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Gaming is sexist, no ifs or butts about it

Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: A number of weeks back, YouTube star and all-around loved member of the gaming world, Anita Sarkeesian, released a video discussing the over-sexualisation of female characters in video games, focusing on the way video game developers choose to highlight the derrieres of some of our most popular gaming characters. In the video she uses examples in both older Tomb Raider titles (pre-reboot) and the Batman: Arkham series. With the latter, she makes the comparison between how the camera is positioned in such a way to highlight the behinds of characters like Catwoman, all while Batman’s glorious arse is covered by an inconvenient cape.

In her video she mentions that she goes at length to try and expose Batman’s butt but the swishing cape always gets in the way. Interesting enough though, in her comparisons she fails to recognise characters like Nightwing or alternate skins of Batman, all which allow the player to position the camera for some backwards-on arse action.

This week I wanted to kick things off by asking if you’ve seen the video, and what are your thoughts? Furthermore, what do you think about the situation above where someone (with quite a following) decides to tackle a fairly heated topic and presents her views in a negative manner, all the while ignoring evidence that doesn’t support her claim?

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Andy: In the interest of being completely honest, I had not seen the video prior to you bring this topic up. But, I did go and watch it and truthfully that is six minutes of my day that I wish I had back. I have never been a fan of politics, telling people how they should feel, what they should like or dislike or being politically correct. Yes, I try not to ruffle feathers but man it seems like people go out of their way at times to find something to be offended about. I can’t say I am overly familiar with Ms. Sarkeesian, but I seem to recall the few times I have seen her name it’s her trying to create some controversy or bring attention to a perceived injustice.

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in the Midwest my entire life, but a lot of these things don’t bother me and just aren’t worth all the time and effort people seem to put into them. I mean when we boil this down, I just watched a 6 minute video on butts. Specifically butts on video game characters. How much more superficial can we possibly get? We’re not talking about the homeless, child sweat shop workers, immigration, mass murders or hate crimes. We’re talking about pixelated asses on fictional characters.

You mentioned in your first sentence that she is a YouTube star, and as such most likely has a subscriber base. Would that reach and influence not be better served focusing on issues that actually impact people’s lives? I mean in the grand scope of things which is more important; hate crimes or staring at the asses of video game characters?

Nicholas: To give a bit of background, this video is one in a line of many that she has released (which, I should add was funded via a Kickstarter campaign – because you know, it’s perfectly valid for you to ask for money so you can buy games just to discuss how horrid they are) over the past year or so. Each one of them has focused on another aspect of video games that highlights apparent sexism and misogyny, from the fact Princess Peach is constantly being rescued by Mario to, as per her latest video, the blatant cover up of male’s arses.

I completely agree with you that the subject matter in the scene of things is fairly insignificant, but I guess the reason why her videos attract so much attention is because it’s touching on that one issue that the gaming community has been stuck on for quite some time now – sexism. Now I’m not going to address that just yet, but I wanted to delve into the different types of reactions that gamers get from videos like hers. The first is acceptance and agreeance that this kind of sexism is apparent and rampant within gaming. The second is denial and potentially frustration that gaming is being slandered with talks that it’s filled with misogyny. The third and final is the middle-ground – choosing to ignore it completely.

I find myself sort of moving between all three, but it’s mostly that I’ll agree or disagree, but then it’s the irritation that the same kind of topics are being discussed time and time again, when quite frankly, the only thing I care about is whether it’s a fun game or not. When I play a game like Batman: Arkham Knight my thoughts aren’t on whether I can see Batman’s arse and that Catwoman isn’t wearing a cape, but moreso am I feeling engrossed in the story and enjoying the combat. When I played Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate I never analysed the clothing styles of Jacob and Evie Frye, but who’s gameplay I enjoyed most (answer: Evie).

My question to you is, do you think this is a case of making mountains out of molehills, or do you think it’s a fair enough observation to say that female characters are overly sexualised? Furthermore, what are your thoughts of the three viewpoints I mentioned above, and which do you fall into when these kind of topics appear in your social media feeds?

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Andy: I’ll answer the last parts of your question first. What do I do when these types of topics appear in my newsfeed? That’s easy, I scroll right on by because it’s something I could give two sh*ts about. I care very deeply about the video game industry, I want to see innovation, larger stories, deep engaging plot lines and that my choices matter, but above all else I want to have fun. I don’t think I have ever loaded up a game and thought “Oh man I hope this character has a nice ass.” Or “Look at all that cleavage, I’m not going to do anything else in this game except stare at this character’s breast.” Just like I have never thought “Well damn, I wish John Marston’s pants were tighter so I could see his crotch.” Or “Man, this Vault 101 suit really makes my junk look good.”

