Are the industry’s top grossing video games making men chauvinistic?
Proud geek Vinny Tagle mulls over a scandal that uncloaked the sexist gaming industry
I am an avid gamer. I own and regularly play two of the new-gen consoles, the Wii U and the Xbox One, and I rarely leave the house without bringing my Nintendo 3DS and a couple of games with me. I grew up playing a lot of RPGs and platformers: some of my achievements include having played every single Final Fantasy game, collecting all the stars in both Super Mario Galaxy games and managing to keep my sanity at those insanely hard mine cart levels at Donkey Kong. I played my fair share of simulation games too. In fact, one reason I took up economics as a degree in college was probably because of my obsession with building the perfect city in SimCity 2000.
Normally, I would state this fact with a smidgen of pride. It is one of the signifiers that place me in the category of being a geek, a label that has gained an elevated cultural status over the past few years. In the Internet age, being a geek has become synonymous with being cool, so I sometimes publicly confess to being a gamer and wear it like a badge of pride.
Lately, however, I can’t say the same. The recent #GamerGate scandal has tainted the identity of every gamer and has cast them in a very unflattering light. The conflict within the gaming community came to a head when Anita Sarkeesian, a vocal feminist critic, was forced to cancel her talk in Utah State University after an anonymous person threatened to bomb the event. Prior to that, Anita, known for her YouTube show Feminist
Frequency about sexist tropes in gaming, was being harassed online by people saying she should be raped and murdered because of her opinions. Because of the publicity surrounding the scandal, some people now think of the gaming community as a cesspool of sick, misogynistic, violent men who live out their fantasies of hurting and sexually objectifying women vicariously through the games they play.
SEX, DRUGS AND VIDEO GAMES
This isn’t the first scandal that video games and the gaming community at large have been involved in. During the Columbine Massacre, the two teenagers who shot 12 students and a teacher were eventually found to have been obsessed with the video game Doom. Several other murders and shootings in the US were allegedly committed by people who were inspired by the Grand Theft
Auto series, and the question of whether or not video games contributed to those crimes (and consequently, whether it should be banned) is still an ongoing debate.
Now I, along with many other people, have played those games, and we didn’t end up shooting random civilians on the streets. Several other complex factors (including relatively loose gun laws in the United States) have led to those criminal acts, and it’s grossly unfair to assume that video gamers have a higher tendency to hurt others or be violent just because they play violent video games. People who argue this haven’t fully convinced me as to why the influence of video games is so profound such that it overrides the influence of other, arguably more prevalent, social institutions that condemn violence, such as the law, religion, school, etc. Moreover, the scientific and psychological literature supporting this is scant. In the same way, I don’t think that it’s fair to assume that most gamers are likely to become more misogynistic just because they love playing video games; there are many gamers who are gendersensitive and who believe that women deserve to be treated better.
But this isn’t a defense of the current state of video games. While the industry is slowly changing and becoming more diverse with the rise in indie game development, most of the games in the mass market are still targeted towards white, male teenage boys. A quick scan of last year’s highest selling games reveals this fact— Grand Theft Auto V,
Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 2014, and Assassin’s Creed IV all made it to the top five. There is some validity to the critique that not only are most video games representative of male viewpoints, but also that a lot of tropes and clichés, had they existed in other media, will no doubt be considered as sexist.
WHY THE HATE?
A lot of the hate directed towards vocal critics who point out sexism in video games is unwarranted and disappointing. No matter what your position is on the issue, nothing can justify threatening women with rape or murder online. Part of it is fuelled by the trolling culture: the anonymity provided by the Internet gives people the freedom to make odious, sexist remarks without facing any repurcussions. Whatever unfair standards we accuse mainstream media of placing
on women is exacerbated by the online lynch mob that condemns women and those who dare to speak out against sexist practices in video games. But I think that gamers have a lot to gain from a more gender-sensitive world. For one, the reason why the archetype of that nerdy gamer who always gets bullied exists is partially because of the same chauvinist logic that feminists decry: it’s about failing to meet a certain standard of masculinity. In a less macho world, it wouldn’t make as much of a difference if you are passionate about video games or passionate about sports because the masculine standard of prioritizing “male” qualities like physicality over everything else wouldn’t prevail.
Moreover, a lot of excellent games that draw from less masculine inspirations have propped up over the past few years. Games that are more about experiences like Zoe Quinn’s Depression
Quest, which seeks to replicate the experience of depression, is undoubtedly more “feminine”—it wants to elicit a more emotional response from its users as opposed to a more straightforward narrative experience. Surely diversity in gaming experiences are better for gamers as a whole?
THE ETHICS OF VIDEO GAME JOURNALISM
The sad thing about the whole scandal is that it began with a valid question before it got conflated with all the misogyny. It interrogated the ethical standards of video game journalism in light of accusations of companies and developers having cozy relationships with video game reviewers, if not outright sexual relationships with them. To that end, this brouhaha has spurred a conversation on what it means to be objective and what journalism in this field really entails. Is it even possible to claim to objectively review games, which are often specific, unique individual experiences? Can video games even be considered as art, or are they more like puzzles?
All of these are fair subjects open for debate, and popular gaming websites like The Escapist and Kotaku have already revised their practices in order to improve their credibility. But can it really be considered a success, considering all the hostility that the movement left in its wake? I hardly think so. It saddens me that it is up to individual gamers to decide to be more vocal about supporting progressive attitudes toward video games than those that spread hate. It might be hard to convince people to change their attitudes, but it's worse to completely give up doing so.