I don’t know where to start with this. It’s a mess. There are few women in the interactive industry, and the ones who make it there are treated miserably. The more I think about it, the angrier I become. This, I’m told, is a very ugly trait for a woman. All I can say is that the whole thing is incredibly cyclical, and is spiraling into a point where women are shoved aside to cater to the needs of men.
If you need to understand where exactly in video games there is sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and homophobia, you can pull down almost any title and find it. Christine is tackling this in a thoughtful and exhaustive piece. Any educated person would think that most games are written for and by little boys. They would be right. Of course, there are exceptions, as there always are, but by and large, the content of the games reflects the feelings and social status of its creators. There are a lot of problems with how the industry addresses these issues, but the one that most affects me is its misogyny.
You’ve probably seen the #1reasonwhy topic trending on Twitter. It began with the question, “Why are there so few lady game creators?” Women in the industry responded with the horrible stories of sexual harassment, dismissive coworkers, and death threats. That’s a day in the life of a woman in the interactive industry. The one that stuck out to me the most, was a tweet from Kim Swift, the creator of Portal, which reads, “Because I get mistaken for the receptionist or day-hire marketing at trade shows.” The creator of one of the greatest games of all time is not known for her achievement because, unfortunately for her, she is a woman.
That is scary. We live in 2012. This isn’t the 1950’s anymore. The fight women went through to have jobs held by men is supposed to be over, but here we are. This is an industry that is growing larger and larger every day and is becoming integral to the lives of many people, both men and women. And yet, women don’t play a large role in that industry. When they do break into it, their expertise, clothing, sexuality, and competence is constantly questioned.
The old excuse for this behavior was that boys are the only consumers of video games, and only men could understand what boys want from their products. Well, this old excuse has become law within many forms of entertainment. Boys like violence and killing things, girls like doing their hair and playing with dolls. Video games are for boys. Girls can go play with make up. That same attitude has crept into the industry, so that when women object to what their male coworkers think, they get the tired reasoning that this is what boys like. According to them, boys apparently like sexism, violence, and rape.
You don’t believe me? I’m going to spoil parts of the Dishonored Lady Boyle mission and the storyline with Jack in Mass Effect 2. In Dishonored, you can kill a woman by luring her to her bedroom under the pretense of having sex with her, because she’s apparently “loose” (the game makes a point of repeating the idea that she’s promiscuous, over and over again.) But that is the evil option, or the “chaotic” option for this mission. The “good” way to win is this: you can knock her out and allow her to be abducted by a man she doesn’t know, even though he assures the player she’ll “learn” to love him in time. So the good choice is to take part in the kidnapping and rape of a woman. Also in Dishonored, you can watch a woman while she is bathing by spying on her through the bathroom keyhole. You can do this after walking in on a main character doing the same. For no real reason. I suppose the developers thought it was funny. Haha, get it, because women exist only to be objectified? Gosh that is such a great joke, and it adds so much to my experience as a gamer who happens to be a woman. When I saw this part, this was the message I got: “We don’t care if this makes you uncomfortable. You aren’t welcome here anyway. This is for boys.” This completely unnecessary part of the game only served to make me feel demeaned and unwanted, all because the true audience, the male audience, the only audience that matters, supposedly loves this stuff.
It gets so much worse. In Mass Effect 2, there is a character who has been brutally raped, but you can fix her if you’re the male version of Shepard (it is important to note that you can only do this if you are a man.) All you have to do is have sex with her. While she’s crying, of course. I feel disgusting writing this out, but the more you think about this, the more terrible it becomes. Someone had to spend time creating this story, these characters, and these options. Someone had to render the tears on a rape survivor’s face while Shepard has sex with her. They would justify this by saying that this is what their demo wants from a game, which I think is insulting to any gamer. These are both AAA games with massive budgets and hundreds of employees, and apparently not one of them thought that these scenes were problematic.
How can we stop things like this? Well, a lot of the men who are in the industry have made it pretty clear that they aren’t up to the task. Sorry fellas, but I’m done being treated like a secondary audience and having my gender used as an object to be saved, prized, raped, romanced, or killed. There are thousands of over qualified women who are programmers, writers, artists, animators, and producers that will do a much better job of creating games that are inclusive and actually interesting.
Now, if you’re a male reading this and you’re worried that with all of these women in the industry you won’t have things made for you, I have one response. If you miss having narratives that star strong, male characters who take what they want without any consequences and who are great because they are male, I have a solution: reflect on the fact that almost all art was made for you. You can play all of the games, watch all of the movies, read all of the books, and listen to all of the music that has existed before this exact moment in time. It’s all for you, with very few exceptions. Every note, every character, every background, every story, every sex scene is made with you in mind. I can’t imagine what that is like. Literally. It is impossible. I can’t imagine how great it must be to have millions of role models, stories, and characters to fall back on when you wonder how to confront a situation. You can be anything you want to be and nobody will judge you. Nobody will say you’re too weak, too incompetent, too feminine to do anything because according to almost all art that has existed before this moment in time, you are the greatest creature on the planet.
Plus, no one is saying that there shouldn’t be strong male characters anymore. What women in the gaming industry are arguing is that there can’t only be strong male characters. Women make up 54% of the world’s population. The balance of interesting characters in game should be about half men and half women, if all is fair.
Women are going to make games. They will continue to fight against the rampant misogyny in the industry, and will make these things relics of the past, whether men like it or not. Women are tired of the assumption that they don’t game, and the idea that all games for girls involve making passive princesses covered in pink. They’re done with making men and women different classes in games, where men are the strong ones and women are the fast ones. They’re done with history being used to justify sexism, even in an entirely fictional universe where the authors could have created a better society but purposely chose not to. They’re tired of the supposed “proof” or “research” that men put forward to justify their sexist practices. They’re over it. Things will change, and they will change for the better.
There are glimmers of hope, such as the next Dragon Age title, where women on the writing staff had to point out a story that involves an implied rape that male writers completely missed. There was outrage over the idea that Lara Croft was going to be raped in the next Tomb Raider title. There was outrage over that ridiculous Hitman trailer with the latex-clad nuns. There was outrage over the idea of a “girlfriend tree” in Borderlands 2 for less skilled players. Men and women in the industry, in journalism, and consumers have begun to notice the trend of sexism in gaming, and will continue to make noise over issues they see. There are women opening studios, speaking out against sexism, and making amazing games. I hope things get better, because I know women are tired of waiting around for the industry to notice us, take us seriously, and treat male and female consumers respectfully.