Swift Musings: Why talk of feminism in videogames is ok

Graphic by VIncent Ta
Graphic by VIncent Ta

So the whole “Gamergate” controversy has been going on for a while now. (Or it’s fizzled out, I’m not sure. I’m not friends with the entire Internet.) Either way, I definitely learned something out of it: Some people on the Internet really, really don’t like women.

The entire Gamergate controversy started when indie game developer Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend posted on some forums about the details of their relationship, including some (false) claims that Zoe slept with several gaming journalists to garner positive reviews on her groundbreaking game “Depression Quest.” Running with this factual evidence (or lack thereof), trolls from all corners of the world descended into the darkest facets of their souls and hacked her and her friends’ and family’s personal addresses and information, and as of now continue to threaten Quinn on a daily basis, all the while blaming her for allegedly setting back women in the gaming industry (note the ironic lack of self-awareness). Many like to say that the movement has moved on from its initial misogyny to target a widespread “conspiracy” against the “unethical” relationship between game developers and journalists, because, I dunno, I guess it’s a bad thing to have to play and enjoy the games that they review? Personally, the only conspiracy I see is that people keep on spending hundreds of dollars a year on the same games from the same big companies, but that way of thinking is for another time.

Or maybe that’s the actual conspiracy that Gamergate wishes to expose and correct? In that case, sign me up as a card-carrying member! Oh wait, I remembered that the entire movement is based off of misogyny and false allegations of slut-shaming. Never mind.

So setting aside all that there is concerning Gamergate, the larger issue I wish to address is feminism, and specifically why it’s ok to apply a feminist attitude to a critique of video games.

Let’s be honest here: Human history has been, for lack of a better word, terrible for certain people. Certain people like women. I find it interesting that many men claim women are ruining the ideal codes of masculinity, when in actuality women are only attempting to place themselves as societal equals to men. Now am I inferring that the central core of masculinity is to treat women like secondhand citizens? Some see masculinity that way. For example, the term “slut-shaming” goes way back to the Victorian Era, where men who got around were held up as shining examples of their gender, while a woman who did the same thing would be virtually shamed out of existence. Or how the infamous “get back in the kitchen” Internet comment is a throwback to “Hamlet,” where the title character (a woman-hating jerk) tells his love, Ophelia, to “get thee to a nunnery” when they butt heads, before she later commits suicide (another type of comment that trolls love to express). Speaking of Shakespeare, did you know that women in his time didn’t act in theater because it was seen as the equivalent of prostitution? There’s a lot of examples I could pull from history both far and recent, but my point should be clear: Women have had it rough simply because of their gender.

At this point, you might be telling yourself, “Yes yes, I know where this is going. You’re going to use your historical footnotes as a segway to why feminism should be applied to video games.” This is where you think to yourself, “what a sellout of a man,” “you’re not a true gamer,” “all this talk about feminism is annoying and emasculating.” And to those critics I say: It’s ok to be both a gamer and a feminist. I don’t just want to address the different ways in which feminism could be applied to video games on a larger scale. The wonderful feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian has already done the great work of addressing sexist tropes in video games in a number of YouTube videos, and for the most part I agree with her critiques (similarly to Quinn, she too was driven out of her home by threats simply for expressing her opinion).

For example, the whole “silent, pretty damsel in distress” that is Princess Peach from the Mario series should be changed, as to not continually present the idea of a woman as weak and in need of constant saving by a man. Or how about Samus Aran, from the “Metroid” series? Even though her games are more action-oriented, does she really need to be in a skintight suit exposing every single curve on her body when you first learn that the suit’s operator is a woman? From being a part of a game’s underdeveloped wallpaper that you can ignore to being ragdolls that you can straight-up virtually murder (looking right at you, “Grand Theft Auto”), I’m confused as to why people will get upset over other forms of entertainment and pop culture when women are misrepresented (like when “Jeopardy” recently took heat for a ‘what women want’ panel), yet that same mentality is acceptable in video games. Given that the majority of gamers are adults and almost half of them women, I’m surprised that there already isn’t a massive boycott of the gaming industry. I’m not calling for a boycott, but I am calling for change.

It’s up to you, the gamer, to bring that level of feminism to gaming on a personal scale. A good piece of advice that employers are often given is to feminize their workplace, which can definitely be applied to video games. Do you run a clan/guild/server/some sort of collective group for a game? Ban the sort of language that ruined the lives of Sarkeesian and Quinn. Or if you’re a mod or admin for some sort of gaming forum or discussion board, ban it there as well. Somebody’s not listening? Kick them out without guilt. Do you have a child that does this sort of thing? Warn that they will be cut out of the inheritance if they don’t stop. Know a friend who does that for giggles? Tell them to knock it off.

Feminism isn’t about the idea that men are stupid and obsolete — it’s about making men and women equals in society. An improvement in our culture should be reflected through our entertainment. But sometimes the way people ignore sexism in video games makes me say “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.”


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