Many female gamers experience misogyny in pursuit of their hobby. But recent news has shown how bad things are. Aenne Schumann calls for action
Respect is something female gamers have been struggling to gain throughout the history of gaming. It’s 2012 and one would really hope that in the gaming communities, gender and sexism were issues of the past. Unfortunately, female gamers are regularly bombarded with sexist messages and comments both online and in-game, while at the same time being misrepresented in a number of games. Many aren’t taking this issue seriously, or are waving it aside. However, bringing the subject back to the fore have been a number of recent clashes that have left many female gamers less than happy.
Controversy has been swarming around Kotaku’s recent interview with Ron Rosenberg, the executive producer for the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. Phrases like “They’re more like, ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her,” and “We’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again,” are putting off fans, especially the female ones. Not to mention, the whole attempted rape scene, which developer Crystal Dynamics is now denying.
Tomb Raider has always been a potentially great idea for women to rally behind. Here is this powerful, self-made heroine who just goes about her business with a flawless, and dominating air. She’s over-sexualized but we can forgive that a bit due to wanting to be that amazon-esque model of ass-kickery. Even when the next game is shown with a younger, insecure Lara who has found herself in a profoundly dangerous situation, I said, “Yes! I get to see the journey that made Lara into such a strong person. And oh, what’s that? It seems dark, and gritty, and real? Huzzah! Finally!”
But then, to my great regret, I saw Rosenberg’s quotes and couldn’t help seeing the game in a different light. For instance, I had no intention of protecting Lara. I had every intention of seeing how she evolved and being there on the journey. And then there’s the whole controversy over the game’s inclusion of rape – or according to studio boss Darrell Gallagher, “incorrectly referred to as an ‘attempted rape’”.
I’m sorry, Mr Gallagher, but based on what I saw in the trailer, I have this rebuttal – when a woman feels threatened by the sexual advances of a man who is harming her and holding her against her will, that is attempted rape. A fact solidified by her feeling no other choice but to shoot him to prevent the threat to continue. Sir, your excuse is weak and insulting.
But that’s not the end of the recent assault on female gamers. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist pop culture critic, recently launched a Kickstarter project for a video series entitled Tropes Vs. Women: Video Games. Although successfully funded, the project made her the subject of extraordinary levels of harassment and hateful language, which aims to address overused female stereotypes in gaming. “This was not done by just one or two trolls but was a co-ordinated cyber mob style effort involving a whole gang working together,” Anita says on her blog, Feminist Frequency.
Just before Rosenberg triggered the Tomb Raider furore and the internet trolls homed in on Sarkeesian, Penny Arcade Report columnist Ben Kuchera wrote a very compelling article about the negative business of booth babes. While booth babes have been sparking controversy for a long time, what was even more controversial this time around was Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro’s justification for booth babes given in an interview with the BBC in January. He said, “People want to go towards what they consider pretty. So your effort to try to get a story based on booth babes, which is decreasing rather rapidly in the industry… it’s cute, but it’s frankly irrelevant in my view.”
Clearly, something needs to change.
This kind of behavior, while ranging from innocently misguided to downright maliciously hurtful, makes our gaming community look bad and utterly childish. Video games cater to a variety of audiences. They are an intelligent technology that engage the player in a fun experiences. However, when stories like this arise, it hurts us all. How are outsiders supposed to consider gamers as responsible and respectable when our entertainment is littered with sexism and gender hate?
To fight the good fight, we, the three women of Press2Reset have reflected on our favorite female characters in the world of video games. We take them through the good and bad.
I’ll be honest, when thinking of which female video game character was my favorite I pondered longer than I should have. Not a particular one came to mind. This works towards the unfortunate situation this article is based on. Ninety percent of the games I play have a major focus on male characters. So how do I decide on my favourite character when the selection varies from weak damsels, over-sexualized women, and side characters. Always the bridesmaids, eh, girl characters?
Thus, after some soul searching, I landed on girl Hawke from Dragon Age II (not my favourite entry but definitely a great personality). For the first time, I’ve realized Hawk made me feel represented. And yes, I realize I chose a character who’s scripted based on my own choices and therefore doesn’t really have a solid personality of her own. That’s the measure that’s needed for me to be able to admire this character more than the others. Besides, I truly admire BioWare for not making Hawke feeble and weak-willed and including other strong female characters, such as Isabella.
I’m not going to lie. I love Princess Peach. She’s not the greatest role model. In fact, she’s probably got one of the worst reputations among female game characters. She’s weak, constantly getting kidnapped, and is the epitome of the damsel in distress. She’s cute, blonde, and loves pink, cleary a dream woman for young girls to aspire to be, right?
Nintendo didn’t help her image at all when Super Smash Brothers Melee came out. Peach uses a frying pan as a weapon and one of her smashes involves her launching herself at her enemy, ass first. Then again, when the Super Princess Peach game was released on the DS, the roles were reversed and she became the hero. Her emotions were her attacks, giving into the female gender stereotype that women are all too emotional. By all means, Princess Peach doesn’t make a good participant for a strong female character. No matter, I still cherish her even with all her faults.
Commander Shepard comes to mind when I think of favourite female characters in videogames. What’s really neat about the character of Shepard is that neither nationality nor sex is taken into account as you play the game.
The way Shepard is perceived in the Mass Effect universe is as a human being, a person. Gender and race (outside of the human race) are irrelevant resulting in a sense of egalitarianism for humanity’s future. If only our own reality was this unbiased. While the equality of BioWare’s leading characters is partially due to constraints of game development (it would be far too time consuming and costly to write the characters drastically different outside of romance subplots), I’ll give credit where credit is due.
Although some argue that Femshep is merely an alternative to the canonical John Shepard, over the course of three games it’s clear that Jane Shepard has evolved into much more than an alternative option. Paragon, renegade, and everything in between, Shepard is a soldier to the core. She’s strong, intelligent, and a being who commands respect but is realistic in that she isn’t free of human weakness and emotion. Inside and outside the story of Mass Effect, Shepard became a legend. She’s not just a hero; she’s my hero and a damn fine role model.
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