Editorial: The Feminist in the Closet

Heston's gon' play wit' ya'll scarecrow arguments!
Come at me, Internet.

What ho and hail, Lusipurr fandom!

After much thought, I have decided that it may be interesting to periodically poke into some of the criticisms made about the video game industry as a whole. It is always easier to dismiss that which criticizes us, or to lump misguided fear upon misguided fear over top of those who disagree with us. That, my friends, is why I firmly believed that all conservatives were Franco fascists for most of my youthful days. Yet this does no justice to myself or to engaging debate, and for that reason I have come to believe that sometimes it is best to throw open the closet in which we hide our fears and turn on the light. For this first installment of what may or may not become a semi-regular editorial subject, I have decided to cast my flashlight upon a person whose critique of video games has been steadily on the rise: the overly reviled and vilified feminist critic.

I am swinging generally here instead of calling out a singular critic because, in many ways, gamers respond generally. “Feminists” is the catch-all term used to describe those who “don’t get video games” or “want to ban games” that do not conform to their totalitarian dogma of female empowerment. Most of the time, however, gamers who believe this are never really engaging with “feminists,” or even feminism. The gamers who respond to the feminist criticisms usually couch their critique against a backdrop of censorship. One forum writer, responding to a critic who used a cheesecake metaphor to describe hypersexual female forms, wrote “The problem is what ends up happening is instead of coming up with a better kind of cheesecake [representation of female characters], we won’t get any cheesecake [sexual representations of female characters] at all.” In other words, do not criticize the proliferation of sexualized female forms because then all sexualized female forms will be censored. Logic, baby!

Manly...rugged...beards...
Yes, even manly men with manly beards can be feminists.

A second reason I am describing feminism generally is because feminism is, by and large, a general movement. Contrary to the stereotype put forth, not all feminists are radical man-hating bra burners.* Feminism is a “big house” with lots of rooms and doors with different decorations and houseplants. Much in the same way that socialists will murder each other over the proper methods for bringing about economic equality, different groups of feminists have radically different ideas about how to bring about gender equity. This makes it increasingly important to actually listen to what is being said, as the arguments can vary wildly from person to person.

Most of the arguments regarding feminism in video games are reliant upon the representation of women in video games. Flare-ups like the Dragon’s Crown artwork or Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women” series all stem from a concern over the distinct one-sided nature of the way women are portrayed. Keep in mind, Schreier and Sarkeesian have not advocated censorship or banning in either of their respective articles/videos. “I’m not saying this particular piece of art should not exist,” Schreier wrote in an article clarifying his earlier comment, “but I have no qualms about saying I think it can hurt this game and gaming as a whole.” Neither is it necessarily an issue that female characters are being made to be sexually appealing to male players- the issue is that they are being made that way in a majority of games. This criticism hits home when one takes into account gaming demographics- that, despite all the ways in which we might imagine our community, 47% of all gamers are female.

So female video game players have been hypersexualized- it is not like male characters have been made as accessible characters, right? Am I able to flex my biceps like Duke Nukem, or rip things in half like Kratos? Unrealistic expectations abound in video games! The related issue here is who those unrealistic expectations are being made for. The oversexualized females with boob physics are what the developers think I, as a straight male, want to see. Similarly, the machismo of Marcus Fenix is built around what the developers think straight males are interested in pretending to be. Of course, the caveat that needs to be made is that not every male feels the draw of the power fantasies at play in God of War, nor is every male attracted to the Tits’n’Ass design in Dragon’s Crown. Yet despite that, it seems rather obvious that the 47% mentioned earlier was not part of the discussion to design Kratos or develop Simon Belmont. Therein lies the rub. When it comes to designing characters, it feels as though we exist in a market oversaturated by designs developed from a single perspective for a single demographic.

*smokes cigar* *chuckles* *smokes cigar*
This all being said, boob armor has given us some incredibly chuckle-worthy meme images.

The criticism of sexualized images of women and the encouragement of “better” designs does not have to be a zero sum game, and every feminist I spoke with or read has not viewed it that way. The most common plea is one for diversity of characters, or at the very least a recognition of the problematic aspects in the characters we have now. “Just to be clear, I am not saying that all games that use the damsel in distress as a plot device are automatically sexist or have no value…” said Anita Sarkeesian at the end of her first video on “Tropes vs Women,” “……but it’s still important to recognize and think critically about the more problematic aspects, especially considering many of these franchises are as popular as ever and the characters have become worldwide icons.” How could one really disagree with these sentiments? As a straight male who is not interested in the ideas about gender and sexuality held by most developers, I would love to see a greater diversity in images and games. This is, in part, why I am attracted to Indie games like Analogue: A Hate Story or AAA titles like Tomb Raider which promise to subvert the standard tropes surrounding women. In an industry that many of us decry as being stale and repetitive, the instinctive need to defend “traditional” portrayals of women in video games is counterproductive to seeking and developing those new experiences we want. As a final reference to the argumentative tattoo I have been developing, none of these goals preclude or prevent the games that have been made from being made. It simply means that there should be a greater multiplicity of views and target audiences, or at least that game developers should recognize the multiplicity of views that actually exist.

I feel the need to express thanks to some of my friends who assisted greatly in explaining this dense topic to me. Kate Reynolds and Seth Brodbeck, who finished their graduate work with Bowling Green State University, are two who come to the forefront of my mind. Kate’s thesis, “Narrative, Gaze, and Body: The Construction of the Video Game Heroine and Female Gamer” was especially helpful. Kevin Oleksy was also instrumental in this article. All misinterpretations and mistakes are, naturally, my own.

What about you folks? Do you view the Feminists as raging wiminz attacking your gates, or are you more in tune with their arguments? Are there any feminist critiques that you feel have merit, or is there any that you absolutely disagree with? And who might be the next boogeyman to come out of Che’s closet?

———

*Really, none of them are bra-burners, because the sixties were nothing but lies.

61 comments

  1. I don’t understand, are you trying to say that Franco was bad?

    Also you are quite wrong about Schreier, whose original article was titled something along the lines of ‘This is why you shouldn’t let fourteen year-olds design your artwork’, suggesting that games which look like Dragon’s Crown should not be made.

    Moreover, gender breakdowns in gaming arguments tend to be pretty hollow, when you consider how broadly the interpretation of ‘gamer’ tends to be applied (thank you Wii / iPhone).

