The Embarrassment of Being a “Gamer”

Metro: 2033 was an Xbox game I played last year and enjoyed. I’ve been wanting to get its sequel, Metro: Last Light for some time. I’m not so sure I still want it, though. One of the complaints I had about Metro: 2033 was that this post-apocalyptic world was seemingly woman-free. Everyone I interacted with was a man or a monster (in fact, sometimes I wonder if the “men” were…worse than the “monsters”!) There were no women at all who I spoke with or even shot. That just seemed weird to me, and I hoped it would be addressed in Last Light. Turns out, it was!

In Last Light you get to go to a post-apocalyptic strip club and have a no-doubt strong and empowered female character give you a topless lap dance! Progress!

I found this out when I watched the latest in Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” series. It’s the second part of a look at women used as background decoration in games, where female characters serve no purpose beyond sexual titillation or gruesome murder victims. Or, often, both at the same time.

I’ll be honest, I’ve played and enjoyed some videogames that had some distressing material in them. Probably the most notable is Red Dead Redemption, which took some time out from sending wolves after me to threaten an actually up until that moment pretty decent female character with rape and to send me to a nearly game-ruining racist caricature of Mexico for its entire second act. The game I’m currently playing, Dishonored, seems to be wanting to fill a Sarkeesian bingo card with its portrayal of women. It’s maddening and insulting.

Fortunately for me, I’m a straight white guy. I can point these things out and the worst I’ll be called is a faggot or “white knight”. For Anita Sarkeesian and other women who dare to do the same, they get hatred, vitriol, rape threats, and death threats. For some reason merely bringing the subject up is perceived as a call to arms for a certain section of the gamer audience if the messenger is a woman. As Darryl Ayo put it,

It doesn’t seem like it should be that controversial to ask why a videogame needs to be advertised with a photo of a dead woman wearing lingerie with her legs spread apart, but apparently doing so gets some people just poison mad.

I’m assured it’s only “some people” by folks who argue that this bunch is only a small yet vocal minority and don’t represent “gamer culture” as a whole, yet those extremists are not operating in a vacuum. The crux of Sarkeesian’s argument is that the games themselves — the vast majority of them — either ignore women altogether or include them solely as property, toys, or prizes for being the manliest man (it’s quite telling that the endless parade of prostitutes shown in the videos all have the same line: that for you, the player, they’ll give a free sample because you’re such an Adonis). Her claims are that this creates an environment which is hostile to women. Sarkeesian isn’t pointing out problems in the hooligans that are threatening her, she’s pointing out systemic issues within the entire industry, and she makes a convincing point.

This allegedly vocal minority seems to think that games exist solely for them, and that anything which threatens their hegemony must be viciously opposed. This is Sarkeesian’s actual point, that the console videogame industry is by and large a place by men and for men. It seems clear that the assholes aren’t the sole problem, they’re the most visible signs of the problem. They were created by an industry that caters to them and a community that allows them to grow and fester unchallenged in their anonymous comment pools.

To deny that the vile children who want the world to conform to their immature tastes are representative of the larger gaming environment is to ignore the vast number of incidents that are regularly reported from events like PAX, from sites like Kotaku, and from the releases from the companies themselves. You can’t look at a parade of scenes from AAA titles all featuring prostitutes cooing at the protagonist and/or lusciously draped female corpses and say there’s no pattern here. The stories of a woman who dared to have an opinion about videogames (or exist in that world) being harassed and hounded are so common and prevalent that the reaction isn’t “what happened?” but “what happened this time?” This Sarkeesian situation followed hot on the heels of the Zoe Quinn situation, where a legion of male gamers have felt the need to defend the “integrity” of “game journalism”, which is akin to defending the intellectual foundations of the Tea Party.

These are not the actions of a small, embittered minority. This shit goes on too often and to too much of an extent to just wave away with #NotAllGamers. The game releases are tilted towards a stunted, juvenile sort of heterosexual male, as is the marketing and the discussion. Anonymous, unmoderated comment sections give an unchallenging echo chamber for these degenerates to grow and flourish, eventually bursting to release their toxic spores elsewhere. And meanwhile the same people who demand that videogames be treated as art get angry when its critiqued as just that, limply replying that it’s just a game, just for entertainment, don’t get so upset, as though “art” means something is just admired and respected and never ever questioned or challenged.

The fact that “Mature” rated videogames feature nothing actually mature, just titties and cussing, shows that the industry needs to work on its idea of maturity. Not catering to and acting like 13 year old boys would be a good first step.

I’ll pass on Metro: Last Light. I don’t need to be a party to, “Oh, you want women in this story? FINE, here’s some strippers and prostitutes.” Don’t save the last lap dance for me.

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