Life, The Universe, And Gaming — Reverse Sexism
Last week Square Enix released a trailer for Hitman Absolution which was no doubt intended to have gamers gawking in adoration of the style and choreography of Agent 47 doing what he does best, to a group of female assassins. And gawk is exactly what the world did, although not at all for the intended reasons. That now infamous trailer sparked an outcry from the gaming public with many fans of the series clamouring for, and eventually getting an apology from developer IO Interactive for the sexist undertones and indecent portrayal of women which is so rife in the gaming industry.
Having seen most of this debate online and not quite understanding what the big fuss was about, the great debate-loving crazy person inside me came racing to the surface.
The subject of the treatment of women in our gaming medium is one that is often hotly debated, sometimes with a ferocity of warring nations and other times with a childish immaturity that is common among most gamers today. You’ve heard the kitchen and sandwich jokes, you’ve seen the E3 booth babe articles, the whole lot and everyone and their mother has made some reference to boobs recently, because really that’s where it’s all at, isn’t it? Unfortunately the subject is one that is a thorny, egg-shelled ground upon which to tread and many serious opinion-columnists and writers dare not go anywhere near it.
Now I’m not one to declare my knowledge of all things, just kidding I totally am, but when it comes to the sexism debate I tend to stay away for the very simple reason that as a male gamer, I can never fully understand what female gamers go through in their daily lives as members of this industry, whether it’s online or through their representation in games or whatever else. I simply cannot fully fathom what it’s like to be a ‘girl gamer’ in today’s world. Granted I have some first-hand experience from online chat sessions in-game, or on Xbox LIVE Party chats or what have you, and of course I’ve visited that website which posts pictures of the deranged and abhorrent things that (by assumption) males have said to females online in private messages and the like, but even the collection of that knowledge cannot put me firmly into the shoes of a female who is attempting to simply enjoy a game online while being bombarded with either in-game references to sexualisation or abuse of women, or getting the ‘titsorgtfo’ messages, or what have you. I also lack the mental capacity to understand how that would feel to your average woman, and if you think it makes me gay to consider such a thing then you sir / madam, are a part of the problem.
Having said all of that, I like to think of myself as one of those people who does notice gender inaccuracies wherever they exist, whether it’s the use of “he” and not “she” or “they” when referring to a hypothetical person, the assumption that for example a lawyer or doctor is definitely a male and not a female, and finally the portrayal of a female in some stereotypical way in games (or indeed any other form of media) that makes you wonder if any females had any particular role in creating those characters. On the former, you would be surprised at how many people will create some hypothetical role to illustrate an example and then reference that role with “he” or “him” or what have you, automatically and mindlessly assuming it’s a male that will fill those shoes. Indeed the same happens of those who would make mention of females in examples and proceed to assert the egregious notion that every female is of soft heart and softer touch, and is simply looking to be loved.
I have previously challenged the inclusion of females in the Gears of War series, questioning not so much why they were included but the esoteric way in which they were included in the final product. I have also challenged female roles in other games, such as Dead Space where if she’s female and alive you ought not to trust her and if she’s dead then prepare to be haunted by her, or even my favourites; Dragon Age and Mass Effect, where one female typically represents some element of ‘purity in the female form’ while another represents a contrast to that, and regardless of who it is, they’re secretly virtuous and up for anything. Morrigan, Leliana, Miranda, Tali, Liara, Ashley, you name it they have the stereotype.
Anyway my reason for making all of these little points, believe it or not, is that given my knowledge as it stands of sexism in the industry, I don’t feel the Hitman Absolution trailer was that bad.
