There was a time (and in the grand scheme of things, really not that long ago) that gaming was considered something for children to enjoy. A generation of kids grew up with early consoles and the industry grew up with it, expanding outwards in terms of both the types of genres available and the maturity of the stories being told.
While the stigma of video games being a kid’s activity has largely faded away, we’re now overcoming the next social hurdle: the idea that games are made by and played by men alone. There’s no question that the number of female gamers has skyrocketed, and they aren’t just playing Candy Crush Saga or Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Turns out there are just as many ladies who dig dialog-heavy RPGs or fast-paced shooters as dudes.
With that realization has come some serious unpleasantness in the online arena, especially as more women are actually entering the industry – both as developers and journalists – rather than just playing games. Throw in a push for more women to be portrayed as heroic protagonists and not mere for eye candy, too. Unsurprisingly, there’s been some seriously sexist backlash from those who don’t want to see the industry change.
Of course, the big name that immediately comes to mind on that front is the infamous GamerGate controversy. Although it might not be entirely fair, GamerGate is now synonymous with sexism. (Be sure to check out our look at the situation here that covers both sides for a more balanced view.)
Rightly or wrongly, GG is now the poster child for bad behavior in gaming
The vitriol towards women in gaming brought about by GamerGate has made it clear we do actually have a sexism issue in our overall community that’s not going away on its own. This whole debacle has also brought issues of how women are portrayed in games back to the forefront and made the problem ripe for addressing.
What can we – both male and female gamers – do to combat sexism in our community and make gaming more inclusive of all people?
Call It Out
It seems obvious, but this is huge. Social media has made it so that everyone has a voice and a gigantic platform available 24/7, 365. Every last thought that enters a person’s head can now be broadcast to the world immediately, and obviously that leads to some truly awful things being shared on gaming websites or Facebook profiles.
That’s why sexist comments need to be called out and not allowed to slide. When people know from experience that they won’t get a storm of “likes” after dropping some flippant sexist comment, and will instead get a wall of disagreement from friends and foes alike, they’ll think twice about doing it again the next time.
Especially in the online world where people can easily throw out a death threat or a Hitler comparison on their phones and then move on with their days, gamers need to learn how to behave like civil adults and lead by example. There are legitimate instances where both men and women in the industry have done things worthy of being called out and condemned, but you destroy your own argument and credibility the second you type a word like “slut” or “ugly.”
Immediately attacking a person’s gender or physical appearance because they did something you don’t like is insanely counterproductive, and we can and must be better than that.
Strive For Balance
That last point seemed obvious, but somehow gets ignored. This next point sadly isn’t as obvious, but absolutely should be: sometimes the anti-sexism, pro-feminism crowd is just as obnoxious as the worst that GamerGate has to offer. An upleasant side effect of the instant communication and constant audience provided by the Internet is that people frequently don’t bother to consider an argument from the other point of view before responding.
While the name was perhaps an unfortunate choice since it gives the appearance of supporting one gender over another, the fact of the matter is that true “feminism” is actually striving for equality between the two groups. Unfortunately, there are cases were it goes too far into the opposite direction. Misogynistic groups around the world were practically giddy with glee when that insane article about how all intercourse is always rape went viral last year. This imbalance also happens in the gaming world as well.
In the absolute mess that discussions about the place of women and minorities play in gaming, there has to be a balance. Rightly or wrongly, going overboard and calling out sexism where none exists (or it exists to such a small degree that its essentially irrelevant) just gives the GamerGaters the ammunition they need and makes them feel justified in their actions.
Insisting that ALL games must feature a strong female main character, or that NO games should be allowed to feature risque outfits, is just as sexist as insisting that no games feature a strong female main character. A balance exists somewhere out there where male and female characters are written because they work in the story, and not because someone is either filling a gender quota or lazily falling back on old gender stereotypes of what’s always been done before.
Here’s a myth that might actually be leading to more inequality in the gaming community: ending sexism and achieving equality doesn’t mean everyone’s going to get along. Nor should anyone be required to skip through a field of tulips with people they legitimately disagree with on any issue.
