What I saw earlier today, in our own forums, really confused me. According to the one-line marketing pitch for War, The Game, it’s a “STRATEGY GAME FOR MEN.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to connote of the game. It’s somehow more “manly.” They’ll ban girls if they’re found out to be playing it. What does it mean? Oddly, this marketing angle has only been used when raising awareness about the game in our forums (from what I’ve seen). As you can see on its website and Greenlight page, there’s no mention of gender preferences at all.
It’s not all that surprising that computer games adopt gendered marketing practices as they’re products that are often considered to belong in toy aisles and departments. There’s a long history of gendered marketing for toys, as you’ll know if you’ve ever looked through a product catalogue or wandered around a large toy store. The reason for this is because marketers know that it’s possible to sell more of a certain product if it’s made for a specific target market, and then marketed for them. But the problem with this is that it reinforces deeply ingrained beliefs held in society about gender. And these beliefs aren’t derived from natural preferences by gender; they’ve been carefully and persistently created over time by commercial outlets so they can make more money.
The idea that dolls are for girls, but action figures are for boys, is a very easily recognized example of gendered marketing. It suggests different genders always have particular interests and that deviation from this is abnormal, which is a completely false idea. You’ll see aisles in toy stores dressed up in pink and blue to segregate boys products from those made and marketed for girls. Division by color is a practice that corporations encouraged as industrialization grew from the beginning of the 20th century onwards. It was used as a way to get more money from families who had children of different genders, because they hold the belief that they couldn’t have their little boy wearing the girly pink clothes they bought for their daughter, so they’d have to go to the shops and buy blue outfits. There’s nothing naturally suggestive about a color that makes it gendered; this is a manufactured belief that society still clings on to because the marketers make more money that way.
In fact, this Smithsonian article reveals that pink was considered a more suitable color for boys, while blue was better for girls, as late as in 1918:
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
It’s not just parents that are susceptible to the beliefs about gender preferences. In fact, children are brought into this world full of gender messages around them, and so, from a very early age, they’re led to make certain assumptions they believe are true – that a plastic kitchen set is for girls and not boys, that an action figure is for boys and not girls, that a visual novel or dating game is girls only or that a strategy game about war is for men only.
It upsets me that not only do corporate game marketers continue to reinforce these beliefs, as they’ve been trained to do, but so do some indie games as well. I say that because indie games struggle to find an audience as it is, and they usually have to rely on niche interest to make their sales or gain interest from players. So engaging in gendered marketing for an indie game isn’t going to tap into a specific mass market; it’s just going to split the small interest group you may have in half (almost), because you’ve stated that it’s specifically for one gender over others.
I know it’s not entirely the fault of indie game developers or marketers who do this, because it’s society at large that pushes out these ideas and messages, and it’s very easy to fall into the traps of marketing strategies. I just hope that at least small developers who rely on appealing to what is essentially a small market don’t make it harder for themselves by cutting off half their audience right from the bat.