My name is Chesley (Chess-lee, lrn2read) Oxendine and I am a burgeoning journalism major about to graduate with his associate's degree. I'm a massive geek on every front: books, comics, movies, games, theatre, you name it I'm obsessed with it. I'm also a self-titled writer and poet (none of which you'll see here.) I play every game I can get my hands on; genre typically doesn't matter.
I'm going to tell you now I am a big fan of people saying whatever the **** they want in their reviews, or columns, or articles. Journalistic freedom: if someone can back up what they say with a point, they have the right to say it.
That being said, welcome to the Chez Dispenser. Enjoy your stay.
And for extra kicks and giggles, google "Penny Arcade 3 bitch" like I did that led me to this place originally.
Now, while Courtney Stanton's twitter is the place where I'm primarily drawing it from, this issue has been stewing in my brain for weeks--how do you "fix" gaming culture so that all "groups" feel more welcome? Is that necessary? Does anything need fixing, are we just being hypersensitive, or what?
Personally, I'm aware that yes, there are a lot of games that feature women whose proportions aren't just unrealistic but either outright impossible or, at the least, dangerous to emulate. I'm aware that games exist in which the female characters are marginalized, basically reduced to talking plot devices with boobs to ogle. I get that, and I think it's a sign of bad writing and poor maturity rather than some kind of industry wide attempt at oppression.
In that sense, the solution (in my opinion) should be to focus on better writing, not to ensure there's some kind of 1:1 ratio between your average straight white male and <insert group of people here>. Natural diversity as a result of good writing and plotting is a good thing; forced diversity is patronizing in the extreme. Shoving a black character into a game without any other reason than to say "oh look how progressive we are" or to shut up a vocal contingent of people who demand this sort of thing doesn't suddenly ease the ills of our society; it just pats someone on the head and moves right on.
You see, it's not the characters' skin colors or sexualities that have to change, it's how well they're written. I should be able to relate to a character because of their psychological traits and personalities, not their plumbing or race. This is my issue: by implying that people need "representation" by way of physically similar characters, we run into all sorts of uncomfortable suggestions--what, am I supposed to automatically relate to every straight white male out there? Are we all psychologically similar? Does that mean all women are psychologically similar, all gay men, all lesbians, all black people, Native Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Korean?
Do these physical, biological traits carry personality with them? Will these people automatically act like me because they look like me? Am I not supposed to play as a female character (say, in Mass Effect, where the voice acting is insanely better on the female side) because I won't be able to relate? Exactly what is being represented by having people who look like you on the screen?
And what about constantly pointing out when it does happen? I read once about a woman in Alaska who'd been mayor of a small town for many years, and this place was apparently a haven of sorts, just this incredible little village--all run by a "strong woman." Would her achievements have meant any less as a man? What does that say about society's expectations for both?
As for "rape culture," I don't find rape jokes funny, and I found the "Dickwolves" comic mentioned above to be kinda dumb--and perhaps an instance where PA's humor got away from them, although I don't think they were out to hurt anybody. More than that, though, I'm getting tired of it--tired of the assumption that I'm somehow a rapist just because I've got male plumbing, and tired of the fact that on the one hand, I'm told to assume that every woman has the potential to be as physically strong as a man--ESPECIALLY in video games--just before we turn around and decry any violence against women as something that should never happen. How the fuck does that work?!
If you want the short version: the whole goddamn pursuit is a bit of a double standard planted in the same soil as your run of the mill racism, sexism and homophobia--the idea that biological, physical traits somehow drive and define people, rather than the things that actually make them unique among these huge groups of similar surface distinctions. It's bad for everybody.
Okay, so, that video's out. You know the one--where we continue to attack the monster of gender equality in games from the entirely wrong angle? Anita Sarkeesian's video is informative and well presented, but as is typical of the other end of the spectrum, remains almost entirely one-sided and avoids answering obvious questions (at least they're obvious to me.)
Now, as a short preface, you're talking to someone who doesn't understand why biological sex, race or sexuality is used as anything past a physical indicator--I do not understand why we continue to pretend there are significant, constant psychological differences between men and women when both genders share all kinds of traits.
There are sensitive men, aggressive women; traditionally masculine and feminine personality traits can be found throughout all kinds of people. For the purposes of actually relating to real people instead of abstract statistics, the concept of "feminine," "masculine," etc. are all but useless.
