Tuesday, 13 May 2014

What am I supposed to do about "Gaming While Male"?

I'll be keeping this one short, although I'd like to start updating more regularly again. Practically all work I'm busy with should be completed by the end of the month and I'd like to get back to the more regular updates that I used to produce, pre-college games development course. I feel less involved with gender issues in the games industry and could do with being more active. I have to admit, I feel a twinge of envy when I visit Vicsor's site and see how involved he is with some cool, creative people on Twitter, like devi ever and even Tamara Smith (cowkitty), back when the whole Anita Sarkeesian art theft issue broke. Not being a fan of Twitter, I'll have to make do with updating this blog more frequently.

A couple of weeks ago, Jonathan McIntosh -- producer of Anita Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency video series -- wrote an article for Polygon magazine titled "Playing with privilege: the invisible benefits of gaming while male". I'm not going to link to that particular article because, if you've ever seen a "male privilege checklist" article anywhere online, it's basically the same regurgitated information, only tailored to gaming. It's pointless to argue against McIntosh's points because, just like the ones seen in male privilege checklists, they're written based on assumptions and beliefs rather than evidence. I could provide every counter-argument in the world but it's clear that anyone who writes something like ...
"I can be relatively sure my thoughts about video games won’t be dismissed or attacked based solely on my tone of voice, even if I speak in an aggressive, obnoxious, crude or flippant manner."
... Isn't interested in facts.

I wasn't that interested in writing about this topic at all until I came across McIntosh's article mentioned on NPR. At the top of the page is a picture of Nathan Drake from Uncharted -- which isn't mentioned in the article at all -- with the following caption:
"Nathan Drake (foreground) is the lead protagonist of the Uncharted series of games for the Sony PS3. His character is just one in a long line of games where the dominant figure is a white male action hero."
If you're anything like me, the first thought that crossed my mind was "so?" and I'm still not sure what point Steve Mullis, the writer of that article, is trying to make. Is it a criticism of all games with white men in the leading role? If so, what's wrong with white men as action heroes or being the "dominant figure"? And if someone does think there's something wrong with it, again, so what? The developer does not have any responsibility to cater to a demanding audience -- regardless of the entitled Jason Schreiers and Tomodachi Life same-sex relationship campaigners of the world -- because their personal tastes are irrelevant to the project.

That one screenshot got me thinking about how I felt about "Gaming While Male" and, right off the bat, I'll say that I loathe the term (much like I did when I first read "Interneting While Female" from Anita Sarkeesian). The reason being that it's obviously derived from the term "Driving While Black".

For those of you who don't know "Driving While Black" is a term for the racial profiling of black motorists by police officers, pulling them over based on the colour of their skin alone. Discrimination under the law based on skin colour is obviously a hugely serious issue, which is why I hate terms that trivialise it like "Interneting While Female". Sorry for stating the obvious but black drivers also cannot change their skin colour to avoid the "crime" of "Driving While Black". There's nothing they can do to avoid it, which is why it's such a despicable act of discrimination.

So ... what am I supposed to do about "Gaming While Male"? Just like "Driving While Black", it's not something I can easily change, nor should I have to. Inadvertently, it feels like Jonathan McIntosh has made male gamers out to be victims; in this scenario, male gamers are the driver while McIntosh is the bigoted cop, tapping on the window and ready to give us an earful about a characteristic we can't change.

Now, McIntosh doesn't want to perform an arrest. All he wants is for male gamers to "become aware" of their privilege. Part of the problem with this issue -- once again, apart from McIntosh's arguments being based on feelings rather than facts -- is the same problem with every single "privilege" argument out there; denigrating the "dominant" group for their "privilege" does not help the "unprivileged" group in any way. What does it accomplish, except for some brief catharsis of the "I sure told them!" variety for the person making the argument? If McIntosh and others who make the privilege argument spent half as much time helping the "unprivileged" as they do disparaging the "privileged", equality in gaming could probably be achieved within a week ...

McIntosh touched upon the idea of men being "blissfully unaware" of their privilege or knowing about it but failing to understand it. However, maybe McIntosh would like to read "Why I'll Never Apologise for My White Male Privilege" by Tal Fortgang, published in TIME magazine. It's an excellent piece, with Fortgang facing the idea of "privilege" throughout his ancestry, basically facing proponents of privilege theory on their own terms. If McIntosh reads that piece, maybe he'll consider the idea that not only are men aware of privilege theory and understand it perfectly but just refuse to accept it. And with good reason.

In other news, the BBC recently aired a documentary called "Blurred Lines: The New Battle of the Sexes", which I watched in its entirety. If it covered any new ground with regards to gender issues then I would be happy to write about it extensively here but, as it happens, it was all the typical go-to non-issues for gender issues online nowadays; a lack of women on bank notes in the UK, rape jokes in stand-up comedy and, yes, Anita Sarkeesian. She did a few minutes, basically repeating everything from her TEDxWomen talk, her Conference talk, her CNN interview, etc. At this point, it feels like Anita has become a parody of herself. I'm just going to link to a Youtube response by a woman named Vipersword100, who perfectly sums up the issues with Anita's portion of the documentary.


