Tag Archives: Spike

Please Stop: The Trans Joke at the Spike Video Game Awards

A stylized logo that says VGX.

[TW: Discussion of transphobic joke, real-life experiences of transphobia.]

Like many graduate students, I was still finishing up last week’s work at 6 PM on a Saturday. I put on Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards (re-branded this year as VGX) to have some background noise while I put the finishing touches on a paper.

I expected the usual: some Michael Bay-esque graphics packages, some puerile pandering to their core demographic of adolescent boys, some Mountain Dew, some Doritos, some trailers. I can stomach that, even laugh at it. Less than five minutes into the program, however, co-host Joel McHale jokingly put the rumors to rest that Wario had “undergone sex reassignment surgery.”

If you’re reading this, you might know that a joke like that is politically ill-advised. It violates the comedic wisdom that one should punch up rather than punch down. It not only repeats the exoticizing focus on transgender people’s genitals, it also casts transgender identity itself as something scandalous and laughable.

What you might not know is what it feels like to hear a joke like this, what it’s like to be triggered. To that end, let me tell you a story about a period of my life that I don’t often discuss. Seven years ago (prior to my transition), I was still in a place where I could only present female occasionally. I hadn’t yet had the earth-shattering realization that I needed to transition but I still needed space to explore crucial aspects of my identity. I was fortunate enough to be dating someone who supported me in that endeavor.

We were in New York one night while I was presenting female. The night was warm, the sky was clear; we decided to be tacky tourists and go to the top of the Empire State Building. In line, some boys approached us and tried to talk to us. At the time—without the benefits and, indeed, the privileges of experience and hormones that I have now—my appearance did not hold up under close scrutiny and they “read” me, they recognized that I was not cisgender.

They laughed and laughed and laughed. They howled. They followed us all the way through the line and into the elevator where the laughter continued in our faces. My very existence was hilarious to them. The fact that there was a human underneath the sloppy eye makeup and the tattered dress either did not occur to them or, worse, it didn’t matter to them. I realized for the first time that night that, were I to transition, I would be a living, walking joke. It’s experiences like this that keep people from transitioning for years.

I am lucky to have had just one experience this emotionally brutal and I’m immensely privileged to have been safeguarded from the acts of physical violence that predominantly effect transgender women of color. Over the course of my transition, the smirks of passersby have faded, misgenderings have all but stopped, and that howling laughter has faded into that long-ago New York night.

When I hear a trans joke in a venue as public as a nationally broadcast television show, I’m instantly back in that elevator. I’m no longer the confident woman that I’ve become over the last couple of years; I’m a scared little girl cowering in the corner, reeling from the ridicule, wondering if they’ll follow me all the way home.

Spike, do you realize what you do to people outside your target demographic when they try to engage with your work? If you realized, would you still do it? Do I want to know the answer to that question?

I could write you an angry polemic about video game culture right now. I could undertake educational efforts to help video game commentators understand transgender identity. I’ve done that. I keep doing it and nothing happens. Nothing changes. There’s always another gaffe, another joke, another game.

So tonight, Geoff Keighley, producers, journalists, if this note manages to make it to your desk, all I’m asking is that you stop. Please stop. Please stop.

Update: Immediately after this article went live, Joel McHale introduced a reader comment by saying, “He, she or he-she says…”


Rejected VGA Categories

A golden goblet shaped trophy.

Contributors include – gunthera1, @devilherdue on Twitter, and Rawles

The Video Game Awards (VGAs) will air on Spike on December 10th. This prestigious and exclusive video game award show has, in previous years,  included several jokes about testicles/balls, scantily dressed models that accompany award presenters onstage, and renamed popular games to porn titles such as World of Whorecraft. http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=690 http://borderhouseblog.com/?p=3441 As this is the main publicly viewed award show for the industry we have a few rejected award categories that Spike should consider if they truly want to capture the essence of the VGAs.


Best Objectification of Women to Mask Homoerotic Tensions
- Gears of War 3

Best Chance That a Dude Retailer Will Ask: “Oh, Buying This For Your Boyfriend?”
- Dudebro: tie between Battlefied 3 & Duke Nukem Forever
- DM in his tabletop group: Skyrim

Top Game Targeted Towards 18-35 Year Old White Males
-  Duke Nukem Forever

Most Gratuitous Lingering T&A Shot During Dialogue or Cutscene
- Mass Effect 2

Best Use of a Slur to Push Away Customers from Your Game
- Homophobic slurs during the concert at BlizzCon

Best Use of Slurs to Attract an Audience to Your Game
- Bulletstorm

Best Use of Jokes Aimed at a Predominantly Male Audience
- You Don’t Know Jack

Greatest Use of Sexual Innuendo with Young Female Characters
- Ar tonelico Qoga: Knell of Ar Ciel

