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What the hell, Dan? Politics? On Be a Game Character?
Yup. We’re going a bit political today. Not in the sense that we’re going to be discussing presidential races, but in the sense that for some reason “women should be treated like human beings” is a controversial issue among some circles. Yeah I don’t know why it’s an issue either, but let’s have a chat about it, shall we?
For those wondering how this relates to the BaGC vision of making you more awesome, look at it this way: Everyone deserves to be awesome, and to feel awesome. Women, men, gay, straight, trans, queer, skinny, fat, black, white, (insert demographic here.) Everyone. This is a solid belief of mine. If you don’t feel this way, then maybe this post can help open your eyes.
Sexism in Games
So let’s start by laying out the obvious stuff. When “gamers” first became established as a culture, they were mostly young, male, and looked down upon by society. Gaming wasn’t really a “cool” thing to do for quite a while. Gamers were nerds, ostracized in school, and generally characterized as pale white guys sitting around their parents house, with their faces glued to a screen in a dimly lit room.
To be honest, at first this was statistically true. Gamers were largely male, and mostly socially awkward. As a consequence of this, almost all games had male protagonists, there was some scantily clad fanservice (as far as pixel art would allow,) and generally speaking, women were relegated to side parts, love interests, or just didn’t exist at all. This was the era of Duke Nukem, graphic pixelated violence, and hypermasculinity.
Here’s the thing, though.
We’re past that, now. Way past that. It’s estimated that somewhere around half of all people playing games now are women. So why isn’t gaming culture shifting accordingly?
Armor, Appearances, and Power Fantasies
This is not armor. This would not protect from anything, including a stiff breeze. This isn’t an uncommon trend in gaming, either. Female characters are still often clothed in “armor” that would do almost nothing to protect them in an actual battle. Even when they do get proper breastplates, typically they’re molded to present the outline of the woman’s breasts. Do you know what a breast-shaped breastplate does? It caves in your sternum on the first heavy blow.
Now, granted, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are female characters with awesome armor (Dark Souls, the Metroid series, etc.) There are also males with skimpy armor. However, these are still in the minority, not the majority. More often than not, female characters are oversexualized in various ways (like the inequitable display of butts.) They also tend to have hyper-sexual bodies (giant boobs, hourglass figures, full lips, etc.)
“But Dan!” you say, “Games have unrealistic expectations for guys, too! Look at Kratos, or Duke Nukem!”
So here’s where the idea of the “male power fantasy” comes in. Here’s a fun adventure: Look at female characters throughout games, and see how many you can find that wear shoes that do not have high heels, versus those that do. Hell, even Leona, a somewhat stereotype-breaking female tank from League of Legends still wears high heeled boots:
Have you ever tried to run in high heels? Now imagine fighting in them!
Hyper-sexualized females and over-muscled men both serve the idea of the male power fantasy. It perpetuates the idea that men are supposed to be giant, alpha male predators (that word is important,) and women are for lookin good and makin’ babies.
You’re not off base about the unfairness of the male power fantasy for men, though. In fact, the idea that the super-muscular-dude situation is unfair actually highlights why we, gamers, need feminism.
Okay, so I’m a guy. How does feminism help me?
So, assuming you’ve followed so far on our little journey here, we’ve covered the idea of the male power fantasy. Now here’s a question for you: When have you seen Duke Nukem cry? How many times does Kratos show anything besides contempt and rage? What sort of complex emotions do we see from any of the Grand Theft Auto protagonists?
Now, before you go getting all upset, no, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those characters. They’re caricatures, not real life, fantasy. That’s fine, and I love them for it. Duke Nukem is a walking, talking stereotype, and he’s meant to be. Kratos is a rage-filled embodiment of war. The main characters of most GTA games are supposed to be a little sadistic or unhinged.
The problem is, we don’t have much of an offering of layered, vulnerable male characters in AAA games. Believe it or not, this is a symptom of misogyny. How does that work? Well think about it, if you cram characters into a binary gender situation, and females are cast as submissive, weak, overly emotional sex objects, what is left for men? Mostly dominant, strong, emotionless action figures. The thing is, that’s not how real life works.
Men have emotions too. We’ve been shown many, many times in multiple forms of media that we’re not supposed to be sad, or vulnerable, or show any emotions besides stoic, happy, and angry (except maybe at our daughters wedding, or when our mom dies.) But that’s not how things are. Men go through the exact same range of emotions as women do! We’re just typically expected to not show most of these emotions, because that’s not what “real men” do.
This leads to emotional repression, depression, anger, and a lack of fulfillment. It can create tons of psychological issues. It pigeonholes us, and puts TONS of societal pressure to act a certain way, talk certain ways, and do certain things to be “A MAN.”
You know what it takes to be a man? Identifying as a man. That’s it.
