Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Something pleasant for Christmas

First of all, Merry Christmas to all my readers!

I apologise for the lack of updates for the past two weeks. Between illness (yes, I'm still unwell) and some other duties I've had to take care of, I haven't had much time to blog. The length of my last one made me feel like taking a break anyway, so this one's going to be much shorter than usual.

Since it's Christmas, I thought I'd write about something positive rather than the frustrating and depressing issues I usually write about. For my birthday this year, I received Dragon's Dogma as a gift.

It's not an understatement to say that Dragon's Dogma may be my favourite game of this console generation. It's exactly the kind of free-roaming fantasy RPG that I'd always wanted to exist but never did. It was billed as a kind of cross between Dark Souls and Shadow Of The Colossus but there's so much more to it than that. It has my favourite character creation system of any game, allowing you to create characters who are tall, short, fat, thin, dwarves, elves, etc. You don't pick specific races like in other games but you can use your imagination to say "my character is a hobbit" because you have the tools to make one. There's a wide range of fun abilities that you get to control in ways that you don't in, say, Dragon Age, Fable or Skyrim. There's a feeling of freedom -- and, more importantly, fun -- when it comes to the combat that those games tend to lack.

Also, I was really glad to see a fantasy game that doesn't feel bogged down with mythology. Along with Dark Souls, it's one of the few fantasy games that doesn't beat you over the head with the names of various gods, races or countries of the world. It just puts you down in a fun environment and lets you play. I don't know about the rest of you but that's very appealing to me. I've played far too many fantasy games where the developers seemed to care more about making a fictional world than making a game. Dragon Age and Kingdoms Of Amalur: Reckoning are particularly guilty of this. Every person you talk to can't resist lecturing you on the customs of certain races or the terrible war that was fought ten years ago.

So Dragon's Dogma is a great game. In my opinion, it should be held up to developers as a prime example of why creating new IPs is a fantastic idea. I know Capcom face a lot of criticism nowadays for on-disc DLC and so on but when they get it right, they really get it right.

And then there's the cherry on the cake. Let's say you're playing Dragon's Dogma one day and one of your pawns -- your followers -- decides to speak up with advice, as they often do:

... Wait, what!?

Sorry about the quality. It's the best I could get off Youtube. I don't think anyone will have difficulty reading it but just in case, it says:
The Westron Labrys's base... Their leader is an infamous misandrist.
That's right, misandry was acknowledged by name.

For those who've never played Dragon's Dogma and who are curious, the misandrist in question was a woman named Ophis, who led an all-female bandit gang. You can perform quests for her and she doesn't actually have any misandrist dialogue, so it's not that big a deal. However, her all-female gang will attack you on sight if your party has any male members. This can be avoided by equipping them with dresses, which is actually quite funny. I imagine some of my readers might worry about the men being made the butt of the joke here but I wouldn't worry about it; the fact that Capcom, unlike other developers, went out of their way to include female enemies in Dragon's Dogma is the more significant point here, in my opinion. The female bandits are considered just as villainous as the male ones and will even attack an all-female party everywhere outside their encampment. Plus, I'm of the opinion that games could benefit from more crossdressing. It's a nice option to have.

Of course, misandry being acknowledged is the most important point of all here. I doubt it'll open the floodgates to more mentions of misandry in the future but it scores some serious points for Dragon's Dogma.

Merry Christmas everyone! I'll be back early next year.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

An Open Letter to the Video Game Industry's Feminist Critics

I meant to write this blog much sooner, shortly after my piece on #1ReasonWhy. Unfortunately, I came down with an illness and I've spent most of the last week lying in bed. That's pushed back this blog by a few days and, more annoyingly, one of the sites reporting on #1ReasonWhy has updated the Twitter posts it had embedded in the article. Try as I might, I haven't been able to find the tweet I wanted to write about. It was a #1ReasonWhy about being afraid to read the comments sections on articles about feminism in gaming.

For all the people who are critical of those comments sections, this (informal) open letter is addressed to you.

I can't imagine there are many feminist critics of the video game industry who ask "why are the people who leave those comments so mean?" because gaming sites and high-profile figures have a habit of portraying them in very black-and-white groups; either they support the feminist argument being made, or they're misogynists. By the mainstream gaming sites, the logical arguments about men's issues in games -- the sensible, fair-minded ones -- either don't exist or they're not worthy of discussion and are dismissed along with the misogynists. I have a theory that this has a lot to do with why there are so many misogynist comments beneath feminist articles on gaming sites. I'll go into that towards the end.

On the off-chance that this post brings any new readers, I'd like to give a bit of backstory; this was the year that I decided to start a blog about misandry in video games because this was the first year I noticed such a dismissive attitude towards misandry in video games. Getting annoyed at a polarising game journalist like Jim Sterling is a bit like going to a KKK rally and then complaining that it's a tad on the racist side but earlier this year, he wrote this article in response to criticism of Anita Sarkeesian's upcoming video series, Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames. It highlights all the typical responses that men's rights activists receive when raising concerns about men's issues. Dismissiveness. Insults. Lack of counter-arguments to existing criticisms. The strange belief that these men's issues don't exist unless in response to someone raising issues about women. That one, in particular, is a head-scratcher; the only reason Sterling and the other critics think these issues don't exist without provocation is because they don't take an interest in men's issues. If they did, they'd see the concern, but because they don't, they don't. It's not rocket science.

Sterling wasn't the only one. There was a blog post earlier this year called "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is" that focused on how it was impossible -- or ridiculously difficult -- for men to be discriminated against because they have "privilege" (although the article was written specifically to outline how easy straight white men had it without using that term. All it did was provide a rather smarmy definition of what privilege was). This blog post gained plenty of publicity in video game circles even though it didn't have anything to do with video games beyond the "difficulty setting" analogy. As for its content, it doesn't tell men's rights activists anything they're not already used to reading. Like the Sterling example, it doesn't state any counter-arguments or cite examples. It outlines why you, straight white male reader, have it better and it won't take "hold on, what about ..." for an answer.

The reason I'm bringing up these blogs and articles now, months after they were originally posted, is because the #1ReasonWhy movement and all the responses to it over the past two weeks has brought back all the same reactions to men's issues. The dismissiveness, the hostility, the insults and so on. There's also an oddly condescending attitude towards the people who disagree with the movement; a "the guys who don't get it" phrase tends to crop up and "guys who get it" are praised. The "lowest difficulty setting" blog post had a hint of this too.

For anyone with a morbid curiosity, take a look where that link leads to. A highly misandric "poem" by Carol Diehl that suggests men don't know what it's like for other men to be raped by women, have women promoted over them because of their sex or mock the appearance of their genitals. Looking at (video game journalist, Gameranx editor-in-chief) Ian Miles Cheong's tweets, he seems to believe every stereotype about men's rights activists without doing any research into men's issues. Once again, no counter-arguments. I hope my feminist readers are starting to notice a pattern here.

It seems like the critics think the only reason why anyone would disagree with the #1ReasonWhy movement -- or any previous feminist campaigns, such as Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames -- is because they don't "get" it or they're misogynists. Again, it seems like an excuse to avoid acknowledging the genuine criticisms. Criticisms like the fact that women aren't the only people who face verbal abuse during online multiplayer games but sexist insults are the only insults acknowledged as a problem, for example. Much like, say, the unrealistic standards of beauty in games, it's an issue that faces both sexes but is treated as one that only affects women. That's before issues that predominately affect men are brought up, such as making up the majority of victims of violence.

I wanted to write about this because last week, Gamespot posted one of their Feedbackula videos -- as far as I can tell, a video series highlighting and examining their members' comments from previous articles, usually about upcoming games -- and the arguments left a lot to be desired, to say the least. Here it is, if you'd like to take a look:

Hosted by Gamespot UK's Johnny Chiodni, it was basically an excuse to mock the opinions of people who disagreed with them. Now, there are certain comments on every article about misogyny in gaming that I wouldn't mind receiving insults but what galls me is that Gamespot would sooner make a video criticising "easy" comments than -- you guessed it -- providing counter-arguments to sensible ones. In fact, for those who chose not to watch the video, at the mere mention of men suffering discrimination in games too, Johnny "humourously" bangs his shoe against his head, bemoaning "why'd you have to ruin it?"

