Are game makers afraid of pitting men against women?

All of you there, waging hours of virtual wars, take time off gaming consoles and Wiis to answer this: How many of the characters you assume are women? How many girls in your games fight to win?

In Super Mario 64, Princess Peach invites Mario to her castle for a bite of cake. Mario arrives only to find that Bowser has imprisoned the Princess using her own Power Stars. As Mario, you battle for Princess Peach’s release. And eat cake.

In Super Mario Galaxy, stupid Peach once again gets caught in one of Bowser’s Machiavellian schemes. The “mustachioed mascot” must squash Goombas, hurl turtle shells and battle gravity – all ingenious stuff - to rescue her from the dino-baddie. The enigmatic queen is just a provider of the observatory Mario uses to scour galaxies for his missing girl.

EarthBound has a 13-year-old kid (boy) from the suburbs. A mysterious messenger tells him he’s destined to save the world. It’s a “way-ahead-of-its-time” video game, has a creative ending, but thank you, no girls, please.

“But a lot of video games do have women as playable characters,” said 11-year-old Naren, thumping for his favourite pastime. “Samus Aran, the main character in the Metroid series is female. Metroid Prime was once the most popular game! And yes, she wins.” But he has to agree it’s not true of all games. “In popular games like the Legend of Zelda series, the girl is always the damsel in distress. If women are allowed to join the army in real life, why shouldn’t they be main characters in virtual reality?”

“I have played video games throughout my formative years,” said Anjali, ripping her eyes off her PC. At age 8, she spent Saturday mornings trying to rescue Princess Toadstool from the evil clutches of King Koopa or indulging in Competitive Martial arts through Ryu from Street Fighter. She graduated to Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog Series, The Prince of Persia and Lara Croft -Tomb Raider. She “raced” in the Gran Turismo, Need for Speed and the Formula One series. Her favorites are Playstation’s Tekken and Mortal Kombat and she can “beat my brother in almost any fighting game.”

With X-Box she switched to violent games like Halo and Grand Theft Auto.

“Gaming is male centric and male dominated,” she insists. “With most games being sports or violence related, their target audience is young males, but that’s not to say there isn’t a place for girls in this vast gaming world. After all a major attribute of a good gamer is the ability to multitask, and we know which gender is better at that!”

Influence of pop culture, argues engineering student Ashwath. “Gender doesn’t make a difference to a gamer’s character. But gamers would like hostages to be women. Adds glamour to the show. Hey, Resident Evil does have a woman character!” As one of the Alpha team.

There. No one expects video games to be social statements. They have to be fun. But The Legend of Zelda series sold over 47 million copies, GTA 65 m. Think what it can do to correct notions about women if Zelda were someone capable of strategizing her escape, is comfortable with combat armour. Don’t teens get influenced easily?

Why can’t Mario be Marianne? Guile be Gail or Gauri? Are game makers afraid of pitting men against women?

“Women don’t have to be weak if they choose not to, the idea is degrading and a lie,” said Naren. “Judging by how much my mom goes through to take care of me, women are very strong in every way.”

G. P.