Monday, 16 June 2014

E3 2014: "Rainbow Six: Sexism"? Far from it.

My first year of game development at college has come to an end and, although I haven't yet received my grades for the entire year, they're expected to be first-rate (although I don't wish to sound as if I'm bragging; if they're good, it's because I agonised over the work every day rather than because I'm necessarily more intelligent than the other students. I noticed that an insane level of commitment seemed to be a trend with the mature students). I can't say that I'm any closer to entering the games industry than when I started but it's only one year of college, so it isn't unexpected that I haven't come out of it "industry-ready".

Enrolling on a game development course also didn't give me the opportunity to discuss sexism as much as I had hoped. I think I had around three conversations about it in the entire year but other than that, as you'd probably expect, most people -- male and female -- didn't care about gender issues in games. Which is fine and completely understandable; in spite of all the articles about gender issues in games online, it has to be said that it is not an issue that the majority of gamers care about. A few people did seem interested in how Wil Wheaton spearheaded a movement that ended with Destructoid writer Ryan Perez being fired though, so that's something.

E3 took place last week and I really enjoyed it. I didn't have much interest in any of the current-gen consoles but with Bloodborne, Mortal Kombat X and No Man's Sky being the games that made a big impression on me, I suspect I'll buy a PS4 at some point (probably next year). Oh, and the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailer blew me away.

Anyway, speaking of E3 and articles about gender issues, I suppose it was too much to hope for to think that E3 might pass without an accusation of sexism being aimed at someone or something. Off the top of my head, "scandals" I can recall include a lack of female presenters, a lack of games featuring female characters and, in case anyone has forgotten, the "rape" joke during the Killer Instinct presentation last year.

I followed the conferences on Gamespot and on June 10th, before the event was even finished, Tom McShea took it upon himself to write an editorial called "The Disturbing Representation of Women in the Rainbow Six: Siege E3 Demo". Tom's big problem? In the stage demo for Rainbow Six: Siege, a female character was a hostage. That's it. That's the entire issue. You can watch the demo at the link above but here's a Youtube version if you prefer:

Before I go into Tom McShea's article, what I took away from E3 with regards to gender issues was how many positive portrayals of female characters there were. All of them got their share of the spotlight. I'm sure I'm going to forget some but we had Bayonetta 2. Mirror's Edge 2. Alien: Isolation. Infamous: First Light. Rise of the Tomb Raider. Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris. Plus, think of the games that had a mix of male and female characters, like Mortal Kombat X. Fable Legends. The Sims 4. Hyrule Warriors. If the predecessors of Bloodborne, Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect 4 are anything to go by, they'll all have the option to play as male or female characters too. Hell, it seemed like most games had a choice of male and female characters, from Broforce to the Dead Rising 3 DLC. In fact, would you like to know another game that had a positive female portrayal in the stage demo? Rainbow Six: Siege!

In case you didn't watch the video above, the demo -- which features the disclaimer "the following is pre-alpha footage captured from a multiplayer match" but is very blatantly staged -- features five online players trying to rescue the female hostage from their five opponents. Of the five players whose voices we hear, one of them -- playing as a sniper -- is female. She is portrayed as being just as capable as the male players on her team.

