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The mixed blessing of 'Girlfriend Mode'
The mixed blessing of 'Girlfriend Mode'
September 20, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

September 20, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
Comments
    68 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Design, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



In the recent furor about Gearbox's apparent suggestion of a "girlfriend mode" for Borderlands 2, I've been refraining from comment. This is partially because I don't like, as a woman writer on games, when I am conscripted to act as an authority on every gender-oriented debate.

Mostly, though, it was because I privately felt it was a case of some problematic wording of an otherwise-good idea.

I'm glad people felt outraged about an AAA studio's easy reliance on stereotypes in conversation, but I think the studio's John Hemingway, who made the infamous comments to Eurogamer, deserves a little bit of a break. Even he admitted that the title "girlfriend skill tree" existed "for lack of a better term," and it was the press that latched onto the pat "girlfriend mode" to describe a scenario where a more hardcore player could enjoy being accompanied by a less-acclimated one.

Of course we have to be careful about the insinuation that women are somehow by nature not going to be as skillful as men at core games, and we can't use language that perpetuates that idea, because ideas promote the reality. I've often felt there's nothing fundamental to core games that prohibits or alienates women, and that it's the culture in media that continues to present a world where console games are something your boyfriend does, not you.

Yet that culture exists, and in order to surmount it we need a way to make women feel like games are something they can join in on without an intimidating entry barrier. Maybe the scenario where a guy wants to encourage his girlfriend to play Borderlands is not the only one where a less-experienced player would join one who is moreso -- but I think the culture clash wouldn't exist to begin with if it weren't at least a fairly common one.

Yes, it's a bad way of calling it, because I don't have a girlfriend, but I have a lot of girl friends, and they don't play video games, and I hope having a comfortable co-op skill tree might entice them to play along with me. My best friend is actually often actively off-put by video games (she has only ever liked L.A. Noire), and I wish that weren't the case. Fortunately, "Best Friends Forever," not "girlfriend mode," was Gearbox's own formal designation of the skill tree in question, so we're covered.

I mean, if I were good at Borderlands and my dude friends weren't, I'd hope they took the friend-position to learn the game with me. But the fact is many more of my dude friends play video games, or at the very least have never received the social message about how they're not supposed to want to.

I'm going to assume that in describing that feature Hemingway went for the most obvious "for example," rather than intending to be reductive. The scenario by which someone would use a friend mode to welcome their girlfriend into the game with them is certainly not the only scenario where this kind of skill tree would be a nice feature, but it's probably a common one that loads of people might like to have, so long as it's not titled in an insulting way.

And now I don't have to keep that opinion to myself, because behavioral research consultancy Simple Usability has done a recent study that supports it.

The study looked at how feature descriptions influence user interest, and how including a "Girlfriend Mode," with that title, would affect perceptions of Borderlands 2. It recruited four male and four female participants over the age of 18 who regularly play video games, and asked them to look at modified listings on versions of online shopping pages like UK's Amazon, GAME and Play.com.

Initially the study -- which included eye-tracking as users browsed the ads -- found that seeing "Girlfriend Mode" prominently billed as a game feature captured curiosity and interest. It also quizzed another set of eight adult gamers, where seven were women, about their reactions to the feature. Six of those eight felt negatively about the wording.

"I don't particularly like it when people call it 'girlfriend mode,'" reported one participant, "I find it patronizing... playing on that girls are not so good at games as boys."

However, the study found that even offended participants, like me, had a comprehension of the ultimate goal of the feature, that it was geared toward less-experienced players in general, not actually women or girlfriends in specific.

"Despite a negative response overall to its description as 'Girlfriend mode,' users responded positively to the idea of having extra assists enabled for less-experienced co-op partners," said the study. "Users thought the feature would allow the less-experienced players to contribute more meaningfully to the in-game experience, which they felt was a positive outcome of the mode."

The "Girlfriend Mode" label on the online listing attracted much interest, though, with both male and female participants expressing interest: "Loads of girls play on Xbox with their boyfriends... It'd be good for me, I've only started playing a year ago, they've been playing years whereas I've not," said one.

Ultimately, the study found people think "assisted co-operative play would be beneficial, but that it should be described in a more appropriate way."

However, there's an unpleasant lesson here for marketers. When the study offered advertisements that removed the controversial wording and simply billed it as a "play with friends" co-op feature, users reacted less strongly to the ads in general. And those that were offended by the wording of "Girlfriend Mode" were not deterred from their interest in the product by that offense.

Disappointing but predictable conclusion: Buzz-worthy marketing that plays on gamers' sense of justice to incite their curiosity about features that turn out to be pretty grounded? It works.

When we all got upset about "girlfriend mode," it made many -- clearly, myself included -- take a closer look at the role of assisted play. Now we know Borderlands 2 may be especially suited for us to play with our friends and partners.

You're welcome, Gearbox?







Comments


Adam Learmonth
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I know it's only a minor point of the article, but results drawn from a study involving just eight participants would not pass a peer review anywhere on the planet. You need about ten times as many data samples before coming to any definitive conclusions. (Having said that, I believe the conclusions would probably be similar in a larger study).