So why don’t we have more real-life style men in games? I’m not saying there AREN’T, because there definitely are, and the modern era of gaming is improving in this area with characters like Joel from The Last of Us. But still, awesome male characters who are vulnerable and show emotions should be the norm, not the exception to the rule.
Wait, how did we get off the topic of women? What about women in games?
Well, part of the issue with people who DON’T agree that misogyny in games is an issue is that they don’t see how it affects men at all, and I wanted to touch on that point for the naysayers, but you’re absolutely right! Let’s talk about women in games.
They get screwed.
Name ten games with strong, solo female protagonists in ten seconds. Maybe you can do it. I had to think for a bit. I came up with Samus Aran, (except Other M kind of screwed that up,) Lara Croft in the NEW Tomb Raider series, Lightning from Final Fantasy, Jade, from Beyond Good and Evil, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect (assuming you consider Femshep canon, because YES,) Faith, from Mirror’s Edge, and Bayonetta.
Surprise! That’s only seven, not ten.
This sucks. A lot. It’s also a RIDICULOUS number considering HOW MANY YEARS of games there have been across DECADES. Remember, half of all gamers today are women! We are a blog DEDICATED to becoming awesome by emulating our favorite characters from gaming! Why the heck do we not have more options for women? I mean seriously?
Moreso, how is this even a conversation we need to have? How can anyone not think that male culture is still DOMINATING the gaming world?
Sorry, I’m getting a little worked up. I’ll calm down a bit. Let’s move on to the next section…
Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Gaming’s Ugly, Hate-Filled Underbelly
So, for those not in the know, Gamergate was a thing that happened a little while ago in relation to a young game developed named Zoe Quinn. It’s a relatively long, sordid tale, but I’ll save you the time and summarize it.
Zoe Quinn had a boyfriend who claimed she cheated on him with a member (or members) of gaming journalism and review sites. He got mad, and began pushing the idea that she used her feminine wiles to get better reviews. 4chan got on board, along with other people, and it alllll went to shit. Using the excuse that they were concerned about ethics in game journalism, the mob began to absolutely harass, terrify, threaten (and I mean multiple death threats,) and torture this young women.
Now. Regardless of what feelings you may or may not have about games journalism, this is not acceptable. I don’t care if someone has an enchanted vagina they use to make game industry executives hand them platinum releases on a daily basis. Death threats are not okay. Threats in general are not okay. In fact, even if you are the staunchest critic of using sexuality as a ploy to get favors, the second someone makes a death threat against someone, that is the moment when you switch sides and say, “Whoah, unless this woman is actively murdering people, we need to stop threatening her, now.”
The worst part? It’s not the only time this happened.
Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency, set up a Kickstarter a couple years back to create a web series examining sexist female tropes in games (the very subject of this article.) It was WILDLY successful, exceeding her original $6000 goal and shooting up past $150,000. While this was going on, however, she became a target for harassment, threats, and coordinated attacks. All of this happened a full year before Gamergate even became a thing!
Anita had to cancel public speaking events because of death threats. That is not okay.
Zoe and Anita aren’t even the only examples of this rampant hate. There’s other female figures in the gaming community who have been targeted by angry men, just like them. I just picked them as the two most blatant, well-known examples.
Now here’s the thing. Right now, I’m discussing feminism in gaming. Now, I’m not as well known a figure as Zoe or Anita, and I’m probably not going to get as much attention for this as they did. But you know what I probably won’t get? Death threats. Sure, I’ll probably ruffle some feathers with this article, and I may lose some subscribers, but I’m willing to bet I won’t get any death threats. Actually, now that I’ve said that y’all might do it just to spite me. But I probably won’t. You know why? Because I’m a man.
The bottom line is, we, as gamers, need to have an ongoing conversation about this. Women having issue with their BLATANT misrepresentation and under-representation in games should be able to SAY something about it without having to worry about physical harm to their person. Because the fact is, most games are still sexist. Most won’t pass the Bechdel test. Even fewer have solo female protagonists.
Now, I could honestly go on for another few pages about this. We’ve only scratched the surface, to be honest. But we’re already at twice the normal length of a standard post, here, and I need to rein it in at some point. Here’s my final point: Women, men, and everyone else will benefit from more feminism in gaming, and less misogyny. This is a goal we should be moving towards because we are on a quest to become more awesome people, and having broader representation in the single most popular form of media on the planet would make us, as a culture, more awesome.
I really want to continue this conversation, and we may revisit it in future posts. In the meantime, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter (especially if you think I’m wrong,) over in The Guild Hall.
Live boldly, change the freaking world, and don’t ever stop being awesome.
Dan “DaRatmastah” Wallace
PS: I highly recommend you go pay a visit to Anita’s site, Feminist Frequency. It’s got a lot more in-depth info on the subject matter here!