The point is that E3's representations of female characters should've been cause for celebration (or, if you're part of the "they shouldn't be praised for doing what's expected of them" crowd, at least it shouldn't have been cause for criticism). Yet Tom McShea, being a glass half-empty kind of chap, focused on the one example from the show that featured a woman in a damsel-in-distress role and argued:
"It was their decision to have a woman presented as an object, something to be fought over--to be won--so that's the message that was hammered home. So I can only look at the reality of this demonstration and wonder why it's once again a woman placed in such a sad position."
The main reasons I still visit Gamespot are (A) habit and (B) the majority of people who post comments seem to be sensible and rational. In this case, I was impressed with how this excerpt from a comment by "tonkins22" got to the heart of the matter:
"Sexism in games needs to be tackled, and deserves a billion-word discussion. But you can't use a non-example as your launchpad into that point, or it makes the argument itself look thin, which is bad for the cause. The author is writing an article about a serious forest fire and tries to get your attention by panicking about a lit match."
This is the central problem with McShea's article. It's a perfect example of making a mountain out of a molehill. McShea refers to women in games as "prizes", "rewards", "objects", "plot points" and "second-class citizens" throughout his editorial but the main thrust of his argument is based on this lone female hostage from Rainbow Six: Siege. There is no evidence that she is any of those things and the rescue team in the video are intending to rescue this hostage, not claim her in any way. That's McShea's own interpretation. He's the only one seeing her as an object rather than a human being. It's little wonder that the Gamespot members collectively roll their eyes at this when there is a positive female portrayal in the same video, many positive female portrayals in other games at E3 and there will be male hostages in Rainbow Six: Siege too.

Speaking of male hostages, McShea notably didn't mention Huey Emmerich being taken hostage and tortured in the Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain trailer (from 2:20 to 2:40 in that video). Both the protagonist and his "plus one" are taken hostage in the Far Cry 4 villain trailer (from 4:45 until the very end in that video). None of those three male characters are shown as being anything other than helpless, much like the female hostage in the Rainbow Six: Siege demo. However, McShea insists that "it's once again a woman placed in such a sad position". He even mentions Far Cry 4 in the final paragraph, using it as an example of "white male protagonists [being] placed front and center" (which is wrong because ... ?) without mentioning that the white male protagonist in question gets a bag placed over his head before being taken captive.

It's disappointing that this type of blatant misrepresentation of the facts has become so commonplace but that's what happens when people are desperate to promote an agenda that doesn't have any grounding in reality. There are gender issues that should be talked about and the portrayal of women in games is by no means perfect -- as tonkins22 said, "sexism in games needs to be tackled, and deserves a billion-word discussion" -- but McShea took what should've been a success for women in games and turned it into a failure.

Then again, this is the same person who wrote "The Santa Barbara Killer Is a Product of Our Culture, and We Shouldn't Hide From That Fact".


(When I began writing this part, I didn't plan on it being as long as it became. If you just care about gaming, you can stop reading now because this is related to real life.)

Hopefully, I won't go into this too much because it seems like I've discussed nothing else since it happened at the end of May. For those who don't know, on May 23rd a college student named Elliot Rodger murdered four men and two women and injured thirteen others. There were many reasons behind it; Rodger was a misanthrope. He loathed men, describing them as "obnoxious brutes" and left forum comments fantasising about a virus wiping out every man on earth except him so he could have his pick of the women. He loathed women too, referring to "blonde sluts" and fantasising about wiping all of them out too while sitting in a tower and watching at all. Rodger was also a racist, recoiling at interracial couples and showing disgust towards full-Asian men (Rodger himself was half-white, half-Asian and referred to himself as Eurasian several times. Three of the six victims were also Asian and, given that they were the three who were stabbed in his apartment rather than shot, these were apparently the predetermined murders).

It should also be mentioned that Rodger suffered from a mental illness. At times online, I've seen people react to that point with aggression, thinking that just pointing it out means he's being held up as an example of all sufferers of mental illness but that isn't the case any more than he's an example of all virgins or half-Asians. The point is that without acknowledging that Rodger suffered from a mental illness, the severity and significance of mental illness cannot be understood.

The reason I'm bringing this up isn't just because of Tom McShea's article on the subject. In fact, if Tom's editorial is the first you've read about the Isla Vista killings, you might be confused about why he's focusing so much on misogyny and violence against women. The fact is that in this case, McShea was just following in the footsteps of over a dozen other, more mainstream news sites that ignored every single motivating factor in the murders ... except for Rodger's hatred of women (although the blog itself was about how misinformation can be spread and perpetuated, the women of Honey Badger Radio have a decent list of around fifteen sites that focused specifically on violence against women. As they mention at the end, they're only a fraction of the total number).

