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.
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.