So Friday’s big news in the gaming industry came via a bit of Dead Island’s code, excavated by a Steam forum user, that temporarily named an in-game skill granting a female character a bonus against males as “feminist whore”. See, it’s not just a clever recursive title this week, even if the context is subtly different on each side of the colon.
Predictably enough, of course, the internet instantly exploded in a great, shuddering paroxysm of “DUZZNT CARE LOL WIMMIN R HAWS NEWAY”, without any discernible evidence of irony, while dev Techland’s damage control amounted to nothing much more than a limp apology about a misunderstood “crunch-time joke”. The only funny thing about that, I’d imagine, is that both responses really only substantiate an uncomfortable reality nobody actually wants to own up to – that the gaming industry* is pretty sexist.
Oh, not that anybody’s allowed to point it out, though. No, that’s just, you know, “looking for attention, lol”, or “making a big deal out of nothing, lol”, or “what are you doing out of the kitchen, anyway, lol?”, because there’s simply no criticising this sort of thing, ever, without prompting sneering contempt and/or let’s just pretend it never happened because it’s just a game anyway.
Except not really. A zombie holocaust might be an escapist fantasy, but – NEWSFLASH! – sexism is really, actually a real, actual thing.
Would people be so quick to disregard it if “feminist whore” were swapped out with a racial slur? I doubt that very much, so why is it that misogyny gets a free pass every single time? If there’s a difference between disparaging a person on the basis of their skin colour, and disparaging a person on the basis of their vagina, I can’t work out what it is.
I can’t even work out what’s worse here, either – that some coder decided the identifier “feminist whore” was totally hilarious, or that so many people don’t seem to realise this is a problem. Because, honestly, it is.
As a woman working in the game industry, even if it’s on the murky periphery, I’m sick of this shit. I’m sick of being sexually harassed in multiplayer games. I’m sick of being ordered to get off my PC or console and make sandwiches. I’m sick of being told my opinions don’t matter because I’m just looking for attention, and because I must be menstruating, and because there’s no such thing as a legitimately angry woman, only irrational, hormonally-charged outrage. I’m sick of being the punchline of “jokes”.
I’m sick of feeling as though I’ve jumped to the left, stepped to the right, and time-warped back into 1950.
And if all that weren’t bad enough already, there’s the disingenuous apathy and victim-blaming over on the other side – that “it’s the internet, harden up, lol” rubbish that seems to be the standard copy-pasted response – like online abuse, or a line of code in a game for that matter, is somehow less offensive than shouting this stuff in public. Because, honestly, it’s not.
* Like every other industry, really. At least we’re consistent.