Tag Archives: feminism

One Girl Gamer to Rule Them All

Walk with me, if you will, into the mire that is YouTube comments…

Well, that’s a shitty invitation if I ever heard one. Are you still here? As my YouTube channel has been growing, so has the amount of terrible comments. I guess you can say that’s to be expected, though that’s really fucking sad. Some comments are so awful they can be immediately brushed off as coming from terrible, sad, angry people, such as “Fuck this dumb hoe” or “Die you cam slut whore”. Though, I would ask everyone not to refer to these kinds of comments as trolling. “Die, bitch” isn’t trolling. It’s harassment. I share the worst comments on Twitter because I like to call out this stuff, but it’s kind of losing it’s novelty. Can you believe at one point I thought to myself “Hey, my first harassing comment, I’ve made it.” The Internet is gross.

Anyway, those aren’t the comments I want to talk about. There’s another kind of comment, a more sneakily sexist kind. It intends to be complimentary to a woman but it does so by putting all the other women gamers down. Things like:

“You’re the first girl I’ve seen review video games, and you’re great at it!” This one is puzzling and makes me assume you live under a rock.

“It’s nice that you don’t get too much into gender politics and focus on content.” As back-handed as it gets. I like you, because you don’t talk about things that try to make me see the world from someone else’s perspective. Also, it assumes that anything outside of gameplay mechanics is not real content and makes me want to talk about gender politics more.

“Nice to see a female gamer  who is about something more than sex appeal.” I suppose that if I were to wear more low-cut tops (of which I own many), my credibility would fly out the window. Everyone knows that being interested in games and wanting to look hot are in direct opposition to one another (just as these kind of comments are in direct opposition to the ones I receive that focus solely on my looks and ignore what I’m talking about).

“It’s so nice to find a female YouTuber who’s actually a fan of gaming” or “Wow, a girl who knows about games!” Because all those other women talking about games (which don’t actually exist according to commenter 1 above) are faking it. Hours and hours dedicated to videos and streams on a topic they don’t even like, those liars.

This last one is the one that bothers me the most. A compliment that depends on comparing you to other women and putting those women down isn’t much of a compliment at all. I’ve gotten it on my channel, I’ve seen it on many other women’s channels. A man will decide that this woman is the one true female gamer, to be put on a pedestal. This woman knows what she’s talking about, she really loves games, she doesn’t spend too much time talking about things they don’t like. She stands head and shoulders above all the other women, who pretend to like games for attention or to push their social agendas. She’s real, and the rest are fakes.

This kind of thought process is really sick and kinda scary. Women gamers aren’t some special fucking unicorns.  They’re everywhere and what they wear, or the games they prefer, or whether they’ve been playing games for 1 year or 30 doesn’t make any one of them better or more real than any other. If you like me because I talk about retro games, shitting on the women who don’t doesn’t make me feel special, it makes me think you’re an asshole.

There’s this pressure to respond positively to these kinds of comments because hey, they like my stuff, they’re trying to be nice. But these really aren’t compliments, this isn’t nice. I mean, at least they’re not calling me a whore? That’s a pretty fucking low bar, because comments like these are indeed sexist. What if men on YouTube were treated the same? What if each viewer felt that there could only be one true male gamer, and the rest were garbage? There would certainly be a lot less content to chose from. Want to see more women talking about games? Stop making it a competition. Of course, I don’t think that seeing more women in games is really the desired outcome from the people who make these kinds of comments.

Tips for Commenting on YouTube

  • Stay on topic. If you’re watching a game review, a comment about the presenter’s appearance is not necessary. Also, unless the video specifically mentions your penis, never bring it up in a comment.
  • If you want to compliment the YouTuber, tell them why you like their video or opinions. Don’t compare them to other YouTubers, or put other people down.
  • Don’t send a private message when a public comment will do. It creates more pressure and is kinda weird. You can’t force a personal relationship.
  • Watch the whole video before commenting. If you’re going to ask a question or try to teach the video maker something about what they’re talking about, and it turns out that gets mentioned later in the video? You’ll look dumb.
  • If you want to insult or threaten the YouTuber, just go take a fucking walk instead. 

