Girls in Gaming

I touched on this subject yesterday, and it’s something that I’d like to expand upon. Basically, there’s a tendency among both game designers and game players to marginalize, sexualize or downright denigrate the role of women both in the games and playing games. It’s a stupid, misogynistic and shockingly accepted behavior, and I really wish it’d stop.

Courtesy Ninja Theory
Nice job empowering young girls out there, Christie.

Now, don’t get me wrong. As a red-blooded mostly-heterosexual male who still has a pulse, I can appreciate a curvaceous woman who’s unashamed of her body. But really, how you can take the female fighters from Dead or Alive, stick them in a game that has them frolicking around on a beach in skimpy swimwear and not call it objectification? I mean to have strong women in a fighting game is one thing, but to take them from that context and stick them in another where all they do is flail around at one another, roll around on a sandy beach and pose provocatively for the player is quite another. At one point in DOAXBV 2, Christie does a pole dance. It’s just absolutely shameless exploitation of her sexuality. On top of the unfortunate social message this sends, the engine’s “jiggle physics” makes things unrealistic to the point of hilarity. Sure, somebody’s somewhere getting off on it as I write this, but I could say the same thing about a picture of a particularly woolly sheep.

Courtesy Daily Mail UK
Somewhere out there, somebody’s picturing Victa here on a pole.

Even when taking a lead role in a game, it’s difficult to find a pre-determined female protagonist who isn’t meant more to titillate than inspire. I haven’t been able to take Lara Croft seriously for some time now, for example. Bayonetta is a pretty blatant example of female protagonist exploitation, but at least she’s aware of it and is willing to laugh at how pathetic her exploiters can be. For the ultimate tongue-in-cheek gamer prick “taking the piss” experience, I’d love to see her saunter into a future No More Heroes title.

Courtesy Sega
Seriously. This babe, teamed up with Travis Touchdown. Think about it.

It’s not all bad news, though. Yesterday I talked about Alyx Vance, from Half-Life 2 and its episodes. While she isn’t the main character, she gets a lot more characterization and personality than Gordon does, other than what’s projected onto him by the player. She’s probably still number one on my list of female sidekicks, though Farah from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a very close second. And when it comes to protagonists, positive ones are certainly out there. Alex Roivas from Eternal Darkness comes to mind, as does Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. But I think it’d be very difficult for me to find a girl gamer who doesn’t consider Samus Aran a very positive role model.

Courtesy Nintendo
Looking this good and kicking galactic-scale ass is a tough job.

Now, recent titles seem to depict Samus’ Zero Suit as having been sprayed on by some unknown Chozo technology. However, it still makes sense, as an environmental layer between her and her armor that still provides a layer of protection. In addition, she doesn’t need to look as good as she does, never relies upon her looks to survive, functions independently and projects a motherly instinct from time to time. She’s a well-rounded, positive character that blows the crap out of alien pirates who cross her. Female Commander Shepard from the Mass Effect games is another good example. It’s no coincidence that they’re both voiced by Jennifer Hale, if you ask me.

Women in games continue to struggle to be taken seriously. The players, too, have a lot of misogyny and prejudice to deal with. A good chunk of the gaming population seems to think that girls who play games are limited to Farmville or Cooking Mama or Little Big Planet. That’s such a complete load of immature misinformed crap. Face it, kids, women play games too, and not just the aforementioned “casual” titles. (And really, what makes those games “casual”? A lack of gunfire? No swearing? Not enough achievements to swell your virtual penis gamerscore?) There are entire organizations out there like the PMS Clan dedicated to reinforcing the notion that women who get behind the keyboard or controller are just as capable of racking up kills, scoring points and talking smack as the boys, if not moreso.

Ladies, don’t let those underdeveloped wisecracking jerkoffs keep you from playing games you love and demanding a better representation for women. They’re not better than you are and they don’t have any right to say that you don’t have a place on their servers or in their games. And what’s more, deep down, they know it, and it scares the hell out of ’em. I think I’ve said more than enough on the subject, so let me close by reiterating something I’ve come to believe about pretty much any endeavor I or any of my peers undertake.

The only thing that’s really capable of stopping you from making the most of the opportunities out there, in gaming or any other walk of life, is you.

EDIT: The conversations started by this post over on the Escapist have gotten VERY heated. Watch the fireworks from here, but bring an umbrella, as the forecast predicts a 75% chance of bullshit.

14 Comments

  1. >The only thing that’s really capable of stopping you from making the most of the opportunities out there, in gaming or any other walk of life, is you.

    I totally agreed with everything but that statement. The establishment is pretty good at keeping females down. Particularly unapologetic ones.

