The Female Gaze: Penny Plays Halo

Each week in The Female Gaze, Faith Newport engages the trends, events, and issues that affect women—and the men who care about them.

If some of my previous posts about watching The Bachelor and my love affair with knitting haven’t already clued you in, let’s establish right now that I’m a total girl’s girl. Like Debbie Stoller of Bust magazine, I’m a devoted post-feminist who passionately believes that “girlie” stuff is equally as valuable as manly stuff and that the feminist revolution will not dramatically come grinding to a screeching halt if I bake cupcakes now and then. I still get excited about anything with ballerinas on it.

I’ve also recently discovered that I really like video games.

Now, admittedly, I’m not anywhere near being a hardcore gaming nerd. I’m choosy about which games I’ll play, reluctant to take my gameplay too seriously, and if the whole thing doesn’t have interesting graphics, I’m out.

My husband also loves video games. Which makes sense, since the guy is head-to-toe nerd. It also makes sense that since we’re very compatible people, the things that we enjoy about video games look pretty similar. We both like mastering the varying strategies involved, overcoming the challenges, and exploring the story lines contained within a particular game. When it comes to silly ones like MarioKart, I think we enjoy those most for the pure sense of fun involved.

So I had some pretty serious reservations about Russell Moore’s recent comments on video games and pornography.

Among the article’s problematic elements is Moore’s implicit presupposition that only guys enjoy video games and porn, and his analysis of the issue is alarmingly gender-biased. Reality seems to paint a vastly different picture. While performing accurate studies to research pornography use and addiction (for either sex) are logistically difficult, some findings show that one out of every six women struggle with an addiction to pornography. Recent data also notes that 42% of gamers are female and that the fastest growing player demographic is adult women.

So, if guys are primarily into video games and porn because “God intends a man” to crave the things they supposedly replace (just war and marital love with a woman, respectively), then how do you explain the increasing number of girls who are just as susceptible? You could try to say that any female who enjoys either is simply rebelling against her own feminine nature and is spiritually deviant—but that’s a heck of a lot of women to account for!

Maybe we need a better reason, one with a little more logic. Something that makes sense for both genders.

In the book of Genesis, the Bible teaches that both sexes were made in the image of a creative, imaginative God. Our need for self-expression is innate, but how often do average Americans get to really engage their imaginations? How often do we play?

If video games must be a substitute for something, I’d argue that it is at least as reasonable for them to become a stand-in for the imaginative, active play society taught us to outgrow. The idea of needing play could explain why video games have an equally compelling effect on women. It could also explain why one of the most popular games with my husband and his friends is the relatively non-violent Portal, something that the line of thinking Moore is advocating can’t adequately account for.

In this sense, perhaps video games used in moderation can actually accomplish the opposite of what Moore describes. By connecting us to our imaginative cravings, perhaps they bring us a little closer to our roots and a little closer to our imaginative Creator. They can function as a symbolic reminder of parts of our natures that we might otherwise leave unengaged. If that is indeed the case, I can see plenty of reason for guys and girls alike to thank God for video games.

About Faith Newport

Faith Newport writes, knits, drinks lattes, and sings in the shower in a small Midwestern town. She lives with two cats, too many books, and her very patient husband. Follow her on Twitter @knittybarista.

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Faith, thanks for the great article.

    I would add that there are all sorts of things, many of them cultural or structural, that contribute to the deficiency in imaginative play for adults. These include the rising cost of transportation and entertainment (nowhere to go, nothing to do), the increasing specialization of the workforce (often compounding problems of boredom and feelings of purposelessness), and the absence of community/neighborhood life and activities.

    It’s always dangerous to take the rise of one statistic and automatically assume it corresponds to just one other statistic.

  • Faith

    I absolutely agree with you, Ben! But that’s probably a whole other article. ;)

  • Scott G.

    Good article.

    I wonder if Russel Moore knows that there are games other than Call of Duty. Video games do a lot of different things at once: they develop creativity, reward effort (unlike many peoples’ jobs), display vibrant images (sometimes shading into pornography), encourage strategic thinking, form alternate universes (providing a break from the mundane), foster community, celebrate persistent thought (especially in puzzle games), and model reality (especially in games like Civilization). A number of those traits are actually not the traits generals look for in soldiers.

  • http://joshferrisblog.com/ Josh Ferris

    Hey Faith, I’d not seen Moore’s post prior to following your link, but was quite intrigued by the book and accompanying TED video he referenced by Philip Zimbardo. I quite enjoy your writing, so while I offer the following disagreement, it’s as a fellow thinker trying to process through this data with you.

    I didn’t at all feel Moore was suggesting the problem is isolated to males. Rather, he seemed to be offering moral commentary on data/perspective originally submitted by Zimbardo. While video games & porn aren’t exclusively consumed by males, I believe it’s slanted enough in that direction to warrant a categorization.
    My totally non-scientific opinion is that video games & porn avoid what most women seek naturally (at least as I’ve been told by many women in my life) – intimacy, connection, & relationship. While I certainly believe men crave these as well, they tend to be naturally lower in priority therefore becoming subservient to “reproductive and adrenal glands”. This, coupled with the data by Zimbardo describing a decline in male intellectual, social, and sexual maturity is the powder in the proverbial keg.

