Tag Archives: sexism

Breaking News: Women Play Video Games

This is day 15 of Blaugust.

Today I was out game hunting with my boyfriend and a couple other (male) friends. We had been to number of places, and I was getting kind of bored since I have no games on my wanted list right now and generally just don’t enjoy shopping or flea markets. We went to a little place we had been to a couple times, and the guy behind the counter was someone I hadn’t seen before.

“You look a little lost, dear. Let me guess, you’re a non-gamer surrounded by gamers?”

I looked at him as his stupid comment took a second to process.

“I’m a gamer,” I replied. “I’m just not much of a shopper.”

He went on asking if people just handed me games to play, as I walked deeper into the shop, away from him.

“That guy’s an idiot,” said my boyfriend once we were out of earshot. “I’m surprised you didn’t go off on him.”

It wasn’t the first time I had gotten a comment along those lines, I doubt any woman is a stranger to the old “Are you buying this for yourself?” question at certain video game chains stores.

I wasn’t looking to buy anything (especially not now), so I took out my phone and started browsing Twitter.

“Oh, I see. You’re not much of a shopper because you’re on eBay.” Apparently the store clerk hadn’t run his mouth enough yet. I wasn’t sure if he was insinuating that I do my game shopping on eBay or that I was price-checking things in his store but it doesn’t really matter.

“No, I just own every single video game I want right now,” I tell him.

“How’d you mange that? Digital?”

“No.”

“Oh, don’t tell me the only video games you want are Sing Star and Dance Dance Revolution.”

Fuck. He clearly wasn’t stopping so I engaged full-on ignore mode, and went back to my phone.

“Don’t tell me I touched a nerve.”

And then we left. My boyfriend was astonished that the man just wouldn’t stop talking. As we walked away, even another guy that had been in the store commented on what a jackass the clerk had been.

I was so mad, I don’t understand how people can be so stupid. If you’re that clueless, at least do everyone a favor and shut up. Besides being horribly sexist and out of touch with reality, it’s a very bad sales tactic to question the “gamerness” people who come in your store.

I’ve always had it pretty good as a woman who plays video games. I’ve really never experienced harassment beyond the very occasional troll-y blog comment, a few “you’re a girl? really?” comments in WoW, or above-mentioned questions about if I’m buying games for myself. I try to surround myself with people who aren’t morons, so this kind of stuff doesn’t come up too often. But it’s pretty shitty when it does, and it’s been building up.

However, these kinds of things don’t make me want to withdraw from public gaming spaces, it’s actually the opposite. Now I feel this urge to make myself as visible as possible. Where I would have ordered a new game online, I now feel like I have to do my buying in person, so people see women buying games and are maybe less inclined to make a stupid comment to the next woman who comes in. When a teammate in HotS exclaims “Good job, fellas” after a successful team fight, I feel the need to obnoxiously proclaim “I’m no fella!”

Of course, then I’ll probably be accused of attention seeking.

If you feel like commiserating, feel free to share your shitty gaming gender discrimination stories.

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.

Gamergate

I didn’t want to talk about this topic because I wanted the whole issue to suffocate from lack of attention and die away. However, I find the whole thing so frustrating that I feel the need to write words about it to work through it and try to understand. I wrote a comment on a post about this (one of the few times I’ve weighed in on a public comment section) and the 400 other responses I keep getting emailed by Disqus have given me things to think about and things to rage about. I won’t claim to have read everything there is to read about the issue, it’s just too much shit to wade through. But I’ve read articles from both sides, I’ve read the comments, I’ve read through the GamerGate hashtag for as long as I could stomach it.

On the surface, GamerGate claims to be against biased and corrupt game journalism. Okay, being against bias and corruption seems like a logical thing. So where does the whole thing get so crazy?

Let’s look at some of the specific claims and complaints.

It is a conflict of interest for game journalists to have relationships with game developers. This could mean a writer is friends, or lovers with a game dev. It could mean a writer supports a dev’s work via Patreon. Yes, relationships can create bias. So can things like personal experience and tastes, but that’s beside the point. The important question for me is – what effect do these biases have?