Censorship in Video Games

There’s currently a movement going on in games (no, not that one) called 1 Million Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. It’s a petition to a number of Japanese developers to a) release their games in the West and b) not modify their game’s content for release in the West. On the surface I don’t see anything wrong with this. Other than the name, because based on the petition it should be called something more along the lines of 7 Thousand Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. But otherwise, it’s cool. I personally won’t sign because I don’t care that much about any of the games that aren’t being released or think any changes are altering the fundamental nature of the games, but to each their own. Some of the changes being rallied against are: lack of release of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 in North America, removal of skimpy optional costumes for a 13 year old character in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and removal of a close-up butt slap of R Mika in Street Fighter V. For more examples and a look at censorship vs. localization check out this investigative article.

R Mika Street Fighter

What I do have a problem with is who is being blamed for Japanese games being modified and how easily the word censorship is thrown around. Big surprise, the supporters of this campaign (who seem to have some overlap with that other gaming movement) are blaming the evil games media and those darn SJWs for any changes to games that come out of Japan. Will some people criticize a game for over-sexualizing female characters? Sure. Do developers have to listen to those critics? Nope. So, while I think petitioning a Japanese developer to not change things is all well and good, assigning blame to people who have no control over the games is not.


Let’s talk a little bit about the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which can influence games to modify their content. Its rating system encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements in Canada and the US. It was created in 1994, as a response to concerns about violence in video games. Though it has no legal authority to enforce retailers sales policies, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all refuse to allow games rated Adults Only (AO) to be published on their platforms and most retailers won’t stock these games either. AO ratings are given to games that are found to contain high amounts of content that is violent, profane, sexual or pornographic. Because many game companies and retailers won’t publish or sell AO games, it’s in the best commercial interest for games to not be rated AO. So, sometimes the most extreme content gets removed. Examples of this include Indigo Prophecy removing full frontal female nudity to obtain an M rating in 2005, and Manhunt 2 removing some of the more graphic violence to obtain an M rating on consoles in 2007. Few games have been given an AO rating, though funnily enough there’s one that I did QA for and captured footage to submit to the ESRB on the list.

Game companies can get in trouble for misrepresenting the content of their game to get a lower rating, and in Canada the law prohibits the sale of M or AO-rated games to people under a certain age. But there’s no law that says Microsoft can’t publish or sell an AO rated game. If there was, that would be actual censorship. But as it stands, these actions are voluntary. If people have problems with these kinds of changes, that’s fine, but blame is often miscast. When the ESRB was started in 1994 no one had heard of Anita Sarkeesian and the phrase “gamers are over” had yet to embed itself in the minds of scared gaming fans everywhere.

Slippery Slope

One of the arguments that gets brought up often is that game modifications (not calling it censorship, because it’s not) are a slippery slope. If a developer feels pressured to take out a gratuitous ass close-up today (though since developers stay mostly silent on this issue we can’t even be sure that they are feeling pressured), what changes will they have to make tomorrow? Here’s the thing… games have been modified to take cultural differences into account since the beginning. Sexual content has been removed from games that come from Japan to North America. Violence has been removed from games that go from America to Japan. Drug references have been removed from games sold in Australia. Some games made in Japan just don’t get released here – Mother, Policenauts. It wasn’t due to delicate Western sensibilities, it just didn’t work out that way.

xenoblade chronicles x lynlee

Nintendo specifically has a long history of modifying games to bring onto their consoles. Deja Vu, a game which initially came out for Mac in 1985 had visual references to alcohol, drugs and blood removed from the game. Maniac Mansion, first released for DOS in 1987, removed all sexual innuendo (and as a result was a lot less funny) on the NES. Super Castlevania IV (1991) removed crucifixes and clothed a naked statue for the North American release of the game (compared to the Japanese version). Reign of Fire (2002) was cut in order to obtain a Teen ESRB rating for the Gamecube, while it was left alone and rated Mature on other consoles. Nintendo has historically been a company that sells itself as family-friendly and makes changes to games to make them both culturally and age appropriate. Small changes like removing an optional skimpy costume or changing a character’s age seems exactly like something Nintendo of America would do and consistent with their history – no SJW boogeyman necessary.