Mitchell Fujino
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Seems there's a bit of a straw man here, as I don't recall anyone in the original discussion arguing that the mode was a bad idea. Nor was anyone (that I recall) arguing that sex (and sexism) doesn't sell.
The controversy was always over calling out the sexist language used to describe the mode.

Also, the study linked only concludes that 8 out of 8 people looked at the "Girlfriend Mode" banner, while only 7 out of the eight people looked at the rather bland wording "Co-op Design". I could do a study that shows the label "Free Sex Inside!" attracts the eye even more, but I'm not sure what that would prove.

Matt Robb
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It's about the irony that the feature was really only noticed because of the controversy caused by Hemingway calling it "girlfriend mode" and that the nickname for the feature actually got the concept across more quickly than calling it something like "assisted co-op".

Pretty common concept. People who are comfortable with each other can use certain vocabulary without offending each other that would offend members of the general public.

Mitchell Fujino
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Well yeah, provocative language attracts more attention. That's a given. The argument is that as developers and public figures, we have an obligation to make our provocative advertising non-sexist, if we want our community to improve and be more inclusive.

Matt Robb
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No argument there. The irony still amuses me though.

Darcy Nelson
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"And those that were offended by the wording of "Girlfriend Mode" were not deterred from their interest in the product by that offense."

1 out of 1 people in my household were deterred from buying this product because they didn't appreciate the sexist implications in the wording of that feature.

"Seems there's a bit of a straw man here, as I don't recall anyone in the original discussion arguing that the mode was a bad idea. "

Sums up my thoughts exactly.

Chris Proctor
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The product does not and was never planned to have a feature by that name. Picking apart games based on anything internal to development but invisible to the player is not a great path IMO.

Darcy Nelson
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"The product does not and was never planned to have a feature by that name."

Yes, but it was called that in an public interview by a representative of the company with no apology given for the choice of language.

I can choose to not give my money developers who think that this sort of behavior is okay. That being said, I take this 'path' with any company who wants to sell me something because I don't like to reward bad behavior. For example, you'll never see me buy a chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A because of their practice of anti-gay endorsements, and I don't care how frigging good they're supposed to be.

You vote with your dollars, after all.

Chris Proctor
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You're damning a company for one off the cuff remark made by one representative, when the feature is not/never called that in game and they've apologised?

Well ok. Seems like you'd be better off lambasting companies whose products are sexist, to me. There are plenty of them. Gearbox isn't one.

Megan Swaine
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DID he apologize?

Jakub Majewski
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He had nothing to apologise for.

Joe Wreschnig
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"Picking apart games based on anything internal to development but invisible to the player is not a great path IMO."

How many times are people going to make the claim that we shouldn't be discussing game development on a site about game development? If you don't want to talk about things internal to development, just shut up already.

Joshua Griffiths
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@Chris Proctor You're right, the point is they only called it "girlfriend mode" internally knowing if they did call it that in the final game people would have a problem with it. If they were calling it that internally, knowing they'd have to change the final name to avoid people thinking they were sexist, doesn't that put up any red flags in your mind?

Michael Rooney
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"Yes, but it was called that in an public interview by a representative of the company with no apology given for the choice of language."

"...for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree"

What do you think, "for the lack of a better term," means?

I, quite frankly, find the negative reaction to "girlfriend mode" more sexist than "girlfriend mode" itself.

Darcy Nelson
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"What do you think, "for the lack of a better term," means?"

Allow me to answer your rhetorical question! It means Hemingway couldn't bother to spend the extra 2 iota of brainpower to call it just about anything else without a blatantly sexist connotation, eg. "BFF Mode".

" I, quite frankly, find the negative reaction to "girlfriend mode" more sexist than "girlfriend mode" itself."

That's called male privilege.

Adam Bishop
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"You're damning a company for one off the cuff remark made by one representative, when the feature is not/never called that in game and they've apologised?"

If I was doing PR for my company and I said something that reflected poorly on them they would immediately put out a press release distancing themselves from my remarks because as a formal representative of the company in a public setting everything that I say will be taken as being representative of them.

Dave Troyer
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@Darcy - I understand your outcry for equality and the choice to not support a company that has made a mistake that you feel passionately about. I really do.

But...

How can there be equality if people are using terms like "girl friend mode" AND "male privilege"?

Hemingway was in an interview situation, which is fairly stressful. Whats there to say that someone who has a project that is near and dear to their hearts isn't a bit nervous sharing a feature with the world? Yes, I agree that girlfriend mode is not the right term by any means, but I disagree that this man should be roasted over it.

Racism, sexism, and all these other isms are unfortunately still here. They aren't necessarily fair or right and should be educated against, not cursed and spat on. Ignorance is merely not having enough experience and knowledge to know any better, and in a (last time I checked) male dominated industry, it will take a little bit of education and patience to get everyone on the same page here, let alone the rest of the world.

But that's just my opinion. I'd rather keep people listening to thoughtful arguments and educated discussion than to shame them all away with harsh words and self-righteous proclamations.

Maria Jayne
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I think it's a testament to how far western civilization has come that we question and argue an off the cuff comment made during a video game interview.

You know...as opposed to stoning women in the street.

