O, Chris Crawford... We Shake Our Heads At Thee
First, I like The Escapist. It has become a weekly ritual for us since its inception. Reading this article has not changed my opinion of the online magazine. Second, much of the information given in the article is correct, I don't dispute the major premises of Evolutionary Psychology theory.
I very much dispute with his attempted use of such theory.
Lets go through this thing:
"I have long since given up participating in discussions on women in gaming. The games industry is so out of touch, such discussions are a waste of perfectly good electrons."Well thanks a million fot that one, Chris. Chris Crawford Contention #1: The Games Industry doesn't know anything about women. Chris Crawford does. Chris Crawford is The Ladies Man.
"I'm going to offer a fresh approach to the problem, coming at it from a completely different angle: evolutionary psychology. This field is about 20 years old, and much exciting progress has been made in the years since it was established."
Really?! You don't say! 20 years old? Hot damn! Educate us, Chris! Tell us all about it!!
"Unfortunately, the field is often attacked by dogmatic fools who think evolutionary psychology amounts to some kind of genetic determinism."
Chris Crawford Contention #2: Those who question evolutionary psychology findings are fucking morons. Because Chris Crawford is using evolutionary psychology in his "arguments," if you disagree with those positions, you are a fucking moron.
"They claim fear of snakes is some sort of cultural artifact, and that if only our culture stopped teaching people that snakes are fearsome, nobody would be afraid of snakes. A careful, scholarly analysis of this claim, based on experimental evidence and thorough review of the literature - as well as common experience - forces us to only one conclusion: This claim is complete crap."
Well thanks for all your citations there, Chris. Thanks for a link to articles arguing both sides or at least a summary of what the hell you're talking about for all us un-eju-macated children out here in computer land. Are you speaking of the claim that simians born in captivity with no experience with snakes do not fear them until they observe the behaviors of a simian in the wild who shows a fearful reaction upon the display of a snake? Is that what you're talking about? So, that study is complete bullshit, right? Behaviors learned by observation do not exist, yes? Everything is innate? Okay. Thank you. I must have missed that part in Psych 101 where they talk about that study. Or again in Psychology of Learning and Memory. Or that other time they mentioned it in Behavioral Psychology. Or in Child Psychology. Or in Evolutionary Psychology. Dude, I must have slept a LOT!
"The biggest difference was men were hunters and women were gatherers. This gender specialization did not arise because of some male conspiracy to dominate women or some other nastiness. It was the natural, inevitable result of a basic physical difference between men and women: Women have breasts and men don't."
Thank you Chris. Thank you for pointing this out to us. There were no matriarchal societies in the past. Men dominated all of them. Because of survival. You have my attention...
"Another problem is women can't run as well as men. This has nothing to do with cultural upbringing and everything to do with the female pelvis. The male pelvis is well-structured for the efficient operation of the leg muscles. But the female pelvis has been subject to a more powerful selection effect: death in childbirth."
...okay. So that's why in Dance Dance Revolution, I kick my sister's ass. It all makes sense now! You were saying something about video games?
"At this point, there's always some twit who points out that there are some women who can run faster than some men. Indeed so, but noting an exception to a generalization does not disprove the generalization; it establishes only that the generalization is not an absolute law."
Chris Crawford Contention #3: Timothy St. Hilaire is a twit.
"The men would set out on long hunts. For most of human history, hunting was not carried out with bows and arrows or even spears; it was done with rocks. The hunter would creep up on his prey and hurl a rock at it."
Am I supposed to be taking notes? Will the T.A. look at me funny if I listen to my iPod during the PowerPoint part? What does this have to do with Sonic the Hedgehog's failure to capture the 11-15 year old girl market? Is there a PowerPoint part?
Holy Shit, there is.
"Let us now consider the specializations required of the hunter to succeed in his efforts. Three talents are needed:
1. The ability to throw rocks powerfully and with accuracy.
2. The ability to pursue the prey over long distances.
3. The wit to figure out where the prey went."
Okay, it should be noted that we are now on page 3 of Chris Crawford's grand thesis on women and video games. Let's get to the video game part now:
"If we were to whisk a young hunter-gatherer male out of the remote past into the present, dress him up in whatever the current uniform of youth happens to be and plunk him down in front of a videogame console, what kind of entertainment would he prefer? Something that he is optimized for, of course."
Looks like the dethawed time traveling primitive man market finally has someone who speaks for them.
"So, this evolutionary psychology stuff isn't total balderdash. It does a decent job of predicting the kind of play that young males would prefer. Our next problem is to figure out what kind of play females would prefer. To do this, we must identify the specializations forced upon ancestral women."
Oh dear God. You're not saying...
"Hunter-gatherer women did not succeed primarily because of their gathering skills. One of their primary tasks was raising children because, as I wrote earlier, they're the ones with the breast milk."
...Jesus. Stop now... please don't-
"If she couldn't make babies, why did she continue to live, consuming valuable resources that could be devoted to her descendants? Would this not comprise a selection effect against living beyond menopause? One answer, it turns out, was that older women play a vitally important part in the upbringing of children: They're the grannies. Mom could go off gathering nuts, roots and berries while granny took care of the kids. Granny might not be strong, but she could mind the kids adequately."
What are you saying about Ms. Pacman, Chris?
"A daycare center operated by grannies with one or two lactating mothers on hand could take care of the kids and leave all the healthy young mothers free to gather food."
I don't want to play Tomb Raider anymore. Chris Crawford, you ruin everything. EVERYTHING!
"From the woman's point of view, the problem was to manipulate the male into supporting her children, mostly by convincing him that the kids really were his."
