Tag Archives: misogyny

Game of the Day: Misogyny Island by Samantha Allen, Fred McCoy, and Kat Haché

Today’s game, written by Fred McCoy, Kat Haché, and TBH contributor Samantha Allen, is a satirical reality show (hosted by who else but Daniel Tosh) where you compete with other contestants for the title of Uber Misogynist. It’s hilarious in a sad, recognizable sort of way. Please note there are slurs aplenty, though they are censored.

If you have made or played an IF or indie game you would like to see featured on The Border House, send it to us at editors (at) borderhouseblog (dot) com. You can see our past featured games at this tag.

Assassin’s Creed 3 Multiplayer Trailer Makes Me Cringe

Last week, Ubisoft posted a trailer for the multiplayer mode of upcoming game Assassin’s Creed 3. Predictably, it features whites and Native Americans, both men and women, killing each other with rifles, hammers, daggers and the like. Standard procedure for a multiplayer.

But my coworker and I both agreed that there was something ‘off’ about the trailer. Something that made it hard to watch. At first I thought it was the violence, and then I told myself to get a grip, because violent combat is pretty par for the course in videogames, and I’ve certainly cheered my share of vicious takedowns in the first two Assassin’s Creed games. But I forced myself to watch the video again, and then I realized: it wasn’t the violence that makes the AC3 multiplayer trailer hard to watch. It’s the gender ratio of the violence. Continue reading

The Treatment of Women in Dishonored

Warning: Minor Dishonored spoilers for mechanics and setting, though not for the plot or main story. 

A naked blonde women shown in a wooden bathtub, crossing her hands across her chest to cover herself up. She says “I can’t believe this, when I took this job they told me I’d work with good men.”

Like many other PC gamers these last couple of weeks, I’ve been spending a bit of time with a new friend Dishonored.  This game hit me entirely by surprise (as I suppose any good stealth game should) and I didn’t have any idea what to expect when I bought it on Steam on release night.  I’ve been pretty blown away by how much fun and excitement I experience when I finally sit down to play. I’ve only just finished the third mission so I’m not terribly far through the experience, but I found this article by Becky Chambers very interesting.

There are many other examples, but those were the two that made me realize that Dishonored is fully aware of how the women within it are treated. It knows how unfair that treatment is. It knows how unhappy these women are. When I played this game, I did not get the sense that gender discrimination was included simply because it’s habitual or historically accurate (more on that in a moment). Dishonored is, first and foremost, a story about corruption. Everywhere you turn, you see how broken Dunwall is. You climb through stained rooms stacked with insect-ridden corpses and disgusting cans of jellied meat while the nobility throws a lavish party on the other end of town. Religious leaders lecture about piety, then poison their rivals’ drinks. Police officers laugh as they kill people breaking curfew. Wagons full of dead plague victims are dumped into the river, and the men at the controls joke about how if any of the bodies were still moving, “they’re not anymore.” There is nothing good about this city.

So, yes, the way this game treated women made me uncomfortable — which, I think, is exactly what it intended to do.

I really felt and understood this article.  There were times where I was made uncomfortable by the treatment of the women in the game, a great example of this being in the brothel in the third mission.  The women were walking around in small amounts of clothing while the guards were all fully clothed.  When Corvo (played by you) is discovered by one of the women in the brothel she sits down and cowers, covering her eyes and whimpering for help.  Sneaking up behind them and strangling the courtesans with a sleeper hold and hearing their choking sounds was too far on the side of realism for me (notable: I have no problem walking around strangling all the men in the game) and I tried to avoid it as much as possible.

Continue reading

Guild Wars 2 and the misogynistic bad guys

Guild Wars 2 features five playable races: humans, sylvari, asura, norn, and charr. Each of these races includes an antagonist faction who will fight against the rest of their race, and be one of the enemies of your player character. So for instance, if you’re playing a sylvari, you’ll encounter members of the Nightmare Court: a group of sylvari who reject the typical sylvari traits like compassion and curiosity and strive to replace them with fear and violence.

Right now, I’d like to discuss the Sons of Svanir and the Flame Legion, who are the antagonist factions for the norn and the charr respectively. One thing that these two groups have in common is a “no girls allowed” sign hung outside their metaphorical clubhouses. I’m not certain how I feel about this.

If you dig into the lore, you’ll find they have pretty similar rationales for the exclusion of women. In both cases, there was a woman hundreds of years ago who stood up to them, and they decided to generalise from that woman to all women, decide that women can’t be trusted, and ostracise them thereafter.

