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.
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.
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?
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?