Friday, June 15, 2012

Random Shots: The Sins of the Developer are to be laid upon the Player

  • I often wonder if people think I'm crazy when I go off on feminist rants here on my (spify new) blog. As I've grown older, I've become more and more queasy about the depiction of women in games. The addition of a daughter to my life has only accelerated this change. So as recent events have displayed exactly how bad this industry treats half of its fans, I find it hard to keep quiet.

  • There was a lot of the talk this year about whether E3 matters any more. While I have no doubt that it will continue for years to come, I fear what the spectacle says about us. Year to year, the overwhelming presence of booth babes serves as a constant indictment of the industry and its audience. They remind us that no matter proportional of the audience they make up, women are not welcome in gaming. And they remind us how little they think of men that the hint of female flesh is all that is needed to draw our attention.

  • Of course, we don't need E3 to tell us that women are held in some distain by developers. There are so few well-rounded, non-sexualized female characters in gaming that just about everyone can name the few that exist. (I can think of four. Four.) Gamers are treated to a long string of sex objects instead of characters. Sure, everything below my beltline is fine with that, but I'm frequently embarassed to play these games in front of my wife. And is this how I'm supposed to teach my daughter about gaming? Someone smarter than me needs to come up with a video game version of the Bechdel Test, just to set an absolute minimum requirement for inclusiveness.

  • If you don't think that there is anything wrong with this, just look at the culture that has grown up around gaming. Just look at what happened to Anita Sarkeesian. Her crime seemed to be Gaming While Female and for having the temerity for pointing out how these games could be better. I'm hesitant to point the finger at developers directly. But their continuous disregard for how women are portrayed in their games does nothing to help the situation.

  • Tesh recently tweeted:
    If we embrace stupidity and mediocrity because what we produce is “just entertainment” what hope is there of advancing the state of the art?
    We can do better. We can demand better. As a man, I don't like being treated like Pavlov's dog, with a pair of digital breasts the bell to make me salivate. It belittles me, and it belittles women everywhere. It's time for us all to grow up.


© 2012 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

10 comments:

  1. Certainly not in every case (GW, Lineage, WoW..all not good examples) but I'd say that there is at least a slight tendency for female avatars to have things better in MMOs than in offline games. For example, in LoTRO, Second Life, SWTOR, URU, EQII, and a game I'm not allowed to talk about but having a lot of fun in this weekend, the default is for female player characters to look pretty normal. In many of those games you can harlot it up if you care to, but it's your choice. It isn't forced on you.

    Contrast with offline games, where Laura Croft and Princess Peach are the best known female characters. Ms. Peach is the quintessential damsel in distress. And Laura Croft is about as good of a role model as Catwoman.

    Speaking of Catwoman, I think if there is any place that women have it worse than video games it may be comic books. I recently read an article about the reinvention of Starfire in the DC relaunch that really upset me. On its face the character is inappropriate for a mainstream comic (she can't tell earth men apart so she will sleep with anyone...). On top of that, this character also appears in a popular cartoon aimed at kids (Teen Titans). What the hell is DC thinking?

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    1. Yeebo, you should get me started on comic books. I love the new Batwoman, but what the hell is with the painted on costume?!? :(

      I think you're right about online games. I suspect that most MMOs know exactly how many women are playing them. But with things like GW2 and Rift still getting it wrong, I don't think that MMOs are quite the refuge we would hope.

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  2. Amen :) I've got enough real (not virtual) women in my life and neighborhood that I'm not the least swayed by displays of flesh in video games. It's so very hard to see how even male designers continue with these ideas about women. It's nuts.

    Grow up, I guess would be something they should do.

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    1. That's the sad part. I heard from several people that artists are just making the art that pleases them. Unfortunately, that means that video games as a whole end up with purile art becuase everyone ends up making the same decision.

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  3. I've missed that line by Tesh - so true!
    A great post, it always gives me hope to read supportive voices among the male gamers and bloggers; feminism includes everyone on the path to greater equality and freedom. I admit it's still a refreshing thing to me - I am used to being the only woman in a large gamer community that doesn't even know how the word feminism spelled....I love the blogosphere for meeting so many enlightened men and women who share my passions.

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    1. Always glad to find like minded bloggers. Of course, it has taken me some time to come around. I had a lot of growing up of my own to do.

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  4. Yeah, I get this not only as a gamer but also as an artist in the game industry. So... much... CRAP. I've been sick of it for decades, really. Way too much objectification and stupid stuff going on. I believe in the usefulness and value of games and art, but it's really hard to make the case when so much of the mainstream is SO BAD.

    As Ernest Adams might say... Bad designers, no Twinkie! (He was pretty pointed about it in this article from 2000, among other things.)

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3189/the_designers_notebook_bad_game_.php

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    1. Oh, man, I remember reading that. Was that really written in 2000? I think it's telling that this is the only issue on that list that hasn't gotten any better.

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    2. It's pretty crazy. 12 years haven't improved much.

      Speaking from inside the belly of the beast, I might take a moment and point out that you really don't see many truly *mature* men in the industry. That's due to a few reasons. One, the hours generally stink and the pay isn't great, so as people go on to have families and can't pull all-week projects, they leave the industry for better places to work. Two, because of that churn, there are a LOT of young people who keep entering the industry... and they have yet to grow up in a handful of ways (and when they do, *they* leave too). Three, well, it's self-reinforcing. I, for one, refuse to work on M-rated games or stupid sexy stuff, but there's obviously a market for it, and I'm an outlier. Crap keeps getting made because it keeps selling.

      I've been lucky to work where I do, working on games like the Kefling games. I suspect I won't work in games forever, though. My niche in the ecosystem is small... not because of my skills, but because of the content of the industry.

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    3. That paints a devastatingly sound description of the problem we face. All the more reason to support and celebrate those who get it right.

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