Saturday, 26 October 2013

Three Recommendations

With college sapping most of my time lately, I feel like I've been neglecting this blog. I'm still aiming for three posts a month but I don't bother checking back every day, like I used to, and any hope of playing games to analyse gender issues has practically gone out of the window. Plus, except for some ongoing GTAV stuff, it feels like a slow news month for gender issues but that could be because I haven't had the opportunity to research as much as I used to. The few things I have found have been little things; the irritating, everyday branding of male-dominated industries as "problematic" and hypocritical articles wanting greater analysis of gender issues in games while branding huge chunks of the gaming audience as "abusers", refusing to acknowledge the lack of focus on one sexes' issues, etc.

We're used to that kind of thing by now and it's obviously important but game journalists aren't going to change their ways because of one critical blog post. So for once, let's focus on some people who are doing things right.

Do Videogame Stereotypes Hurt Men? - PBS Game/Show

In spite of the fact that this is the same Youtuber who compared Anita Sarkeesian to Rosa Parks, he released this video, which I think has a lot of good points to it. I saw this linked in Youtube's sidebar about half a month ago but didn't have time to watch it. I forgot about it until I checked my e-mail today and someone kindly provided a link to it.

Basically, I think the host -- Jamin Warren -- accurately sums up several points about male issues that we very rarely see reported by other game journalists (or, if they are, they're often dismissed or attempts are made to justify them). As well as portrayals, he talks about the two issues that concern me most of all; body image issues and male disposability/violence against men. He handles them well.

Having said that, if I have a criticism, it's that Jamin's arguments seem to be at odds with his previous video, "Do Gamers Need Anita Sarkeesian's Feminism?" If we want to define different kinds of feminism, "Anita Sarkeesian's Feminism" is one that is actually dismissive of male issues while Jamin seems to be in full support of them. They chime on more emotional male portrayals but clash on points about body image and disposability (or seem to; again, we find ourselves in the frustrating situation where we don't have enough information about Anita's views to say for sure. So I apologise if my assumptions are inaccurate but I'm going solely by her dismissal of the Chippendale-esque male damsel in Spelunky and glossing over important details like the final boss of Primal being the female protagonist's boyfriend, who she has to kill).

Anita's response to this video was quite interesting:

I'm not really sure what to say about this. I suppose disliking male disposability and unrealistic standards of beauty for men are "MRA type arguments" ... but the fact is that they're also equality arguments. Common-sense arguments. As far as I know, Jamin Warren isn't a men's rights activist but he was, at the very least, open-minded enough to read a Warren Farrell book -- a man who I suspect understands how "patriarchy" functions a bit better than Anita does -- and be objective enough to examine the issue fairly.

The thing is, harmful issues are harmful issues and it's a good thing that they're examined and given a spotlight in a well-made Youtube video. As far as I can tell, Anita cares less about the issues being given the spotlight and more than Jamin didn't blame them on patriarchy. I think that says a lot.

Vicsor's Opinion: Damsel In Distress

I've been following Vicsor's Opinion ever since he posted a blog featuring side-by-side comparisons of all the videos Anita took footage from a few months ago. Vicsor's most recent post is a thorough examination of the damsel in distress plot device in games and I'm astounded by how much depth he goes into.

Here it is, if you want to read it. I highly recommend that you do. It's all excellent but if I had to choose my favourite parts, I'd pick 2.1 Flat Narrative and 3.2 Damsel Saves Herself through to 3.4 Character Building and Narrative Twists. These parts, as well as perfectly stating points that we've all considered at some point, excellently deconstruct several of Anita's arguments, particularly about the high number of female characters who actually manage to escape their own . I also have to give a lot of praise for going out of his way to create a small RPG Maker game featuring a damsel who can't escape her predicament. I'd really like to play that, actually, so I hope Vicsor provides a link at some point.

There's lots to praise about the blog so I don't want to focus on too many specifics. I'm sure if you read it, you'll probably praise the same points I did. Although Vicsor's post on Anita's sources will certainly be his most significant contribution to the gender issues debate, I think his analysis of damsels in distress is his most satisfying. I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Jill Murray - The Trouble With Trying To Write Positive Female Characters

I don't have a lot of praise for when it comes to gender issues. It seems to take the same stance on feminism and gender issues as other game journalism sites, so it's hard to feel hopeful when an article about female portrayals shows up. Having said that, this interview with Jill Murray, Ubisoft Quebec's director of narrative design, is surprisingly good. She gets across all the flaws with writing female characters that have bothered me over the years, specifically that they're too often pidgeonholed into a "strong, independent woman" archetype rather than being a character in their own right. Jill doesn't cast blame on anyone, whether it's fans or other developers, so it comes across more about how writers can do things right rather than a list of what everyone is doing wrong.

