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‘Gamergate.’ It’s an explosive topic that has shined a light on the rampant sexism and misogyny which exists in today’s video game industry. But what does that have to do with us, some of you might ask? We’re just a nice, quiet, little game that exists well away from all that negative political controversy out there, right? Wrong. It has everything to do with us.
In these times when female gamers are routinely subjected to on-line harassment, when women game developers and media critics receive death threats and all manner of horrific abuse, when so many games out there are saturated with degrading depictions of women and play styles are unfairly determined by gender, then it’s time for Villagers & Heroes to stand up and say, ‘HEY! LOOK AT US!’
V&H can, and should be, recognized as an example of a game in which men and women are treated equally. The public should be made aware that a game exists which does not degrade women, does not treat them as an inferior class when playing, does not tolerate harassment of any kind, and where, because of an exceptional player community, both genders can simply come together without distinction and just relax and enjoy the game.
And who better to inform the public about these remarkable characteristics of Villagers & Heroes, than the players themselves! Below, are a number of collected excerpts from posts made by our community members on the topic of the role of women in V&H.
What I love the most, is that everyone is pretty much treated equally, in the game mechanics and the community. There are rarely any people obsessing over or pulling attention to the fact that a female is playing the game; no one really seems to make a big deal about it if you are.
Gasp (US 2)
One of the reasons many of us ended up here at V&H was that lack of ridiculous female armor & anatomy; it is nice that the female characters look more normal and not like a cross between Barbie & Dolly Parton (or 2 balloons on a stick) with the armor painted on.
Panthera (US 1)
I love the female character design. The lack of “boob armor” is a massive plus for me. On the social aspect, I notice women are more vocal in this game (or maybe more comfortable to be themselves?) than in any other I’ve played.
Oxira (EU 1)
It is nice to be fully dressed and not running around trying to kill stuff in a bustier and miniskirt. I really like the fact that there are a lot of strong women who play the game (on both US servers) and lead guilds and it’s not a big deal. I have played other games where female players have played as male characters just to avoid the harassment.
Jels (US 2)
You are doing a huge favor to women by creating an image that we can be proud of and not feel as though we are being judged on our looks alone. I am proud to be one of the strong women of Villagers and Heroes game and feel completely equal to all other players, regardless of gender.
Irianna (US 1)
I’m on a few forums that are for female gamers and all the complaints they have I do not find in this game. I’ve never been passed over in boss/elder runs because I’m a girl, I’ve never been told to go back to the kitchen or asked where my SO is. There has been zero sexism in this game. I’ve heard stories of comments like that surfacing and then the rest of the players shoot them down. In truth I’ve seen no judgement of any kind because of age/language/ability/gender, none of that matters here. Gwyn (US 2)
Without a doubt, Villagers and Heroes is one of the very few video games I’ve played that is completely devoid of sexism or damaging gender stereotyping. I have the ability to choose which gender I want to play, regardless of class. If I choose to play a female, her clothing and demeanor are no different than that of male characters. Female bodies, faces and hair styles are not hyper-sexualized. I don’t like feeling like I’m dressed as a porn star while in combat any more than I enjoy being viewed as a damsel in distress while gaming. It’s demeaning!
TruthFairy (EU 1)
First I wanted to say thanks for even considering gender equality an issue. That makes me very proud to play this game.
Icywind1980 (EU 1)
The really nice thing about this game (and one other game that I’ve played) is NOT being asked A/S/L each and every time you meet a new character.
Deelight (US 1)
I like the community in-game and in the forum. It’s great that women and men are treated equally – no double-D-cups and leather mini skirts for the females and bulging biceps’ for males but nice looking “normal” toons.
Bluerider (EU 2)
Right from the start I loved that the armor for women is really armor and didn’t make me wonder how my toon was not scarred and bloody after a fight let alone keep the armor on. I find the respect female heroes get from the male counterparts is refreshing, we are not relegated to support positions but are right up there in the fight, going toe-to-toe against all bounties.
IrishElf (US 1)
V&H Staff: Damon Slye
Name: Damon Slye
Company: Mad Otter
Damon Slye needs no lengthy introduction. He’s Chief Otter, founder of the company, and a very talented game designer. He’s here today to offer his thoughts on the subject of the role of women.
When you first started working in the game industry, over twenty years ago, the presence of women in the business was largely unseen or felt. How have you watched this change over your lengthy career, and what was it like when you first began? At the first EA artist symposium that I attended in 1986 there was only one female game developer, Anne Westfall, who together with Jon Freeman built Archon. There were maybe 50 total game developers at the symposium. There weren’t many female gamers back then either.
Specifically, who are some female game designers working today that you admire and why? I saw Brenda Romero give a great talk at the Login Conference in Seattle a few years ago. One of her points was that a game designer should be more than an optimizer of the game’s metrics. She said, “If you optimize hockey, you end up with boxing.” The ability to concisely say precisely what you mean is a hallmark of great game designer. Oh, and more than that, she packaged her thought in an entertaining visual metaphor, hockey into boxing, with a slide on the screen of a hockey fight! The entire talk was filled with moments like that. Her more recent projects are interesting. She’s been building board games made out of physical objects. For some reason, I’ve never done that, and it sounds really hard to me- I am such a digital person- despite the fact that I do really like board games.