    Recently, a female game designer for a AAA studio was asked about her opinion on sexism in gaming, she said, “girl gamers complaining about sexism need to grow a pair.” That was just about the worst statement I think a female developer could make. It goes further to tell me that it’s hard to make it as a successful female in games without buying into the misogynistic system.

  2. @David – Call me a rose-colored-specs-wearing optimist, but I don’t think that any obstacle is completely and totally unsurmountable. You can find a way over, around or even through just about anything that tries to stop you. You just shouldn’t give up.

  3. Apocalypse2012

    April 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    What a load of crap. First, you dudes have nothing relavent to say about how women are treat in the game industry. Second, what the fuck is wrong with sexual objectification. Third, if you don’t like the cotent of my fantasy, gaming, entertainment tastes, it’s a good fucking thing you are not tasked with making it. Fourth, if you think women are underserved, shut the fuck up and make a game. While you are up, you can hire as many women as you want to help you.
    As a point of fact alot of women enjoy these games, and quite a few help make them.

  4. >Call me a rose-colored-specs-wearing optimist, but I don’t think that any obstacle is completely and totally unsurmountable. You can find a way over, around or even through just about anything that tries to stop you. You just shouldn’t give up.

    Sure. I get that. I guess I was reading it differently. It’s rougher for a woman. It’s not impossible.

    Re:Apocalypse2012

    >First, you dudes have nothing relavent to say about how women are treat in the game industry.

    It’s not his job to give you more information. There’s an entire internet for it. It’s full of examples.

    >Second, what the fuck is wrong with sexual objectification.

    It’s objectifying. Take a breather. Relax. Tone down your sexually-violent language, then take a Feminism 101 class.

    >Third, if you don’t like the cotent of my fantasy, gaming, entertainment tastes, it’s a good fucking thing you are not tasked with making it.

    That’s not quite the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. But I wouldn’t keep it out of the running if I had a contest for it.

    >Fourth, if you think women are underserved, shut the fuck up and make a game. While you are up, you can hire as many women as you want to help you.

    Also bullshit. Do you know how slavery was ended? Do you? Do you know about the womens’ suffrage movement? Do you think it was a universal decision?

    No.

    And the assholes on the other sides of those arguments were also telling people to shut up and deal with it, to just not use slaves themselves, to hire women, et cetera.

    >As a point of fact alot of women enjoy these games, and quite a few help make them.

    Cite numbers. Tell me it’s equal treatment. Tell me it’s an equal fan to developer ratio. Try me. You can’t, or better still, you won’t. I know you refuse to accept that it’s an issue, but I refuse to accept that you see basic, factual information.

  5. As a note? The whole “girl gamer” thing is, in and of itself, pretty demeaning, unless you’re actually talking about under-15-year-old female gamers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone in the industry use the term “boy gamers” (unless referring to male youths specifically), but as a 42 year old woman, I’m constantly labeled as a “girl gamer”. Even my youngest child is no longer really fitting of that label, so I think the time has come to abandon the alliteration and use female or woman when talking about us. And that’s really only necessary when (as in this article) our gender is an issue.

    Thanks for taking on this topic – it’s a thorny one.

  6. As a woman, this is a topic that really irritates me. Instead of clogging your comment box, I just updated my own blog:

    http://jadedscribe.blogspot.com/2010/04/girls-and-gaming.html

    But I will say this:

    @David You seem to think that you support feminist views. But if you do, why do you so clearly assume that as a woman, then clearly my self-image and self-esteem are going to be threatened by pixels on my screen?

    As a man, do you fall to pieces and rush to the gym just because Kratos has a perfectly chiseled body? No? Then don’t expect me to fall apart just because I’m a woman.

    This attitude only adds to the problem women have in our culture when you reinforce the stereotypes that are force-fed to us by the mass media.

  7. If you’d like, and you’re up for listening, I’ll continue conversation at your blog.

    However, you’ve put a lot of words in my mouth. You haven’t actually addressed any words that did come out of my mouth, so I’m not certain we could participate in productive discourse. I believe you’re projecting other views you’ve heard on the topic onto me.

  8. I don’t believe I was projecting. You urged the other poster to go take a Feminism 101 class (despite the fact that feminism has done a great deal to keep women down by reinforcing stereotypes).

    “The establishment is pretty good at keeping females down. Particularly unapologetic ones.”

    I’m a female. I’m not kept down. Because this particular post was about women in gaming, I assumed you were talking about the same thing. And since you only point to the misogyny of the industry and ignore the fact that men are also depicted in a crazy ideal of steroid-esque physiques and domineering personality which in turn reinforces the negative stereotypes regarding men and their social place, I can only conclude that you think women need some kind of special help “coping” with the overblown characters of our gender.

