Misogyny in Gaming? Big Surprise.

HOLY DISCLAIMER, BATMAN: This post was written before the Santa Barbara shootings. Due to its lighthearted irreverence, you might find it more offensive now than you would have a week ago. Try to keep an open mind and look at what is being said, not just HOW it’s being said.

 

Feminism’s a thing now, if you haven’t heard.

Women have been fighting for equal treatment in a lot of arenas: the workplace, in healthcare, education, the military and even social status. They’ve been in no small way successful, too! But there’s at least one arena, dear to my heart, which still remains in the feminism stone age.

And given this is a blog about video games, I’ll let you put 2 and 2 together.

Lulz.

Lulz.

Let’s start with the very beginning, shall we?

Mario had Peach, Link had Zelda. Both were princesses that were completely useless at everything except being (and staying) captured. Presto, you have a couple of games! No, wait, you have two extremely successful franchises that have lasted more than 25 years. I concede that there might have been some stronger female roles with Sheik, Petra and Midna, but it doesn’t really excuse the fact that Zelda is always helpless to defend herself in the end. Same with Peach, but she gives Mario a kiss at the end to solidify the notion that women are only to be pursued if they give you sexual favors. Ouch.

But hey, there’s a shining example in my childhood of a strong female role model: Samus. Samus was badass, there was no doubt about it. She could take Mario and Link in a fight, and dropkick both of them simultaneously into a vat of lava. She ran, jumped, shot, zapped, missile-fied, and bombed the crap out of everything that stood in her way. Samus was the woman who said to me, “Women can be completely badass.” I was a kid and it was an important lesson.

But, y’know, I was hell-bent on beating the game as fast as I could, because the reward was… Samus… taking her suit off… God dammit, Nintendo, is nothing sacred to you?!?

Now, I know what you’re thinking! “Wharblgarbl, Another Gamer, these games are in the past! Sexism in gaming is way better now.” Three words for you: Zero. Suit. Samus. In Metroid: Zero Mission, they introduced one of the most god-awful levels ever, where Samus has her suit taken away, and must sneak through the enemy’s hideout, totally powerless except for a whip (the implications of which I’m not even going to touch right now). She was blonde, boobified, and full of long legs and skintight space leather. She is the inspiration for cosplayers in body paint everywhere. Then she gets a graphic upgrade in Brawl, thereby telling a whole generation of kids the same lesson I learned: “Women can be completely badass (but they must also be goodlooking).” Wait. That’s not the same at all.

Let’s talk about Final Fantasy. They’ve honestly had a history of pretty strong female characters: Terra and Celes in VI, Tifa in VII (I’m not counting Aeris because she was a 1-dimensional plot device and I don’t care if you hate me for saying it), Garnet, Freya and Beatrix in IX, and most recently Lightning in XIII. Not a bad track record. Final Fantasy has a penchant for developing characters in such a way that they have depth. But Tifa pined after Cloud. Garnet pined after Zidane, and was rendered speechless (and annoying) by the death of her mother (spoiler alert, whoops). Freya pined after Ser What’s-My-Name. And almost all of them were overly sexualized, either wearing skintight pants, bikini tops, or some combination of clothes that left nothing to the pixelly imagination. Let’s not even talk about Final Fantasy VIII, where the three chicks are I Like Trains, Hot for Teacher and Perpetually Awkward Teenager. The female development in that game was painful. Seriously.

Games like Poke’mon, Harvest Moon, and others began offering female characters as a consolation prize, and in Poke’mon: Black my 12-year-old is wearing… booty-shorts… ugh…

Games like Dragon Age, Assassin’s Creed, Elder Scrolls and Mass Effect offered more complete female personas, but there’s still an obscene amount of sexism in the other characters and the gameplay.

Yeesh yeesh yeesh.

Yeesh yeesh yeesh.