Johnny himself doesn't even seem to have a very good grasp on the issues that affect women, let alone men; when discussing the sexualisation of women, we see a picture of a female Skyrim character wearing heavy armour. Johnny describes this as "titillating" because the armour has breasts. To me, this completely undermines every single other argument about sexualised women in games; what's the point in criticising the skimpy outfits and bouncing breasts in Dead Or Alive if an aesthetic choice to make the female characters visibly female in Skyrim suddenly counts as "titillating"? When that becomes an example of sexualised female characters, absolutely anything can be. I think a commenter on Gamespot called yamilvirginio said it best:

- "Ironic" hipster beard and glasses: Check
- Arrogant and annoying personality: Check
- Putrid stench of white knight anyone can smell from their monitor: Check
- Cherry-picking the most radical comments and reading them in a silly, ironic voice: Check
- Homophobic undertone of the ending message
Yep, everything clears out here. Thank you Gamespot® for enlightening these poor sheep!
The homophobic undertone of the ending message, for anyone who didn't watch the video, was suggesting that anyone who had a problem supporting #1ReasonWhy go join the navy, while the song and video for The Village People's "In The Navy" played in the background. The implication being that if you don't support the women of #1ReasonWhy, you're gay.

The list goes on and on. The #1ReasonWhy site itself is dismissive of men's issues in its FAQ (emphasis by me):

Given the reaction of some of the other figures in the video game journalism industries, I'm actually slightly appreciative of the fact that the owner of thought to say he/she agreed. I'm no fool; I'm sure it was simply to mollify men's rights activists and to avoid an inundated inbox but frankly, I'm thankful even for that. Other people make no bones about dismissing and insulting people who dare to mention men's rights:

And there's an underlying idea, backed up by things like the Feedbackula video and the idea that guys "don't get it", that critique of movements like #1ReasonWhy isn't allowed.

I'd like to contrast this tweet with everything else in this blog; men complaining that women are complaining about sexism is wrong. Men complaining that men are complaining about sexism describes Jim Sterling's article, Johnny Chiodni's videos, David A Hill Jr's tweet, etc. I went into this quite a lot last time but, again, all these tweets, articles, videos and so forth, all this misandric "men can't be discriminated against" dismissiveness, it all has the unintended effect of making women seem like children. What's being said here is that women have the monopoly on victimhood and how dare those men try to claim otherwise.

Speaking of which, this isn't just men criticising #1ReasonWhy. Someone sent me a link to a PC Gamer article on #1ReasonWhy and directed my attention to one of the comments below. Read it yourself and see what you think:

What we have here is a woman called Iara who refuses to accept her status as a supposed victim and two men (I assume glix is male) who are telling her, "no. You're a victim". The conversation continued beyond these two replies but there wasn't much else of substance.

Let's break this down, bit by bit. First of all, glix's comment that Iara's experiences don't speak for everyone's. That's fair enough but on Twitter, we have thousands upon thousands of examples of people who are claiming that they're providing evidence of institutionalised sexism in the gaming industry. Now what exactly would happen if one of the critics of #1ReasonWhy actually pointed out that the experiences of the women using that hashtag weren't the same as everyone else's?

In fact, I think we might end up with a response much like the one I posted by Kevin VanOrd in my last post:

Maybe this is just my interpretation but it seems to me as if when a woman uses the #1ReasonWhy hashtag on Twitter, it's evidence. When a woman disagrees with the movement, it's subjective; we see the sentence "your experiences don't speak for everyone's".

It's much the same case with Tom Hatfield's comment. Tom has apparently read the "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is" blog post, judging from his comment about guys having an "easy mode". That's neither here nor there though. What's important is how Tom's reply unintentionally highlights the hypocrisy of the #1ReasonWhy movement.

Put it this way; if a man objected to a #1ReasonWhy example written by a woman in the same way that Tom did, the backlash would be quite severe. Let's say a woman wrote a #1ReasonWhy where she stated she had been groped at a convention. Then, let's say a man wrote to her and said, "that's not sexism". Presumably, he'd receive lots of hate messages. I can imagine he'd be called a misogynist for not denouncing such an act as sexist and he'd be criticised for daring to tell a woman how to interpret her own experiences.

What we have here is a reversal of the positions on sexism. Iara is stating how she doesn't see the verbal abuse she's suffered as an example of sexism but no sooner has she done so than Tom Hatfield rushes in to say "that's sexism"! He's telling a woman how to interpret what she herself has experienced, just as in the first example. Do me a favour; quickly scroll back up and look at Tarryn van der Byl's tweet (@nxtrms). "Because we can't even complain about sexism in the industry without men complaining that we're complaining". That's a complaint about men thinking they know better than the women giving their experiences but isn't that exactly what Tom is doing here? Although just because Tom supports the "right" position on sexism ("everything is sexist, women are children, they need help") and Iara supports the "wrong" one ("everyone is verbally abused, I can deal with it, I refuse to play my victim card"), Tom doesn't suffer the same criticism that a man in Iara's shoes would.

I have nothing but praise for Iara for having such a wise head on her shoulders and, thankfully, I didn't notice any "she might not even be female!" accusations in the PC Gamer comments section (and it wouldn't really matter if she wasn't; Tom Hatfield didn't seem to think so and his reaction is what's important, rather than Iara's gender). However, just in case there was any doubt about women taking issue with #1ReasonWhy too, the genuinely wonderful InuitInua steps in to remove all doubt:

In my last blog, I came to the same conclusion as InuitInua about the #1ReasonWhy movement being about special treatment rather than equality and she had a few specific topics from tweets she wanted to pick apart too. It deserves a watch.

Now, something that I imagine a lot of feminist video game commenters and critics don't get is that people who support men's issues in games support equality in games. That's important. I've heard people say, "people object to women entering a field that has been male-dominated for years and expecting it to immediately change to suit them". I don't think this is the case at all. None of us object to women being given the floor to air the issues that affect them in games, no matter how few there are or how short a time they've been a part of the industry. If they're here, they deserve their say. It's when women are the only ones who are given the floor that things become a problem.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened to the video game industry. I'd like to go into two completely separate tangents to illustrate this point. Remember what happened to Ryan Perez? He was a writer for Destructoid who, to quote my own blog on the subject:
"... Tweeted that he believed that actress, writer and internet 'celebrity' Felicia Day was 'a glorified booth babe' and asked the question, 'does she actually contribute anything useful to this industry, besides retaining a geek persona?'. After a massive outcry from many, many of Felicia's friends, fans and coworkers, Ryan lost his job."
Now, the reason Ryan lost his job was because his comments were deemed "misogynistic", even though there was nothing sexist against women about them. He disliked Felicia Day and that, apparently, was enough to brand him a woman-hater. The point I want to make about Ryan is that he made those Twitter comments about Felicia Day in his private time and yet still ended up losing his job over them. Meanwhile, Jim Sterling professionally wrote an article expressing very misandric sentiments and presumably got paid by Gamefront to do so. I'd say that's a lot worse that Ryan's not-quite-misogynistic barbs that were directed at Felicia Day.

The second point I wanted to make was about our old friend Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency. The latest blog post on her website outlines the talk she gave at this year's TEDxWomen in Washington, DC. Thankfully, she provides a transcript of her speech, which is predominately about the abuse she suffered when launching her Kickstarter project. As I've said before, I don't encourage that kind of abuse -- I looked over the comments again before writing this post and the racist language made me cringe -- but there are a few parts of her speech that I'd like to quote that highlight why people are critical of Anita:
"And whether it’s a cyber mob or just a handful of hateful comments, the end result is maintaining and reinforcing and normalizing a culture of sexism — where men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation.
A ‘boys club’ means no girls allowed. And how do they keep women and girls out? Just like this. By creating an environment that is just too toxic and hostile to endure ...
... Everyday I am encouraged by the women who persevere, who continue to engage and who refuse to be silenced."
To me, this seems like a biased view of things, probably the main criticism of Anita. One thing I hope I've achieved with this blog is build a case for a view of gaming culture where not only are men not supported by their peers for sexist attitudes and behaviour -- look at the Sterling article/Feedbackula video/the entire #1ReasonWhy movement and you'll realise the idea of men being rewarded for sexist behaviour is nothing but fantasy -- but sexism against men is overwhelmingly supported. Whether it's insulting men who support men's issues outright, dismissing the issues, ignoring them or portraying certain issues as only affecting women when they actually affect both sexes, there's a lot of examples of men being silenced and marginalised in the gaming industry. That's what I'd describe as a toxic environment. If that's what Anita considers a "boy's club", I'd hate to see what a "girl's club" looks like! Meanwhile, women had tens of thousands of #1ReasonWhy tweets, every high-profile gaming site (and several mainstream ones) supporting the cause and Anita Sarkeesian receiving $150,000 for a video series. Hardly what I'd call being "silenced", in spite of the abuse Anita received.

