I, like many female identified folks, was initially put off playing video games when I was a child. I had a friend who loved to play Mario Kart on his Nintendo 64 when I was eight, and we spent long hours duking it out until, through the gradual processes of gender socialization, I came to believe that gaming and gaming culture was not “girl territory.” It was considered a masculine trait to have interest in games, and the games my friends began to have interest in such as Mortal Kombat made me feel uncomfortable, although I didn’t have the language to describe it yet.
I didn’t pick up a controller again until I was 22. By then, I had identified as a feminist for a while and was beginning to unpack the issues I had with gaming culture as I knew it. After witnessing the rampant homophobia, misogyny, racism, and sexism on MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) chat rooms and seeing the horrifying response to Anita Sarkeesian’s proposed documentary, “Tropes and Women in Video Games,” wherein she received rape threats, death threats, and other slanderous remarks, I have come to understand how large of a backlash the gaming community is looking at as a whole. Images of female identified folks as hypersexualized, faceless, helpless, and docile are so common in games, especially popular games such as Grand Theft Auto and the new hit Max Payne 3, those that benefit by these portrayals are bound to kick up a fuss.
Granted, some gaming websites have already begun to identify and discuss altenate paradigms of game design, gender relationship models, and image construction. A good example is MovieBob’s short clip on sexism and homophobia titled, “The Big Picture: Not Okay,” on the website TheEscapist, a popular site for those interested in gaming news. Another good example is the Penny Arcade webshow “Extra Credits” video about sexism and gaming imagery, as well as the previously mentioned Anita Sarkeesian documentary, soon to be published in full; This is a project that needed six grand to get off the ground and has received over 78 thousand dollars-almost 13 times her goal. It is obvious that these issues are gaining attention and others want them addressed.
I always like to give advice at the end of an article to the extent of, “What can YOU do about this issue?” Write to the makers of offending games and tell them you have lost their business until they write strong female, queer, and folks of color characters that are not objectified, stereotyped, and sexualized. No one should quit a hobby they enjoy because they are silenced, oppressed, or misrepresented. While I understand that large scale systems of power and privilege influence cultural attitudes about gender, race, class, and other social markers, gaming is designed to be a portal to imagination and creativity. It is a form of interactive art. Your gaming experience, your art. If you have the privilege and access to resources to do so, educate yourself and others about the ways in which gender and race (to name a couple) are currently represented in video games. Support and invest in game developers that create innovative designs and support feminist ideas, including writing letters of support to games that have taken steps in healthier directions. Speak to the writers, producers, and artists involved in games; They will have to listen if enough people are dissatisfied with their product (Anyone remember the Mass Effect 3 fiasco?). Better yet, if you have the talent and resources, create new video games that reflect healthy gender roles. I know I’d play them!
Also, check out Sarkeesian’s website, Feminist Frequency, for updates on the project~