Thursday, 17 July 2014

Why Fallout: New Vegas is an Awesome Game for Gender Equality

I know I wasn't the best at sticking to a schedule before I went to college but it feels like I'm falling behind on writing this blog more than usual. I'm trying to catch up on the games, films and television shows I've missed while at college but I'm also working on a short game for when I go back to college, so it looks like I've done something over the summer. Finding time to write as well as do all of that can be tricky.

Today's blog came to mind a couple of weeks after reading a comment on my post about the reaction to the Rainbow Six: Siege stage demo at E3. It took a while but the comment, by Jazzby Bass, made me think about the different ways male and female sex workers were portrayed in Fallout: New Vegas. The latest Tropes Vs Women video had just been posted, so that was a topic of conversation:
"Oddly enough, my biggest beef with the video is Fallout: New Vegas, even though there's all of two seconds of it in the entire half hour.

I haven't played some of the game she's using as ammo, but FNV man. Showing off a female hooker for two seconds while conveniently forgetting there are male prostitutes(Santiago and Old Ben), and even a robot one.

[...]

My thoughts are it's not exclusively women and even the prostitutes in general aren't portrayed as sex objects in the first place. Old Ben even says it himself with his line that he quit because he felt like a piece of meat. These are, to some degree or another, fleshed out characters that even voice their thoughts on the very subject.
"
It should be said that I still haven't watched the "Women as Background Decoration" video and still have no plans to. After all, as Jazzby Bass says, there's all of two seconds of it in the entire half hour. However, one thing I did do was hop over to the Feminist Frequency website to find the video's transcript and see where and when Fallout: New Vegas was mentioned. One of the two gigolos mentioned in the comment above -- Santiago and Old Ben -- were actually mentioned by Anita. See for yourself:
"There do exist a handful of games which include a few male gigolos, though they are extremely rare…
Clip: Dragon Age: Origins
“Here they are. Aren’t they beautiful? Remember, thirty silver up front.”
Clip: Fallout: New Vegas
“Santiago is here to please, my prarie flower. Just a few caps and I’m yours.”
…and more often than not, the design and characterization is played for laughs.
Clip: Fable II
“I’m even nicer without these all clothes on.”
Clip: Fallout: New Vegas
“I wouldn’t mind takin’ a bite of you.”"
I intend for this blog to be about Fallout: New Vegas and not the Tropes Vs Women videos but, completely unintentionally, the point about male sexuality being played for laughs was something I wrote about in my last blog post, a couple of weeks ago. Remarkable coincidence.

There was a paragraph in the transcript after those quotes that gave a bunch of reasons why portrayals of male sex workers, of course, cannot compare to female ones but like I said, it's not a Tropes Vs Women blog.  It was actually pretty insulting towards female sex workers though, implicitly stating that they help to diminish women's role in our culture. Have to love how pro-woman Anita is.

The more I thought about the portrayal of sex workers in Fallout: New Vegas, the more I felt like the game didn't belong in any video called "Women as Background Decoration". Even ignoring Anita's penchant for arguing "female examples are bad, male examples don't count", it's an example of how ignoring context can give a completely imbalanced and factually-incorrect view of a game. Which is nothing new for Anita.

There are two characters from Fallout: New Vegas that I thought were great examples of how to do things right and they are Beatrix Russell and Old Ben:


These two characters are tied to a quest that involves recruiting three escorts for a casino; a smooth talker, a ghoul -- which is a type of mutant in the Fallout series, the result of being exposed to radiation over a long period of time. They take on a decaying, corpse-like appearance, as can be seen in Beatrix' picture above -- in a cowboy outfit and a robot capable of performing sexual acts. Beatrix is the only ghoul who qualifies whereas Ben is one of two "smooth talkers" that can be hired for the job. Both of these characters break stereotypes about male and female attitudes towards sex.

Starting with Beatrix, she's very open to the idea of working at the casino as a dominatrix because, as she puts it, "who doesn't enjoy a little pinch and squeal every once in a while?" However, she also makes sure to point out that she doesn't want to be "owned" by anyone and one of the ways the player can convince her is by telling Beatrix that she can be independent. Beatrix goes on to dictate her own terms -- choosing her own customers, getting to enjoy herself by being "a little rough" with them, receiving a fair cut of the money and a discount on drinks -- and then agrees to work as an escort.

Beatrix breaks the stereotype about women not enjoying sex or being more prudish than men but is also an excellent example of how positively sex workers can be portrayed. She is completely independent, isn't forced into sex work and there is more to her character than just sex. In fact, she works as a guard for a different faction when the player first meets her.

Old Ben's storyline is simpler but just as relevant; he says he's done "a bit of everything", from courier to butcher to gun-for-hire and one of the jobs he mentions is working as an escort. However, he says that he had to quit this job after a while due to feeling like a piece of meat. When attempting to hire him for the quest, he mentions that his first time doing the job left him feeling empty inside.

While Beatrix breaks stereotypes about women not enjoying sex, I feel like Ben breaks stereotypes about the assumption that men cannot be objectified and the idea that "guys are only after one thing". It's clear that he views his time as an escort negatively rather than positively.

I don't know whether Anita focused on these two examples or not but if so, it's clear that they aren't "background decoration". If not, while there are examples of strippers in Fallout: New Vegas who only add to the atmosphere -- such as at the Gamorrah casino -- there are male, female and even ghoul strippers. As with the escorts, it isn't limited to women.