So finally -- finally -- we come to my theory about misogynist comments in feminist articles on gaming sites. To every feminist reader of this blog who has ever wondered why so many of those comments exist, take a look at all the examples involving men and men's issues above. Where they've been ignored. Dismissed. Insulted. Where the men who make them have been told "grow up", "you don't get it" or "you have it easy". Meanwhile, women's issues are being given "air time" on every website that's reporting on Anita Sarkeesian and #1ReasonWhy.

Why do those misogynistic comments exist? Well with all this anti-male sentiment, how do you think people are going to react? What do you expect? With intelligent, well thought-out criticisms of these movements completely ignored, why would people bother writing them and just say "to heck with it" and throw out some misogynist comments to get a reaction? You can say it's immature but, hey, so is the attitude towards men's issues. The fact that plenty of the writers of this content are male is also pretty telling, in that male writers have carte blanche to say what they like about men in a way that female writers can't. I don't want that to sound like a paranoid cry of "the women forced the men to do it!" but rather an acknowledgement of how feminist critics frame things; a woman in the gaming industry can't very well write a scathing attack on male gamers who don't support, say, Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project in the same way that Jim Sterling can because, if she does, all those misogynist comments will actually be easy to justify. If Jim Sterling writes the same thing, however, the worst insults that'll come his way are "white knight" and "mangina", making the commenters look a bit mental.

I have a second theory but this one needs to be tested. This is where any feminist readers of my blog will come in very handy, especially on the off-chance that any of you are in high-profile positions. Next time you run an article about sexism in video games, give the male point of view as well as the female one. If you intend to criticise Bayonetta for sexual poses, criticise Final Fantasy's trend of flawless teenage male characters at the same time. Don't just throw it in as a single "oh, yeah, men are sexualised too" at the end of the article either. Point out the lack of real-life teenagers who bear any resemblance to, say, Vaan and the unrealistic standard of beauty it promotes.

My theory? Acknowleding sexualisation of both sexes in video games will reduce a huge amount of the hostility towards the article in question. The frustrating thing is that there is no reason for feminists in the gaming industry not to do this, other than to claim victimhood as a specifically female trait. There are tons of sayings that justify supporting both men's and women's issues in games and you'll have heard them all before; "what's good for the goose is good for the gander". "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". Even the classic "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". You can even quote Jim Sterling (in the name of equality rather than misandry) and say "Start. Fucking. Sharing". So why do feminist critics of the gaming industry make it such an uphill battle for themselves? Why support women's issues and then complain about misogynist comments when you could support the same issues for both sexes and have your approval rating skyrocket?

Obviously, misogynist comments would never completely disappear, even if arguments about men's issues in games were taken seriously. There are always going to be some unsavoury characters in every industry, regardless of how much progress is made. Valve's Christine Phelan said much the same thing in her interview with FMV Magazine. That's certainly a shame but there are things that I think could be done right now to reduce the sexist comments (outlined in the two paragraphs above). If feminist critics are genuinely critical of these misogynist comments and genuinely support equality rather than special treatment, like I said, there's no reason not to support men's issues in interviews/comments/tweets too. Don't "pull a Sarkeesian" by claiming to find misogyny morally wrong but then choosing not to do anything about them just because having more misogynistic comments supports your viewpoint. Again, that just portrays women as children in need of help rather than adults who have the power to change things.

I suppose that's all I have to say. I'd like to finish by linking to a video that a friend of mine posted in the comments of my last blog, by a Youtuber called Billy Clement.

While I don't agree with everything Billy says, there are a few things I like about the video. His comparison to a man in the cosmetics industry is quite entertaining and, most importantly, he reads out a statement from a male developer in the video game industry who'd like to remain anonymous. Assuming it's true, it's quite a damning indictment of "equality" in the gaming industry and wouldn't look out of place on a male version of the #1ReasonWhy movement. One of his final lines sums up the #1ReasonWhy campaign's flaws in their entirety, however, and I'd like to quote it here:
"I'm not arguing against inclusion. Inclusion's good and we all want to see more female gamers. But exclusion is bad and what we really don't want is a games industry to turn into a mirror of television, with weak, stupid, ineffective male characters only appearing to make the superwomen look good."
The part about inclusion and exclusion alone hits the nail on the head; just like I said last time and just like InuitInua says in the video above, it's special treatment -- not equality -- that people are recommending as a solution to the #1ReasonWhy movement's problems. That's exclusion, masquerading as equality.

Well, that's that. Now I suppose I'll just have to wait for my sexuality to be called into question by a "progressive" Gamespot personality.

Please feel free to leave a comment or write to me at

Sunday, 2 December 2012


This has been an insane few days.

For anyone who isn't a member of Twitter, a few days ago, a man by the name of Luke Crane posted this tweet:

It's a simple enough question, with a simple enough answer (that we'll come to later on). I doubt Luke Crane, or anyone else, could've predicted the response he received to this single tweet. Many, many, many people waded in with their answers, each stating one reason why there were so few lady game creators (hence the hashtag "#1ReasonWhy"). These came from all manner of people from inside and outside the gaming industry.

Obviously, I didn't read them all. I don't even have a Twitter account, since I prefer to read long messages rather than short ones. Thankfully, however, there were plenty of articles on the subject, all showing some of the examples of #1ReasonWhy tweets. The hashtag even earned its own site. All-in-all, there's been an astounding outpouring of support for and from women in the gaming industry.

With it, there's also been an astounding outpouring of hypocrisy, biased arguments and double standards, to the point that its difficult to even know where to begin. Before we go into the tweets themselves, take a look at a couple of the articles that I've been perusing.

This article from Gamespot was where the #1ReasonWhy hashtag first caught my attention. This article, by Carolyn Petit and Laura Parker, does a decent job of explaining what the hashtag is but doesn't really go beyond the "we have to do something!" attitude. They don't reach any conclusions on what to do but overall, the attitude expressed is a step up from the sentiments expressed elsewhere.

Case in point: this article by Nathan Grayson on Rock, Paper, Shotgun. To sum up, it's one big call-to-arms "for men to stop acting like self-centered slobs. It’s time for men to stop turning every step of progress into an agonizing uphill battle". It has a rather disturbing, "you're either with us or against us" attitude, so men who disagree or just don't wish to help are targets of Grayson's ire. In spite of the writer's claim that he is "not trying to propose some damsel-in-distress “let’s handsomely save the day” argument," this may be one of the biggest examples of "White Knighting" I've ever seen online. It's a condescending pep talk that assumes the worst of men and, coincidentally, is a real-life example of what I mentioned in my previous two blog posts; it suggests that men are only valuable based on how useful they are to women. If they're not being useful to women, they're "self-centered slobs".

I haven't got into the actual reasons given by the #1ReasonWhy hashtags yet. Something I should make clear is that there isn't enough time in the world to go through every single tweet, obviously, and there may be some good, legitimate reasons that I haven't seen. However, just browsing through the reports on #1ReasonWhy, I didn't find a single tweet I cared for and most of them highlight exactly why people like myself take issue with the focus on women in gaming. Let's jump right in. What's a reason why there are so few lady game creators?

There's going to be more from Rhianna Pratchett before this blog is over with but this is as good a place as any to start. Creating appropriately-dressed female characters is a rarity, rather than the norm, according to Pratchett. This is a reason why there are so few lady game creators.

The first thought that sprung to mind when reading this was, "isn't that an incentive for women to join the video game industry rather than avoid it?" Presumably, if there's something women want to change in the gaming industry, staying out of it and complaining isn't as effective a method as getting involved and being able to influence things. So it doesn't make sense for the lack of appropriately-dressed female characters to be a reason why women aren't creating video games and, if Pratchett thinks it is, she paints women as a very illogical bunch.

