Tag Archives: classism

I’m bored of hearing about your wife

Almost every time I go to a tech- or gaming-related conference, I hear middle-aged white men in suits talk about their wives and children. This would be lovely and rather sweet, were it not for the fact that they all seem to be married to the same woman, and they all seem to be raising the same children.

A photograph of a blonde woman smiling and holding two blonde children. FlickrCC image by Micah Taylor

“The wife”, as she is often called, is frequently described as “not very good with computers” or “not a gamer.” Often, I hear humbling stories about how The Wife provides an amazing insight into the human condition. Or how she teaches The Exec about what it’s like for the ordinary user, who isn’t familiar with the high-end technological wizardly in which he is apparently so accomplished.

“My son”, says the exec, “is already using an iPad, and he’s only a year old.” There are older children in the family too. “My daughter would be so embarrassed to be seen using a Blackberry!” remarks The Exec, concluding “young people are all using iPhones.”

It’s taken me a while to figure out why this bothers me so much. So what if the people running technology companies make public reference to their wealthy, heteronormative lifestyle in an attempt to give examples of use cases from ‘ordinary people’? They’re bound to draw on their own experience in their work. Far be it from me to tell them to leave their personal life out of it.

I’ve realised that it bothers me because they never once talk about focus groups, and only ever reference market research on a macro-level. These two things combined – coarse, macro-level demographic data and constant reference to the upper-middle-class nuclear family, are leading to design and product decisions that are bad for women, bad for the elderly, and not even that good for business.

I don’t care about this guy’s wife. What she spends her time on is her own business. I do care that he gives his technologically inept wife as the key example when talking about the vague demographic of ‘women aged 35-50′. I don’t care how talented his children are. I do care that he calls tablets “a technology that doesn’t require any training – your children will teach you how to use it” – someone actually said that at the Global Mobile Internet Conference this week. What if I don’t have any children? What if my children don’t have their own iPad?

The Exec decides where to allocate the product development budget. He decides what products get made. He decides the direction the tech industry is moving. And the future he sees is one in which women are removed from the means of production, and anyone who cannot afford to buy an iPad for their children is irrelevant. All because he can’t be bothered to carry out a focus group or buy some qualitative survey data.

This narrow-mindedness appears particularly stupid when you consider the millions of elderly people who are completely neglected by the tech industry. Many of them have a sizable disposable income and lots of leisure time on their hands – perfect for selling computer games to, as long as you get the platform and design right. I always wondered why they were being ignored by the market. Could it be because they don’t fit into the image of the nuclear family with which execs feel compelled to ally themselves?

Ad Copy Done Wrong: BTO Online’s sexism, racism, & classism

Wundergeek is a straight, cis white woman who recently was asked to write an article about sexism in gaming and found she couldn’t shut up about in once the article was done. She’s since started Go Make Me a Sandwich, a blog mostly devoted to ranting about sexist imagery in all areas of gaming. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, she is an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.

BTO (or Business Tycoon Online) is yet another translated Chinese browser-based free online game. It’s published by Dovogame, which also publishes a free online browser RTS called “WarFlow”. (Which isn’t the worst name I’ve heard for an RTS, but it sure as shit isn’t the best by a long shot.)

Unsurprisingly, like pretty much all others of its ilk that I’ve encountered, it uses pretty women and big fake breasts in its ads, despite the game having pretty much nothing to do with sex – unless distribution and franchising is the sort of thing that gets you hot and bothered. If you stumble across one of their tamer ads, like this one, it might seem pretty indistinguishable from the legions of ads just like this one:

I am totally hot and fiscal for you! (an Asian woman displaying generous amounts of cleavage with the BTO: Mansion logo)

Albeit one whose translations are not as good as some other Chinese-translated games out there:

Fix you typo! (A "limited gift code giveaway" banner featuring a blond white woman showing lots of cleavage. The banner has a button right next to the woman's breasts that says "get you code".)

Make money like a former Senate Republican? Woo! What fun! (An old white man in a suit surrounded by cleavagey young women. It reads "be the boss and make your frist million")

All joking aside, the second banner about making your “frist” million pretty much sets the tone for the whole ad campaign. Boss = man = clothes. Subordinates = women = BOOBIEZ. And that makes sense, right? If there’s one thing that I learned from the few years I worked for a multi-national corporation it’s that only men get to be fully clothed. And let me tell you, showing the amount of skin mandated by corporate policy got pretty damned uncomfortable in the winter, what with being in Canada all. I had to resort to drinking margaritas at my desk to keep warm!

 

Boobz = profits is one of the biggest laws of economics. (Two banners, both featuring white men in business attire alongside women in very revealing outfits.)

