Recommended Reading: the Women of Gears 3, the Case for a FemShep Movie, Sexism in Arkham City

Anya, a white blond woman, wears heavy Cog armor and aims her chainsaw gun at an unseen enemy.

There have been a lot of good posts and discussions relevant to The Border House this week, but here are three that I read that all deal with female characters and how they are treated by the games they are in as well as the video game community.

First, over at Laser Orgy, Maddy Myers has a fantastic piece Gears of War 3‘s female characters and how their treatment reflects that of female gamers by the predominantly male video game community:

But those femme-presenting among us who do venture into hyper-masculine spheres get treated very similarly to the way Anya Stroud and Sam Byrne are treated in this game. We get reduced to being Women, or wombs, and shouldn’t we be off making babies or sandwiches or something, somewhere else, not here, because we’re muddying up this masculine game with our femininity. We get looks of surprise and alarm and shock – you play this? This game? We get half-propositioned, half-mocked in ways that are meant to be “jokes,” sort of, except it’s not really a joke at all, is it. We could try to downplay our femininity, or play along with misogynist jokes ‘til we half-believe them, in an effort to fit in – but that never really does the trick, because at the end of the day, you’re still The Other. Even if you don’t try to rock the boat, you’re already causing an upset just by being there. So you may as well rock harder.

Read it.

Our second piece for today is written by Daniel Orta at his blog, making the case for the Mass Effect movie to star the female version of Commander Shepard:

The world of science fiction films is crowded with the idea of the one male hero fighting adversity for the good of their respective “universe” so to say- everyone from Captain Malcolm Reynolds(Serenity, Firefly) to older classics like George Taylor (from Planet of the Apes). The male hero fighting for good in the face of so much adversity is a world to which comes natural to the science fiction genre in films. Let’s mix it up a bit and place a female Shepard into the role. After all, when you think of a female hero in science fiction, most minds turn immediately to Ellen Ripley of the Alien films. And that character is almost thirty years old at this point- have there been no other real sci-fi super heroines. Okay, maybe Buffy, but she was more fantasy character than sci-fi. Some of the Firefly characters were quite strong, but they weren’t the main character- only playing second fiddle to Nathan Fillion’s Malcolm Reynolds.

Alien was almost thirty years ago! Damn. We are long overdue for another great sci-fi heroine.

Lastly, Twitter exploded yesterday afternoon with discussion of sexism in the newly released Batman: Arkham City. [Trigger warning for the following two links; slurs for both, discussion of misogyny and rape in film for the first.] First is an analysis from Film Crit Hulk, appropriately titled “GODDAMMIT VIDEO GAMES“:

TO REITERATE: IN THE FIRST HOUR OF ARKHAM CITY WE HAVE A SCANTILLY CLAD HIGH-HEAL-NINJA-ING CATWOMAN GETTING BEATEN BY TWO-FACE AS HE CALLS HER A BITCH. WE HAVE A GROUP OF MUSCLE-BOUND HOODLUMS ALL STANDING AROUND EXCITED TO DUMP HER INTO A VAT OF ACID. BATMAN COMES TO THE RESCUE AS CATWOMAN ESCAPES. SHE FLIRTS WITH HIM MERCILESSLY AND MAKES NOT JUST DUMB, BUT NOT-FUN SEXY PUNS. BATMAN THEN GOES OUTSIDE AND YOU OVERHEAR A BUNCH OF GUYS TALKING ABOUT HOW CATWOMAN AND AGAIN THE WORD BITCH POPS IN. THEY ALL THINK SHE SWINGS BOTH WAYS (CAUSE THAT’S THE KIND OF THING ANY SEXY GIRL MUST BE UP FOR). AND THEN THEY’RE BASICALLY TALKING ABOUT THEIR MASTURBATORY FANTASIES OF HER… YOU KNOW, ABOUT THE SAME ONE THEY WERE CALLING A BITCH. BATMAN THEN GOES OVER TOWARD THE JOKER’S TOWER AND YOU HOPE ALL THIS SHIT IS OVER BUT THEN YOU OVERHEAR A BUNCH OF THUGS TALKING ABOUT HOW HARLEY QUINN IS A DUMB BITCH.

NOW THIS WAS WHERE HULK LEFT IT THE OTHER NIGHT AND TO BE SURE HULK WASN’T JUST REACTING OUT OF MOMENTARY THINGS HULK CAME BACK AND PLAYED A LOT MORE TO BE FAIR… IT DIDN’T GET ANY BETTER.

ACTUALLY IT GOT WORSE.

