So, perhaps you’ve heard of this minor news story: #GamerGate? It’s difficult to even pinpoint the main issue at the heart of the controversy: is it about those pesky feminists and their oppression of men, or is it about the ethics of video game journalism in general? (A hint – it’s really not either of those.) I’ve been sitting on this article for a few months now, tinkering with it and rewording it from time to time because like testing spaghetti by throwing it against the wall. I have trouble getting my message to stick. Today I want to take a moment and make a statement about what should be expected of us as gamers, as geeks, and most importantly, as humans.
Recent articles and videos have been showing up highlighting the harsher side of gaming’s treatment of women. This covers both in-game representation of women, and treatment of female gamers. Geeks are still coming out into the light and blinking in the bright morning sun. We used to be a marginalized, even maligned segment of the population. However, with the wild popularity and acceptance we have found thanks to mainstream TV shows like Big Bang Theory and Fringe, suddenly it’s ok to be a geek.
So, while our standing in society has been raised, our treatment of society hasn’t. Many geeks still see themselves as an all boys club of closeted white knights deserving of their damsel. If Leonard can get Penny, then why can’t I get Kaley Cuoco? Well, the fact is that life doesn’t usually work out that way. But our interactions with TV and games may have slightly tinted our view of the women around us, and what we expect from them.
If you go back and look at a few of the most popular video games of the last few years, you’ll find they don’t treat women very well. In fact, some of them treat women in a horrible and shameful fashion. I used to think it was hilarious to play GTA: Vice City and get my health “raised” by a prostitute, and I thought nothing of running her down moments later to get my cash back. Dragon Age uses most of the female characters as unwilling whores, tossing them around for fun or pawning them off on male characters as “prizes”. The Godfather video game grants extra points for murdering women in novel fashions for new execution styles. Yeah, I know, it’s just a video game, but realistically, go back and review these interactions in your mind. Doesn’t it make you feel just a little bit…bad? Would you even have noticed if those few scenes in those couple of games weren’t there? Look at other games that create female characters with equitable genders, like Mass Effect, which portrays strong and intelligent women in leadership roles. The dialogue options for female Shepard are virtually identical to those of her male counterpart, because the point is that Shepard is a badass, regardless of gender. The game is still amazing, and the characters show depth and realism, with only a few of the ‘damsel in distress’ tropes. There is absolutely no need for exploitation or poor treatment of women to make a game great.
In reality, though, that’s not the big issue – it’s just a symptom. The serious issue comes when female gamers (our brethren in gaming, or sisteren if you will) speak out about how these portrayals make them feel, and the response of many of these monsters is to come across with threats of harm, rape, and death. Seriously, geeks? It seems like we finally got what we wanted! There are, (and probably always have been) girls who like the same things that we do! There are (finally vocal) women that we can converse with about topics that make us feel passion! But when they open their mouths with an opinion that we find controversial (which male geeks have been doing openly for years in our respective fandoms ) we threaten them with rape?!? Isn’t this the kind of behavior we always thought separated us from the jocks we “hated” so much? Johnny Football forces the prom queen to be “his girl”? Trash talk on CoD is certainly one thing, we have all spent some time getting yelled at by a 13-year-old jerk while he snipes us from 1300 yards. But this is beyond trash talk, it’s scary. Nobody plays a game to be scared for his or her personal life or the lives of our families; we play for the gaming experience.
Make some time to really research what’s going on with #GamerGate, and honestly evaluate the craziness. It’s important if you’re married; it’s important if you have a girlfriend; it’s important if you have a daughter; it’s important if you’re a HUMAN BEING!!!
And remember, Mario, your Princess isn’t in another castle waiting for you. She’s on the battlefield with the Hecate II sniper rifle. She’s got the Master Sword, and she’s going to defeat Ganon. She’s the Asari Commando that’s blasting away reapers. She’s in her own castle, sitting on a throne of Koopa skulls.