Feature: The Portrayal of Females in Gaming

Anyone who has played a video game in the last 10 years will know that the industry is fairly rife with direct and indirect sexism, but a new Kickstarter campaign which seeks to raise money to create a web series about these issues has caused a whole lot of controversy within the community. Is sexism the last gaming-taboo?

The campaign is entitled Tropes Vs. Women and was launched by Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian and looked to raise $6000 to create a web series about the subject. If like me you don’t know what a Trope is, it’s explained in the video below.

Just to be clear from the outset, it is in no way my belief that all gamers and developers are sexist. That is evidenced clearly by the overwhelmingly positive response that Sarkeesian has received from the community (so much so that the campaign overshot the $6000 target in the first few days and resulted in a total of nearly$150,000). However, there were a small minority of people that responded to the campaign in a way that I found deeply disturbing and kind of ashamed to be associated with as a male gamer.

Here is the Kickstarter video that launched the campaign:

Personally I thought this sounded like an interesting and well informed piece of analysis, as did the other 7000 people who pledged their support to the project. I’ve never experienced sexism, but I like to think I know a) why it is damaging to society and b) how it would feel to be on the receiving end, just as someone who has never experienced racism knows why Hitler wasn’t what you’d call a “smashing chap”.

But sadly, not everyone in the the gaming community saw this campaign as a positive, resulting in a pretty extreme (and in some cases horrifying) reaction. Sarkeesian has been the recipient of numerous threats of rape, torture, murder or a combination of these three, and whilst we can’t go into too much more detail about the exact wording of the correspondence received (this is a family site after all), try to imagine the worst threats that you, as a human being could receive and your probably about 60% there.

Sarkeesian also reported that a number of individuals had attempted to get her YouTube videos labeled as “terrorism” in hopes that they would be banned. Another group repeatedly vandalised Sarkeesian’s wiki page, adding pornographic images and describing her as a number of hideous things whilst referring to her as “it” throughout.

Naturally, the comments in Sarkeesian’s YouTube videos followed the same vile pattern suggesting that she should be in the kitchen making cakes, she needs a boyfriend blah blah etc. As well as more death threats and the implications that she must be a victim of sexual abuse, and “therefore” be quiet. There are references to her being Jewish, with all the anti-Semitic guff that goes with it. There were also many insults about her appearance, clothes, hair, make up,  etc, with suggesting that Sarkeesian is some sort of hypocrite for painting her nails.

While most of the above may have become sociably acceptable behavior on YouTube, I find it shocking that this has all come about as a response to an individual who wants to explore the possibility that not everything is right with the world. I’m also really surprised by the co-ordinated approach that some of these groups have taken to attack Sarkeesian.

The Future

Personally, I agree with Sarkeesian in saying that woman are often portrayed in games as either the weak, helpless-type that as a male protagonist you have to guide and protect or more often female characters are there as something visually attractive to bring in those much needed teenage-boy-dollars. I think we are starting to take steps in the right direction to change the culture, and I salute any publisher that tries to bolster that mentality in the future.

To me, the next Tomb Raider seemed to be turning Lara Croft into a character that had more depth, substance and ultimately was more than just a collection of curves and pistols. However, recent interviews have kind led me to question the rationale for changing Lara and it sounded to me that they wanted to create a woman with weakness that you as a player help out of situations.

I’m not quite sure how that works for female gamers who associate with Lara, but also male gamers who could use a female character that they could relate to, rather than another damsel in distress. I guess the proof is in the pudding and I hope that I’m wrong, but we’ll have to make an informed decision on release.

Perhaps in the future, gaming platforms will reach a maturity in creating games where women are equal to men, tell an engaging story, and indeed create a fantastic player experience without the use of hot-pants, bikinis and implants. This would result in girls feeling less alienated by the medium and men who have a greater respect for female protagonists and a more discerning appetite for what makes the perfect game.

Whilst we wait for that to happen though, I don’t really know what the answers are to changing the role of women in video games but I do believe that the negativity from those tiny-minded individuals comes mainly from ignorance, and often there is only way to combat that. Through education, and that seems to me exactly what we need and exactly what Sarkeesian is trying to build.

So, although the Kickstarter campaign has now successfully closed, show your support for Anita Sarkeesian via her Kickstarter page.

How do you feel about the portrayal of women in video games? Do you have any examples of  female protagonists who make good role models? We’d love to hear from you, and you may get credited in a future feature.

James Sterling is Associate Editor for PopBucket, and he desperately seeks your approval. Show him some love on Twitter and PopBucket.

Author: James Sterling

Associate Editor (Game) for PopBucket, avid gamer and educating folks about the Wilhelm Scream since '98. Show him some word-love.

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