Calling out to mothers and fathers: play the games (video games, cell phone games, Playstation, anything!) that your daughters and sons usually play. Write a short review, looking at the game from the point of view of its female characters, the vocabulary used, the violence directed at women, and anything else you feel is important. Tell us what's good, tell us what really needs to change. Send it to us, post it on your blog or facebook, tweet it, email it to your friends, and share it with your children.

Don't take anyone's word for it. Play the games yourself! After all, games both mirror and inspire reality!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reflections on Gaming: The Sexism controversy

We received a thoughtful piece (not a specific review) from Naren Pradhan, a high-schooler. He has been playing video games since he turned three, and considers himself something of an expert on video game content.

Gaming: The Sexism Controversy
Since the first few fantasy role-playing video games were released, there has been a controversy over sexism in gaming. Some critics say that women in video games are always used as eye candy, designed in a way that attracts male players, encouraging stereotypes. Others believe that video games display and glorify violence, harsh language, and treat women with disrespect. Critics also point out that women in games are rarely assigned important roles; the man almost always taking the lead role with the woman solely playing the role of the damsel in distress. I myself am a male gamer, so I may not be the best to judge this issue. However I am going to try to look at it from both a woman and man’s point of view in order to draw unbiased, educated conclusions.

I find that many of the complaints women have about gaming are right. At the same time, I find that there are also some problems that are really no longer as large as they once were.

Role of Women in Video Games: It is generally believed that women are not assigned important roles in video games. They are generally hapless female characters waiting for their male knights in shining armour. In the early days of video gaming, this was quite true. In classic games series such as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and even Sonic the Hedgehog, female characters such as Princess Toadstool, Princess Zelda, and Amy Rose merely acted as the helpless love interests of the heroes who rescued them from the villains. No surprise, as this was exactly the same in famous ancient heroic epics such as The Faerie Queen and the Ramayana, which still have influence on fiction today. Even worse, in some games such as the 1987 fighting game, Street Fighter, there were absolutely no women! It’s ironic, since the female fighter Chun Li, now seen by many as the face of the series, did not appear until SF2.

However, things have changed. The protests of the female community were heard, and women soon got more important roles in gaming. One of the first games to do this was Metroid, a side-scrolling shooter and platform featuring the armour-clad, missile launcher-toting female interplanetary warrior, Samus Aran. After that came Lara Croft, and soon there were many female characters who were integral to the game if not headlining their very own games. Today, in the hit Wii game Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, instead of just being destined to be rescued by the valiant hero Link, Princess Zelda rides with him into battle with the evil warlock Ganondorf. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes this change, and some still hold their belief that women don’t get enough importance in gaming. This is a belief that will surely disappear in time.

Violence and Disrespect Towards Women: Unfortunately, this is a problem that we face even in present day gaming. In several games, you see harsh profanity being thrown at women. And even worse, in games such as the crime-action game Grand Theft Auto, women are seen selling their bodies as strippers and prostitutes for the pleasure of the main characters, only to be raped and brutally murdered later. The reason why game developers put these elements into their games may be that they want to make their games realistic; unfortunately, this uncivilized treatment of women and girls is part of the real world. Yes, it is sad, but true. However, I believe what game developers need to realize is how much of an impact these games have on modern day society, especially on their teen buyers. Many underage gamers and even some young adults can be influenced by what they play, and if their games contain these elements, they may think the harsh treatment of women is okay. Therefore, while this kind of treatment of women is present in the world, putting it video games will only make it worse.

Sex Appeal: Finally, we come to the biggest problem - the first thing many people think of when they hear about sexism in video games. So far, in almost every popular video game (harmless E-rated games like Super Mario Galaxy not included) there is at least one scantily clad woman designed specifically in a way to appeal to male gamers. Examples include Lara Croft, Bayonetta from her titular game, Mileena from Mortal Kombat, and many more. This is one issue that enrages women everywhere, as using too much sex appeal not only devalues real women as objects of sexual interest, but also sometimes encourages actual sexual crimes.

So why do game developers use sex-appeal, or “fanservice,” in their games so much? The answer is simple: it sells. I myself admit that when I play the MMORPG Atlantica Online, whenever I see an NPC or even a female player wearing revealing clothing, which I find a lot, my teenage nature kicks in, and I zoom in to get a better view. Later, I kick myself for being hypocritical, since I am against this. Designing characters like Lara Croft and Bayonetta in a provocative manner appeals to the male gaming community, which is believed to be the far larger part of the worldwide gaming community. Developers probably believe that more copies will be sold. However, recent surveys show that males make up only 60 percent of all gamers. Also, while it may be true that the gratuitous use of sex-appeal attracts male customers, it drives away female ones. So it is possible that lowering the amount of fanservice may actually increase sales! Nevertheless, the main problem is not a commercial, but a moral one. When women see fictional characters in unreal “perfect” bodies, they feel self-conscious and unhappy about their own looks, a problem similar to that generated by models, pop stars, and other attractive female celebrities as well as plastic dolls like Barbie.

Video games are very influential on gamers everywhere, especially the youth of the world. Therefore, not giving women enough importance and showing them as sex-objects who are always being abused verbally, physically, and sexually can encourage these problems in the real world. While some of these problems have faded over time, sexism is still a problem in video games that should be dealt with. Whatever the reason for developers to use female characters like this, they must think of the moral implications and the real women that they are affecting.

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