Tired

So over the past week or so I’ve graduated to a new level of reaction to the rampant sexism that surrounds women in media and, especially, gaming. It’s getting to the point now where I’ve become exhausted just looking at the tweets, posts, articles, and videos. I’m tired of it being a topic of conversation, not because I think it isn’t worth remarking upon, but because I’m just tired of it being a problem.

And this worries me. It worries me because in the last month or so I’ve seen women driven out of the industry by harassment (Samantha Allen, in particular, who explains that “For Women on the Internet, It Doesn’t Get Better“), I’ve seen other women and gay men on the verge of giving up their passions and careers in games criticism and journalism, and yet the comments sections of articles just don’t stop.

Keeping up with the stories and tweets about sexism and harassment in games takes up at least three hours of my day – three hours that I could be spending working, but (because I write on gender and games) which I instead spend “keeping up with the conversation,” if a conversation it can be called. Three hours which leave me tired and depressed and wishing that either the world were a better place or I’d been instead interested in makeup and fashion or born a straight white male. (No, not really either of those last two things, but you get the idea.)

And I’ve been lucky enough not to suffer harassment beyond the occasional “You’re dumb and you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’re a woman.”

I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to write for The Learned Fangirl, where the writers are an amazing supportive group of women (and the occasional dude) of many walks and creeds and colors. Where most of the comments are civil, and even those that cross the line don’t leap across it wearing rocket boosters.

But something has been happening recently, in life and online, that strikes me as a little disturbing. I get comments that say things like “You aren’t like other women,” or “You’re not one of those feminists,” and I’ve been told that I “don’t count as a woman.” Apparently I possess the bizarre ability to “pass” as male without trying… and I’m not discussing transgender. I’m pretty much cisfemale with no effort put in (little/no makeup, jeans, tshirts), so there isn’t any confusion about my gender identity, either in person or online, where my name makes my gender pretty apparent.

And yet I “don’t count” as female. Whether this is because I don’t coo over pink things or because I don’t immediately begin to scream about the objectification of women in every game I play, I’m not sure, but it’s starting to bother me quite a bit. As much as I’m in favor of gender neutrality in terms of our valuation of skills, being told that I “don’t count as a woman” isn’t actually gender neutrality.

I’m being exempted from the gender paradigm – it still exists outside me, somehow, and is still problematic in that other women – people who “count” as women – are still being excluded or marginalized where I’m not. (I don’t WANT to be marginalized, mind you, I’m just pointing out that my exclusionary status is an indicator that sexism is very much alive and well for all I wish it weren’t.) And it’s an odd place to be. It’s odd to watch sexism and harassment from the outside, to have mansplainers talk to me as though I understand their perspective because I’m not “that kind” of woman or because I “don’t count” as the female enemy.

I wonder why I’m excluded even as I’m thankful not to be the target of threats and verbal assault, why my voice is somehow more palatable to those who would see women relegated to kitchens and bedrooms and stripclubs – and I wonder if that’s a problem. I don’t see the world as a dichotomy of “us” (women) versus “them” (men), nor do I see games as either “evil” (sexist) or “good” (feminist). I see them as products of our culture, which is deeply flawed and patriarchal, and I see some games doing good in the world, some for gender egalitarianism and acceptance, some protesting violence, some protesting racism or religious exclusion, and some not really contributing anything of quality to the cultural milieu.

But what does it mean that voices that struggle to be rational and reasonable, to acknowledge both the positives and negatives in the fight against the -isms (sexism, in my case), become co-opted by the dominant and oppressive paradigms? I don’t want to be irrational in my responses to games, but neither do I want to be aligned with misogyny simply because I won’t lambast games for their use of a damsel in distress…

And all of it makes me tired.

Next Project?

So one of the things I’ve been meaning to do for a while is play through XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Everything I have heard about said game is that it’s awesome, and I’m really hoping that all the hype (and the trailer that mentioned Heart of Darkness) isn’t going to leave me disappointed.

