Sex, Sport and Video Games

By Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin (January, 2002)
Way back in 1997 Rosemary wrote an article on Females and Computer games based on her experiences and observations of the computer game industry. She wrote then that:

" ... some sort of strategy needs to be devised to destroy the myth that computer games are the sole property of young males."

Now, nearly five years on, little has changed. If anything, the mainstream view that computer games are the sole prerogative of males seems every bit as entrenched. It is a little surprising then that an industry that positively gloats about the speed of technological improvement seems content to drag its feet on this issue. Changing social perceptions it seems is just too hard. Or perhaps everyone is quite content with the status quo; after all, it's easier and safer to simply accept the perceived 'reality' as somehow 'natural' than it is to challenge it.

The magnitude of the problem (assuming that you agree this is a problem) was vividly illustrated for us recently. Rosemary was browsing the computer magazines in our local newsagent when she noticed a well-dressed man hovering near by. He picked up a computer magazine, flicked through it quickly and put it back on the stand. Picked up another and performed the same ritual. Rosemary became aware of his apparent restlessness. Then she noticed that, with no dividers, the computer magazines and the soft porn magazines overlapped. Rosemary moved away to continue browsing in another part of the shop then, as she left, she had to make her way back past the man who was by now completely engrossed in the Playboy article that he had failed to find in the computer section. Rosemary's social faux pas, she realised, was that she had trespassed into clearly delineated, exclusive male territory.

This observation wasn't really new to us. We had been aware for some time (though without giving it a great deal of thought) that computer magazines generally occupied stands close to other male interests. They were never to be found alongside fashion, cooking or even gardening magazines.

As an exercise we recently visited eight of the largest newsagents in our area. Armed with pen and notebook we looked at the general layout and the specific placement of computer magazines which included general computer information as well as PC and console games and Internet magazines.

Without exception the newsagents had two main streams of magazine display stands and although they weren't labelled as such they were easily identified as 'Men's' interests and 'Women's' interests. Computer magazines were invariably ensconced in the 'Men's' section. And not just 'sort of' tending towards the male area but proudly and ruggedly displayed surrounded by car and bike magazines (the latter invariably featuring scantily clad models artfully posed on the throbbing machines). On either side were Surfing and Sports magazines, Men's Health and Body building magazines, even Business and Investment magazines. And, of course, the ubiquitous soft porn of Penthouse and Playboy, Lingerie Pets and numerous other similar titles, and if these were not strong enough large signs exhorted browsers to "inquire about our range of restricted magazines at the counter".

By contrast, the 'Women's' section never featured anything remotely technological. Even magazines about mobile phones were in the 'Men's area. Science too was a seemingly closed 'book' to women as was Astronomy although Astrology was a different matter. It happily shared its space with Weddings, Brides, Babies, Fashion and Clothes. These magazines lined up with the House decorating journals, and magazines on Cooking, Quilting, Crafts Relationships and the inevitable Celebrity Gossip. Everything today's modern Ms could possibly want!

Such is the gender stereotyping on display in Australian Newsagents. We assume it is nationwide as the categories are not arrived at independently by each individual newsagent, but are recommended by the magazine distributors' agents. It would be interesting to know if the same pattern of gender-based display of magazines is to be found in other countries.

Clearly, the problem is not confined to computer magazines. Just as many women might want to browse a computer magazine, many women enjoy Golf and Tennis but to read about them entails a visit to the male domain of Sports magazines. So why make an issue about the placement of Computer magazines? The reason is simple. Computers and computer games are still a relatively recent phenomenon. Their evolution has occurred at the same time as gender stereotyping has been challenged in Western societies. For a modern and, hopefully, forward-looking industry to embrace outmoded and discredited cultural stereotypes makes no sense. Unless deliberately restricting access to your product is a new marketing strategy that we are unaware of. As a popular form of home-based entertainment, like music and television and films on video or DVD, computers and games can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of age or sex.

On a brighter note, changes in attitude will occur though more slowly than we may like. As more and more females take up the use of computers for communication, research and entertainment they will no doubt be drawn to the computer magazine section in Newsagents. The bad news guys is that modern, independent women are less likely to be put off by the placement of these magazines adjacent to those you really want to look at. So if you don't want to waste your time hesitantly waiting around until the coast is clear you had better ask your newsagent to move computer magazines to the neutral corner.

Copyright © Rosemary Young and Gordon Aplin 2002. All rights reserved.