Video game censorship and feminist criticism

Last week, the white house held a meeting to talk about violence in video games, and their potential connection to gun violence. This has many gamers worried that the government will do something to censor video games, or pressure the games industry to self-regulate.  My opinions on the matter: 1) this is an obvious ploy to “address” gun violence without addressing gun violence, 2) I defer to the research that says video games do not cause gun violence, and 3) the second amendment shouldn’t exist. If you disagree with any of these propositions, you are welcome to yell at me in the comments, as one does.

But I’m not really here to talk about gun violence, I’m here to talk about feminism. See, I did a forbidden thing, I read some internet comments. And I found that some people think that Trump’s talk of censoring video games is similar or analogous to feminists/SJWs talking about problematic or sexist aspects of video games. As a feminist/SJW myself, my reaction is, “uh no.”

But it also raises the interesting question, what do I want?

Feminists are not monolithic

Humans are often biased to see their own communities as diverse, and other communities as monolithic. e.g. feminists tend to see men’s rights movements as an amorphous blob of evil, even though in reality they’re quite heterogeneous. Likewise, outsiders tend to see feminists/SJWs as a monolithic group, when they’re not. I see pronouncements saying “feminists want to do X,” and just, no. Feminists aren’t a cohesive enough group to want that.

I can’t speak for feminists as a whole, I can only speak for myself. Maybe some of my readers have different views, let me know in the comments. Maybe you’ve read a story about such and such feminist group taking a view different from mine, and I won’t stop you from telling me about it. For what it’s worth, I’m one of the “bad” feminists. That is, I frequently talk about intersectionality on tumblr, I use an assortment of multi-prefixed identity labels, and I think Anita Sarkeesian’s main problem is she doesn’t go far enough.

Media can cause harm in complicated ways

I’ve heard that studies show that violent video games do not lead people to be more violent, and I believe it. But that’s not the only possible harm that could be caused by violent/sexist media. I think it’s more likely that video games have a subtle influence on political attitudes. For example, if you look it up, you will find that researchers agree that sexist jokes cause people to hold more sexist views. That makes me wonder, could FPS games cause people to support war and oppose gun control? Eh, who knows?

One would certainly hope that games can influence political views, since that’s one of the major goals of artistic expression! That’s one of the reasons why censorship is bad in the first place, not because it restricts people from having their fun, but because it restricts political discourse.

It’s not always about harm

When I play a really sexist or violent game, my immediate response is not to worry about the harm to society. My immediate response is that I personally didn’t enjoy that aspect about it. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean I disliked the game as a whole.  If you enjoyed the game, good for you, go talk about it with your friends. And I’m going to talk about what I didn’t like with my friends.

Have you ever read a review of a game you already played? You weren’t reading it to make a purchase decision, you just wanted to know what people did or didn’t like about it. Feminist critique is the same, but with a focus on social issues instead of technical aspects.  To me, social critique is simply a part of how I consume media.

And yeah, there’s a hope that game reviewers will help game designers improve on technical aspects, and feminist critics will help them improve on social aspects. But honestly, we would still talk about it even if game designers weren’t listening.

It’s not always about the game itself

Whenever there’s a mass shooting, people use that as a jump-off point to talk about gun violence, even though most gun-related deaths are not related to mass shootings. It’s a bit weird, but it’s how public discourse works. And when there’s a popular video game or movie that depicts sexism, it makes sense to take the opportunity to talk about sexism in the real world. And this way, we don’t need to wait around until someone gets sexually assaulted or dies.

I want to change the games you like

Fine, I admit it. It’s not just about what games I play and like, it’s about what games you like too. If a game is problematic or lacks diversity, I would like you see that, and I would like that to affect your enjoyment of the game, just as it affects mine. I would like to see these games get less economic support, and be replaced by more socially conscious games.

But even if you disagree with feminists, there’s nothing sinister or unusual about this. If I thought walking simulators were terrible (they are not), I would also hope to persuade people of my opinion, and I would also like to see such games get less support. Video game fans say this kind of stuff all the time, and it’s uncharitable to assume censorship is the end goal.

Not only would censorship be morally wrong in itself, it would also be an ineffective way to achieve my goals. The core issue is not which games are successful or unsuccessful, the core issue is that I want gamers to understand the associated social issues. Censorship could only ever address the content of games, and can’t address the beliefs of gamers.


  1. says

    The government hasn’t been able to control guns, they’re certainly not going to be able to control video games.

    Oh, wait, who am I kidding? They’ll find it much easier to pass laws against video games than “bumpstocks” or whatever. Can’t get violent video games until your’re 30, but you can buy an AR-15 when you’re 18. That kind of thing. It’s to protect you.

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Think of the children, Marcus. Think of the children.

  3. brucegee1962 says

    I loved watching the Sarkeesian videos. The main message that I got out of them was “Video game makers, if you won’t stop making sexist games because they’re bad for women, at least consider not making them because they’re such fricking cliches!”

  4. says

    I don’t know, people have different assessments, they can’t all be accurate. Who knows which assessments you’re even thinking about?

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