Hulk goes into detail about the difference between portraying misogyny in order to make some sort of comment on it and simply offering up misogyny for consumption without any context or commentary, which he argues is what is going on in Arkham City. Here’s more from Kirk Hamilton at Kotaku, but don’t read the comments unless you want to see just how nasty gamers can be over even a moderate statement like “hey, characters in this game use gendered slurs a ton, that’s kind of messed up!”

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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30 Responses to Recommended Reading: the Women of Gears 3, the Case for a FemShep Movie, Sexism in Arkham City

  1. Sunflower says:

    I am so not buying Arkham City. My friends say they aren’t going to buy it either. To me, the sexism in it is deliberate, not even the accidental clueless kind and as others have said the fact that it’s just presented that way without further context makes it seem acceptable and normal. I’m really disgusted.

    • Deviija says:

      I’ll echo those remarks. I have been put off by Arkham City since the early screens of Catwoman (and her many ass-camera and boobs out outfit focus shots), so I was already dubious that this wouldn’t improve upon the hypersexuality and pure servicing of the hetero male fanbase that was so overwanked in Arkham Asylum already. But from what Film Crit Hulk and other friends of mine have said about the game, having played the game themselves, I am really, really, really not interested in purchasing this game. Or supporting the franchise.

      This feels like yet another misogynist/sexist/exploitative tinderblock on the fire already burning over the new 52 DC comic issues flying around the blogspace, tumblr, and other social media networks over the past handful of months.

  2. SleekitSicarian says:

    Good articles, all; thanks for the links.
    One of those terrible “What if Aliens Invade” dramatizations they ran on…The History Channel, I think? (THC and NatGeo were competing for dumbest faux-documentary for a while) had a segment where men offhandedly suggested that rape camps would be the only means of saving the species – while the men went off to fight, etc etc.
    I’ve since decided that should aliens ever invade I am immediately defecting to the enemy side. Just as a heads up.

    I cancelled my Arkham City preorder back when the first few trailers were coming out. It’s not that the first game was great about its female characters, but it felt/feels like they amped up the fail for the sequel; by the time the Catwoman trailers came out they’d hit some sort of Fail Event Horizon I couldn’t ignore anymore.
    Other folks seem perfectly capable of doing so, of course.

    • Sunflower says:

      Wow, I’m joining the aliens too, then. I hope they make great games! :D

    • Alex says:

      sjosgjortgt There are no words for how much I LOATHE the rape camp thing! We talked about this a while ago re: Krogan and Gears of War, and one thing that came up is it’s ACTUALLY A TERRIBLE STRATEGY, on top of, you know, completely demolishing any human rights of women. I’m with you, if somehow it ever comes to this, screw humans!

      • Deviija says:

        Yeah… “When Aliens Attack” is the ‘documentary’ that deals with this issue. Horribly. I remember being so disgusted and repulsed when watching the National Geographic special that I had to turn it off. It was incredibly upsetting and anger-making because what these officials were saying boiled down to stripping all rights of women, turning them into baby-making machines for the war effort and to ‘continue the human race’ and to be tool assets (rather than frontline warriors that could be HELPING the war effort, regardless of superior skills/expertise/soldier status). It also delves into the grossness of underage (‘anyone of fertile age should be pregnant’) sex and repeated sex and multiple partners and the use of fertility drugs… Oh, and it also encourages suicide bombing… just ugh.

        Easier than explaining, I found the show uploaded on youtube. Trigger warnings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nl9Oknr96h0 It starts around the 8 minute mark, where things lead in to the badness, and around the 12:30 minute mark where it turns into a nightmare (re:breeding/baby-machine talks). I believe there was a brief discussion about the topics earlier in the special, too, but it wore me out just ferreting out and listening to that bit.

        • Corbiu Geisha says:

          Why should the survival of humanity be held sacred if they were willing to resort to this?

          Go aliens!

  3. Pin says:

    After the Hamilton article and the female character design article from earlier today, I’m done with Kotaku. I’ve used it as a homepage mainly because I want frequent up to date game news from throughout the day, but this was a flawed plan from the getgo mainly because lol slowtaku. So, I’m looking for a new game news homepage. I’m using NeoGAF’s game discussion forum in the meantime because they’ve been making strides at being more tolerable. Might use Siliconera more often. Or, I dunno, actual world news. That’s kind of important too.

    Also, I’m glad there are many, many reasons to never play Arkham City.

  4. kiturak says:

    [TW – sexist slurs]
    As an aside, while playing ME2, I noticed multiple occasions where characters use sexist slurs, b*tch and p*ssy – but the characters using those were always female. Which I interpreted as a way of being able to have sexism in the game without being called sexist, because you know, it’s ok when women do it.