    Are all females in gaming hypersexualised? I don’t think so. They certainly are with respect to all the high profile action games, but that’s because the vast majority of their natural audience is male – and thus the moral caterwaulers of the industry are left to bleat “why can’t Duke Nukem be a safe space for womyn?”

    Really though, I think you’d be surprised at how much non-sexualising content exists if you didn’t put out your eyes with ideological fervour. In your sweeping statements you are ignoring all kinds of games (probably because they fall well outside of your interests, and mine), yet non-violent iOS, DS/3DS, and PC games like the Sims are what a lot of female ‘gamers’ are playing.

    I live to be proven wrong, but 47% of CoD players are not women.

    Also, Anita Sarkeesian deserves to be drowned in a bucket.

  2. Julian beat me to it.

    The assumption that every game has an audience that is a representative sample of the total audience of gamers is fallacious in the extreme. 47% of gamers might be women, but 47% of CoD or Duke Nukem players are not women, and it would be foolish to the point of absurdity for the developers of those games to proceed as if they were.

    I would point to the games where women are known to be a key component of the audience: puzzle games, facebook games, and so on–and observe that those games have just the sort of design that people are clamouring for.

    Finally, I take strong issue with the suggestion (even if it is only accidentally implied) that games *should* be designed for a cross-section of the gaming populace–that is, that every game should be designed as if it were being made for the *entirety* of gamers, rather than for a target audience. If that were the ideal development policy of every company, we’d have a bunch of fucking dreadful, porridge-like games that would only interest the lowest common denominator of the gaming populace.

    I applaud the courage of developers to stay true to their target demographic, despite the entry of other demographic groups into the marketplace. Those groups either joined because they like the games that already exist (hence, they need not be changed), or because someone is producing games for them specifically (in which case the other games are of no interest to them in the first place).

    This whole thing sounds like a case of sour grapes to me: “I want every game to cater to me specifically, and I am mad when X games caters to a group that does not include me.”

    I would say, “Man up,” but the irony would be too savage.

  3. Now that we have that settled, what is your beef with the hero of Spain?

  4. Nine times out of ten, when someone makes some kind of grand claim that a state of affairs is “natural,” you only have to peek behind the curtain to see that a whole lot of work goes into propping up that “natural” state. Take the high-profile action game genre, where publishers actively remove female protagonists because they don’t think their target demographic is mature enough to deal with their avatar being a woman, or with that woman (gasp!) kissing a man. Frankly, I’m surprised that no one on this site is apparently in the least bit insulted by the fact that Vanillaware evidently thinks the best way to market to you is to shove an enormous pair of breasts in your face.

    But this isn’t really about Vanillaware specifically. This is the problem feminist critique runs into: When you make statements about trends in a field that seem obvious to you, you are accused of making sweeping generalizations. When you take a case study (say, Dragon’s Crown) to illustrate your point, you are accused of making a mountain out of a molehill. When you illustrate the trend with hundreds of examples, you are accused of cherry-picking your data (despite no one seeming to be able to come up with a similar number of counterpoints).

    Dragon’s Crown wouldn’t be problematic if it wasn’t emblematic of a general trend in gaming. Much like CoD wouldn’t be the target of so much ire if it wasn’t representative of a fleet of homogenized shooters crowding out the AAA market.

    (And before you ask, yes, I am the Seth Brodbeck Tim refers to in the article).

  5. The problem here is not that the games in question should for some reason be targeted towards all demographics, but more that these games have sexist imagery.
    Just because the people who buy those sorts of games tend to like their women objectified doesn’t mean that such behaviour should be encouraged by the developers.

  6. @Seth: “I’m surprised that no one on this site is apparently in the least bit insulted by the fact that Vanillaware evidently thinks the best way to market to you is to shove an enormous pair of breasts in your face.”

    It’s not marketted to me, because that doesn’t interest me. Hence I didn’t buy the game.

    However, simply because it is not marketted to me is not cause for me to declare, churlishly, that it should not be allowed. Plenty of things are not marketted to me, some of them far more crassly than this game, and I wouldn’t step on those things either. I’m not enough of a tin-pot tyrant for that, I’m afraid.

  7. @Lusipurr “However, simply because it is not marketted to me is not cause for me to declare, churlishly, that it should not be allowed.”

    Naturally, but criticizing an expression is not the same as denying the right to make that expression in the first place. I do not take your and Julian’s criticism of Tim’s post to mean that he is not allowed to talk about feminism. As I said, the idea is not that Vanillaware, specifically, should not be allowed to make Dragon’s Crown in such a fashion, but that I would like to see fewer games take that route of hypersexualization. Dragon’s Crown is just a convenient example.

  8. @Seth: I’m glad we can both agree that censorship is BAD.

    That said, I think simply not buying the game oneself would be more useful than trying to shame other people into not buying it, or into shaming the developer into not making it. Neither of those approaches seem to be to be particularly philosophically valid, as they proceed from the arrogant assumption that one’s personal viewpoint about a contestible issue should be enforced, by shame, on others–even others who do not subscribe (as is well their right) to those notions.

    A developer will always incline to what makes them money. If people do not want that sort of imagery, their games will sell fewer copies, and they will amend their development strategy. So, shouting at Dragon’s Crown for taking advantage of an existing market environment seems to me to be shouting at the symptoms rather than the cause of the perceived problem.

  9. *breathes a sigh* Mmm’kay, I know I expected this. One person at a time.

    @Seth – Yay! My evil plot to get you to start commenting on the site has been successful! Now to get you with an account…

    @Chromatos – Have I welcomed you to the party? I know you’ve posted on other articles, but I haven’t seen you about that often nonetheless, so welcome to the party! This was one point I’m actually not completely on board with (although Seth may back you up on this one). There are a few games that I enjoy with sexist imagery- Borderlands and Duke Nukem 3D come to mind in that regard. The issue I have is with the “main” video game markets maintaining that sexist imagery with what I feel is an undue amount of homogeneity.