The second thought I had about this was one that I had been thinking about before I ever saw the tweet. When having various debates about gender issues elsewhere online, it felt like the critics of the portrayal of women in video games would cherry pick their examples and use them of evidence of a wider issue. For example, using Ivy from Soul Calibur as an example of sexualised women while ignoring the same series' Talim, Cassandra, Hilde, Amy and Seung Mina. They'll acknowledge the notoriously misogynistic Metroid: Other M without necessarily singing the praises of Samus herself as an example of positive female portrayals in games. And no matter what great strides the industry makes in "appropriately-dressed female characters" -- Alyx Vance from Half-Life 2. Elena Fisher from Uncharted. Jennifer Mui from Mercenaries. Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Amaterasu from Okami. Lara Croft's latest redesign. Various RPGs from both Japan and the West -- the industry will always, always, always still be stereotyped as one filled with scantily-clad female designs by the same women who should be pleased by the progress.


You might know Ashly Burch from the "Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'" video series on Gametrailers (and maybe elsewhere; I don't follow them very closely). And after reading this tweet, you'd be forgiven for thinking that she's new to the internet.

Look, I'm not saying that threats of rape and violence isn't a good reason for women to avoid the video game industry. It's a good reason for anyone to avoid the industry of whoever is making those threats. However, like I said, this is the internet and these comments come with the territory. I've been on messageboards where I've suffered both threats before. Well, I can't quite recall a rape threat but I can recall other threats of sexual violence very vividly.

I dealt with this by using the ignore functions of certain forums and avoiding others entirely. It works well. Also, yes, I developed a thicker skin. Which is an argument I hate having to use because I've been given that "helpful" piece of advice before and it's an incredibly irritating thing to read. It implies there's something wrong with you rather than the obnoxious moron throwing you insults. However, keep something in mind here; Ashly Burch is a public figure, thanks to her videos. All public figures receive mindless insults. Did she think she'd escape the insults simply because she's female? More worryingly, does she think that's a good reason that she should?

If anyone wants to crack down on the trolls that make these comments, be my guest. However, you'd have to be a pretty despicable person to only do it for half the gaming population while leaving the other half to suffer the insults and threats.

Wow, talk about stereotypical.

While I'd certainly agree there's not enough investment in AAA games about something other than war -- I'm not sure about the other three. I can think of one AAA western, a few contenders for AAA racing games and absolutely no sports ones, let alone football -- there's some unfortunate implications here. There's a disturbing undertone that paints the majority of the "male-dominated" video game industry as being incredibly stereotypically male. For that matter, it paints the women already in the video game industry with the exact same brush.

I assume Samit Sarkar is talking about this particular press release:
What a Character 2 (400 Microsoft Points) – Kasumi hops into a black bunny swimsuit, Mila masquerades as Bass while Zack transforms into an alien, and Christie turns heads in black leather bondage gear.
First of all, let's get the obvious out the way; we've now completely ignored common, if stereotypical, criticisms of the gaming industry and devolved completely into speculation. Unless we're meant to assume that Sarkar knows the sexual interests of every woman interested in joining the gaming industry, I think he's clutching at straws here. Secondly, it's just like the Rhianna Pratchett example above; joining the industry would give women a better chance to have their voices heard. It's an incentive to join and the costume is hardly going to disappear simply because they choose to remain gamers rather than developers/journalists, is it?

Thirdly, and this is an important point, it's an example of the hypocrisy and lack of research done to support the #1ReasonWhy campaign (if it can be called that). Take a look at this Lee Chaolan costume from Tekken 6:

That's Lee in his "bondage gear" costume. I was searching for the Tekken Tag Tournament 2 version -- I didn't even know it appeared in Tekken 6 -- but the fact that it was featured in two games in the series supports my argument more; two Tekken games where Lee sports a costume that emphasies his abs and yet the one worn by a woman in a game known for its sexualised female characters is the eyebrow-raiser? Sex-negative feminists like to pounce on games that sexualise female characters but the poor research and hypocrisy shown by Sarkar above shows that they really couldn't care less about the men. "Oh, there are other examples of bondage gear in games? Oh, who cares, it's on a man."

This was actually one of the first tweets about the #1ReasonWhy issue I saw and, almost immediately, it made me realise why I disliked the campaign.

In spite of the fact that I criticise a lot of supposedly-feminist arguments here on this blog, I have a lot of love and respect for women. A lot. I think if women want to achieve their goals, they have the intelligence and talent to do so. That goes for the gaming industry as well. Although feminist arguments have always been subjects of my criticism, women themselves never have been. I'll come back to this in a second.

Going back to Rhianna's tweet; "But what if the player is female?" Let's assume she's talking about a stereotypically masculine game, such as Gears Of War. A squad of burly men who curse in every sentence, walking around in heavy sci-fi armour and blasting aliens. It seems like a game that would warrant Rhianna's question. "But what if the player is female?"

My response would have to be, "she'll enjoy the game as much as a male player". If I was a female gamer, I know that I would be tremendously insulted by Pratchett's statement that there's something different about me that needs to be catered to by developers. Simply because of my sex, a new question needs to be asked because there's an assumption that I should be treated differently. That unless something is added or changed to suit me, I'll see a gameplay video and say, "oh, I can't play this. I'm female!"

So although feminist arguments have always been subjects of my criticism, women themselves never have been and I would never hold such a low opinion of women to think that they can't adapt to play any game. This is what struck me about the #1ReasonWhy campaign as a whole; it treats women like children who need to be catered to rather than rational and mature adults who can adapt. These tweets are not asking for equality, for women to be treated the same as the men. These are asking for special treatment. They demand the industry adapt to them rather than they adapt to it.

In the sidebar, I link to a men's rights activist on Youtube called GirlWritesWhat. She once said something that I think describes this situation quite well: "Anti-feminism is the radical notion that women are adults". There is nothing in these tweets to make women seem strong or independent. If these tweets were to be listened to, the women demanding change would, effectively, be children; needing other people to give them change rather than changing things for themselves. And I completely despair at this whole fiasco because of it.

There are honestly so many eyebrow-raising tweets for #1ReasonWhy that I've had to decide against using some of them that I've had saved specifically for this blog. That's irritating but it's probably for the best; this blog post would never end if I took the time out to respond to every single one. There are a few other things I wanted to mention though.

First of all, it's worth reading this interview with Christine Phelan of Valve. I'll quote the relevant portion of the interview:
"It certainly seems as though Phelan’s experiences in the industry have been overwhelmingly positive thus far. And she’s not afraid to express her disgruntlement when FMV – referring to recent allegations that the video game industry is too male-dominated and even sexist – asks whether she has faced any particular challenges or obstacles in her career due to her gender.
“Aaaah, I really hate this question!” she replies. “I think asking it only serves to highlight the fact that I am a minority in my industry, and there are so many more interesting questions that could be asked instead!
“There are a ton of dudes in the games industry, yes – it’s a bit of a pickle jar.  I have never, however, been treated as anything but a team member and an equal by my coworkers and it’s a major disservice to them that folks automatically assume they will treat me differently because I am a woman.  At the end of the day I am the work I produce, not a pair of boobs.  It’s individuals who may or may not be sexist, and those are folks who reside in the broader ‘asshole’ category that applies to all things, not just games.
“I think the only challenge, if it can be called one, is that people assume I am challenged because I am a woman in this industry.  I am a game developer first, and my gender has nothing to do with it.”
I know for a fact people will say "well, it's Valve. They know how to treat people!" which I think does more to undermine Phelan's point than highlight it. I can't help thinking that painting all developers as sexist assholes except "internet-approved" ones is something to be avoided. As Phelan says, it's a disservice to her coworkers. She raises some other good points. "It's individuals who may or may not be sexist, and those are folks who reside in the broader ‘asshole’ category that applies to all things, not just games". For example, is Ashly Burch under the impression that it's only gamers who make impolite comments? Likewise, a bunch of tweets I didn't post mentioned being groped at conventions. Holding up the gaming industry as an example of this rather than specific "assholes" in every industry doesn't do anybody any favours. In fact, it's exactly what Jack Thompson used to do.

When I read the scapegoat reasons people use -- and that's really all the #1ReasonWhy campaign is -- I can't help but shake my head. Not because of the branding of an industry I love as "sexist" but the fact that it comes across as incredibly unprofessional. This might seem like an odd tangent but I'm a fan of The Apprentice (the UK version). A few seasons ago, one of the final five candidates was criticised by an interviewer for his reliance on "blame culture"; he blamed his parents for their lack of support and he blamed his former business partner for their business going under. He was unable to take responsibility for himself. That's what my mind kept going back to when reading some of these tweets; "blame culture" would be a perfect term to describe it.