A game writer gives publicity to a friend’s game it might not have gotten otherwise. Why is this something to get upset over? Having connections in an industry will give you more exposure in that industry. This is common sense, not corruption.

How about prominent game writers or developers coming to the defense of someone who is being harassed and attacked? Again, not corruption. This is a rather expected response.

Press and developers being too cozy? People in the same industry, with similar interests, who attend the same events will make friends. Maybe even start relationships. How many people have met a significant other or made friends at work? Why is games journalism a field where this is so taboo?

I think a big part of the problem is that people are taking game journalism way too seriously. They’re trying to impose very strict ethical guidelines in a place where they just don’t make sense. We’re not talking about coverage of politics (although this has gotten very political), or lawmaking, or international relations. We’re talking about video games. Most of game journalism is not news. It’s opinion. A game review is opinion. Social commentary about gaming is opinion. Agree with it, don’t agree with it, then move on with your life. If a journalist writes about a friend’s game and their bias clouds their review, is it the end of the world? No. And there will be 300 other reviews of that game that you could read which would balance their opinion. People have ridiculous expectations. Did gamers really see game journalists as infallible sources of consumer information before? Unless you’re reporting the specs of a new console, we’re not talking about facts. Whether a game is good or bad is not fact. It’s subjective opinion.

The inciting incident for GamerGate was Eron Gjoni writing a 9000 word manifesto on all the terrible things his game developer ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn had done. Namely, cheating on him with some men who were game journalists. This caused all kinds of outrage and was apparently evidence of how corrupt the industry is. Zoe Quinn had slept her way to coverage and good reviews of her games. The problem was these reviews didn’t exist. One of the journalists had mentioned her game in passing, but it looks like this happened before they had any sexual relationship. What I took away from Gjoni’s post was not that the gaming industry was a vile pit of corruption, but rather that I probably don’t ever want to date Zoe Quinn or Eron Gjoni. What I take away from the shitstorm the post caused is that a lot of people erroneously think that this woman’s sex life is any of their business.

The term misogyny is getting thrown at GamerGate supporters a lot. Are they really upset about corruption in journalism, or are they just using this as an excuse to harass women out of the industry? While I believe that the true misogynists make up a small (though very vocal) minority of the people involved in this, it’s hard to reconcile the people who do not have this intent. Why is Quinn – who is a developer, not a journalist – bearing the brunt of this? If unethical journalism is the true target, why is she the enemy?

I won’t deny the possibility of corruption in any industry that makes money but 98% of the examples of corruption in journalism I’ve seen brought up by GamerGate are about Zoe Quinn. Give me more examples of actual journalists being corrupt. Show me how this has affected people’s lives in real negative ways. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to write the whole thing off as an excuse to harass people.

Gaming sites are attacking gamers. After the Zoe Quinn “scandal” was brought to light, and after Anita Sarkeesian released a new Tropes vs. Women video, both women were subject to harassment and threats. Soon after this a number of gaming sites published articles with titles along the lines of “Gamers are Over”, which denounced this behaviour and condemned gaming culture as being toxic and entitled. The gamer stereotypes, lonely white males in basements, were presented as being on their way out, and angry because their hobby was evolving while they were not.

First of all, I think inflammatory titles like “Death to Gamers” are unnecessary and do more harm than good. Biting the hands that feed you is also pretty stupid. I identify as a gamer. However, I’m also a reasonable human being. When gamers are decried for being angry, socially inept douchebags, I don’t feel personally attacked. I know they aren’t talking about me. I think that people could be more careful about their language to avoid the appearance that they’re making sweeping generalizations about certain group, if for no other reason than it would not encourage the creation of more stupid hashtags.

Ultimately, this is all semantics. Gamer doesn’t have a set meaning. It means different things to different people. Gamers come from all walks of life, like different games, and have different opinions. Staunch support or opposition to “gamer” culture is silly because it’s not a single, definable thing.

Social Justice Warriors are destroying gaming and game journalism. People criticize the things they love. Suck it up, buttercup.

