Misogyny In Video Gaming
Gareth Rhys Davies Discusses Misogyny In Todays Gaming, Read On If You Dare.
When I pitched an article about misogyny and video game culture to the editing staff of Chaos Hour, I'm pretty sure they only agreed to it to keep me quiet. After all - as almost all of my former girlfriends will attest to - I'm about as sensitive to a woman's needs as a brick with the word "Boobs!" written on it with a black felt tip pen. Meanwhile this website is home to three tremendously talented writers in Anastasia Catris, Sasha Robbins, and Gemma Douglas. All of whom happen to be women and all of whom would be much better suited to this subject than a fat ginger man who falls in to the 18 - 34 demographic, and has never been discriminated against because of his genitalia (at least not to my knowledge, anyway. Although it would explain why Katie Roberts never called me back after that third date).
But none of that mattered to me. Oh my no. For, dear friend, I had a tricksy little plan hidden up my sleeve. I, Gareth Davies, was going to defend the honour of my fellow brethren by demonstrating that video games and the people who play them aren't inherently misogynistic at all. After which I would be proclaimed a hero and carried around the streets of Britain like the national treasure I truly am. Followed by a massive brass band. And a ticker tape parade. And something for the kids I guess, I don't know… a clown or something. The point is this was going to cement my reputation as a legend and lead to me drinking for free for the rest of my life.
Well, plans change.
You see I thought I was prepared. I thought I had it all sewn up. I thought I could simply knock those accusations of misogyny down like they were Tokyo and I was Godzilla. It was going to be easy after all. I’m a man, I’ve played games for roughly 25 years, and I don’t consider myself to be a knuckle dragging Neanderthal. In fact, some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met have been women, including my beautiful and quite wonderful wife. I don’t believe a woman’s place is anywhere other than where she wants to be, and I also think it’s dreadful that women on average earn less money than men do while performing the same job role (I mean, hell, it’s 2012 for crying out loud. Not 1954. You would have thought we’d have fixed that kind of thing by now).
So you can appreciate why I mistakenly thought this would be a cake walk. However, the truth is my argument fell apart so dramatically you could have sworn it was a marriage involving Tom Cruise.
Consider Hollywood. That place is as sexist as Bernard Manning judging Miss Scunthorpe. If it’s not Arnold Schwarzenegger shooting a woman at point blank range and following it with a quick quip while wiping her intestines off his face, it’s Mel Gibson using his crazy mind reading powers to steal Helen Hunt’s ideas and earn himself a promotion. After which (and here’s the kicker) she finds out and forgives him anyway before throwing herself in to his arms because gosh darnit he’s such a hunk. And that’s not even taking in to account movies such as Hostel 2, a film that is about as forward thinking as an orang-utan licking a battery.
But even having said all that, the silver screen at its absolute worst wouldn’t depict women the way games do most of the time.
Take the trailer for Hitman Absolution for example. No, not the debut trailer where Agent 47 mows through a series of guards before confronting a woman in a shower (although considering how much screen time is given to a lady performing the altogether mundane activity of washing herself, just so they can squeeze in as many gratuitous cleavage shots as possible, that one is bad enough). I'm talking about the trailer with the nuns. The sexy nuns. The sexy nuns with guns. The sexy nuns with guns and prison ink who strip off for no good reason revealing saucy PVC undergarments. The ones who then proceed to get brutally murdered by 47 one by one, including the nun who gets her nose violently broken for having the temerity to try and attack the professional killers' answer to Grant Mitchell (Geddit?!? Because they're both bald and… no that's all I've got). Yeah! That's right you no good women. You may be armed to the gills with bazookas and breasts, but you're no match for a man in a suit with a small amount of wire.
Now it should be mentioned that on paper none of this is a bad idea. Not really. Agent 47 defeating a group of female assassins is no different from Buffy triumphing over a horde of blood thirsty male vampires. But the way it’s presented is simply stomach churning. In less than three minutes it somehow manages to queasily display women as both sexual objects and punching bags filled with enough blood and guts to cover a football field. And as they jiggle and die at the hands of the superior male (honestly 47 hardly breaks a fingernail while destroying this useless bunch) they’re shot in aching slow motion, making the impact of every punch and bullet a thousand times more pronounced. It’s shallow and horrifying in equal measure, a grotesque attempt at fetishizing extreme violence by inflicting it upon attractive highly sexualised females.
