I know it might seem a little early to be posting this week’s blog entry for Friday, but I wanted to get some thoughts down about Soderman’s analysis of Diner Dash before playing the game in lab tonight. While I found Soderman’s discussion of the visual representations at stake in Diner Dash, as opposed to simply the gameplay, to be fascinating, I couldn’t help but feel as if his ultimate conclusions about gender within the video game community were a bit off target.
First of all, while I grant that the visuals of the game are important to analyze, I do believe that these are the more “ethereal” aspects of the game, to use a term Soderman later brings up, and should not have been given as much importance as they were given. He writes, “I certainly would not deny the important contribution of studying games and gender outside the framework of representation” (38) and yet does, in his analysis of Diner Dash, seem to largely dismiss such a method of study. Because of the inherent interaction and ultimate goal of creating pleasure that are central to video games, looking mainly at visual representation seems a bit misguided. The visuals are central to something like film, but when user participation is so much a part of the medium, as with video games, the visuals cannot function solely at the level of metaphor that Soderman tries to make them function at. When discussing Flo’s shrugging and yawning during the “waiting” portions of the game, Soderman looks at these actions mainly as a representation of the boredom and ultimate inability to enact “exciting” change faced by women in a modern business setting. What about viewing such actions within the context of gameplay as cues to the player that Flo is inactive and could/should be moving around to various tables and attempting to please customers in order to garner a higher score? When Soderman looks at gender in the context of the creation of casual games as a subgenre of the gaming community, I think his conclusions are far more applicable to the actual social situation we have today with regards to gender roles. Yet to ignore the gameplay component behind Diner Dash’s choices of visual representations to the extent that Soderman does creates, in my opinion, a skewed analysis.
My major qualm with Soderman’s analysis of Diner Dash is that while ostensibly meant to point out and subvert the conceptions of gender roles that are at play in the game in order to call for a video game that uses visual representation to empower the female gamer community, his analysis simply places such stereotypes back out into the world for consumption. Soderman seems willing to accept the gender binary that he sees being reinforced in Diner Dash so much so that his analysis at times verges on the absurd, in my opinion. Does he really need to discuss the opening narrative sequence, in which Flo says, “Man! There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!” (26) in terms of the underlying gender assumptions potentially being made by the use of the term “man”? It seems to me that such an exclamation is simply a part of common discourse that has come to be used almost automatically – whatever its gendered origins may be, they are rarely of importance to those who use such a phrase in practice. Soderman is so keen, though, on emphasizing the male/female rift within the video game community that he jumps on this otherwise innocuous term. It is almost as if he wishes for female gamers to feel empowered in his dismissal of anything even remotely masculine in Diner Dash – as if, for a game to be truly successfully marketed at the female gamer, it must exist solely within the realm of current conceptions of the role of the female.
I think that perhaps the most successful way to create a market for female gamers is to create games with gender neutral visual components. Rather than pandering to a female audience by reinforcing outdated gender roles (and never truly subverting them), game producers should seek those aspects of casual gameplay that can be enjoyed by all people. While females in today’s society might have more desire to play such games because the casual game format is aligned with current time management trends among females, such games could also hold sway over females and males alike who do not fit simply within the framework of gender stereotypes.