Sexism and Vidya Games

After watching the absolute disaster that was the RealID idea pushed forward by Activision, the world got to see some fun discussion on why RealID is ridiculous. One of the chief complaints was of stalkers online, which has all led to me deciding to make a post about women and gaming in general.

To cut to the chase, women have it really hard when it comes to online games. If a woman announces that she is a girl, she is treated as an attention whore or has to put up with manchildren trying to defend every action she takes and generally being sycophantic in hopes of receiving sex. If she does not announce it, she has to put up with manchildren who use sexist, homophobic, and racist slurs.

I would say the worst genre for this would be MMORPGs. In an MMO, any ‘girl gamer’ is simply going to be told that she only arrived at her position due to sucking up to men. At least in a first-person shooter, if a girl can demolish you, she is going to at least get grudging respect from the manchildren.

The community is only one problem though. The game industry itself is terrible when it comes to portraying women. Women that are wearing extremely revealing “armor” in a time where that would be ludicrous, breast shots, vapid personalities, and failure of the Bechdel test are all common. However, that’s just the games themselves. Women are treated horribly within the game industry as well.

Assassin’s Creed should be proof of this. What started as a game produced by Jade Raymond quickly had a comic published about it basically implying that Jade was able to sell the game so well because she was a slut. The patriarchy has had a real hand in making sure women don’t buy these games, because they would analyze them. They’d point out how fucking ridiculous modern gaming is.

I’ll look at a few examples of games that I feel weren’t sexist and some that definitely are.  Let’s start with the positive:

Portal – a simple, 2-hour game that has only one male character that was known about, who happened to go insane and die. You play as a silent character, and yet this character, Chell, struggles against a machine who harbours a love/hate relationship for Chell. Anything portrayed as sexual by the machine, GLaDOS, is entirely creepy and could not be interpreted by basically anyone as loving, let alone ‘sexy’.

Being a space-faring, gun-toting, rethuglican wingnut isn't just for men anymore.

Mass Effect – The level of respect aimed at Commander Shepard applies whether he is male or female. One of the game’s more prominent villains also happens to be a female, and while she takes orders from Saren, there is a deeper, more personal conflict tied into fighting this villain. Female Shepard herself is able to have a pseudo-lesbian relationship (with an asari, who can mate with either gender) or a straight relationship with a biotics officer, and not one enemy or ally looks down on her just because she’s a woman. Likewise, as a male Shepard, you can constantly rely on your female crew members as strong, independent characters. I don’t really like Ashley much, certainly, but she still excels at getting the mission done.

If I go for a certain achievement in Episode One, Alyx gets to essentially escort us for the entire game!

Half-Life 2 – While Half-Life itself was certainly not sexist, it wasn’t really pushing towards any strong female characters either. Gordon interacts with no female characters at all, in fact. This changed with Valve’s Half-Life 2 entry. Alyx Vance is a character who compliments Gordon perfectly, both having quite a bit of respect for one another and saving each other’s lives more times than one can count. Alyx herself is an absolute beast gameplay-wise. She has infinite ammo and health that regenerates so rapidly that she needs to be under fire by many enemies at once for her to even come close to death. This, granted, applies to all the other major NPCs who you ‘escort’ (more like get escorted by), but Alyx is with you in all 3 Half-Life 2 episodes. She is an intelligent and quick-witted character as well, and Gordon couldn’t have gotten past certain puzzles without her handywork.

Now to take a look at some bad examples:

Capture The Flag, but revolting!

Fat Princess – This game is essentially capture the flag, only the flag is a fat princess. Women are constantly told by the media that they need to be slim to be attractive, and this game doesn’t help matters at all. The princess is essentially useless, as befits a flag in these types of games, portraying fat people as useless to society. This game misses the mark completely when it comes to equality of the sexes.

I will surely be protected from weapons wearing this!

Soul Calibur 2 – This could basically apply to fighting games in general. Look at what the female characters tend to wear: revealing outfits all the time. And I do quite literally mean revealing. No one would go into a fight dressed like that! You’d be dead in seconds!