Remember back at the start of this blog? Luke Crane asked "where are there so few lady creators?" I said this was a simple enough question with a simple enough answer. The simple enough answer is this: "there aren't enough women who are interested in games development enough to get involved in it". That's it. The #1ReasonWhy tweets are looking for reasons why women aren't interested in games development but in spite of the silly stereotyping of an entire sex based on things like outfits, hurtful comments and "but what if the player is female?" but while these people are all looking for scapegoats, the fact is that it's simply an industry that appeals to more men than women. Let's say I enrolled in a games development course and saw a greater number of men than women. Would my logical mind say, "more men than women. Must be sexism," or, "more men than women. Women mustn't have been as interested"?

Luckily, someone brought this point up on Twitter:

This is a Twitter user called Jason Clem talking to Kevin VanOrd, senior editor at Gamespot. First of all, I was glad to finally find out why Gamespot posts so many articles about women in games on their website, but I was a lot more pleased to find that someone called a #1ReasonWhy-er out on the illogical argument. What we see here is the typical treatment of women as children from the feminist, VanOrd, when the sensible, rational critic actually suggests a way to help them out. The whole argument can be summed up like this:

Clem: "Well, maybe more women should get involved and take more prominent roles in the industry then."
VanOrd: "No, no, they can't! The industry needs to be fixed first, those poor dears just can't handle it as it is!"

Looks very different when it's written down like that, doesn't it? Yet that's the message being sent out every time women in the video game industry play the victim card.

Clem himself gave me permission to post this conversation and, according to him, VanOrd blocked him after this short exchange. When looking through the #1ReasonWhy topic I spoke to him in, however, I came across this fantastic post by a fellow member of the AVoiceForMen forums (username "Crow"). Frankly, it blows my "simple enough explanation" out of the water:
"One of the largest issues I tend to come across in these sorts of communal outbursts is the complete and utter disregard for any notion of progression or any understanding of how time works. Yes, you read that right, feminists just don't seem to understand the notion of "time".

Yes, most game development is male-dominated. Why? It's pretty simple: Ten years ago, the individuals who developed games were almost 100% male because they grew up in the '70's and early 80's. They were raised and found their hobby in gaming at a time when it was very, very male dominated. These individuals grew up loving games, and then they
put in their time to work their way up the ladder or start their own studios. Simply put: how would we expect anything else?

Now these rants and raves about women in gaming is evidence of the
progress of the industry. They show that more women are involved now than ten or twenty years ago. This is progress, and it is easily evidence of greater diversity in gaming.

So what will happen now? give it another ten years and the legions of women who entered gaming as an industry in the last ten years (and even more contemporaneously) will
put in their time and get promoted and have a shot at making their own games.

This is the very sort of progress that the feminists are telling everyone doesn't exist.

Time + investment = change. It's simple. It's why media outlets aren't inundated with stories of homophobia, because that movement achieved it's goals wonderfully are is now in a post-achievement era where their injustices are acute and made up of smaller battles (of course not entirely finished, but comparatively). The Gay Rights movement won their battles a decade ago, and we're beginning to see the evidence and payoff for that community now.

A lot of this "gaming is sexist!" crud smells greatly of entitlement. The idea I get from wading through the articles, comments and Twitter hashtags is that women want the power, and they want it now. There's no concern that it takes time and investment, they're sick of being seen as what they are: overwhelmingly a younger, less-industry-advanced group who do not yet have power and control because very, very few women went into gaming as a career from the generation that sits in charge now. Give it ten years and it'll be very different.

Hell, it somewhat upsets me because there's no understanding that gaming has only been a very profitable industry for a short while. The individuals and companies who took the risks and often the awful results were men, and they paved the roads so that the entitled, whiny women of today can feel harassed and discriminated against in an industry that is profitable and popular."
So there we are. If there's a more sensible explanation for the lack of female creators in the video game industry, I've never read it. Crow's post highlights the logical reasons why there are so few female creators and does it without resorting to scapegoats.

There's more to be said on the bombardment of biased comments from the #1ReasonWhy campaign. A lot more. I'll leave it here for now though but before I do, I'd like to give some advice to any women who are in -- or thinking about getting into -- the video game industry.

First of all, just do it. There is no reason for you not to. #NoReasonWhy

Don't wait for things to change to suit you. There's a female comedian here in the UK called Sarah Millican who said something I think is appropriate here: "Don't look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Stomp along there and turn the fucker on yourself". You're a grown woman, not a child. You can change things.

There's a Margaret Thatcher quote I've been trying to work in here somewhere but could never find the right place for it. She famously said, "I owe nothing to women's lib". While searching for a good source for this quote, I actually found a better one:
American attorney, political commentator and Thatcher fan Carol Platt Liebau agrees. "Unfortunately feminism has become associated with a specific set of left-wing policy views centering around government-imposed solutions to perceived gender-based inequities, rather than simply with true female liberation – the opportunity, regardless of gender, to make one’s own choices and use one’s abilities to the fullest."
Whatever your stance on Thatcher's political career, I think both of these statements are appropriate. Thatcher's "I owe nothing to women's lib" made me think about Christine Phelan's view above. She, of course, didn't say that. The closest she said was, "at the end of the day I am the work I produce, not a pair of boobs," and, "I am a game developer first, and my gender has nothing to do with it." For all the begging for change and blaming of the current state of the game industry by the #1ReasonWhy-ers, there are women who have been successful in the industry. Not because things were changed to suit them but because of their own skills. Getting where they were on their own merits is something to be proud of and, believe it or not, exactly what the men in the industry have to do too. If I were female, I know I'd prefer that to the idea that I only got where I was because I had help.

So that's Thatcher's quote in a nutshell. Liebau's practically sums up the entire #1ReasonWhy campaign in a nutshell (but the critics in this case expect the gaming industry, rather than the government, to be the one with the solutions). "The opportunity, regardless of gender, to make one’s own choices and use one’s abilities to the fullest," is what everyone should bear in mind here. Women, you have that opportunity. You can use your abilities to their fullest in the video game industry and by insisting that you can't, that something must change, you're effectively creating your own glass ceiling.

Please feel free to leave a comment or write to me at

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Women as Men's Motivation

I wrote about damsels in distress last time but didn't write all I wanted to on the subject. I've been thinking about it quite a lot since then and have some thoughts I wanted to bring up.

In video games, as well as television shows, films and comic books, there's this idea that women are a motive for men to save the world/defeat the bad guy. In my previous blog post, I used this in reference to damsels in distress but it happens in other situations too. For example, I know comic book readers will be familiar with the idea of "women in refrigerators"; for those who have never heard of it, it's the idea that a female character is killed off solely to create drama for a male character. She becomes a plot device rather than a character in her own right (she lacks agency, something I wrote about in my last post). I'm not going to go into the concept any more than that -- this is a blog about video games rather than comic books and this is just an example anyway -- but just for the sake of this example, let's assume that the "women in refrigerators" concept is completely flawless. The reason it creates drama is because the woman is the catalyst for the man to do something, even if that "something" is get depressed. The problem is that a man is dependent on a woman for mental and emotional stability in this situation. He relies on her and that's what I want to write about today.

Having said that, "women in refrigerators" and women dying in general isn't a good example for this; that should illicit a strong reaction and it often does when male characters die too, right? Not only that but for me to criticise the lack of independent male characters in video games when female characters are being killed off left and right would be rather hypocritical; in my last blog, didn't I write that it irritated me that men were treated as expendable so often in games but feminist critics focused on women's lack of agency instead? So that's why I used the qualifier "let's assume that the 'women in refrigerators' concept is completely flawless". Because actually, it's very flawed. Not only does it ignore male character deaths for the same reasons (or trivialise them, or try to justify them) but has also been blown out of proportion by fans, often branding all female character deaths as examples and even rarely to the point where comic book fandom can deem a mischaracterisation or reducing a female character's exposure in a superhero team book to be an example of "women in refrigerators".

However, it's a fine example of a lack of independent men. So how does this apply to video games?

Well, think about the heroes who save damsels in distress. Mario. Corvo. Crash Bandicoot in his very first game, before Naughty Dog wised up and made the sequels' plotlines about saving the world instead. I briefly went into this about Dishonored but the damsels in distress in these situations are characters that feminist critics would describe as lacking in agency. Like I said last time though, how can Corvo be considered to have anything resembling "agency" if he lacks any mental and emotional independence? How can Mario and Crash?