Without wanting this to turn into a rant, the most disgusting aspect of the Santa Barbara killings if you followed the coverage was how it instantly and blatantly it became an event to promote an agenda ... and it wasn't just to raise awareness about violence against women. Men's rights activists were blamed, even though Elliot Rodger wasn't an MRA. White men were blamed, even though Elliot Rodger wasn't white. In the Huffington Post article I just linked to, feminist blogger Anne Theriault actually states:
"We have no evidence yet that he suffered from any kind of mental illness or was under any sort of treatment. Immediately claiming that with no proof to back that fact up leads to the further stigmatization of the mentally ill, and contributes to the (incorrect) assumption that mental illness equals violence, and vice versa."
This is in spite of the fact that the day before, Rodger's own father (speaking through an attorney) stated, "the 22-year-old was being treated by multiple therapists and was a student at Santa Barbara City College".

Phrases like "male entitlement", "male privilege" and "male rage" all became commonplace, effectively painting all men with the same Elliot Rodger-shaped brush. If you have the time, you can go through the Honey Badger Radio list of articles and find the number of pieces that use the phrase "six people were killed" before launching into a rant about Rodger's misogyny, entitlement and violence against women rather than say "four men and two women". That isn't a coincidence. Feminist bloggers and journalists leapt on the opportunity to use the deaths of a tragedy where more men were killed than women to promote awareness about an unrelated viewpoint.

I want to make it clear that I'm not just disappointed about the deaths of the four young men being used (or, more accurately, ignored) to further an agenda that attacked men on a regular basis. None of the six, including the two women, deserved to have their deaths used in this manner. They were people. Their deaths were not something to be politicised for personal gain. It's safe to say that over the last month, feminism reached full Jack Thompson territory.

Credit to Europa-Phoenix. This comparison went through my mind over the course of the last month too.
One reason I'm bringing this up is because mass shootings in the U.S. have affected me in a few different ways. When the 2012 Aurora cinema shooting happened, I was so unbelievably shaken that I intentionally (and probably selfishly) avoided reading anything about the Sandy Hook shooting when it occurred in case it affected me in a similar way.

Something that I've tried to keep up on this blog -- which I've admittedly been back and forth on at different times -- is avoiding using "feminists" as a blanket term. Sometimes I haven't used it at all, other times I've tried to soften the blow by saying "some feminists" or "the feminist argument", to try to communicate that I'm not blaming the movement as a whole. I've always been swayed by the "not all feminists are like that" (NAFALT) argument that comes up repeatedly when men's rights activists point out some of the ways that feminism has had a hand in the poor treatment of men.

Now? Well, as you might've noticed over the last half-dozen paragraphs or so, I'm not particularly concerned about sparing the feelings of the NAFALT crowd any more. While I reacted to the Aurora shooting with horror, I ended up reacting to the Isla Vista killings with anger and not just directed at Rodger. Some of the most despicable people -- making the most unpleasant, untruthful arguments -- came crawling out of the woodwork and every one of them was a feminist ... and too few feminists responded to these articles with anger, disappointment or disgust. The quiet, half-hearted opposition on forums and in comments sections doesn't do much to combat the loud dogmatism of feminist journalists like Laurie Penny, dismissing violence against men while telling me that I'm "part of the problem" ... for saying that not all men are like Elliot Rodger because that dismisses violence against women. Somehow.

On the plus side, she makes Tom McShea look like a saint.

Okay, so I had a lot more to say on this issue than I thought but it's probably better that I got all of this off my chest here and not just in the comments section of a news article. This may be primarily a games blog but a few occasions have been set aside to talk about men's issues in general. It annoys me that this shouldn't have been a men's rights issue -- Rodger wasn't even remotely related to the men's rights movement but that didn't stop Anne Theriault and others from branding him one -- but it became one, so it's worth being brought up.

Hope you all had a happy Father's Day! Feel free to comment or e-mail me at