  9. Catherine:

    I told the guy to take a Feminism 101 class because he doesn’t understand ‘what the fuck is wrong with sexual objectification.’ The fact is, there’s a wealth of basic, elementary information out there he could go to if he really wanted to know. His language choice tells me that he doesn’t want to know, that he just discounts it.

    My quote about the establishment is specifically about female video game designers. I’m not sure if you are one, if you are I’m sorry, but my statement was specifically in regards to them.

    “I can only conclude that you think women need some kind of special help “coping” with the overblown characters of our gender.”

    Complete fallacy. That has nothing to do with what I said.

    ” ignore the fact that men are also depicted in a crazy ideal of steroid-esque physiques and domineering personality which in turn reinforces the negative stereotypes regarding men and their social place”

    There’s a wealth of information about this already, but it’s a strawman argument. It’s apples and oranges. Male characters embody over-emphasized elements necessary for the success along the game’s set goals. Female characters aren’t optimized for combat, they have breasts that are unrealistically shaped, they have legs far longer than a human should, and their waists are about the size of their arms. Female characters are optimized for their sexuality.

  10. Also, I’m genuinely curious what you mean about this statement: “(despite the fact that feminism has done a great deal to keep women down by reinforcing stereotypes).”

    Feminism is a complicated issue. It’s not something that really sets on a single issue, so it’s hard to make sweeping, general statements about what ‘it’ has done in such a broad way. I’m curious what stereotypes you think it reinforces, because in my experience (both direct and academic,) it’s done well to dispel many stereotypes.

    Feminism at its core is dedicated to equal rights, respects, treatment and protections. It’s about equality. I don’t know what stereotypes you feel fit into that.

  11. I am a late student who is working to becoming a game designer, and a girl that’s been playing video games since the late 80s.

    As far as “the fact that feminism has done a great deal to keep women down by reinforcing stereotypes”, its something I see every day.

    I’m not saying that all feminism is bad. It clearly isn’t as shown by things like the women’s suffrage movement etc.

    But modern feminists (and this is what I’ve seen from groups on my college campus, in my community, and around the net) focus on the differences. They offer groups and lectures to teach women how to break out of the mold, as it were. This is a lofty goal, but they go about it in a way that reinforces the stereotypes by telling women that because of their gender, they *need* to attend special lectures and need a group of supporters behind them to feel validated.

    Rather than focusing on the weakness of the individual, they focus (and therefore reinforce the stereotypes behind) the perceived weaknesses of the gender as a whole.

    Take a woman that has self-esteem issues because she’s unhappy with her looks. She gets told that she has these self-esteem issues because men are the ones putting her down. Instead of treating the woman as an individual person and showing her how to change her appearance to something she is happy with (in a healthy way of course, such as eating healthier, being more active, or even a simple makeover to give her a new look that *she* feels good about), she is taught that she has been raised to feel this way due to a male dominated media.

    They teach the woman to be happy exactly how she is because she’s only unhappy because of some ideal standard set by men that she should simply ignore. Instead of confronting the *real* reasons behind her self-esteem issues (often from some kind of abuse, whether she was abused at home or by cruel peers at school) and teaching her to overcome them, she simply projects them onto men, and the gap between genders simply widens, rather than resolving it.

    This attitude also sends the message to the women of our society that they *should* feel down on themselves because they are being held down.

    I think a far better message to send is how to cope with these problems as individuals with a problem, *not* as women with a problem.

    And as far as men not being over-sexualized, I have to disagree. I don’t think their overblown proportions are to further the game’s goals. They are given bulging muscles and rugged good looks to entice women to play the game, not because they need rippling muscles to shoot a pistol.

  12. I dunno… playing God of War III kinda made me want to hit up the gym more…

  13. Every time I play Mahjong I feel as if the tiles are merely metaphors for the glass ceiling keeping me from reaching my true potential.

    I no longer game. I no longer have the time. However, when I played DOA3, which was the last time I was current on gaming systems due to funds that are now delegated elsewhere, I always chose a character who was wearing enough clothing to cover her naughty bits. I didn’t notice it at first, and when I did I chuckled.

    See, I have a sense of humor. I sense that some chicks don’t.

    There’s a great deal of misogyny in ALL of the entertainment realms. Take a look at many Hollywood blockbusters, for instance. Check out the fact that on TV crime dramas the female leads almost always end up in sexual peril (not as bad as the days of Pepper in Police Woman, maybe, but still).

    I don’t need someone to help me “cope,” but it sure as hell is nice knowing that some dudes have my back.

    And, you know, that they also are smart enough to notice these things.

  14. “The only thing that’s really capable of stopping you from making the most of the opportunities out there, in gaming or any other walk of life, is you.”

    I always find it entertaining when straight white men say things like this.

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