Women are treated so poorly by game developers that, perhaps as a result, they are also treated poorly by gamers, who have been bludgeoned with these lessons about the worth of women since day one of their gaming experience! We hear so much about “girl gamers,” and we see the hateful Xbox live comments, the complete and utter lack of any girls on pro gaming teams, and the overall impact of the gaming community on girls who enjoy video games. We see games tailored to girls like “Cooking Mama” and its kin. Girls are socially attacked from all sides when they decide they enjoy playing games. Games are made BY men, FOR men.

“Wharbl garbl,” you repeat grumpily, “The demographics are skewed heavily towards men. It only makes sense that the games should be geared towards them.”

And there are people dumb enough to actually spout that nonsense. Women make up 50% of the Earth’s population. Up until this point, maybe the female gamers have been handily outnumbered by their neckbearded counterparts, but guess what? People who have grown up with games are having babies at an alarming rate. And you guessed it: 50% of those babies are female, too. What do you think daddy is going to want to do with his little daughter Rikku?

Not quite what I had in mind...

Not quite what I had in mind…

Are they going to play football? NO! He’s going to want to blue shell her and get blue shelled in return, he’s going to want to be with her when she pulls off her first fatality, he’s going to want to show her Goldeneye’s retro goodness and mow down alien scum in Halo co-op. He’s going to want to show her how to do a barrel roll. We are literally breeding the next generation of gamers, and half of them are going to be women.

But what’s going to happen to those women if the industry and its community doesn’t change? Many of them will give up gaming. It’s not worth it to be put down and demeaned by everyone for doing something they enjoy, and once they get the message that they are worthless to the gaming world, they will go out and do something where they’re appreciated. The other girls will keep gaming and probably grow up with crippling self-esteem issues that will make them super-duper attractive to socially maladjusted, overweight, sexist bastards the gaming industry has helped to produce. Either way, the gaming industry is losing out on a ton of potential income and pushing social change back into the early 20th century.

What can you do?

First: stop belittling girl gamers. We all do it, even unconsciously. We say, “It’s so cool you’re a girl gamer.” Then we try to hit on her when she beats us at Melee. Then we insult her when we find out she has a boyfriend who is also better than you at Melee. It just needs to stop. Girl gamers are GAMERS. Treat them like you would any other gamer. Fist-bump them when you lose, gleefully rub it in their face when you win. Mow down Covenant scum together and don’t ask for her number afterwards! And if you do anyway and get rejected, stop trying to press “continue” when it’s obviously “game over.”

Second: look for sexism in your games. It’s there and it’s not exactly hard to find. I’m not going to ask you to stop playing 90% of new games because they treat women like garbage, but I am asking you to let the gamedevs know you don’t like it. Tell them you’re disappointed in them, and if it doesn’t get better, vote with your wallet.

Women are all around us, earning living wages, and spending their money on a large list of things that don’t make them feel worthless. When are video games finally going to make that list?

~AG

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About

Isaac Smith is a lifelong gamer and musician. He is deep into the indie game scene, and is a dabbling programmer who enjoys making games and writing music for them. As a writer, he began at Another Gamer's Blog, a blog dedicated to the discussion of video games, their history, construction, social impact and artistic merit. He does much of the same at his new home, here at Last Token Gaming!

10 thoughts on “Misogyny in Gaming? Big Surprise.

  1. Thank you Isaac. You were asking me what you can possibly do to help. And you’re already doing it in a great way. 1. You’re speaking through your priviledge as a male. Duh. 😉 2. You’re providing extra authority as someone with knowledge and experience in the field. Awesome!

  2. I wasn’t trying to insult your blog. I thought it was very well written and respectful, and probably the best analysis of misogyny in videos games that I’ve ever seen (That Anita Sarkeesian shit is horrible). Alas, you have to be conscious that many games you exemplified as being misogynistic were made by Japanese game developers, which poses a whole new variable in the equation. While you could say that our culture is obsessed with skinny models, hot women, and lots of makeup ads, Japan’s culture is also victim to such commercialism, if not worse. Sex sells.

