Sexism in Video Games (sigh…)

Posted: June 23, 2014 in Current Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

Female Protagonist

Just for kicks and giggles, I decided to Google Search Video Games and Sexist together…I wish I hadn’t done that.

‘Assassin’s Creed’ Has Reached a New Low for Sexism in Video Games

Why does sexism persist in the video games industry?

For the time being, I’m not going to address the “Racist” accusation above. I haven’t played Watch Dogs and haven’t read enough about it to make any kind of an educated statement about that. That leaves the sexist accusations. The general consensus that I’ve seen is that all too often, players aren’t allowed to play as a female protagonist and are instead forced to play as a male, or choose from a selection of males (in multiplayer). I’ve sort of hit on this before in a Top 8 post, but it’s still going strong.

First of all, what I’ve never understood about this is why your avatar in a game matters. Yeah, it’s nice to be able to have a selection, but if you’re forced to pick from only one sex, I don’t see why that’s an issue. When I played through Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, I selected the female character because her attacks were magic based and that was my preferred method of attack. Despite choosing a female character when I was male, surprisingly, my penis didn’t fall off. I know, I was shocked by this lack of a development myself. I’m also amazed that my many hours with Metroid, my personal favorite franchise, haven’t left me a shell of a man. After all, Samus Aran is…female [shudder]. I feel confident in stating the reverse of this issue is true. If you are a female and you choose to play a game where you control a male, I think I would be correct in saying that you aren’t going to suddenly grow a beard or chest hair or a new appendage.

And she's so obviously a female.

And she’s so obviously a female.

Now, let me be extremely clear before moving on. I’m speaking solely about in game, controllable characters. What I’m not condoning or excusing is player on player harassment via online gaming or in other environment. That’s a serious issue that crosses into both sexism (assuming it’s gender based) and bullying. This has happened recently and I feel it very important to be clear on this. I’m also not speaking about depiction or design (basically, skimpy clothing). That’s another blog post in and of itself.

Aside from my first point above, I’m really having trouble figuring out who is complaining about this. I’ve seen bloggers and journalists writing these stories, but what I haven’t seen is that many actual game playing women complaining. My suspicion is that the people screaming the loudest about this are those people who only view it from a distance. They have no love of games, but see something that they can use to make some noise and get attention. These people exist in all areas, and they tend to always annoy me when they crop up. I believe that the majority of women that play games probably care about this about as much as I do.

To me, all of this distracts from what games are supposed to be and represent. Video games are meant to be fun. Isn’t that why we play? Yeah, the competition of multiplayer is great and spending time honing skills in certain games happens, but ultimately, we go to them for fun. For me personally, they serve as a distraction from the seriousness of my everyday life. For a little while, I can distract myself from work and bills and marital issues (the minor ones, at least). What I hate to see are those issues cropping up in a medium I use to avoid those exact issues.

The kicker is, I don’t totally disagree with the point that video games feature mostly male protagonists. It’s kind of a fact. That said, the same is true of movies. The same is true of sports. Why does it seem that video games are singled out in this arena as having an issue? This is hardly the first time that video games have been held to a higher standard (do I even need to further explain the other instances?). Also, even if this is true, why is it an issue that must be addressed? Why is it immediately sexism? I think it’s much more likely that game developers are simply sticking with a formula that works and makes them money. Right now, that blue print is FPS with a gritty male character leading the way. Those games sell. I kind of with they didn’t as I don’t care for that genre, but they do. If you want this paradigm to change, then you don’t buy these games. Sink your money into a game that lets you play as a female. Many Nintendo games (including MK 8 and the upcoming Smash Brothers) and the Kinect games allow you to play as an Avatar you created yourself. It’s hard to get much closer to representing everyone than that. Select those games. If developers see that happening, the will shift accordingly.

I'd be perfectly fine living in a world where this existed.

I’d be perfectly fine living in a world where this existed.

The bottom line is, there may still be an abundance of male lead characters, but that’s because those are still the games that are selling, not because there’s a mass sexist attitude in the industry. Also, where is the harm being done by playing as a male character. This is where the argument loses me. It’s the same as being upset with Monopoly because there is no token that is an actual human and you feel that playing as a hat (personal favorite piece) robs you of something. This particular aspect of so called sexism in video games is astoundingly inconsequential or relevant. It holds no power or value beyond an onscreen animation. You should never let something such as a video game define your existence to that point. Realize that it’s only a game and exists to have fun with, not to make a statement about males and females. I miss the days of that being all video games were about.
[Note: This remains a touchy subject, and I know I’m coming at it from a certain perspective. Feel free to comment with either agreements or disagreements. I very much encourage that. If you feel I’m oversimplifying this situation or am otherwise misrepresenting it, I greatly encourage you to let me know. Nothing has ever been lost by an educated discussion.]