    One aspect that didn’t come up in the post is the fact that we are beginning to see fissures in that homogeneity (thank god). Indie studios have begun to actually make games that can impact the market, albeit not on the grand scale as the massive franchises, and some of the greatest of these games avoid the mainstream perspective of white males. Even within the AAA studios we have seen more conscious efforts to break the cycle (as seen with Remember Me, Bioshock Infinite, and Tomb Raider, albeit with stuttered and struggling steps. This is progress, but to loosely paraphrase Malcolm X, “You don’t stab a man in the back with a six inch knife, pull it out three inches and call it good.”

    @Mel – Curses, you’re one of my favorite commentators.

  10. @Lusipurr I would argue that there is so much inertia (nearly 30 years’ worth) behind sexualizing women in games that it is not enough to simply not buy games with problematic imagery. First of all, this action is ambiguous, and can easily be misread. You and Julian implicitly argue that female gamers tend to play puzzle and Facebook games because they are predisposed to “casual” gaming and wouldn’t play “hardcore” games even if they weren’t so sexualized. But I consider it just as plausible that these female gamers are in fact avoiding these games because of the sexualization, and not because they don’t like action games as a rule.

    Furthermore, the idea of voting with your wallet ignores the fact that a purchase is not an endorsement of everything in a game. I’ve bought many games with elements I disliked because there was some positive aspect that outweighed that, and I’m sure you’ve done the same. I bought Mass Effect 2 despite my misgivings about EA as a publisher and the conspicious absence of same gender romances, because the strong storytelling and excellent characterization (as well as the option to play a strong, non-sexualized female protagonist in the form of Fem!Shep) came out on top. I think what’s going on here is less that the target demographic for Dragon’s Crown (whatever that is) actively wants sexualized women, but more that they are willing to accept it as a matter of course because it is tangential to what they are really looking for in a game and because it is so ubiquitous as to be practically invisible. I think there are few gamers who would refuse to buy a game because it doesn’t have enough tits and ass, and the loss of those gamers would easily be won back in female (and feminist) gamers eager to play something that doesn’t treat women as objects to be looked at.

  11. @Lusi & Julian – Hokay, there’s a lot going on here but I think you guys are generally on the same page (?) so I’m going to just respond to you both at once.

    With regards to the 47% statistic – Yes, I think it’s entirely valid to point out that the 47% is going to look wildly different depending on which game and genre you are looking at. However, this statistic is relevant if we recognize that gender is not tied to genre, which it isn’t, and instead think of the discrepancy between the two statistics as an untapped market, which I would argue it is. To me, that’s the real problem here- in a majority of mainstream titles, there seems to be a rigid adherence to an outdated and archaic view of the community.

    These comments also illustrate (to me) how quickly discussions about feminism or sexism in games become discussions about censorship, even though I would argue that, like Seth & Lusi, a vast majority on neither side wants censorship. The issue is that, in my mind, censorship is usually never on the table. The point that was brought up time and time again in my research (and that I tried to enunciate, however unsuccessfully, in this article) is that sexist imagery by itself is not bad. It’s when the sexist imagery exists within a larger backdrop of even more sexist imagery that a problem erupts. This is why the cry usually becomes for more diversity rather than an outright ban of some sort, and the “shaming” (or as I prefer to call it, critical review process) is intended to push developers to become more self-conscious of that fact.

  12. @Seth: Well, of course, you are certainly entitled to your opinions about the inertia of the gaming industry and the relative weights which different aspects of a game carry with customers, but those are opinions with which I strongly disagree, I’m afraid–and I begin to suspect those disagreements won’t be settled here. But, I’ll make a final fist of it in the spirit of lively debate.

    We have gone from the initial “sure, there’s a market for that, and I’m not saying it should be stopped,” to the implicit, “this is a problem, therefore let us solve it.” But naming the thing you dislike a ‘problem’ does not, simultaneously, give you the moral imperative to ‘solve’ it. Indeed, I think may people would argue (and are arguing) that it is not a ‘problem’ at all.

    For all the bluster, I do not think that, because I hold certain views about video games and what they should and should not contain, that it necessarily follows that I have a right to try and enforce those views on the companies that make the games. I bewail many of the design decisions that are currently in use: on-disc DLC, ‘freemium’ models, and so on–but I would not for a moment suggest that companies are not ‘allowed’ to try and milk their customers if it is legal to do so. Is it shameful? Sure. Would I do it differently? Absolutely. What am I going to do about it? I’m going to not buy their games. EA hasn’t had a dime from me in years, no matter what they make–and it’s going to stay that way for the foreseeable future. We tell people this all the time. We shout it at them. “If you do not like what they are doing, do not buy their games.” It’s still true!

    The implicit argument behind all of this is that Dragon’s Crown did a naughty and that they are very juvenile and adolescent so to have done. But, frankly, their customers wanted it, bought it, and therefore I commend the developers for knowing their user base. It was never the job of the DC dev. team to say, “What do people who *don’t* play our game want?” I mean, we’ve seen where that development direction goes. It’s generally bad business practise.

    Honestly, voting with your wallet is the best tool you’ve got. Sure, it is nebulous and vague–but naming yourself the arbiter of morality and putting yourself on the pedestal by which you intend to adjudge for all and sundry what is demeaning and what is not, what should morally be made and what should not–that strikes me as catastrophically arrogant, and to me–in my opinion–is far more worrying than the outrageous fantasy character designs of a game targetted at what is a very small audience in the first place.

    There are not enough books with strong female protagonists. Do we suggest that authors should be censured if they write books about strong men? Do we suggest that movies should be banned for daring to have sexualised women? Whether you agree with the messages or not, the fact is that these mediums are entitled to present those messages. I suppose you’re entitled to complain about it, too–but I think you’d be better off spending your money elsewhere, or by funding the kind of thing you want.

    And if the companies involved continue to make money doing what they are doing despite me not buying their games, well, I don’t see that as a problem at all, I’m afraid.

  13. Also, I really must echo Julian’s first comment: are you saying Franco was bad?

  14. @Lusipurr

    I guess the point of confusion for me is the distinction you’re drawing between you shouting “Don’t buy games with on-disc DLC” and me saying “don’t buy games with sexualized women,” aside from the fact that you consider the former a problem and don’t consider the later to be. I’m not sure where I (or Tim for that matter) gave you the impression that I don’t think developers should be allowed to make games with sexualized imagery. But just like you feel the need to try to convince people that DRM and on-disc DLC is a toxic practice and we should discourage it, I feel that the prevalence of sexualized women, not to mention the discouragement of non-sexualized female protagonists, is likewise toxic.