When it comes to articles and interviews on gender issues, this is what I would like to see more of in future. Constructive points rather than a list of complaints. If that happened, I'd probably complain a bit less myself.

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

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Gamespot & the "High" Grand Theft Auto V Score

IMPORTANT: This blog post contains spoilers for Grand Theft Auto V. Read at your own risk.

I know for a fact this blog is going to be posted later than I wanted. College work is now getting on top of me in a huge way. Doing homework has turned into a constant level grind, without the satisfying rewards when I level up.

It's been almost a month since the release of Grand Theft Auto V and when it was released, Gamespot's Carolyn Petit faced a lot of criticism for giving the game a 9.0 score. That's right, a 9.0 out of 10. As high a score as that might seem, there is a good reason why Carolyn faced a backlash; she seemingly deducted points from her score based on the claim that GTAV is "politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic".

I should say that I don't think GTAV is a ten-out-of-ten game. However, if I was deducting points from the game, I would do so based on the inability to map "accelerate" to the X button on the PS3 version and because I think the gameplay can feel a bit flat and aimless after the story is over. There are also a bunch of online issues but online play wasn't available at the time of the review. I feel like these are sensible reasons to deduct points from the game but, other than those issues, it's a phenomenal game. I compare the game's tone to a description of The Social Network I once read on TV Tropes; it "captures the spirit of the time it was made". Everything from reality television to politics is perfectly parodied. I feel like it couldn't have been made at any other time in gaming history, nor could it have been done as a medium other than video games. Although, as I say, it's not perfect.

So what's the big deal about Carolyn claiming that the game is "profoundly misogynistic" if I don't think it's perfect either? Well there's a difference between the game having flaws that could be improved and the game having content that offends you personally. People read mainstream reviews because they want impartiality, not ideologically-driven arguments.

Here's an example; I've sometimes come across Christian review sites that award games a score based on how highly they promote Christian values. This site, for example, gives two scores; a "game score" and a "morality score". That's fine for a niche site but not a mainstream one. The problem is that if I was a reviewer who said "Grand Theft Auto V is a good game but it doesn't promote Christian values. 9/10", I'd face criticism for that review. Not because the critics necessarily had anything against Christianity but because the reviewer is judging a game using personally-held beliefs and not professional impartiality.

There's also the fact that Grand Theft Auto V makes a point about not singling out any group for parody. Men, women, liberals, conservatives, religious people, atheists and others are all equally satirised. It'd be one thing to say "contains content that may offend" and deduct points for that but to single out only offense to only one group as a negative point for a review just reeks of personal bias. I might've used this quote before but in the words of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, on offensive humour, "either it's all okay, or none of it is".

Carolyn's supporters -- or those who agree that GTAV is misogynist -- have created a strawman argument by making out like her critics are actually complaining about the 9.0 score and not the reasons behind the score. It's easy to persuade people that the critics are crazy when the score is so high (and then there are the typical claims that the backlash is because Carolyn is a woman and because she's transgender). In actual fact, the critics have two problems with Carolyn's review scores; the first is that this isn't the first time Carolyn's personal beliefs have influenced review scores.

A month before GTAV was released, a PC game was released called Gone Home. Personally, I thought it was quite bad. The gameplay involved walking around a big house, examining items to determine what happened to your character's parents and sister. I thought the environment interactivity was well-done but apart from that, it had nothing to offer except a very schmaltzy, romanticised view of an immature teenage lesbian love story. Personally, I felt like the story was meant to come across this way, since it was narrated by the main character's younger sister, reading from excerpts in her own diary about falling in love with a girl, but it also made it hard to care about this romance in the slightest. Plus, the ending was about as anticlimactic as it can get.

The lesbian angle also played no role in the story whatsoever; one of the lesbian characters wanted to join the military and Don't Ask, Don't Tell was mentioned ... but also quickly ignored. I imagine this would be the case for gay people who wanted to join the military when DADT was still in effect, so there must be some truth to it, but it seemed like an odd thing to shrug off. There was a mention of the parents disapproving of their daughter's girlfriend but their reaction to this rebellious young woman didn't seem any different from a reaction they'd have if she was dating a rebellious young man instead.

