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!
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.
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?