Perspective, always worth having some. If this is the most offensive thing my gender has to deal with, I'm not losing sleep over it.

Uzoma Okeke
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"That's called male privilege."

I disagree. Everyone knew what he meant by the term "girlfriend mode." He meant a variation of gaming to allow the average person who does not play hardcore or AAA games to experience it. Although women have made a substantial increase in the gaming community, one can say that it is more related to casual games. Male privilege is a phrase that derives from a minority point-of-view where men benefit from their gender. I don't see how that is relevant in this regard. If anything, I would say that it is because males are considered the majority that the term girlfriend mode was used, the same way that if women were the majority of hardcore gamers he would have used boyfriend mode. But just because the word "girl" is in there, it does not mean that it is only limited to women, as there are many men who do not play hardcore games, as well. Anyone who found something degrading from the phrase is either looking to find something wrong with the phrase, or sensitive on the subject of gender rights.

Moreover, "BFF Mode" would have, in no way, been able to relay the same meaning. Not to mention that that would also imply a relation to women, as men rarely call their closest friends "bff." If anything, he should have used "casual gamer mode", but if you tear away at that, you can find gender in it, too.

If you look for trouble, you'll find trouble. And that's pretty much how the press sees things. It just so happens that some people take the bait.

Trent Tait
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"That's called male privilege."

Google "hypocrite".

Seriously it's time to grow up people. He meant no offense and you know it. Save your offended sensibilities for when they're really needed.

Darcy Nelson
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"I'd rather keep people listening to thoughtful arguments and educated discussion than to shame them all away with harsh words and self-righteous proclamations."

If my vocabulary is strong, it's because I often feel this is the only way to get people to understand how serious of an issue this is. People never change unless you're ready to hit them with a proverbial baseball bat.

---

"You know...as opposed to stoning women in the street."

Perspective, always worth having some. If this is the most offensive thing my gender has to deal with, I'm not losing sleep over it."

Maria, this is for you:

http://www.shakesville.com/2011/07/point-you-are-proving-it.html

Just because women have had it worse in the past doesn't mean sexist language should be tolerated. I mean, can you honestly say that using the feminine as an equivalent for categorically crappy game players makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside? It's one thing to be only mildly perturbed, it's entirely another to dismiss the issue out of hand because somewhere else horrible violence was visited on women for any number of terrible reasons.

----

"Everyone knew what he meant by the term "girlfriend mode."

Of course I did, and that's why it was offensive.

"Male privilege is a phrase that derives from a minority point-of-view where men benefit from their gender. I don't see how that is relevant in this regard."

I found this statement ironic, since you followed it up with this:

"If anything, I would say that it is because males are considered the majority that the term girlfriend mode was used, the same way that if women were the majority of hardcore gamers he would have used boyfriend mode."

Then clearly you understand exactly how male privilege works. If you're in the majority, you can get away with behavior that would otherwise be considered unacceptable if things were more equal.

"Anyone who found something degrading from the phrase is either looking to find something wrong with the phrase, or sensitive on the subject of gender rights."

Yeah, about that. http://www.shakesville.com/2008/02/feminism-101-feminists-look-fo
r-stuff.html

"Google "hypocrite".

Seriously it's time to grow up people. He meant no offense and you know it."

I assume by "Google" you mean look the word up in the dictionary as if I lack some understanding of the term. It's not hypocritical for me to point out the privileged position of someone who is in the unfortunate majority who thinks misogyny is a non-issue.

"Save your offended sensibilities for when they're really needed."

An entire article was written on Gama (I site I frequent) questioning the merits of getting worked up over the misogynist framing of an otherwise interesting and progressive take on inclusive gameplay. I think that's worth a few of my offended sensibilities.

Unfortunately, I think Hemingway's use of "girlfriend mode" is but one of many indicators of a much, much larger problem in gaming and culture, and wholly eclipses any warm-fuzzies I had about this new stride in multiplayer.

Some of you may be wondering why I decided to turn this seemingly non-issue into a soapbox. I'm doing it because it's the accumulation of these little remarks I see every single day which indicate to me that misogyny is alive and well. It gets to me. Being a woman, I can't walk out the door, log onto the internet, turn on the TV without being assailed with things that tell me I am less than. The least-common denominator. It might be invisible to some of the men out there, and women may say it doesn't bother them, but it does bother me.

I'm not going to refrain from voicing my displeasure with this pervasive, disgusting and frustrating attitude that people keep insisting is fine and proper and what are you getting so mad about anyway. I've got a figurative hammer here, and I'm going to keep pounding away with it 'til I can open up some skulls and pour a little perspective in them."Everyone knew what he meant by the term "girlfriend mode."

Lyon Medina
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@Darcy- Latest post

http://www.shakesville.com/2011/07/point-you-are-proving-it.html

I am not sure if you gave the right articles, but this article specifically just doesn't make sense to me as how it refers to the situation. The article speaks of one young girls horrific experience with someone who was obviously trying to just get laid. (by any means necessary)

Brief Excerpt-

"actually, at four in the morning—um, we were at the hotel bar, 4am, I said, you know, "I've had enough, guys, I'm exhausted, going to bed," uh, so I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me, and said, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more; would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?"