The purpose of this post is twofold. First, to make sure that I actually do start playing because I’ve said I would. Second, to query whether or not I should start making “as-I-play” posts about games to this blog, no matter what I’m playing. I’d give them their own tags, and people should feel more than free to ignore them as they wish, but a reader at TLF mentioned wanting to see one for this particular game. I’m not sure TLF is the place to do that (although if you want it Keidra, it’s yours), so I’m thinking of posting such a thing here, as a compromise.

I’m wondering what y’all think – please let me know in the comments, by FB comment, by private message or email, twitter, whatever ways you have of contacting me. Radio silence implies that you either don’t care, or that you think it’s a terrible idea.

Thanks!

Edit: Keidra has indeed claimed the series for TLF, so I guess it will be going up there! I’ll post a link here, as per usual.

I’ll also take suggestions for future games to do – XCOM is on the list, as is The Bureau, and in October I will be playing Inquisition, so that will also show up. Just remember that I have about two other lives on top of my gaming life, so the list will take me a long time to get through.

Fan Effect

So I was one of many people disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3. I was not, however, one of the people for whom the ending “ruined” the entire series. Nor was I one of the people calling for the death, destruction, or public flogging of any of the members of the BioWare staff. I did appreciate some of what they did with the new ending, even though I still think it fell far short of what people wanted from the series.

At PaxEast 2013, BioWare ran a panel at which they offered to answer fan questions about the series – and at which they presented a host of interesting demographic information about what players prefer – manShep vs. femShep, romance choices, etc. The ending of course came up.

All this serves to preface not another rant about Mass Effect 3, but as background for BioWare’s choice to ask fans for their input via survey on Mass Effect 4, which doesn’t yet have a release date (but will not include a Shep of any gender).

I’m not sure what I think of this. On the one hand, this seems like a way for the developer to get in touch with what their fanbase actually wants. On another, I know that the most vocal fans are often the hardcore fans, and do not accurately represent the desires of the majority of fans of any game. (Visiting fora for games, for instance, will give one a skewed perspective on what people like about that game.) On a third (this is an alien with more than two arms, go with it), as a cultural critic I don’t want to see developers giving up their creative freedom to the fickle and contradictory wishes of the unwashed (or even washed) masses. On a fourth, what I really don’t want to see is the inevitable internet backlash from those masses who believe that they were “ignored” by a highly experienced and decorated developer who really does probably know better than they do what makes a good game. Finally (yup, five-handed alien), I don’t want to see a game produced by crowdsourcing that is either schizophrenic or contains a lot of gestures toward things fans think they want.

What I want out of Mass Effect 4 is whatever BioWare wants the game to be. Despite the debacle of the Mass Effect 3 ending, I trust BioWare’s writers, designers, and artists to produce a high-quality game. Sure, it will have bugs. It will have things that I personally don’t like or contain narrative elements that I would not have chosen. But you know what? So does every other form of entertainment on the planet. That’s part of why BioWare games are good – they are crafted, designed, and produced by people who care deeply about the worlds and characters they contain.

This is not to say that the fans don’t care deeply, too. They do (some of us maybe too much…). But they are ultimately fans, not developers. They’re welcome, of course, to create fanart, fanfic, and whatever other fan-content they wish. They can rewrite the ending to Mass Effect 3 in their heads or on their blogs as many times and ways as they wish.But they are not the developer and they therefore don’t have – and, I would say, shouldn’t have – extensive creative input.

Of course the desires of fans are ultimately important – if a fan hates something, they won’t buy it. If they don’t buy it, the company might never make another game or will change their focus. And fans have every right to whine, complain, praise, or buy/not buy anything they wish. But what I don’t want to see is a sudden turn, especially in a company like BioWare, to a democratic system of production. Democracy is great for politics, but isn’t (usually) great in art.

Edit: xposted to TLF

TLF: You Died. Again.

My review of Dark Souls went up last night on TLF.

For the sake of full disclosure, although if you actually read the title it should be obvious, I didn’t actually play Dark Souls. I watched. If I’d tried to play it, I might have thrown my XBox down the stairs out of sheer frustration. You see, I hate dying. I hate it even more if I lose the stuff I’m carrying. And even more if I have to go back to the spot in which I died having to kill everything all over again in order to retrieve my stuff but more likely dying again thereby losing said stuff for all eternity.

