Monday, November 16, 2009

VGA 2-1 [Sexual Sadism]

Video Games as Art 2-1
Originally Posted: Friday // April 11th, 2008 9:44:24 Central Standard Time

This is probably the most altered post that I’ll have in the series, but that stems mainly from the fact that my distaste for writing ‘lists’ has increased exponentially. That and I’ve gotten the perspective from a few other areas and people that I didn’t have access to before. To open up with, I should clarify some of my own stances, which gave rise to the prior edition of this post.

First and foremost --- I absolutely do not believe in Egalitarianism in most of its contexts.

More accurately, I’ve no faith in people’s ability to reach any instance of their own idealized state of equality. Savagely cynical and conceited yes, but impractical this isn’t. My typical action for dealing with people is pretty much on the opposite end of the spectrum for your average grading scale. That means instead of initially giving people the benefit of the doubt, I just assume they’re all shit and let them work their way up my own personal scale of judgment (yes, I judge pretty damn draconically by character). What’s really tragic is not that I rely on it, hell --- it isn’t even that I can rely on it, it’s that I’m at a point in life where I actually find comfort within it (whether that’s more of a reflection on me or the people I associate with is up for debate). That means when sardonicism such as mine flows through culture’s filters, it comes to rest at something such as gaming while appearing with what most wrongly perceive misanthropy to entail by default: unjust and reckless hatred, discriminatory stances such as misogyny, and an addiction to humanity’s more morbid actions. Indeed those are indulgences someone like me often has to temper, but very rarely are they based purely in prejudice.

I certainly don’t support something as idiotic as ‘enforced inequality’, I merely antagonize the common human notion that we should always strive for an idealistic society. On principle, I see that as an idealistic and romantic imbalance, mostly because it sacrifices everything else at the expense of people not stepping on each other’s toes (and I’ve already established how much value I find in the popular notion of ‘happiness’). Since I care very little of what people think of me, I’ve no qualms about inspiring things that most would consider ‘morally questionable’ (bleh, the taste of just typing that stings…).

In short, by temporarily taking away the grey areas (which are more important but irrelevant at the moment), one is left with dualities which require choice. A couple of my picks for example:

I value failure more than success.
I value conflict more than peace.
I value hatred more than love.
I value subjective truth(s) more than an objective truth.
I value a person’s faults more than their virtues.
And meaning outranks happiness in every single case.

Games haven’t quite jumped in this fecal-laced pool yet, but they are dipping their toes in it. Unwittingly capitalizing on touchy notions such as racism, subtle sexisms, and general political correctness, the medium is facing an extremely large paradigm shift. This is a shift so broad, that as a generation --- we probably won’t be able to see wherever the hell it will lead either way (which why most opt for ignoring it).

The first version of this post was composed of a wanton surge of exasperation with how women were depicted in games. Now I’ve moved on (or back, depending on how you look at it), and I’ve decided that the best way to evolve these ideas along would be to address another pertinent matter that the prior version merely implied, prematurity.

I've come to realize that women are totally viable character choices, I even identify with them, to some extent anyway, much the same way as I'm sure girls can do with Kratos or the kid from Bully. Its less about ‘embracing madness’ than a good game making me forget it.
-D. Rodgers, 1UP Blogger

This prematurity stems from an area where I always tend to splinter off from more progressive stances (something else I don’t much believe in by the way). More important than my post are the responses they sometimes tend to generate. The male statements (in addition to my own original post) tended to cite the obvious gender homogeny as the most problematic part of the industry. The female responses tended to separate pride from the equation, offering up patience for awaiting the industry’s inevitable maturation. The transition for more females making games, their depictions within games, and the number playing them has to be an organic emergence. If it’s enforced, there seems to be some common perception that it will serve as a pandering detriment overall. I personally tend to look at them as colors (i.e. the problems society has in general); the separation between them being just as important as the mixtures they can concoct. When the enforced awareness of this becomes aggressive in any form, I tend to recoil --- as it usually ‘limits the colors’ possible. Me being the selfish ass I am --- it basically equates to someone snatching all my crayons away, leaving me with only the three neutral colors. Honestly, introducing more women into the drawing board will not be enough to solve the problems (at best it simply will be the band-aid on a broken arm), but it is a fundamental concept gamers have to accept. The difference between men and woman, if you could only hear the scoff I make at gamers balancing that when society itself fails so miserably with the same task to begin with.

