I read a post over on the F-Bomb today, talking about one feminist’s addiction to the social game It Girl. Immediately it struck a chord with me, as I have been known to play the same game myself. It’s actually one of my favorite Facebook games that has been released to date.
From a feminist standpoint, it’s pretty much trash. It’s targeted directly to a female demographic (which also happens to be the majority of people who play social games on Facebook) and is focused on fashion. You create your skinny, trendy, beautiful avatar and you purchase clothing for her. The game’s objective is to deck your avatar out with unique high scoring outfits for every ‘occasion’ and then participate in parties and showdowns where your fashion is stacked up against the other characters in the game. We’ve actually wrote about this game here before in regards to its blatant heteronormativity.
The problem is, it’s a good social game as far as the mechanics goes. Could it have a completely different theme and work just as well? Probably. I’m a social game developer by day and I feel that It Girl is simply a well-designed game. It keeps my interested, is rather fun, and has almost motivated me to spend money. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a well made game.
I’m sure you have games like this too, right? Where the feminist side of you raises bright red flags and the gamer inside you fights to ignore them so you can keep on playing. For some this might be Mass Effect, a problematic series that does many things right (but also many things wrong). Or maybe it’s L.A. Noire, a brilliant tech demo displaying the future of using character emotions that also treats women as throwaway victims.
I don’t personally think there is anything inherently wrong with enjoying a form of entertainment that may be problematic. We see this in movies and music frequently. While watching the movie Avatar, I struggled with the fact that I found it such a beautifully immersive film while also recognizing how racist and ableist the plot was at its core. I’ve been known to bob my head during the occasional Chris Brown song before realizing that it’s one of his. I think it’s an important trait of a feminist to be able to recognize feminist problems within a game that they are actually enjoying playing.
On the flip side, I feel dirty. I feel like I shouldn’t be supporting said game with my money or time. I feel like I should be taking a stand in an effort to show developers that some people are not willing to play games that are misogynist, racist, ableist, and heteronormative. But then I keep on playing….because I don’t have many options for games that are safe. The way the game industry works means that I have to deal with potentially triggering and/or problematic issues if I want to play games at all. Sad, but unfortunately true.
Of course the answer to this blog’s title is “no”. It’s actually important for us feminists to continue playing these games. If we don’t, then we’re confirming to game developers that women don’t play games, that gay people and their allies don’t play games, that people of color don’t play games. We are playing right in to their master plan. Perhaps it’s better for us to play them and feel passionate about them and then talk about the problems in a public space. Perhaps we can better encourage a shift and a change in problematic games if we point out the positives in addition to the flaws.
What say you, readers? Do you love a particular game despite its problems?