Sunday 12 August 2012

Sexism in the gaming community

Sexism in video games is a subject that many have wrote about. We at Gametrender have run two pieces about sexist characters. What I'd like to elaborate on in this article is the reactions such claims of games being sexist often raise; i.e., otherwise intelligent people who just dismiss the claims as an overreaction from supposed "feminazis".

One of the ways of this dismissal is: "Hollywood does it too". Two wrongs don't make a right. A bad behavior is still bad, even if it has followers. Besides, gamers are always crying that games aren't recognized as an art form: leading the way regarding the controversy would be the perfect way to show that games are not, in fact, just the province of heterosexual male entrenched in their entitlement as the "norm".

Another way is "well, it's part of the gaming community." as said by Aris Bakhtanians. Look, it's like saying that racism is inherent to the definition of the Klu Klux Klan and thus, trying to stamp out this vile ideology is somehow wrong when it comes to the Klan. Newsflash, geniuses: going against proven racist or sexist behaviors are NEVER a bad idea, and no one should be built its identity around them.

The last way is maybe more pernicious and deserve a longer counter-argument, because it's misrepresent the feminist gripe: "Male character are idealized too". A sexy lady in a game is not a problem; like the male players, we girls like having some ideal "us" on the screen. This is the same as with most movies, since some like to use that comparison. But in games, we don't so much see someone we'd like to be, as we see a toy for male fantasies.

"Toy" is real the key word here, as what we object to are the objectivization. One way is to use the girl as a simple damsel in distress so useless that she could be an inert MacGuffin for all the story cares.

Another way is to make her act like she putting on a peepshow for the audience. That later attitude is also part of the reason "male character design is also irrealistic and idealized" falls short: a male character is never, never here to pleasure a female or male homosexual audience, but to give the heterosexual male player some avatar strength. 

Plus, this peepshow is a way to always subordinate her sexuality to men, instead of just, you know, being a normal woman in charge of their sexuality. Some characters are virginal, naive, and innocent; generally they are MacGuffin (see above) and their occasional shoving in a refrigerator is supposed to make us feel sad, because she was a good person, right?

Some other character have very dominatrix tendencies (see Ivy from Soul Calibur); or they are sex workers; the point is to show that they are "inherently" paragons of sinful and thus ultimately to "justify" the violence against them: have you seen some of the scenes of Call of Juarez? The casual violence against some of the strippers is appalling, just strangling them in order to interrogate them (and I won't even touch on their misrepresentation of human trafficking for sex).

To go back to our article on Lara Croft's attempted rape, "Rape as Backstory" is so trite because it's overwhelming used "for" female characters, almost never male ones. Unless they're homosexual (another issue of gaming), the sexuality of male characters and their attitude towards sex is never used as a way to differentiate between evil and good characters or to create a cheap pathos. Heck, if we use that standard, Duke Nukem would be the bad guy of his games; but, no he's viewed as an exaggeration of male behaviors, instead of as a perversion of these.

Now, you may think that I hate men or games. It couldn't be farther from the truth. Like a lot of feminists of both sexes, I've worked in the industry for years, have been a gamer for decades, and deeply care about games. If anything, we feminists want to improve games, because we think they can so much more than just a vehicle for tired tropes.

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