Playing Dirty: Lady, get off the road

Every other week, Bonnie Ruberg contributes Playing Dirty, a column on sex and gender in video games:

Men say women are bad drivers. This confuses me greatly. As a woman behind the wheel -- with the token grumpy driver's licence photo to prove I take my on-road duties seriously -- I can't help but raise the issue. Aren't women supposed to be the cautious ones, the ones who look three times before turning, who insist you wear your seatbelt, even down the block? And men, aren't they supposed to zoom down the highway to show off the punch of their motors? I mean, just think about the racing games we design for guys: breaking speed limits, injuring other vehicles, even crashing. They've got "awful driver" written all over them.

I admit, I have a personal beef with this "women are bad drivers" thing. I'm one of those really daring people who never goes more than five miles over the speed limit. My friend's father, on the other hand, is a "zoom down the highway" type, complete with sporty convertible. Somehow it always ends up he's circling the supermarket, searching for a parking spot, when an SUV lumbers in and blocks the way. He shouts, "Come on, lady!" From where we're sitting, he has no way of telling whether that's a man or woman. It might as well be a yeti. Gritting my teeth, I wonder: If women are such awful drivers, how come it's men who go crazy behind the virtual wheel? How come racing games are "men's" games?

Of course, I think my friend's dad and I probably have different definitions of what makes a good driver. He's not annoyed about erratic behavior, just sluggishness. Instead of cautiousness, he admires someone who can play by the rules of the road, but as quickly as possible. Anyways, how important is speed? As far as racing games go, the normal answer is very. That makes sense, if we're looking at racing games as a masculine genre. There's definitely an amount of testosterone involved in ogling cars, then driving them super fast into the sunset. It's also no surprise that plenty of games feature hot, cut-scene babes along with the automobiles. They let the player be the best he can be under real-world constraints, with real-world rewards.

Bu what about games that aren't realistic–Need for Speed, Excite Truck, Burnout, even Mario Kart? Are these types of racing titles less manly? One of the biggest elements of a game like Burnout is destruction ( Can you saw hundred-car pile-ups, plus imminent explosions? ), and we certainly think of that as masculine. But, at least for this girl, crashing cars together is a lot more fun than a realistic racing sim. So maybe, instead of assuming women are real-life bad drivers, we should look at it like this: Men like perfecting their skills at racing sims because they need the practice. Women, they're already such good drivers they can squander their free time on destruction.

Bonnie Ruberg is a writer, researcher, and all around fangirl with a big crush on games. Find more of her work at Gamasutra, The Onion A. V. Club, or her blog, Heroine Sheik. She can be reached at .

This article was originally published on Joystiq.