I have to hand it to BTO. They actually have a pretty diverse range of ads in that they steal from pretty much every other online game’s ad campaign ever. We have the Breast Now Button from games like Evony and Caesary:

Three banners for gift package giveaways that feature text over or right next to the breasts of scantily clad women. The top banner has a woman behind a large gift box that appears to be naked.

There’s also the “half-naked woman with o-face with cars” from… just about every car ad ever:

TOP: A woman with a sultry expression and most of her breasts showing next to two expensive luxury cars. BOTTOM: A banner that reads "create your dream car now". A white man in business attire is on the left, in the center are four expensive luxury cars, and on the right is a woman with a seductive expression and a very revealing outfit. There is a button placed right next to her crotch.

I have to say, it’s pretty surreal seeing all of this sex-based marketing applied to a game about building a business empire. I mean, sure I guess the sexist advertising matches up with the misogynist reality of corporate boardrooms, what with less than 4% of all Fortune 500 CEOs being women. But even so, there seems to be an even larger disconnect between the ads and the game than with other free mmos that use these advertising tactics. When I think “business empire”, I usually don’t associate it with women’s crotches. But apparently, the BTO advertisers would like me to:

treature”. There is a treasure chest right in front of her crotch.”]

Two banners. One with a scantily clad woman that says "30 Million players" and has the BTO logo over her crotch. The second has the same woman in front of an old nautical map and reads "Dive deep and claim your [sic

Not exactly subtle, are they? Amusingly, I think the advertisers may have fallen into their own trap. It seems like they were so busy staring at this poor woman’s crotch to notice that they misspelled treasure – unless they’re trying to invent new marketing slang. (Treat + treasure = punany?)

 

All of this is bad enough, but BTO really goes for the gold with this one:

Two white men in suits with the BTO logo. One is clearly modeled on Warren Buffet. The other is... perhaps a Kennedy? The banner reads: POWER-UP YOUR WEALTH AND SOCIAL CLASS.

…by becoming a white man, amirite? I haven’t seen a single woman resembling an avatar in any of these ads. All of the women shown as presented as rewards, not as people or potential characters.

Also, look at the ads and really examine the skin tone. The first woman looks Asian, and a few of the others might be (it’s hard to tell at such small resolution). But all of the ads feature only figures that share a certain paleness of skin tone. The woman in the first ad is even paler than the JFK-ish guy on the left in the “Power-Up” ad! I didn’t find a single figure with a skin tone darker than light caucasian tan until I went hunting for screen shots and found this gem:

A game screen titled "please select your secretary". There are 10 female portraits. One secretary is selected who is describes as "stylish". She is a white blond woman who is showing most of her breasts, most of her midriff, and is wearing a micro-mini skirt. She has a very alluring expression.

So I guess the lesson is that it’s okay to be non-white, as long as you’re a hot chick willing to bone your boss, who will always be a white man and may also be ugly and/or old. Remember, it doesn’t matter if men in corporate culture aren’t young and attractive because we don’t hold them to such shallow standards. As for the women, tits or gtfo, bitches.

What I really, REALLY love is that if you squint hard enough to make out the words, each portrait is captioned with not a name but a generic descriptor. Like “sociable”, “sweet”, “innocent” or “dutiful” – none of which really tell you a whole lot about what sort of assistants they would be. Then you have the even LESS helpful descriptors like “gorgeous” and “stylish” – which describes the highlighted secretary with her shirt open.

…stylish? I can think of a few adjectives to describe her, but “stylish” isn’t the one that pops to mind. Generally, being stylish involves, um, wearing clothes.

And then there’s the red circle… the type was really small; I initially thought the caption was “Oriental”, which I just couldn’t believe – hence the red circle. I went hunting for a larger screen and discovered that the caption is actually “Outstanding”, which is still pretty ridiculous. Just what is she outstanding at? I think the implication is that it’s not paperwork ifyouknowwhatimean.

The thing is, when I went looking for a larger screenshot just now, I happened to find this:

A screen showing a portrait of a young woman, Asian? (it's ambiguous) wearing a blazer and showing cleavage. On the right side is a "Secretary Introduction", including: "Style: Oriental". (ORIENTAL? SERIOUSLY??)

Okay, what gives? This is a game published by a Chinese company! Even if this is a mis-translation, it’s one that should have been corrected. I mean, this is just awful. Really, unbelievably awful.

So, wow. Dovogame – you fail. A lot.

(Originally posted here)

Facebook games and the privileged people who oppose them

[Trigger warning for fat shaming, ableist slurs, class privilege, also general warning for thought rambling]

An image of a FarmVille farm with cows, tractors, crops, and barns, with a "Play Now" button.

 

A long article was released yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle about FarmVille game developer Zynga, claiming that the company is one of the largest growing firms in the city.  Like any article in any mainstream publication about social games, the comment section quickly turned into an insult-fest of people throwing around privileged-filled comments about the kind of people who play Facebook games.