It’s not just Nintendo. Let’s take one of my favourite games – Snatcher, developed by Konami. Between its release in Japan in 1988 and its release in North America in 1994 a ton of changes were made. A female character (who you see almost naked in the Japanese version) has her age changed from 14 to 18 and appears less naked in the NA version. The naked breast of another female character was covered up. Also, a controversial in-game meal of whale meat was changed to buffalo meat. Why? Because Japan and North America are culturally different and find different things weird. There were also a ton of changes made for copyright reasons so Konami didn’t get sued.

So, we’ve got a character’s age changed and a naked breast removed in Snatcher in 1994. And now a character’s age has been changed in Bravely Default in 2014 and some bare asscheeks shifted out of frame in Street Fighter V in 2015. Hmm… 21 years, exact same types of changes to games coming from Japan to North America. This slippery slope doesn’t appear to be all that slippery. In fact, it seems more like a plain.


If people want to petition Japanese game companies to not modify their content when bringing it to North America, that’s A-okay with me. I have no problem with it (though to be honest, if you’re really that upset about not being able to put a 13 year old video game character in a bikini I may question your life choices). However, target your energy at the companies actually making the changes, don’t scapegoat the “hostile” media and the mean feminists who may be critical of the games. People will criticize games – whether it’s about sexualized characters, bad writing, or shitty game mechanics – and that’s a good thing. If we want video games to be accepted as an art form, protected from censorship, we need to accept that criticism is an important part of art. Criticism is what pushes a medium forward and asks it to be better. It’s what relates video games to the rest of the world. If gaming companies change their content or don’t want to release their games here because they can’t handle criticism or want to avoid it altogether, that’s on them.

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (pt. 1)

The Witcher 3 was one of the games I was most excited for this year. I really enjoyed both of the previous installments, and looked forward to seeing what they would do on the latest generation of consoles. The game has managed to both exceed my expectations and disappoint me. In theory, it’s a fantastic game. But in practice, there are a thousand small annoyances that add up an at times deplete any enjoyment.

Let’s start at the bottom.

The Ugly

It’s hard to mention The Witcher without bringing up the topic of sexism. Now, when I talk about sexism, I’m not talking about the sex. Witcher 1 had some problematic things and liked to hand out sex as a reward for quests as well as having those weird sex cards every time you slept with a woman, while its portrayal in Witcher 2 was immensely improved. I have no problem with sex in games, in fact, I like it. I also enjoy that The Witcher treats sex as a pastime rather than the path to, or goal of, everlasting love. Though I’d prefer if kissing was left offscreen until it can be animated in such a way that it doesn’t look like someone is jamming together the faces of a Barbie and Ken doll.

But I digress.

The Witcher features a lot of violence against women. True, it features a lot of violence against everyone, but the question that needs to be asked is: Could this violence be happening to anyone? Or is this violence happening to a woman because she’s a woman? In a number of cases, the violence we see and hear about would not likely be perpetrated against a man. One of the early quests in the game has you searching for a Baron’s missing wife and daughter. As it turns out, the Baron is a violent drunk who abused his wife which is why they ran off. The game then tries to turn things around and make him into a sympathetic character. I personally didn’t see much of this as any time he tried to explain himself to me, I told him I didn’t care, but the end of the quest line definitely seems to push the idea that he’s now a changed man and should be forgiven.

There’s also the fact that so many of the monsters in the world are twisted representations of women. Noonwraiths are women killed before their wedding days. Strigas are women transformed into monsters by a curse. Hags (water, grave, take your pick) and harpies are also specifically female monsters with obviously female forms. Many of these are women who are in their present form because of some violence against them, and now we are killing them. Again. “But, source material!” many say. Yes, The Witcher is based on a series of books and short stories, which themselves draw from Slavic and other European myths. But no one adapts material 1-to-1. Making updates and selective editing of a work that originally debuted in the 1980s is definitely not unheard of. The game’s developers have artistic licence and make deliberate decisions on what gets included or emphasized and what does not.

