[A]t an NSF-sponsored conference called “Girls ’N’ Games,” feminist academics, game designers and die-hard “grrl gamers” convened to discuss why women and girls cannot afford to ignore electronic games. Electronic gaming, they say—which includes computer games as well as video or “console” games—has become a huge cultural force. Studies show that 50 percent of Americans and 80 percent of American children play video games, and the heaviest gamers—8- to 10-year-olds—average over an hour a day in front of a console.
The rise in gaming has provoked debates over whether games are good or bad for us, but these tend to focus on whether the violence found in many games leads to real-life aggression. Less discussed is race and gender stereotyping: People of color are largely absent from video games, and when they do appear it’s as criminals or “bad guys.” Women are rarely protagonists, and instead serve as “prizes.” Almost without exception, women in electronic games are thin and large-breasted.
Despite the current state of girls ’n’ games, Harvey Mudd computer-science professor Elizabeth “Z” Sweedyk, a conference participant, envisions gaming as a medium for broad social critique in which women can participate. Students in her classes create alternative games that slyly call attention to racist and sexist tropes, as in one adventure game that follows an 11-year-old girl as she repeatedly saves her bumbling brother from doom—only to watch him get all of the credit.