    And while I can certainly understand your concern about games being watered down to appeal to a broader audience, I’m unsure to what degree that is really a potential problem with regards to this issue. In my experience, gamers, when talking about the games and genres they love and which they feel are directed towards them, tend to prioritize gameplay, challenge, or story. So you have the criticism of Mass Effect 2, that it removed too many RPG gameplay elements in order to appeal to the FPS crowd. Or the concerns that Firaxis’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown reduced the challenge associated with the XCOM franchise in order to appeal to console gamers. Or even the criticism of Bioshock: Infinite that it’s heavy use of violence in line with the FPS genre got in the way of the story it was trying to tell. I think these are all valid concerns that fall in line with your point that developers should be mindful of their audiences and not try to appeal too broadly. I’m not convinced that the presence or absence of sexualized women has the same impact on the quality of a game. Would the core appeal of the Mass Effect series have been lessened if Fem!Shep were the default? Would Borderlands have been less enjoyable if the Siren had had more reasonable clothing for a woman fighting on a desert world? I would argue that these concerns are of little interest to the core demographic, who are concerned with core elements of the game, but have a significant impact on those on the outside looking in asking themselves “Is this something I can be a part of?”

  15. Well, Tim, whenever I run up against this subject I find I paint myself into corners a lot. Equality is great, and a state of inequality between genders does exist in many ways. But freedom of expression is also important.

    But what I am sure of is that there is a gender problem. And this is, perhaps, the quiet undercurrent feeding much of this topic. Gender roles, as a whole, follow rules that exclude people belonging to both sexes. Societal pressures to conform to these roles cause real and provable harm to individuals not born naturally into them and it leads to no trivial amount of people worldwide living a life that’s not theirs. It might, then, beg the question: What amount of people buy and like things in their demographics because they truly desire or like those things?

  16. @Seth: I’m afraid I still maintain my position that the best thing you can do to change the industry is to vote with your wallet. The industry is run by companies, and they respond much more quickly to issues of money than issues of “I believe X, therefore shameshamehshameshameshame.” As EA has shown, shame is irrelevant as long as the $$$ keep rolling in. Two golden poos and a SimCity fiasco has, if anything, only increased their funds to hand. (nota bene: STOP BUYING THEIR GAMES.)

    The proposition I offered near the end of my last comment is probably better still: fund the sort of games you want. As much as I loathe it, Kickstarter (or better yet, PunchBeginner™) is good at precisely this sort of thing. If game companies see that the sort of thing you want made is, itself, profitable, they will make such games themselves.

    (Of course, you would have to accept the inverse result as well, should it so be. It’s entirely possible that the games you would have made *would* be less profitable, and hence companies will avoid making them. If you genuinely believe you are right, though, you should not be afraid to put it to the test.)

  17. @Mel – This is why I love you, in a non-sexual manly kind of way. That is all.

  18. @Lusipurr

    I am willing to accept the idea that voting with my wallet may be my best tool. Encouraging more positive portrayals through Kickstarter, Greenlight, and preorder is also an excellent tool (and believe you me, I use that tool often). But the use of those tools does not preclude the use of the soapbox, and so I continue to voice my opinion, much as you continue to argue that we should not buy EA games in addition to not buying them yourself.

    I am still thoroughly confused about where you see the “shame” and “censoring” coming into it though. Is it my choice of words? Some undefinable air to my tone? This frustrates me on a personal level, because it seems I can’t raise any sort of feminist criticism without people finding an implicit moralistic argument for censorship and focusing on that. Whereas James (not to draw him into this, but to use him as an example), can explicitly argue that EA is a bunch of money-grubbers out to milk gamers for all they are worth (you even respond with the morally-charged term “disgusted”), and the specter or censorship or shaming is never raised. Where am I going wrong?

  19. *mutters about pressing the big button marked “Post Comment” too soon….*

    And I understand if you don’t want to continue discussing, but I shall nonetheless respond in earnest.

    I can honestly say that I think you’ve nailed the broader issue on the head, so to speak. When Julian speaks of women gravitating towards the Puzzle genre, for example, he’s speaking of the societal assumption that women avoid physical conflict (in a manner of speaking). Women in certain societies are brought up believing that they ought to avoid physical conflict and are better suited to tasks which also avoid it, which in turn informs their own purchasing decisions down the road (should they decide to follow society’s belief). This fact works in reverse as well, as boys are socialized to prefer conflict and action.

    Of course, the glaring hippo in the room is that not every person fits within those social norms. Some women really don’t have a problem with what other women would consider sexist imagery. Some men wear dog tags, some men are Bronies. Some men are both. To me, this only proves further that gendered norms regarding video games ought to be thrown out entirely, but then again changing hegemonic forces are borderline impossible to do that completely and/or neatly.

    @Everyone else with regards to Franco-
    Generalissimo Franco is only novel in the fact that he managed to submerge himself in enough titles and ideologies so as to not appear as what he was- a ruthless, conniving warlord. If you want someone who furthered Catholicism while under militant attack from the secular left, look to the Cristeros in Mexico. If you want someone who actually contributed meaningfully and positively to fascist ideology, look to Juan Perón. If you like dicks, then I guess Franco is okay.

  20. @Seth: I think the difference is that I am disgusted, but not that I am suggesting that disgust alone should motivate people to this act or that act. At this late hour, it is hard to quantify. Perhaps another part of the problem is that what EA is doing with their business practices has a material effect upon the gaming industry. I still think the response is the same (don’t buy their games!).

    [Edited for clarity: the difference is actually fairly straightforward. I think EA does bad things, so I’m not going to support them; and I’m telling people that if they also think EA does bad things, they should also not support them–but, that if someone thinks EA is fine, go ahead and support them. Whereas the extension of your argument deploys out as far as if you think that a company is doing a bad thing, you would stop it at the source and thus preclude anyone having the option to either support them or not. I think it should be a personal choice at the consumer level with companies and customers both free to do as they please; you’d prefer that a company’s freedom should be constrained into accord with your own views, thus denying both companies and consumers the freedoms of action I would protect–and that is why we will never, ever agree.]