    I am under the impression that Japan is highly more misogynistic than most “developed” cultures, at least from all the rape hentai and giant boob cliches in their animation. That being said, I’m not surprised that you mostly discussed Misty from Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Zelda, Mario, etc. In terms of misogyny in gaming, I think we should first bring the fight to Japanese game developers before blogging in generalities, because I don’t actively play games to get the “Funky suit” unlocked that shows some tits and ass on X character in Y game. (I’m also not your subject audience, I hope).

    Let me objectively describe my observation of female characters (and real females) in the games I play:

    Collectively, I have played all the games you listed (with the exception of Final Fantasy; just couldn’t get into the fight sequence mechanics. Don’t hate me!). I can’t ignore your concern or say it is not valid, because it is: female characters in many games are extremely sexualized, but I’m sure you know that the same can be said for a lot of male characters with huge six-packs and unrealistic biceps showing through ripped tank tops. The most recent games I have played that share this characteristic would be Resident Evil and God of War. However, the appearance of female characters have never phased me while playing games. On average, they usually have some perk that could be useful like being better with weapons or better melee combat skills (Dead Island, for instance). And yes, when one of those cutscenes introduces some antagonist/protagonist that is easy on the eyes and wearing next to nothing, I shrug it off. While the concept of “only boys play video games” is highly outdated and incorrect, I still understand the developers’ defaulting to serve an assumed demographic. While it can be annoying and over-the-top, I don’t subscribe to the belief that scantily-clad female characters is part of some sinister, oppressive agenda.

    The greatest video games I have ever played were produced by Naughty Dog Entertainment (American). I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Uncharted trilogy or the Last of Us. The character development is insanely good in these games, and the female characters are in no way “weak” or “damsel-y”. I actually enjoy replaying the Winter Chapter of The Last of Us, just to kick ass as a 14-year-old girl with a fucking bow and switchblade. Even on the highest difficulty setting, the ease of which Ellie slices the throats of the brutish hunters is almost the exact opposite of how helpless NEAD (again, Japan) designed Princess Peach. Recently, I haven’t played many games rampant with misogyny. Or maybe I am already taking your blog advice in playing the RIGHT games and voting with my dollar .

    I play World of Warcraft competitively. Endgame content is divided into two playstyles: Player versus Environment, and Player versus Player. I have been led by females that are phenomenal, and I have been led by females that are terrible. I play with girls who are better than I am, and I’ve played with the ones who are bad. The same goes for men.

    http://www.twitch.tv/sassbogs/c/4374678

    However, and I am not making this up, many of the female players who play at my rating are completely horrible. How does this happen? It’s not that women are inherently bad at games. A lot get carried* by insanely good players. A “carry” is when other players on your team outperform to compensate for your lack of abilities or skill. Many pay top dollar through paypal, for such services. The same concept applies to the girls with webcams in tube tops clicking [no keybinds] their way to 2200 rating with $500 donations every 10 minutes. When feminists complain about females not getting a fair chance in online gaming, I often wonder if they ever experience it themselves. In my gaming community, females usually get special treatment just for providing a link to an Instagram or being a soft voice in the skype call. To me, earning a spot in a rated match by sharing a selfie, in lieu of skill or performance, is not only disgusting, but sexist. Girls can consciously take advantage of their gender, and many men, who are no less guilty, just let it happen.

    Female privilege.

    I see inequality and misunderstanding on both sides of the argument. I don’t hate girl gamers. I don’t like people who take advantage of what they are, as well as those who allow it.

    1. Well, you’ve made some good points. (I also wasn’t really insulting you. More of a frustrated expression of empathy that sometimes pandering lamefaces get a lot more publicity than people who are actually producing a high-quality product.)

      First: No Final Fantasy? Heathen.

      Second: The issue isn’t with how female gamers play the games they play. ONE of the issues is how they’re treated by other gamers.

