Here’s a short list of things I am not: six feet tall, a magical wood elf, a cast member of “Rent,” a talented [any occupation here], a Craftmatic Adjustable Bed. One of the more obvious things I am not is a woman – I am very much not a woman. The beard and the penis give that one away. The problem with not being a woman is that when there’s a woman related issue about which I have an opinion, my opinion is greatly dismissed because I don’t subscribe to that lifestyle, just like any interest group that pops up with a stupid issue. Gaming is not immune to this kind of thing, and some women have some opinions about which I greatly disagree. So I’m going to share an opinion, and then you can tell me that it’s invalid because of my genitals. It’ll be fun.
Within the past couple of years, feminist groups have been up in arms about misogyny in video games. It’s a fantastic use of their time and resources because all of the pertinent issues facing women today have seemed to disappear. That’s sarcasm, kids. Why should we rally together for the rights of the women in the Middle East who are assaulted with acid on a daily basis when Lara Croft has a dysmorphic body design? We have priorities in this country, damnit, but articles about things like a perceived sexism in video games get hits on websites. I know you’re head scratching at the irony here, but just go with it. Let’s just get into the meat of it.
I’ve read quite a few feminist rants about gaming. I’m not going to throw any fellow writers under the bus by naming them, but suffice it to say that searching the internet for this topic yields a booty of opinions. Most, if not all, of these opinions are nonsense and conflated to seem as if they have merit when in actuality, they have about as much value as a My Little Pony Nintendo DS game. The thesis to these articles is always the same: Games exploit women and are only geared toward men and ought to appeal to an audience of everyone. All of these points are nonsense.
Let’s talk about the business of making games. The vast majority of players are men and boys. Vast majority. Did I say vast? I meant to say vast. Most developers will put the hay down where the goats can get it. They know their audience, they know how to sell games. Men and boys like to look at women. That’s much less exploitation than it is capitalizing on what sells. Even more so, it’s capitalizing on biology. Dudes like dames, and you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
If the majority (vast, let’s say) of a company’s money comes from one group, why wouldn’t they market to that one group? People complain that laundry detergent commercials target women. Look at the market research and you’ll see that most of their money comes from women.
Why would they target men who don’t buy their product? It’s a waste of their money, and if they’re wasting money, they’re not making money; which is exactly not the point of having a business. (I was going to use a tampon commercial as an example, but I thought that was a bit on the nose.)
It seems, though, that game content is what chiefly aggravates the feminists who are bothered by this thing, so let’s talk about that. The damsel in distress is a popular trope in games. And why wouldn’t it be? Princess Peach needs to be saved by Mario. Why? Well, because Bowser kidnapped her, but why in terms of convention? This is because the simplest stories to comprehend and accept are fairy tales, and Mario is a fairy tale.
Most fairy tales involve a captured monarch, a flawed hero, and a villain with some convoluted motive. Princess Peach is no more exploited than Sleeping Beauty. It’s simplicity at its core without regard for sociopolitical commentary on gender roles. We are the ones who apply that only after we have chosen to ignore important feminist issues in the world.
Ok, so what about the Tomb Raider argument of exploitation? What about it? Lara Croft is a sexy woman. We all know that, and in her recent iteration, she has become a much more realistic looking individual than her birth in 1996. For a feminist to focus solely on her body model is myopically ignorant and seems entirely counterintuitive to their cause.
Yes, she has large mammalian protuberances. (Thanks to Frank Zappa for that phrase.) Yes, she has a small waist and super short shorts and two bad assed pistols with which to murder wildlife and sinister baddies. However, doesn’t also the woman designed Barbie? Minus the pistols.
They actually look pretty similar, Barbie and Lara – and yes, I know that feminists have a problem with Barbie too, let’s stay on topic here. The difference between Lara and Barbie is that Barbie is perceived to be a moron for whatever reason. Yeah, she has all this stuff and every profession ever, but Barbie doesn’t have a story. Lara, however, has a story.
She’s accomplished, intelligent, headstrong, calm under pressure, beholden to no man nor authority, a rule breaker, a moral centrist, and a seeker of knowledge. Shouldn’t Lara Croft be someone to whom girls aspire? Or should they not solely because Lara is attractive? That’s a terribly hypocritical position to take, isn’t it?
