Lately, news stories revolving around the game culture have had a disconcertingly similar theme. This theme has existed for awhile now, though with a couple of specific recent examples, the controversy has reached new levels of Internet drama and debate.
The first and most disheartening example of this recurring theme of misogyny comes with the ugly yet ultimately redeeming
story about Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project that will be a meaningful attempt at examining female tropes in video games, and all of the incredibly moronic backlash that resulted from her idea. Ironically, much of the anger and hatred she had to deal with just strengthens any argument she may present in her film.
Then came the sensationalist
Hitman: Absolution trailer, which found its lightest offense in featuring persons of the cloth wielding deadly weapons against the antihero assassin.
And of course, barely needing yet another mention would be Ron Rosenberg's comments
on the delicate nature of the new, younger version of Lara Croft that - paired with an E3 trailer that rubbed some people the wrong way - came off to many as a reinforcement of the existing misogyny/sexism in the portrayal of female characters in video games.
Personally, while I wouldn't go quite as far as calling the recurring and seemingly growing misogynistic culture that exists in video games a so-called "rape culture"
because of the connotations with brutes and jocks that this inevitably conjures, the culture perpetuated is undeniably a culture that by and large portrays women in a negative light and very actively discourages the female voice in gaming.
The first offense that many video games incur is to treat women like objects. This can be seen with the popularity of the Dead or Alive games and their "jiggle physics" (That term always makes me think of Jiggle Billy from Aqua Teen Hunger Force - commence the jigglin'!) and of Lara Croft's original character design, causing many sweaty hands to massage the controller while Lara swam to get a peak of pixelated...something. Black squares? ....hot.
Next, like the Tomb Raider revival controversy, many video games treat women as vulnerable and weak. Even one of my favorite games of all commits this offense, with Ico's sidekick Yorda seeming to be the most useless female creature to exist. Unless you compare her to the female character in Shadow of the Colossus, who certainly gives you a compelling protaganist with a main role as "unconscious/possibly dead love"
Our own Sophie Prell ran into controversy awhile back when she suggested that Skyrim reinforced this trope, and while I didn't quite agree with her talking points on this matter I definitely understood where she was coming from. Though your character can be a strong female lead, many of the women in the game who are not you are either conniving temptresses or are willing to bow down to their male counterparts when leadership roles are handed out.
Strong female lead characters in video games have to always be sexy, always wear revealing clothing, and always be appealing to the average heterosexual male gamer.
Which is fine, if games existed in a vacuum where all gamers were male and females really did only exist as objects of lust or as obediently kept women who gladly cooked and cleaned for their brawny and heroic male counterpart.
Honestly, what really bothers me about the obvious vibrant misogynist culture that is present today in gaming is simply that it isn't what I grew up with - it isn't really what any of us grew up with.
While it's true that Mario and Link were on a quest to save their once useless princesses, neither of those games actively reinforced any idea that the princesses were (excuse the term) helpless hot bitches who would expose 8 bit breasts as soon as they had a chance. In fact, Zelda has matured into many admirable female characters, especially notable in Wind Waker as the tomboyish pirate who goads Link on in the first half of the game. And Peach...well, I'm sorry but your princess may truly be in another castle. Maybe next year.
While it's true that Samus did her best to die sexily in 8 bits in the original Metroid series, just the fact that she played an incredibly strong role of a space adventurer and the average gamer imagined her to be a brawny male until her first death (I remember being incredibly confused at seeing Samus Aran die the first time, but I didn't really care after that) made her a figure to admire, at least until the new gaming culture reared its ugly head and gave the protagonist in Other M an annoying vulnerability.
True, many of the games we grew up with did have an absence of females, but instead featured action hero males, action hero earthworms, spiky blue hedgehogs that had to go fast, Italian plumber brothers, kids with magical power-granting helmets, and Polterguy. The point of games was once to appeal - not so much to children - as to the power of all of our collective imaginations, not specifically to heterosexual dudes and their carnal needs.
Hell, one of my cherished memories growing up was playing Super Mario Bros. 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Boogerman with my cousins - male and female. We were certainly not exclusive about our video game habits, and shared all of our games and devices,
I find it strange that a common argument raised by commenters to stories on Destructoid or elsewhere about this recurring theme is that it's "just video games" - as if this portrayal of women that has emerged and grown stronger through both Western and Japanese influences is "just games" and has always been part of that dynamic, that part of what makes games fun is not ruining them with too much critical thinking.
Uh, it hasn't always been part of that dynamic and if you think it has you are either too young to know better or too ignorant to think critically about the issue.
If I may be so bold to state the obvious here - it seems to me that as video games evolve, they also regress by decades. Now we have glorified violence towards women, women with godly powers that run around naked save for their magical ass kicking hair, and sexy cheerleaders who fight zombies. Is any of this really very imaginative or creative? Sure, the games that involve these characters or acts may actually be fun to many, have incredibly imaginative elements, and have solid gameplay - but where the hell is the true creativity in appealing to the basest root of a supposed majority population?
Especially when this population is actually diversifying and becoming a much larger crowd of both men and women from all walks of life?
And before I get ahead of myself - I don't mind adult themes in games. I don't even mind if games sometimes come off as exploitative for these very same reasons. What I mind is the incredible imbalance between the incredible popularity of these types of games and the smaller support for games that are creative for creativity's sake. What I mind is that there continues to exist a culture that says that exploiting women is cool as long as it's "just a game."
Clearly, as in the case of how Sarkeesian was treated for her desire to critically examine an important topic regarding the portrayal of women in video games - to many of these male gamers, it's much more than "just a game."