Only Instance of Recruiting Random Women Characters from a Street Scene to Work in a Hostess Club
- Yakuza 4

Most Obscene Sexualization of a Well Known Character
- Aya Brea from The 3rd Birthday

Best Degradation of Relationships to a Simple “Buy My Love” Mechanic
- Fable 3

Most Frequent Use of Slurs Against a Female Character
- Batman: Arkham City

Most Blatant Use of a Sex Toy as a Weapon
- Saints Row: The Third

Should any of our awards make the final show? Are there any you would like to add to the list? Maybe next year the VGAs will celebrate some categories that accurately reflect their intended audience; one that wants an award show which alienates half or more of video game players and convinces many others to avoid the medium entirely.

Spike VGAs 2010: Less testicle jokes, still male-centric

The VGA "Video Game Awards" logo.

The Spike 2010 Video Game Awards were on tonight, and I watched it even though I knew it was going to be problematic.  Alex reviewed the 2009 VGAs last year, and while this year did contain less jokes about ‘balls’ and other male anatomy, it was not without its share of sexist representations of women and bad women jokes.

To start, all of the women on stage were clearly put there to look good and draw the male attention.  They were scantily dressed, but more problematic was the fact that the majority of them had no relevance to the gaming industry.  Even Neil Patrick Harris (the show’s host) had ties to video gaming, as he did the voiceover work for Spiderman in a game this year.  Denise Richards, AnnaLynne McCord, and Rachel Bilson were the female presenters that I can remember off the top of my head.  Of all the games that won, the developers who came up to accept the awards were all men.  Not a single female developer, though that shouldn’t surprise me. (Edit: Point redacted.  My DVR cut off the last 10 minutes of the show, and I missed the Game of the Year award, which was accepted by a female for Red Dead Redemption).

Neil Patrick Harris had a couple bits where he spouted off video game porn titles, like “World of Whorecraft”.  Most of them were fine, although I have to be honest that “Call of Booty: Pre-ops” pissed me off.  There was an awkward CGI scene in which Kratos from God of War III was shown being sensual with a barely-dressed woman before tossing her aside like a piece of trash.  And I noticed that 5+ minutes of the show was dedicated to presenting the award for Best Performance by a Human Male (won by Neil Patrick Harris), without even a mention of the female category.

When Rutina Wesley and Ryan Kwanten of True Blood came out to present the trailer for the new SSX snowboarding game, Rutina’s script consisted of her calling it “SEX” and talking about snowboarding in her underwear.  And finally, one of the presenters (I think it was Dane Cook) mentioned that good games are something we all can ‘jerk off to’.  You know, because we all have something to jerk.

Overall, the VGAs could have been worse.  However, I can’t help but wish they were on a network that wasn’t geared toward men.  I feel like I’m an outsider while I watch, which is ridiculous because I make games for a living.  There is nothing inclusive about the televised version of the VGAs, whether its due to its sexism or its lack of portrayal of gaming genres and platforms other than Xbox 360 and PS3.  Where were casual games, Wii games, social games, or handheld games?  The jokes were bad, the performers were lackluster, the overall show was just poor.  So far, these don’t feel like legitimate awards to me and the network has a long way to go if they want me to take the award show seriously.

Readers, did you watch?  This was in no means an exhaustive Border House takedown, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Spike VGAs: I watched it so you didn’t have to!

Spike Video Game Awards logo

Full list of winners:

* Game of the Year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Studio of the Year: Rocksteady Studios
* Best Independent Game Fueld by Dew: Flower
* Best Xbox 360 Game: Left 4 Dead 2
* Best PS3 Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Best Wii Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
* Best PC Game: Dragon Age: Origins
* Best Handheld Game: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
* Best Shooter: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
* Best Fighting Game: Street Fighter IV
* Best Action Adventure Game: Assassin’s Creed II
* Best RPG: Dragon Age: Origins
* Best Multiplayer Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
* Best Individual Sports Game: UFC 2009 Undisputed
* Best Team Sports Game: NHL 10
* Best Driving Game: Forza Motorsport 3
* Best Music Game: The Beatles: Rock Band
* Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero
* Best Original Score: Halo 3: ODST
* Best Graphics: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Best Game Based On A Movie/TV Show: South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play!
* Best Performance By A Human Female: Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
* Best Performance By A Human Male: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
* Best Cast: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
* Best Voice: Jack Black for the voice of Eddie Riggs in Brütal Legend
* Best Downloadable Game: Shadow Complex
* Best DLC: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
* Most Anticipated Game of 2010: God of War III

Announced games: Green Day Rock Band, Batman: Arkham Asylum 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, Spec Ops: The Line, Crackdown 2.

After the jump: my commentary, and some trailers!

Continue reading