    I’m under no illusions, however, about the success of that enterprise. EA makes a lot of money by doing really obviously shitty things to people; things that are in no one’s interest at all. So, I expect companies who do far more contestibly-‘wrong’ things, like having artwork that offends some people, to not suffer overmuch by it.

    Kickstarter and other such avenues are the best bet. From the practical standpoint of an industry journalist with years of experience watching gamers’ responses to such things, and corporate responses to that, and on and on and on, I think this approach is a dead end. And, frankly, it should be. The gaming industry does not need Moral Guardians to lecture the world on the content for games that They think ought to be made. What it needs is a way for people who want a game X to encourage a game X to be created–and now that we have that, it is time to put those tools to use, and stop decrying the existence of the results of the alternative.

    tldr: I’m not in favour of telling a company what they should or should not put into their game. If you do not like it, do not buy it. Use that money to fund something you do like instead.

  21. Mel said, “Societal pressures to conform to these roles cause real and provable harm to individuals not born naturally into them and it leads to no trivial amount of people worldwide living a life that’s not theirs.” This is my favorite sentence of the whole thread.

    Both female and male characters are hypersexualized in Dragon’s Crown, right? And they’re all powerful and capable? It seems like equal treatment in an exaggerated way.

    I’m not so into “I’d like to see less of something” as I am into “I’d like to see more of something else” Feminism can be a catalyst for new ideas, creative possibilities, and role models, but we’re more often exposed to is as a critical ideology.

    From now on, can we argue for/against feminist critiques and the subsequent backlash against them using the the Spanish Civil War as an allegorical construct?

  22. @Matt Dance: “I’m not so into “I’d like to see less of something” as I am into “I’d like to see more of something else” Feminism can be a catalyst for new ideas, creative possibilities, and role models, but we’re more often exposed to is as a critical ideology.”

    Yes, exactly, exactly, exactly.

    My new title is Generalissimo.

  23. I don’t get it. I’ve known girls that idolized women like Elvira when they were young. HOW, if that’s what they decided that’s appropriate for them, is the Dragon’s Crown sorceress more inappropriate and excluding of girls or really any different than the original Mistress Of The Night? There’s gotta be girls out there who would dig this in a game as much as a typical guy would.

  24. @Matt: My wife amongst them. Which is my point all along. The people who declaim that this particular version of femininity is somehow ‘wrong’ have, themselves, decided that their own is ‘right’–not aware, of course, that theirs is the result of training, ideology, and a particular set of ideals, too. Knocking down one structural framework, they seek only to replace it with their own, and enforce it on people–excluding the desires of others just as they feel, themselves, excluded.

    Which is why, as I have said (and you have said more clearly), the better thing is to have MORE of Y, and not LESS of X.

  25. I’m surprised that no one on this site is apparently in the least bit insulted by the fact that Vanillaware evidently thinks the best way to market to you is to shove an enormous pair of breasts in your face.” ~ Seth

    We don’t feel insulted because we are viewing Dragon’s Crown from a position of understanding unlike you, Seth, who are speaking from a position of profound ignorance.

    Dragon’s Crown is not marketed on sex appeal – the characters themselves are stylised and embellished to a grotesque degree, and the game packaging is rather understated.

    I would also like for you to point out one woman in gaming who is more capable and well-muscled than George Kamitani’s Amazon.

    Even within the AAA studios we have seen more conscious efforts to break the cycle (as seen with Remember Me, Bioshock Infinite, and Tomb Raider” ~ Tim

    I love that you said that.

    How short is a feminist’s memory? Are we looking at the span of a goldfish, or something marginally shorter? Do you recall through the hazy mists of time to last year when Tomb Raider was the target of ill-informed feminist ire?

    You and Julian implicitly argue that female gamers tend to play puzzle and Facebook games because they are predisposed to “casual” gaming and wouldn’t play “hardcore” games even if they weren’t so sexualized. But I consider it just as plausible that these female gamers are in fact avoiding these games because of the sexualization, and not because they don’t like action games as a rule.” ~ Seth

    I don’t. Rational people don’t avoid entire genres of games because of the way a character is dressed. There are actually a good portion of women who would not care one jot if a female character’s sexual features are emphasised, because they’re not cloying and blinkered zealots like you. Women are the lesser part of the audience for violent action games because they are just not as into conflict on the whole as are male gamers.

    The issue is that, in my mind, censorship is usually never on the table. The point that was brought up time and time again in my research (and that I tried to enunciate, however unsuccessfully, in this article) is that sexist imagery by itself is not bad. It’s when the sexist imagery exists within a larger backdrop of even more sexist imagery that a problem erupts. This is why the cry usually becomes for more diversity rather than an outright ban of some sort, and the “shaming” (or as I prefer to call it, critical review process) is intended to push developers to become more self-conscious of that fact.” ~ Tim

    Mel is officially no longer the wrongest person on Lusipurr.com, you are. You can see the contradiction in your argument, can’t you? Censorship is never on the table, but we now “shame” games on an individual basis in the hope that they don’t get made anymore.

    I could care less if feminists want to call for greater diversity in the marketplace, and actually have some sympathy for the notion of more variety [as I do not like the same things as a fratboy], but the moment you want to “shame” individual game titles for not furthering the grand ambitions of revolutionary feminism you become both stupid and wrong, and I couldn’t disagree with you more.

    I’m not convinced that the presence or absence of sexualized women has the same impact on the quality of a game.”

    Then why does any of this matter?

    I am still thoroughly confused about where you see the “shame” and “censoring” coming into it though. Is it my choice of words?” ~ Seth

    You are arguing that certain creative expressions should not exist despite their having a demonstrable audience, that is a position of censorship.

    This frustrates me on a personal level, because it seems I can’t raise any sort of feminist criticism without people finding an implicit moralistic argument for censorship and focusing on that.” ~ Seth

    That’s because pro-censorship arguments are inherently morally and intellectually wrong.

    Women in certain societies are brought up believing that they ought to avoid physical conflict and are better suited to tasks which also avoid it, which in turn informs their own purchasing decisions down the road (should they decide to follow society’s belief). This fact works in reverse as well, as boys are socialized to prefer conflict and action.

