*Disclaimer* I’m not that keyed into the feminist movement, hell I don’t even keep up to date with current global affairs. If I make gross contradictions, or points that seemingly go nowhere, please hang on till the end, where you can evaluate my overall points. After-all a lack of knowledge, should never be enough to silence you. (I just made that up, but anyhow!)
Sexism in videogames is the hot topic right now. With the media in games and tech, publishing articles all over the web - servicing to keep the molecules heated in this debate. Nobody deserves to be discriminated, based on their gender, creed, race, or sexual preferences. What does it matter that Joe Bob, and Matt Day down the street are in a relationship, how that alters your life, or negatively effects you, beyond some contrived arbitrariness, is beyond me. It’s also beyond what I want to write here, and that has to be made clear early, because from here on out, I’ll likely head towards some grey areas.
Games are a hobby and a pastime. Their formulation was that of the now legendary past, whereby shaggy haired nerds, banded together in the safety of a garage, to tinker with electrical doodads. Esteemed Blizzard Entertainment, then known as Silicon & Synapse, begun humbly as a gathering nerds, in the pursuit of what they loved. In the case of Blizzard (1991) it was three UCLA graduates, Michael Morhaime, Allen Adham, and Frank Pearce. On the other hand you have EA (Electronic Arts), which begun in 1982, not in the hands of a small group of nerds, but in an agreement of venture capitol. The point I’m making is that of distinction, between the underdogs, and the … upperdogs? Different routes, same destinations (this will be relevant at the end, I think). Fast forward to the present, and since the release of a crowed funded project lead by American feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, titled ‘Tropes vs Women in Video Games’, the topic has ignited. In her first video she presents a fairly obvious critique on the lack of non ‘damsel in distress’ type clinches that permeate the medium. This I think is a fair assessment, more games that don’t alienate women please! (I won’t be attempting to get into the workplace issues of sexism, or anything else, since I feel, that the scope of this write up isn’t there) But then what’s the problem?
Lately this topic has caught on like wildfire, and so it rightfully should, it’s a good one, one that requires debate. But allow me to digress a little. During 2007 a trailer for Resident Evil 5 was released, that portrayed African zombies, a big butch white protagonist, and his partially ethnic female sidekick. Race and the depiction of ethnics was for a short while, a hot topic. But that sadly subsided into, well nothingness. A handful of games (one being a last year favourite) have since gone on to include a black American male protagonist, but what of Asian, South American, or African? Not alot if any. Am I committing a red herring? Bare with me.
The dialogue of sexism in video games is so prominent now, that conflict is at all time high. In a recent example, game news site Rock Paper Shotgun released an article written by a female writer. The article was an interview piece, and some readers didn’t appreciate that the author indulged herself too much by dedicating a large amount of the piece on herself. Commenters even took issue with her posting a picture of herself, seemingly in reference to the article. They took this as a sign of her playing up her female traits, as a means to garner more page views. A subsequent series of aggressive responses by the sites authors have jumped to the defence of the writer - against the ‘backwards’ commentators - so much so, that the most recent and most defensive response, has blocked all comments. I’m not here to discuss that article, or what constitutes interview etiquette, but what this illustrates is the feverish paranoia on both sides. This kind of response, while totally justified, clamps any reasonable kind of dialogue along with the blatantly vitriol. Everything is insidious and politically correct, or everything is sexist and backwards. You would be excused in believing that the internet is only made up of Black and White Knights. The bigger problem, is just how tricky it is to foster dialogue, when you’re personally being attacked.