Which is horrific, and no person should ever have to endure what she did. Ever.

"It gets to me. Being a woman, I can't walk out the door, log onto the internet, turn on the TV without being assailed with things that tell me I am less than. The least-common denominator. It might be invisible to some of the men out there, and women may say it doesn't bother them, but it does bother me."

I apologize for maybe sounding rude, but what do you read, look and spend most of your time doing that you’re constantly being hassled, and feeling less of human being? Are you looking for these specific instances?

I am half Mexican and Cuban, and if I look for racists remarks on the internet trust me I can find them. Same for anyone else. This is a very digital age where people can say anything they want and for the most part never feel any moral repercussions for their words. They also never feel any remorse for the people they hurt or mentally crush while using the web.

Please try to understand that not every situation has to be blended into one another just because one person was treated unfairly in Miami, does not mean the same circumstance is being affected globally to re-create that same instance over and over again in each instance.

I am not trying to sound condescending even though it may seem like it, I just want to get the point across that maybe you should see the flip side of the coin and see that there is equality with many by many. Not just in-equality for everyone by some.

Uzoma Okeke
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"Then clearly you understand exactly how male privilege works. If you're in the majority, you can get away with behavior that would otherwise be considered unacceptable if things were more equal. "

Yes I do. Which is why I feel this isn't a proper example. I think you are confusing male privilege with a target audience. Target audience is a business strategy. If the primary buyers of hardcore games are male, you develop games that will attract that audience. A strategy that many companies (with the exception to Nintendo and a few others) do to this day. Even Assassin's Creed, a game whose lead producer is a woman, had a male centralized character. In all honesty, the gender of the character has little impact, as well. I know plenty of males (myself included) that play the role of a female character in games, when given the option. In gaming, there is no advantage to being a man then being a woman. Men and women get treated the same during online gameplay; even if women mistreatment has a higher percentage and greater varieties of verbal abuse, it is still apparent to both genders and to all races as well. That's just idiots being idiots. And idiotic ideals show no discrimination. If men could get away with actions towards women, then there would be no reason for games and online networks providing ban and report options for players whose behavior and attitudes were unacceptable. There's no irony in what I said. I don't view this as a proper example of male privilege.

"Yeah, about that. http://www.shakesville.com/2008/02/feminism-101-feminists-look-fo
r-stuff. html"

You are aware that this article, like so many of the ones that you have posted, is from a feminist's opinion of a male's point-of-view, right? If you go fishing, and you are looking for fish, and you say you caught a fish, it doesn't mean that what you're saying is true. Whether or not that makes sense, I think it gets my point across. you can find something in everything. For example, I could find racism in the fact that you are defending women, but not people of color, because you only outline female discrimination as what's most important, versus discrimination alone. I can also validate my statement through articles that show that the greatest sign of discrimination is exclusion for fighting for the same rights that are prohibited to other minorities.
But we both know that isn't true. I'm not saying that all feminists actions are searching for what isn't there, or that every accusation of sexism isn't valid. I'm saying that THIS particular case is less than what people make it to believe. If you are stating that these occurrences of female discrimination in gaming are too frequent, then I apologize for the misunderstanding. But that's not the message I'm getting from you.

"'Everyone knew what he meant by the term 'girlfriend mode.' '

Of course I did, and that's why it was offensive."

Again, I feel you're interpretation is inaccurate. The term "girlfriend mode" is a point-of-view, easily substituted for women as "boyfriend mode." It refers to those in relationships with someone that does not play games, yet would be interested in a simplified way to get into it. Most men, with girlfriends, can agree that many of them do not play hardcore games. Since a male said this, I can see why he would use girlfriend mode. I guess he should have emphasized that he had no intent to insult an entire gender or select category....

Honestly, I would be behind you 100% if he has said something like "woman mode" or "vagina mode" or "if you aren't a man mode" (probably not as much on the latter, because that could also be an insult to male gamers whose skills are lack luster) because THOSE phrases refer to ALL women, regardless of whether they are girlfriends or not, and could be considered an insult even if a woman said the same thing.

Like I said before, I feel that the phrase just has the possibility of many interpretations. But to call it sexist is a stretch. Because it could have, and would have, been worse if that were the intention or belief behind it.

Mike Weldon
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Car companies will now be referring to automatic transmission as "girlfriend mode", so you don't have to worry about your little lady getting confused by all those pedals anymore.

Eric Ruck
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Oddly the only two people I know who drive manual are women.

Trent Tait
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@Eric

I drive a manual, but you don't know me.

My ex drives a 4WD and goes camping, hiking and rock climbing. I do all these things too... when a game permits them :P

Megan Swaine
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So a study...with only 8 people in it...is supposed to make it okay to use casually sexist language when promoting a game?

"Play with friends" didn't get as much attention because it was BORING. Speaking as a writer, honestly, if you can't write better copy than THAT without resorting to sexist stereotypes, you should probably quit your day job. Also "Co-op Design" is totally ambiguous and doesn't even make any sense.

Trent Tait
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Before you go on too much of a rampage, maybe YOU should come up with a name for the mode that expresses everything "girlfriend mode" does without offending anyone. I see you haven't done this and you had time to prepare.

