Thursday, 30 May 2013

Damsel in Distress: Part 2 - Tropes vs Women in Video Games

Anita's back again, with the second part of her three-part series on the damsel in distress. Let's jump right back into it. Since this video deals with the deaths of characters, there will be spoilers throughout this blog post, mostly for older games but for some as recent as Bioshock Infinite. So read at your own peril.

I'm not a fan of Anita Sarkeesian. That should go without saying. Without going too deeply into why, let's just say that it's been a rocky road for Anita over the last year. She made a few too many questionable decisions for me to trust that her video series would be anything but one-sided. To my surprise, her latest video -- part two of three in her damsels in distress series, focusing mainly on damsels in distress who are killed, sometimes by the main character -- was one that I didn't find completely disagreeable. She hasn't won me over. I'm not convinced that Anita is a force for good in gaming and the negatives continue to outweigh the positives. What I am convinced of is that, when it comes to gender stereotypes, her heart is in the right place. Unfortunately, other points put forward by Anita are so biased and outright contradictory at times that having her heart in the right place doesn't help her case in the slightest.

Let's keep it positive though. I'll try not to quote Anita too much this time around and just give some basic summaries but at this point, I'd like to. Talking about male video game characters who lose their wives and daughters -- Max Payne and God Of War's Kratos are the two examples used -- Anita puts forward the idea that the reason these characters go on their roaring rampages of revenge is not because they're trying to avenge the loss of their wives and daughters, whom they loved very much.
"I’d argue that the true source of the pain stems from feelings of weakness and/or guilt over his failure to perform his “socially prescribed” patriarchal duty to protect his women and children.

In this way these failed-hero stories are really about the perceived loss of masculinity, and then the quest to regain that masculinity, primarily by exerting dominance and control, through the performance of violence on others.

Consequently violent revenge based narratives, repeated ad nauseum, can also be harmful to men because they help further limit the possible responses men are allowed to have when faced with death or tragedy. This is unfortunate because interactive media has the potential to be a brilliant medium for people of all genders to explore difficult or painful subjects."
That last paragraph is the important one. The one that I have plenty of praise for. Anita takes note of the fact that male gender roles are very limiting; aggression, dominance, protectiveness, chivalry, resourcefulness ... it's a risk for men to step out certain gender roles and can be frustrating for the ones who don't feel that they can.

One of the problems, however, is that Anita only seems to be stating this because she believes it supports her idea about women being objects rather than fully-rounded people that the protagonist cares about. They're property to get angry about being "taken" from them rather than people to miss. I don't think one guarantees the other. If I also might state the obvious for a moment, another problem is that these are video games. Revenge stories tend to work far better for gameplay purposes than stories about mourning and how to deal with loss. Max Payne and God Of War are based on film noir and violent Greek revenge-stroke-tragedy myths; not the kind of genres that have the heroes reaching for boxes of tissues. At the end of her video, Anita gives a few examples of games that she believes handle the subject of death in games more maturely (specifically Dear Esther, The Passage and To The Moon). Not that I hold anything against these games for doing that but they're not likely to become the standard. I adored To The Moon but haven't touched it ever since I completed it and I'm more likely to play Max Payne before I go near it again.

I'll come back to this later on but there's a much more significant reason why my goodwill towards Anita over acknowledging this hurtful gender stereotype didn't last. The big chunk of the video revolved around what Anita described as "the Euthanised Damsel". This is what happens in a game where a hero manages to catch up to a person he/she has been searching for -- usually a damsel in distress, as the name indicates -- only to find them begging the hero to kill him/her. Perhaps they've been turned into a monster or altered in some other way by the bad guys and they don't wish to live anymore. They'll beg for their rescuer to kill them and the rescuer will respect their wishes. That's the Euthanised Damsel in a nutshell.

The problem is that, while I don't want to say Anita was moving the goalposts at any time, it was a very large pool she was drawing from, based on a varied list of criteria. At one point, it was just women who were beyond saving. Then it was love interests who were too far gone and had to be killed. Then it was family members, mostly mothers. Then it was love interests who didn't have to be killed but did have to be fought to break them out of whatever spell or ailment it was that made them attack the heroes.

We have to wait for Anita's next video to hear her talk about male examples but I have a tendency to pick out a few male analogues to Anita's accusations while she's discussing them. Each time the Euthanised Damsel definition was expanded, there were a few examples that immediately sprang to mind, be they characters like Sinclair in Bioshock 2, Jecht from Final Fantasy X, Steve's father from Resident Evil: Code Veronica and plenty who only had to be attacked, rather than killed, such as Leon in Resident Evil 4 and Baralai in Final Fantasy X-2.