    Of course, the glaring hippo in the room is that not every person fits within those social norms. Some women really don’t have a problem with what other women would consider sexist imagery. Some men wear dog tags, some men are Bronies. Some men are both. To me, this only proves further that gendered norms regarding video games ought to be thrown out entirely, but then again changing hegemonic forces are borderline impossible to do that completely and/or neatly.” ~ Tim

    So you want game developers to ignore the inherent wants of their audience in order to kick off your little feminist revolution… How typical. Video games are a business and a recreation – not a tool social engineering or a stick to be wielded by the forces of colonial feminism.

    Generalissimo Franco is only novel in the fact that he managed to submerge himself in enough titles and ideologies so as to not appear as what he was- a ruthless, conniving warlord. If you want someone who furthered Catholicism while under militant attack from the secular left, look to the Cristeros in Mexico. If you want someone who actually contributed meaningfully and positively to fascist ideology, look to Juan Perón. If you like dicks, then I guess Franco is okay.” ~ Tim

    Franco saved his country from the horrors of anarchistic mob rule – and at least he contributed positively to society, unlike fascist feminism.

    * * *

    If a market for anything exists, then it will be filled; that is capitalism 101 – or must capitalism be rejected now too?

  26. @Che: Thanks for the welcome. I take your point, but I think the use of sexist imagery in games like Borderlands is more of a social commentary (I haven’t played it so I may be wrong). Duke Nukem is obviously trying to be ironic (though that does tend to cross the line a bit). But most of these games are just completely oblivious to any kind of social statements and are using such imagery for the sake of driving sales.

  27. @Matt, Lusipurr, Julian

    Perhaps this is the disconnect. When I say “I would like to see fewer games resort to hypersexualization,” what I mean is that I would like to see proportionally fewer games resort to hypersexualized imagery. Preferably by seeing more games which treat women in a more three-dimensional fashion. The entire point is variety. That’s how we avoid substituting one stereotype for another. Unfortunately, when I say “I would like to see less of X and more of Y,” the rebuttal is “You want NONE of X and ALL of Y and that’s censorship and BAD. You should be ashamed of trying to censor our expression.”

  28. Lusipurr and SiliconNoob put up quite a fight, and are especially apt at putting commenters into corners to have to explain themselves.

    We need to bring up more concrete examples of non-stereotypical game design. For instance (and since there’s a playthrough coming up) Chrono Trigger had some diverse and positive gender roles. Even Secret of Mana, in its limited storytelling capacity, had a strong female character who defied her father the king and went off to save her boyfriend. Is that not de-stereotyping? Are there any articles or theses that explore better examples and positive directions in more depth and detail, describing what is wanted more of rather than less?

    Also, Julian gets bonus points for using the metaphor.

  29. @Matt

    Well, you kind of have to stop and explain yourself when other people keep telling you what you are saying. I have the feeling that Lusipurr and I would find we agree on many broad points if we could stop talking past each other.

    As far as non-stereotypical characterization goes, I find Bioware does this very well. It helps that they tend to have more than one female character in the cast so that they can have that self-contained variety. The Mass Effect series counterbalances the sexualization of Jack and Miranda with Tali and Ashley. Dragon Age: Origins strikes a variety of tones between Morrigan, Leliana, and Wynne (and DA2 likewise puts Isabella’s sexuality up against Aveline’s no-nonsense professionalism).

    The problem in my mind, is that we’re talking about a handful of counterexamples, such as Bioware Games, Chrono Trigger, and Tomb Raider (after the developers walked-back the whole “protecting Lara angle), versus hundreds of games that simply use women as eye candy or plot devices.

  30. @Matt/Lusi (24-27) –
    Reading this made me literally guffaw out loud, as that had been the point I was trying to belabor (however imperfectly) throughout the post. I wonder (and Lusipurr’s posts would seem to suggest this) if part of the issue is the manner in which I couch the point. If by suggesting that perhaps we are too reliant on hypersexualized imagery and should encourage developers to diversify by highlighting that reliance, am I somehow obscuring the fact that the important verb in there is “diversify?” Diversity doesn’t mean getting rid of X in favor of Y, it means finding a more equitable distribution of X AND Y.

    With regards to women enjoying the imagery as it stands, that is also a point that I had acknowledged in both post and comment. This is why I’m trying to argue for a variety of images and topics as opposed to simply getting rid of them. As a form of entertainment, it is in a video game company’s interest to provide a product to a willing market, and there is a willing market with this regard. There are times when I belong to that market. But there is a willing market for these other things too, one which I feel is being underutilized by AAA studios.

    @Julian (28) –
    Mel is officially no longer the wrongest person on Lusipurr.com, you are.
    Well…that wasn’t the title I was going for. But hey, why not? I’ll do my best to wear it with pride.

    I can’t speak for the memory of feminists, but I can certainly lay some claim to your distinct lack of understanding to that controversy. The Tomb Raider issue was more over the marketing of the game rather than the content of the game itself. As would be evidenced by my own cautiously optimistic review of it, the released game did not “live up” to Rosenberg’s gaffe in the least bit. So, while I still find myself shaking my head at the foot-in-mouth misinterpretation Ron Rosenberg made about what I find enjoyable in the Tomb Raider franchise, I didn’t find anything particularly objectionable about the game itself and, in fact, thought it was quite a good example of a female protagonist in video games. (There’s one for you, Dance!)

    Censorship is never on the table, but we now “shame” games on an individual basis in the hope that they don’t get made anymore.
    I am curious, do you have a terrible itch from building that huge strawman? If you had bothered to read the sentence from which you quoted to make that point, you would have realized that I explicitly stated that my goal (and the goals of many feminists that I spoke with) was to elicit greater diversity in gaming, not to “hope that they [sexualized games] don’t get made anymore.” Bringing about an awareness of a trend or trope does not inherently lead to a call for censorship, and should the call ever become censorship I would gladly man the barricades with you, but at this stage that is simply not the case.

    Quentin Tarentino is self-aware of the schlock and problematic aspects of the movies he loves and makes, which allows him to play with those problems in unexpected and interesting ways. If I had any hopes at all, it would be that sexualized games would be similarly aware of their problematic aspects in the future and toy with those expectations in meaningful ways. To use another analogy (because I do love analogies), it’s useful to know the taste of peanut butter before we go slathering it on everything. That being said, you seem to get stuck on the term “shame.” That wasn’t my term- that’s Lusipurr’s. I don’t view this as a shaming process, I view it as a recognition of a trend (and hence my comment about preferring to refer to it as a critical review process) and as such you might find my suggestion a bit more palatable, especially since you later went on to say that you “have some sympathy for the notion of variety,” which has been one of my strongest points all along.