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Comments
  1. thatcalmgamer says:

    “Despite choose a female character when I was male, surprisingly, my penis didn’t fall off. I know, I was shocked by this lack of a development myself. ”

    Haha! That’s absolutely brilliant, I have a friend who outright refuses to play as a girl in video games. He has missed out on Tomb Raider and Bayonetta which is just ridiculous but I can’t seem to convince him otherwise. Oh well – his loss.

    • JAVGB says:

      Yeah, I don’t get that at all. It’s the opposite extreme of basing yourself on an avatar. I just can’t get that. I can’t imagine missing out on the Metroid or Tomb Raider series just because you don’t want to play as a girl. That really is a loss.

  2. My issue with some of these arguments is different than yours; I simply think that people should stop looking to “AAA” studios for everything and give more attention to indie games that are trying to do something different.

    However, I do have a few counterpoints to your post for consideration:

    1. The question of “why avatars matter” needs more attention. For example, Jessica Janiuk said playable female characters were the “only outlets to be myself before I came out as a transgender woman” (http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/5/5462578/gaming-is-my-safe-space-gender-options-are-important-for-the). I think the question of why avatars matter can vary considerably depending on whom you talk to. I will say that people typically go back to the idea of representation. A common argument is that since female gamers represent roughly half of the gaming population, there should be more playable female characters. While I agree with you that some might make this argument for the sake of attention, I know there are everyday, passionate gamers who would like to see more female protagonists just based on my Twitter feed.

    2. I’m not sure if video games have always been about fun. For example, playing the original Castlevania on the NES is often a very frustrating experience. It took me more than a decade of trying to beat that game, and I’m not sure if that game was fun for most of that time. It was just something to beat, something I wanted to prove. Also, video games are changing. There are games built with the specific purpose to make people think. Some of these suck horribly (like The Stanley Parable and Papers, Please), but some of them are great (9.03m and Choice: Texas come to mind).

    3. I don’t think games are singled out for this issue. I think game writers and gamers simply focus on the issue as it relates to games. The question about movies or sports is not critical if the focus is meant to be on games.

    • JAVGB says:

      People should give more attention to indie games, but it’s the money makers that get the attention, and that’s where people are going to continue to look. It’s the way of the world at the moment. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Like I said in the post, I know this is a touchy subject and being challenged on my points forces me to further analyze what I believe and how I back those beliefs up.

      1. I can accept that in isolated situations, an avatar may mean more to one person than another, but I still stand by original argument that you should never allow this to define you in any way. It truly is a meaningless design on the TV screen. I can’t think of a way to say this without it sound harsh, but I truly feel that if you are that connected to a gaming character, then that’s the result of a more deep-seated issue that needs to be addressed, because it just isn’t a healthy situation.

      As for more playable female characters, I do wholeheartedly agree (and am touching on this in more depth in another blog). My specific argument in this post is that just because that isn’t happening doesn’t mean that a developer is sexist. It means that they’re afraid to push the norm. There’s far too much money tied up in what they’re doing. That’s why risks seem to be left to either indie developers or Nintendo consoles. 😉 At the risk of being political, the best analogy I can make is that it’s similar to calling those that disagree with the president racist instead of accepting that they may have solid, personal reasoning behind their arguments. Saying developers are sexist simply shuts down the discussion. I think that’s a waste.

      2. I think we discussed this before on Twitter. If I don’t enjoy a game, I just won’t play it. I really tried to get into Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid 2, but once I realized I was just playing the game to finish it, I quit. I understand the desire to beat a harder game just to say you’ve done it, but I believe those situations are the exception from the norm. That said, this is a matter that I’d just need to have much more input in to make any kind of an educated call. What I’ve written here is my own supposition on the matter.

      3. Fair enough. It just seems that I read more about this in gaming, especially in recent days, than I have in other entertainment mediums. What I should have taken into account is the fact that I pay more attention to this medium than I do to others, and that skews my opinion.

      I’m going to touch on this topic again in the near future, and focus more on the imbalance of female leads versus male leads. I also intend to offer counterpoints and will throw your points into that. I know this is all my opinion, and like to offer those counter views when I have them available.

  3. I am relieved to learn that picking a female character doesn’t cause your manhood to drop off 😀

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