However, there were very few examples I could come up with featuring a male love interest being killed by a female hero. That's partly because, as Anita points out, there are so few female protagonists but even fewer with male love interests. This is slightly off-topic but I think the inclination to place female protagonists in the "strong, independent woman" archetype is a reason why male love interests aren't often featured; perhaps the belief that the heroine is motivated by a man betrays the "independent" part of that archetype. On-topic, however, I read a suggestion on a Youtube video that made me think that a woman euthanising a male "damsel" isn't the real analogue to men euthanising a female one. No, the real analogue is male heroes who die to save their damsels in distress; just like the female characters Anita brings up who request death rather than live as an abomination, male characters are often expected to have no thought for their own safety as long as the female characters are okay.

Capcom is very fond of doing this. In Onimusha 2, one of the story branches features Kotaro sacrificing himself to save Oyu, a woman who he has been largely antagonistic towards for most of the game. In Devil May Cry 4 -- which Anita brought up to point out the damsel in distress, in spite of the fact the game also features Nero being captured -- has Credo betraying his religious order in an attempt to save his sister, Kyrie, and it costs him his life. In Resident Evil: Code Veronica again, Steve is turned into an invincible monster at the end of the game but manages to fight off the transformation, his love for Claire Redfield is so strong. He dies shortly afterwards. This one is quite close to the love interest being killed by the heroine, in that Steve was a "damsel" moments earlier but he dies because his body can't take the transformation rather than because Claire pulled the trigger herself.

Then there's the huge sacrifice made by the hero of Shadow Of The Colossus (although he doesn't die). In Bioshock 2, the hero, Subject Delta, dies regardless of the ending the player receives, while the young woman he set out to save, Eleanor Lamb, lives on. Bioshock Infinite features a similar story, with many different incarnations of Elizabeth drowning her father, Booker DeWitt (who accepts his death willingly), so he doesn't go on to become the game's villain and kidnap her in the first place. That probably sounds confusing if you haven't played Bioshock Infinite and trust me, it's hard enough to understand even if you have.

One of the flaws in Anita's argument is also making the assumption that developers only use the Euthanised Damsel when they wish to shock people. I find that hard to believe. While there are doubtless examples that do exist just to be edgy, it seems like Anita isn't willing to consider the possibility that the writers wanted to create a tragic storyline. Or a storyline with a twist. I can't help but think Anita came to the conclusion that being edgy was the reason why the Euthanised Damsel existed before she looked at her many examples and then just found a way to make them fit her viewpoint.

Those are my thoughts on the "main" portion of Anita's video but in spite of my criticisms, I don't see much of a problem with Anita's dislike of the "Euthanised Damsel". Unlike her first video, Anita isn't as judgemental. There isn't any demonising of Shigeru Miyamoto, for one thing. The attitude is still there though; Anita explains why she dislikes the Euthanised Damsel -- and don't get me wrong, I completely understand why -- but I'm not really given a reason why I should care beyond conjecture and guesswork. The Jack Thompson parallels are still there, this time with regards to domestic violence. More on that later.

That's the important thing -- and, more to the point, the reason I can't get behind Anita as a force for good in gaming -- Anita states, "one of the really insidious things about systemic & institutional sexism is that most often regressive attitudes and harmful gender stereotypes are perpetuated and maintained unintentionally". Unfortunately, Anita herself had already reinforced and condoned harmful gender stereotypes herself at this point. Long story short, she talked at length about domestic violence but her definition followed the Duluth model.

If you know about domestic violence, that should say it all. For those of you who don't, however, the Duluth model is the assumption that domestic violence is "patriarchal"; domestic violence is an act done by men against women and children. If you've been following me for a long time, you'll know that hearing statistics about male victims of domestic violence on television was what interested me in men's rights in the first place. So domestic violence against men is a very prickly subject for me and I do not appreciate having male victims dismissed with gendered language in sentences like "people of all genders tend to buy into the myth that women are the ones to blame for the violence men perpetrate against them". Aside from ignoring male victims and female abusers, it also ignores violence in same-sex couples and doesn't acknowledge reciprocal violence. It is not a healthy, intelligent or accurate image of domestic violence to promote.