“More specifically, I meant that the majority of developers being male isn't the problem; it's that our culture, especially the media in general, is becoming more adolescent by the day. I don't see female involvement improving things much if the collective worldview of our society remains indulgent, petty, shallow, etc. In plain English, we need some fucking real adults, period, to make games.”
-Star_Royal, 1UP comment

We can take apart common notions for days, but let’s just do one for right now. If we look at what composes the stereotypical female gamer, let’s contemplate some of the things ‘she’ is made of:

1 >> A reaction towards some odd discombobulated icon of sexual desire from males

As bad as it sounds, one has to give acknowledgement towards the existence of girls who simply use games as a vehicle in order to get attention from men. Sometimes this isn’t as bad as it seems, as I’ve seen plenty women transition from this to actually embracing games for themselves. Many others however, still stand on the social decadence that something like XBL fosters even more blatantly now (I’ve also recently seen it rearing its head in MMOs, which correlates to the next piece of the pie). The same women may or may not consciously manipulate their ‘iconic imagery’ associated with their surrounding male players in order to bolster their own egos. We’ve all seen that one attention whore while playing Gears of War; a gal so hung up on potentially being the only female in a game, she gets drunk off that novelty alone. This isn’t even about the sexual imagery plastered all over the place in other games either (coughDeadorAlivecough). I’m willing to accept that there’s a place for that somewhere, but the pipe of variety for games is well --- just that, a pipe. Forgive me for becoming exasperated with 56k breasts.

Also, I don't think you're far off about artists not having all the say. We live in a world of corporate pressure, and it shows no sign of slowing down. I think we both agree on what constitutes as a certain degree of expertise; however, the power of corporate pressure keeps progress at a slow pace. Simply put, we'll continue to see sexually unrealistic and offensive representation of women if it translates into profits.
-M. Spayth, 1UP Blogger

2 >> A tendency to play RPGs more than any other genre.

I accredit this to the fact that women are simply more adept at reading the subtextual and less action-oriented dynamics of any medium. RPGS are the unwitting mascot for games when it comes to plotlines, characters, and somewhat rich narrative worlds (which is sad all in itself). Over the past decade this has changed pretty substantially, but the stereotype itself is still there, which is why this still exists. The standard RPG tones of emotional depth generally just seem to catch their attention more than men, and it values things not easily apparent. This can be seen in many other facets of general life as well, no doubt contributing to the whole ‘irrational female’ image. There’s much less-obvious logic in typical female actions, which tends to confound the stereotypical male who takes things at face-value (funny how life still emulates bad sitcoms).

“If we attempt to artificially force the evolution of women in gaming, it's going to backfire and we’ll wind up with an abundance of ‘Games for Women’ that are just plain bad. I would rather continue to play as a man, or a strong female whose breasts have a life of their own, rather than have to suffer through some painful piece of crap that doesn't contain any of the elements of gaming that I have come to love.”
-Deb, 1UP Blogger

3 >> The inability to touch ‘patented’ masculinity.

The status by which men associate masculine traits to visual and personal attributes is often aided by social inertia. This is to say that ‘our definitions’ are far too fallible to set in stone because while things are still pretty much imbalanced between the sexes, they’re also still relative and change significantly as time drags on. Men don’t hold ‘patents’ on what is sometimes considered to be masculine, not anymore. Hell, the only reason I use even use the word myself is because I know people will complain about how verbose I otherwise tend to get. An example of that is an assertive woman who is automatically pigeon-holed as being masculine. Indeed there should be boundaries and differentiation, but those definitions are only as good as the times they’re applied to. My problem with this is how outdated yonic and phallic representations really are now.

Something similar can be said of the vapid women in action flicks. Directors, producers, designers are all responsible for keeping the stereotypes going. They cannot point fingers when they, themselves, contribute to the same circle. I wish there were more women of substance in and around games but we should also demand more men of substance in and around gaming as well. The frat-boy mentality should die and games could mature but the industry knows a good thing when they see it. Sex sells and there's no way around it, the industry listens to money, not logical arguments.
- BigMex, 1UP Blogger

Naturally, I linked the player to the creator and came away that the relative number of girls playing games has to have some correlation to those that contribute to making them. There were a couple of distinct patterns I noticed as well; both stem from the affect that current society has on them as a gender. The first one was how socially irrelevant culture tends to make games as a whole for them specifically; it seems to veer women off at a more targeted rate than men. Though female gamers are large in number, they are and still remain a minority among the population. Simply put, girls aren’t really seen as ‘gamers’ in the basest sense, which is fairly more poignant than it may seem (i.e. if you close your eyes and think ‘gamer’ what gender is the image that pops in your head?). Even today, they remain some illusory rare treasure that males place on distorted pedestals. The way they’re raised and cultivated --- even by today’s feigned liberal and progressive stances, is often more disrupted than that of boys as well. The second part of this is direct proof of the first and that is what happens to any woman, be they a writer or simply an avid player who may attempt to even remotely address gender topics in regards to games. They almost instantly get written off for overreacting or blowing an issue out of proportion. It’s intriguing to me that the majority of ‘aggressive’ women (even those just willing to stand up for themselves individually) remain tragic figures in current times. I can even muster up some semblance inverse empathy here; as I’m constantly pondering the nature of my own magnetism. I can skip around here on my blog pissing on people left and right (with a big fucking smile on my face mind you), but if there were any image of excess estrogen applied to who I was, I’d most likely be seen as just some shrew. Coupled with my own thoughts on people generally being amiable towards your average jerk’s honesty, I’d have to propose an answer to that age-old question:

Whoever: Why the hell do people love assholes so much?
Me: Generally speaking, it’s because they have the ‘The Penis of Truth’.

