Every now and then, when a female character is designed with what can only be described as joke boobs, sleazy behaviour is turned into a mini-game, or a game publisher decides a legless, armless, headless, bikini-clad female corpse is a lovely idea for an ornament; someone brings up the question of sexism in gaming. Namely: is there too much of it?
I used to be baffled at the touchiness displayed in certain gamers whenever it’s suggested that maybe, perhaps, just a little, there’s a bit of a small problem that we might want to address. “LEAVE GAMES ALONE”, they scream, tears practically running down their face, and that’s the nice response. Such defensiveness never struck me as necessary. Surely games that are forward thinking in any area are the superior, industry-changing games?
My opinion has always been this: let’s not leave games alone. Let’s examine games, and critically analyse them, in the same way others examine books and movies. Not because we don’t like or understand them, but because we are gamers, and we love our games.
I think I’ve grasped it now though. Criticisms against sexism are not read, as I thought, as the same sort of thing as criticisms against storyline and gameplay; they are regarded as being more of the same tone as criticisms against violence. As gamers, we are aware that outsiders, particularly sensationalizing journalists, love to make broad accusations against games, blaming them for glorifying violence and creating an angrier, less trustworthy youth; and we have learned to almost instantly dismiss their criticisms as fearful hysteria about something they simply don’t understand.
And I agree. When someone who is not a gamer tries to criticize the industry, I ignore them. I wouldn’t listen to a person who’s never seen a movie all the way to the end criticize the latest horror, so why would I care what a person who’s never played a game all the way through to the end thinks? If you want to talk to me about games, you need to be a gamer, and I think we can all agree on that.
However, many of those who talk about sexism in games are not non-gamers. They’re gamers. Some of them are even game developers and writers.
This is why arguments like “movies and advertising is also guilty of this” really don’t work. We know that. We’re talking about games, though, because games are our interest.
“If you want something different, why don’t you make your own game?” is also tossed about. Well, those who are actively involved in the industry do, but in the same way as those who criticize really bad UI aren’t told to make their own games, those who criticize a bad handling of female characters really shouldn’t be either. Everyone affects the industry in a different way; sometimes by making games, sometimes by just being a voice.
“Most gamers are male. Therefore games should be catered to males.” No. To start with, there are more female gamers than many assume. Latest studies have even suggested women make up as much as 50% of gamers, and that they spend the same amount of money and time on their games as their male counterparts. More to the point, while it would be silly to stop catering to males altogether, it’s just as, if not even more silly to refuse to cater to, or even outright alienate female gamers.
“If you don’t like it, don’t play.” Weeeell, this is the thing. If I like the game, I’m going to play it, regardless of minor issues here and there. No game is perfect. That’s not going to stop me from expecting more from the industry as a whole, especially as it evolves. If Skyrim’s main storyline had closely resembled Arena’s, I would have been annoyed. I liked Arena, but come on, let’s move on already.
“They’re just games.” But games can be a beautiful, complicated form of storytelling, far more involved than movies. And, as it is with movies, and with all art, letting go of old stereotypes, or at least challenging them, can only result in a superior work. I guess I can understand those who don’t really care about storytelling, but, for me, it’s one of the most important parts of the experience.
“But.. But… boobs!” Yep, boobs. I’m not saying get rid of boobs. In fact, I’m all for boobs. I would have loved a pair on one of the protagonists of GTA V. I’m saying, attach the boobs to interesting, well-written, well-thought out people, rather than inanimate objects.
And by the way, I’m not a gamer because I like Twilight-styled romance. I’m a gamer mostly because, like many girls, conventionally “girly” things don’t appeal to me all that much. I want action, and adventure, and a challenge, and yeah, probably violence too. Maybe I even want something sexy to look at. I’d just like to see more games written with the understanding that not everyone playing is going to be male. That, for me, would be cool.