We are all allowed to disagree, but the way we go about it absolutely has to change if we want to end the toxic environment many gaming communities have become. For instance, I think Vanille from Final Fantasy 13 is legitimately one of the worst characters to ever grace any video game of all time, and that doesn’t make me sexist. You know what I DON’T do, though? I don’t graphically threaten to rape people who disagree with my assessment, and my arguments for why I don’t like Vanille absolutely don’t boil down to: “she has a vagina and is a major character.”
On the flip side of that, you don’t get a gold star for being a male gamer who doesn’t send rape threats to female gamers (that should be the baseline norm, not the top grade to strive for). Female gamers also can’t expect all male gamers to agree with them or never call them out if they do something lame. Two people who support gender equality are allowed to disagree, and neither should consider the other some kind of traitor to the cause because their views don’t fully lineup on all other issues, or even the ways in which sexism should be confronted.
Vote With Your Wallet
It’s another obvious example, but sometimes the fact that gaming is a business industry really gets overlooked. If nobody buys the next installment of Grand Theft Auto, you better believe Rockstar is going to notice that and make some drastic changes. This is especially true of those publishers who insist on getting out a new iteration of any given AAA franchise like clockwork once a year. The bottom line is all those companies care about, and if you hurt that, they will be forced to change.
At the same time, a balance needs to be sought out here (see the aforementioned section). There’s a difference between outrageous events happening for the sake of humor and an actual derogatory take on one gender in general. Where the line gets drawn between what’s hilariously offensive and what’s just offensive is up to each individual gamer to decide.
For instance, is Dragon’s Crown sexist because the sorceress character looks like this, or is it poking fun at a specific art style and going outrageous for attention? It’s also worth noting that the men in the game bulge in a very specific, hyper-sexualized way, and that brings up the question of whether balancing out the gender distribution would actually end the debate.
For instance, many feel that Grand Theft Auto has a very sexist tone with its all-male main characters who go to strip clubs and can beat prostitutes to death. Would it really be such a big deal if the next GTA had a crime-loving leading lady who enjoys literally beating down the competition and then makes it rain at the local Chippendales? Even though I’m not particularly interested in seeing a dude in a thong waving his backside in my face, I’d still play that game (although I probably wouldn’t spend nearly as much time in the strip club as I did with GTA 5).
Stop Asking For Nudes
No, seriously — stop. There’s enough pornography on the Internet that a single person couldn’t possibly watch it all in 10 lifetimes. There are easily hundreds of thousands of people across the globe who actively want you to see them naked. So cut it out with sharing or asking for links to nudes of the handful of people who DON’T want you to see them naked. This phenomena is most prevalent in the movie and music industries (remember that dust up with the Jennifer Lawrence nude photos hitting the web?), but unfortunately it’s arrived in gaming as well.
Back when we covered the controversy over Cynthia Bunnay’s behavior while working with (and after being fired from) eSports team MVG, there were those that chose to focus on Bunnay’s physical attributes rather than the unethical behavior she engaged in. In this case, things got taken to the next level when nude photos were actually stolen and leaked online.
One of the earliest comments on that original story right here at GameSkinny was someone asking where to find these photos, and another user promptly came up to explain where they are located. Much like with calling out sexist comments, here is an excellent opportunity for gamers to do the right thing and let other members of the community know that revenge porn isn’t acceptable. We’ll probably never kill the practice entirely, but we can make it a much less prevalent.
Killing the market for leaked nude photos that people don’t want seen makes it a less attractive option next time around if everyone calls it out. Don’t just avoid looking at them – let the people discussing looking at them know that revenge porn is a despicable practice that has no place in gaming.
Make Your Voice Heard
Even more than any other major entertainment industry – movies, music, literature, etc. – gaming offers a way for the average fan to actually get involved in the creation of new content and have it be covered on wide scale. Indie games, even in very niche genres, frequently overtake their bigger name counterparts in terms of news coverage and positive reviews.
So it has to be said – don’t like the way women are portrayed in games? Make one of your own and show the world what you can do! Kickstarter, Early Access, Steam Greenlight, RPGMaker: there are more options than ever for Joe or Jane Doe to fund and make a game and have it be taken seriously.
Gamers don’t have to wait for the AAA developers to figure this out: we can revolutionize the industry without them, and they can catch up to us.
What do you think about the state of gender equality in gaming, and how do you feel we can more effectively combat sexism in the industry? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!