Reading through the comments, I saw the following statements:

  • These people are absolutely pathetic to be wasting all of their time playing these mindless games. (Says people who are ‘wasting time’ commenting on news articles)
  • Why don’t these people go outside and plant a REAL garden? (Have you personally planted a garden before?  It’s not exactly easy, and not everyone can do it)
  • These people are all social outcasts who cannot communicate with real people outside of their houses. (Although they have plenty of friends on Facebook to play games with?)
  • These people are just addicted and depressed, they hate their lives and social games have filled a void. (Ah yes, no one could possibly be playing these games because they ENJOY it)
  • People who play games on Facebook are fat and lazy and contribute nothing to society. (Of course you bring out the fatphobia, you can’t possibly forget the fatphobia)
  • You have got to be a “retard” if you spend one minute playing FarmVille. (Ableist slurs make you cool, you know)
  • I’m going to go run my “real business” while these Facebook gamers sit on their asses and collect unemployment checks. (Don’t mind me, I’m just a privileged asshole who owns a business)
  • These games are unhealthy for the people who play them. (Weee-oooo weeee-ooooh, the health police are here!)
  • These people are mindless consumers. (Here, let me make your decisions for you since you are incapable)

I normally ignore these comments, because I’m one of those people who plays these games.  Sure, I’ll completely own up to my personal privilege here – I make these games for a living so I play them for business purposes as well as a personal hobby, and I get more chance to play them than most people probably do.  None of that changes the fact that reading through these comments makes me almost feel like a complete waste of space because I have fun playing Facebook games.

Social games are all about accessibility, which is a huge reason that they have become so popular.  They are free to get started and players can enjoy them without ever spending a dime if they choose not to.  Anyone with an internet connection can enjoy them, compared to a console game that costs $50+ just for the retail box, or a subscription-based MMO that requires a $15/month fee.  These kinds of games open up the world of casual gaming to people who might not be able to afford the luxuries of buying games.  Let’s not fool ourselves, video games are freaking expensive.  If you are lucky enough to afford the latest console, you still have to pay out a lot of money for each individual game.  Not to mention if you want the DLC or additional content, you can be paying an awful lot for your gaming experience.

A wide variety of people play video games, and you know what?  Some of them might not leave the house.  This can be for a huge variety of reasons – they could have social anxieties that prevent them from going outside.  They might have health reasons for staying indoors.  They might not be able to afford to go out and do much.  They might be taking care of their kids all day at home and stopping in to play FarmVille now and then while they’re taking a nap.  Social game players might not be able to plant a garden because they have a disability that prevents them from doing that.  And frankly, who are they to tell someone to go plant a real garden instead of play a game?

The Treasure Isle logo, showing a tropical island with a small female cartoon avatar.

What I do with my personal gaming time is my business, and why do people I don’t even know care about how I can spend that time?  Why is it a “waste” when it is my personal time to spend the way I choose?  Why do they assume that I am a mindless person who is blindly consuming products because I am incapable of making decisions for myself?  People seem completely unable to grasp the idea that social games are fun.  I play these games because I find them enjoyable.  I’m fortunate enough that I could be playing my Xbox 360, or another game on my rather beefy computer system, or the Wii, but I choose to play Facebook games because they fit the kind of short gaming sessions that work with my schedule.

I’m a Community Manager, and I hear from my players all the time that they appreciate our game because it gives them something to do in their wheelchair that connects them with other people.  They make friends through our game and work together on common goals.  I’ve had players thank us for making a game that’s affordable on their disability income, or their retirement income.  I’ve had people tell me that playing our games helps them get their mind off of a recent tragedy in their life.  I’ve known players who play our games together with their kids, and their whole family comes together around the game every night before bed.  The Border House is all about how games are meaningful beyond just mindless drivel and that extends to all categories of gaming – be it hardcore, MMO, casual, social, puzzle, or co-op console shooters.  Social games bring people together in meaningful ways on social networks where players already spend time.  It is easy to play games on Facebook, and that opens up doors that bring new people into our world of gamers.

I am tired of people belittling those who play Facebook games.  So you don’t like them?  So what.  We’ve heard this before about MMOs, about the people who enjoy them being lazy and antisocial.  While it’s absolutely fantastic that these commenters don’t have a disability or other issue that prevents them from going outside and shooting people in paintball instead, it’s complete ignorance and lack of understanding about the concept of privilege that makes them blind to the fact that others might not be in the same boat as them.  It’s great that they can afford to buy expensive games and pay monthly fees, but other people have to make do with less expendable income to spend on hobbies so that they can feed themselves and their families.

I am perfectly fine with people simply not playing Facebook games because they don’t find them fun.  Go ahead and insult their game design and call them spammy clickfests.  But this incessant need to slam and ridicule social game players for doing something they like to do is just privileged bullshit that really has to stop.