I want to say that this is just cartoon supervillainy, with the evil turned up to 11. I want to say that it’s as if they revealed that these factions stand for punching kittens and pouring toxic waste in duck ponds. I want to say that, but I can’t, because that kind of ridiculous exclusion of women is too prevalent, still, in real life.

How many women have never been in a situation like in xkcd’s comic How It Works? As women gamers, many of us are used to being on trial as a representative for our gender every time we game. We know that if we mess up then there’s a chance that someone will decide that it’s because girls suck at gaming, and decide that their guild should be an exclusively male affair.

It has to be reiterated, though, that these groups are the bad guys, and are not being held up as at all admirable. The Sons of Svanir worship a dragon who wants to destroy the world, so I sincerely hope that nobody thinks that they epitomise good judgement and should be taken as role models. I’m certainly a whole lot happier seeing this than I am when the alleged heroes are misogynistic jerks.

At the same time, though, I think that I’d prefer not to see it at all. One of the purposes of gaming is escapism, and it’s nice to be able to get away to a game world where this sort of sexism just doesn’t exist. I get enough of it in the real world without seeing it in games as well.

I think that ultimately, my own opinion will depend on where they go with this in the story. Will I be given the agency to confront them about their misogyny and come away victorious? Or will the storyline directly confront the sexism and provide social commentary on it? Maybe their exclusion of women will come back and bite them in the rear, directly resulting in their defeat at the hands of their would-be opressees?

Since the game is still new, I have no idea how things will play out. If any of the three situations I just outlined come to pass, then I think  I will see it as a net positive in the game. If it’s just a case of “yes, some bad people will treat you shoddily if you have a female player character, but that’s what bad people do so you’ll just have to deal with it” then it will likely end up being a net negative to me.

For now, I think I’m willing to give Arenanet the benefit of the doubt; they have a pretty good record on this sort of thing, and I’m enjoying the game a great deal, so I want to see how this turns out.

Friday Awesome: Jay Smooth on Internet Harassment

This afternoon, the fantastic Jay Smooth released a video about gamer internet harassment, prompted by the harassment of Anita Sarkeesian for her Tropes vs Women in Video Games Kickstarter. The video is embedded below, along with a transcript.

So a couple of weeks ago I made a video about how sometimes internet trolls are sad and annoying, and other times internet trolls are still sad, but also genuinely destructive and dangerous. And this week we’ve had a great example of that second type of trolling with the sexist gamer dude attack on Anita Sarkeesian.

Anita does the web video series named Feminist Frequency–which, if you watch my stuff, you should already be watching hers–and recently she set up a Kickstarter page for a new project looking at the representation of women in video games. And after the Kickstarter page went up, a whole bunch of gamer dudes decided, even though they haven’t heard what her opinion is yet, that the mere idea of this woman presuming to form an opinion about them at some point in the future was so frightening that they had to organize a scorched-earth campaign of harassment and bullying against her. And Anita has handled the whole situation incredibly well, and her project has wound up getting more support and funding than ever, so in this instance, the private army of sexist dudes has only succeeded in proving her right and making her stronger.

But it’s still been an intensely ugly spectacle that raises a whole lot of questions about why this happens so often and why so many dudes think it’s okay to persecute and harass and abuse women online. A lot of these dudes, if you challenge them, will tell you that they don’t have any real feelings about this, and they’re just trolling for the fun of it. That they don’t really hate women, they just think that it’s funny to treat women as if they hate them. And that–I mean, first of all, you’re lying to yourself, there’s clearly more to it than that, and second of all, that doesn’t make it any better! Only someone who hates women and sees them as less than human would even think that’s a meaningful distinction. And I don’t know what I could say that would get through to someone who is so invested in detaching from their own humanity, so I–I’m just going to think about that and come back to it.

And for now, I’m just going to say to everyone else, and especially my fellow dudes, that when you see something like that going on, you–and by you, I mean we–have an obligation to speak out against it more often. It’s really not cool for us to just shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s just 4chan being 4chan.” And it’s REALLY not okay for you to jump in to somebody’s discussion of this harassment and derail it with a bunch of comments about, “But sure, harassment is bad, but men are discriminated against, too! Feminists are always making something out of nothing buh buh buh buh buh!” No, man! Now is not the time for that! If you need to have that debate, there are plenty of other times for that. If you need to show off your debating skills and try to make fetch happen with the misandry thing, there’s plenty of other times for that. If you want to debate Anita Sarkeesian’s critiques of video game culture, there’s plenty of times for that, like for example, after she makes the critiques.