There are two main complaints here. The first is that gaming journalists are using gaming sites to push radical social justice. People just want to play games and have fun, they don’t want political agendas shoved down their throat. No one wants games to stop being fun. However, many people want to raise concerns about certain issues in games to raise awareness and hopefully encourage games to evolve. If you think reducing the amount of people who are marginalized by games will make them less fun, there’s probably something wrong with you. If this isn’t an interest of yours you don’t have to read these articles. Even in the most left-leaning of gaming sites that I frequent, these articles do not make up the majority of what gets published. There’s plenty of other kinds of articles – straight up reviews, previews, news, interviews. If you don’t want to read someone’s opinion on lack of female characters in the new Assassin’s Creed, no one is forcing you to.

The second type of complaints seems to stem from games like Gone Home getting well reviewed. Apparently, enjoying games that do things differently is a threat to the more traditional games. Or positively reviewing this type of game means you’re corrupt because how could anyone enjoy a “walking simulator”. This one seems almost too silly to respond to. The industry evolving is good. More choices are good. No one is taking your preferred games away.

Game journalists are glorified bloggers and have become irrelevant.

So let me get this straight. Game journalists are just bloggers (which is apparently a pejorative term? ouch). They are irrelevant. So, if they are irrelevant and their opinions carry no weight, why are people so mad about them saying that gamer culture is dead? Who cares what they think? Why do they need to live up to such high ethical standards in order to talk about games? Make up your minds, folks. Either Polygon and Gamespot and Kotaku should be sources of unbiased, unadulterated, objective facts about video games, or they’re irrelevant and their integrity shouldn’t matter.

If you really think that game journalism should no longer have a place in the industry, then stop visiting gaming sites and giving them revenue. Watch YouTube videos, read personal blogs, or get opinions from your friends. Let game journalism die its slow (inevitable, according to many GamerGate supporters) death. That many are opting to harass journalists instead calls the true motivations of GamerGate into question.

Hear Me Roar

The topic of sexism in video games is not a new one, but is one that has been becoming more and more prevalent, at least in the corners of the internet that I frequent. As a female who has been gaming since I developed the manual dexterity to use a keyboard or a controller, the topic is an important one to me.

I will admit that I didn’t always consider being a woman in gaming one worthy of much discussion. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve had few memorably negative incidents that stemmed from the fact that I was a girl. Sure, there have been some “oh, my god, a girl!” exclamations when I spoke in voice chat in WoW (I actually managed to completely silence a Mumble channel by talking earlier this week). I’ve been asked for pictures, told my voice is “hot”. I’ve also been told I sound like a 12 year old, and putting those two sentiments together is problematic. But in general, I never felt othered for being a female who games.

However, my experiences are not representative of every woman’s. I know I enjoy certain privileges. I know I’ve been lucky. I don’t frequent gaming areas that are known for having a toxic atmosphere or play many games with people I don’t know. I have a very good IRL ignore function that lets things I don’t care to see and hear go by without me having to register them. I also have a thick skin and a big ego. So if anyone were to suggest that I was less of a gamer or my opinions were less important because I have a vagina I could beat them at video games, tell them to fuck off, and then forget they ever existed.

The problem is that even though I haven’t had much overt sexism directed at me personally in games, it’s still there, ingrained into attitudes, opinions, and actions all around. It’s in SCOTUS rulings; it’s in things the mayor of my city says; it’s in game tournaments that exclude women; it’s in women getting minimized, insulted, and threatened for daring to criticize the status quo.

Video games, just like all other media, absolutely influence the way people think and how they relate to other people. When surrounded by countless examples of women as prizes/decoration/helpless/weak/shallow/disposable/sex objects the idea that women are less than can definitely take root (or, in many cases, become more deeply rooted).

Gaming is something that I love. It’s been part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I care enough to speak up and voice my opinions. As Anita Sarkeesian prefaces all of her Tropes vs. Women videos: “Please keep in mind that it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable or enjoyable.” If no one was ever critical, even of the things they like, nothing would ever evolve and get better. Calling out inequalities and bullshit is worthwhile. However, I think that in addition to pointing out the things that need to change, it’s just as important to point out the positives in games. In my experience, criticism is a lot easier to take and more likely to be accepted when it’s balanced with some good. Plus, if I only focused on the negatives, I’d drive myself crazy.

