The Words of SeanMike
« Video Game DrinksDo artists think? »

Grow up, gaming industry

2008-01-17

Permalink 03:21:58 pm, by SeanMike Email
Categories: Gaming for adults, and no, I don't mean porn.

Grow up, gaming industry

(Just a word of warning: this one does kind of wander a bit as I ramble on in my caffeine-addled haze. That's why it's a blog post and not an editorial. But I am very interested in comments on this, and since it's so long, I'm going to put the "more" in early.)

Follow up:

I've got one of those "hurry up and wait" jobs so prevalent in the IT industry. Thus, some days - especially days like this in the DC area, where probably at least half the office is avoiding snow - I'm left to surf the web, futilely trying to stave off boredom while waiting just in case someone needs me to fix something.

(My stuff doesn't break, but my users do screw things up.)

Today I was doing my rounds of the various Gawker sites - ones like Kotaku, Wonkette, Gizmodo, the such. I've got other things I probably should be doing - writing the lore for a fantasy game I'm helping a coworker with, for instance, or writing my end of year fantasy football blog since I've burned out on it - but let's face it: I'm a lazy, lazy man.

Heck, I paid my bills before I got to any of that!

(10 months and 13 days until my lasik is paid off. Hooah.)

While surfing those blogs I found an interesting post from a few days ago on Gawker. I don't always read Gawker, as it's NYC-centric and criminy, I've only been to the city once, but found it linked off Kotaku.

It's entitled: "I'm not offended, I'm just bored: Why gaming journalism should stop treating women like meat."

And I realized I hadn't thought about that too much.

Despite my regular visits to Kotaku - and, obviously, my work HERE, after all - I really don't surf a lot of gaming websites except on specific missions. I get issues of "Games for Window" magazine and "Game Informer" at home. I never subscribed to the former, but it follows me around, and the latter I got after trading in some games and can never seem to get rid of, either. I typically glance through them, see if there's anything I really give a damn about, but usually there isn't - or there's just things I want to make fun of them for.

I guess that I'm lucky, in a way, since I write for a site run by a woman, with many women on staff and one that's never treated women like anything other than the die-hard gamers that write for GamersInfo are.

I realized, though, after reading that, how some of my perceptions are formed when I'm reading some game sites. I get embarrassed by the fixation on women that some magazines and websites tend to have.

Now, don't get me wrong: I like me some pretty ladies. Heck, I really like me some pretty ladies. And I've got nothing wrong with sex in video games, if done right.

I do get embarrassed when I'm trying to thumb through Game Informer and there's a huge close-up of Lara Croft's chest on the page. HEY LOOK GUYS. I do get embarrassed when on the site that I'm reading it's plugging "the hottest women in gaming" or "babe of the day" or whatever.

I don't think it's as bad nowadays as it used to be, but Nick Douglas (the writer of the piece) does have a good point: whenever the publications take on women in gaming, they typically go after the best looking ones they find.

Compare, for instance, in GI's (and I'm not singling them out, honestly, but they happen to be the last magazine I looked through) page o' photographs that they have at the front of ech issue, showing gaming industry types, well, uh, "doing stuff". Look at the women involved, and compare not just how many there are compared to men (a very low percentage) but how many of the guys are - let's say - more "average" looking than the usually rather attractive women.

(That can be hard for a guy to figure out, I've noticed. So hand it to your girlfriend or wife or whomever for her to decide.)

I don't think that game journalists, though, can really be completely scandalized or singled out on this until games, themselves, get better at it. Let's not even get into games like the Dead Or Alive extreme volleyball whatever, or even fantasy games where the improbably proportioned women seem to wear armor that exposes as much as it covers.

In fact, let's use a "good" game in terms of this: Mass Effect.

If you haven't played or heard of Mass Effect I'd have to wonder why you're reading this. In short, you can play as a female or male. Either way, there are two romance subplots that you can explore in this roleplaying game - one with a member of the opposite sex of your race, and one with an alien whose race has only one sex (but it's quite obviously female).

In other words, you can have a heterosexual relationship, rewarded with a bit of cheesecake (I haven't seen or heard what you see with the female captain/male human pairing, but I'll comment on the opposite in a second), or a lesbian relationship. The desires that some people have to see a male-male relationship (be it gay men, or women who like that kind of thing, or whatever) isn't available.

The thing is: it's just silly. When I played through the game I played as a male captain because, well, I'm a guy, and that's who I identify with. (Whether or not the male argument of "I play a female character 'cause if I have to look at someone's ass all day..." for playing female characters is sexist or degrading in and of itself is probably an argument for another blog entry, and one that I'd look at later maybe if I wasn't so lazy - but if you want to bring it up in your comments, go ahead.)

When I realized at one point that my actions had doomed the romantic subplot with the female human, I reloaded my game and made different decisions. I did this because I wanted to explore that subplot and I didn't like, really, how the alien was brought into the equation: to me, it felt a bit tacked on and cheesy. It felt like a ploy, really, since out of your whole group there are only two women that aren't in full environmental armor and the lead-ups to the alien were even cheesier than the relationship with the female human.

