I haven’t written something in a long time, and this post was originally a short essay written for class. I do have quite a few of these here and there, but this is the only piece that eventually made it to the site. A lot happened in the past few months…
I’m opening with Anita Sarkeesian – mainly because she’s currently one of the more prominent female personality in the field of game critics, and for all the controversy surrounding her. Although the article is supposed to be based upon a gender analysis on a video game of my choice, I felt it relevant to tackle her case.
A Squandered Opportunity
A lot of people believed in Sarkeesian – her Kickstarter pitch seemed promising, and her cause was something that many found worthy to stand behind. Her campaign was a success, but her delivery did not find similar success. Her content was perceived to be low quality, and her points weak and flawed; inviting ‘critique’ from some of her former supporters and from gamers around the world.
She had some valid points. The lack of positive female roles in video games is something that I stand strongly for. The whole bikini-armor thing is absolutely ridiculous. *Tera, Scarlet Blade, etc.
Let’s talk Hitman.
In Hitman Absolution, you play as Agent 47. He’s an assassin for the International Contracts Agency. He’s suave, cool, and is well equipped to kick-ass; which is basically what the player does for the entirety of the game. His character portrayal is a bald, rugged white male in a carefully tailored suit. There’s a tint of danger mixed into the camouflage his formal, tailored suit lends him. It’s impressive, to say the least.
Then the game introduces female assassins too. Cool, except they don skin-tight, latex nun outfits. Complete with studded high-heels and black stockings. Impractical, and inane. And so is the attempt to defend the game from accusations of unnecessary sexualization.
“If you decide against sexualizing your male characters, be very honest about what’s going on with your female characters.” – GDC 2014 speaker Michelle Clough
On the fence
Sarkeesian did talk about Hitman, albeit only about the level with strippers instead.She talks about many games, quotes a variety of examples of video games where either the protagonist is rescuing a female or the female characters are portrayed as frail and needy.
She could have chosen better examples, and some of them are misinterpreted by her. Part of the twist in Alan Wake is that you’re actually fighting yourself, instead of trying to save Alice. Similar allegations can be made on a number of her other examples.
There is no contest that these video games exist and they exploit the DiD(Damsel in Distress) tropes or its variants in order to attract players. But most of her arguments relied on shallow research and questionable logic. Which is fine – until she frames it in a “gotcha” way to score points with her supporters, so much that her critical dialogue takes a plunge.
I cannot defend Hitman, and neither can I stand with Sarkeesian.
Unfortunate, but her argument for the sexist elements in Hitman was the portrayal of strippers, where the player is allowed to kill them. She calls it out, saying that implementing this player choice sort of rewards for the player as he degrades women. If she paid more attention to the game, she would have noticed her score rapidly going down whenever she kills one of them.
The player cannot help but treat these female bodies as things to be acted upon,because they were designed, constructed and placed in the environment for that singular purpose. Players are meant to derive a perverse pleasure from desecrating the bodies of unsuspecting virtual female characters.
And yet, what she did not portray was the exact same capability/capacity for Agent 47 to do this to his male opponents. The dumpster where you discard bodies is unisex.
She has made videos commenting on how many female NPCs are made be background objects without life, and completely ignoring the inherent traits of all NPCs, male or female. Most NPCs don’t have memorable personalities or even interesting dialogues.
There are some things that require change in the video games industry – to cater to the needs of the changing and growing demographics of the video game community. I believed that Sarkeesian could have done a better job. Her videos and research tends to misrepresent the games that she cites as ‘evidence’, and is mostly a one-sided argument for her point.
And I do think that there are problems with the male gamer demographic being extremely toxic.
I do think it’s more of a cultural/social problem, and not just a “design flaw” as Sarkeesian attempts to frame it. It’s not all about female protagonists – if DOTA heroes and LOL Champions were all female, you wouldn’t see a magical increase in female players. I don’t think developers don’t seek to actively degrade women, and if anything, the current attitude of the more vocal and immature part of the community is more of a concern. It’s these people that are stifling discussion and providing problems for people that are speaking out.
how to make a game that appeals to women: 1) make a good videogame
— Tegiminis (@tegiminis) March 16, 2015
What Sarkeesian has accomplished is perhaps bringing awareness to the issue, which isn’t enough to enact change, but possibly provide fuel for self-introspection. I don’t fully agree with what she says, and we stand for some similar points but for different reasons. And this respect is critical to avoid similar outcomes for future speakers, regardless of gender. We should all pay a little bit more attention.