So in spite of the fact that this game's storyline revolved around a lesbian romance, it didn't seem to have any relevance in-and-of itself ... except when it came to review scores, including Carolyn's. It scored a 9.5 out of 10, which is only 0.1 below the highest score Gamespot has ever given (for the original Diablo) and a full 0.5 points ahead of GTAV. Did I mention that Gone Home is only two hours long at the most and costs twenty dollars to buy? That means Gone Home earns ten dollars an hour, which is more than minimum wage in the US.

The second problem that the critics have with Carolyn's review scores is that they don't want one rule for women and another for everyone else, which is what Carolyn is promoting by listing "profoundly misogynistic" as a negative point.

Case in point, would you like to know a few ways men are negatively portrayed in GTAV? Well, there's the basic stuff about their portrayals; men are stupid, perverted, short-tempered, drug addicts, drug dealers, murderers, thieves and doormats. The radio commercials aimed at men try to appeal to masculinity by promoting domestic violence.

Those are just the basics. That's the kind of general parody that all demographics face in GTAV and that's the kind of parody that Carolyn is complaining about in regards to women. When we get into more complicated territory, consider this; we're forced to see a brutal torture of a clearly innocent man and, shortly after, we're forced to torture him ourselves. As usual, the victim of torture in a game is male. In typical video game fashion, absolutely every enemy you kill in the main storyline is male. Oh, and there's a threat of rape against a male character when we first meet Trevor, there's the implied rape of Floyd if you switch back to Trevor while staying at his hideout (although it isn't certain) and you can see a billboard for this television show in downtown Los Santos:

Prison Bitches: Break Out Before They Break You In

Incidentally, of the few blogs I've read criticising GTAV for misogyny and transphobia, I haven't read the words "rape culture" once. Because who cares when men are the victims, right?

In contrast to all of this, the only female villain I can think of is a woman working for the government who threatens to anally-violate the torture victim from earlier with a flashlight. Even though our heroes "rescue" the victim (to torture him themselves later), this woman escapes ... while about a dozen of her male colleagues get shot by Michael and Franklin. The only other unpleasant female character worth mentioning is Debra, the girlfriend of Wade's cousing Floyd. She appears for all of one cutscene to insult Floyd and mockingly tell him she's been cheating on him. She and Floyd are both killed off-screen by Trevor. Oh, and then there's Molly Schultz, who works with one of the villains but doesn't seem to be evil herself. In fact, Michael genuinely seems to regret her death, insisting that he just wanted to talk to her.

None of this is likely to be covered by Carolyn Petit or anyone else complaining about GTAV. I've seen complaints about GTAV having misogynist content and being transphobic but when men are the ones who are the victims of negative portrayals, violence and rape jokes, it isn't misandry; it's just typical video game content.

The thing is, I don't really care about how GTAV portrays men. The billboard made me cringe but it seems that I realise what Carolyn and other critics don't (thanks to Anita Sarkeesian for that link, by the way. Nothing like posting a link to a Tumblr called "Fuck NO Video Games" to show how much you love the medium); complaining about the comedy in Grand Theft Auto V is completely pointless because playing with the boundaries of bad taste is the entire point of the humour.

For goodness' sake, we're adults, or we're supposed to be. If people can't handle the mature themes in GTA -- handled in a sometimes-hilariously immature fashion -- then why are they playing the game? What did they expect? Buying a Grand Theft Auto game and complaining that it contains controversial content is like whining that a Metal Gear Solid game has a sexualised female character. Oh, wait ...

As far as I can see, buying Grand Theft Auto and then complaining about how morally bankrupt it is places us firmly in Jack Thompson territory. In fact, it's a textbook example of the way he used to campaign against video games. Yet we still see site after site falling back on Jack's arguments, without even reappropriating them for a different purpose; these arguments are still being made because people object to the content of a game and want them to change.

Although the more cynical part of me thinks that maybe they wanted to take advantage of the hits that they would get from creating clickbait articles about a game that made a billion dollars in three days. No, that's not why I wrote this blog. Shush.

As much as I don't want to give this guy video views, you can watch this video if you want to hear a basic defence of Carolyn's review, complete with strawman defence. However, he spends the majority of the video comparing Anita Sarkeesian to Rosa Parks, if you can believe it. It's hard to believe, considering Twitter was embroiled in the "#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen" controversy about a month ago -- a movement all about how non-white women have been underrepresented or mistreated by the feminist movement, which made for interesting reading if you've ever been lectured on intersectionality by white feminists -- but this is the stage we've come to when it comes to defending Anita. Perhaps I should've written about that video instead but, if you watch it, I'm sure you'll understand why I didn't.

Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at When I checked my e-mails at the beginning of October, I realised I hadn't checked for a month, so forgive me if I don't get back to you for a while (and I apologise to the few people who sent me e-mails who it took me a while to respond to).

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Jade Raymond: "What can a bunch of identical white men offer that's new?"

"What can a bunch of identical, white, 32-year-old males who shop at Gap or wear the same free games t-shirt offer that's new?" - Jade Raymond, Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto, Develop Magazine #128, June 2012

Two blog posts ago, I mentioned an Understanding Industry class at my college where I was placed into a group that had to come up with points about diversity within games and the games industry. As well as having access to the internet, some magazines were also handed out as research materials. On the front cover of one of them -- Develop Magazine #128 -- was a picture of Jade Raymond and the teaser "on starting a studio from scratch, being a parent, and diversity in games". I asked if I could look at the magazine and, quickly reading the interview, I came across the quote above.

Right from the start, it should be clear what's wrong with this statement. The thing about diversity as a definition is that it suggests inclusivity. Having a work environment with a rich variety of ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, religious backgrounds, a mix of able-bodied and disabled people, etc. is how I would describe "diversity". Unfortunately, it feels like Jade Raymond's quote is the definition that the games industry goes by nowadays; one of exclusion rather than inclusion.

I'm a white male. I'm studying game development in college and, in the two groups I've been in, only four students have been female (out of thirty-four). None have been non-white. Which leaves thirty white guys aged between sixteen and twenty-six (and I actually think there are only two people over the age of twenty). We all have different opinions and influences. Different ideas for games and different areas we'll excel and struggle in.

Before anyone criticises me for this, I should point out that I am not saying, "us white guys have it so hard!" However, it's hard not to feel insulted by the fact that there are prominent members in the games industry who assign a lower value to my ideas because I'm a white male. It means my ideas aren't judged on their own merits but based on my sex and skin colour. The same applies for a non-white or non-male (or both) person, although their ideas would be given a higher value rather than a lower one. It makes me wonder how, say, a black woman in the games industry might feel about this attitude; were her ideas taken on board because they're good or just because the ideas of a black woman are "something new"? Is she an individual or has she been reduced to nothing but her sex and skin colour in the same way I'm dismissed because of mine?

The bottom line is that Jade Raymond doesn't get to define "diversity" the way she wants to, to exclude the people with the skin colours and genders that she dislikes. This seems to be a trend with so-called "social justice warriors", if I can borrow a Tumblr term. It's fine to support groups that they feel are underrepresented ... but they take an extra step and feel free to badmouth the groups they feel are the "wrong" sex, "wrong" sexuality, with the "wrong" skin colour. Who cares, it's just white guys, right? Either they won't care or they're offended, in which case they're not worth listening to anyway. The writer of this Tumblr response says it better than I could.

While researching topics on financial issues in the games industry today, I came across more dismissiveness towards men in this article on The whole thing isn't important so here's the relevant part:
"There are uncharitable explanations which often point to uncomfortable truths - self-styled "gamers" have built something of a boys' treehouse over the years, and dislike the invasion of new demographics which can include such unwelcome treehouse guests as women, homosexuals, trans people, ethnic and religious minorities, and even - gasp! - their own mothers and relatives. Is nothing sacred?!"
It's actually becoming very tiresome to have to constantly defend myself as a male gamer. To have to clarify how open I am to different groups "joining in" on gaming (not that I have any idea how they could be kept out; it's gaming, for goodness' sake). Yet no matter how many male gamers clearly state they disagree with online abuse and hostility, we still find ourselves painted with the same "dudebro" brush. Develop Magazine and aren't just gaming journalist sites. They're specifically about the industry. So I have to face up to a frustrating truth that I'm training to enter an industry that I've loved since I was four years old and yet that industry doesn't care one bit about me. Either they constantly reinforce the idea that straight white male gamers like me are the villain in the real-life game of diversity or they tell me that I'm actually rather useless and unwelcome, as Jade Raymond did above. All in the name of diversity!

The thing is, if the writer of that article, Rob Fahey, really wants to talk about "uncomfortable truths" and treehouses, here's one that it's time to grow up and acknowledge; I picture feminist gamers sitting in the gender issues treehouse. They get to have their say on the subject as much as they want. They've pulled up the ladder. They've nailed a "no boyz allowed" sign on the door. Yet when us boys come to the bottom of the tree, asking to share the treehouse, we get insulted and told we're unimportant, our issues don't exist and we're all misogynist assholes or self-centered slobs. To be honest, I'm getting pretty sick of it.