The Witcher 3 cinematic screencap

You barely even have to play the game to see where priorities lie. One of the game’s cinematic trailers features a woman being beaten and about to be executed by a group of 3 men, out in the wilderness. Her clothes are torn, her size is diminutive in comparison. Geralt comes along and saves her. The point is the men are monsters, but it sends a pretty clear message about who their victims are. In the launch trailer Geralt approaches an attractive young woman who quickly disrobes, in a very sexual way, then turns into a wraith and flies away. Geralt stalks her into a building, where a battle takes place and he kills her. As she dies she returns to her naked human form, the camera lingering on her pretty face as the light extinguishes from her eyes. I think it’s especially damning that these are the scenarios chosen for the purpose of marketing the game. The Witcher 3 has some great storytelling, fantastic questlines, and a dedication to showing that the world is a place of moral grey areas where there often is no right answer. But there are so many other ways to show this. Why does it have to be women being abused, sexualized, and killed that is used to get this point across?

I don’t consider the character Geralt to be sexist, but the world of The Witcher definitely is. It’s unfortunate and at times, it’s bad enough to impact my enjoyment of the game.

I went on about that for a bit longer than I planned, so I’m going to make this a 3 parter. Next post I’ll talk a bit about the gameplay annoyances, and conclude it all with the aspects of The Witcher 3 that make it great.

Under the Covers

I’ve been playing the remaster of Saints Row 4 on XBox One and thoroughly enjoying it. Besides engaging gameplay, zany antics, and ridiculously juvenile yet hilarious jokes, Saints Row boasts one of the best character creators I’ve seen in a game. When you create The Boss you have a ton of options. Aside from choosing your sex, you can choose your race and your skin colour. You can choose from multiple different voice actors with different accents to voice your character, and further customize the pitch of your voice. You can make your character appear young or old, and choose a body build that you like. Then there are a thousand different clothing options. And if you ever want to change things up, you can do so at any point in the game.

My character is what I’d like to look like in a video game. She has purple hair, some meat on her bones, and some major eyeliner and brow game. She’s voiced by the wonderful Laura Bailey who I wish I sounded like. But every time I load up the game, I’m greeted with this guy.

Saints Row 4 cover and loading screen art

Who the fuck is this guy?

He’s certainly not me. He’s not in my crew. I’ve never seen him in my game.

I love playing the game but every time I’m met with this image, which is also the art on the game box, there’s a moment of cognitive dissonance. The canon protagonist (at least in marketing materials) has nothing to do with my experience of playing the game. It seems so incongruous to offer up this great character creator that lets people create the kind of protagonist they want to play, but then show us a design that’s likely completely different anytime there’s a chance.

Saints Row is obviously not the only game that has done this.

Covers for Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, Sunset Overdrive all showing a white male main character

Dragon Age 2, Fable 3, and Sunset Overdrive also all portray the protagonist as a white male despite offering other options to the player.

The Mass Effect series boasts a decent character creator (though it’s not as robust as Saints Row’s), but all of the artwork around the first 2 games still features a default white male Shepard. Incidentally, he kind of looks like the guy from the Saints Row cover with a buzz cut.

Mass Effect 1 and 2 cover art

For Mass Effect 3 Bioware’s marketing department realized some people had recognized the superiority of Jennifer Hale’s Shepard (I refuse to use the term femShep, because she. is. Shepard.) In a puzzling move (or not so puzzling if you want to absolve yourself of all responsibility), Bioware put the decision on how she would look to a fan vote. Blue-eyed, blonde-haired, Caucasian Shepard won the popular vote in what could be boiled down to a beauty contest. Then there was a second vote to decide her hair colour. Yep, hard-ass, space Commander, first human Spectre Shepard had her skin colour, features, and hair style voted on by the public. Now that there was a canon design for both the male and female Shepard, Mass Effect 3 had a reversible box cover (of which maleShep was still the default).