Shortly after the Hitman trailer landed, another insanely misguided teaser arrived. Tomb Raider has been a struggling franchise for a long time now, largely because developers forgot what brought them to the dance in the first place. No one - not one single person in their right mind - gives two hoots about Lara Croft taking on the mafia and unravelling conspiracies. In reality all we want to do is solve some puzzles, jump over some spike filled pits, and shoot the odd tiger in the face here and there. In an astonishingly boneheaded move however Tomb Raider has been rebooted with what is essentially an “origin” story.
Origin stories can be great if done correctly. Just look at Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne has abandoned his life as a multi-millionaire playboy and is instead getting in to fist fights in a Bhutanese prison, in some kind of delusional attempt at delivering true justice one blow at a time. Or even the Amazing Spider-Man, where Peter Parker gets pummelled after sticking up for another boy being bullied in the school yard. The point here is that deep down both of these characters show courage and determination before they become superheroes, proving that all their abilities gained after donning a mask are just extensions of their previous personas. They’re both brave and good men, trapped by their own limited physical gifts from truly being the people they want to be. That is until one gets trained as a ninja and the other gets bitten by a radioactive spider respectively.
In the Tomb Raider trailer however what we have is a timid and rather feckless Croft screaming her lungs out in fear as she jumps from one rocky mountain face to another. That’s followed by her killing a deer for food and then crying over its slumped body, before surviving a rape attempt by accidentally blowing some guy’s head off. Now all this might not be misogynistic in the truest sense of the word, but it does take what was a particularly hard as nails female icon and turn her in to a whimpering coward who bumbles her way through dangerous situations with all the assuredness of a goblin on crack. Say what you want about the previous incarnations of Croft and their giant bosoms and strange way of achieving orgasm while drowning, at least they kicked some ass. This new Croft would probably make you a glass of weak lemon squash and apologise after you’ve thrown it on the floor in disgust, rather than roundhouse kick you in the kidneys before dodging bullets and booby traps like some kind of hybrid gymnast/navy seal.
I guess one could write all that off as just two separate game companies making two spectacularly terrible trailers. Just because advertisers place women somewhere between earthworms and the blue fluff that collects in a belly button, it doesn’t mean the rest of us think like that now does it? No. No of course it doesn’t.
By the way, have y’all met Ryan Perez?
Ryan Perez was a writer for the popular gaming website Destructoid. The reason I use the words “was a writer for the popular gaming website Destructoid” is because Perez lost his job after a rather spectacular meltdown on Twitter. You see for unstable people who are unable to handle criticism the internet is like heroin. Sure when they first start outvoicing controversial opinions and acting like moronsit’s all fun an exciting. But before long their drinking urine out of the gutter and promising to anyone that will listen that if we’d only give them a second chance they’d do it all different. Anyway, Perez’s downfall came about three weeks ago when he tweeted the question “Does Felicia Day matter at all? I mean does she actually contribute anything useful to this industry, besides retaining a geek persona?”.
Now, before all you Felicia Day fans start marking your face with boot polish and preparing for war, we need to establish two things. Number one, at this point Perez (tweeting under the handle PissedOffRyno. Oh you stay classy Ryan) had only fifty followers. So really he wasn’t posting it to be controversial or to get himself talked about in blogs or forums. He was asking a genuine question. A stupid question, no doubt. But a genuine one none the less.
Secondly - and I really shouldn’t have to explain this, but considering the amount of crap I’ve had to wade through while researching this bloody thing I’m going to anyway - it really is a very, very stupid question. Because Felicia Day is an actor. Not a game designer. Not a developer. Not a publisher. She’s an actor. So of course she doesn’t contribute to “the industry” by decoding the bugs from CoD or coming up with new and interesting ways to use a Wii nunchuk. Instead she contributes to gaming by, and pay attention because this will turn your entire life upside down, being a successful celebrity who happens to really like video games. She is a walking embodiment of all that should be right with gaming culture. She’s charming, articulate, and has a genuine passion for pixelated entertainment. Also she defies stereotypes of what a gamer should be, simply by being Felicia Day. In the seemingly never ending war between a mainstream media that will all too often portray gamers as hairy palmed, sweat filled, butter balls, Day is one of the few people walking the planet who is actually doing it right. She proves you can be successful, have social skills, and yet somehow also be a fan of video games at the same time. That is her contribution. She’s an ambassador for the rest of us. And when the history of games is etched in to stone, Felicia Day will probably be deemed to be more important than, oh I don’t know, an ill-conceived reboot of Tomb Raider.