Aside from this major problem with Anita's argument, I find her videos peppered with smaller ones too. While Anita's latest video didn't have me shouting curses at my monitor, I did find myself sighing and shaking my head a lot. Her heart may be in the right place -- albeit deep, deep down -- but her solutions are impractical, biased and based on questionable logic and outright contradictory statements. For example, she criticises and dismisses Devil May Cry 4 (and others) for being a "crude, unsophisticated male power fantasy" but also does the same for Ico with "the most decidedly patronizing examples depictions of female vulnerability are used for an easy way for writers to trigger an emotional reaction in male players". That, in particular, made me cringe. Some time ago, Anita removed her video on Bayonetta from her channel because she thought she came across badly in it -- she shrugged off the story and dumbed it down to make it seem insignificant -- and as far as I'm concerned, she's doing the exact same thing with Ico here, with regards to the main gameplay element. You've probably already noted, as I did, Anita's inability to consider that perhaps female players could feel emotionally attached to the characters in Ico.

At one point, Anita repeats the same sentence over and over, wanting to get a point across about a trend: "In [game] your wife is brutally murdered and you then have to rescue your daughter." She seems to believe that the trend of daughters being captured is disempowering to women but apparently doesn't consider the possibility that the reason daughters are so frequently kidnapped instead of sons (and possibly husbands too) is because female characters are automatically more sympathetic than male ones, simply because they're female. Games like Heavy Rain, featuring a kidnapped son, are very rare. We feel more for Max Payne and Kratos because they lost daughters, not sons. In Bioshock 1 and 2, the reason for Little Sisters rather than Little Brothers was because it would be more difficult -- and morally questionable -- for the player to sacrifice little girls rather than little boys. In Bioshock 2 and Infinite, the protagonist's main mission is to find mistreated female characters, not male ones. It's the same principle behind "missing white woman syndrome", where the media is more willing to spotlight missing people if they're middle- or upper-class white women than if they're, say, a poor black male.

While it might seem like a good idea for Anita to decide against including violence against women who are treated as equals -- female soldiers and fighting game characters, for example -- there are a number of reasons why it carries some unfortunate implications for men. Back in February, I wrote about the sexism in Heavy Rain, comparing and contrasting two death scenes in particular; one of playable character Madison Paige, having a drill used on her genitals and one of Leland White, the villain of "The Taxidermist" DLC story, who has a chainsaw used on his. White's death is much more violent than Madison's, showing the genital mutilation in full, gory detail while Madison's is treated with more sensitivity; instead of showing the death, the camera cuts to the outside of the house and we hear a scream. The problem is that under Anita's definition, White's death is actually more acceptable than Madison's because he's not a damsel in distress at the time. The grisly nature of his death becomes irrelevant because he still has his agency. While Anita may believe helplessness is required for her definition of "violence against women", I'm afraid that I don't.

Time and again, we're asked to trust in Anita's word only because we're supposed to. We're told to believe the Euthanised Damsel is done for the sake of being edgy, just because that's what Anita thinks is the reason for it. We're told to see the damsels as objects instead of people, since that's the conclusion Anita has come to. While she points out that playing the games she features will not "magically transform players into raging sexists", she also says "media narratives do have a powerful cultivation effect helping to shape cultural attitudes and opinions". There's no explanation why she thinks video games/the trend of damsels and Euthanised Damsels contribute to these cultural attitudes though and that is when we get back into Jack Thompson territory.

This is becoming longer than I intended but I didn't want to leave anything out, so I'll wrap it up. Even without Anita's stance on domestic violence, I wouldn't be able to accept this video. There are just too many little details, too many conclusions drawn from questionable logic for me to support it. That's a shame and I genuinely mean that because, not enjoying depictions of violence against men, I can sympathise with the fact that she is so strongly against the idea of the Euthanised Damsel. However, when Anita says something like "violence against women is a serious global epidemic; therefore, attempts to address the issue in fictional contexts demands a considerable degree of respect, subtlety and nuance", she doesn't seem to realise that she's demanding special treatment. I agree that violence against women deserves to be treated respectfully but she's reading too much into a few too many situations; for example, I'm not sure how many people compare the hero having to kill his fused-with-a-monstrous-alien girlfriend when she asks him to do so in Prey with domestic violence.