These characters need their damsels in order to function as effective heroes; without the women, they're nothing. They may as well not exist. They are entirely reliant on the female characters in this situation. Maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally. It's the bumbling sitcom dad, needing his more-intelligent wife to constantly bail him out of the mess he's got himself into. He's reliant on her just like our heroes require the women in these situations to make them the heroes they are.

The women's necessity for mental and emotional stability is even there when men aren't involved. Let's go back to my old favourite, Heavenly Sword. Before the final battle, Nariko basically states that she only fights for Kai, her sort-of-adopted little sister. While Kai was very briefly a damsel in distress, she's also proven herself to be a more capable fighter than any of the all-male clanmembers, who also serve as damsels in distress at one point. She proves herself to be a more capable fighter than Nariko's father and the clan leader, Shen, who is a male version of a damsel in distress too. Nariko fights for none of them, even though they're more in need of her help. In fact, after Kai fends off Shen's attackers, she cartwheels right past him to go and help Nariko. Shen has no value; he provides no emotional or mental stability for either of the female heroines by that point. They look out for each other and nobody else.

Before anybody thinks that I'm just picking on Heavenly Sword (again), it's not the only one. Let's look at Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel, XIII-2. Lightning and Snow do everything for Serah, who is Lightning's sister and Snow's fiancée. This, in spite of the fact that Lightning spends a large chunk of the game partnered with Hope, a teenage boy who could really use her guidance rather than her cold indifference. Fang and Vanille are two women who are insanely protective of each other. In XIII-2, both the hero, Noel, and the villain, Caius, are set on their quests because of their adoration for Yuel, a teenage girl. The only male character from either game who earns this emotional/mental stability value is Dajh, the son of Sazh, and that's probably only because he's an innocent little boy. None of the other male characters receive this sympathy.

This even applies to female characters when it makes little-to-no sense; in the first inFamous game, Cole McGrath split up with his girlfriend, Trish, before the beginning of the game and runs into her a few times throughout the story. Even if you're going for an altruistic playthrough of the game, Trish is incredibly standoffish towards Cole. And if you're going for an evil run of the game, he still mourns her after her unavoidable death. She earns sympathy because she's female, nothing more. Her negative qualities are ignored and Cole, dependent on Trish for his emotional stability, is shown to be so smitten with her that it's remarkable he doesn't scribble "Cole + Trish 4 Eva" in a notebook during cutscenes. Again, a male character who is physically independent but mentally and emotionally helpless.

You might be wondering what my big problem with this is. I'd like to say that I'm not necessarily saying that the portrayal of men in these situations is worse than women so frequently being damsels in distress (although they don't always have to be damsels, as mentioned above). Over the course of debates with people online over men's issues, the phrase has often come up that "this isn't a zero-sum game". That's correct, of course. It isn't. Where feminists and men's rights activists differ is they have different opinions on which sex is in more urgent need of help, or believe that solving the problems of one sex will go further towards helping the other than just focusing on that sex in the first place would.

The problem is that female characters are motivation for others to continue on/succeed at their quest, in a way that male characters aren't. There's been such a huge rallying cry for characters who fit into the "strong, independent woman" archetype over the past fifteen to twenty years. Yet for all the talk of sexism not being "a zero-sum game", there's been no criticism of developers who make these male characters that basically pander to an outdated form of chivalry. The criticism of damsels in distress boils down to the idea that the female character shouldn't need a man to rescue her. However, the opposite isn't true; "men need women" is the message being sent out by a lot of these games. While our media happily hands women the "you don't need a man" attitude that is routinely applauded, even heroes in games -- and films and television series, lest we forget -- are tainted by developers that think the purpose of men is to cater to women. The men lack independence even while there's been a huge push for -- and focus on -- "strong, independent women". So if fixing gender issues isn't "a zero-sum game", why wasn't this male emotional dependence on women decried along with women's physical dependence on men?

If fixing gender issues isn't "a zero-sum game", goodness knows what it'd be like if it was. As always, leave a comment or send me a message at 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

No "Off Switch"

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains spoilers for Dishonored.

This one's not going to be an analysis of men's issues in video games but I'd like to spend at least one post writing about what goes through my mind when I come across a sexist issue in games. I started thinking about it when I saw this Tweet from Anita Sarkeesian:
"Just waited in line to pick up a copy of Halo 4 at midnight. Gearing up for some serious Sexy Sidekick trope research!"
It made me think about the different reaction I have to sexism in games compared to Anita. I don't know if this was a one-off for Anita or not but gender issues are probably the last thing on my mind whenever I pick up a game. You could say that it was more justified in Halo 4's case; Cortana is more prevalent in Halo than, say, Elena's punching of Drake was in Uncharted, so it makes sense that "Sexy Sidekick" is on Anita's mind while picking up Halo 4 more than female-on-male abuse was on mine when I purchased Uncharted 2.

Other games might have a different effect. If there was a sequel to Heavenly Sword, I'm confident that I'd think back to the sexism in the first game because it was so prominent. If the trailer for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes suddenly showed Meryl (which I know is impossible because of the time period), I'd probably think back to her misandric behaviour in Metal Gear Solid 4.

However, for the most part, gender issues don't cross my mind while purchasing games. I get the feeling critics of men's rights would say something along the lines of, "well that's because there are fewer men's rights issues to worry about in gaming" but the answer is simpler than that; I see games as entertainment first and worry about the gender issues second.

So I don't consider gender issues before buying the game, which leaves me to do it while playing, when it occurs. It isn't ideal, since real-life issues tend to take you out of the game's universe, but it can't be helped. There isn't an off switch where you decide not to consider gender issues. I'll give you an example of when this happened to me recently, with Dishonored. There will be spoilers ahead, so only read if you've completed the game or don't care about the game's story being spoiled.

Basically, Dishonored is about a group of evil politicians who conspire to murder an Empress and frame her Royal Protector, Corvo (the player character), in order to seize power for themselves. As Corvo, your job is to subdue or murder all the conspirators and rescue the Empress' daughter, Emily, so she can ascend to the throne.

Corvo isn't alone in his plan to save Emily. He's joined by the Loyalists, people who believe that Corvo wasn't responsible for the Empress' murder. Around three-quarters of the way through the game, the big twist is that the Loyalists betray Corvo because they want to further their own interests too.

At first, this took me out of the game because the "main" Loyalists were all male, so it seemed like we were going down the "all men are scumbags" route once again. It was as if Corvo was being set up as the only good male in the game, solely because he was loyal to women (the Empress and Emily). Luckily, this wasn't the case; the game changes depending on whether you cause a lot of chaos or not and in my Low Chaos playthrough, three male characters remained heroic. So it seems like I was worrying over nothing.

If anything, Bethesda, the makers of Dishonored, seemed to make an effort to avoid gender issues in Dishonored. As well as making sure there was a reasonable mix of good and evil with the men, they did the same with the women (although the evil men outnumber the evil women by a long way). While Emily is kidnapped twice in the game, two men are also held captive at certain points during the game. And with the Empress being lionised throughout the game and Emily being a tomboyish princess, it seems like the feminist audience don't need to worry about the lack of good female characters.

... Or do they?

To paraphrase someone from a forum I frequent, "the women in Dishonored are plot devices. The Empress does nothing but get killed. The princess gets captured. Things happen to them, they don't do things. Lack of agency".

The agency argument is always an odd one. It doesn't matter that so many men in the game are scumbags compared to only two women. It doesn't matter that the majority of deaths are of men, as always. Women lacking agency is considered to be a significant issue for feminists in games.

There's precisely one character in Dishonored who has anything that I could describe as "agency" and that's Corvo. Although he suffers the exact same pitfall that most men rescuing "damsels-in-distress" fall into; his worth is only defined by how valuable he is to women. Corvo has no personality of his own and exists solely to take orders from others (usually the Loyalists, although he does it all to benefit Emily). He could easily be compared to Mario, as could Emily be compared to Princess Peach. The female character is the valuable one in both of these situations and the man's worth is defined only by how useful he is at any given time. If he's about to rescue the Princess, he's valuable. If he's about to fall to his death, he's disposable. The woman is still the important one.