      You’re closer to the top than the bottom of the male gamer pile, but even you wouldn’t be able to objectively judge a female’s gaming skill because of your idea of “female privilege.” You’d be asking yourself “Is she actually deserving of her rating?” instead of asking yourself, “How good is this gamer?” Your thought process changes because you know she’s female.

      There are two kinds of people besides you that take part in misogyny in gaming: the people that uselessly support girl gamers WITHOUT skill (like the donating mob frothing at the mouth for an Ashe who looks like Ashe), and those who minimalize the achievement of girl gamers WITH skill. Both are prevalent, both are sexist, both objectify and demean women.

      As for gamedevs: NaughtyDog is great. Let’s just make that clear. They’re one of the companies that I aspire to meet the standard of in my video game creation efforts. But they’re also mostly male. So is everyone else in the gaming industry.

      Ask, if you will, a female: what makes a guy attractive? Will it be the 6-pack abs, the rippling biceps, the jawline sculpted at the top of Mount Olympus? Probably not (surprise surprise), because these characters are all developed by MEN, who impose their idea of alpha-male attractiveness onto the main character. Case in point: why do you think Gordon is such a HUGE icon in the video game industry? He’s a bearded, goggled labcoat wearing science geek. In the (all-male) focus group, do you think that he would have rated 10/10 in the attractiveness scale?

      Game designers don’t understand women. Plain and simple. More women need to get into game design because they can help make attractive, interesting male characters.

      And I’m not touching the Japanese sexual repression culture. That’s a whole other ball game. While closely tied with the development of video games as a form of entertainment, it’s too complex and deep-seated to deal with in a gaming blog.

      Thank you for the fleshed-out response. Yours is a critical opinion I seriously value! Keep reading and commenting 🙂 You’re only making the blog better.

      ~AG

      1. Very valid. I would be lying to say that I don’t immediately suspect an effeminite and attractive-sounding woman to have been carried for her disposition towards the rest of the group. I might make the same judgment towards a permiscuous person flirting with others at a club to get free drinks, or a “hot girl” getting into a club over others who have been waiting outside. Keep in mind that a lot of dudes suck at the game just as bad, so I’m not saying the issue of false talent is specific to women exploiting their sexuality. This is only half of such women I encounter in-game, but these days, I have managed to create a fairly solid network of reputable, skilled players, both female and male, so that I don’t have to take chances with unknown players of either gender.

        I think that personal clip I provided supports two things: 1) that misogynist groupthink in online gaming is not myth, and 2) hearing it agitates me (as illustrated by my “here these shitheads go again” sigh and smirk before I make my comment).

        My experience would default to the knee-jerk reaction of “is she deserving of her title” because of how many times I have not only witnessed this female privilege, but suffered a loss because some dickhead wants to get boob pics later on. However, you are correct that the latter question of “how good is this gamer” is not only a healthier question, but it helps destroy the stereotype. While I’d like to be all self-righteous and say “no problem!”, some things are admittedly easier said than done. Stereotypes, to me, are nothing more than observed patterns that warrant concern and further analysis (that last part is important). I want someone to impress me by being unique or by showing character, not by copping out into some cliche, uninteresting personality. That being said, I’m not going to just immediately trust someone for fear of being labeled as “judgmental”. Let’s concur, those who walk around repeating that worn out phrase “don’t judge me bleh bleh bleh”, are typically the ones you should reserve more judgment for, for one reason or another; they’re usually trying to justify immature behavior or undesirable traits. And judgments are not always negative, most are reasonable defense mechanisms that are vital to preserve or protect some sort of personal/group safety or well-being (or rating) I don’t want you to think that I just judge only the chick the moment she joins the group, I hound everyone for verification, and even references. Female and male, alike. My point is that judgment can be healthy, when utilized appropriately.

        Such game designers probably don’t understand women, but you know more about that than I do, so I’m not going to make an ass of myself by disagreeing.