Finally, it has to be said ... these are video games. As it happens, there are many important real-life issues that aren't treated with subtlety and nuance. War, for example, has been glamorised ever since Wolfenstein. To ask that all game developers consider how they treat the deaths of soldiers, however, isn't practical for video games. When all is said and done, I could be the most ardent anti-war protestor on the planet but not have any say in what developers should be doing with their own games. The final say is theirs, and rightfully so. The same goes for Anita and her feeling about violence against women in games. That's about all there is to say about it.


If you only care about video games, you can stop reading now. This is where I put my investigative hat on and check out the resources Anita used for her video.

Anita posted the list of resources she used for this video on the Feminist Frequency site and they are very telling. Anita's sole resource for the idea that game developers must feature the deaths of women to be "edgy" is this blog post and video. If she actually believes the statement Daria makes in the video then she's actually being more judgmental than I gave her credit for earlier.

While I can't find anything that goes against the claim that "every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted or beaten in the United States and on average more than three women are murdered by their boyfriends husbands, or ex-partners every single day", the Every 9 Seconds website states "there are over 4700 U.S. women incarcerated for defending their lives". Let's just say that the founders of Every 9 Seconds may be playing fast and loose with their definition of the term "defending their lives"; I live in the UK but if any of you have been following the trial of Jodi Arias over there in the US, you may know that she claimed she was acting in self-defence and was a victim of domestic violence. Having followed a few cases of women on trial for murder or wounding charges over the years, Arias certainly isn't the first to make this claim.

One of the other resources Anita posts a link to is for the Wellspring Alliance, which looks fine. In fact, on their FAQ page, they mention that they take everyone, "regardless of race, color, national original, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age". Likewise, on the page linked to on Feminist Frequency's website, they state "Men are also victims of domestic violence, as are couples in same-sex relationships". Apparently, Anita decided to ignore that part when she talked about domestic violence herself.

The resource I'd like to focus on the most is "The normalization of violence in heterosexual romantic relationships: Women's narratives of love and violence" by Julia T. Wood. It's from looking at this study that Anita comes to the following conclusion, which she states in her video:
"Research consistently shows that people of all genders tend to buy into the myth that women are the ones to blame for the violence men perpetrate against them. In the same vein, abusive men consistently state that their female targets “deserved it”, “wanted it” or were “asking for it”."
Looking at the study itself, that is not what was said. First of all, this is a single study, with twenty heterosexual women who used to be in abusive relationships. "Consistently" and "people of all genders" are completely misleading. Nothing of the sort is written about this in Wood's research. Secondly, abusive men are not shown to have stated that their female targets "deserved it", "were asking for it" or anything similar. When these phrases come up in Wood's study, they're actually used as reasons why the female abuse victims stayed in abusive relationships:
"The women in this study described their partners' violence against them as understandable at the time it occurred. They justified it using a variety of reasons: 'I deserved it,' 'He didn't really mean it,' 'He was drinking,' 'It could have been worse,' and so forth."
It's very unpleasant, yes, but this isn't what Anita said. She made a claim about how "people of all genders" view abuse that research "consistently" shows but none of the sources provided on confirm Anita's claim. I don't know if Anita or her team at Feminist Frequency can provide sources that back up her claim but this, at least, is an outright fabrication.

Friday, 17 May 2013

The Sexism Of Lollipop Chainsaw

I'm going to be upfront about this; I don't own Lollipop Chainsaw. Partly to do with having a limited budget to buy games with but mainly because I just don't want it in my collection. I wasn't very impressed with the look of the gameplay and I'm very tired of games with zombies in them. Plus, even though I know Grasshopper Manufacture made the game, it was directed by Suda 51 and I haven't played a Suda 51 game since Killer7 (which I wasn't a fan of, to say the least). Plus, while I know what the game is about and know why there's a scantily-clad cheerleader on the front of the box, not everyone else would. It's the kind of game I wouldn't want my parents or non-gaming friends to look at too closely.

I know people might dislike the idea of me criticising a game that I don't own. It sounds bad to say "I've never played this game but here's what's wrong with it". I'm certainly not going to argue that I can give a more comprehensive analysis of the game than someone who owns it. Much like I did with Far Cry 3, I'll be honest about what I've seen and what I haven't seen and, if I get anything incorrect, feel free to correct me. I suspect that might happen when Juliet or another character elaborates on something during the game that I haven't seen, because I've only watched the cutscenes (and a very small amount of gameplay, which I'll get to eventually). So if I end up quoting things out of context -- pieces of dialogue that are later expanded or retracted -- it's accidental.

