Okay that’s an ambitious title I can in no way back up. I can’t really speak to the whole experience of women with games. But there’s been some shit stirred recently that caught my interest and made me slightly frustrated with the way conversations about ‘geeky’ media and feminism go. So first off: the very capable media critic Anita Sarkeesian has been doing this Feminist Frequency thing for a while and it’s quite nice! It’s bite-sized explanations of a lot of shit everyone should probably have a handle on. She likes games, so she decided to do similar explanatory videos about tropes and women in games. Basically, here’s what is meant by “damsel in distress”, here’s why some people take issue with it being a cliche, maybe shape up slightly?
So, she got just craploads of death threats and rape threats and … well one guy said he’d never date her which isn’t really a “threat” per se but suffice it to say her entry into the ‘gaming community’ proper with this video series was met immediately with some pretty harsh fucking words. Now, in a nice countermove here Kickstarter asking for $6,000 got funded for $158,917. So, that’s nice. But the thing is, the fact that the reaction to seeing the word ‘feminist’ next to the word ‘videogames’ got a significant portion of the internet crazy mad is not great. There’s also the fact that a rather large number of people responded to her discussing that with ‘Well that’s just how things are you know? You have to let it roll off your back.’ Which ignores the fact that in a lot of circles being inundated with rape and murder threats is not considered the cost of doing business. And it probably shouldn’t be!
Which leads to this interesting post on the blog of one Foz Meadows: rape culture and gaming. Also, on Pandagon: Geeks, You Have a Problem. Basically, there’s a simultaneous assumption by geeks that we’re too smart to be privileged or misogynistic or racist or whatever but if you want to change a goddamn thing about anything we will cut you. After arguing at a ridiculous length about this for years, I feel like it mostly comes down to people who are nice deciding that means they cannot do a bad thing. Well, no that goes too far obviously nice people realize if they just shot a dude it’s probably bad. But I’ve met a hell of a lot of nice people who don’t find using homophobic slurs particularly bad. It just means ‘stupid’, man! Get over it! It’s different! Anyway point is I will destroy mountains before I stop saying this one word I got in the habit of saying for no reason.
Nice people are extremely stubborn when you ask them to change any behavior that cannot be directly demonstrated to harm another person the moment it happens. Because for fuck’s sake, they had a groove. Now, you’re asking them to reevaluate everything and maybe never do some of the things they’re used to doing. That seems pretty mean! So feminist complaints about gaming culture are reduced to the nagging of shrill harpies who just don’t get us. Look, if you’re made uncomfortable by the unrelenting misogyny on display at tournaments, or the trailer for Hitman and the new Lara Croft game having an attempted rape in it but I’m not it sounds like you’re just a whiner. It often gets shifted to a censorship discussion because geeks feel more comfortable in that arena. But the thing is, no one is interested in censoring a goddamn thing. Ms. Sarkessian isn’t making a series of videos about ‘what games need to be destroyed’, she’s making a series of videos about what tropes exist, why they exist, and what that means for female gamers. The exploration of the concept that things may not be perfect is seen as an attack worthy of a pretty outsized response. And of course, the nice kind good people of the geek community say well that’s just 4chan they’re crazy I would never do that but anyway it kind of sounds like you’re just being whiny I never had a problem don’t censor games I like here’s a few examples of good characters that totally disprove everything they’re just doing what sells! They’re totally on your side they can’t stand those damn commenters either but have you ever thought about how all these weak-ass arguments prove you should shut up?
Look I love Bayonetta, it is the best. But I don’t think the hair-fetish shit was really the reason I had so much fun with it. I’m amazed that in a genre of media so much more defined by mechanics than narrative there’s such push-back against the ideas presented by feminist critiques.
Also worth reading: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. One of the pieces I found really interesting talked about how gender-neutral games were until some pretty random events kicked them into being a male-centric thing to do.
Also: Women beat 18-34 men for tech adoption and purchasing power. In case you talk to someone trying out that “just what sells” pile.