Feminism and Video Games

In What Do We Do About Video Games?, Roy looks at how women and race are portrayed in one of his favorite pastimes, and he isn’t impressed.

In a previous post, I’ve suggested that girl-friendly games aren’t needed so much as games that appeal to non-gamers. I still believe it, but I think that there can be a problem if you are attracting non-gamers using stereotypes and highly-sexualized imagery.

While I mentioned that women as playable characters seem rare, the problem with most of them is that they are highly sexualized. You have Samus Aran, Princess Morning, and a handful of others. And then you have Lara Croft and the Dead or Alive girls with their realistic boob physics.

Who within the industry is actually concerned about these issues? Should they be concerned? I think so. When most of the industry has no problem with hyper-sexualized female characters in games, what can you expect when games cross over into politics and social discussions?

Add to that the fact that the most vocal critics of video games tend to be people like Jack Thompson or NIMF (the National Institute on Media and the Family) who accuse video games of being murder simulators or promoting cannibalism- and you’ll find that a lot of gamers are particularly hostile towards criticism of gaming, even from fellow gamers. Women and feminists are made unwelcome in many gaming circles, and concerns about sexism and racism in games go unheard, ignored, or mocked.

While I am not a fan of Jack Thompson, he does make a point about the problems of an industry that does not self-regulate. Someone will eventually want to do the regulating for you. We’re already batting down anti-video game legislation right and left like King Kong on a skyscraper, and that legislations is about pornography and violence. What happens when people suggest that the Final Fantasy or Soul Caliber series is little more than pornography for adolescents, simply because of the way that the characters look? Grand Theft Auto is already considered pornography by some.

And that’s just the legal aspect of it. What about the gamers? If you think there isn’t a problem with girls playing games, read Monica’s comment on Roy’s post:

I have the double duty of being both a gamer and game designer. My bigges pet peeve is the fact I can’t even play Halo or Unreal online with out virulent harassment. And not only sexual but sexually violent taunts, come-ons, and threats, mostly associated with men and even boys who are virtually emasculated by a girl gamer who has the audacity to win, beat them, or even pick up an item that the male player wanted. After several incidents where I logged off of Halo 2 literally crying, my husband suggest I just stop playing online, and sadly that’s exactly what I had to do.

I love games and gaming. Heck, I’ve devoted my life to it. But I am worried about where this- well, it’s not even sexism, per se…it’s actual hate- comes from. I can’t help but agree that oftentimes my employers and fellow game-buying populace (myself included) are to blame.

Play an online game, and try to avoid encountering 11-year olds taunting you by calling you a “weak bitch” or any number of misogynistic comments. Young boys and men will tell you how “gay” you play. These aren’t a bunch of friends playing on your LAN. These are complete strangers saying hurtful things to taunt you.

Even when things seem nicer, it isn’t so great. If you’re a woman or playing as a woman, you’ll find that people will try to “help” your character because they assume you can’t do well on your own. If helping involves stealing your kills, preventing you from gaining experience, it doesn’t help and actually gets in the way.

Homophobia and misogyny can seem to be the rule when playing online, to the point that people don’t think of them as something that can be changed. Boys will be boys. Just ignore them, and move on. Get a thicker skin. I think it is just an extension of nastiness on the Net, and it isn’t something that should be tolerated.

Even if you ignore the other players online, the games themselves could do better. There is nothing wrong with sexy characters in games. Sexy isn’t the problem. You can have a sexy character that is still a strong female lead. The problem is ambulatory breasts and anthropomorphic sex fantasies as playable characters being the rule rather than the exception.

3 comments to Feminism and Video Games

  • It’s an odd disconnect reading this blog while viewing the advertisements for imvu and their scantily clad 3d avatars..;)

    but great post!

  • Hah, I figured something like that would happen when I write the words “boobs” and “sex fantasies” in a single post.

  • Novack

    Well, I did read this post late, but I feel motivated to write a comment anyway.

    I think you mix several topics here.

    First of all, the politics, as inevitable they are, must be evaluated in necesary and unneceary terms: its abosolute not useful to pay attention to groups of machistas, feminists, parents, mothers, grandmothers or whatever time-loosing-group appear, unleast we do it in an appropiate context. That kind of demands gain power with the indiference of the accused; ways must be open to canalize and analize those demands, and show good will to the goverments in the way. That said, is obviously urgent the need of auto-regulation.

    The history is repeating itself: the same dangers appeared with the movies, but the answer from the industry was so forceful (the strong will of auto-regulation and clasification of films), that no arguments were opposed. Sadly, the videogame industry is not following those steps. It remains sleep, while games are forbidden from whole countries (like the recent case of UK and the last game from Rockstar) and the rise of arbitrary declarations. Like you appropriately say: or we do, or someone else will do it for us.

    Then you talk about sexism. I think this topic is divided in several parts too.

    First, the fact of use big havok-processed boobs (as rule or as exception) is not more sexist than Baywatch is. Do you think they must stop showing Pamela’s un-biological body? That is a market desition, and they have the perfect right to make it. Its that desition intelligent or moral? Thats another debate.

    Second: I think its totally naif talking about people verbally attacking other people by any condition, and then try to put it in a labeled box, like say, “Gamers” for example. More yet, when it is a time-limited activity like gamming. People is racist or not, its not temporarily abusive, and then release the mouse and act as a boy scout (or, we are in presence of a massive psycho behaviour).

    So, I can conclude two points: it is common, but is comming from a minority; or it is said without real meaning, in which case the real problem is an installed gang-type jargon. That way its not a direct-resoluble problem (at least in terms of regulation), but it is less dramatical than the original focus.

    Womens are new to the relative-fresh world of video games. Their appearence will generate changes with time, like the change of the jargon, the view of the market, and many other unforseen doors. They will feel inadecuate for a time, like myself entering late in a party: a short time pass, before I drink something and relax myself (and the others).

    Greetings from Argentina!

    P.S.: please dont take nothing too seriously, its just an opinion 🙂

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