The reason I wanted to look into Lollipop Chainsaw in the first place was because of an article written by Jim Sterling on Destructoid last year, all about his interpretation of some of the events that take place in the game, revolving around Juliet's boyfriend, Nick. At the very beginning of Lollipop Chainsaw, Juliet Starling is getting ready to meet up with Nick but she ends up running late and, as a result, Nick ends up bitten by a zombie. Juliet, being from a family of demon hunters, has an idea; she cuts off Nick's head and performs a ritual to keep him alive, but only as a head. Jim Sterling compares Nick's treatment as a literal object to the objectification of female characters in other games. I recommend you read that first because I might refer to it occasionally.

I don't think I need to go through the entire story scene-by-scene like I did with Heavenly Sword because only certain cutscenes are important. Basically, the story revolves around a student named Swan who is determined to break down the barrier between the human world and "Rotten World" (Lollipop Chainsaw's equivalent to hell). To do this, he summons Rotten World's five generals -- the Dark Purveyors -- who serve as the game's boss fights. They each utter an incantation when they're defeated, which serves to open a gateway and summon the final boss.

Most of that isn't important for this blog. All the important stuff concerns Nick and how he takes to being lugged around on the hip of his girlfriend. The reason I take issue with Jim Sterling's opinions on Lollipop Chainsaw is that, much like Jeffrey Yohalem did with Keith's rape in Far Cry 3, he can acknowledge instances where men are victims but think that they must be representative of female issues.

Not that every cutscene where Nick is mistreated is sexist or a men's issue. For example, shortly after the first boss fight, Nick is talking to Juliet about how he doesn't like being just a head. Juliet defends it by saying that she can sneak him into movie theatres so he doesn't have to pay and that no other girls have a boyfriend who is just a head, which leads Nick to say that he doesn't want to be an accessory. It's mildly insulting to Nick but the main point it gets across is how shallow Juliet is. For the moment, Nick's frustration over just being a head is secondary to establishing what a ditzy individual Juliet is.

One of the areas where I feel Jim Sterling really misses the mark, however, is with these two paragraphs:
"The scene that truly made me stop and think about Nick's role in the story was one that involved the entire Starling family, consisting of Juliet, her two sisters, and her father. While the Starlings plan their raid on the next undead target, Juliet's youngest sister, Rosalind, is forcing makeup onto Nick's face. Holding him forcefully in place and delivering a humiliating makeover, neither Rosalind or her sisters are capable of understanding why Nick is upset by his treatment -- treatment made all the more worse when Juliet's father tells Nick off for screwing around and threatens to deal with him if he continues being disruptive. It's all played for laughs, of course, and is quite funny, but when you look at what is happening to Nick, you see him suffering through several issues that commonly affect women, especially in the game industry.
Mr. Starling in particular seems to embody a particularly alarming issue in modern culture, made all the more pertinent by the fact that he is a male character -- victim blaming. Blaming the victim is something that people seem to love doing more and more these days, especially when women are concerned. Whether it's guys insinuating that a woman dressed as a "whore" was asking to be raped, or that someone being made uncomfortable by sexual harassment should have "said something" despite the pressure she was under to keep her mouth shut or politely smile, there's a lot of blame being thrown around by society's peanut gallery, and a less than deserved portion of it ever seems to reach the person who started whatever problem occurred."
Putting aside the fact that Sterling jumps from "comical makeover cutscene" to "rape victim blaming" alarmingly quickly, not once did I ever feel like that cutscene was an analogue for the treatment of women in the gaming industry. Nick's treatment was too light-hearted to carry the weight that Sterling gives it and I can't say I spotted anything to link it to victim-blaming, particularly that of women.

No, instead I think Nick's treatment during this cutscene has a lot to say about male disposability. During this cutscene, Rosalind is casually throwing Nick around before giving him a makeover, without any consideration for his well-being. By this point, Nick has already been bitten, beheaded and used as a weapon by Juliet in-game and Rosalind's lackadaisical attitude towards Nick's suffering reflects the average gamer's apathy towards slaughtering the men who make up the majority of enemies in most games. Rosalind is playing games with Nick's head and is completely blind to the fact that Nick is a human being. She's as relaxed about mistreating him while playing her games as we are towards men when we play ours.

