One of my favorite blogs, The Border House, is renewing a meme about game covers that women want to see. The meme encourages women to write a post about the kinds of game covers that made us want to play a game. The Border House is compiling a list of these blog posts at the site. If we want stuff that is made for us and marketed toward us, then it makes sense to express our preferences around marketing. I agree.
Here’s how it goes…
Ladies, what RPG covers (or interiors) have you seen that involve a woman in the art that make you say, “I want to play that” or, just as good “I want to play her.” Or that make you feel like it is a game you could like, or be included in by a group of guys you’d never met and whose maturity you didn’t necessarily know?
- Copy the text of the original challenge from Yudhishthira’s Dice and give a proper link attribution.
- Copy these rules exactly (including any links).
- Find images of game covers (interiors are okay, too) that make you want to play the game. Any kind of game — video game, card game, tabletop RPG, etc — is fine. Post them and include a short (or long) explanation on why the image makes/made you want to play the game.
- The original challenge is about finding out what women think about how game art is marketed and therefore it is targeted at women. I’d like to keep it that way, please.
- You can tag as many or as few people as you want. You do not need to be tagged to participate in the meme.
- When you make your post, please post the link on this thread so we can all see what others have said.
I dropped one of the conditions. I dropped the condition that the cover should “involve a woman” because I also often find androgynous covers attract me, and I also like some covers that involve masculine figures, as long as they don’t seem anti-female humans. My additions are below the jump:
1. Future Examples
These are games I have not bought or played yet, but that look interesting to me because of their cover-art. I have also included things that appeal to me about their descriptions because both the look and the description tend to matter to me. If I see a cover I like in a store or while browsing on-line, the first thing I do is to try to find reviews of the game. So usually my first-contact with cover-art is followed pretty closely in time with my first-contact with the reviews of the game. In general, this means that my experience of each tends to be quite influenced by the experience of the other.
a) Emerald City Confidential, by Wadjet Eye Games
I really, really like mystery games. I love trying to figure out what clues mean and trying to put the pieces together in order to solve some difficult puzzle. The cover features a woman staring confidently into the camera, but she does not seem over-sexualized, her attire is appropriate for detective work (although if it were me I would probably wear pants), and the focus is more on her gaze than on her body. I also found the green colour of her clothes looked appealing to me against the grey-scale of the cityscape behind her. I really like the colour green (look, the theme for this blog is green-ish!).
Then I read the description, and the game is a 1940s-style film noir retelling of the Wizard of Oz. I like both the Wizard of Oz and film noir (despite the often problematic tropes and stereotypical women in film noir and detective novels in general, as described here). Then I read that you play as private detective, Petra, who is out to save Dee’s missing fiancé (so it is not the typical “damsel in distress” trope). Seems pretty good.
I do have some reservations and questions, though. First question, why is there magic in this game? It does not seem to fit. What does magic have to do with being a detective in a film noir story or in the land of Oz? Is this supposed to mean she is a detective and a witch? Oz did have witches after all. Are they trying to pack too much into one story? A second question, why do they begin by emphasizing that the retelling is all-male-gazey by naming L. Frank Baum and Raymond Chandler? How do the gazes (or visions) of these two particular men fit together? They had quite disparate effects on their respective genres from a feminist perspective.
Despite these questions and reservations, I am still interested in this game. The reviews at the site are mostly quite positive (the reviews that give fewer stars tend to say they were stuck at a hard part, and to me that is a positive feature), and at $6.99 I think I will give it a try. Sometime. In the future.
If it looks good to me, then why haven’t I played? Well, because, it is a PC game, and I have decided I will not install games on my computer (not even demos) until I am finished my dissertation. The latter is not yet done, so I have not yet played. Only games on consoles until my PC no longer represents my work-life.
2. Present Examples
These are games that I have played recently (in the last 10 years) and the reason I wanted to play them was at least in part because of their cover art. Again, I was often also strongly influenced by descriptions and reviews because these things matter to me. Some of these are pretty obvious, and commonly cited by feminist and women gamers, but just because its obvious does not mean it deserves no credit from me.
a) Portal, by Valve
This one is a choice where I cannot untangle the reviews and the play-experience from the cover-art. The game is awesome. I mentioned the game and the way it subverts expectations in my first-ever blog post. It is probably the funniest game I have ever played. It also has a great song, which I featured in another previous post. So do I like the cover-art alone? or do I like the whole game as a package? I am not sure.
But I do find the cover appealing. Why? Because it is simple. It is androgynous, the stick person could be anyone (even if it does not have a skirt, it also does not seem to be overly-broad. See here, and I prefer pants). It is not particularly masculine or feminine. The design is clean, and there are “speed lines” to indicate that the stick figure is falling. My partner really likes speed lines, and after 8 years together during which time my partner has been constantly explaining the appeal of speed lines, I have begun to appreciate them, too.
I find the cover for the Portal game stand-alone much more appealing than the cover of the game I actually bought, which was the Orange Box compilation.
The Orange Box cover is not simple and clean. It seems crowded. What I formerly thought of as an androgynous stick figure now seems masculine when it is squeezed between two men, especially because the man on the right seems quite macho. Context matters. A lot. Here I can say with some degree of certainty that it is the box-art that is affecting my judgement, because I actually like Half-Life as a game experience, except for the ladders, which I think are really frustrating to try to climb or jump off (I have not played Team Fortress yet). When all this art is squished together, the appeal of the original Portal box-art is lost. What formerly seemed androgynous now seems “masculine” and all of a sudden, against the orange background, the blue-tones that were always part of the Portal cover seem to indicate gender.