The point is that Fallout: New Vegas is a game that should please everyone when it comes to gender issues, shouldn't it? It breaks down stereotypes for both sexes rather than enforces them. Everyone who is interested in equal treatment of the sexes should be pleased with Fallout: New Vegas, from sex-positive feminists to men's rights activists. However, it seems like even the inclusion of sex workers in Fallout: New Vegas is enough to warrant it a place in the "Women as Background Decoration" video.

It's one thing when a feminist critic of gaming neglects to mention examples that would damage their argument. It's another to use games with examples that are the exact opposite of their argument as examples that support their argument.

What we have here is a game that is progressive but is being branded as regressive.

This bothers me quite a lot because I don't want to see any more hand-wringing from developers about things they could've or should've done better when in reality, they haven't done anything wrong. This was the case last year, with Anthony Burch of Gearbox Software sheepishly stating that Anita was right to include Borderlands 2 in her second Damsels In Distress video (even though the player could use a female character, thereby invalidating Anita's argument about men committing violence against women). It wouldn't be right for anyone from Obsidian Entertainment to do the same when not only did they not do anything wrong, they actually did something right and are now facing a backlash from a sex-negative feminist for their inclusion in the first place.

One more kind of unrelated thing before I finish. There's a Tumblr and Facebook group called Women Against Feminism -- which posts pictures of women holding signs about why they choose not to be feminists -- that received quite a bit of attention from some not-quite-mainstream sites over the last few days, such as BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post. What I found most hilarious was the article on Raw Story by Amanda Marcotte, who seemed certain that the only reason any of the women pictured could be against feminism was because of some eeeviiil men behind the camera, forcing the women to say they disliked feminism! That's noted feminist, Amanda Marcotte, saying that these women are both (A) incapable of setting up a tripod or taking a selfie and (B) incapable of being intelligent, independent human beings who can form their own thoughts and opinions about feminism. Men must be forcing them to write bad things about feminism!

The upshot of all of this is that a lot more women have discovered Women Against Feminism and the group's Facebook page has received a lot more submissions from other women who don't identify as feminists. It's similar to the Streisand Effect in many ways; although the group hasn't been censored, attempts to point and laugh at them has only given them more publicity. I have nothing but respect and praise for the women who submitted their pictures. It's brave of them to do that at any time but it takes a special kind of courage to do so only a few days after a handful of sites showed their scorn for Women Against Feminism.

You can now follow me on Twitter @themalesofgames, send an e-mail to themalesofgames@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

7 comments:

  1. equality is the last thing they actually want.

    their goal isn't to seek equality, but to be allowed to scream about it non stop.

    of course this is beside the fact that they already have equality, and the women who are expected to actually BE equal with men are so miserable they are burning out and quitting their careers to get married before they even reach 30.

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    1. I somehow tend to agree - I don't think that equality was something to be thought about when Fallout creators were programming the game. And I don't see anything bad with women who want to get married before 30 - it's just their choice, isn't it?

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  2. You forgot to mention one reason why Beatrix can't be considered Background Decoration. Apart from having far too much agency and background of her own, she also is simply not attractive enough to be decoration. The argument is usually that games cater to straight, male gamers but who of them would consider her actually sexy? I mean, I'm sure there's some fetish she would fit but she's clearly not intended to be eye-candy.

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    1. That's a good point. I should've realised that. It's obvious now that you've pointed it out.

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  3. Unfortunately in the transcript, she only cites the scenes from games that uses dialog in them. Any game imagery without dialog isn’t at all referenced. She uses a lot of visual imagery from these games in order to emphasize some of the arguments throughout the video.

    For example when Anita says this:

    “So in many of the titles we’ve been discussing, the game makers have set up a series of possible scenarios involving vulnerable, eroticized female characters.{cue Hitman scene} Players are then invited to explore and exploit those situations during their play-through.

    The player cannot help but treat these female bodies as things to be acted upon, because they were designed, constructed and placed in the environment for that singular purpose. Players are meant to derive a perverse pleasure from desecrating the bodies of unsuspecting virtual female characters.
    It’s a rush streaming from a carefully concocted mix of sexual arousal connected to the act of controlling and punishing representations of female sexuality” {end Hitman scene}

    ^^It is accompanied by a scene from Hitman Absolution where the player knocks out two strippers, lingers over one of the bodies, then drags to body in a nearby chest and puts the body in it.
    The transcript doesn’t show what commentary accompanies what visual imagery.

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    1. Yeah, I had that problem too. I considered watching the video to check but fortunately, I was sober.

      I've heard a ton of criticism over that Hitman part too. A lot of people have pointed out the fact that the player is not "invited to explore" the murder of female characters in Hitman and if they do, they receive a worse rating for that particular mission. This applies to every Hitman game yet Anita ignores the facts for the sake of her argument. Again, portraying the opposite of the game's intentions as the game's actual intentions. She's saying that just because you can do something, you're being "invited" to do so. Which means just because I can choose to jump off every single cliff in Dark Souls and get killed by every single enemy on purpose, the game is inviting me to do these things.

      Remember Bully? When that came out, even though we had crazy people like Jack Thompson saying "it's a Columbine simulator", there were some (slightly) more reasonable people who were still opposed to the game. Like, UK member of parliament Keith Vaz said it encouraged bullying but anyone who has played the game knows the protagonist is against bullying, not for it. Anita's doing the exact same thing.

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  4. I shamelessly admit what I already stated before, I skipped around in that video and only happened to notice it. I actually looked it up because a random link someone sent me insinuated she called NV sexist and I happened to be playing it at the time, so I dug around and found the vid.

    I guess I just missed those bits, but yeah, it is pretty much going in the right direction with the characters. Too bad Anita just can't admit there's something positive out there like a normal person.

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