Also, it's time for you to get a life. He was not intending to offend you and you know it.

Vin St John
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@Megan - These were my thoughts exactly. The real problem here is not that people are attracted to controversy (a conclusion some people seem to be drawing) but that people are attracted to concise messages that ACTUALLY convey what is interesting about the feature.

1. "Girlfriend Mode" is concise and strongly conveys what is interesting about the feature. Unfortunately it's only able to do so because of some truths about the state of gender imbalance in the gaming world, and it's an ugly phrase to anyone who might be sensitive about that fact (which is obviously going to include a lot of female gamers).

2. Telling someone who casually uses the term "girlfriend mode" for "lack of a better term" to use something else is pointless unless you actually offer them a better term. Now obviously you can make the argument that the potential to offend due to sexism should outweigh the fear of not getting their point across - but a more effective solution would be to propose a better term than the original which solves BOTH problems (i.e. conveys the meaning well WITHOUT offending).

Nintendo has had similar training-wheels-co-op before, and they called it "Co-Star Mode" (in Super Mario Galaxy). That term isn't great though - I don't think it conveys the information that this is an assisted co-op feature meant to bring people up to speed.

The best energies people can put toward solving this problem are:
1) Acknowledging the original problem ("girlfriend mode" is an informative but sexist term)
2) Brainstorming new terms that might actually get some use through the natural conversation of game developers (the same way "girlfriend mode" must have at some point)

Sean Scarfo
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Sigh... I'm going to call this how I see it. The article is trying to say that by calling a game mode by a nick name, society is going to roll backwards 50+ years and assume women are incompetent. I'm sorry, even implying that is not doing anyone any justice.

When an idea or topic that promotes a woman's agenda and puts down a man (any man), then that's ok, but the second an accidental nick name for a 'game mode' is said that is SLIGHTLY politically incorrect, women are up in arms. When women can stop calling men's undershirts 'wife beaters', and will stop calling men 'pigs' for acting like alpha males, then I'll worry about political correctness.

BTW, girlfriend mode probably was called that for a reason... every girlfriend I've ever had (including my now wife) has been less than game savvy at best, and didn't know how to learn how to play at worst. Don't get me wrong, each women has his or her own strengths (my wife saves peoples lives on a daily basis)... but STATISTICALLY... playing video games isn't one of them, which is usually driven by desire.

Jakub Majewski
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Shhh, you're talking facts now, Sean. That's not allowed - facts are sexist! ;)

(next controversy - bridal dresses for women! Oh, how sexist!)

Toby Grierson
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Did you read the article?

The one that says "I wasn't gonna get worked up over this ... I don't like it but the data shows that it really isn't bad marketing ... they say they're upset but they're not really that upset and with milder language they're less likely to notice the feature"?

A commenter above you – Darcy Nelson – paints the article in an opposite light from you. I dare say it's because she can read more than a sentence before jumping down to "reply".

"but STATISTICALLY"

Statistics without numbers are called "ass pulls" where I come from.

E McNeill
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I'm with Toby: Did you even read this article? Is this parody? Leigh is hardly jumping down his throat. You're overreacting so much it's comical.

Rob B
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Start off with a straw-man, then go in to self pity, and get 4 up votes. Wow...

This is mountain out of a molehill stuff here. The developer made a dumb comment should have apologised, everyone should have moved on with their lives.

If you want to argue that there are more important things than some off the cuff daft comment Im right with you. There are far more severe disparities going on out there and you have to pick your battles rather than get worked up over everything, not least because itll drive you mad to think like that. but what I cant stand is this kind of 'Im a victim too' drivel that gets trotted out when a guy gets called out on his crap.

You are not oppressed, you will on average be paid more, have more promotions, and get more opportunities. Comparing being called a pig to what women have to put up with is like comparing skipping lunch to being a starving man, its pathetic.* and if it turned out you skipped lunch because someone came along and gave it to the starving guy you are really not that much of a victim, and you should be ashamed of trying to insist that you are.

Ultimately its really simple. If a group are worse off, you should help them. If that group is angry because they are worse off, thats understandable. You dont get to jump on the worse off train when you are entirely the opposite of worse off.

As for you Majewski, you little troll you, the facts are well studied. Women have a lower place in society on just about every metric. Not that I expect you to give a damn, you people are too busy feeling sorry for yourself and making inane comments.


*About 80% of players both male and female are aware of this being a major issue. (Which I will note is in stark contrast to the percentage of these loud mouth comments being by butt hurt guys thinking its unfair that women are kind of pissed off about all sorts of things big and small.) Nearly a third of all female gamers have quit because of abuse a tenth of female gamers permanently quit. Naturally the majority of female gamers (Nearly 70%) feel the need to conceal there sex. So please please do tell me how oppressed you are for being called a pig, its clearly a completely equivalent situation.