Okay, let me be clear: I do not like nor condone the hypersexualization of women in games. I think it speaks of puerile minds who never quite grew out of sneaking Dad's Hustler magazines from under his bed. That being said, I think the route of pointedly crafting female heroes who, if I follow Sarkeesian's (and other) suggestions correctly:
-Do not have sex
-Do not ever look at men
-Do not have anything remotely romantic going on in their lives, because that communicates dependency
-Do not accentuate or show off any curves (or better yet, don't have curves or a feminine shape)
-Are perfectly strong and independent without any sign of weakness whatsoever--especially if the challenge in question has a penis
-Do not ever get in trouble they cannot handle without any help
-Do not get in trouble that
And other hamfisted, patronizing counter-tropes intended to...what? Empower women? I'm a bigger guy, and I know when Capcom or Namco include characters like Bob/Rufus, I don't feel empowered, I feel patted on the damn head. These aren't stories crafted around these characters, for these characters, with the primary intention of being a good story--these are patronizing attempts at getting me to relate to something and shut up.
Instead, what ought to be happening are things like the Walking Dead, in which characters are defined by their actions, not their gender. You ought to be asking yourself--what would happen if Lee was a girl? Would the story change? Would Clementine be radically different as a little boy? Or would these traits we find so endearing and so inspiring be important regardless of their biological sex?
Lee is not a good guy because he's a good guy. He's a good guy because he's a good person. We relate to and are inspired by his struggle to keep Clementine safe, and we relate to her affection for her savior figure. The story is good because these characters inspire and seem real to us--their genders are secondary concerns.
The story ought to be engaging because of the characters' achievements and developments. We ought to relate to their psychology, not their chest size or shoulder width (said Chez, noting fruitlessly that male characters are always presented in specific tropes as well OH WAIT SORRY CHECKING MY PRIVILEGE.)
A good story is going to be good regardless of the tropes it--hah--engenders. Well-written characters are going to be interesting collections of psychological and personality traits, not just "men" and "women." The relationship we build with these characters will be a result of connecting with their actions and personalities, not their gender; honestly I find the assumption that a character's physical appearance is all I need to relate to them a bit insulting. How patronizing is that? "OH LARA CROFT IS A WOMAN I CAN TOTALLY RELATE TO EVERYTHING SHE'S BEEN THROUGH." I'm sorry, how many women do you know that have been that bruised and broken? Have you? Have you men in the audience faced down hordes of hellish demons while swinging two handed swords around like feathers and spouting one-liners? That's not how my Fridays go, sorry.
Here's the thing: if we're shooting for a world in which gender does not identify your value as a person, does it matter what's swinging or not swinging 'twixt your protagonist's stride? Where the hell did gender-neutral go in this debate?
Would the Mario games be significantly different if it was Prince Peach and Maria? It wouldn't have affected me--just as saving princesses for my entire, 20-year gaming hobby hasn't affected my views toward women. They're people, and people realistically range from being weak and needing rescue to being strong and doing the rescuing.
I mean, Sarkeesian's video fails to answer several questions that popped up during my watching:
1) What idiots are taking the idea of saving video game women to mean that actual women are weak? Who in God's name is perpetuating this nonsense? I've saved plenty of princesses, and princes, and as it turns out there's people of both genders who can't "be the architects of their own escape," usually because the villain in these tropes keep the victim close to their chest.
2) Who was the more recognizable character in the case of StarFox or Crystal? Which would have been the more profitable lead? Was it because of brand recognition or some inherent sexism?
3) As I mentioned above, what's with the assumption that gender is what connects a person to a character? Are you assuming I can't appreciate a female character's personality because cleavage is showing? Are we assuming my brain is so shallow that the only thing I need for relevance is that the main character has a dick? What?
The only "damsel in distress" here is moderate discussion toward an actual solution, not raising more questions and qualms about a problem we already know exists. Bringing up these points without answering questions (or better yet, giving concrete examples of what you want to see happen in the industry instead of belaboring the point) simply serves to frustrate and anger the people you most need on your side--the ones who disagree with you.
For the record, I think we could do a lot better by everybody in games, but by representing a broader range of people, not specifically minorities. Race and gender are, or should be, irrelevant to a character's identity. The only thing we should be concerned with--especially in a medium obsessed with interactivity, where cinematic approaches such as long cutscenes and QTEs are often reviled--is what the characters do.
