The more I read and write about video games, the harder it gets to turn off my brain and just enjoy playing them.
Most of my gaming is still for fun, but it’s getting more and more difficult to stop analyzing what kind of social messages are sent out or what kind of content is projected to a specific audience.
Over the last few months, I’ve started to notice how large a problem the gaming industry has with misogyny, or hatred toward women.
Women are constantly being put down in video games. Some of this negativity is overt — a game where the only women are either stereotypical nagging wives or soldiers clad in ridiculous armored bikinis that provide little protection and must be terribly drafty.
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Recently, I’ve started to notice a few of the common themes that several feminist critics are writing and lecturing about — the subtle sexism in games.
For example, take any game featuring a strong female character capable of out-fighting all of the men. In fact, she is basically a male character with breasts and a slightly higher voice. The game’s subtle message: A woman can be useful — but only if all semblance of her femininity is destroyed. She must be one of the guys.
It’s not an easy problem to fix, and I suspect it will take years or decades for the video game industry to find an even keel on gender issues.
Here’s how the industry can move faster: Create only misandric games for a full year. Before you turn to the dictionary, allow me to explain: misandric means hatred toward men. Sure, my idea is a little silly, but it would open a lot of male gamers’ eyes.
Here’s a typical synopsis of a big-budget release for the year of fixing gender issues: The main character is a woman — say, a detective investigating murders in a small town. It’s cold out; she’s wearing a jacket. But for some reason, every man she encounters is wearing a loincloth. Not only that, but every man is built exactly like Channing Tatum and is inexplicably doing something outdoorsy like chopping wood.
The main character tries to reason with these men. A murderer is on the loose — surely the firewood can wait. They all brush her off, and sure enough, they are all killed.
You soldier on and find that the women in the town are actually quite sensible. They assist you with your investigation and some even become valued members of your detective squad.
Your group is progressing through the game when they learn that one man still lives and is the only one alive who saw the killer’s face. He is willing to help, but first you have to help him with a typical male problem: The big game is starting soon, and he can’t find the remote. Even though all of his friends are dead and he is the only one who can help solve the crime, he is worried about missing the football game because he can’t turn on the TV.
Sound ludicrous? It does in today’s world. No company would make such a game, and certainly no gamer would buy it if one did.
I think I am a pretty regular guy, and I wouldn’t identify with either of the two types of men in this hypothetical game. Not only do I not see myself in the game, but I don’t see any male figure I’d look up to or admire.
But that’s exactly how a lot of women have felt over the first 40 years of video game design.
Reversing the genders and stereotypical events in my scenario creates a gaming scenario you’d expect to see these days: male detective, useful male witnesses and teammates, worthless female witnesses who actually impede progress or require special coaxing, female victims killed or beaten while doing girl stuff like singing, modeling or having affairs. That sounds an awful lot like “L.A. Noire,” and, yes, I admit, it’s one of my favorite games.
The next time you play a game, think about how often the women are portrayed in narrow, traditional female roles.
Female characters are nurses and teachers. They are the phone operators or the rookie officers in elite police forces or soldier squads. They are the trusty sidekicks who retrieve supplies and tend to the men’s wounds but hide during the actual fighting.
Think about how they look, too. Male characters may be short, tall, thin, fat, middle-aged, old, ugly or attractive. How often are all or most of the female characters in whatever game attractive and younger than 30?
Now that I’m thinking about it, it’s hard to stomach the gender roles in today’s video games. My idea for fixing it might never work, but it’s time for someone to come up with one that will.