However, if that doesn’t bother you, you’ll probably really enjoy Dark Souls because other than that, the game is actually really impressive and I kind of wish I could play it without kicking my console down the stairs.

TLF: Digital Decorating: Women as Background Decoration (TvWVG)

My response to the latest Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video – “Women as Background Decoration, Part 1″ – is up on TLF.

The short version is that I think Sarkeesian is getting better – or at least more comprehensive and thoughtful – with her series as it continues. While it still has some issues – which I address – the later videos have become more engaged and less angry lists of “bad things,” which I applaud. There’s still some points she makes with which I take issue, but overall I think she’s learning from the process and becoming a better critic for it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Follow-Up

In the last twenty-four hours or so (less, really), there have been a lot of interesting responses to Crystal Dynamics’ trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider, some positive, some negative, some confused. Here’s something of a recap.

IGN‘s “live” response, which was mostly positive, focuses on the idea that yes, Lara is human and that it’s a good thing that we’re acknowledging that what happened to her in Tomb Raider is not normal. Ashelia’s reaction at HellMode is similar, suggesting that a quasi-realistic picture of PTSD makes Lara “video games’ first dynamic and realistic heroine” who actually feels emotions (although I would like to note that Lara has already felt emotions in Tomb Raider, so they aren’t “new” to Rise). One DeviantART fan is also excited, looking forward to what happens, as “SOON AS THE BLUE HOOD DROPPED MESS GETTIN REAL SON!!!!!” Whatever that means, although I think I can sympathize (maybe?).

I’m not completely sure what to make of the tone in the Destructoid recap of the trailer, which is very short and possibly snarky, but also possibly just a factual recount made by an overworked journalist:

Lara Croft had a rough time on her last archaeological expedition. It’s no wonder that she would suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, or experience some other negative psychological effects. During Microsoft’s E3 press conference this morning, we see her in a session with a therapist who is working to help her through the tough time.

 I read some snark there, but that might be me being jaded, and is unintended by the writer, who also remarks that “old habits die hard, so she will still be performing death-defying jumps over enormous chasms soon enough.”

I am even less sure what the escapist‘s reaction is supposed to mean. Here it is in its entirety: “Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer shows that Lara has a new hobby after the last game.” Can one really consider therapy a “hobby”?

Patricia Hernandez’s response at Kotaku is similarly brief but less bizarre, and withholds taking a side in the “Rise of the Tomb Raider Trailer Debate,” simply remarking that the choice to show Lara in therapy is “Interesting!” I have the feeling that Hernandez is going to wait and see what happens with the game, which, really, is probably the best policy all around.

But there are also those of us who are skeptical. Ishaan at Siliconera says that Lara “looks rather disturbed,” and Rock, Paper, Shotgun’s Adam Smith suggests that the whole thing is ill-conceived, from title to trailer:

The title really is Rise Of The Tomb Raider, which I suppose is better than Raid Of The Tomb Riser, or High Rise Raider, in which Croft and some other posh sorts wage violent class warfare in a south London estate. In the actual sequel, Lara has been left so emotionally damaged by her experiences on the gusty island of the first game that she has to wear a hoodie. And see a therapist who reminds me of a non-specific Fox News anchor.

 That doesn’t strike me as a positive response, although Smith does say that he enjoyed the most recent game and will likely enjoy this one, as he expects that “this probably isn’t a point and click adventure about rebuilding Lara’s shattered mind. She’s going to jog around exotic locations shooting arrows into peoples’ brainstems.”

Ultimately, although yesterday’s post did come across as a bit negative, I’m more in line, I think, with Hernandez than any of these other responses in that I’m waiting to see where Rise of the Tomb Raider ends up taking this therapy thread. I’d like to see something along the lines of what Ashelia suggests, a game that doesn’t dismiss the impact of PTSD while also enabling Lara to be an active agent in her own recovery. But… I’m skeptical. I’m skeptical that the therapist isn’t going to end up being a villain or a dithering idiot, which doesn’t do much for the idea that Lara is actually seeing a legitimate therapist and acknowledging that PDST is not something that makes a person weak. I’m also skeptical that the emphasis on feelings and emotions isn’t going to become about the fact that Lara is female. As @applecidermage tweets,


If this were to be Master Chief – or Shepard, or Marcus Fenix, or some other manly man – I’d have a lot more hope that the therapy angle was not going to be coded female. However, I’m afraid that the image is going to perpetuate the idea that women need therapy because they’re hysterical instead of showing therapy as a potentially valuable treatment, and it’s going to diminish Lara’s strength of character and reemphasize that therapy is not a “manly” thing to do. Which would be terrible.