Mass Effect 3 covers

I’m afraid that marketing departments just can’t win with me. Though I can (and have) flipped the cover of my Mass Effect 3 box for 360 to show the version of Shepard that’s closer to my own, it’s still not my Shepard. My Shepard is an N7 Marine and she sure as hell would never have a haircut that allowed bangs to obstruct her eyes. That’s really not safe for combat. While having an option for female box art is something, it still doesn’t take into account how people have created their own version of Shepard. Why does she have to be white? Why does she need to have delicate, conventionally attractive features? Why does she have a design that you can’t really even replicate in-game while box art maleShep and in-game maleShep can look pretty much identical? These are the great mysteries of the Mass Effect world.

I think the best way to market games that allow you to customize your character is to not show the protagonist in the artwork. It’s the only way to avoid that sense of dissonance and the feeling that if you’re not playing as scruffy white male #42, you’re not playing the character as it was designed. A number of games have done this, and I don’t think any have suffered from not putting a face on the box art.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

The box art for Dragon Age: Inquisition has an enticing design that shows something of the story, without committing to a specific character design. This should work for most characters. Unless you play a dwarf, then you’re out of luck.

Dragon Age Origins box cover

Dragon Age: Origins has artwork that doesn’t give any indication of a canon Warden, while still being quite effective.

Fallout 3 and New Vegas box art

The newer Fallout games both feature heavily armored figures which don’t give away sex, race, or appearance, but tell you a lot about the game world. Though I’m sad to admit I always assumed the figure on the cover of New Vegas was male just because of lack of sculpted boob plate. But when I force that stereotype out of my head, it could really be a man or a woman.

Why spend so much time and effort giving players robust character customization only to default to the standard scruffy white male protagonist in all the marketing materials?


Never Enough

This is an odd, rather uncomfortable post to be writing.

It’s caused by Patricia Arquette’s comments during her Oscar acceptance speech last night, where she called for wage equality and equal rights for women in America. I thought it was nice that she advocated for this during her time on stage. However, after reading through my Twitter feed for an hour, the point was driven home that her speech was trite, noninclusive, and shitty for not bringing up the fact that women of colour have it even worse than white women when it comes to wage gaps (and pretty much everything else). Also, I’m shitty for liking that she said something at all.

This also happened after Emma Watson’s speech to the UN. While I did find her talk lacking in an actual call to action, I thought it was a rousing speech that invited people to feminism in a friendly 101-level way. Then the Internet told me all the problems with what she said. It focused too much on men. It didn’t take into account the more serious issues faced by women around the world. It came from a rich white girl.

I’m trying to educate myself more about social issues, but the community is not always a friendly one.

If you’re not in the most oppressed group, you should not complain. Don’t bring up some transgression that’s occurred because of your sex or race or economic status, unless you also bring up the transgressions against the people who have it even worse than you. Maybe I’m misunderstanding tone, but I often feel like the message being sent is “if you can’t advocate for everyone at once, you’re terrible and you should shut up.”

I often feel for others who try to get into social issues, or feminism specifically. I’ve seen a lot of backlash against “daddy feminists,” men who have daughters and realize that women should be treated equally and with respect because that’s what they want for their kid. No, it shouldn’t take having a daughter for men to realize that women are people, but I also wouldn’t tell a man he’s terrible because having a daughter is what made him care about women’s issues. There’s this weird, almost gatekeep-y vibe that if you don’t care about everything, if you don’t have the right reasons for starting to care, if you can’t eloquently show support for every issue at all times, you should just stay quiet.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that most people care the most about issues which affect them personally. Does this make them terrible? No, I think it just makes them human. There are people out there who have the energy and fortitude to care equally about everything at once but it’s not easy. I try to be aware of social issues but I only have my own experiences to go on so issues that affect me personally are the ones that are at the forefront in my mind.

Intersectionality is the goal, the thing that we should be striving for, but it’s not something everyone can just magically understand and perfectly represent overnight. It’s difficult to continue to try when you’re constantly given the message that you’re not doing enough.