        Last, but not least:

        I am not trying to bash legitimate feminism (yes, everything has a dark side), I’m just seeing so much of the militant, ignorant, and misandric stuff flooding my social media news feed after a school shooting, my urge to stand up for something as trivial as my gender alone is alarming. I’m not going to apologize for being a white, cis male, but I also know that isn’t the voice of all feminism. What I see (as stated below in my response to Tiffany) is a movement that has distorted its demeanor and focus, via sites like Tumblr, from equality into a master race of social justice warriors, where “agree with me, or you’re a bigoted misogynistic pig who deserves to die” is heard louder than people like Isaac here, who actually bring solutions to the table rather than shaming an entire gender for the dumb actions of the few. Let’s talk “humanism” instead of “feminism”, so that the term itself isn’t already favoring the concerns of one gender.

  3. I guess I just don’t entirely get why all the hate for Anita. She says it’s entirely possible to be critical of elements of a game while still being able to enjoy a game. She’s just trying to make gamers and developers alike a little more conscious of the tired tropes that have become all too prevalent in certain games. Tropes are fine by themselves. The lend a helping hand to the story. But overused tropes start to stink, and overused tropes that marginalize females are just rotten.

    1. Your perspective of Anita:

      “Let’s be critical of games filled with ‘regressive crap’, but you can still enjoy them, I guess. But those types of games are bad and sexist.” I paraphrased some quotes from Anita there, as well. What is her point, to appease these games and then spread guilt after the fact?

      What? Meh, no thanks, I don’t play those types of mind games. Not only is her argument in her videos unbalanced, but she made almost a quarter of a million dollars with this “kickstarter campaign” by making 3 videos where she had other people play the games for her and she just re-hashed material from her own, existing rhetoric and Feminist Frequency material. Where did that money even go, honestly? I know Capitalism is great and all, but the whole thing just looked poorly done and faked (at one point she was pretending to play a game without the [original] Xbox controller plugged in correctly…). I don’t think she represents a gamer, she just wants to terrorize an industry to submit to her demands. I’m not against her raw ideas of fighting for less/no misogynistic portrayals for women in video games; as such revolutionary perspectives and mechanics I have progressively come to understand, repsect, and enjoy in great modern games, obliterating my past ignorance and obliviousness of this sensitive issue. What I don’t like is her ettiquette and lack of honesty. She turned gamerism into a fad when it was convenient for her politics, ego, and bank account.

      Here are two very good responses to her argument:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7nO9F7okbo

      Oh yeah, she’s also a hypocrit and a liar:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7nO9F7okbo

      I’ve never appreciated or trusted those who make a profit from ideology through “fair and balanced” reporting (sound familiar? Fox News), rather than just preaching philosophy for the cause. That’s why I think we should also tax the goliath that is the Catholic Church, but that’s another discussion. I know what you may be thinking: “How dare she take advantage of free market ecomony! /end sarcasm”. Again, I just didn’t accept her lack-luster evidence, snarky disposition, and hypocrisy as professional, well-reasearched reporter conduct. Especially coming from a “revered and professional pop culture critic who LECTURES AT UNIVERSITIES.” I’m less than impressed.

      I suppose I shouldn’t be criticising her opinion, everyone can have one of those, but the complete lack of critical thinking of the masses who watch 5 minutes of rhetoric, feel like a victim, and congitively subscribe and react without any further research of counter-claims. That’s the ripple effect-tactic a certain 20th-century European dictator would be proud of.

      I’m a horrible, petty piece of shit, but I couldn’t resist the old joke. I hope I made my point clear, even through that last quip.

      I’m going to go finish the last chapter of Watch Dogs and perpetuate the damsel in distress trope like a bad little misogynist :3

      Okay, now I’m done.

      I’m also going to Hell.

      /wrists

  4. If anyone every figures out to show how they are bobies, please let me know

    All joking aside, one rule of being allowed to see someone else’s boobies should be knowing how to spell the word.

    1. At first glance, I had no flippin’ idea what you were talking about. And then I went back and reread my post and immediately understood what you meant.

      And I agree, for what it’s worth. If someone is a boby, then let them show it

      ~AG

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