    So you want game developers to ignore the inherent wants of their audience in order to kick off your little feminist revolution… How typical. Video games are a business and a recreation – not a tool social engineering or a stick to be wielded by the forces of colonial feminism.

    And once again I’m at a loss for how to respond to this in a way that would be meaningful to you, because I’m a bit unsure as to how to interpret “inherent wants” or whether you really just conflated gamers who don’t mind sexist imagery at all with the entire gaming audience. You are, once again, making up my beliefs and ignoring the fact that I do not want their tastes ignored, so much as I would like to see other tastes entertained on a comparable level. If one would step off their soapbox long enough to read the actual text, they might find we agree on, at the least, that very basic level without feeling the need to portray themselves as morally superior to an argument that wasn’t made.

    Oh, and before I forget:
    That’s right, we’re uncovering Franco’s “positive contributions” to society every day!

  31. Pretty much, Tim. I think your thesis was missed because it sounds like it is essentially agreed with (at least from some parties). It sounds like Lusipurr and I agree on this issue, which surprises me a little based on our initial conversation on Skype about it. I think we just attack it from different angles. Because I’m certainly not interested in less of X just more of Y (and Z and Q and LKEKEFE). I think women can be in the kitchen their whole lives, they can save the galaxy, they can be thieves, oversexed, undersexed, sidewayssexed, great thinkers, and wear anything from just a thong to a florescent parka, and blah blah blah, the entire spectrum. It just becomes exhausting to only see a select few sides and it does begin to feel like creators feel like that is an accurate summation of women, but that could be an unfair assumption on my part, to be honest. As I mentioned in another comment in another article, being a feminist means building up all sides, and certainly not at the expense of other sides. It’s just as destructive to tell a women she shouldn’t be a housewife as it is to tell her she shouldn’t be a CEO. Just as it is destructive to tell her she is having too much or too little sex (providing it is safe and consensual).

    Julian likes to leap around in extremes and it becomes difficult to take him seriously sometimes because of it. I’m aware I sometimes create the same aura for myself, but still.

  32. Our position is more easily understood if you grasp that I am Death and SN is the Devil.

  33. @Lusipurr “Our position is more easily understood if you grasp that I am Death and SN is the Devil.”

    You’re both in line to get sucker-punched by Jesus?

  34. I can’t speak for the memory of feminists, but I can certainly lay some claim to your distinct lack of understanding to that controversy. The Tomb Raider issue was more over the marketing of the game rather than the content of the game itself.” ~ Tim

    That’s funny, I thought it was more about people prejudging content which was not yet on the market [a trait that it shares with Dragon’s Crown], and working their tits into a twirl about ZOMG RAEP!!! The game showed a sizzle reel of early parts of the game which emphasised Lara’s vulnerability, signaling that this was to be a game about her growth within hostile surroundings – instead people jumped to the knee-jerk conclusion that this was a game about female disempowerment.

    People weren’t predominantly complaining about the marketing [and the somewhat patronising, but also true, talk of wanting to protect Lara], they were complaining that the game depicted this content.

    I am curious, do you have a terrible itch from building that huge strawman?” ~ Tim

    You dislike being quoted back at yourself?

    If you had bothered to read the sentence from which you quoted to make that point, you would have realized that I explicitly stated that my goal (and the goals of many feminists that I spoke with) was to elicit greater diversity in gaming, not to “hope that they [sexualized games] don’t get made anymore.” Bringing about an awareness of a trend or trope does not inherently lead to a call for censorship, and should the call ever become censorship I would gladly man the barricades with you, but at this stage that is simply not the case.” ~ Tim

    I suppose we should all just burn books until we achieve greater diversity…

    If attempting to sanction every game that does not tow the feminist line is not to be regarded as a pro-censorship stance, then I don’t see how such a label could be intelligibly applied to any individual under any circumstance. I don’t see much of a difference between your own stance and someone like Jack Thompson, other than the fact that you are acting with less cynical intent [which doesn’t make it any better].

    The only legitimate way to diversify the content of the industry is for you and like-minded individuals to demonstrate that you are an economically relevant section of the gaming market for the certain type of games that you are interested in – because, and let’s be honest, the diversity of content does already exist; but it exists in the form of gaming types and formats which you are dismissing out of hand because they are not terribly interesting to you.

    Instead of going about your goals the right way however, you are instead trying to impose your blinkered world-view on the industry through bullying and coercion – the methods of a thug – by trying to whip up negative press for any game unwilling to kowtow to your totalitarian ideology.

    Do you think I like having my personal tastes ignored as a gamer by an industry so inextricably linked to my own identity? I think the dreary military shooter era has been fucking dreadful for gaming. I find Square Enix’s lazy use of anime tropes to be appalling – and most importantly, I find the vast majority of fratboy-franchises to be the epitome of banal. Crucially however, I do not feel entitled to foist my tastes onto other people.

    The irony is that if there were more games developed for women, then there would probably be more games that I would enjoy to a higher degree than at present. Yes, industry diversity is good, I’m supportive of that – but as soon as you start attacking individual studios for doing their own thing you make a fundamental enemy of me, because I find that sort of thinking to be repugnant.

    And once again I’m at a loss for how to respond to this in a way that would be meaningful to you, because I’m a bit unsure as to how to interpret “inherent wants” or whether you really just conflated gamers who don’t mind sexist imagery at all with the entire gaming audience.” ~ Tim

    Let’s say Duke Nukem, GTA, Saints Row, and a crap-ton of Japanese games including Dragon’s Crown and Dead or Alive and all the fan-servicey stuff. If you start censoring female depictions in these games, then people will be unhappy [especially weaboos].

    Julian likes to leap around in extremes and it becomes difficult to take him seriously sometimes because of it. I’m aware I sometimes create the same aura for myself, but still.” ~ Ethan

    See, that’s how I feel about you to. I guess there’s only so much of an understanding that can be reached when certain ways of thinking are entirely foreign to one another.

    Also, [you probably haven’t noticed this] I am very occasionally deliberately incendiary.