  1. the best part is, when a game development team does create a non-white protagonist for their game, they are forced to contend with accusations of racism and racial stereotyping anyway.

    there's no satisfying the DWLs, so there's no point in trying.

    1. I just visited your blog ... don't visit mine anymore. Anyone who titles a blog post with "scientific study proves that women are mentally deficient" isn't welcome.

  2. People need to consider that when something is 'invisible', it might just not even be there at all.

    1. People believes more in conspirational theory and their feelings than facts and critical thinking. They are doing a witch hunt, they think by forbidding everything they found "misogynistic" thinking they are working for better world. It lasts until they gets slapped by the harsh reality.

    2. Also known as: 'There is an invisible dragon in my garage.'

    3. Don't worry, if there is nothing at all media will create it

  3. An advice used Do not link http://www.donotlink.com/ when you post link about article you criticised because it gives them more hit views and gives the authors the feeling their contents is good as it's the opposite.

    It seems Anita Sarkeesian is making another videos series it's about women as background decorations to be clear women as NPC among the her team is "playing" there is Remember Me I wonder what she will tell about the game.

    1. Thanks a lot for that link. I'll probably be using it a lot.

      I'm not especially interesting in watching Anita's videos anymore. I'm finally taking other people's advice and ignoring whatever she produces, simply because there's not much sense in arguing with someone whose view of gender issues is that biased and closed-off to other viewpoints. I took a look at Anita's Twitter after reading your comment and saw the list of games she was examining. Almost immediately, I saw a bunch of games featuring male background characters that I would describe as "window dressing". I'm certain they won't be mentioned by Anita but there's only so many times I can write blog posts saying, "but she missed out this character, that character, this other character ... because they're male".

      It's similar to the reasons I didn't just reply to every single one of the points on McIntosh's list in the blog post above; it's clear that neither McIntosh nor Sarkeesian is interested in being objective. I may read other people's responses to Anita but, since I doubt I'll be watching her video myself, I won't be writing one.

    2. Here's a serious question, about Anita Sarkeesian, her boyfriend and the gaming media in general. They talk about diversity, but they really mean, "Games for White Straight Women." I don't read much about Latino male or black male characters in games. Gay males seem to primarily be there as fantasies for white, straight women players, not to make gay men more comfortable playing.

      I'm not sure what I think about the whole diversity debate (I tend to think if you have diversity of artists, you have diversity in content, see music for an example), but whatever I think about it, this isn't it,

      Now, I actually believe industry type, who want money are very interested in getting affluent, upper middle class white women to have the same representation in gaming as men. I think if that's possible, they would happily lose a certain percentage of the white affluent, upper middle class gamers because they believe they'd more than make up for it with the "women are the new core" strategy. However, I also believe that:

      1. The strategy is failing and will continue to fail

      2. The winning approach is never going to be making a typical macho action game with a gender swapped main character, (Or making tomboy characters aimed mainly at male audiences like Lara Croft more "female friendly").

      Now.. I think producing more diverse games in the traditional genre's aimed with more diverse male characters might well cause a small bump in players, but I think they are kind of already doing that.

      By the way, I realize the above is cold bloodedly business oriented, but remember, they don't force kids to play videogames in school, like they do with books and even some movies. Video games are recreation, it's really hard to police recreation. If you make games that don't sell, no one will care how diverse they are.

  4. I particularly love how there is a response article to the one you linked in which the author describes how America is just naturally biased towards non-whites and women and always has been, and how there is some common sentiment throughout the entire campus that he needs to open his eyes to reality and accept that he is privileged.

    Here's the thing. I've seen multiple different types of views on 'privilege'. The individual who made that response article seems to, unless I'm understanding this the wrong way, believe that white male privilege is a reality that cannot be changed because white males will naturally have an advantage, going as far as to claim that his ancestors escaped the Nazis in World War II because they were white and America has always prioritized citizenship to white people over colored people, and that white men have a natural/political/etc advantage over white women and people of color of both sexes because that's just how America works.

    Maybe this is an ill formed opinion, but in my eyes stating that America as a whole acts in some way is almost like stating that this county is some autonomous hivemind with no individuality and in which the individual cannot make decisions. Not every person, not every company, not every politician in this country is someone who prioritizes whites over non-whites in general and regardless of an individual's skill sets and knowledge. There are even people who don't even look at your skin color. People who want to hire an extra pair of hands as long as those hands can do their assigned work, regardless of whether you're white, black, or something else.

    But at the same time, I vaguely recall seeing all kinds of stories online in the past before I really stopped paying attention to them where people, including teachers, believe it or not, talked others down for being white, just for being white and stating that that automatically makes them more privileged and successful. I brought up the teacher bit because, and please don't quote me on my memory alone, I recall one such story I read online where a self-proclaimed student explained how an older female teacher at his college tore his opinions apart on something with the mere argument that he is white, male, straight, and privileged and thus should sit back down.

    This is one of those things where different people seem to have different views, making it even more difficult to argue against them all.