However, on to my point: Amidst the trumpeting claims of equality for all genders, sexual orientations, and races, only one out of the two seems to be getting the attention. The issue of race was largely forgotten on the wayside, and sexual orientation was never picked up in the lengths sexism has. The issue is the dialogue (a worthwhile and important one) has been derailed on both sides. You’re either for it, and therefore a white knight (rushing to the aid of any female cause of distress) feminatzi (women who seek power and control). Or you’re against it, and are therefore a neck beard, forever alone, sexist, internet troll (someone who antagonises for pleasure). Is there any middle ground? Of-course, and that is where the dialogue should be, at the point where the two sides communicate. But the media is only responding to the two extremes, and the cynic in me is quick to point to the fact that these kinds of controversial articles, garner unusually large page views. I digress too much though. The issue is that women aren’t being represented ‘meaningfully’, and since women represent a large portion of the ‘gaming community’, this isn’t right and It needs to change. This is a sentiment I whole heartedly agree with. But what’s being pushed for right now, is a tactic that is equivalent to naming and shaming.
Gaming has never been ‘offensive’ to any minority, in any great length of degree. Non representation, or what you deem to be subjectively inappropriate representation, does not warrant wide spread change. In the case of Resident Evil 5, would I have preferred if it treated Africans in a respectable manner? No, because it never disrespected them to begin with. It’s a game where the African populace has been infected with a virus that turns them into … zombies. It’s no different to the millions of times that scenario has been set in the west. What I would like, is more games like Telltale’s superb Walking Dead, where the cast is meaningfully diverse, and not for it’s own sake, but for a richer narrative. The fact that the protagonist is white and male, just speaks to the market these companies are aiming for. You have to remember that a publisher telling a developer, that if they make their lead a woman, they’ll lessen the projects funds, is a response to the economical climate. Games with female leads, blacks, hispanics, asians, transponders, or gays, are in the minority amongst the demographic. By this fact, they’ll make less money, and when you factor in the hundreds of millions it takes to fund these big triple A games, it’s no surprise. It’s not ideal, but it is reality, and it’s one of supply and demand, that will change as the market for it grows. The alternative is to belittle, and shame people into ‘wanting’ what you deem ‘ideal’, and that to me is a very very dangerous road. To use an analogy, it would seem absurd to complain that the big porn websites that cater to males, don’t have gay, and transgendered content in the same site. Those who want it, supply it. I’m advocating representation, but not in the manner you see being widely sought, of altering to change, but that of creating to change. In the digital era of kick-starters (crowd funded projects) negating the need to appeal to the masses for commercial viability, why aren’t I seeing the impassioned creating games to cater to these groups? Either I’m missing them (which is fine, so long as the demographic it aims for sees it), they’re not being done, or i’m terribly uninformed (likely). This isn’t civil rights, it’s videogames, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in companies throwing millions of investor capitol to appeal to those they know will return that money. There is also nothing wrong with individuals, teams, or organisations, making games that appeal to other demographics. Diversity and options, are only ever good for industry. It is misguided (in my opinion) however, to take a moral high-ground in a topic that’s never been about morals; then be offended when others are offended and defensive in-turn. Games are about fun, play, getting together, drama, entertainment and above all creativity. It’s a medium that’s rich because it requires knowledgable, talented, and creative people. Dialogues that are laden with hostile sub texts, will only serve to prolong the change that is being sought. There seems to be a prevailing attitude to steam roll past the people that disagree with us, ‘Why should we offer dialogue to them? They’re clearly in the wrong.’. But subsiding only in the places where ends are agreed upon, does nothing but deny communication between the very sizeable ‘others’.
So in the interest of not just being another blog that capitalises on the bandwagon, what can we do about it? We can begin by realising that games are driven by market forces, as much as they are driven by preference. The small nerdy guys at Silicon & Synapse are a long stretch to the Blizzard Entertainment that makes revenues in the regions of billions per year (though most are still there today!). Triple A games cost hundreds of millions to produce, and in this age of wonky economic assurance, it’s no wonder why investors are playing it safe. What’s being coined ‘Dudebro’ adventures with guns, and white guys (and one hispanic, or black guy) with 5 o’clock shadows, are the kinds of games that will return the considerable venture capitols that are being poured into them. They COULD and SHOULD make attempts to veer from this certainty. But the point I’m making is that it is potentially dangerous to claim sexism, or racism, where there’s legitimate reasoning. Knocking on the mainstream’s door and crying foul about their investor practices, is like knocking on Hollywood’s Avengers studio, and telling them to make it more ethnic and sexually diverse. Not unless there’s more money to be made. So you ask for others to create, and you support them, and then the big guys will take notice. After-all these people aren’t spending their money to make you feel accomplished, and right at night, they’re in it to make money, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, not until games reach a point where their content is objectively and hatefully offensive. I do want change, and this piece isn’t to blatantly defend the publishers, it is (as I hope) to show how this isn’t about black and white ethics.