Overall, the state of the video game industry is in a dire state if we cannot portray females in games as something other than objects for manchildren to lust over. Females are told off when they play games, when they make games, or when they complain about games. Look at the number of pro female game players in the world today. Some are prominent, such as TossGirl, but the majority of pro game players are male. Women are not taken seriously in an online video game environment, instead either worshipped or ridiculed just because of their gender, and certainly told off if they admit that they aren’t slim super models.

Women will have a lot to handle to take back gaming from the patriarchy, but as with all change, we all must fight to ensure that this is possible. Even minor issues such as video games can have huge repercussions on the way men think about women in the real world.


~ by shalazah on 07/20/2010.

22 Responses to “Sexism and Vidya Games”

  1. More women in design positions might help. More producers, publisher side, would go along way too.
    Just started in indie team… and I didn’t get a single women responder for the adds up.
    Now, I can recognize why. Someone puts up a ‘Artist looking for more artists and programmers for project(s)’ add, men will answer with no thoughts as to unintended consequences. I’m not sure many women would expose themselves to that level of risk. It’s much higher for women than men. I could be a sicko, or be genuine about the project, but be stalkerishly weird around her.
    I really wish the world were different.
    I did manage to find good people… but it’d be n ice if 50 percent (+) didn’t feel excluded from the process even before it began.

  2. Thanks, I tend to isomorphic games where custumes become far less important. That said, I have never lasted an hour in any MMO situation because the mysogyny and peurile attitudes are a mood killer. How can I transport myself to another world when everyone around me sounds like they are 14?
    I know that part of the problem is that, at least right now, most gamers are male and the big companies know their weaknesses and exploit them well. I have recently tried several demos where the premise appealed to me, but once in game I couldn’t see past the cleavage and action high heels (now there is a joke.) The demo culture at least makes it easy for me to vet product prior to purchase, no more discs lying around unused, but payed for.
    I had not heard of Jade Raymond before, but the story is sadly believable.

  3. I remember the Jade Raymond business.
    People I work with who knew her were breathing fire over it. She’s an excellent programmer, and has worked really damned hard to get where she is.

  4. Hmm…This is likely the best article yet. The points are spot on and I think I 100% agree with your opinion, I do not understand how it can be so rediculously popular to constantly pull on womens self esteem IN games, and how often when it comes to jobs, women tend to get in in places cause there’s a certain “quota.” Thereby leaving others under the impression that they get the jobs “under the Table.”

    Hard work from a woman means next to nothing to many a man, even if it’s just hard work in a game. This way of thinking is just retarded. Just because you were born with a Penis, doesn’t mean it makes you better at things. Granted the by nature Men have a more muscular build, but that doesn’t mean that Women a stupid and unable to do shit for themselves. Perhaps leaving an open mind would allow people to understand this, but that’s something that’s still taking time to this day.

  5. Again, on Ms. Raymond… I hope this haunts Dave Cheung for the rest of his life.
    When his name is googled for a job interview, this bullshit will be the first thing to come up. No game studio is going to touch him. Ever.

  6. Excellent post, Shala. I enjoyed it. There are a lot of problems with gaming and sexism, it will be a long time before changes are made; the more voices addressing this issue, the better.

  7. I definately think it’s the due to the lack of representation of women in the gaming industry. If you think soul calibur is bad, you should see dynasty warriors.

  8. I’ve seen teams that were ~30% female crank out sexist tripe. It’s not just the lack of representation, although the general lack of representation is likely a systemic influence that makes those sorts of games the norm.

    Of course, my experience in MMOs lately isn’t so much the “she slept her way up” type sexism. It’s more the “I have boobs look at me” being every other statement the women make. It’s sad that they seem conditioned to thrive off that sort of shallow attention.

    • A large percentage of female players play male avatars to blend in.

      • I’m well aware, but I know for a fact the women I’m referring to are actually women.

    • Yeah, it’s almost like the patriarchy conditions women to do what they can to survive under it… who’d have thought….