I don’t mean to be cheeky (pun intended) about it, but if the purpose of games is to suspend disbelief, play different roles and you know have the f word…. fun. I actually feel sorry for Ms. Sarkeesian in the sense that she seems to only be about the negative. After you started this week’s topic I found myself on Ms. Sarkeesian’s site and did some digging around, reading and watched a couple video segments and I came away with two thoughts. 1 – She does not like it when people have differing views than the agenda she is pushing. If your view differs you hate women and want them to be objectified. 2 – She tries really hard promote her views through the lens she thinks everyone should live by.

I really don’t want to go on a rant about my opinion on her opinions, because everyone is entitled to their own, and while we don’t have to agree with them we should still respect them. The problem I have is when people like Ms. Sarkeesian make mountains out of molehills, jump up and down screaming about a perceived injustice and demand people pay attention to them.  In the above case regarding butts, specifically Batman, Ms. Sarkeesian completely glosses over the fact that Batman has had a cape since he was created. Did Ms. Sarkeesian also do a video or blog on the sexualisation of men in the recent movie ‘Magic Mike XXL’? That’s the thing, if someone looks hard enough or tries to skew things hard enough you can find something wrong with pretty much everything. Like I said at the start I am not familiar with who she is, I’m only going by what I have seen. Am I missing something? Is this truly a big deal, or am I right in thinking that this is nothing more than her picking something trivial, making an issue out of it and making sure she gets the ad revenue from page clicks, video views and donations?

Nicholas: Well I guess the answers to what you’re asking might depend on who you pose that question to. If you ask that to your typical male they might see nothing wrong with the differences that your average male or female character is portrayed in video games. On the flip-side, if you ask that question to a female, they might think otherwise. I guess it’s also depends on what the individual is looking for/at when they play a game. If you’re a heterosexual male then you’re not going to be focusing on looking at Batman’s arse in a video game, but on the reverse, perhaps it is something you’ll notice if you’re playing as a female Shepard for example in Mass Effect. To turn it around, if you’re a heterosexual female, you might not focus on the behind of Evie from Assassin’s Creed, but you might take notice of Batman’s physique.

Ignoring the above though, the question begs to be asked – how much time do gamers as a whole actually spend ogling or even paying attention to a character’s body when they’re deep in combat or story? If we’re sticking with Batman Arkham Knight for this week, the upper body of Batman isn’t a priority when I’m trying to take down a room full of enemies, some wielding knifes, some wielding weapons and the others throwing projectiles. Same goes for the likes of Catwoman when she’s in a combat situation as well.

When you ask the question of whether this is a truly a big deal, I have to say that I don’t think it is. If we want gaming to be more exclusive, and we want more female leads, then the dialogue shouldn’t be about how exposed a character’s butt is, but celebrating and promoting when video games do include more diversity. I understand that we’ve got a long way to go, but it seems we’re stuck on discussing the negative, rather than celebrating the positive. As Steve points out in the article I linked at the beginning of this week’s piece, where was Sarkeesian’s mention of the recent Tomb Raider reboots? Why not mention the fact that female leads have been successful in games like Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider, rather than spending minutes trying to expose Batman’s behind?

Do you perhaps think therein lies a bigger problem? A situation where we’re quicker to focus on the bad, rather than promote the good?

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Andy: We have certainly talked before about how gamers like to bitch about everything haven’t we? I think that’s a perfect example of what Is happening here, on top of Ms. Sarkeesian wanting to make sure she gets attention. She treats issues like flawed scientific studies where she seeks out those things that “prove” her point. She highlights them, breaks them down, puts them on a pedestal for the world to see and trumpets how right she is. While at the same time she glosses over, or flat out ignores examples that are contrary to the argument she is trying to make.

So while she wants to make this little molehill into a mountain, let’s be the better people and really focus on the good that is happening right now in the gaming industry. You mentioned a couple in your response above. The newest reboot of Tomb Raider has Lara once again kicking ass all while dressed appropriately. Assassin’s Creed featured yet another strong female lead character, Assassin’s Creed Liberation being the first one. The Mass Effect franchise has several strong female characters – Jack, Liara, Talia and Miranda to name a few. None of them play the hapless female that has to rely on the big hulking man to come and save them. Let’s also not forget who the main character is in the Walking Dead from Telltale games. A young African-American girl.

Moving on from individual characters, I think it’s an awesome time to be a gamer. Now, more than ever, we are seeing more and more strong female characters and often time lead female characters. More games offer you the ability to choose the gender of your character. Heck, Call of Duty and NHL 16 give you the option to choose for their games. The old trope of a female needing to be rescued is being replaced by a female character actively helping you throughout the story. Yet, like you alluded to above, even with all that we still only hear about the negative – or perceived negatives. About how a female’s ass is left uncovered, or how developers actively try to belittle female gamers. Wouldn’t it be more responsible journalism to present both sides? Do you think Ms. Sarkeesian is in danger of being the girl who cried wolf so many times that people just simple stop listening to her?