    • Deviija says:

      Yeah… I eyeroll at that subterfuge bull, too. Just like I eyeroll when people shout, ‘It can’t be sexist/misogynistic if a woman wrote it!’ Please. What irritates me the most about sexist slurs – especially when lady characters use them against each other – is that it is reinforcing the negativity about these engendered insults. It shows how ingrained that negativity is wired within society/the writing/the viewpoints of people involved, imo. That womanhood or femininity or being a lady is somehow an insult to be. When it really is not. At all.

    • Sunflower says:

      That bothered me too. I wasn’t happy with Jack’s character in ME2 for sure. I felt like it was set up to where you’re hearing about this scary badass but it’s really a very tortured person with serious issues. It felt like her character was just indoctrinated into harmful hyper-masculinity or something and she was trying to be almost a caricature of the toughest, most emotionless man possible only still being dressed in a nipple harness. But that part was never addressed explicitly or called out so it was just really weird and sad. The Krogan stuff drove me nuts too and it made me sad because it kind of ruined the species for me.

      • Sunflower says:

        I wanted to edit my comment about the “nuts” part but I can’t find a way >.< Sorry, all. I'm trying to be better about ableist slurs but I slip up.

      • Deviija says:

        I was sorely disappointed with the character arc for Jack and how her story and personality fell through the floor after the potential cool introduction (in the pre-release media and in the game itself). Here was this lady that was a powerhouse biotic that embraced her aggression and rage and vengeance and had a no-nonsense and frank attitude… a lady that did not ascribe to the typical video game charicature of large breasts, booby outfits meant to cling to T&A for close-up shots (while I hate the nipple harness, I do think she’s one of the only characters that can get away with it since her tattoos act like a shirt), and was scarred up all over her body as well as tattooed in grizzled mannerism. Shaved head on top of it all. When I saw her, I felt she was not meant to be there for the audience’s desires. Sadly, however, her entire arc/character turned into the biggest cliche of ‘scared little girl on the inside that needs the hetero male protagonist’s magic penis to get better.’ Sigh.

        • Korva says:

          “Scared little girl on the inside that needs the hetero male protagonist’s magic penis to get better” or a variation thereof has been the modus operandi for many of the hetero romances for male characters in Bioware games (*), at least the earlier ones. So ME2 is a bit of a throwback to that? Ugh. Seeing as how that franchise seems to be all about the “mainstream market”, I’m really not surprised.

          (*) And as I recall from browsing dialog files, BG2 and KotOR even does the “weak woman needs big strong man” thing if you’re playing a female character, inane as that is in the light of the protagonist’s power level compared to the NPCs in both games. That’s one reason why I never understood how the romances came to be so popular. But, hey, I’m admittedly biased.

        • kiturak says:

          right? On the other hand, I’d like that they show the “being a violent badass comes with a price”-thing, but they tend to show it a) a lot more often on female characters, b) in sexist ways.

          re: nipple harness, +100%. What actually irritated me most with this thing is that there’s no fucking way it would stay in place. I’d try and reboot my suspension of disbelief while playing over and over again, no help. It’s just physically impossible. If they were at least more upfront with the whole sexualization/BDSM-thing, they’d possibly make a at least a google image search, I mean, or alternatively how about asking a person with actual breasts how to design this thing. I say, duct tape! More badass, less sleazy. (sleazy as in, not BDSM is bad, but it’s inappropriate sexualization of her character 24/7)

          • Sunflower says:

            I agree– I feel like whenever women are violent or scary they have to be “punished” in some way, like giving them a tortured back story with typically female-type bad stuff happening to them. I hate that. I really want to see lots of female characters who have no qualms about being “bad” just because they enjoy it or it’s in their nature! Male characters don’t seem to need excuses made for them. I’m sure there are exceptions, I just don’t know many myself.

            And the nipple harness– I was ok with it until [SPOILER] the romance part. Whenever male Shep’s character went into her area to talk there would be this weird underboob camera angle, which made me think the harness wasn’t so much for her benefit as it was for the player’s. It really struck me that it kept having that camera angle when you were trying to talk to her about all these awful things that happened to her in the past. It did not fit together at all. It made me think the harness wasn’t her choice to wear as much as a convenient way to peep at her. And I don’t like that because I think women should be able to wear what they want and not have it be automatically equated with “she wants male attention” or “she is wearing this to get a reaction” >.<

            • Deviija says:

              Absolutely in regards to lady characters being punished for being bad, or liking to be bad, or needing some violent/sexualized backstory that makes things even more problematic. Of course, on the flipside, there is a whole slew of issues with how heroines are created as well. Like the bad girl being ‘punished’ or needing to be redeemed by a dude (usually, and usually his magical penis), heroines are often forged in the fires of sexualized violence. As if strength and a will to fight/survive must only come from a backstory of being abused, and usually sexually abused at that. Rape and sexual violence is a special torture/’reason to fight’ that only heroines in these sorts of sci-fi/fantasy stories suffer*.

