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.


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.


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 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.

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