Until then, we're going to have the same damn problems, discussed endlessly and circuitously by the same damn people and punctuated by the same borderline-psychotic comments from both ends of the idiot spectrum.
Okay, so, here's how I look at things, and this is going to be blunt, so allow me to preface all this by saying I have nothing against anyone in particular and just generally disagree with the mentality I'm about to present:
I don't like the concept of fandom. I don't like how prevalent it's become, because it seems that the fans of something believe their appreciation garners ownership, and that's not the case. Games may be a business, as Aru pointed out, and they may garner expectations, but there is a huge amount of artistry going into a game. The writing, the artwork, the game design--there is a massive amount of right-brain-style creativity (not necessarily innovation, but disciplines that involve creating) going into every effort we see out there. For fuck's sake, the Call of Duty games can be said to have art direction. It exists.
That means there's a huge amount of intellectual property involved, and that's where the argument gets iffy--unless you own the IP, or the IP's owner extends the proverbial olive branch, you don't get a say in a franchise's direction, nor do you get to define what is or isn't part of a game series. If Square says a modern military FPS is the next numbered FF game, well, they get to define that. The fans play a critical part in the success of something on its financial end, not on its artistic end. They may be creators of their own content, but they did not create this particular content, ergo, they don't get to make decisions regarding it. It's highly unlikely that any of us have ever coded for a FF game, or designed a character for a Capcom fighter--and as long as that's the case, we are just fans. Our relationship with the artist begins and ends as we complete the sale, and so does our contribution to the art's success or failure.
Does that mean I don't think you should be displeased with a direction? No, god no. I'll be happy to rant about how much I hated Final Fantasy X or Metal Gear Solid 2 every day of the week--but the fact that I went and bought the games does not mean I have a say in where they go.
To me, as a writer, that's terrifying. That's tantamount to someone telling George R.R. Martin he can't kill a character because they've become emotionally invested in them, or telling James Cameron he can't direct a romantic comedy (I fucking hate James Cameron, for the record) because they want Avatar 2 instead. It's taking the art away from the artist and crowd-sourcing it among fans, and that leads to chaos--just ask your nearest theater geek what happens when you have too many directors and not enough actors. Ask a game studio what happens when you take that singular, focused vision and try to dilute it, catering to everyone's needs.
The art suffers for it, I feel, when you spread the vision out too far and rely on fans to design a game. The new DmC said "fuck everything" and changed so much, ignoring all the vocal outcry--and turned out to be one of the best games I've played this generation (and the first one since BL2 I couldn't put down until I completed it) because it committed to its decisions and ran with it, and became the second best game in the series as a result, in my estimation.
(DMC3 gets the nod because of its boss fights and I like the weaponry better. That's it.)
Fans will mention the word betrayal, but that's something I need people to understand: there's no existing contract. The only contract that shows up is that when you get that game going, it works. There is no promise of a sequel, even if there's a cliffhanger ending. There's no promise that the artist will do what you want them to do in the next game, or release that DLC you want so badly. Without that promise, that legally binding promise, there is no betrayal. They never promised you the sequel would be anything like its predecessors.
But Chez, sometimes fan feedback has really helped a game!--yes, it has, but I guarantee you the feedback was filtered and considered carefully as to whether or not it could fit in that original vision or idea, and that if there was a change, it was because the artist decided it was better. Whether the idea is good or not is irrelevant--I'm advocating for the freedom to have it and to own the characters, names and concepts you create. They are yours--not the fans'.
That's my problem with fandoms: there seems to be this idea that the artists owe you. They don't. They completed the transaction. You have a game, you have a book, you have a movie. The relationship, until they begin it anew, is over. You don't get to stand next to George Lucas, as fucked as some of the Star Wars movies are, and demand he change his vision. You get to complain about it, make your distaste known, and find something else to like. If Lucas takes your advice, that's great, but he is under no circumstances obligated to. There is no betrayal. He's done nothing to personally attack you--he simply went on with what he wanted to do with his stuff, which he is in right to do.
It's that mentality that makes me avoid calling myself a "fan" of anything. I like things. I enjoy things. But I'm not a fan, because the idea that an artist owes me something--that's scary.
To paraphrase Mr. Gaiman's letter in that link I posted: Game developers are not your bitch.