Critic Argues That Game Culture Is For Guys

A cultural critic who regularly critiques modern feminists is weighing in on the ongoing debate about women in games in a new video, arguing that hardcore gaming is mostly a guy thing and saying that those criticizing women's portrayal in mainstream games might as well be knocking women-targeted shows like The View or magazines such as Cosmopolitan for not catering to men.


Citing research the she says indicates a 7:1 male-female gender divide, the American Enterprise Institute's Christina Hoff Sommers counters industry-cited figures that portray women as potentially the majority of the player base. "There are casual game players and there are the hardcore gamers for whom the highly complex video game, competitive video games are a primary life passion—and adult women are not the key demographic here."

Hoff Sommers has long been concerned with what she described in a popular magazine article as The War Against Boys. In her new video, she snarks about "gender police" and presents the likes of critic Anita Sarkeesian's videos about female tropes in video games as an attack on male gamer culture. The video embedded up top contains her argument, but here's the key part, in case you can't watch:

Well, now, gamers are dealing with a new army of critics: gender activists and, I don't know, hipsters with a degree in cultural studies. And these critics are concerned that gaming is largely a hetero-patriarchal capitalist pursuit. Why ... they ask, isn't it more inclusive? Why must there always be male heroes? Why are … females portrayed as either damsels in distress or sex objects? Now, these critics have made some useful points about "sexist tropes and narratives." But they do a lot of cherry-picking and they ignore the fact that the world of gaming has become more inclusive. There are games that fit a vast array of preferences and games with responsibly proportioned and appropriately garbed female protagonists. Yet the video game gender police have become so harsh and intolerant—relentless. Many of them want more than more women on both sides of the video screen—they want the male video game culture to die.

Now, male gamers, as a group, do evince a strong a preference for games with male heroes and sexy women. Could that be because they are, uh, male? There is no evidence that these games are making males racist, misogynist, [or] homophobic. In fact, all the data we have suggest that millennial males—and these are people born and raised in video game nation—they're far less prone to these prejudices than previous generations. Now, imagine if a group of gender critics attacked women-centered shows like Oprah or The View, or women's magazines, for privileging the female perspective, for marginalizing men and treating men like "the other." The fans might be tempted to tell them to bug off—and find your own shows.

The idea of mainstream games being little more than guy-targeted works that assume a fealty to gender stereotypes at the cynical level of a Cosmopolitan magazine will feel on-target to those who see the aggression and marketing of a Call of Duty as a classic "guy thing." But to those of us who assume that anything from Call of Duty to Assassin's Creed to Zelda to Halo can be a game for anyone, it doesn't quite wash. And is the critique of gaming's current levels of diversity really all about whether games turn guys into misogynists?

Hoff Sommers herself says that feminist critics of gaming have made "some useful points" and rightfully praises gamers for mostly being a pretty cool bunch of people, so your takeaway from her video will likely vary as it seems both an affirmation of recent gaming critique and simultaneously a dismissal of it. Let the debate continue, with civility, please!

NOTE: The headline had originally identified Hoff Sommers as a "Conservative Critic," as she is affiliated with the Conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. Hoff Sommers herself clarifies that she does identifies as Libertarian-leaning and is a registered Democrat. I've removed the word "Conservative" from the headline to avoid any confusion.

To contact the author of this post, write to or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.



You know what? The casual/hardcore gamer distinction is horseshit.

It's no different from when book snobs argue that science fiction and fantasy aren't "real literature," or from when film hipsters condemn any movie that isn't a black and white four hour french tragedy as "mainstream trash."

You know that stereotype of the insufferable indie kid who automatically hates any band that becomes popular? When you start dumping on "casual" gamers, that's you.

Yeah, you can argue that something like Angry Birds isn't as deep as something like Warcraft, and that's certainly true. But who the hell cares? Those are differences in genre; they're two different kinds of games, the way Persona is a different kind of game from Halo and Smash Bros. is a different kind of game from EVE Online.

Hardcore vs. Casual never adds up to a meaningful distinction; more complexity does not automatically make a game better. The only reason the concept persists is because it's an easy way for bullies and snobs to exclude gamers from the community.

Case in point: the "gender divide" she cites to justify the argument that game culture is for men. Since the argument that male gamers outnumber females has been pretty much murdered by facts, the excuse that the Real-Gaming-Requires-a-Penis club falls back on is the argument that women only play "casual" titles and thus their concerns don't count.

Well, even if that were true, it would still be a weak-ass excuse. The terms have become completely objective. At this point the definition of "hardcore" basically means "whatever games the person speaking plays." I've seen people argue that Mario is casual ("all you do is jump") that The Sims is casual ("it's just a fancy dollhouse") or that World of Warcraft is casual ("it's not nearly as complex as [name of poster's preferred MMO.]")

It's just another meaningless distinction that jerks use to make themselves feel special, and to exclude other people (and women in particular) from their gaming club.

As for this argument:

those criticizing women's portrayal in mainstream games might as well be knocking women-targeted shows like The View or magazines such as Cosmopolitan for not catering to men.

Show me the last time one of the hosts of The View stalked, harassed, and threatened to rape a man because he was caught watching her program, and we'll talk.