There's also a lot to be said about Rosalind giving Nick a makeover; one of the stereotypes of men is that we all have to be strong, brave and protective of women. Except for Nick, the heroic male characters in Lollipop Chainsaw -- Juliet's father (named Gideon but usually referred to as just "Dad") and her sensei, Morikawa -- embody these qualities. They both have the chance to show off their zombie-killing skills, whereas Nick is bitten at the first opportunity because Juliet was running late and wasn't there to protect him. So Nick is "unmasculine" and Rosalind's treatment of him is a constant reminder; she refers to Nick as "it" repeatedly, rather than "him" -- dehumanising him and not even using male pronouns to refer to him -- and gives him a humiliating makeover to entertain herself, in spite of Nick's protests. Obviously, this ends with Nick looking incredibly feminine, further emphasising his lack of masculinity. His failure to live up to male "standards".

I don't think Juliet's father blaming Nick for "screwing around" is as big an issue -- in context, it's actually very clearly the "overprotective dad" cliché taken to its logical (and funny) extreme, blaming Nick when he clearly has no control over what happens to him -- but it could be argued that he represents the fear of what happens if men come forward about their mistreatment. If Sterling wants to bring rape into the equation, it could be said that Juliet's father's blame represents the fear that male rape victims won't be taken seriously if they report that they've been raped. The fear of being dismissed or mocked for "coming out" about their abuse is unsurprisingly common.

The most questionable moment comes up later. I'll let Jim explain it:
"The sheer selfishness of the heroines seems to mirror the attitudes that many men can have towards women, an attitude typified by Juliet when she refuses to kill Nick. At one point, her disembodied boyfriend begs for abandonment (and the inevitable death it would result in), having zero quality of life and feeling like he's lost everything that made him a person. Even as he asks for mercy, Juliet refuses, and gives a reason that sums up the relationship between them perfectly -- "I love you." Her reason for keeping Nick alive in a state that's less than human is because of her feelings and what she wants.
It reminds me of certain justifications for problems that have arisen in the gamer community before. It's been said by some that sexual harassment is just a "part of the culture" of online gaming, as if to say that anybody who has a problem with it needs to go away and not express their feelings of discomfort."
I do think there's something to this but there's a big problem with the way it's portrayed in Lollipop Chainsaw; let's just say that even though Nick is annoyed with Juliet at first, he ends up telling her how much he loves her, sacrifices himself for her and is resurrected with his head on Morikawa's body (don't ask) at the end of the game, with the two of them staying together. So while Juliet's selfishness could very well be an allegory for selfish sexual harassment at conventions, the outcome of Lollipop Chainsaw apparently encourages exactly what Jim Sterling is discouraging; the idea that it's completely fine and the victim should just accept it.

I should point out that this may be where my lack of insight into the actual game lets me down. I get the feeling Juliet and Nick exchanged some dialogue in-game between this cutscene and the next that explains just why Nick is so willing to forgive Juliet and tell her he loves her. If that's the case, feel free to call me out on it.

Let's focus on the cutscene where Juliet refuses to leave Nick behind to die, however. It's not just the fact that Juliet is selfishly unwilling to let Nick make his own decisions simply because "she loves him". It also has a whole host of grim implications because of Nick's "condition". It's ableist because Juliet is forcing the helpless Nick to accompany her when he doesn't want to. It borders on stalking because Nick can't get rid of Juliet, even though he asked her to leave him. To me, this is less of an analogue to sexual harassment of women in real life and more of a gender-flipped parody of books such as Twilight; a knowingly-sexualised female character stalking a powerless male one. Unlike Twilight, however, Lollipop Chainsaw's abuse isn't treated as romantic -- not by Nick, anyway -- but it's not described as abusive either. Between this and the relationship between Meryl and Johnny in Metal Gear Solid 4, I have to wonder if we'll ever see abusive relationships actually described as abusive in-game. Particularly if they break the taboo of acknowledging men as victims.

Jim Sterling's view seems to be that if there's a situation where Nick is mistreated, it's representative of real-life issues that affect women. I disagree, for reasons that Sterling didn't go into; Nick isn't the only male character in this game who is portrayed negatively.

All the male characters in Lollipop Chainsaw are either evil or perverts. Juliet's father is introduced rubbing his wife's behind. Each character is introduced with a retro comic-book drawing of themselves with a list of a few facts about them, such as their favourite food and their hobbies. One of the activities listed among Nick's hobbies is "masturbation". Juliet's Sensei, Morikawa, is the biggest offender, however. One of his hobbies is "collecting women's underwear" and much of his dialogue reflects this. Even the short amount of gameplay I saw featured male perverts; one of Juliet's in-game objectives is to save civilians being attacked by zombies. At school, some of the people being attacked are her fellow students and even they are given sexually suggestive (or even just plain blatant) lines of dialogue, such as "maybe we can hang out after school," and "I never thought I'd be saved by someone with such great tits". All spoken in nasally nerd voices, of course. Even a few zombies sneak in a suggestive line from time to time.