              Re: The Camera Angles. I agree that the camera angles were done on purpose. However, it is something that is really visible and obnoxious throughout the entire game. It does not matter if you are a straight woman (Shepard) speaking to another straight female (say, Miranda), the camera angles they supply you with are still meant for the audience to be seduced/titillated. There is absolutely no reason why a straight FemShep should have the ass-cam shots in conversation when she is speaking to Miranda, for example. It does not supply anything beyond the reminder that ‘this is a game meant with straight boys in mind, first and foremost.’ Samara has the uberboob chats, Jack has them, Miranda has too much to mention, and so it goes.

              Such stuff does not happen with the dude NPCs or companions, regardless if they are romanceable or not. Jacob gets a brief panning, but his attire, no matter how tight people claim it is, cannot be equated to the same amount of sexualization the other ladies get in the game. Nor does Thane’s ‘partial chest exposure’ equate to any of the gross hypersexualization outfits and mannerisms that many ladies in the game run with. So yeah, I support people wearing whatever they want to wear, but when all the fictional ladies are running in heels and boobsuits and has camera views pushing in on their assets during conversations, yeah; it is hypersexualization and exploitation of one sex meant for a specific audience. And that’s where it fails and disappoints.

              * Similarly, when gay gentlemen are rarely the protagonist in a story, or have a prominent role that is explored in the story, they too are usually outfitted with this ‘special’ plotline or backstory. It is very disturbing on both (women and gay men) counts.

            • Sunflower says:

              Hmm, I hope this puts my reply in the correct place. Deviija, I totally agree about the camera angles. The only reason it struck me as being especially awful was that [SPOILER?] Jack was talking about these awful events in her life and really opening up and then you get this gratuitous shot as she’s talking about how she’s basically been exploited.. it was disheartening and sad.

              And I don’t want to dis ME too much because it did get a lot of things right, but the romance options for Kaidan and Thane were not to my liking. I didn’t feel like we were sharing stories and experiences as much as I felt expected to listen to them go on about their wonderful past relationships… it made me feel they should not be going into another relationship at all because they were so clearly not ready and it took all the fun out of it. I would not feel right taking advantage of someone obviously grieving.

    • Alex says:

      Yes, this is something I have noticed in a number of things… for example, in the movie Fanboys, it’s only the token girl who insults her male friends by calling them “ladies” and shit. Sorry dudes, it’s still sexist!

  5. Sif says:

    Interesting stuff, thanks Alex. I know I’ll be checking out Hulk and Myers’ stuff.

    • Deviija says:

      …wow… so disturbing…

    • Sunflower says:

      Wow, so creepy. I am so sick of playing games that don’t even think about another perspective to this. It’s like they’re just using rape as a plot device to show who the villains are and what a hero your character is instead of realizing it’s a personal and constant fear for a lot of people. How awful :(

    • Corbiu Geisha says:

      Well that’s it. I’m no longer interested in Batmanning in Arkham City.

    • Sunflower says:

      Part 2 is really epic. I love Hulk’s style and will now follow that blog. Still, as usual, there are people who just don’t want to get it :( Not many luckily!

    • Alex says:

      Thanks for linking this, it’s really great! I’m totally a Hulk fan now.

  6. Vicki says:

    Hey, great page, thanks!

    Honestly, I’ve been slowly simmering about video games lately. I’ve never really considered myself a card-carrying feminist, to be honest, and I used to be … let’s call it unflappable. I’m just not naturally inclined towards moral outrage.

    But since I’ve gotten into video games … well, I’ve started feeling a lot like the HULK SMASH! guy.

    I finally read something online that sort of crystallized my feelings about this. It was regarding another great love of mine, comic books. A female review was writing about the sexism in the DC52, and her response was basically: “Meh. Reading superhero comic books is like going into Hooters. It’s not a place that caters to me, so I don’t go there.”

    And I thought: goddamn it, I *like* superhero comics. I *LOVE* video games. Why the hell do I have to either develop a taste for T&A or give them up? Why can’t some game developers decide they want MY money?

    Sorry. I’m afraid I DID read the comments on the third link, and now I’m all ranty. Thanks for sharing the links, all the same :)

    • Sunflower says:

      I think getting ranty is valid and understandable considering we live in an unfair world and even the things that are supposed to entertain us keep shoving that fact in our face. I often feel quite ranty after being told that books about men’s issues are universally relevant and essential literature, and games about macho posturing are totally normal and above criticism while games made for girls are frivolous and silly. Yeah, rant all you want! :D

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