Of course had Mr. Perez left it at that then no one would probably have noticed. But seemingly intent on making as big a prat of himself as he possibly could, he sent two more public messages addressed directly to Day herself. The first said (“Hey Flick! Bet no 1 else calls u Flick rite? Anyway I <3 ur work. Would u show me ur norks?”. Ok it didn’t say that. But I bet she gets requests like that every day. I know I do. It really is difficult being an auburn haired geek icon. People just keep on wanting more and more. Honestly, me and Felicia, we get it rough man) “I keep seeing everywhere. Question: Do you matter at all? Do you even provide anything useful to gaming, besides ‘personality’?". Which I think we can all agree is a bit of a dick move. It’s like going up to a surgeon and saying, “So all I keep hearing is that you’re a terrible golfer. Like the dirt worst. People laugh at you behind your back. Their all like ‘Ohohohoho they couldn’t hit a golf ball with a spade ahahahahah’. Anyway, good luck in surgery today”. It’s unnecessarily cruel. Especially when you consider that, as previously explained, Felicia Day does not make a living in the video game industry outside of the occasional voice acting part. But that was nothing compared to what followed, where via the Galactus of idiotic tweets Perez took the trip from random internet ‘hater’ all the way to fully fledged numbskull. Mistah R to the P tweeted “Could you be considered nothing more than a glorified booth babe? You don't seem to add anything creative to the medium”, again directly to Day.
BOOM. Believe it or not Day is well respected in the geek community, and also has a lot of famous friends. Like Wesley Crusher from Star Trek. And Jane from Firefly. They read what Perez had tweeted and didn’t take too kindly to it. After all comparing Felicia to a booth babe is a bit like saying Meryl Streep wouldn’t have got a thousand or so Oscar nominations if it wasn’t for her cracking pair of legs. And so they started calling on Destructoid to can Ryan’s ass like it was tuna. Perez, feeling the heat from all directions started to lash out (in a particularly charming exchange he told someone that he hoped they had cancer), and rather than walk away from the storm he decided to fight his corner. Alas Ryan came off more and more like a spanner with each and every new tweet, and with Wil Wheaton and Adam Baldwin whipping up a ton of negative publicity, Destructoid did the only thing they could and ceased their association with Perez.
Now the question here is whether or not Perez would still be employed by them had he not caught the attention of people like Wheaton and Baldwin. The answer is, yeah, heprobably would. Hell, they STILL employ Jim Stirling despite dear Jimmyhaving his own mini Twitter breakdown and using the term “feminazi sluts” back in February 2011, before advising the target of his irethat she should get her husband’s permission before using a computer. The difference between Stirling and Perez is that… actually I have no idea what the difference is. In any other medium Stirling would have been fired with such ferocity that he’d have entered Earth’s orbit, regardless if he or others thought he was “justified” or not. Instead he still bashes away at a keyboard for them, while Perez doesn’t. The only lesson one can take from this is Destructoid’s editorial policy is something along the lines of“it’s OK to be sexist guys. Just don’t annoy famous people while you’re doing it”. A statement I am convinced the folks at Destructoid would passionately disagree with. But it still doesn’t change the fact that twice in two years two writers for the site have caused controversy with public remarks that have been construed as misogynistic. Something is wrong with that picture.
At this point I was still clutching on to the slowly rotting remains of my article, grabbing a hold of anything I could in an attempt to revive it. I even started to think “OK, let’s say there are some trailers and gaming sites out there that demean women. It’s not like advertising and journalism ever influenced public opinion is it?”. No really. That’s the angle I was going for. That’s how low I had sunk.