The thing is, I have a hard time accepting the idea that the mistreatment of male characters in Nick's case is simply parody while the stereotyping of male characters in the case of the perverted characters is played completely straight. Jim Sterling may very well be correct and Nick's treatment is an allegory for the treatment of women. In which case, Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture couldn't care less about how they treat male characters in their games. On the other hand, maybe they were genuinely trying to tell a dramatic story with Nick and possibly say something about the overall treatment of men too. If that's the case, then the perverted portrayals of male characters are completely counter-productive. It's contradictory to the story they wanted to tell with Nick.

Unfortunately -- and I do mean unfortunately -- I think Suda 51 and GM were going for the former rather than the latter. Even if they weren't necessarily trying to say something significant about the treatment of women, there was nothing in Lollipop Chainsaw that said they cared at all about men. You'd be hard-pressed to find a positive male character in the game. Even Nick, in spite of being sympathetic and slightly more sane than the rest of the group, isn't very bright and is rather weak-willed. Not that the female characters are much better but I could probably find more to praise in the three Starling sisters than in Nick, Morikawa and Juliet's father.

As for Lollipop Chainsaw itself, I can't say I'm disappointed that I didn't buy it. I like that it doesn't take itself seriously and that it features zombies brought to life by mystical means rather than scientific ones (it might seem like a small quibble but I'm so tired of scientific zombies). Other than that, it didn't win me over.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Friday, 3 May 2013

A Hub For Video Game Equality

Something a bit different this time. Bet you didn't expect an update so soon after the last one, eh?

Over the past few days, my patience with those who discuss gender issues in games has been wearing thin. I've already been over Jason Schreier and his attitude towards Dragon's Crown. Anita Sarkeesian added to my irritability when she posted a link to this short cartoon, titled "But I'm A Nice Guy", about a male character who rants about women because a female character took some ice cream that he wanted. Supposedly a parody about male entitlement and men's rights activists hating women. Although it made me roll my eyes, I was actually quite pleased that Anita was showing support for it; if anyone ever needed proof that Anita Sarkeesian doesn't plan on supporting any issues that affect men in her Tropes Vs Women In Video Games series -- i.e. doesn't plan on treating men equally -- this would be it.

Looking at Jason Schreier's complaints however, it seems like when gender issues affect gaming, men and women aren't individuals. We're faceless entities to be stereotyped. Men are an oppressive collection of immature, perverted "dudebros" who want to maintain a "boys' club". Women are delicate flowers; children who need to be protected from evil game content by their knights in shining armour (both male and female).

It's so obvious that I can't believe I actually have to write this but these stereotypes are highly damaging for both sexes.

There's a kernel of truth in both stereotypes -- some male gamers do want to maintain a boys' club and some female gamers take great offence to portrayals of female characters in games -- but the subject of gender issues in games has blown up so much over the past year that these stereotypes are being considered the norm. Jason Schreier isn't the only one responsible -- others include Jim Sterling, the writers at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and Anita Sarkeesian is, obviously, the poster girl -- but it was in his article that gaming journalism reached a new low. Not only did we have the typical mockery towards men but Schreier went so far as to insult the art director of Dragon's Crown too.

Why? Because his devotion to the stereotypically offended female was so strong. It wasn't real women he was defending in his criticism of Dragon's Crown. It was his imagined version of women, being victimised by an imagined version of men. Although George Kamitani was a real person being insulted and Dragon's Crown, a real game that Schreier was scapegoating.

I have to believe that the majority of gamers, male and female, don't accept this. If they do, it means they care more about gender issues than they do about game developers having creative freedom over their own games. Considering that we're all gamers because we enjoy video games, I have difficulty believing that.

