Parenting in Video Games: Where are the Mother Figures?
Parenting in Video Games:
Where are the Mother Figures?
By: LB Chambers
I would like to preface this article with a quick disclaimer.
I am all about single dads; helping them get recognition for their hard work, their dedication to their kids, and the amazingly positive influence a great dad has on a child. I am also full on anti-patriarchy, meaning the idea that “the mother is always the best parent no matter what,” is, in my opinion, not true and a hurtful stereotype.
Having worked in a family law office previously I have seen first hand how great single (and divorced) dad’s can be, and while this article deals with dads v. moms in the gaming industry, I in no way mean we shouldn’t be representing dads.
That is all.
I was finishing The Last of Us the other night (I know, a little late to the game, but stay with me here) and I was struck with a sudden revelation.
I have played nearly half a dozen games this year featuring a father-daughter relationship, (or father-figure/daughter-figure relationship). For spoilers sake I won’t list the names, but that is a lot of parenting in video games!
It makes sense; at this point most gamers are teens, they’re adults in their thirties. And while we as a society are having children later and later, it is still a logical finding that a lot of adults in their thirties have kids and are interested in playing games that play off those parenting instincts.
I like this, and at first glance this is great news. The gaming industry is beginning to represent relationships that aren’t just romance-based, and at the same time they are incorporating more female characters into these games.
But then you think about it a little more, and it gets a little dicey.
So most gamers are adults, but are they mostly men? Sort of.
(By the way, this article also explains a study finding that adult women are way more lucrative then teenage boys when it comes to video game purchases).
This is also the women’s age group most likely to have children[iii].
These new games also always portray a father and daughter situation, or a single-parent household. In reality only 14% of single parent households are with the father- which means 86% of single parent households have a single mother[iv], according to 2012 statistics provided by childstats.gov (a forum specializing on child and family statistics).
So to summarize and expand…
Nearly half of gamers are women and around age 30, which is the most likely age to have children, and women make up the vast majority of single parent households.
So if you were going to make a game with a single parent as the protagonist, wouldn’t it be a woman?
Also, add in this bit of info. Single parent households with a father were even less common until about a decade ago. Previously, single mothers made up even more of the single-parent pie[v]. Which means if you were raised by a single parent and are an adult today then you were probably raised by your mom. Who was a single mother.
So you’ve got the vast majority of gamers being individuals who were either raised by a single mother, raised with a mother, are men living with their wife/SO (who are quite possibly mothers), are mothers living with their SO, or are single mothers.
So who is the smallest minority here? Single fathers, and people raised by single fathers.
This isn’t to say I don’t want minorities represented in games, I am all about that. But here’s the thing, there are no single mothers in video games, and literally over half a dozen games released this year feature a father-daughter relationship with an absent mother. That’s an intense overrepresentation of the minority, with absolutely no examples of the majority.
I’m just saying, wouldn’t it have been cool if The Last of Us had featured Joelle and Ellis, instead of Joel and Ellie?
I’m not saying we should remove single dads from games (again, I love my Dad and have known some great single dads) I’m just saying can’t we bring in some single moms, or just moms, period?
It just seems lazy, as if the gaming industry is leaning on the same old story-telling crutch fairy tales have been using for years.
But gaming companies don’t have the same excuse as fairy tales. Because while most fairy tales were concieved/created during times when motherhood and childbirth was extremely dangerous (and often lead to motherless children) we’re clearly not there anymore.
Even though the US has a higher mother mortality rate than any other first world country (we’re #1?) most people do have a mom, or mother figure, and just writing the older woman out of every story isn’t realistic or smart.
It certainly doesn’t make for good story-telling.
Having realized this, I thought for a while that maybe game companies assume people don’t want to play as women who are mothers because mothers are considered sweet, and gentle, and “motherly.” I argue back with one question, have any of these gaming companies ever seen (or heard of) how a mother reacts to her child being threatened or harmed? Across the animal kingdom it’s pretty consistent.
I’ll just give a real world example. As a child, I was bullied. I was not cute, had a slight stutter, and had my adult teeth when I was only eight years old. One day I came home from school with a big chunk of my hair missing, I tried to lie and say I had done it but my mother figured it out pretty quickly. When later that week I had to go to the hospital and get stitches (my bullies had shoved a tree branch deep into my ear canal) my mother was done.
The next day I went to school and my mother told my younger sister to run and get her the minute we got off the bus and the driver had pulled away. We were dropped off, my sister split, and I was left with my violently-escalating bullies.
I remember being in a bush (they had pushed me into the ditch) and seeing my mother, all 5’7” inches and (Maybe? Barely? She’s tiny!) 125 pounds of her, lift these two seventh grade kids off the ground.
Now I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines how if I ever came home with so much as an untied shoelace she would beat them so badly they’d need wheel-chairs and seeing eye dogs. She then dropped them on the ground, hard, and told them to go home and just try and tell on her.
Now, my mom was on the PTA; she organized vounteer groups to visit homeless shelters and was widely known for her volunteer work throughout our town. Basically these kids had no chance of getting anyone to believe them. I’m sure she would be very embarassed to know I’ve written about this, but you get the point.
I’m not saying she handled the situation correctly, but I am saying that I was never bullied again at that school. And that I learned my Mom was basically a crazy bad ass who would always have my back.
If I could play a video game as her in that moment, I absolutely would.
So please, gaming studios, make just one game with a mom? Or a single mom? Or a mother in law? Or step mom? And if you do, have her not die within the first hour of gameplay?
Maybe do this before making another father-daughter game?
Horror films and thrillers are all about the mother-child relationship, mostly because it’s so deep and difficult to understand that just applying it to a lot of situations makes for some good “what the heck is happening”-ness. Try it out.
I get that father-daughter relationships are rife with drama, and easy to make because you can lean on the belief that “dads are gruffy and silent about their emotions” (which isn’t true and a pretty lame way to consistently represent dads). This way games can continue on featuring mostly silent, emotionally stunted protagonists.
But even using this same model over and over isn’t representing dads (single or otherwise) well, so maybe these companies could try harder and make some better developed characters for these awesome games that are coming out.
On that same note, it might be nice for men to not get the pressure to lead constantly. Seeing a male NPC, especially a boy NPC, would be a nice change. It would certainly show that there is room for all men and boys in video games, and not just the beefy take charge men who have already lived their lives and are growly bad asses (aka Booker, Roth, Joel…)
It would be a good message to boys, that sometimes women are in charge, and that that is ok. Giving the male gender the message that they always need to be in control and on top of everything is just as unhealthy as telling the female gender that they will always be taken care of and that there’s no need to involve themselves.
That is firstname.lastname@example.org
(And to clarify, I know BioWare has some games with Moms, but those who have played them know that *spoiler* the mother always dies, and the father parent is always more influential on the character’s choices and story)
[iv] ChildStats.gov http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/famsoc1.asp
[v] ChildStats.gov http://www.childstats.gov/americaschildren/famsoc1.asp