in the Asian market, female orientated videogames boomed in the early digital era, because women realised that there were demand for it. They created content, to meet the needs of the people. The difference it feels, is that here we want to change content, to create content. So is it any wonder people are paranoid and hostile on the internet? You’re denying people, in order to make way for what you want. When that happens in a entertainment driven market, we need to foster dialogue. I’d love games with strong diverse genders, sexual orientations, and ethnics. It does happen. We also need to promote creation, and those that are already creating. In an age where the average westerner can learn code, establish like minded audiences over the net, and ask them to give you money to make it (kickstarter), why are we fretting over the mainstream? When has the mainstream ever not be the shallow point of society? and i’m fine with that, even when I’m not fine with it. To not be fine with it, when it’s arguably harmless (in terms of gross injustices) is to tell people how they ‘ought to live’ what they ‘ought to like’.
There are consumer industries, hobbies and mediums that make it hard for any particular group to get into, there just is, and not necessarily by virtue of hate. Now this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try, they should, especially when it’s about entertaining others or youself. If you find it harmlessly entertaining (i’m not gonna talk about hate speech and the like) then good, others will too. But you can’t presume people’s enjoyments need to be changed, to make way for yours, when there’s (arguably) insufficient reasons for it to change (an investor will make more money on the typical, than the risky). You also shouldn’t act surprised and horrified when multi billion, capitol motivated, development houses tell you that diverging from what will assuredly earn them money, will result in you not getting as much money. If it’s important to you, and it is to me, you bite the lip, search elsewhere, and endeavour to bring about that change. Antagonising each other, in a medium that’s suppose to be about people’s loved and shared pastimes, will only create more paranoia and hate. And there will always be hateful brats, on any side of the discussion. I’ve seen youtube videos where women are berated and insulted for being female, in the ‘mans portion’, and vice versa. This extends to everything, click on that popular cat video, and see how hostile it quickly gets. Men and Women are different, and that’s just by virtue of biology. I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make by that, but maybe that is the point. Sometimes we’re so caught up in wanting others to be like us, that we forget that we’re different, be it race, culture, sex or whatever. I use to complain about Twilight making so much money, but I grew up. That’s what needs to happen, to all of us, we need to grow up a little. We need to allow for others to fulfil their needs, and at the same time for us to have our needs fulfilled. We also need to not grow up? be childish, and enjoy whatever we enjoy, be it muscular and sweaty men, or busty and curvaceous women. There’s nothing wrong with either of the two, the next two, or the two after that. Be vocal about what you want developed because someone will develop it (or hey, give it a shot yourself). But be mindful of what others want. Promote options, don’t be so seemingly focused to alter what there is. As much as there are parallels to civil rights movements, gaming isn’t a civil right. It’s a privilege, and your ticket is your wallet (and your voice).
Women ARE underrepresented in the video games of the triple A kind, but so are ethnic minorities, and that of different sexual orientations, and so and so on, let’s not forget about them now. It also doesn’t only pertain to these things, hell I want more farming simulator games (Harvest Moon, not Tractor Simulator), and I’m sure there’s things you want that’s not being fulfilled. Furthermore the big publishers are becoming increasingly irrelevant, as people are finding alternative ways of funding, asking for, and creating the games they want. When we antagonise, we’re doing those a disservice that are actively working to create the games we like, because it fosters negative attitudes towards the topic at hand. I believe progress is, and will be made, but if we continue down the path we’re on, we’re only going to make it more difficult, and we’re subsequently going to make those that try to capitalise on the discord, very very happy.