Schreier, Anita and everyone else criticising the gaming industry are allowed to complain. They're allowed to be offended. However, they're in no position to demand things from developers. They aren't allowed to dictate what is right and wrong. It's a ridiculously entitled attitude to have but considered completely reasonable by far too many people; people who enjoy gaming as it is -- sexualised characters, damsels in distress, et al -- are rarely given the chance to air their views. When's the last time you saw a video game article called "Everything's Absolutely Fine"? In spite of the video game industry being scrutinised as closely as it can possibly be on gaming sites, there are plenty of people who feel that way. That maybe there's nothing wrong with damsels in distress and perhaps there's even a reason why gaming is a male-dominated industry. These people aren't radical for thinking that, they just haven't jumped on the "gaming is sexist" bandwagon like so many others. For example, these women (and one man):


InuitInua - (and others). 
KiteTales - and
Gaijin Goomba and Aki -
MoarPewPewPlz -
Leahtastical -
cynthx -
meltheofcgamergirl -


Janette Goering - #1ReasonWhy We Need to Change the Way We Fight Against Sexism
Christine Phelan - "Calling Games Industry Sexist Is A Major Disservice To Developers" (preview) or "Valve Want Our Only Concern To Be Making Great Games" (full article).
Gabrielle Toledano - Women And Video Gaming's Dirty Little Secrets
"Elsa" - Comment
Allisa James - Comment

I would like to point out that I don't want any of the women above to feel uncomfortable. On the off-chance that any of you are reading this, I'm not using you for some sinister men's rights activist purpose. If any of you aren't comfortable being listed here, feel free to send me an e-mail ( and I'll happily remove you. I want this to be a hub for fair-minded commentary on gender issues though, which is why you're all listed. I have nothing but praise for your work. 

Why only women?

Don't get me wrong, I value men's and women's opinions equally. If I didn't value men's opinions highly, I probably wouldn't bother maintaining this blog. However, it's very easy for mainstream video game sites to dismiss dissenting opinions if they're made by men, especially if they're white and heterosexual. That's "equality" for you. It's much harder (but not impossible) to dismiss those opinions if they're made by women; critics can hardly say "you want to maintain a boys' club atmosphere" if the person defending the games industry is female. That wouldn't make any sense.

Plus, I've noticed in men's rights circles that people take more interest in why female MRAs support the movement. Men's opinions are valued, of course, but the reasons for getting involved tend to be different. I imagine it'd be the same for game journalists; they turn their noses up at men who disagree but will probably be curious about women who oppose the typical "sexualised women are wrong and damsels in distress lack agency" attitude. There's a chance that they'll listen to women making these points while they refuse to listen to men. However, there's a simpler reason why I singled out women.

Anita Sarkeesian doesn't speak for all women. She's not an everywoman. However, she's the face and voice of the disgruntled female gamer. As far as gaming sites are concerned, she is the average female gamer. A lot of the women above make it clear that they think Anita supports a good cause but they disagree with her on some of her points. To make it clear, I think women are unfairly treated in some cases in the games industry (such as publishers thinking games won't sell with female characters on the front cover). Unfortunately, it's come to a point where Anita's voice and others like it are the only ones allowed to be heard and dissenting opinions -- even by other female gamers -- can be dismissed just like the male ones.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to feature men though; Instig8ive Journalism's videos on Anita Sarkeesian were the first ones I ever saw apart from the ones on Feminist Frequency itself. A user named LeoPirate gives his perspective as one of Anita's Kickstarter backers. TheAmazingAtheist gives a surprisingly fair-minded response. J. J. McCullough wrote a respectful rebuttal to Anita's first damsels in distress video. These aren't abusive men out to threaten Anita Sarkeesian with abusive threats to rape and murder her. These are reasonable responses that aren't being given the time of day, let alone by Anita herself who is still talking about how victimised she was. Just so you don't think I'm picking on Anita, Giuseppe Nelva of DualShockers perfectly countered Jason Schreier's reactionary response to the game's character designs. A writer for a Tumblr page titled 7Nights also gave his support for the Sorceress and pointed out why we shouldn't be tearing about sexualised characters just because they're sexual. I definitely think he got across how shallow it ultimately is.

These arguments need to come to light. If Anita Sarkeesian wants to continue making shaky arguments, fine. If Jason Schreier wants to brag about how he got George Kamitani to apologise, he's welcome to. However, their opinions can't be treated like the gospel truth. Gaming sites need to follow the lead of people like Janette Goering up there, who bravely objected to the #1ReasonWhy movement when she became uncomfortable with it. She still supported it but wasn't afraid to point out the flaws as she saw them.

Finally, although it has nothing to do with gaming, I came across a Tumblr called Shining Things the other day and fell in love with this picture. Researching gender issues online, I sometimes come across unpleasant sites that make me feel like the chap in this picture. If you're on Tumblr, give the artist some support.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at