...well, yeah. Yeah, that's true. But Galaga! What about Galaga??
"Modern-day descendants of these women are highly skilled in sensing the subtle moods of others, calculating their motivations, and determining the best means of turning this understanding to their own advantage. The overall collection of skills is called "social reasoning," and that's what women excel in."
"At this point, I need to cover my butt against the picky-picky natterers who will point out that there are some men who are better at social reasoning than some women."
I don't even think he's trying anymore. We're on page 5, by the by.
"We should therefore expect that modern women might well want to exploit this talent in their entertainment. And in fact that turns out to be the case. The classic female mass entertainments are the soap opera and the bodice-ripper. In each of these, women face intense and intricate social conflicts requiring elevated social reasoning."
Okay, there is nothing really funny happening in this paragraph. Something has to be said. Chris, DO NOT blame the popularity of Soap Operas on the backs of Evolutionary Psychologists. The invention of the culture of the soap opera was not engineered with the benefits of the social perception skills women have obtained from thousands of years of manipulation in mind.
"All this leads to a suggestion for what might work for women in games: social reasoning. The ideal game for women, according to this simplified model, would be some sort of interactive soap opera or bodice ripper, presenting the player with complex social problems as she seeks the ideal mate."
...say what now?
"I close by reminding the reader that this is a greatly simplified representation of a complex subject. Human behavior is not reducible to linear equations, and we will never build a correct working model of human mental life."
This begins a list of caveats Chris Crawford uses to negate all of his arguments.
"I have offered a simplistic representation of some concepts from evolutionary psychology that can provide useful insight into the problems that game designers face in creating games for women. Insight, not solutions. Ideas, not answers."
So... that's it then. He gives us a lengthy primer on evolutionary psychology that only shows he doesn't understand the fundamental purpose of the theory, concludes with a short "non-idea" of a soap opera game, and calls the article "Women In Games." I'm sorry, Chris, but your article would not past the muster of the first draft of a short paper in a freshman psychology course.
Why the hostility, you ask? "Tim, why are you being so negative and childish towards Chris Crawford? Why do you hate baby Jesus?" I'll answer the first part last. I don't hate the baby Jesus. I toned the post in this way to illustrate a point. The sort of pretentious, know it all essays that Chris Crawford presents to game developers that scream "look how smart I am!" ad nauseum, I believe, are not created as a catalyst to discussion. I won't psychoanalyze Chris more than necessary, so I won't go into my theories as to "reasons."
Now for the proper response.
Chris, evolutionary psychology provides us with a guide, not a treatise. A developmental psychologist looks at a girl playing Mario Kart quite differently than an evolutionary psychologist than a behavioral psychologist than a cognitive psychologist and so on. All of them, however, will have an understanding of the importance of cooperative thought; to take each of their theories as to the purpose or foundation of a behavior into consideration. When you give us a simplistic approach to the complexities of the preferential action differences on gender lines, then finish your piece leaving the readers without the proper context to materialize any of your arguments into rational and logical manifestations within game development, does it accomplish your presumed goal of stimulating better gender representations in gaming?
Also, it is dangerous to use evolutionary psychology theories to justify designing a game to meet the presumed needs of the "universal female." Evolutionary psychologists try to explain aggressive behaviors, for instance, not condone them. We have come a long way from our ancestors in terms of observing our actions to better ourselves. If one were to design a game based on the principals of evolutionary psychology as a guide, it would be a game that would ignore the achievements of culture; it would ignore anthropology's conclusions of the causes and continuance of matriarchal societies and female empowerment; it would ignore the perpetuation of the blending of gender roles and behaviors.
In short, it would suck.
Metroid Prime and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic were not made with the primal psychological requirements of young men in mind, they were made to have good gameplay and excellent stories. What would games be like if they were made to feed on base desires? For men they would be Leisure Suit Larry and Playboy Mansion, right? Or, according to your essay, they would be games like Halo and SplinterCell, yes? Should one make games with the guarantee of high sales volume in the target demographic because of primal necessities unrecognized by the consumer? Do you imagine that a boy of 16 goes to GameStop or EB to pick up Gun or God of War because they think to themselves "man, I really want to dominate something today, or maybe just kill something to establish my authority and skill to the potential sex givers, the females, so that I may do my part to keep my species alive?" Perhaps all of this happens under the radar of their cognition, and they only imagine they are buying the games to be entertained. I think you also make males out to be much more simple beings than they are.
How many RPGs were sold last year? How many strategy games were sold in the last decade? Do these fit your theories of what makes a game sell, throwing rocks or shooting guns accurately? More importantly, how many women gamers are out there, and what do they play? Is the number so incredibly marginal that we must stand back and look at the mass failure of the industry to meet that elusive creature, the girl?
Perhaps the problems do not lie in the structural purpose of a game, perhaps they lie in the representation of female characters within the game and in advertisements. You begin to address this issue, but then proceed to let everyone know that you, Chris Crawford, know what women want, and demand that the industry give it to them.
There is so much more to be said about the inability of your article to achieve, well anything at all, but I'll leave the final word to Grandma:
"Gee, I wonder what Chris Crawford's vagina looks like. I don't think he quite got it."
If Chris Crawford has any interest of following up on this, I suggest he consult the following books before analyzing the issue any further:
Psychology [Sixth Ed.] Myers
Mass Media / Mass Culture [Fifth Ed.] Wilson
Sensation and Perception [Sixth Ed.] Goldstein
Learning and Memory: Basic Principles, Processes, and Procedures [Second Ed.] Terry
All are available from your local freshman psychology student at a university near you.