It showed a bunch of sexualised female assassins masquerading as nuns before removing their clothing to reveal skimpy under-dressing, as Agent 47 cut through them with the precision of a Swiss Army Knife wielded by Raiden. I watched it and was somewhat indifferent to it, but the usual anti-sexism crowd threw their hands up in the air. I understand that the trailer was done in bad taste, that there were sexualised females here, being abused no less, but I must ask; which crowd is more offended here? Females or Christians? If it were, say, a group of male assassins masquerading as priests, would such a trailer have garnered the same uproar? If the females were of a type of body that is unfit for assassin work, which is to say if they were obese, would that have been better? What if it were obese males? The point of the trailer as I saw it, was elegance and grace with the female roles serving to emphasise that, and then they got themselves killed like a hundred other would-be assassins in the Hitman series. Why then does just this trailer cause an uproar? Because it has females in it. Resident Evil 5′s racism controversy, anyone?
I’m not usually one for doing this, but I shudder to call this reverse sexism, and such a thing is also rife particularly in this industry.
In which other medium would you see females distinguish themselves so greatly from males? We already quite pretentiously dub ourselves ‘gamers’ but now we have ‘girl gamers’ as well. Do we have ‘girl readers’ or ‘girl TV watchers’ as titles? Sure there are females who do both of those, but have they assigned themselves specific names? Of course not. The mere thought of a ‘girl reader’ is ridiculous, even Twi-hards constitute a small count of female readers, and are in some part male. So then why does it matter so greatly to gamers?
If a female enters a game chat, the immediate response of male gamers from my experience is: “Hey, it’s a girl!” Thankfully the male gamers I play games with are of a level of decency that it stops there, if at all, but every now and then you get the odd sandwich joke that irritates me more than, I would assume, the female. Why then am I seeing Xbox LIVE profiles of females proclaiming: “Yes, I am a girl gamer!” I’m sorry if I’ve misinterpreted the situation but how did the solution of muffling your voice and pretending you’re male in voice chat so that you wouldn’t get abuse, change to outright declaring that you’re a female before even proceeding to play a game? And seriously, what on Earth is a ‘girl gamer’ really? A gamer with boobs? So you’re making the distinction for everyone else then? Is that not making it worse in some way (that totally isn’t the same as dressing in revealing clothing and going out, I promise that’s not what I mean nor am I advocating that sort of comparison)?
This is my problem with most feminists actually. Anyone who knows me would attest to my respect for females, but I try as far as possible to treat everyone alike meaning if there is something I would say to a male friend, I wouldn’t shy away from saying it to a female friend. Use of the words “bitch” and “jerk” in a derogatory sense aside. I hate those words. But many feminists are not so much about equality as they are about empowering females over males, and this kind of reverse sexism is not helping at all.
Like a government that resorts to reverse racism in order to further its own agenda — yes I went there — many feminists attempt to discredit males in order to stop them from discrediting females. Generalising though I may be, I can’t help but wonder whether this is why so many of my favourite writers have shied away from this topic; they simply do not want the backlash that comes when you go into the sexism debate from a male perspective. Indeed even the illustrious and all-knowing Jim Sterling has opted to look at the positives of that trailer with regards to the impact it has had on the gaming community, rather than debate whether those criticisms were in fact valid in the first place.
I’m sticking my neck out here.
I am a male who plays games. I am acquainted with many female gamers and have converted a few more into this wonderful world of gaming. I have regularly questioned the logic and intention of female roles in gaming today — look out for my Bulletstorm discussion in the coming weeks as proof of this. I wish for females to be treated with respect and dignity that is earned, deserved even, given the way they are currently treated. But I will not stand by and watch a pot call a kettle black, if I feel it isn’t entirely fair to do so.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is: Don’t be that guy… or well, girl, I suppose. Don’t be the kind of person who screams wolf each and every time something releases that is only mildly offensive to you, especially in a world where everyone takes offence to something. Offence is after all, your burden. You choose to be offended by whatever you see. If it’s something that is truly offensive then by all means clamour for apologies and create an uproar. I never want to see, for example, the portrayal of a rape in a game, regardless of whether it’s a sign of how ‘the games industry is maturing’ hurr durr. But a few sexualised assassins in a trailer for a game about killing people? Really now.
In the words of my ever-knowledgeable head editor (not at all a sexual reference), “Pick your battles.”