I saw the cover-art for Portal before I saw the Orange Box, and I am glad I did because I think my initial impressions would have been quite different. Portal also probably belongs in the “Future Examples” section, because although I have not seen actual cover art, yet, Portal 2 has been announced. And with geeky marketing like this:
That inspires geeky-translations like this:
A fatal exception (S) has occurred at (U)(S) : (P)(E)(N)(D) in (U)(N)(T)((I)) *(L)(E)(E)(E). The current application will be terminated.
* Press any key to flood the facility with deadly neurotoxins.
* Press CTRL+ALT+DEL again to reinstate testing. You will lose any non-vital personnel and their progress through the current test.
Press any key to continue _
How could one not be super-excited about the release of Portal 2?
b) Mirror’s Edge, by EA DICE
This one is a pretty obvious choice. There was also a lot of positive discussion of this game at many blogs and websites I admire, such as The Border House, The Hathor Legacy, and Acid for Blood. It was also discussed very positively on the Iris Network. I find it somewhat difficult to separate my impressions of the cover art from the discussions of the game that I read in these places, even though I read most of the discussions after or while I was already playing the game.
What appeals to me about the cover is that it features a strong-looking woman. It concentrates on her gaze and the viewer’s eyes (or at least my eyes) are drawn toward her eyes (rather than her boobs or other body parts). She is directly facing the camera (rather than a more common pose for female characters which is to look over-the-shoulder so bums can be featured). I get the impression from the cover that she will be competent as a character. There is something dynamic about the way she is portrayed. Her hair is moving slightly as if she has just stopped for a moment. This goes against the stereotypical association of “the feminine” with passivity. Faith is both feminine and seems active, she seems like an agent on this cover. Faith is beautiful (to me) but she seems to have more going on than just her looks. She does not seem to be primarily about her looks. Faith is exciting because she is an Asian woman, but does not seem to be presented as a “token” of these types. Instead she holds the promise of being a real character in the way she is portrayed on this cover.
I find both Portal and Mirror’s Edge interesting because, in general, 1st person games are my least favorite. Some people find the perspective adds to the “immersion,” but in general I find the lack of peripheral vision really distracting and it breaks the immersion for me. For example, I am currently playing Killzone 2 and I am constantly annoyed by the 1st person perspective. In Killzone, I constantly feel like I don’t know where the Helghast are in relation to my character. But even though I was still aware of the annoying elements of the 1st person perspective in Portal (for example, when I would bash my cube into a wall that I did not see out of the corner of my eye) and Mirror’s Edge (for example when I had to look directly at my feet to determine where I was in relation to the edge of the building), I found these “intrusions” a little less annoying than I do in Killzone 2 where I am constantly swearing at the sudden appearance of Helghast I did not expect.
c) Dragon Age: Origins, by BioWare
It has a dragon on it. Dragons are great anywhere they are depicted. End of discussion.
d) Flower, by thatgamecompany
This is a PSN game, so I did not exactly see the art before buying the game, it happened more-or-less simultaneously. There is something really relaxing about the game art from my perspective. The colour-scheme is very blue-and-green (notice from the above entries, I really like blue and green). There are some lines that resemble speed lines coming off the word “flower” and the petals. There is something very relaxing about the whole look of this game. The cover-art also does not lead me to expect that I will find some sexist-tripe in the game that will make my whole “escapism” experience come crashing down (see here, and by the way “babysitting.” “cooking,” “cleaning” etc. are also forms of sexist-tripe that ruin my “escapism.” I do not want my games to resemble my chores, thank you very much). Also, the reviews led me to expect a game in which I would not have to kill any one or anything in any way. This expectation was met. It is actually a very rare game in which one does not have to become a killer. I prefer not to kill to the extent that is consistent with still remaining alive. So I like this game.
e) Little Big Planet, by Media Molecule
It looks like a collage. I used to love making collages when I was a kid. Just as with Flower, the cover led me to believe that there would not be a whole bunch of sexism in this title. Since written marketing is also important to me, I noted that they made an effort to always say “sack-people” or at least “little sackboys and sackgirls.” Since the release of the game, however, I have noticed that Media Molecule has dropped this inclusive language and now refer almost exclusively to “sackboy.” How sad.
f) Frogger Beyond, by Konami
I had to link to Wikipedia on this one because Konami no longer seems to have a page for this game. Ok, sure, it is a pretty masculine looking cover inasmuch as the frog seems to be male. But it does not seem unwelcoming to me as a woman (and frogs change sex based on the sex of their surrounding-population, how cool is that?). Also the cover is pretty much blue-and green with some purple thrown in. That is great.
3. Past Examples
These are games that I played when I was younger. Many of the things that influenced me about the covers at the time might seem less important to me now. But these are covers that grabbed the attention of my girl-self.
a) Dancing Demon, by Leo Christopherson for the Radio Shack Model I computer
This is the first “game” I remember ever playing. It was awesome. Did this one even have cover art? I am not sure. I half-remember my dad typing the program into the computer from a magazine. It was then recorded on a cassette tape, like the ones you play with an audio cassette player. The ones that get eaten by said audio cassette player and come unraveled, ruining whatever was stored on them. Obviously, the art is not great. But it is simple and androgynous. I typed words, mostly my name, and it danced and beeped (I think you were supposed to make songs ’cause the letters correspond to different notes, but I mostly typed words, mostly my name). Who had ever seen anything like this? I suppose this has little to do with cover art, but still. It was earth-shattering to my small self that I could make a demon abide by my command just by typing into a “thingy.”
Here is a video that shows the whole greatness of this game
b) The Oregon Trail, by MECC
The box-art featured covered-wagons. At the time, I loved everything to do with pioneers. So I wanted this game, which I think I played on an Apple II.
I also really liked Heroes of Might and Magic, but I can’t find a cover-shot of that game, and I forget why I thought the art was good.