This press release is a prank, right? Right? The Guy Game, featuring “over 60 attractive college babes,” promises to deliver “spring break excitement” to you and your friends in the form of a trivia game. From the looks of things, your on-screen avatar is a “personal cheerleader,” and I’m pretty sure that having the (presumably male) player identify himself in terms of his ideal feminine figure takes The Gaze to a whole new place. Maybe that’s what the PR flack from Top Heavy Studios (ugh) means when he says that “innovation is incredibly important in the video game industry.”

Elsewhere, Warcry News Network has an extended interview (see also part 2 and part 3) with Brenda Braithwaite, the lead designer on Playboy: The Mansion, which looks like some kind of cross between Sim-Hugh Hefner and Nudie-Mag Tycoon. Braithwaite is a veteran designer, having worked on games all the way back to the original Wizardry, and has some interesting perspectives on women and games:

“Let’s say an 18 year old woman plays this game…. There’s no identification at the beginning of the game as to whether or not you’re a woman, and it says: “Oh, Ok, here’s your outfit – serve drinks for the rest of the game.” She can play this game just like other people can play this game.” (emphasis mine)

Can she, though? Mia Consalvo’s chapter in The Video Game Theory Reader (which I really wish I’d read before I wrote my crappy paper for class, but that’s another story) explores some of the ways in which games reinforce heteronormative ideas of sexuality by requiring the player to identify with (or at least play the part of) a straight male character. However, she also cites Eve Sedgwick’s idea of the “erotic triangle” (that a romantic triangle involving two men and one woman is more about the relationship between the men than it is about either of them and the woman) to suggest that the line between a player identifying with and desiring his avatar is thinner than we might think.

Of course, Consalvo is looking for an angle from which female and gay players can approach and enjoy a game without having to bury their own sexualities in that of the on-screen character. Even the “erotic triangle” reading is considered unsatisfactory for women and gays, but it’s better than nothing. And that may be the most distressing thing about The Guy Game: when everything is explicitly framed as an object of desire for the straight male player — right down to his own avatar — it completely closes off all avenues of desire for those who don’t fit its narrowly defined demographic. So much for broadening the audience.