But none of that stuff is the issue right now. The issue right now is the bullying and abuse and harassment that she’s facing. And you should recognize that harassment is wrong and that’s what matters right now, regardless of your political position on “misandry” and men’s rights and bluh bluh bluh bluh bluh. This kind of abuse and harassment matters, and when it happens in our corner of the internet, we need to treat it like it matters. We need to speak up and let them know that we’re not impressed by how edgy and fearless they are. That we think it’s pathetic that they really think that sandwich joke is funny. That when you bully and harass a woman for speaking her mind, all you do is show us that you’re afraid of that woman’s voice, and you don’t think you can beat her intellectually without using a cheat code. No matter what scene on the internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the internet, and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone who is outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need to speak up. We need to treat this like it matters. We need to add some extra humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.

This Week In Harassment

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games logo along with a bunch of female game characters.

Friend of the blog Anita Sarkeesian of the awesome Feminist Frequency is the latest target of a harassment campaign by misogynist gamers. She has written about the wave of harassment she has received via KickStarter, YouTube, and the vandalizing of her Wikipedia page. The methods are disturbing, but familiar. This is all in response to her KickStarter project Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, a series of videos for her Tropes vs. Women series that will focus on games. As of this writing, the project has over 2,000 backers and raised nearly $50,000, well over the original target of $6,000.

It’s nice that the number of backers doubled once news of the harassment campaign started getting around. But the video game community needs to do more. It’s well past time for the video game community to own up to and condemn the fact that there is a subset of us dedicated to organized mob harassment of people who criticize games in any way, but particularly when it comes to social issues like misogyny, racism, and homophobia. It’s time to stop rolling our eyes about how awful gamers and nerds are. We are gamers and nerds, and this is our community. If you know someone who is involved in this sort of thing, tell them that it’s not cool. Condemn this sort of behavior on forums, on Twitter, wherever you have a voice. If you don’t feel safe doing those things, then don’t (safety is most important), but if you can, speak up. This is a perfect way for allies who want to do more to do so. Let harassers know they are the ones who aren’t welcome in video games, not the people who make thoughtful criticism out of love for the medium. Games don’t belong to them, and the community has no need for people who harass and try to silence criticism.

And by the way, there’s still time to back the project.

Hey E3, It’s Time to Have a “No Booth Babes” Policy

Two women wearing short shorts and tight shirts pose in front of a red sports car, advertising the new Forza Horizons game at E3 2012.

 

E3 might be a wonderful conference to attend if you’re a straight, white, privileged male interested in getting your photo taken by scantily-clad women at video game booths.  But the women (and their allies) in and around the game industry are getting fed up with it.  This year, a lot of focus of conversation on Twitter is surrounding the fact that you can’t look in any direction on the show floor without running into the cheap marketing method of having barely-clothed women acting as eye candy to entice one particular segment of the video gaming audience.  It’s offensive, exhausting, and gamers are starting to get fed up with it.

Brenda Garno Brathwaite, longtime game industry veteran and co-founder at Loot Drop, had the following to say on Twitter:

 

A tweet from Brenda stating "I dread heading off to work at E3 today. The show is a constant assault on the female self esteem no matter which direction I look."

 

Another tweet from brenda: "I am in good shape, yet it is impossible not to compare. I feel uncomfortable. It is as if I walked into a strip club w/o intending to."

 

A final tweet from Brenda: "These are the policies of @e3expo and @RichatESA. I feel uncomfortable in an industry I helped found."

 

She’s certainly not alone.  Many people have replied to her, newcomers to the industry who say that they no longer feel welcome.  Gamers wondering how it got this far, saying it’s a “dinosaur that should be extinct”.  Women saying that they’re embarrassed to love video games because of how the industry portrays them.  There are many reasons to disagree with the shallow marketing tactic: discomfort about how it makes a woman feel about her own body, disgust at using women’s bodies as sex objects to sell products, making women feel as if they’re not the target demographic for games, and so on.  Whatever your personal reason for disagreeing with this antiquated and offensive marketing method, it’s time to speak up.  We’re tired of seeing news sites running stories where they ask people to “get their scorecards out” and rate booth babes at E3.

Guest contributor and longtime friend of  The Border House, Kate Cox, wrote up an honest article on this subject over at Kotaku.