The lack of agency isn't necessarily true of the women in Dishonored anyway. A morally ambiguous character by the name of Granny Rags can be fought late in the game if you go off the beaten track and she's by far the most powerful enemy in the game. Likewise, one of the Loyalists who doesn't betray Corvo -- Cecelia -- was the only person sensible enough to create a safehouse away from the pub that the Loyalists use as a hideout. It comes in handy.

I didn't intend for this to be a lengthy analysis of Dishonored so I'll finish quickly; all-in-all, I concluded that Dishonored had a reasonably even split, favouring women slightly. In spite of the fact that the lone female assassination target reeks of tokenism, at least Bethesda made the effort to include a female target. That's something to be praised. The trio of male Loyalists who betray Corvo is questionable but the three remaining good male Loyalists are strong enough characters for it to be less of an issue. One male is killed during the betrayal but so is a female. Emily is kidnapped twice in the game but two male characters are held captive too.

Anyway, I went off on a bit of a tangent with the agency talk there. The point was that even though I've never considered gender issues while buying a game, like Anita, I've considered them while playing. In Dishonored's case, it was during the Loyalists' betrayal and occasionally when Emily made her tomboyish statements. Although if I was paid $160,000 to make videos about gender issues, like Anita, I'd probably think about about them more often.

As always, leave a comment below or send me an e-mail at

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Sexist Start for Halo 4

IMPORTANT: This was intended to be a blog about 343 Industries -- the developers of Halo 4 -- cracking down on misogynistic comments from online players. However, while writing this blog and looking over the Gamespot article, I realised that I was mistaken; the Gamespot article uses only gender-neutral terms, such as "sexism" and "gender-specific slanderous comments". So I wrote much of this article based on my misunderstanding of the original article.

However, I don't wish to waste what I've written for several reasons; firstly, my issues with the idea of cracking down on sexist verbal abuse online may still turn out to be true. It may only be for misogynistic comments. We don't know at this point and I can't imagine many people actually receiving lifetime bans for being sexist against men, so my arguments here may still apply. I certainly respect 343 Industries more for using gender-neutral terms but we'll have to wait and see what the outcome is. Secondly, all the arguments about racism and homophobia are definitely relevant and I didn't want to discard them. Thirdly, and this might sound strange, but it felt misleading to backtrack and say "oh, no, really, I knew all along what they were going for". I didn't and I want you to read my honest thoughts on the subject as I wrote them. As of this writing, I still haven't finished writing this blog post, so I intend to continue under my original (presumably incorrect) assumption; if 343 Industries were only cracking down on sexism against women. Knowing what I know now, it's difficult to write as if I don't know the language used was gender-neutral -- it's a bit like trying to do an impression of myself -- but I'll do my best.

So here it is. Hope you enjoy it.

It should come as no shock to anybody reading this blog that verbal abuse during online multiplayer games is a big problem. So fortunately, 343 Industries, the developer of Halo 4, has finally decided to do something about the problem:

You can probably tell what it's about from the name of the link but for those of you who didn't click it, it states that discriminatory language during online play will be punished with a lifetime ban ... but only if it's sexist. And by "sexist", I mean "sexist against women".

I don't play online very much but I've experienced plenty of online abuse. The one I recall most clearly is, "you, you're a butch lesbian and I'm going to stamp on your f***ing head". Being threatened by people during online games is easy to laugh about though -- if it wasn't, there wouldn't be so many Youtube videos featuring Call Of Duty players getting angry -- so it doesn't bother me. I'd be very surprised if there was anybody who played online who hadn't heard abuse at some point, if not experienced it themselves.

Now, I'm going to put the idea that men can be verbally abused online to one side for now. The only thing I'll say on that particular subject is that men are the vast majority of online players and as a result, receive the vast majority of the abuse. Picture the scene; someone hurling insult after insult towards a male online player, as harsh as they want for as long as they want, and the player being unable to make his abuser face a punishment. We don't know how many sexist insults a female player has to receive before her abuser receives the lifetime ban but the fact that the abuser can be banned in this scenario but not the previous one is discrimination based on sex in itself. So by attempting to crack down on sexism, 343 Industries are endorsing it in a much worse way.

The way the article is written, I actually have to question whether the developers have ever played a game online or not. Have they experienced any abusive language first-hand or are they going off the information of people who say "there's lots of sexist language against women online"? I can't believe that's the case ... but what are we meant to think, if not that? That's the only logical explanation.

The elephant in the room here is the discrimination of other groups, such as gay people and non-whites. I'm not quite sure how 343 Industries could be aware of abuse online but not be aware of discriminatory language against people with those characteristics. Because I certainly can't accept that they have heard that abuse and are simply refusing to take action against racists and homophobes.

This is the implication from the article that frustrates me the most; before now, I had no idea that developers had a way to punish the verbally abusive online players. I figured players could file complaints but I also believed verbal abuse was unable to be proven. If it could be, then why is it so prevalent? Wouldn't it have been stamped out earlier? So what we have now is an from a developer that they can punish verbally abusive people online ... but they will only cater to the groups that they care about. You're gay? Sorry, if someone calls you a "fag", they're allowed to do so as much as he or she wishes. You're black? If you were just called a "n*gger", you have no choice but to put up with it. You've been putting up with it for centuries now. You're female? Oh, excuse us while we put our cloaks over this puddle, so you don't get your shoes wet ...

This is when a case of supposedly "positive discrimination" -- or female privilege, to use its proper term -- is actually very damaging. It's this kind of special treatment of women that really irks me. The little things. The benefits that are granted to them when they aren't needed, solely because of their sex. If you want to frame this debacle in terms of how it affects women, it's cases like this where women are infantilised the most and treated like children who need protection. If 343 Industries want to do something about online verbal abuse, fine, but stamp out all verbal abuse. If they're cherry-picking the minority groups they want to support while they could help out the rest anyway, they might as well be insulting those people themselves.

One thing I'll say in defence of the above article on discrimination, if it could be called a defence, is that we don't have enough information on this yet. The article is vague enough that 343 Industries may be considering lifetime bans for other forms of discrimination. That's the closest that this issue gets to a silver lining. However, unlike with Rhianna Pratchett and Lara Croft's portrayal, this is a significant real-life issue rather than a quibble about a video game characterisation, so I'm not willing to give 343 Industries the benefit of the doubt on this one. Sexism is still the issue focused on, rather than racism or homophobia. Take a look at one of the turns of phrase used:
"Speaking to GameSpot, Ross and Wolfkill said there is zero tolerance for Xbox Live players who are found to be making sexist or discriminatory comments against others, with a lifetime ban from the network as penalty."
That's the one mention of discrimination that has nothing to do with sexism in the entire article. With the way gender issues dominate the article, I'm lost as to whether this includes all discriminatory language or not.

Maybe we don't know enough yet to come to a proper conclusion. If female online gamers make sexist comments against women, will they receive lifetime bans too? Or will they not be deemed sexist because it was a woman who made the comment?

If ever there were examples of why the stamping-out of verbal abuse online should (A) not be confined to a single sex, whether abuser or victim and (B) certainly not be confined to gender discrimination, here's a female Call Of Duty player who threatens a fellow player with violence and uses the homophobic slur "poofs" at one point. Even worse, here's a female CoD player who is apparently unable to string a sentence together without a homophobic or racist slur. Both videos feature strong language, so watch at your own discretion.

I'll leave it at that. Feel free to leave a comment or contact me at

Reminder: Most of this article was written when I was under the assumption that 343 Industries considered "sexism" to be "misogyny", rather than something gender-neutral. This may still be the case, which is one of the reasons I posted the article. Everything after the Gamespot quote was written after I was made aware of the gender-neutral language used by Kiki Wolfkill and Bonnie Ross of 343 Industries. Although I tried to make it as accurate as possible, it may not reflect my original feelings on the matter.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

A subject that nobody likes to talk about ... (NSFW)

I've decided that today's topic won't be about male expendability after all but about something else: the subject of rape in video games.

Rhianna Pratchett's interview on Gamespot got me thinking about something. Specifically, she said this:
"The world doesn't need any more Japanese rape-simulators."
And she's right. I completely agree, there's no argument there.

I would like to do a test though; for anyone reading this blog, without looking them up with a search engine or sneaking away to come up with an answer, can you name a game about rape or featuring a heavy amount of rape content that isn't RapeLay?

I may be wrong but it seems like the language Pratchett uses in the sentence above is ambiguous; one is too many rape-simulators, of course, but it could also sound like Pratchett believes the problem is more mainstream or prevalent than it is.