In answer to Jade Raymond's question -- what can I, as a white male, offer that's new? -- I would have to say, "the same new ideas that other men and women, regardless of their ethnicity, have brought to the table before me". If you'll allow me to state the obvious for a moment, the whole point of equality is that we're all equal, regardless of sex, ethnicity and sexual orientation. I have literally no idea how "supporting diversity" became so distorted to mean "male-bashing" and, worryingly, how it became so accepted by figures in the gaming industry as high-profile as Jade Raymond.

Here are the facts; white male gamers are not a final boss to be slain to bring peace and happiness to the diversity kingdom. Nor are white male employees in the games industry a group to be torn down simply to build up the benefits of a diversity. A diverse work environment can be praised without dismissing and denigrating one of the groups that would be in any diverse work environment. I don't see how anyone could fail to see that without being incredibly ignorant.

Besides, just place any other group in that quote and see how it sounds. Imagine how it would read if a male developer casually said, "women? Pfft! What can they offer the industry that's new?!" or, "black people are all identical, what new ideas do they have?"

Then again, this is Jade Raymond. A person who I was actually very fond of when the first Assassin's Creed game was released. She seemed friendly and insightful during interviews, which were a far cry from the insulting dismissiveness of the Develop Magazine quote. However, according to Wikipedia, Jade Raymond is on the Board of Directors of Women In Film And Television International, "dedicated to advancing professional development and achievement for women working in all areas of film, video, and other screen-based media". So at the very least, I think white men working in the games industry would be able to offer at least one thing new, specifically for Jade; how to gain employment based on their abilities and not on whether they belong to any organisations that exist only to give them a headstart because they're female.


I need somewhere to vent my frustrations with college; I completely hate the games development course I'm on. Last week was possibly the most boring week of my life, thanks to a ton of homework and being bogged down with theory classes the entire week. There are only four real practical classes right now and one of them, modelling 3D characters, was cancelled and the other, Animation, has been cancelled permanently. Supposedly, we'll be able to make up what we miss in the Animation class elsewhere and everyone will be given work experience placements to compensate, which sounds kind of cool. Unfortunately, right now, it's awful. We had a Sound & Music class last week that was more like a physics and biology lesson, since we learned about what sound is and how we hear it. I dislike that class as it is; the first twenty minutes of every lesson is spent listening to a song that a student in the group has chosen, while the tutor switches the lights off. I'm not very musical, so I'm bored senseless the entire time and, honestly, if I wanted to sit in a dark room and listen to loud or depressing music, I could do that at home.

Plus, remember when I mentioned that I switched groups to get a better timetable? I wish I hadn't. I preferred the people in my old group. They seemed more mature, were quieter during classes and were more interested in talking about games. I can't go back to my old group either; I made too big a deal over what a hassle the travelling schedule was. And I have to imagine that if I stayed in my first group, I'd be thinking how much better my own group had it because of the schedule. It seems like every decision I've made since starting college has made my situation worse.

I have been able to find a couple of bright spots, if you want to call them that. The first was the only girl in my group, who I finally had the chance to chat to about Anita Sarkeesian, albeit briefly. We caught each other walking to college one morning and I asked what she thought about Anita on the way. "Well, what do you think about her?" she asked me straight away. "I'm not a fan," I said honestly. She smiled and said she wasn't a fan either. While we made our way inside, she said that she found Anita to be too picky and, even though there are some poor examples of female characters, there are plenty of good ones too. She summed things up with "we've got bigger problems". I suspect people will think her turning the question around and asking me what I thought of Anita first was odd but her answer seemed to be genuine.

Finally, it's worth looking at this comic on a Tumblr titled "Social Justice Stupidity". It's very simple and remarkably accurate. (Edit: Unless I'm much mistaken, it seems like that entire Tumblr account has been deleted since this blog was written) I'm actually very pleased that there are artists willing to draw anti-feminist cartoons and comics because it seems like they get the point across far better than long-winded blogs like my own. I feel like this particular blog could've had more depth to it but there's only so much I can criticise when I'm repeatedly saying that there's a right way to use diversity and avoiding using the phrase "diversity has gone too far" because I think it sounds kind of racist.

The thing is, this issue is horrible. It's insulting. Demeaning. It's even quite intolerant. Yet nobody is interested in criticising Jade Raymond for her comments because all that's at stake is the feelings of a bunch of straight white gamers. The boogeyman of diversity in the games industry.

Comments and e-mails, as always, are welcome. is my email address.