Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

Here’s an essay I wrote on the horrendous PWR BTTM situation.

Writing this wasn’t easy, and with a lot of anxiety I chose to address the issue. The older I get, the more I realize the role which sexual violence has played in shaping the person I am today.

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What I love about the world of “low-culture”, meaning things like video games, comics, alternative media, is the sense that the rules of engagement are always being re-realized. While more mainstream media rests comfortably in cliché and offense the world of “alternative” or “indie” media at least purports to some level of culpability and reflexive self-criticism. All the more interesting when overlooked mediums become cultural battlegrounds for issues of genuine cultural importance. Race. Sexuality. Representation. The deep-seated stuff that, yes, I guarantee you is dictating the course of important social issues from a top-down perspective.

Girl playing video games

If you’ve been following a bit of the big gaming buzz lately you might have caught wind of the major scandal surrounding Assassin’s Creed IV, its lack of female playable characters in cooperative play, and some charges of industry sexism towards developer Alex Amancio, who seemed uninterested and unsympathetic to the idea of creating viable female characters. When asked at E3 (the big gaming expo) about the decision not to include female character options for co-op he stated:

“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets,” Amancio said. “Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work.”
(SOURCE: http://www.polygon.com/2014/6/13/5805510/assassins-creed-unity-patrice-desilets-ubisoft)

Twitter quickly responded with its retort. #womenaretoohardtoanimate
Yet, when industry insiders step up to the plate to address these issues things don’t always go so smoothly. I was certainly disheartened to read that Aisha Tyler, host of Ubisoft’s press conference at E3, was unwilling to acknowledge the systematic nature of male-dominated gaming and misogynist attitudes (so well-documented by Anita Sarkeesian in her videos regarding gaming and gender) in favor of paying lip-service to her company. It was frustrating enough that she cited Tomb Raider as a game of empowerment, effectively glossing over any of the sexist trappings of the game, but she also ignored the systematic prevalence of male-dominated gaming (both by industry insiders and game design itself).

“Obviously people can talk about the misogynist tropes in that game — her boobs were too big [and] she had on short shorts — but the fact of the matter is she was a badass, and a lot of men were playing as a woman for years and years,” she says.

(SOURCE: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2014/06/15/322117682/aisha-tyler-tells-us-the-real-problem-with-gaming-and-diversity)

Indeed, pondering about the feasibility of rendering female character models has lead to all sorts of strange, sometimes gender-thorny statements. Like those of an ASCreed 3 animator who contemplated the true difficulty of making interchangeable character models and essentially labeling them as “different”. Suggestions such as this, or the idea posited by writer Sande Chen that gender pronouns in choose-your-own-adventure style romance games could simply be switched to fit whatever direction characters chose reflected a lack of creativity and nuance on the part of programmers. It was, essentially, a cheap and easy fix to a far more nuanced problem. Much like the idea of “not seeing race or gender” wall-papering over the complexities of representation and reducing them to mere function ultimately stunts, rather than fosters conversations of diversity.

(SOURCE: http://www.polygon.com/2014/6/30/5857026/game-story-he-she-male-female-characters)

And there we are, at a crossroads in which female bodies and characters have become so disposable that they’re literally viewed as a risk when discussions emerge for companies to select female protagonists. This, despite market research to the contrary which suggests that leaving women out of the gaming conversation isn’t just politically unsatisfactory, it’s bad business. Here’s some data:

40% of all gamers are women, and women over age 18 make up a larger proportion of the games market than boys aged 17 and younger.
(SOURCE: http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=3757)

An earlier NPR article covering E3 suggests that online games are the next frontier and “nobody wants to play them with just 17 year old boys”. But women are consistently monitored in the world of online gaming as well. Part of the issue in single-player or cooperative non-online gaming is a lack of representation through which to play the story, or a lack of stories which transcend the world of traditional masculinity. Online, things are even more complex. I’ve had female acquaintances who have related to me the horrors of online sexual harassment in MMORPGs simply for playing as female or, even more frustratingly, for having an avatar name which implies femininity.
“Unfortunately, even in this fantasy setting, if you are a woman you still have to act a certain way if you want to be accepted. It’s strange that people can’t even shoot each other in a game, without following gender norms.”

(SOURCE: http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/2/5858898/analysis-gender-hypocrisy-in-online-games)

Tragically, these attitudes extend beyond consoles and computers to reflect real-life sexist inclusion in the video game competitive world. Conversations about the ESports community and the rise of male-only gaming tournaments as a means of establishing clear leagues, divisions, and of ostensibly (read: questionably) giving female players a space where they can develop their own niche of attention seems like cloaked sexism, or an institutionalized boys-club.

“The perception that gender-only tournaments can be helpful, especially in favour of female players, has been mixed on both sides. Gender segregation can help promote female players and potentially female interest, but there’s been no proof of correlation to make that an accepted reality.”

(SOURCE: http://www.polygon.com/2014/7/2/5864103/hearthstone-tournament-women-gender-segregation-blizzard)

Ultimately, I’m grateful for the fact that conversational channels can finally give voice to the attitudes inside of games and surrounding their culture which pervasively work against female players, characters, and agency. Recognizing systemic imbalances, I’ve learned, is the first step in actively working against them and rebuilding our society in a more gender-egalitarian fashion.

My mother doesn’t play video games, but she was the one silently watching over me as I plugged in consoles over the years. I know she didn’t always agree with what she saw on-screen, but she worked hard to make sure I learned the lessons of respect for women single-mothers so often understand best. I want her to know that I want the lessons she taught me reflected in the games we play, made by strong and talented women like her. Gaming has to recognize its lady problem. Gamers do to.

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This is the article I’m referencing: (http://www.salon.com/2014/07/15/im_sorry_for_coining_the_phrase_manic_pixie_dream_girl/)

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“There’s a fear that someone’s not going to like you becuse of this thing.” – Ellen DeGeneres

The Out List

HBO, for good or ill, has a lot of time for passion projects. It’s not rare to click on an HBO doc. and find that it’s simply a collage of interviews set against a simple background with little pomp or fanfare. It’s a neat trick, though always leaves me wondering who, exactly, will watch these things in the future? Originally this film, which explores a variety of thoughts and opinions surrounding aspects of queer life in the LBGT community, was intended to focus on solely the aftermath of Proposition 8 and California. That would have been a different movie, certainly, and perhaps a more purposeful one. Essentially, this film is a 1 hour documentary in which various queer celebrities and activists talk about whatever aspect of queer culture interests or applies to them. It’s solid, I guess, as a sampler of queer life. You see aspects of the ballroom culture, drag culture, sports, politics, and personal life. Ultimately, however, the whole thing amounts to a long collection of Story Corp. interviews or a largely uninteresting (in terms of style, not content) celebrity biographical documentary. As public testimony it works fine, as anything else it’s hard to imagine who the exact audience is for this film (and perhaps more importantly, how they’d ever find it in the first place if they weren’t looking).

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