Before I wrote this blog, I did a search for articles on RapeLay and was both relieved and thankful to see that, while there were many places that pointed out it was misogynistic, there weren't any that stated it was representative of gaming as a whole. I was concerned about that cropping up but I think people were intelligent enough to realise that a niche game released in one country for one system doesn't represent gaming as a medium. However, there were plenty of articles that parroted the old Jack Thompson rhetoric; "it influences gamers to [insert crime here]". Completely untrue, of course. I mean, I'd question the kind of person buying RapeLay in the first place, but I wouldn't worry about your average gamer if they decided to play it to see the controversy for themselves.

Let's get this out of the way first; there are a ton of video games that feature rape. I've started browsing The Visual Novel Database over the past month or so and they have a whole bunch of tags about rape. "Attempted Rape", "Avoidable Rape", "Comedy Rape" ... the list goes on, twenty-two of them in all. Interestingly, there are no tags that are explicitly about men being rape victims in their database. There are tags such as "Rape By Female", although the victim of that could be either sex, and "Rape Victim Heroine" and "Rape Victim Protagonist" are two separate tags, although, again, the victim of the latter could be male or female.

One of the tags is interesting; "High Amounts Of Rape", which obviously returns the list of games with a high amount of rape content. I didn't count up all the games because there were four whole pages devoted solely to that one tag. So even though there's no shortage of games featuring rape, why is RapeLay the most well-known? Why was this the one seized upon by Something Awful and Equality Now? I imagine it's because the game revolves around controlling a character while he rapes someone else but, looking at the list of games that features "High Amounts Of Rape" on the VNDB, I find that hard to believe that's a good enough reason. Although I guess visual novels aren't held to the same standards as other games.

That's neither here nor there though. I'd actually like to write about one of the games on the VNDB without the "High Amounts Of Rape" tag but one that really, really deserves it. It does have "Rape By Female" and "Unavoidable Rape" but I have to imagine how much rape has to be in a game before "High Amounts Of Rape" is added to the tags. Unlike some of my previous blogs, however, this isn't going to be an attack on feminist arguments and pointing out certain hypocrisies by using male examples, such as in "The Objectification Double Standard". I actually don't think there has been enough examination of rape in niche video game genres to form debates on the subject. For now, we're all in the same boat.

I like to play as many different game genres as I can, including dating sims. I've played LovePlus, Imodoki no Vampire: Bloody Bride, one of the Tokimeki Memorial games ... they're RPGs at heart. I'm not as big a fan of visual novels and the few of those I've played have been freely available online, made by visual novel enthusiasts. Last month, however, I was interested in playing another dating sim and came across this game online:

It's called Discipline: The Record Of A Crusade. And it's completely and utterly awful. For the love of God, don't play it.

First of all, it's not a dating sim. It's a visual novel. I was disappointed about that but I stuck with it. I'd never played an "eroge" game before Discipline but I figured I knew what to expect. I didn't. To start with, the sexual scenes were more graphic than I imagined they'd be. I know that sounds prudish but trust me, I was expecting something explicit and it exceeded my expectations. There are five endings -- one good and four bad -- but I only had the stomach for the good ending and one bad one before uninstalling the game. So this isn't as comprehensive as it could be. Sorry about that.

There are three counts of a woman being forced or coerced into having sex, at least from what I played. There are so many counts of a man being forced or coerced into having sex or performing sexual acts that I couldn't even make an educated guess. Off the top of my head, I can think of eleven different women who force the protagonist into sex or sexual acts but they each have sex with him multiple times, so it's difficult to put a number to. The protagonist isn't the only one; the game is set in a school and two male members of the faculty suffer the same fate.

In a way, it's pointless to get annoyed about the amount of rape in Discipline. The game clearly isn't for me -- because, like it or not, games like Discipline and RapeLay do appeal to people -- so being shocked by the content is like being shocked that the next Final Fantasy is going to feature feminine-looking males. Having said that, even if the game featured no rape and the sex was all consensual, I still wouldn't enjoy it; the sex would still be graphic and placing the protagonist into scenarios where he had sex came across as very forced. Even if there wasn't any sex, the game would still irritate me; there are six male characters in the game and all but one of them is completely useless. Although that one character who isn't completely useless also happens to be a colossal pervert, so he's hardly a role model either.

Not to mention the amount of non-sexual abuse the male characters suffer. There's a running gag about the Assistant Dean of the school suffering at the hands of the villainess (he's run over, hit by an explosion, shot) before finally being raped himself. The protagonist, too, is involved in a running joke where one of the few nice female characters has a habit of punching him whenever he accidentally finds her in compromising situations, although it comes to the point where she attacks him just to wake him up. The climax of the story features the protagonist's baseball team going up against the villainess' team and -- surprise, surprise -- the three male members of the team are the most pitiful batsmen on the team. So to compensate, one of the female members outright states that they should get hit by the ball thrown by the pitcher, so it counts as a hit (sorry to any Americans reading; living in the UK, I'm not familiar with baseball terminology). The male members of the team rightly express outrage about this, given that the opponent's team has a professional pitcher and they could actually be killed by the balls hitting them ... and then they go out and do it anyway. When asked why the less-useful female members of the team don't do the same, the response is simple: "we're girls! You can't expect us do that!"

Speaking of physical abuse, there are many characters in the game who I wanted to see the protagonist beat up, all of them female. However, the one character who he does beat up and we're meant side with him over? The poor transperson who has been brainwashed by the villainess into falling in love with him. The game's narration tells us "he's a guy!" in a horrified tone but it's clear to anyone civilised reading the story that the protagonist's anger is directed at the wrong person.

All-in-all, it's a horrible game to play. I know it probably seems odd that I'm going into such detail over a game that very few people will have heard of. It's true. I'm not really trying to get across a point in the same way I have for previous blogs. However, looking up RapeLay on Wikipedia, there are a few things I do want to address:
"Articles in defence have also been written, many noting that rape is a lesser crime compared to murder, yet there are thousands of legal video games in which the goal is to kill enemies."
I'll be honest; if I had never played Discipline, I might've sided with the above statement with regards to RapeLay. I can definitely see where they're coming from with regards to murder being a worse crime than rape ... but just imagine an alternate universe where 99% of all games feature rape as the subject matter rather than death. It's hardly more appealing, is it?

I have to say, I could find myself supporting that train of thought. As well as the point about murder being a worse crime, it's worth bearing in mind that there have always been games about sex. There's a site called Lemon Amiga, which is a wonderful place if you were once an Amiga-owner, like myself. It features a database of all games to ever be released on the Amiga and even there, we can find adult-oriented games.

These are all real games. Yes, really.
Like I said earlier, I'm open to different genres and that includes the adult genre. I knew Discipline was an eroge game before I played it but I still played it. Even though it was too extreme for me and I can't recommend it to anyone else, I know there are people out there who would enjoy its content. Same goes for RapeLay. So I'm torn; I detested Discipline, I really did ... but even with regards to adult-oriented games, censoring them doesn't seem the way to go. They deserve varied content that appeals to everyone. Or we'd get a bunch of eroge games that are all the same. Like FPS games and Call Of Duty!

There is one point I want to make about RapeLay and for that, we have to go back to Wikipedia:
"Equality Now followed up on the game, urging activists to write to Illusion and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso in protest, arguing the game breaches Japan's obligations under the 1985 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women."
I've noticed while writing this blog that I often come up with male examples of issues that supposedly only affect women in games (or where women are the only examples we ever hear of). This was especially the case for "The Objectification Double Standard". I kind of figure that if I show that males are affected too, it's hardly an issue of misogyny in gaming. I'd like to note that this blog entry, where I wrote predominately about a game that featured a lot of female-on-male rape, wasn't intended to be like that. Although it does come in quite useful now; all I'll say is that RapeLay actually doesn't breach Japan's "1985 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" because there are games that feature men being raped too. It's not discrimination against women if there are games that feature men being raped too. Hell, for that matter, there are tons more games that feature women being raped according to the VNDB, so it's odd to single out RapeLay.

Having said that, if it was just RapeLay that was protested against and, say, removed from the shelves, I wouldn't miss it. I'd be grateful, in fact. I'd only be annoyed if all games featuring women being raped were hunted down but games like Discipline still remained. That's when we'd have a serious problem.

You know the score by now: leave a comment or write to me at