I’ve been at Sweden Game Conference all week. I did a talk on UX workflows that I’ll get back to later on. I did however have several conversations with a bunch of women in the games industry or about to go into the industry.
One of the things we talked about was comfort games that we play to feel better, that make us feel comforted, that we love and enjoy. When I’ve discussed playing habits with most people who are represented, or who do research1 on people who are represented (a.k.a. white men) my playing habits always seem to be an anomaly, to be the exception rather than the rule.
The exception in this case is to return to games over and over again and play them as comfort games, just like some of us view TV shows and movies over and over again.
We had a long discussion around this and most of the women around the table seemed to agree that this is something most of us do. Most of us had games where we were represented that we returned to. Games like The Sims, the Mass Effect series, the Dragon Age series and for me nowadays Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the Horizon games from Guerilla.
(Just to try this hypothesis out, I did a quick Twitter poll, see below. I’m not sure if it actually proved anything. Except that I have more women followers than men, maybe.)
A question in a very informal poll. Do you have a comfort game? Do you identify as man, woman, non binary or outside of the binary?
Poll continued from previous tweet!
— Imperator Furiåsa (@devilkitten) October 16, 2022
All of us got curious as to why this was a thing, because our hypothesis was that white men2 don’t seem to do it to the same degree as women do, also reinforced by previous conversations I’ve had with Immyrsive representatives and the way everyone seems to be playing games. White men seem perfectly happy to move from game to game.
Someone – and at this point I can’t remember who it was who mentioned it – floated the idea that because white men tend to be represented in games, maybe they feel less of a need to have a comfort game.
Representation of any group outside the default white, Western, cis man, be it Black, Asian, Latino, indigenous, mixed race, women, trans people, non-binary, or outside the binary people tends to be very scarce. The numbers are not very encouraging in triple-A and any change that’s happening is excruciatingly slow.
My hypothesis, building on the discussion we had, is that if we find a game we feel comfy with, the fact that we do feel comfy with it is kind of tare and so we stick with that game.
I listened to a young trans gay man talking about LGBTQI+ in games at the conference and how powerful it had been for him to see himself and be able to play himself as a trans queer man in a game. Tears were shed, and I kind of understand him. It is that same overwhelmingly powerful feeling that me and a friend had when seeing Wonder Woman rush across No Man’s Land and deflect the bullets that flew at her. We cried. Not because it was in any way a cinematic masterpiece, but because we were not used to seeing a woman be the superhero. We felt represented.
Look at the reaction videos of young Black girls seeing a Black Little Mermaid in the Little Mermaid trailer. They can barely believe that Ariel is Black.
I believe that for as long as groups that are not considered the “default” remain outside the mainstream, comfort games will most likely continue to be a strong aspect of what type of media those groups consume. Or at least that’s my hypothesis.
I also believe – in the name of capitalism etc – that there are several blue sky areas out there, untapped markets that game companies could dip into and make huge profits off of. Question is, do they have the awareness, knowledge, business acumen, and bravery to do so?
- This was primarily Immyrsive that – when I spoke to them – only tested on boys and men. Likewise, a research assistant doing research around the effect of violent games on children, did research only on boys, in his case because – and I quote “girls are so hormonal”. Even before puberty apparently.
- I’ll explain why I specify white men specifically in a bit.