Roberta Williams who created the King’s Quest series, along with many other great games, was there at the genesis of the game industry. She was making games at a time when it was unusual to be game designer period, and even more so a female game designer. Some of the readers may know that Sierra, the company that she and her husband Ken founded, bought Dynamix (the company I co-founded), so I had the pleasure of working with Roberta and Ken. What I especially admire about her is her bravery to forge ahead to build games and to create a company at a time when it really didn’t make financial sense. Games were not a thing back then. That kind of burning passion to create I love to see.
When you first dreamed up the concept for V&H, how much did the role of women figure into it? (i.e. did you set out to create a game in which men and women would be equal?) I wanted to build a friendly world. There was a quote from the futurist Paul Saffo that I included on the front page of the design document: “You get large by allowing the many and the small to gather on your lawn.” That sentiment persists in the world of V&H today, and the community. So, I never set out to build a game that would have a high population of women specifically, I just wanted to build a fun game that would bring in many people because the game world was a nice place to spend time.
Villagers & Heroes, in its portrayal of women, is devoid of demeaning sexual stereotypes. In such a competitive industry as this, especially one in which indie games struggle to survive, have you ever been tempted to depict women in a more provocative manner knowing that it would increase your demographic and revenue?
I was never tempted to resort to cheap gimmicks like using images of scantily clad women in our ads or in the game to attract more players mainly because I don’t think it would have worked for us since that’s not what V&H is about. A game’s core values should permeate the art, the features, and the marketing and presentation of the game in order to be successful.
There is a game that’s pretty famous among game developers whose ad campaign started with mildly provocative images of medieval women, and over time devolved into women in modern-day lingerie. All pretense was stripped away. When I was playing the game, it had none of that stuff in the game itself. The chat was filled with angry players who felt ripped off because the game itself didn’t have any of that. The chat was funny.
For V&H in particular, I can’t imagine having, for example, a piece of armor that for the male is full armor, but the female version is just a bikini or shows more skin. I think it would be okay to have an outfit that is little bit on the sexy side, but it should be balanced. If the female outfit is going to show some skin, then the male version should as well.
Harassment is a frequent occurrence in MMO’s, which is to say that female players are routinely subjected to unwanted advances, as well as unfair treatment from their male counterparts. But this is not the case in Villagers & Heroes. How do you account for this? I have to thank the game’s community and the game moderators for this. They are really nice people, and they are vigilant, and take action quickly when a rude troll or a bully shows up. So then the next question is why we are lucky enough to have such wonderful players? Maybe the friendly art style of the game appealed to nice folks. Maybe the goal of having a nice place to spend time attracted nice players and repelled the trolls. Or, maybe we were just lucky. The game FaunaSphere shut down a little before V&H started up. That game had a great community, and many of them found their way to V&H.
Were you surprised when it became clear that Villagers & Heroes had such a large female player base? I would say I am happy and proud that we have so many female players! We did not set out to build a game for women or for men for that matter. We just wanted to make a game for everyone — not a game that appealed to some specific demographic, but a game that is fun for all kinds of people. It’s great to see that now more and more women are becoming gamers. This is good for everyone, and it’s healthier.
Look at the movies. The movies I like are the ones that have strong male and female characters. They are more realistic to the real world. And by strong, I don’t mean big muscles- I mean characters who understand who they are and are well-developed in the plot. It’s boring when the characters are all cliches that never surprise the viewer- for example, when the guys just talk tough, beat up other guys, and blow things up, and the women are just things who need to be rescued.
Several years ago, there was an incident in Villagers & Heroes which has come to be known as the ‘red bra’ episode. Please relay what that was, and why today it still has such significance. The outfits in V&H are gender neutral in their appearance. However, there was one piece of armor that was nearly identical for the male and female warriors, but due to the different geometry of the female avatar, what looked like a simple crest on the male version of the armor, looked like a red bra on the female version! We didn’t notice this- it was not intentional! However, our female players did, and they let us know. They good-naturedly threatened to have a “bra burning party” in the game. It’s funny because you can’t actually burn items in the game, and even if you could, metal armor would not burn- but that shows the great sense of humor the V&H community has. Still, it was embarrassing to us- we don’t want to make a game where players have to wear something that they are embarrassed to wear, so we fixed it.
The player perspective is always the most powerful, and I am tremendously grateful to Mackiai of EU 2 for providing us with the following article:
Why have an extra article on the women of Villagers & Heroes? Well, that’s simple and very obvious – it is one of the main aspects where V&H makes a big difference in the gaming world! You don’t have to be an avid gamer to notice it – right from the very start, when you create your character, you’ll notice the complete lack of “sexy” (and very much sexist) options, for male and female toons alike. Male and female toons have cartoonish, but normal faces, and, more importantly – they are all wearing clothes! Class-appropriate and efficient-looking on top, with a little stretch of the imagination as most players don’t really know what is really the most efficient garment for a wizard.
