Recently the developer for World of Tanks was asked, as part of a larger discussion about women in esports, whether he would do anything to make his game more appealing to female gamers. His response was very on the nose, and highlights a couple of things I’ve noticed over the last few years with a higher demand for representation that has been logical and measured from some, and completely irrational from a few. What he said was:
Not necessarily. I think there’s very little we can do to make photorealistic tanks appealing to females.
Now, on one hand he has a point. World of Tanks is a very specific type of game. It’s a wargame simulator that strives to present historically accurate battlefield scenarios involving tank combat. That’s going to appeal to a very specific demographic. Of course there are women out there that like historical wargames, photorealistic tanks, and combat sims. I’m 100% sure there are. Just as sure that there aren’t as many of them as men that like the genre, and as sure that the few women who do like it wouldn’t want it changed to reach this nebulous ‘broader demographic.’ Too often, demand is put on developers to try and make everyone happy, and many try, and fail. We see them attacked from all sides for including this, or excluding that, or including it wrong. We saw it with Assassin’s Creed, heavily criticized for a lame excuse for not including female characters, then criticized for including them wrong, or including them only as a marketing scheme. It was a much-needed change to add the option, but they still got beat up.
On the other hand, I think he misses something. Like I said, some women like World of Tanks. The game is already appealing to those women who it was going to appeal to. I know the developer wasn’t blindly dismissing those gamers, but it servers a larger point. Different types of games will always appeal to a certain type of person, despite gender. Women and men are both competitive to different degrees. You don’t always find fewer women playing FPS games or wargames because those games don’t appeal to women. I know a lot of women that enjoy those types of games, are competitive and love the action, violence, and chaos of those them. Some of them don’t play them for other reasons, which can be addressed, but a lot don’t and never will. It’s not because those games are missing some hook they need in order to play. Some gamers, men and women, just don’t like those games. My wife, as few games as she does play, would never be interested in Battlefield, no matter what they changed about it.
In World of Tanks’ case what could they do? How was it even a legitimate question? I don’t like Japanese dating sims, and there’s nothing a developer should, or could, do to make me want to play one. In all likelihood any change they did consider would only make it worse for the current player base, and not win me over anyway. That’s a little specific, however. Imagine instead a romance novel publisher was asked what they planned to do to draw in more male readers. Books in general already serve a wide market, with a plethora of genres that appeal to different demographics. I would hate to see what someone’s idea of a romance novel that appeals to the average male would look like, but I have a feeling it would no longer appeal to the average romance novel demo. The only logical answer is, nothing. There’s nothing to do.
When we’re talking about wargames like this one, the women who like them will like them, and the women who don’t, won’t. Likely any changes that anyone would consider are the same insulting, superficial changes we see often in FPS games like pink gun skins, or in this case tank skins. No one really thinks women are avoiding this game because they can’t have a pink tank, right?
This is much bigger than a single question about one game however. It’s a trend we’ve been seeing grow over the last few years. Many games, and entertainment in general, can stand to diversify. It does, however, come with a caveat that is often recognized by the vast majority. Sadly the vast majority is usually quieter than the vocal minority. Recently The Mary Sue published an article that, nearly in the same breath, criticizes the upcoming live-action Mulan for casting a white character, and one that is ‘too Chinese’. That caveat is that is has to make sense. Are we to no longer tell stories about a group of guys that go on a road trip, because we can’t tell a story about all guys anymore? What about a sisterhood of girls with migrating pants, need a male character because it’s not diverse? Do we shove pink, rhinestone tanks into WWII because we need to draw in the preteen female gamer, or do we stick with a little realism because they won’t like it anyway?
The moral of the story, ladies and gents, is if you’re a creator, artist, writer, developer, or whatever, don’t try to please everyone. You can’t. If you try, you’ll fail, and it won’t always be something you can bounce back from. There are people out there that just can’t be happy with anything, they aren’t your audience. I’m begging you all to stop trying. Stop being swayed by the one person that thinks Tracer’s (Overwatch) pose is too sexy, or that Marcus Halloway (Watchdogs 2) is too ethnic. It’s your creation, your art, and your vision. If it’s not something people want to see, you’ll know when they don’t buy it, but at the end of the day if you just create to satisfy the vocal minority, they’ll never be enough to keep you creating.