Edit: TLF Crosspost 2

Rise of the Tomb Raider… I hope.

Following today’s announcement of the development of Rise of the Tomb Raider – the sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider (2013) reboot – I am… hopeful but skeptical. While I loved Tomb Raider for a wide variety of reasons, the whole premise of today’s E3 trailer (released by Microsoft, which suggests an Xbox One release, although it was not specified as such) seems to retract a lot of what I actually liked about the new Lara Croft.

First of all, the trailer is structured as a visit payed by Lara to an older, white male psychologist, whose patronizing dismissal of Lara’s experiences (contained in flashbacks to running, shooting, falling, and running from a large bear) as generalized “trauma” is disturbingly paternalistic, both in the “you poor girl, daddy will protect you” sense and the “trauma is something we can fix” senses, neither of which bodes well for the new game’s ability to continue some of the more feminist “I may be terrified and female, but I can still kick your ass and outthink you at the same time” attitude that Lara had in the 2013 reboot.

The Lara – under a hood and ostensibly unidentifiable to the viewer just yet, grows increasingly agitated by the psychologist (as do I) as the trailer progresses, cracking her scraped knuckles and tapping an iconically booted foot. The psychologist discusses how it would be good for her to go outside, to “take walks,” etc. He says that many people lock themselves up as a result of trauma, but that there is “another type of person.”

“Do you know what happens to them, Ms. Croft?”

“They become who they were meant to be,” her voice answers, in a flashback, rather than in the office, and the trailer ends with Lara holding a torch in the midst of a vast cavern.

Okay, so she’s certainly claiming agency at the end in asserting her identity as “who [she was] meant to be” rather than as a passive victim afraid to leave the house, but the fact remains that she’s still seeing a psychologist about the experience of trauma – which runs almost completely counter to the image of Lara cultivated both in the original series and in the reboot. Although real people certainly often need professional help with their lives, Lara Croft is not a real people, and the placement of the trailer in a psychologist’s office increases the air of victimization (which is so often read as weakness) surrounding her.

Perhaps this was meant as a way to make her more real, more (as my students would say) “relatable” to the real people who play the game. I hope so. But I’m afraid that it in fact augurs a new vision of Lara in which her strength is stripped down (much like Metroid: The Other M did to Samus Aran) or even stripped away in order to present her as a damsel in need of assistance, rather than a woman who staunchly refuses to be damselled no matter what happens to her.

That’s certainly what Polygon seems to think, given the following tweet:

As much as I hope they’re right, I’m skeptical. After all, in far too many circles, making a female protagonist “hurting” and “human” mean making her into a victim with little-to-no agency, a weepy puddle of “female feelings,” because everyone knows that “real” women are fragile, emotionally delicate flowers. I can only imagine what Pratchett’s Lara would do if someone called her a “delicate flower.” I hope this one is the same.

I really hope that my trepidation regarding Rise of the Tomb Raider (to be released late 2015) is unfounded and that perhaps they’ve even brought writer Rhiannon Pratchett back to continue crafting the Lara she started. I hope that this is more of what I loved about Tomb Raider (2013), and not a shift back to the staid misogyny of older games in which women can’t kick ass, take names, and talk intellectual circles around their opponents and companions. I hope it does more of what it promised in 2013, rather than less. I’m willing to hope, I’m just not going to hold my breath.

Oh, and one more thing. He calls her “Ms. Croft.” She’s an archaeologist. She has a goddamn Ph.D. and found the historical remains of a city that most people didn’t believe existed (Yamatai). She deserves the “doctor” that goes with her name. Use it.

Edit: TLF Crosspost