One of the sectors of The Culture where under-representation of women (in all senses) is an issue, along with rage at efforts to rectify the under-representation, is gaming. Ernest Adams addresses the issue at Gamasutra.
The topic of institutionalized misogyny in game culture is finally getting the attention it deserves, and the situation is grim. Once again we embarrassed ourselves at the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a parade of booth babes and an Xbox One launch that featured a rape joke and not a single female protagonist among its launch titles. Try pointing this out to many industry executives and you’ll get a collective shrug. Try pointing it out in online gamer spaces and you get howls of outrage and a torrent of vile abuse from a small number of very angry men. The attacks get worse if the person who points it out happens to be a woman: death threats, threats of sexual violence, character assassination and cyberstalking are commonplace. Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, recently received explicit death threats… not to her but to her children, a new low.
The haters are simply infuriated at the suggestion that games might be improved by making them more appealing to women, and they’re warning us that they’ll do something about it.
No girls in the club house!
So who is asking for a change, and what exactly are they asking for? I’m going to call them “progressive gamers,” for want of a better term; they’re both men and women. With respect to gender in games (the treatment of racial minorities or under-represented sexualities is a separate, but related issue), their requests are simple and few:
- More opportunities to play female protagonists in AAA titles.
- More female characters—especially protagonists—who are not hypersexualized and whose clothing is appropriate for their activity.
- More female characters portrayed as strong and competent people rather than victims, trophies, or sex objects.
More female cooties, in other words.
If you visit YouTube or the gamer message boards frequented by reactionary players, you encounter, again and again, the same set of arguments for not building any new games that the progressive players might like. I’ll summarize them here:
- Dismissive: They’re only games; they’re not important, so it doesn’t matter if there aren’t many women or their portrayal of women is unrealistic.
- Male chauvinist: Feminazis are pushing their way into the game industry with their political correctness, and they’re going to ruin games and (male) gaming culture.
- Ignorant: Asking for female protagonists in games is a violation of game designers’ freedom of speech.
- Misogynist: “Wherever there are happy men there will always be a woman there to ruin it.” That’s about the mildest quote I could find.
- Financial: Male players don’t like to play female characters, and they like to see the women in games eroticized. The game industry will lose a lot of money if it stops catering to those men.
Ernest then provides actual information on the financial claim and finds it to be dead wrong. His conclusion is very heartening, because it applies to other sectors of The Culture too.
By this point it should be clear that if the reactionary players leave in a huff, it won’t do us any real harm. Like all extremists, they wildly overestimate the number of people who agree with them, and the sales that they represent are too small a fraction of the overall numbers to worry about. They are noisy and obnoxious, but financially irrelevant. We don’t need the haters.
The only companies in the industry that are at risk are ones whose business depends on selling games to these clowns. It’s kind of stupid to alienate a large audience in order to serve a small one, and as our markets continue to grow, they will end up in a strange, pathetic little niche like strip poker games.
They are noisy and obnoxious, but otherwise irrelevant.