I’ve been walking through the halls, observing the beckons of a legion of carefully-coiffed young women wearing the same t-shirts or polo shirts as their male peers, but with booty shorts or miniskirts and six-inch heels. (Their male counterparts are generally in baggy jeans and ancient sneakers.) They’re not beckoning to me, of course. I am not their target audience or demographic. And a booth that wants to attract my attention by waving the promise of women at me is, in fact, saying loud and clear that they don’t want my attention at all.

 

At one demo, I had to fight my way through a mob to get to the booth’s front desk, only to find that actually, there was no line at reception — the throng around me had assembled to snap photos of the two women in ill-fitting, barely-there elf costumes as they posed provocatively by the booth’s entrance.

 

For all of the vitriol we have thrown at Penny Arcade over the years, at least they have made strides to improve the culture at PAX by instantiating and enforcing a “no booth babes” policy.  I don’t want to attend game conventions if it means that it will feel like I’m walking into the misogynistic Spike Video Game Awards.  I want women to feel comfortable and part of the industry, both in consuming and creating content for it.  It’s crucial that the very industry that cultivates games should not perpetuate what has been an escalating problem.

[Edit: Here is a list of publishers and developers who brought booth babes to E3 this year, thanks to @SimoRoth.]

Wind-up Knight: An entertaining iOS game with questionable elements

 

While confronted with a few plane trips and long delays at the airport a couple of weeks ago, I browsed the App Store and downloaded a game for my iPad.  Wind-up Knight is an “endless runner” style iOS game with really high quality 3D side-scrolling graphics in which the player controls a little armored knight through a series of challenging-yet-not-frustrating levels.  I can’t deny the fact that the gameplay is fantastic — it’s intuitive, looks beautiful, runs smoothly, and kept me entertained long enough to make me forget that I was freezing and bored in the airport.  However, I ran into a bit of a conundrum.

The game’s loading screens are “Pretty Princess Primers” – tips intended for would-be princesses to groom themselves into the perfect princesses.  Now, before I continue, keep in mind that I’m not actually sure if these are intended to be a joke or not.  While I was busy getting offended and being flabbergasted, my fiance was asking me if I was sure the game wasn’t being intentionally misogynistic in an effort to tell a message.  The thing is, I’m not sure it matters.  The way they are presented is matter-of-fact; white text on black screen with no other context.  If there was some kind of subversion of sexist norms going on, it kind of went right over my head.  But some of them were so ridiculous that they have to be a joke, right?

 

A black screen with white text saying "Pretty Princess Primer Tip #4. A Princess cannot be respected unless she dresses as if she respects herself."

 

For someone who is well-read and knowledgable about concepts like this, I could kind of see the shallow humor in it. But I’m going to make a huge assumption about people — I don’t think the majority of people understand the complicated elements of rape culture, and I don’t think this loading screen is doing any education.  It kind of looks like something you’d see in a late night Twitter hashtag about #thingswomenshoulddo.  Here is a sample of some other loading screens from the game:

 

Pretty Princess Primer Tip #8, Catering to the comfort of men, especially Princes, will give you immense personal satisfaction.

 

Learning masculine skills such as fencing or carriage repair can make a Princess more desirable later in life.

 

Be prepared for meetings with men. Take a 15 minute break beforehand and double-check your hair.

 

Always wear dresses or skirts.

 

These screens made me feel uncomfortable.  I’m not sure what exactly the message is here, other than life as a princess seems like it would surely suck.  But the sad thing is, there are analogous serious “tips” in trashy magazines with real-life, non-princess women as the target audience.  ”16 sexy tips for being desirable late in life” sounds like a headline from a Cosmo.  For some women, this stuff isn’t a joke.  I’m just not sure what the intention was and it all but ruined what was one of the better iPad games I have played.  Thoughts, Border House readers?

 

 

 

Feminism and Video Games 101: The Solution is Both/And Not Either/Or

A crop of the cover of Anna Anthropy's book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.

As I mentioned in the round-up about the Hitman trailer, there are a whole lot of things wrong with this blog post by Tycho Brahe at Penny Arcade, but the thing I want to focus on for this post is the argument that people should be making their own art instead of doing criticism. It’s something that has come up a lot in the past, whenever someone criticizes a game for whatever reason, but especially when the criticism has to do with oppression.

The first issue is the obvious: yes, almost anyone can make a game. There are a lot of tools and resources out there so that basically anyone with access to a computer can make a simple game, given enough time. But the idea that a game made by one or a few people on no budget will have anywhere near the influence of a AAA game with millions of dollars behind it on marketing alone is simply ridiculous.