At points during the game I imagined the choices the captain would've had with some of the other NPCs and would've found them less tacked-on than the one in there.

I hit the "sex scene" (not that you see any actual SEX, despite what some columnists think) while playing one night with my brother's fiancee in the room. We both laughed at the scene - it felt kind of tacked in there, the dialogue was cheesy (I keep using that word, I know) and honestly - I didn't feel like I needed that. If I want to look at computer generated naked women, I'm fairly certain that a few minutes with Google will give me more than enough.

Look at other games with a very strong story to them that don't feel the need to add sex: Bioshock, for one, has a great storyline and no sex in it, really, though some of the small touches touch on it, briefly, and make a more emotional impression than a witty quote about sex being like push-ups in Mass Effect.

Video games aren't alone in this regard; look at movies, and the often gratuitous sex scenes in some of them. I feel like (and this is just me, obviously) this trend is correcting itself in Hollywood, to some degree: I watched four movies this weekend, and only one of them had anything approaching a gratuitous sex scene. (A History of Violence had sex, but not gratuitous, in my open; The Kingdom and Children of Men had no sex scenes. Shoot 'Em Up was the closest to having one, but everything about that movie was silly and gratuitous, so I'd hesitate to fully call it that.)

I guess what it comes down to is that the gaming industry - and here I'm talking about game developers, gamers, and game journalists - are reaching a point in the span of the art of the game where we cannot take for granted assumptions and stereotypes from previous eras of gaming.

Nintendo brought gaming to a whole generation. Playstation brought gaming into a more socially acceptable light amongst yougn people. The Wii is breaking down barriers of all sorts with gaming.

Using "outdated misogynistic material" (as Nick Douglas in the Gawker article puts it) to pander to "straight young males" simply reinforces negative stereotypes and can do nothing but hurt the overall industry.

We're at a time now when men and women should bring developers and journalists to task for games and coverage that exploits these negative stereotypes. Journalists should call out games that rely on T&A to cover up poor stories or bad gameplay, and gamers should make it a point to consider what gaming journalists are making THEM look like when they read their publication.

If you want video game porn, then by all means, go for it. There's not a lack of it out there. That's fine. But don't shove it down my throat when all I want is real coverage, and don't force me to endure it to play your game.

5 comments

Comment from: Soapy [Member]
People read the boob articles though, that's just how the male mind works. Not all males, but a good portion of them to keep the breast industry, I mean video games industry going.

In the end, they're all in it to make money, and sex still sells. I wish that journalists would call people out on that, but most don't care. If you do, you're considered uptight. Things are slowly changing, maybe in 30 years or so it won't be as bad or as obvious :p

Although Soul Calibur IV makes Lara look flatchested.
01/17/08 @ 23:47
Comment from: Soapy [Member]
People read the boob articles though, that's just how the male mind works. Not all males, but a good portion of them to keep the breast industry, I mean video games industry going.

In the end, they're all in it to make money, and sex still sells. I wish that journalists would call people out on that, but most don't care. If you do, you're considered uptight. Things are slowly changing, maybe in 30 years or so it won't be as bad or as obvious :p

Although Soul Calibur IV makes Lara look flatchested.
01/17/08 @ 23:48
Comment from: Ophelea [Member]
I take it that means you missed this entire mess?

http://brokentoys.org/2007/11/19/clearly-we-do-not-deserve-nice-things-andor-people/

And to be honest, I'd much rather see a sex scene in a movie than a bunch of gratuitous violence. Give me History of Violence (and the emotional context of the sex) any day to say...Hostel.

Games in general don't contain any contextual sex. The relationship for the woman with the man in Mass Effect is an emotional support role. The MAN ensures this. I haven't played the woman/woman version. I'll have to see what I think of the other.

But there was only ONE choice of male and he's a pretty stand-up guy. So your choice was stand-up guy or no guy.

With me, "outdated misogynistic material" isn't an issue. But the crap pulled over Jade in that link above? That will always be.
01/18/08 @ 00:20
Comment from: SeanMike [Member] Email
You're right, I did miss that - I don't read a lot of other blogs/etc., remember?

One of the funny things - I like how he mentions Kotaku on there, when in the article I was referring to (which is obviously biased towards its own family of blogs) lists Kotaku as one that tries not to be sexist.
01/18/08 @ 13:21
Comment from: Will [Visitor] Email · http://hluill.livejournal.com
Great article.

I am one of those crossdressers you mention. I do it as much for the eye candy as for the admiration of a tough lady.

That said, it really peeved me when all her armor is SKIN tight. I just don't understand, armour isn't and shouldn't be clingy. I can put her in that stuff when no one is looking...

I actually mentioned something about this on the game's forum. I posted that chainmail shouldn't look like a tight sweater. I was flamed by men and women both for not embracing a "fantasy" concept.

Just my two cents on sexism.
01/25/08 @ 18:22

Leave a comment


Your email address will not be revealed on this site.

Your URL will be displayed.
(Line breaks become <br />)
(Name, email & website)
(Allow users to contact you through a message form (your email will not be revealed.)