Nicholas: I’d wager that she’s tip-toeing that line already to be honest. Granted yes, we’re ‘listening’ to her by discussing her video, but not in the way that I’d think she’d want us to. If her videos are created to point out these issues and get individuals to rally behind her cause, I’d argue that it’s doing the exact opposite. For as long as I can recall now, whenever she releases one of her videos, the responses to people on social media isn’t, “Sarkeesian makes a strong point”, but rather an eye-roll for the very reasons you pointed out above. It’s extremely one-sided, ill-researched and doesn’t present any opportunity for discourse. People find it frustrating when you’re constantly arguing one point and not allowing anyone the chance to discuss alternate opinions.

I think therein lies the issues with a lot of these discussions about the current state of the gaming industry. It’s always seen as slander and with little chance to retort. Sure, you can write an article like we are today or a video blog like others, but what about the comments on the original source? It shouldn’t be on the reader to have to search for a differing opinion when it should be readily available.

As we wrap up another week’s article, situations like the one above remind me of a video I watched recently, where a religious ‘vigilante’ group walked through a predominately Muslim town to highlight alleged issues of violence and hostility. The thing is, when you watch the video, the group are flaming the anger, so you’re left not agreeing with them, but with the community that they are trying to rile up. Do you think the same applies to the gaming community when there is backlash towards discussions of sexism? They’re put forward in such a way that it almost makes the readers want to roll their eyes and not take it seriously? Is the way the conversation is being had, not the topic itself, the problem?

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Andy: It’s funny that you used the term “eye-roll” because that is quite literally what I did the more I looked around on her site. The biggest problem I see from her stuff, and we’ve touched on it a little bit, is that there is no variation in what she does. She just continually tries to brow beat people with issue after issue and offer nothing in terms of how to facilitate the change that she claims she wants. Instead it comes across as more as a petulant child trying to scream the loudest so that someone, anyone will pay attention.

My other area of contention with her is that her opinion is the only right one. If you are male and disagree with her you are automatically a misogynist. If your female and disagree with her you are brainwashed. There is no middle ground, you are either for her views or against them. The fact is the world doesn’t operate like that. Especially with the issues she wants to talk about. Let’s be honest here, some of the stuff she tries to talk about are very valid issues. It’s her delivery and lack of really exploring the issue that does the very thing she wants to talk about a disservice.

I think it’s a symptom of how the gaming industry has evolved over the past 10 years. It seems many people have trouble giving credit and talking about the good that’s going on. It’s easier, and you get more page views and clicks, if you just complain, rant, and rave about all the great injustices. There are so many great things about being a gamer right now, so many awesome stories being told, iconic characters being created and vast new worlds to be explored. Yet, here we sit talking about game characters asses. It seems the moment I am proud to call myself a gamer and see all the good things going on invariably something comes up where I hang my head, roll my eyes think “Here we go again.” I think those of us who can, and have a platform to do so, need to start talking about the positives that are going on. If we focus on only the negatives then that becomes our perception. There needs to be a proper balance. The gaming industry is not all doom and gloom contrary to what some people want you to believe.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.



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About the author

Nicholas Simonovski

Events and Racing Editor at Stevivor.com. Proud RX8 owner, Strange Music fan and Joe Rogan follower. Living life one cheat meal at a time.

About the author

Andy Gray

From the frozen land of Minnesota, I was the weird kid that begged my parents for an Intellivision instead of an Atari. My love for gaming has only grown since. When I’m not gaming I enjoy ice hockey and training dogs. I’m still trying to get my Elkhound to add to my Gamerscore though, one day this will happen.

5 Comments

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  • I love gaming, but as a chick I see a real problem with sexism in game design. I’m not a fan of Anita at all and I hate that she never mentions any of the positive steps that have been made. That being said, it also frustrates me to read discussions like as it feels you are saying because there are a handful of games that do it right it negates the huge piles of games that do it wrong. Its easy to say that its about the character not the gender, outfit or design you relate to when the main characters are almost always the same gender as yourself.

  • “It’s extremely one-sided, ill-researched and doesn’t present any opportunity for discourse.”

    How I felt about this article.

  • What do I do when these types of topics appear in my newsfeed? That’s easy, I scroll right on by…

    I feel this way about a ton of issues in gaming. At the end of the day I just want a game I can enjoy playing. If people choose to speak up for what matters to them and it has a positive impact on game design and culture, great. If political correctness reigns and the quality of the games is sacrificed then I may have to take up sports. **shudder**