The suggestion also ignores the fact that there are people in the game industry, who work on games big and small, who are also critical of our sexist culture in general and the way it manifests in video game subculture in particular. Some of our own writers here at The Border House also make games, and people in the industry participate in and engage with the critical conversation all the time (for example, in the comments on this terrible Kill Screen article (trigger warning)). When people are both making games and engaging in criticism, telling them to go make their own stuff is really just telling them to shut up.

The “if you don’t like it, make your own!” argument is nothing more than a silencing tactic.

What makes the Penny Arcade post especially head-desk-inducing is that Tycho links Anna Anthropy’s excellent book as part of his argument. The book encourages people to make games, yes, but it absolutely does not tell people to shut up and not criticize problematic aspects of video game culture.

The thing about changing culture, about combating the sexism and other bigotries within it, is that there is no one approach that is most effective or that should be used to the exclusion of all others. We need to use all approaches and tackle all angles in order to change the culture. This is why I don’t argue with people any more about tactics. If someone tries to tell me that I should be, for example, making games instead of writing blog posts (as if I’m not also making games!), that tells me that I should ignore them, because they have no idea how effective writing about sexism actually is. An article brings attention to an issue and can make many people more aware. A lot of articles over time will reach that many more people, the knowledge will sink in, and the culture will slowly change. I have personally seen change happen over the course of my four-plus years writing about games. There are more people than ever drawing attention to sexism, rape culture, and other problems in video games and video game culture. There are also many people in the game industry being the change they want to see, whether it’s by influencing game development to be less bigoted and more diverse, or by changing the perception of what the industry is like and who it’s for with their very presence.

We need both of these approaches because they’re working. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or doesn’t actually want change to happen.

Link Roundup: Hitman: Absolution Trailer

A screengrab of the Hitman trailer. Nuns walk with their heads down toward the viewer.

Screengrab from the Hitman trailer

This week has seen another round of discussion of rape culture in video games, prompted primarily by the release of a trailer for the upcoming Hitman: Absolution, which I will not link. Instead, I will offer a round-up of some great and some not-so-great (to say the least) articles written this week, both about it and about rape culture in general. Trigger warnings apply to everything below.

A good place to start is Opinion: What the Hell is With That Hitman Trailer? by Keza MacDonald at IGN, which has a description of the trailer in question and has a great explanation of the problems with it.

Next is Can’t We Discuss This Like Adults?, by Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry International, pointing out that the backlash against critics of the Hitman trailer is childish and ridiculous, and that it probably stems from the history of video games being attacked, as a medium, by cynical politicians and other outsiders. Fahey asks gamers to stop having that knee-jerk reaction to criticism and, well, discuss things like adults.

Brendan Keogh at Critical Damage demands that gamers Quit Pretending There Isn’t a Videogame Rape Culture. This is a great post, and some of the comments are quite great as well (some of them are not, though, so tread carefully). Blake linked this one in her post earlier today.

The next two posts are not related to the trailer specifically, but they are posts about rape culture that were published this week, so they are still part of the conversation. At Kotaku, Patricia Hernandez wrote a very personal and powerful piece titled Three Words I Said to the Man I Defeated in Gears of War That I’ll Never Say Again, about the true insidiousness of rape culture. And Taylor Cocke wrote In Response to “Three Words” at his blog, about his experiences of personal growth from being part of rape culture to criticizing it.

On to the not-so-great portion of our roundup… Michael Thomsen at Kill Screen has an utterly ill-informed piece with a ridiculous headline: What is “rape culture” and do videogames have one? Scare quotes alert! The comments on this one are quite worth reading.

And finally we have an irritating blog post accompanied by a completely nonsensical comic strip from Penny Arcade. There are so many things wrong with this post: the assumption that people criticizing the trailer are video game outsiders condemning the entire medium (Fahey was right!), that the criticism is somehow “compulsory” or being leveled by pearl-clutchers who have nothing to do but get hysterical about something they don’t understand, that the problem is that the women being killed are nuns, that instead of criticizing, people should just shut up and make their own games (that last one I’ll address in its own post). Way to miss the point by a mile; my only surprise here is that it was Tycho and not Gabe who was committing it this time.

Update: I forgot to link this great piece about empathy from Alexis at the Betterblog (Failbetter Games).

If you’ve seen other articles that should be included, please link them in the comments.