Most MMORPGs out there seem to think that women are protected by magical forces, or maybe that being sexy will distract your opponents. In V&H, there is not clicking through dozens of scantily clad long-legged, big-boobed “warriors” (haha), and no gear in the entire game is even hinting at sexiness. No bikini armour, no lingerie, no armour with huuuge, interestingly placed cut-outs, no stiletto boots etc. –To sum it up: nothing that looks plainly ridiculous when it comes to fighting and, maybe even more important, nothing that makes a lot of female players simply uncomfortable wearing, even if it is just on their virtual avatar.
Entering the game you’ll soon notice that the game developers created a world with a great emphasis on gender equality. The NPCs’ gender is never stereotypical, but they are equal in all aspects. You’ll meet the female smithy instructor and the female city guide. But it is not simply reversing stereotypical gender roles – that would be boring – as you’ll meet male kings and instructors just the same. You’ll meet evil mobs and bounties, male and female ones alike. The game’s folkore, legends and storyline feature male and female characters in equal numbers – villains, heroes, magical beings and many wise (and unwise) men and women. There is no damsel to be rescued and there is no princess to be won as the price.
But let me now mention what is definitely the most amazing part of this game – it is the community. Very soon it becomes obvious that this game is not run by men. It is not run by women either, no, but the female voices are quite strong. Speaking as a woman on world chat – no lewd or rude remarks, no being hit on, no silencing. Fighting as a female – no being left behind, no preferential treatment, no belittling. There are many women players, many female guild leaders and many elite fighters who are female.
Wise experienced women that will help new players with words and deeds and are respected by the whole community and new female players that quickly become part of the community without having to fear gendered backlash, stalking or not being taken seriously. No need to play as a man with a male toon and a male name to be able to avoid harassment and play as a “normal” person – everybody is a “normal” person and fundamentally equal.
And let’s not forget about the men without whom this would not be possible – the men of V&H are proving that they are great human beings by not taking issue, by not trying to dominate or belittle their female co-gamers. It is a pleasure playing with all of you!
Did you know that 48% of gamers today are women? Or that women age 18 or older now represent a larger percentage of boys 17 and under? Or that the number of female gamers over the age of 50 has increased by 32% since 2012? (Entertainment Software Association stats found here: PDF)
So really, the question is, if women make up half of the current game-playing population then why do so many games out there continue to portray them as demeaning sexual stereotypes, why are female players routinely subjected to on-line harassment, and why don’t more games exist in which gender is simply not an issue?
While I could spend this section relaying countless examples of appalling instances of harassment reported by female gamers, or direct you to several sites where you can read or listen to the accounts yourselves (Not In The Kitchen Anymore, FUOS), instead I’d rather share an account of something that will make you smile – the story of how a twelve-year girl took on the video game industry, and made a difference.
Earlier this year, twelve-year old Maddie, a sixth grader, was greatly bothered that her favorite mobile game, Temple Run, only gave her the option of playing a male character. If she wanted to play a female, she had to pay money for it, or else spend a considerable amount of time amassing the credits for the luxury of playing a character of her own gender.
Maddie, rightly so, found this unfair. She didn’t want to play as a guy, she wanted to play as a girl, and why should she have to spend money to do that when the guys didn’t? So Maddie decided to do some research, to find out how many other mobile games offered female characters, and how much they cost.
She downloaded 50 popular mobile games. Of those 50, she learned that 37 of them offered free male characters. Only 5 out of the 50 games offered free female characters. Maddie handwrote her results on a spreadsheet, which also included the prices charged in these games for female characters.
Maddie wrote a personal essay about her findings to accompany her research. The Washington Post newspaper printed Maddie’s op-ed piece, and, suddenly, people took notice – including the makers of Temple Run.
On the same day that Maddie’s op-ed piece came out, the creators of Maddie’s favorite game wrote her a letter, telling her that she was correct to point out the unfairness, and that Temple Run would soon be offering a free female character. Other mobile games quickly followed suit. One of them even named their new female character, Maddie.
Furry Tales: The Answers!
I think we can all agree that there is one thing that both genders will always have in common – a love of pets. As promised, here are the answers to last week’s section on the pets of the devs.
Cameron: The dogs, Bjorn and Sofie
Ryan: Little Bit
Damon and Sarah (yes, they’re a couple and have been for well over a decade): Samson, Enzo, and Vincent
For the benefit of those of you who might not know, every week we sponsor an on-going contest known as ‘Fan Fridays.’ The rules are simple: players can submit absolutely anything they want which creatively expresses their appreciation of V&H. We’ve had original art, songs, movies, poems, bedtime stories, screenshots, limericks, comic strips, sculptures, collages and the list goes on……
The Otters love Fridays because it gives us a chance to admire the amazing creative talents of our community! For more information on the Fan Friday contest, please visit our forums here: