portrayed visually in the game, including appearance, clothing, posture and movement.

3. Female representation (behavioural) - 10 points
Reviewer should consider whether stereotypes of female behaviour are employed, particularly in respect of: intelligence, power, emotion, attitude, strength.

4. Representation of colour and race - 10 points
Reviewer should consider the proportionate representation and behavioural portrayal of women (and men) of colour in the game. Reviewer should also consider the appropriate representation of foreign characters.

5. Patriarchal blunders - 10 points
For example, I noticed when playing the Black and White 2 demo that at one point the consciences say something to the player that only makes sense if the player is male. Morrowind frequently refers to the PC as 'he' regardless of gender - despite the availability of a command to insert the appropriate word for the player's gender. This breaks immersion at the very least. These are the kind of errors that male designers just cannot catch with any consistency.

6. Marketing and corporate - 10 points
The review is not limited to the game itself, but could include the surrounding marketing campaign, box/website/manual art etc, as well as the corporate side of the developer/publisher, e.g. how many of the game team are women, how they treat their employees (is the work environment free of intimidation, how they handle maternity leave) etc. I would suggest that any non-zero score would have to be attribuable to conscious efforts on the developer's part to include women in the dev team and the target audience.

Gameplay
I think it would be appropriate for the reviewer to write a little about the genre and general gameplay of the game, although this would perhaps be better off in an introduction section. For the rest, I'm going with some very general headings from Sheri Graner Ray's Gender Inclusive Game Design.

7. Conflict Resolution Options - 10 points
Reviewer should consider the options open to the player in resolving conflicts. Are there alternatives to direct confrontation? E.g. diplomacy, stealth, disguise, use of other skills etc. Are non-lethal weapons available (if appropriate), e.g. tranquilizer darts, charm or paralysis spells? Is the game zero-sum? Is it resolved through direct competition? Does it include indirect competition or non-conflict based scenarios? Are 'mutually beneficial solutions' possible?

8. Reward and Gameplay - 10 points
Graner Ray suggests that scores and levels are not always the most appealing rewards to female players. Reviewer might consider whether alternative rewards are available. Graner Ray mentions the building of a system in the Sim games, having an effect on your followers in Black and White and the 'side quest' style activities in games like Ultima as examples of these. She also suggests that response to error is a factor. Games that forgive players for errors (e.g. by slowing progress temporarily rather than killing them) may be more appealing to women.

9. ...

10. ...

Conclusion
I've deliberately left 20 points available as I don't expect to be able to design this system without female input (I think we need to include 'story' in there somewhere). This first post is just to flesh out the ideas, the final template can only be made with the help of the female gaming community. There are so many questions to answer, like "how do you rate 'pink' games" but we have to make a start somewhere and I am prepared to be flamed.

The next step is to sort out a name and get a good idea of the structure, then pick 5 games to review and go for it.

So... what do you think?