Kinzie Kensington and the Insufferable Genius

This post is actually the basis of my latest video, but if you’re someone who would rather read than watch, here you go!

Sherlock Holmes, Cloud Strife, Tony Stark, Dr. Manhattan, Rust Cohle, Gregory House, Franics York Morgan, The Doctor, Will Graham, Geralt of Rivia.

Robert Downey Jr.  as Tony Stark (Ironman)

All very popular fictional characters. All prodigies in their own right. And all, to put it bluntly, assholes.

The trope of the insufferable genius is a fairly common one in fiction. These characters don’t conform to social conventions, they’re misanthropic, and are often outright insulting to the people around them. They’re also all gifted in some manner. Whether it’s brilliant powers of deduction, supernatural ability, or amazing physical prowess, something makes these characters special and better than others. This lets them get away with being arrogant jerks. They don’t get kicked to the curb by their fictional counterparts, and the audience tends to outright adore them.

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, they’re all men. (Also, white and straight but that’s a whole other discussion).

Insufferable genius is not a role that women get to play very often. While being antisocial and unconforming is often seen as charmingly roguish for men, it’s not something women can get away with so easily. Female characters can be brilliant or powerful but can’t be too arrogant about it or be too unfriendly lest they get labelled an unlikable bitch.

Gillian Anderson in The Fall

Gillian Anderson’s character in The Fall is a female character who comes close to fulfilling this trope. She’s a brilliant detective who’s not afraid to break a few rules or call out others on their bullshit. While she’s still generally respected, she does get more flack for it than a male would, as she’s always quick to point out. Kara Thrace is another character who could fall into the Insufferable Genius category. She’s a brilliant pilot who doesn’t like to play by the rules and doesn’t care what people think of her. However, to be fair Starbuck was originally written as a man. These aren’t the characters I want to talk about right now.

Kinzie Kensington from Saints Row 4

The character I do want to talk about is from a video game series. Saint’s Row. It might be hard to imagine a great, stereotype-breaking female character coming from a game series that started as a Grand Theft Auto knockoff, but hear me out. It’s true that Saint’s Row scores a solid “needs improvement” when it comes to background female characters, but with major female characters, they do a surprisingly good job. First, the game features enough female characters that giving them some negative traits doesn’t have the side effect of painting all females with the same brush. One of these characters is the brilliant hacker, Kinzie Kensington.

Kinzie’s a hacking genius who knows more than most people and isn’t afraid to say so. She’s a self-confessed misanthrope who doesn’t go out of her way to endear herself to people. She doesn’t care that people don’t understand her technical jargon, just that the job gets done.

Now, Kinzie isn’t the main protagonist, you could argue that she was in Gat out of Hell, but honestly that was a bit phoned in. However, she does play a major part in both Saints Row 3 and 4. In Saints Row 4 she’s the voice you’re always hearing, leading you through the story, telling you what to do every step of the way because the protagonist doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

I really like Kinzie because she’s smart and she doesn’t care what other people think. She just wants to do what she needs to do, she’s not particularly concerned with being nice. She does fit the Insufferable Genius role, which really, women don’t get to play too often. So I just wanted to give a little bit of love to Kinzie Kensington, along with Volition for developing her.

If you’ve got any feedback, or suggestions for future videos, I’d love to hear them.

Violence Against Video Game Characters

With the news that GTA V has been pulled from Target and Walmart in Australia because of how violence against female sex workers is portrayed, I’ve been hearing a very familiar cry on Twitter and in comment sections. “What about men?!” “Why is it okay to kill hundreds of men but as soon as you add a woman it’s a problem?”

First of all, people have complained about violence in video games in general. Many, many, many, times. Protests have been launched, petitions have been written. While Canada doesn’t tend to ban games, a number of games have been banned or refused classification in Australia because of violence. The majority of those were banned for general graphic violence, not specifically violence against women (50 Cent Bulletproof, Dark Sector, The Getaway, Manhunt, Postal 1/2, Reservoir Dogs, Soldier of Fortune). Australia has also banned games due to sexual content or depictions of drug use.