And then I read about the flash game that allowed players to repeatedly punch Anita Sarkeesian in the face. And I completely lost my mind.
Anita Sarkeesian is a pop culture critic who takes a feminist’s eye view on movies and videogames for a site called Feminist Frequency. She recently launched a Kickstarter project for a video series entitled Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, asking for $6000 to be able to fund its production. Somehow, and I’m not really sure why, some people became enraged by this (I can only imagine somebody sitting at their breakfast table screaming “HOW DARE THIS WOMAN MAKE VIDEOS THAT NO ONE IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY WILL PAY ATTENTION TO!!!”) and started a campaign against her.
Now I understand that Sarkeesian might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But does she really need to be subjected to abuse? Are you honestly that threatened by an intelligent woman who has a different opinion to yours? Especially when you consider that all she’s doing is pointing out the bleeding obvious, i.e. there isn’t all that much variety when it comes to female video game characters (although that counts for male characters as well to be fair). It’s not a war that needs fighting is it? If you don’t agree with her, don’t watch her video. It’s what the heads of multinational game publishers will be doing. “She wants a heroine without a cleavage? That’s ridiculous. How am I supposed to sell that? Turn this off!”. But by creating a flash game where her face is pounded over and over again until it is a distorted pulp is disgusting. Not just because of the violence, but because of the mentality behind it. It displays a twisted underbelly to video game fandom, one where making a game specifically designed to “put a woman in her place” is seen as something to be endorsed and shared amongst peers. It’s not misguided. It’s wrong. It is as wrong as wrong could possibly be. And it made me ashamed. It made me ashamed because it took something as graphic and disturbing as that for me to realise what I have become.
I have a daughter. She’s 18 months old now, and she’s wonderful, and infuriating, and easily the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I dream of the moment I can hand her a joypad for the first time and say “Darling, we have the afternoon to ourselves and a gigantic bag of skittles. Welcome to Mario Kart”. But I know that if I do that then one day – after Mario Kart has lost its charm and she’s moved on to larger and more complex games - those big, blue, innocent eyes will look up at me and she’ll ask sweetly“Daddy. Why is that man beating up that topless woman?”. And when that time comes I’ll want to be able to say to her with a clear conscience “Because the people who made this game are arseholes”. But right now I can’t do that. Because I’m as guilty as they are.
A wiser person than myself once said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. I, and people like me, have allowed video games to wallow in a cess pit of sexism and bigotry simply because it was easier that way. I’m not a woman. What do I care if Niko Bellic picks up a prostitute and then shoots her in the head afterwards to get his money back? Doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m alright Jack.
But by taking that attitude we’ve ignored the truth. Videogames are inherently misogynistic. And they’ve become so simply because the good men have done nothing. For years we’ve watched female characters portrayed as nothing more than walking breasts and asses that either provide titillation, or arean object for the male hero to rescue and then acquire. There are exceptions of course, characters such asZelda, Samus Aran, and Jill Valentine for example. These, however, are way too few and far between. After all, the most terrifying aspect of all of this is that the examples cited above weren’t collated over a decade or so. They all occurred in the past two months alone. And while this should be a huge cause for concern, especially when you consider that women make up 51% of the global population, nobody really cares because – just like me – the majority of gamers have become desensitized to it to the point where it doesn’t even register anymore. I hope that’s the case anyway. The only other explanation is that the majority of videogame players ultimately hate women. And I may be too much of a limp wristed idealist for my own good sometimes, but I refuse to believe that’s true.
So here’s what I’m going to do. I won’t be buying a copy of Hitman Absolution. Nor Tomb Raider. I will never subscribe to or regularly visit any website associated with Ryan Perez or Jim Stirling. I will click the like button on every single video Anita Sarkeesian produces even if she says something that I completely and absolutely disagree with. And any time I complete a game where I believe a female character has been portrayed in a negative light for no reason other than she’s a woman, I will throw said game directly in to the trash. That may mean that my entire game collection will consist of just Pikmin, Pikmin 2, and LEGO Harry Potter, but I’ll be honest with you. I really don’t care.
Because at least this way I’ll be able to look my daughter in the eye when the time comes.
Two metres high and rising. - Chaos Hour Writer
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