  35. Our position is more easily understood if you grasp that I am Death and SN is the Devil.

    I’m not THE Devil – more like a small cartoon Devil sent to prod Lusipurr onto the right path. ;)

  36. No, I’ve noticed. I just find it tiresome and feel like it gets nobody anywhere. I don’t find it clever enough to be satire and don’t find it funny enough to be extremist comedy. But – genuinely – I don’t mean that as an attack, it’s agreeing with you when you say “I guess there’s only so much of an understanding that can be reached when certain ways of thinking are entirely foreign to one another”.

  37. @Ethos: But your personal, yawning disapproval doesn’t cancel out the fact that SN is a fucking genius. I want to pin a medal on him. Physically! I WANT TO IMPALE HIM ON A GOLDEN MEDAL.

  38. I wouldn’t put it that way, but I do agree that my personal yawning disapproval doesn’t cancel out the fact that he’s an important voice at Lusipurr.com that I wouldn’t want to lose. Also, I like him.

  39. @Lusipurr – I would pay to see that. I really would. But I should also clarify that I would pay to see many people impaled upon golden medals.

    @Ethos – I find that I tend to agree with your sentiment, including the idea that it’s interesting to have such a wildly different viewpoint to ingest from time to time. It’s like every time I open a Lusipurr news article, THIS happens. But it does make it incredibly challenging to respond to from time to time, because I’m never quite sure at what level I should be taking what is said seriously and at what level I should be laughing. So I generally laugh at it all while simultaneously shaking my head and crying on the inside.

    Although I should also clarify that I’m not trying to criticize you, Julian. I’m just admitting that I’m never quite sure how to respond to your comments/articles and usually do my best to skitter around them, which is why my last response to you may have seemed hacked together. Apologies for that?

    I find it distressing that we are no longer debating Franco. Have we finally reached a concord on Franco?!

  40. Everybody has raised some great points, and I am inclined to side with Lusi and Julian. However, Tim, you should be ashamed for failing to make an appropriate connection between the rising number of girl gamers and something else, overall sandwich quality. Now, I do not know about everybody else, but the overall quality of my sandwiches at home has plummeted every since my wife bought an iPad. In fact, there are days where I question if she put one foot in the kitchen at all. I have spoken to other men and they have similar horrifying tales. The whole purpose of mobile/casual gaming is you can play it for a few minutes (for example, while bread is toasting), put it down, come back later (while the bacon is cooking) and continue on. The true problem with games designed towards women is that once they get their lady boners going for Bejeweled or Collapse, they forget the kitchen exists. I think developers that are designing the next Bejeweled clone have a responsibility to include alerts every thirty minutes telling women it is time to go check the kitchen.

  41. @Che: Obviously. We are now all in agreement that Franco was fantastic and is a role model.

  42. @James: I read your post to my wife and she laughed and said, “Oh my God, that is pretty awesome.”

  43. @Lusi: I wonder if my wife will say the same. Somehow, I doubt that she will.

  44. You know, it didn’t occur to me until just now, but I never considered the plight of the teenage boy, and what he will do for masturbatory material if his games aren’t chock full of pixellated boobs. I mean, there’s only so much free porn on the internet.

  45. @Seth – HA! That wit…

    @Pagel – Well that was an excellent analysis, and a valid poi…oh jesus I can’t follow that up. You came right out at the end to just dominate this entire thread with what is, probably, one of the better comments. As I read that I was laughing too hard to come up with any other good response. Good show, sir.

    @Lusi – And here I was holding out for Pol Pot to win…

  46. I’d say Julian and Lusipurr speak for my thoughts on the matter. And far more articulately than I could manage.

  47. *clears throat*

    And with that, ladies and gentlemen of the L-coms, our adventure is complete.

    Thank you.

    And good night.

  48. And Mel will play us out.

    Play us out? What does that MEAN? To play us out?

  49. Late to party. Still can’t believe Schreier wrote that article. I usually like his stuff. Yes, there’s a witch with big boobs and an amazon with big thighs. There’s also a petite fully clothed elf, an unrealistically beutiful male mage, an unrealistically burly warrior and… uh, a dwarf. And you know what, I don’t give a flying fuck. The game looks beutiful and incredibly fun to play. I believe those aspects are way more important than a witch with big boobs.

    Game journalism is all about the clicks these days. Just imagine if FFVII were released today. All the sites would just choose to focus on Tifa’s tits.

  50. Epy: “All the sites would just choose to focus on Tifa’s tits.” Yes, and neglect to talk about all the other aspects which make her character interesting. At least we learned that we agree on some basic premises, such as that the problem exists and a few of the solutions, although some concerns persist. If only leftists and fascists could have more conversations together like this!

  51. 1. The Sorceress’s entire character design is clearly intended to be a “femme fatale” type, similar to Jessica Rabbit in the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? I look forward to Jason Schreir’s critical article about that film. (Though I do expect he may be sorry when all the female Jessica Rabbit fans chop him into cheese flavored dog food.)

    2. The problem with people is they get what’s going on, but their vocabulary is missing the word they need. Which is not censorship (done by people in power) but bowdlerization (done by private entities to correspond to prevailing social restrictions of the day). Schreier is not calling for laws to be passed to ban games like Dragon’s Crown or characters like the Sorceress. He’s calling for George Kamitani, or possibly Atlus, to do some hamfisted bowdlerization along the lines of what recently happened to the fire Emblem DLC: http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/05/02/fire-emblem-dlc-censored-in-north-america

    Of course, to the end collector, that has the exact same effect as if Congress passed a law, since the art they’ve bought has been partially destroyed, but it was done because of public shaming and not through legal means which makes it OK.

    3. No Feminism Here: Calls for sexy female characters to be bowdlerized are not popular because feminism is popular (in general, feminism is losing ground in a lot of areas), they are popular because we live in a puritanical culture that is uncomfortable with sexuality and once you toss out God Forbids It and Think Of The Children, a really shallow form of “feminism” becomes a good excuse. we just went through a few decades of bowdlerization of games not unlike Dragon’s Crown, remember when they excised Poison from final Fight? (Heck, Nintendo just did it to Fire Emblem.) It wasn’t done because of feminism, it was done because in commercial art, other than film, we have no respect for sexual expression in this country.

  52. ^^ What an excellent comment. Matt Dance, the gauntlet has been thrown!

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