  9. Shala, if you enjoyed Mass Effect (one of my favorite games of all time), you should really play the sequel. It manages to use the same kind of gather-companions-and-quest formula to continue to the story in a way that seems sufficiently different from the first chapter and a logical continuation it. Same writers, same composers, same voice actors joined by some notable heavyweight additions to the cast. Like the first game it’s not without some flaws, but overall it’s amazing and tells its story with heavy emotional resonance. There are some moments that are gripping, and others that are downright harrowing.

  10. Female gamer here and I agree with this post. I don’t bother with MMORPGs due to lack of character and story anyway, but if I did go on them, I know I’d have a heck of a time if I said my gender. Though I do find that if I don’t bother to say my gender until someone asks, they’re far more likely to believe me. People who say they are a girl without prompt are seen as attention seekers (and often they are).

    Good call with citing Mass Effect as an example of how to positively portray it. For a realistic outlook on female positions I woulda recommended Persona 4 for a certain character that I’m sure you know of… =P

  11. Shala:
    I would like to add the first Resident Evil to your list of “non-sexist” games. Jill was competent, independent, and *gasp!* dressed similarly to the male characters.

    That game gave me hope for the industry. It didn’t take long to have my hopes dashed, though. 😦

  12. Wow, a really good post. I definitely agree, and another place where you can find a lot of sexism and male centrism – and very sadly, little in the way of representation – is the tabletop RPG industry we both know so well. It’s almost pointless to point it out anymore, particularly because the extremely incestuous culture of tabletop RPGs does not want to hear about inclusiveness and does not think it can sell strong (or at the very least decently-clothed or helpful) women to fatbeards unless they are Drow dominatrixes.

    • I agree Wyatt. A perfect example of that is how it’s considered ‘favouritism’ to let the DM allow a girl into a campaign, let alone what some of the more sociopathic men may do to her in-game.

      Thanks for the comments everyone!

  13. I’m honestly disappointed with the Fat Princess thing because it’s a bad idea but not a bad idea…if that makes any sense.

    The cartoonish mechanics idea of it I think is good, the fat princess thing is….no.

    I think it could possibly be a fun and awesome game if they repackaged it, (say under the Mario License as a Fat Yoshi, or Final Fantasy as a Fat Chocoboo)

    I hate hate HATE the chainmail bikini. I think it’s just lazy art work. I’m a firm believer that costumes/outfits for the genres should be PRACTICAL as well as stylish. Ugh I can go on and on about this so I probably should just make it a topic on my blog and stop wasting your time.

    I’d add Silent Hill 3 to the list though. You play a nonsexualized female protagonist, like all Silent Hill any sexual aspect is fetishistic nightmares that are reflections of someones broken psyche. The brilliance of it comes in the end when you realize the story sort of is an extended allegory for sex education.

  14. I completely forgot about Silent Hill, holy shit. I loved all 3 of the first games and noticed they had really good female characters all around (Laura, Maria, SH3’s protagonist who I won’t name for possible spoilers).

    Of course then there’s Dahlia. Ugh.

  15. Mirror’s Edge 2 is alright. And I know one gal who’s working on Female Fortress 2 (And I love almost all of her designs for it).

    But yes, there’s a lot of horrendous institutional sexism. About the only game I’ve played recently without it might be Pokemon BnW, but it’s a little better on that count in White; Half the Gym Leaders are women (And most of the important ones are; Chili, Cilan, Cress, and Clay don’t really do that much, for instance) Also, in the translation, a lot of the trainer classes were flattened so we have things like the business people all having the same class. There’s also a lot more woman trainers, and women get into a lot of the fun classes I missed seeing them as like Scientists. And the Pokemon Professor this generation is a woman, and you get a rival of each sex…

    And it’s a convenient segue to tell you that I have a Zorua baby for you.

  16. Whee Zorua! 😀

    As I recall I get that from transferring the Celebi I have over, so that should be fun. Also the movie with Zorua/Zoroark was adorable.

    It’s nice to see B/W go with more female characters. I always liked Sabrina in the first gen and the champion from 4th gen.

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