But let’s ignore the above and pretend that only games with violence against women are subject to criticism and bans. Why would this be?

In the latest Call of Duty, you’re at war and you mow down hundreds of enemy forces. It’s hard to tell for sure with full body armor on, but they’re most likely all men.

Tomb Raider - Lara killing a man who is on fire

In the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, Lara goes around an island killing hundreds of men. Only men. There are no women. If you paid attention to the game you’d know that there are no women on the island because they’ve all already been killed (by the men). But again, ignore that, not relevant to how terribly video games treat dudes.

In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (excuse the somewhat dated reference, but it’s the only GTA I’ve played all the way through), Tommy murders hundreds, maybe thousands of people, mostly men, in his quest to become the crime boss of the city. Running over pedestrians (of either sex) and beating up hookers (always female) is not a requirement to taking over the city, but sometimes he enjoys doing it in his free time.

These poor men have it tough in video games. They’re always getting tortured, shot, run over, killed. Why is this okay, but as soon as you murder a woman in a video game, people start crying foul?

Take your average military shooter. You’re likely playing as a male, and you’re most likely shooting other men. If you’re not also shooting women, it’s because there aren’t any in the game. This makes me question why there aren’t any women. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d have no problem with seeing women on the battlefield (maybe I could even play as one in the campaign sometimes?) and having to mow them down along with the men. Equal opportunity senseless killing, that’s all I ask.

In Tomb Raider, the reason Lara kills hundreds of men is because they’re trying to kill her. They’ve kidnapped her friends and if Lara doesn’t kill them, her and her friends will all die. This is how action games work – the player kills aggressors who are trying to kill them.

In GTA and other open world games, you can generally kill anyone you want. However the aggressors in the game, the ones you have to kill, do tend to be males. Would people be upset if the aggressors were females instead? I certainly wouldn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when I played Saint’s Row: The Third and found that the members of my rival gangs were made of both men and women. Women can be bad guys too. It’s okay. Even better, female antagonists can be created that are actual characters with motivations beyond ‘shoot the player’. Rival gang leaders, mercenaries, corrupt law enforcement officers – put a female in one of these roles and I have no problem with having to kill them to progress in the game. The joy I get from having women in these games outside of strip clubs and street corners greatly outweighs any other issues I’d have.

GTA V - sex workers on the corner

The problem with the portrayal of violence against women, and sex workers in particular, in video games is that these characters, scratch that they aren’t characters and that’s part of the problem. These women are not your enemy. They don’t stand in your way to progress, they are no threat to you. They exist, wear skimpy clothing, and flirt to stimulate the player. That’s their purpose. They don’t impact the story. The player has the option to use them and then kill them. They aren’t necessarily rewarded for this behavior, but they probably aren’t punished either. If in Tomb Raider Lara stumbled upon a man on the beach who was offering pony rides and shot him in the face then I’d have a problem. I’d question why the developers put this scenario in the game. Likewise, I’d have an issue if the next GTA portrayed male sex workers who were completely unrelated to the story that a player could use and then kill.

I’m not a proponent of censorship. While Australia banning video games constitutes actual censorship, retail chains in Australia choosing to pull GTAV off their shelves is not. They can choose to sell or not sell whatever they like. What I am an advocate of is developers and consumers being critical of the media they produce and consume. When female sex workers are added to a game to be ogled, groped, or fucked then thrown away, what is it adding to the game? Is it taking away more than it adds? Is it more trouble than it’s worth just to make your game seem gritty?

Many video games are violent, and that’s not ever going to change. While the gender of the people you shoot or fight in games shouldn’t be an issue, it is because males tend to be the aggressors where it’s a matter of kill or be killed, while females are generally not a threat to the player. They get killed to move the story or a quest forward, give a male character a reason to seek revenge, or just because the player feels like killing them. While a couple of the examples aren’t perfect, if you haven’t watched them yet I’d recommend Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on Women as Background directions (part 1, part 2), as they really show how prevalent this issue is in games, especially in AAA titles.