Girl Problems

So in the past few weeks, my attention has been called to a couple of different things attempting to deal with and articulate concerns about the ways in which women are being objectified, abused, and ignored in the gaming industry and by the gaming community.

First, this Gamer’s Notebook over at Gamasutra on Triple-A games for women. On the one hand, I have an enormous amount of appreciation for the fact that 1) Brandii Grace is going to attempt to countermand the plethora of largely sexist major titles, and 2) that Gamasutra did an article on it, the attitude evinced by both left me feeling… unsatisfied. Certainly, Ernest Adams (the author) was attempting to convince an audience who would be largely dismissive of Grace’s project by emulating their attitude of derision (although not to a degree of rudeness, another thing for which I’m happy to give him credit), but the fact that he felt obligated to do so is an indicator that the gaming community as a whole still thinks of “girl games” as needing to be frilly, pink, and largely without challenge (to say nothing of shooting).

My other major complaint is that there even needs to be a distinction between gamers in terms of their gender, to say nothing about the preferences stereotypically associated therewith. Not all women – and Grace does say this – want to escape from the genres offered by current triple-a titles. Some women like shooting things. Some triple-as offer more in the way of plot and character development (my current annoyance at Bioware aside, they generally do this very well), and some men like them as much as some women. In short, the complaint should not be that triple-a games aren’t catering to women, but that triple-a games aren’t catering to gamers who like plot and characterization over action and attractive avatars (because, let’s face it, the male avatars aren’t all realistic, either, even though they are generally more realistic than the female ones). It’s a question of genre, not gender.

Then, this Kickstarter Project: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. I like what Feminist Frequency is up to here, although I don’t really understand why it needs to be done via a video series instead of through another medium (like written gaming criticism, which is where it would be for film criticism or literary criticism, although I can see the different value of videos in certain contexts). I do understand that if one is going to produce a video series, it will be much better with funding than if done with one’s laptop camera, so I think the project is valid and worth financial support.

But it comes back to a problem I have with feminist criticism of all genres. Yes, there are a lot of tropes that have become negative (or negatively-impactful) stereotypes. Yes, there are many images in videogames and other popular media that are producing (possibly) unrealistic images of women in terms of physique and behavior. But what does pointing it out really do at this juncture? Grace is trying to do something about it, which I applaud, even though I have my issues with it. Not having seen the videos (since they haven’t been made yet), I can’t say whether Anita Sarkeesian will be more proactive than most, but I liked that she proposes pointing out the good and the bad, not just getting stuck on the “worst offenders,” as she says. I’m interested to see what she wants to do with it – what she suggests that players can do to counterbalance the negatives, as well as what developers might do instead.

Because that’s really the question in leadership terms – what can we do? Raising awareness is being done, has been done, but being aware is never enough – it’s only a first step. If you’re a developer – like Grace – you can try to make your own game that doesn’t objectify women and that caters to their perceived desires. But what if you aren’t? What can a player do in order to make a statement about the types of games she (or he) wants to play and what characters she (or he) wants to see in them? Sure, we can not buy a game if something about it offends us, but what if we want to play it because it’s a good game, we just don’t like how it portrays women, or men, or elves, or aliens, or whatever? How do you support good game mechanics and gameplay while still making a statement that you don’t like what you’re seeing in other terms?

I guess you make a video series or write a blog post. But is that enough?