Uzoma Okeke
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Rob,

I completely agree that this is more than what it needs to be. But I think you're reading too deep to what Sean said. Sean's examples do not relate to the oppression of a gender overall, but to minor incidents that both sexes go throw, specifically being "politically correct." I would say that being called a pig and girlfriend mode are not to same extremes as the example you gave. He's more or less speaking on hypocrisy, sensitivity, and people relating any and every incident to a grander form of discrimination (whether it has something to do with it or not). Not once did he ever say that men have it just as rough, that's just an implication. Yes, women and other minorities are held lower than the white male, but what does that have to do with the article in question? As far as I'm concerned (and correct me if I'm wrong) but I don't see how anyone's rights, skills, or image is being hurt by this.

Personally, I think this topic should have ended when people realized that it wasn't the mode that people disagreed with, but the wording.

James Cooley
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"1 out of 1 people in my household were deterred from buying this product because they didn't appreciate the sexist implications in the wording of that feature."

Did you actually plan to buy it? Did you cancel an actual order? Did you play the first game?

Basically, did an actual sale get canceled or one that wasn't going to occur anyway?

I proudly boycott many things I wasn't going to buy anyway.

Now I actually did refuse to buy Mass Effect 3. I joined a somewhat organized boycott of the game who felt the quality had suffered. I played both prior games and had saved characters ready to import into the final installment. What I did represented an actual lost sale.

Looking at statistics by gender for gaming, it seems to be that overall males are the strong majority (roughly a 60/40 split). If one looks by genre, it may be even more pronounced with shooter games. Statistically, it is more likely that the seasoned player is male.

Nor is this unusual. A friend has a tech review site that tracks his hits. It is over 90 percent male.

In my household, the males tend to play the games. In my daughter's household, her husband plays them more than her.

For whatever reason, more men play games.

Now, Gearbox could have called their silly idea "sister mode" or "noob mode" or whatever. I simply question whether the offense is real or a teensy bit manufactured. There are far worse offenders out there.

It is also funny that a game where gruesome death if perfectly OK generates articles because someone made a casual reference to "girlfriend mode". Killing nearly everything you meet in a game is fine, but don't make a lame joke about girls players.

On the plus side, as least the female in-game player seems to wear roughly the same amount clothes as the three males. Oh wait, you get three men to play as -- but only one girl!

Sexist!

Now, am I pooh-poohing over-the-top sexism in games? Uh, no.

One reason I didn't get Duke Nukem Forever because it seemed to treat women in overtly degrading ways. It was misogyny on parade. However, the irony is the voice actor for Duke went out of his way to note that the filthiest stuff came from the female writer.

I also am sympathetic to women who get tired of dealing with male rudeness in online games. If it is any comfort, these jerks are just as annoying to the more mature men players who are not idiots. I gave up on a few online shooters for a while after dealing with jerks.

Darcy Nelson
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"Did you actually plan to buy it? Did you cancel an actual order? Did you play the first game?

Basically, did an actual sale get canceled or one that wasn't going to occur anyway?"

I didn't play the first one, but I heard nothing but good things about it and I was really looking forward to (yes, buying!) the sequel. I was watching the press for more details, and that was of course how I stumbled on the interview. It really took the wind out of my sails.

Funny that you mention Duke Nukem, I didn't get nearly as riled up about towering monolith of over-the-top machismo that since I knew from the outset I wasn't interested in it.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"Funny that you mention Duke Nukem, I didn't get nearly as riled up about towering monolith of over-the-top machismo that since I knew from the outset I wasn't interested in it."

So the outrage here is only agreeable because you care for the product in this specific instance, not because it's objectively outrageous and you are ready to ignore other comparably worse instances warranting outrage because you don't care for the product.

You aren't honestly interested in this "sexism" debate at all then.

Joe Wreschnig
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So if she criticizes games she's not going to buy, that's hypocritical.

But if she doesn't criticize games she's not going to buy, that's hypocritical.

Yep, this isn't a weird standard where you're just trying to delegitimize anything women say about games AT ALL.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"Yep, this isn't a weird standard where you're just trying to delegitimize anything women say about games AT ALL."

Why? Because Darcy happens to be a woman I'm now trying to "silence women" by pointing out she isn't interested in the debate, just making a fuss?
Please, get your head on straight.

Darcy Nelson
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"So the outrage here is only agreeable because you care for the product in this specific instance, not because it's objectively outrageous and you are ready to ignore other comparably worse instances warranting outrage because you don't care for the product."

It's more like I expected Duke Nukem to be exactly what it is, Borderlands was upsetting because it came out of the blue.

"You aren't honestly interested in this "sexism" debate at all then."

I'm honestly interested in it. That's why I commented on this article, after all.

wes bogdan
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From what i heard there's also a hardcore tree with the necromanser so even if a increase bounding box so even when you missed you'd hit something.

Of course girlfriend mode will enrage and offend girls who are capable players while those that have a hard time and i mean even harder than needing to create your own scheme as i did back on ps2 those players would most likely play the old mario games because it just wasn't a priority for them.

Ron Dippold
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I know two people who are very interested in this feature. One doesn't have the hand-eye coordination (nerve damage) and one is nearly legally blind. Both male.

Alternatively, a quick poll of male gamer friends over several beers (for maximum honesty), with a sample size nearly as large as this study, shows that most were horrified at the idea of playing a game like B2 with their SOs because 1) there goes your 'me' time, 2) afraid of laughing at something sexist she won't find funny, 3) she might be better at it than you.