So, I’m going to start what I hope will be a regular feature writing about games that I think are doing things right – being representative, creating nuanced female characters, not falling back on lazy tropes. Few games do this perfectly but they deserve kudos for making an effort and the things they do get right.

This past weekend I was on the Justice Points podcast to talk about the Tomb Raider reboot, so that seems like a good place to start. Later this week I’ll kick things off by talking about Tomb Raider and all the ways I think the developers and writers did right by Lara Croft.

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about sexism, whether real or imagined, in WoW. Perhaps I’m a bad feminist. I don’t have a problem with characters like Alexstrasza wearing skimpy clothes. I think she looks good. I would likely dress like that if I looked like her (and you know, lived in a fantasy world). I accept that many people find women (or men) with impossible body proportions attractive and often depict them ways that emphasize those assets. I don’t even mind so much that there aren’t as many prominent female characters as there are men in WoW. It’s a video game – I just want to play and have fun, not think too hard about sexual and social politics.

However, last week Vidyala posted a link to some artwork on the offical WoW forums on Twitter. Blizzard has been adding portraits of the faction leaders over the last few months and the most recent image added was of the leader of the Night Elves – Tyrande Whisperwind…in a matter of speaking. As I discussed the picture with some people on Twitter I found myself getting more and more angry about how she was depicted.

Here’s the picture:

Tyrande WhisperwindImage from Blizzard Entertainment (Original can be found here)

What is it about this particular picture that bothers me so much? In a word – everything. There is nothing right about this picture. Everything about it makes me mad. The only thing that could have made it worse is if Tyrande was naked.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The first problem is that Malfurion is in it. Sure, he’s an important person in the Night Elf world, but he’s not their leader. Tyrande is. The picture is even called “Tyrande Whisperwind”, so why is Malfurion in it? Why does he take up most of the space? None of the other leaders have to share the spotlight in their pictures (except the Dwarves, but that’s a Council). All we can clearly see of Tyrande is one arm, the side of her face, lots of hair and one (large, melon-shaped) boob. The rest of her is obscured by Malfurion.

The second problem is the pose. The pose is wrong both symbolically and anatomically. While every other faction leader portrait shows the leader staring menacingly into the camera or looking intently into the distance, Tyrande is gazing at Malfurion. While every other leader is wielding some kind of weapon, Tyrande is clinging on to her husband. Come on. I know Tyrande is the type of leader who prefers peace when possible but she’s also a fighter. She fought the Burning Legion and in the battle for Mount Hyjal and defended Moonglade from Eranikus, but rather than portray her as a strong leader and fighter, she gets shown in a matronly light, surrounded by flowers, and enveloped in a man’s arms.

Then there’s the anatomy of the pose. As someone with zero artistic talent I feel a little bad about critiquing someone’s art, but really – people don’t bend this way! When I first saw this picture I thought it was a side view of Tyrande so I didn’t immediately see anything wrong with the pose. Then I realised her body was directly facing the audience, with her head cranked around to face Malfurion and her arm bent awkwardly behind her to hold on to Malfurion (though to me it looks like her shoulder is in front of her head/chest, which seems like a recipe for dislocated joints). After seeing what the picture was actually portraying, my first thought was that Malfurion had just broken Tyrande’s neck.  Narci had the much less violent and much more hilarious thought that an evil wizard had cursed Tyrande with back-tits. Either way, she doesn’t look comfortable.

So, while the Orc, Tauren, Troll, Gnome, Dwarf and Worgen leaders are all portrayed as strong, independant and battle-ready, the female leader of the Night Elves is portrayed as a delicate flower, being supported, protected (and twisted into a terribly uncomfotable position) by a man.

Please Blizzard art department, try a little harder next time you create a portrait of one of the few female faction leaders. Maybe you can put some more work into portraying Tyrande in a way that isn’t so diminutive (and offensive) before you start on your fourth picture of Garrosh. I hope Sylvanas turns out better.