Speaking of strong women, we should look Mass Effect for some good examples. Not only can the user create a woman character who then captains the ship and runs the show, but each woman in that story has authority and strength. Are they attractive? Of course they are, but so is every actress in every movie ever.
Each woman in Mass Effect makes decisions, has opinions, wrecks fools with a gun, and impacts greatly the events of the game. These are strong, Ellen Ripley type characters who don’t take crap from anyone (dude or dame). These are more examples of strength in women in video games whose appearance or sex is not being exploited.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Hey, A. Robert; what’s with the wheelchair you use?’ You’re probably also thinking, ‘Hey, A. Robert; what about games like Splatterhouse and Lollypop Chainsaw?’ Well first, I have spina bifida. And second, those games are exploitative by design. That’s the point of the game. To exploit.
And to exploit not just women, but gore, violence, and absurdity. Splatterhouse features Rick who wears a demonic hockey mask and dismembers evil things with an unreasonably large machete. He also has a girlfriend named Jenny who gets kidnapped by the evil doctor (fairy tale through line anyone?). Jenny also happens to be an aspiring Playboy model.
The player actually doesn’t see a lot of Jenny, save the collectable pieces of her Playboy photos. The point of this game is to obscenely hack up demons and cover the walls with blood. It’s a dude’s game and dudes like gore and hot girls. Again, this is putting the hay down where the goats can get it, playing to an audience.
There’s nothing wrong with that, and the Splatterhouse reboot was awesome, I’d say. As a side note, we’re going to ignore how Rick can do nothing as a thin and weak character until the mask gives him ungodly, 90’s Image Comics vintage muscles. Tropes damaging to young boys? No, no. We don’t care about those gender roles do we.
Lollypop Chainsaw is a more interesting case. User controls a ditzy cheerleader who carries around the animated head of her boyfriend as she cuts up evil demon/zombie things with her chainsaw in order to protect her high school. She lacks the brains that Lara Croft has to be sure, but the game is a horror comedy satire of old exploitative films. It’s by design. Is she attractive? Of course she is, but wasn’t the plot of Buffy The Vampire Slayer kind of exactly the same?
The thing about Buffy is, she’s a strong role model for youth for some reason, while she seems just as exploitative to me. (And Luke Perry was super dreamy in the movie.) Lollypop Chainsaw is comedy, and contrary to feminist opinion, exploitative gender roles are funny. See also; every TV commercial with the castrated husband who is afraid of his wife and children.
These are a few examples of many, but the underlying irritation of the entire argument is that interest groups, for whomever they chose to champion, seem to rarely want equality. They want special treatment. If a dude gets hacked in half by Pyramid Head, that’s expected and not exploitative of gender.
If a dame gets hacked in half by Pyramid Head, it’s exploitative of her gender and misogynistic. If true equality were the goal, then the reaction to either gender being hacked in half by Pyramid Head would be the same, would it not? Why the special attention to the women?
The other irritation is the argument that all digital entertainment ought to appeal to all audiences. This is the dumbest argument to make, look at film. In film, there are pictures targeted at women, men, children, blacks, gays, liberals, conservatives, atheists, and religious folk.
Are you honestly going to look me in my four eyes and tell me that Tyler Perry ought to make films that appeal to all audiences when his cash cow is clearly black Americans? Please. An artist should market and make to those who are most likely to buy his or her product. Again, a lot of dudes buy video games, so games which are clearly marketed toward the center of the bell curve reads to me as good business.
As a rule, I hate interest groups. The reason is that interest groups do good things. That doesn’t seem to make much sense but feminist groups, for example, do wonderful things for the advancement of women’s causes in the world. The reason why I hate them is because they focus time and resources on the minutia of their cause, garnering negative attention to their work, which obscures the good, forward progress that they make on real issues which ought to draw positive attention. Misogyny in gaming? Really? That’s what is going to change the world?
Then again, we do live in a society that would rather ban things and make things as bland as possible for everyone than have discussions and realize that different people like different things, leaving the individual to make his or her own mind. I have a feeling that this isn’t the last time I’m going to explore this topic, but enjoying something that is exploitative doesn’t mean the enjoyer is part of the exploitation. Does loving the movie Three The Hard Way make me a white supremacist? If you actually think that, then you’re probably misplacing the accusations of narrow-mindedness. Game well, kids.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.