The one female polled said she had no interest since Mists of Pandaria was coming out.

Great idea, very bad off the cuff remark.

Steven Christian
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This is old news.
Though to add my 2c, my 'girlfriend' and I both pre-ordered the game before any news of a girlfriend mode was released.
She admits that she is not very good at these games and maybe the Mechromancer will help here, but the class hasn't even been released yet, and I can't imagine that she would want to start over once she has started levelling a new character unless there were some fairly signifigant easy-mode benefits that would increase her enjoyment.
Regardless of the class being added or not, we both have fun with the variety of classes, and any addition to this isn't a bad thing, especially with the brand new mechanics that the class introduces.
In fact when I heard about this mode, I knew that we had made the right choice in pre-ordering the game already.

Joe Wreschnig
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"This is old news."

Really? Where did you see this study before? It's not even up on Simple Usability's blog yet, and Google only shows one other site linking to the study, from three days ago. (I assume SU sent out a press release around then.)

Oh wait, you mean something that *isn't what the article is about* is old news?

Here is some more old news: Steven Christian can't reliably derive meaning from text.

Arthur De Martino
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There isn't a "girlfriend mode" in Borderlands 2, but a class that bas a newbie friendly talent tree, it wasn't market as a "girlfriend mode" either, rather it was commentary made by one of the developters, referencing the name fans gave to the co-op mode in Mario Galaxy 2.

The fact people who had no idea of the context cried "sexism" shows the true colors of this wave of criticism. One must understand the thing they are decrying before labeling ideas, behaviours and commentaries.

Christopher Engler
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I think initiating less experienced gamers with an "assisted co-op mode" is a great idea, but phrasing aside, many many will treat it as an insult i.e. you're not very good at this game? Here, play this mode.

That being said, "Sidekick" would be a better moniker.

Eric Geer
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No official "girlfriend mode", no issue.

Justin Sawchuk
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Hey its a good way to get free press and we have something like that for our game, think snuggle truck

Joe Wreschnig
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For the record, the word "sexism" appears *not once* in the article.

Anyone in the comments complaining about how this "isn't sexism", please go wrestle with your personal demons and delusions - and maybe your literacy - elsewhere. It's making it impossible to have a real conversation about accessible and inviting games.

Toby Grierson
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Second.

Everyone's expected to deliver sufficient righteous indignation if an old man nobody cares about from another sector altogether says "games aren't art", but God forbid anyone even discuss sexism.

I can sympathize with someone who says the fuss over "girlfriend mode" is a bigger deal than it really is. But the way people just go off on tangents whenever the topic comes up even tangentially is really disruptive.

Lyon Medina
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Looking at it from the strictly male perspective (I am male in fact) I don't see much in the way of offense other than too great girl gamers, which there are large amount, getting offended by this.

The verbiage is clean. "Girlfriend" is not a putdown, racist, insult, offensive (other than its usage), and is more of a term that states care, maybe love, and a general like of the other person to want share something as intimate as playing a game cooperatively together. The developers were trying to make the game more accessible for couples too share something.

Any person knows that teaching someone who doesn't play games to play a (difficult) game is very, very, very stressful. With this mode you make the road so much smoother and approachable.

Now if you look at it from a different perspective and the amount of girl gamers who play shooters after this sky rockets, would there be that much of an issue?

Mitchell Fujino
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The problem is that the phrase "Girlfriend mode" perpetuates the stereotype that girls are not good at games. That's it. This isn't a huge affront that requires burning at the stake or anything like that.

It's just that those of us who agree that the video game community should be more inclusive have decided that one of the ways to help the cause is to call out these things that perpetuate the stereotypes and make the video game community unfriendly and less inclusive to outsiders, and say "hey, that wasn't said the best way possible. Could you rephrase that next time, please?"

The appropriate response to which is "Oh, I never thought of it like that. Sure, next time I'll say 'girlfriend or boyfriend mode' instead." And because I'm Canadian, I'd also tag on a "Sorry" at the end. End of problem.

Lyon Medina
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@ Mitchell Fujino
I see and understand your point of view, I am not saying people feel that there is not a feeling of putdown to this terminology of it being an easier mode. The issue I see with making this an issue is the relevance of the remark.

If the couple that was playing happen to be playing "The Sims" let's say, and was playing a "Girl Friend" mode. The response would be completely different in my opinion .Of course, maybe still some negativity, but it being the "The Sims" a simulation type of game the idea would be fun and exciting because of the games history of letting the players’ role play.

The idea of girls being gamers is still in the growing pains portion of the gaming culture. Games as much as they belong to girls now, was strictly male dominated for so many years. For the most part still is, which shouldn't be an issue in my opinion because I don't see guy gamers having issues with girls who game as well. It is hard facts that are changing every day, and that creates growing pains that gamers want to change overnight. It should be changed, and that I agree with whole heartedly, but only with the continued support of girl gamers and over a longer period of time.