    I don’t feel it’s irresponsible to identify specific vices as being tailored (intentionally or otherwise) to favor a gender. I can speak first hand of the brilliantly seductive nature of video games and porn on the male brain. I’m likewise confident there are other vices well suited to females…although I’m quite ill-suited to provide any further commentary on what those might be.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, enjoyed the post!

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    I’ve commented on this elsewhere, but for the sake of thoroughness:

    It seems a profound misunderstanding of gaming and gaming addiction to believe that it has anything to do with novelty. There may be some players whose addictions move in that direction (though I’m skeptical), but for the majority of those we identifying as well and truly addicted, novelty seems to be the least of it. Those who express addiction to gaming tend to focus on a singular gaming experience for a longer-than-normal time before moving on. Typically, over the years, when we’ve heard the term addiction tied to video games, it’s linked to a specific gaming experience.

    • World of Warcraft
    • Tetris
    • Starcraft
    • Farmville
    • Halo
    • Call of Duty
    • Civilization
    • Age of Empires

    These are games that players sink hundreds of hours into. These are games that people rearrange their lives for. That Korean guy who had a heart attack didn’t die after playing 50 straight hours of a variety of games; he died playing a single game—one he presumably played a lot and was (over-)diligently practicing. He (and others) choose a game and get good at it, then work hard to get better at it. It’s not about novelty. It’s not about violence. If anything, I’d guess it’s about comfort, visible progress, and a tangible, quantifiable sense of self-worth.

    People who lose jobs, homes, and spouses over WoW aren’t looking for new experiences; they are instead seeking to better something they’re good at and comfortable with. It’s not as if the twentieth time the face down Deathwing they’ll be expecting it to be very much different from the tenth time.

    Beyond the problems you talked about, Faith, I think Moore’s hamstringed by relying on an article that doesn’t match reality. Then, because that is his only point of contact with the experience of gaming (presumably, as I can’t imagine he would have written this post otherwise), he finds himself conjecturing wildly and out of an ignorance of the way things actually are. I think the lesson here is that Christian leaders/speakers/thinkers need to stop feeling like they need to put forth an opinion on issues that are pretty far outside their realm of expertise.

  • Corinne

    “I think the lesson here is that Christian leaders/speakers/thinkers need to stop feeling like they need to put forth an opinion on issues that are pretty far outside their realm of expertise.”

    Agreed.

  • Daniel

    FWIW, I find as a male a “girlly” game to be very addictive: The Sims. In a way, it’s because it’s closer to reality than most games. You grow up, get a job, date, get married, have kids, grow old and die. But it’s in shiny, wonderful colors (even the disgusting parts) and it offers a chance to live a life very much like your own–only avoiding the mistakes (or relishing them in a different way) and 100% consequence-free…it’s really like playing Barbies or with a toy house. (Whereas Halo and other first-person shooters are more like GI Joe as I played for hours as a kid.)

    …except that if you allow it, it can affect your REAL job, your REAL marriage, your REAL kids, etc. And life, unlike the Sims has no do-overs or cheat codes. (Well, there ARE cheat codes, but they tend to be illegal.)

    It’s odd how a game (really, a software “toy” more than strictly a game) that so closely mimics the life from which you’re taking a break can be so addicting.

    It reminds me of the very first Star Trek episode, “The Cage” with Jeffrey Hunter, where illusion became as addictive as crack and destroyed a civilization. Or when revisited in TNG with Barkley’s addiction to the Holodeck.

    Of course, sometimes I play other video games–Civilization, for one. Something very satisfying about creating a nation and defending it against barbarian hordes. It allows a God-like perspective, even with limited power.

    In both the Sims and Civilization, however, I find that I rarely desire evil. Even in Civ, I avoid war and concentrate on building beautiful cities where my people are happy. I have almost a sense of mourning if one of my cities is nuked or enemy infiltrator poison the water supply.

    Maybe I’m just rambling, but I find computer games to be so addictive because they offer control and a world where you can be something you’re not–with very well-defined rules and concepts to improve yourself, instead of real life where even the images of improvement and perfection are I’ll-defined and imperfect.

  • M Burke

    Some people make plastic models in their garage. Some people read books. Some people fly kites. Some drive a motorcycle at insane speeds over treacherous roads… these are hobbies.

    Some people sniff glue, some ignore human interaction and get caught up in books, some people hang themselves with kite string, some people die in motorcycle accidents. The misuse of a hobby does not vilify the hobby any more than the misuse of a hammer makes all carpenters potential murder suspects.

    There seems to be a subtle legalistic thread within what might be termed the “Neo-Calvinist” movement that borders on gnosticism, placing certain activities in life over others as being more holy, more spiritual. We’re told that unless we’re doing “holy” things we’re not being obedient to God, that our worldly hobbies and enjoyment is evil.

    There may be some truth to Moore’s philosophical reasoning as to why certain men gravitate toward certain behaviors, but he cannot draw the conclusion therefore that every guy who sits down to play a bit of Diablo III is addicted and engaging in a war-porn fantasy. (Ever notice how porn always gets dragged into these kinds of conversations? ;) )

    I have noticed that it seems that the folks who tend to say these things are almost always not of traditionally confessionally Reformed denominations and generally are, or are followers of, itinerant or independent Baptist types. I recommend folks read Gene Veith’s book, “God at Work” for an understanding of how God works through our vocations and daily life in general. It might help to give insight on how all of life can be worship, not just the “holy” things we do.


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