Every once and awhile one of the big gaming news sites will post an article about sexism in video games, and the authors get ripped to shreds by the commenters. I don’t think these authors would be more hated if they murdered whole neighbourhoods. Sexism is a serious problem in the video game industry, as it is in many industries, and people need to see that. If the internet has shown me anything, it is that racism and sexism in North America is very much alive and strong. Why is it that so many people fight so hard to defend sexism, or are they so blind that they can’t see it? The video game industry is rife with sexism from how women are dressed to how women are written. I can count on my hands how many effective female leads there are in video games, and the number shrinks very fast if you look at their entire catalogue (Samus and Other M). There was a time that the primary audience for video games were 14 year old boys, and at that time, sexually objectifying women and filling the lead roles with male power fantasies was understandable from a marketing perspective. However, times have changed and video games are a medium enjoyable by people of all ages and both genders, but many developers have not moved past the 14 year old boy mentality. It is very hard to take a game seriously when it goes out of its way to undermine female characters for no better reason normally than to titillate, and often for no reason at all. Today we are going to be looking at sexism in the industry, and, as I said the last time I did this, there is no way I can be as thorough as this topic deserves, so this post will not be all inclusive by any means.
|I just read an article defending Ivy and her sexualization. I don’t care about the contrived backstory. Ivy exists for one reason, and it isn’t the narrative.|
Firstly, let’s look at the myth that men are as sexually exploited as women in video games. You hear this all the time from internet commenters. The idea behind it is that men are all gruff and muscular and are often shirtless. The proponents of this myth assert that this overwhelming masculinity is over-sexualizing men the same way women are over-sexualized, so there is no reason for women to complain. This is a total falsehood. There is a major difference between turning a character into a sexual object and having that character be a power fantasy. For example: Kratos from God of War, in all his muscular, shirtless glory, was not designed with sex in mind, and the game shows it. There is never an emphasis on Kratos’ sexuality in any sense, only an emphasis on the power he wields. If men were as sexually exploited as women, trust me, you would know it. In Mass Effect 2, a game that isn’t really about “the sexy women” there are multiple close ups on Miranda Lawson’s rear during random conversations. Imagine the fallout if they did this with a male character. The internet went crazy with the idea that they may have to talk to “a gay” in Mass Effect 3. If male sexuality was really forced down our throats, you would hear about it. That is a problem. People defend this practise as long as it involves women, but immediately decry it when it happens to men. It has gotten to a point where it is easy to play a game full of sexual exploitation and not notice it because it is so desensitizing.
|This really isn’t necessary.|
In the article I linked to in the introduction, I discussed gender stereotypes in video games, and I highlighted some examples of strong female leads. Even having a female lead is a rarity, and when a woman does take centre stage, it is a crapshoot to see if female stereotypes will ruin the character. Of course the most common usage of women in video games is the “helper”or “sidekick”. This type of women, exemplified by the coms operator in countless shooters, and exists primarily to funnel information to the main character. Sure, they are often involved in the story, but always in a purely ancillary way. It feels more like these characters were designed by a marketing team who thought that a soothing female voice would be received better by the players. These characters aren’t inherently sexist, but they show what the industry thinks about women. It is a lot safer to use a male lead with a female secondary character than the other way around. Despite making up half of the population, female leads make up less than 5% of video game leads.
|10% if you include the cosplay|
The reason I wanted to talk about sexism today was because of an article by The Mary Sue about gender in Diablo 3. I don’t think that Blizzard was sexist in its creation. I think they were lazy, which is sexist. Let me explain. Blizzard’s storytelling for Diablo 3 can be describes as abysmal at best, and it epitomizes laziness in every bad way possible. One of these ways was the design of its female characters. Female player characters are more scantily clad than their male counterparts, Leah is pretty much a clone of Star Craft’s Kerrigan, the Enchantress is a ditz, and there is a Lord of Lust played by a sexy spider woman (Voiced by the amazing Claudia Black, so that one gets a pass). However, I don’t get that any of that was intentional. The thing is that all of those problems are deeply ingrained tropes in video games, aside from the Leah issue, which was Blizzard simply copying themselves. Instead of thinking up some kind of interesting armour or personality for the Enchantress, they ran with what is industry standard, and it is the fact that such things are industry standard which is sexist. Blizzard’s only crime is that they hired terrible writers.
|This archetype + Jennifer Hale should have been gold. More testament to the poor writing of Diablo 3.|
I am currently playing Dragon’s Dogma, and there isn’t really much in the game in terms of story or characters, but there is one thing that struck me as odd. Female equipment isn’t designed to be skimpy male fantasies. This shouldn’t be weird, but it really, really is. When I wore a piece of armour that was said to be female specific, it wasn’t some “breast shaped breast plate” that you get in every damn game. This was a problem in Xenoblade Chronicles. In that game, Sharla wore skimpy underwear, Melia wore a very short skirt and 7 (Secret story spoiler character) wore practically nothing. What was really odd was that all of those characters were represented in a very serious and often dour light. It is hard to take someone’s tragedy serious when they are wearing lingerie. Looking at games like the recently released Tera, it seems that developers know two settings: voluptuous and really voluptuous. Back on Dragon’s Dogma, it surprised me that you could really minimize chest size and it never gets crazy if you pump it up. Also, you can give women muscle definition, which is a huge no no in video games unless that character is playing the “butch” for laughs.
|Notice the lack of breast shaped lumps on the right character’s armour? That is special, and it shouldn’t be.|
Of course I’m not saying that every game has to include real serious portrayals of women and that women should never be sexualized. What I am saying is that there needs to be more games like that. Of course there should still be fun, over-sexualized games like Bayonetta or the upcoming Lolipop Chainsaw; however, when a game decides that it wants to be taken seriously, it needs to present serious female characters. There are enough games with real, or at very least respectable male characters, that such a portrayal doesn’t strike anyone as odd. It is unfortunate that such a portrayal of a female character is seen as an anomaly. The day you play a standard military shooter as some boring faceless grunt, but that character happens to be a women, and you think nothing of it, is when you know that video games have reached the point that sexism isn’t a problem anymore.
|Great games like this can still exist. They just shouldn’t be the standard for portraying women.|
The fact of the matter is that video games are moving away from the 14 year old boy model. It isn’t fast, but it is happening. However, that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t be aware of the problem. I hear so often on message boards that “everyone knows it is a problem, so why are you talking about it”. Excuse me? If you recognize it is a problem then you shouldn’t just shut up and accept it. It is the stupidest logic around, but is an unfortunately common reaction. The more people who are dissatisfied with the way women are portrayed in video games, the more likely that developers will take note and stop developing games with a purely male audience in mind. This isn’t some ridiculous battle of the sexes thing that men so often get their backs up over. The issue is that we have a group of people who have had to justify throughout history that they are more than just objects, that want to be treated with the same respect as their peers. This process isn’t over. There is a reason that the “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich” meme is so popular, and it isn’t because women love hearing it.
|Marcus Fenix is about as big of a douchebag as they come, and he get’s his own sandwich. What is your excuse?|
The video game industry is full of sexism, and I didn’t even come close to scratching the surface today, and I look forward to revisiting the issue at a later date. With so many games out there portraying women as nothing more than accessories, or sexual objects, it is easy to see why gaming sites like IGN post articles on the matter. However, if you google “IGN, sexism” you will find nothing but blog posts explaining why IGN is wrong about it. When I see things like this, I understand more why there is still so much sexism in video games. If there are that many people rushing to the internet to defend blatant sexism, I can’t help but worry.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer