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’.
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.
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:
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.
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.