Regardless of what game developers say, they develop with men and young boys in mind, not females, so a female gamer tends to have the stereotype of being unattractive and ghastly, which means men won't listen to them either way. Well --- actually, I'm wrong, it's usually true for the women who are outspoken; those who are more or less your 'casual' or average gamer tend to assume what's going to transpire if they speak out. It’s steadily changing but you still get a lot of nasty comments or opinions thrown at you, and then you also have online components where guys are afraid to kick a female out or give her constructive criticism (these are things you find in everyday life too).
- Mandy, 1UP Blogger

Phallic honesty is a tad facile but I’ll leave that there for right now and transition towards what’s seen in relationships, as well as variations in sexuality. Gamers tend to almost righteously regurgitate the instance of a game’s mechanics adapting to more sedentary actions (e.g. talking). The logic there brings into us back to that idiotic fun argument, which I’m not really interested in entertaining right now; I’ll just state say that the common dolt who argues ‘games should be fun’ and nothing else is quickly becoming a self-affirming dinosaur. When the paths for actual relationships between people are more widely embraced by gamers, titles will be that much better for it (not to mention that the methods themselves will get a chance to evolve and open up as technology continues to expand). When we reach the arena of same-sex and androgynously toned titles, there isn’t so much of a dingy cultural lens, but a latent and abusively restrained potential. I’d assume this is because such citizens are still being treated as third-class citizens by modern society. In terms of games however, which use so much artistic fuel, I’d say they have a back door in design here. A basic example for that is the potential awareness that’s generated when a female is ‘made masculine’ or vice versa (hell, look at what happened with Jack).

“Ah, but to completely remove personal affectation and rely on the basis of pure logic, a fallacy since we don't have pure logic, is an argument men have been making for years. This has also stunted men, particularly from expressing themselves and communicating. There is a middle ground to be struck.”
-D. Farr, Author of Vorpal Bunny Ranch

As long as those kinds of people are buying as many games as they are, as frequently as they are, then things won't change. More women are getting into the industry and more women are playing games, but we're still not seeing much of a female perspective in them. This is not to say that games aimed at women should involve ponies and games aimed at men should involve threesomes and bloody violence, but the feminine perspective (strong female leads, the use of love in a story, good writing) just aren't being accepted by gamers right now. And even if a game like that does hit, the ‘hardcore’ base of the industry will just call it ‘gay’ and move back to their ‘mature’ games (which aren't actually mature in any sense of the word).
-C. Winn, 1UP Blogger

In the 80's 99.99% of game players were men sitting on their asses playing on a computer, or going into cigarette smoke-filled arcade to play some Pac-Man. Then the NES budged things a little bit but I would still say that 90% of gamers were still men. It is not until we get into this generation of gaming that I think shit truly opens up. Nintendo caters to all whims now and those men who fell in love with games during 80's became game designers. Imagine the people who are falling in love with games now. I have no doubt that a large percentage of them are female.
- TaureanWilliams, 1UP Blogger

And another thing, I agree with --- a lot of women aren't helping the situation. I certainly haven't done a survey or know numbers, but in my experience, I run into more girls that feed into the bullshit than girls that go against it.
-J. Williams, 1UP Blogger

As everyone else highlighted, I think for the industry to mature, its audience has to first.
-Nel, 1UP Blogger

I was reading through the comments here and saw a few things that got me thinking. All of the female friends I had back in the 80's were also gamers. As we neared our 20's, all of them dropped out of gaming except me. I think a big disconnect was the lack of story/social content in most games as the 80's came to a close. I was asked often what I got out of playing games because they were viewing them as 'pointless'.
-Tristessa, 1UP Blogger

When none of your friends are gamers and you don't have a console, it takes a lot of effort to stay interested in gaming. However, I was one of those weirdos who constantly bought magazines just to ogle screenshots, hung out with guys for the chance to game, and kept right on with the PC. Lots of women just aren't as invested in it. It doesn't help that most guys don't take you seriously, and when you're playing online, you either have nerds hitting on you or going, "lolz, it's a girl." So yeah, lots of obstacles there. In the end, you have to be ready to be seen as "awesome, but crazy" on the guy side, and just plain crazy on the female side. There's not much of a middle group. I suppose I'm just crazy.
-K. Bailey, 1UP Editor

In a lot of ways, this has absolutely nothing to do with games and absolutely everything to do with them at the same time. I eliminated what the prior edition of this post featured, an actual list of female game characters I enjoyed for myself. The point of this post was to regress past the line where the actual discussion of their appearance in games appears as something we’re simply not ready for yet. Numerous artists, programmers, and designers keep falling prey to such basic things, but the onus is on the audience for pushing them down in the first place --- the gamers.