"Sorry" doesn't mean much to me because it still doesn't reflect that he meant it differently then how the response was taken. I wouldn’t apologize for giving someone a compliment or a gift that I thought they would enjoy. I know it was different in this situation cause he is referring to a mode in which the game is easier for "GFs" but he did not mean it in a harmful way by any means. He meant it as a way that people can share it with the people they care for, and want to spend gaming time with. This is a rare and kind gesture that you don’t find often now today.

Mitchell Fujino
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The apology isn't for making the mode. The mode is good and useful.

The apology would be for (unintentionally) perpetuating the stereotype that girls are bad at games, as opposed to calling it "little sibling mode" or "helper mode" or "teaching mode", or any other phrase that doesn't imply girls are bad at games.

Maybe apologies are more nuanced in Canada (joking here), but you can apologize for unintentional harm, and you can apologize for phrasing something poorly, even if you didn't intend it to be interpreted that way.

Lyon Medina
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Haha, apologies are still very important in gaming and in business practices in general. I am not saying that he should never apologize or anything of the sort for a blantent disregard for hurting another persons feelings.

What I mean more or less is that this is rare situation where he shouldn’t have to apologize because we as gamers should realize where he is coming from. Not tolerance, or acceptance but just the general understanding that his message is not offensive. (Again, I am saying this from a male perspective. I don't pretend to know how others feel)

A apology is not needed, it should just be in a sense forgiven in my opinion because there was no intent. There was no joke in other words to say that girl gamers can't play. He was talking to the audience of male gamers who have female gamer "GFs" who would want to play Borderlands 2 too. Because there are those types of couples out there.

If there had been a joke, or an insult to the community I would have one been the first to say he needs to apologize.

(Canada? What part?)

Mitchell Fujino
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I think the entire issue is where you say "he was talking to the audience of male gamers with female GFs".
That's the problem, he wasn't talking to that audience, he was talking to a reporter with a mixed audience. The _assumption_ that everyone in that audience would be male gamers is what's wrong.

It's not enough to avoid actively discouraging women from playing (e.g. "ha ha, girls suck") but we also have to avoid passively creating an environment that doesn't welcome women (e.g. speaking only to the men in the room and forgetting the women are there).

And while no one is saying that Hemingway is guilty of the former, this particular statement runs afoul of the latter.

(Montreal, currently. Raised in Alberta though.)

Lyon Medina
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Your very right Mitchell, but I am not debating that there is not a problem though. For instance, if there were to be a driving game that had a super easy mode that was referred to as the “Lyon Medina mode” because the developer said I sucked and we need to make the game easier.

I would first be proud, but I wouldn’t look too much into it. I know I can’t drive (or fly) in games (Mechanics of reality really mess with me), and if a developer knew that enough to want me to play then I would take a second look at the title that they are trying to make accessible to me.

Another thing of why I don’t see this as a huge issue is where if let’s say another developer for the game who was female said, let’s say something around “I love inviting my girlfriends over who really don’t like games because we made an easier skill tree just for them to have fun.” The assessment shifts to hey this game can be for people who don’t play games. (Shooters in this case mainly)

I am not giving a free pass to the developer. I am giving them the opportunity to use the slack I have given them.

Gabe Newell does the same thing with his fan base all the time, and it personally annoys me to no end, but it’s the slack that he has created that allows him to get away with the stuff he does and says.

[Just an F.Y.I. for anyone else reading (F.or y.our i.nformation)]

I did not buy nor do I play this game, I do not like the formula of “Questing” type games very much. So I am not trying to defend the game, and that fact that people should buy it. So I am not caught up in the hype.

(I have always wanted to visit Alberta; I have good friends in Saskatchewan that I plan on visiting there. Heard Montreal was a must see too)

Konstantin Yavichev
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Who cares? So it wasn't politically correct, big deal.

Dave Troyer
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Sho nuff.

Terry Matthes
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I'm sorry but this has gotten way way out of hand. It was an innocent remark that wasn't meant to offend anyone. For all those on their soap boxes shouting you need to save your voice for a cause that matters. This specific case is a waste of time for anyone to cry about except for those who crave attention at the price of publicly maming someone's character. Your not advancing any cause but the one that makes you sound like a thin skinned whinner.

Darcy Nelson
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http://www.shakesville.com/2011/12/harmful-communication-part-one
-intent.html

http://www.shakesville.com/2011/07/point-you-are-proving-it.html

Here, I found these for you.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Yes, intent isn't magic.
You also have no right to not be offended.
People will say things you find offensive, time to grow up and deal with it like an adult.

Joe Wreschnig
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"publicly maming someone's character."

Maybe you guys should take your own advice: He has no right to not be offended. It's time for him to grow up and deal with it like an adult.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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Joe, you are my favorite Gamasutra troll.

Darcy Nelson
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"Yes, intent isn't magic. You also have no right to not be offended."

And you have no right to tell me what to find offensive and not offensive, so we're back at square one, eh?

"People will say things you find offensive, time to grow up and deal with it like an adult."

I'm posting about it in an online space with the intent of having a dialogue about sexism in games and in the games industry. What about that is not dealing with it like an adult?

Mike Jenkins
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Faux outrage is really making some of you feel important, isn't it.

Titi Naburu
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In sports car racing, the term "pro-am" refers to a team with both professional and amateur drivers share the same car. It's clearly gender-neutral.


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