Right now sexism is a hot button issue amongst games media and related gaming sites. This is in part because we are being told that females are playing games now more than ever and as such their combined voices are getting ever louder. While there is no inherent problem with this (everyone deserves to have their voice heard), there is a problem with what many of these people are choosing to speak about. While I will not excuse legitimate occurrences of sexism I will argue that the vast majority of things that people call sexist are in no way sexist. So let’s look at what I am talking about.
While Wikipedia may not be the best source of accurate information, some of the information found here will do for the sake of ease of access:
"Sexism, also known as gender discrimination or sex discrimination, is the belief that a characteristic inherent in one's sex necessarily adversely affects one's ability even though that characteristic does not necessarily have that effect."
So the below picture is not sexist:
What you are looking at are breasts. Every woman has them (medical conditions excluded), some women have large breasts, some women have small breasts. Saying that a picture of a woman’s breasts is sexist is akin to walking up to a woman on the street who happens to have large breasts and yelling at them for being sexist. That does not make sense. Being sexist would be to think that because a person has breasts that they are inherently less intelligent or otherwise less capable than a person who does not have breasts. That would be sexist.
Assumptions VS Fact
It is at this point that it is important to note that making assumptions about a person based upon certain known facts is not discrimination. Assuming a woman is not good at math because they are a woman is sexual discrimination. Assuming a woman will like pictures of cute baby animals because they are a woman is not sexual discrimination. What is the difference between these two assumptions? The mathematics assumption is sexist because (in most western countries at least) man and women have equal access to learning about mathematics. Who is better is determined by their individual abilities or how well they were taught the subject. Regarding cute animals however, women are more likely to find cute animals appealing than males. This could in part be attributed to “maternal instincts” however my girlfriend who has absolutely no “maternal instinct” as it were still breaks down every time a cute little lamb stares down the lenses of a camera.
This is of cause not saying that all women like cute animals and no men like cute animals, it is just talking percentage chances and making a safe bet. Making assumptions about people based upon known characteristics is one of the tools used by humans every day to help them get through the day. If you can’t make an assumption about someone, then you have to ask them every possible relevant question before you can get any work done with them. Lets use myself as an example. I am going to start describing myself and you are going to start picturing what sort of person I am. First off, I am male, wear glasses, play a lot of video games, work in IT and weigh about 120kg (264lbs). Right, so you have already made a few assumptions about my physical appearance, exercise routines, eating habits and probably my ability to socialize with others. You know what, there is nothing wrong with that and it would be ridiculous for me to be offended by those assumptions. That said, there are some things we can do to correct people’s assumptions. The easiest way to do this is to get more information about the individual themselves. Continuing with information about myself, I am about 187cm (6’ 2”) tall, I currently play and officiate ice hockey and have in the past have also played soccer and basketball and for some time I played all three at the same time. This perhaps alters you assumptions about my physical appearance. So in making assumptions, information is the key however you can not always get as much information as you need to accurately portray someone and you need to make assumptions to bridge these gaps.
Equal Opportunity VS Equal Treatment As far as I see it, the feminist movement’s greatest statement is that it promotes equal opportunity. The important distinction here is that they do not promote being treated the same as males but rather being given equal opportunities. When it comes to voting, women deserve an equal opportunity to vote as men do but when it comes to opening doors men who open the door for a woman is considered chivalrous. If there is a generic desk job available, a woman should be given an equal opportunity as a man to get the job based upon their individual qualities. If however a woman rejects an advance from a man slapping them in the face, people might laugh or cheer on the woman but the scene would be very different if a man to slap the woman in the face given exactly the same scenario in reverse.
So what is the difference here? Women and men ARE different and people need to accept that. Men and women have a different biological make up from each other. Women can give birth and men can not. Men on average are stronger than women. These are just facts of our genetic makeup and there is nothing wrong with that. If on the other hand you make statements about the intelligence of a woman based purely on the fact that they are a woman and you cross the line into the territory of sexual discrimination. I need to clarify again here that I am strictly talking safe bets. I am not for example saying that all men are stronger than all women (I have living proof that this is not the case) but it is true that the majority of men I know are stronger than the majority of women I know. Speaking socially, men and women play distinct social roles. Many men consider it “bonding” to greet each other by punching each other usually in the shoulder, women on the other hand are more likely to hug. Though these roles are usually culturally dependent, for a good chunk of the western audience men hugging and women punching each other is not something we would expect to happen on a regular basis.
Female Aesthetics in Video Games Enough about general comments on sexism, let us take a look at one of the issues plaguing the debate in video games: aesthetics. While I could jump straight back to the large breasts again, let’s look at the more general idea of clothing and body armor.
The logical argument in play here is that speaking practically, the woman in the picture is dramatically under armored with large exposed areas where as the man is covered almost completely in metal. The argument then flows that the game is sexist. Let’s compare this to real world clothing, more specifically, general business ware. The default male attire (again, culturally dependent) is a long sleeve shirt, pants and a tie. Generally covering themselves from head (well neck) to toe. Women on the other hand can wear short skirts, short sleeves and a low cut top showing off bother their legs and breasts simultaneously. Does this make women who dress like this sexist? No, this is just the attire as it has been accepted by the culture it exists in. If on the other hand we forced them to dress like this (like women’s beach volleyball), that would be sexist.
In truth, both men and women want the same things from the avatar that represent them. They both want to essentially look “good”. It just so happens that looking “good” has a different standard for men and women. Men tend to want to look like muscle bound tanks (like in Gears of War) and women tend to want to have a good figure and wear clothing that extenuates said figure. You know what, both are sexual representations. This flows from the idea that women find muscle bound men attractive and men find women with a good figure attractive. Both parties just want to look like what they consider to be their “best”. People want to look “cool” and “appealing” regardless of their gender. The practicality of the outfit itself (apart from the stats they provide) would almost never get a second look in.
Conclusion So just to make sure my core point has gotten across, I want to reiterate that that appearance of large breasts alone in a video game are not sexist, they are an attempt at visual appeal. Save your anger for a game that makes every woman in the game a domestic engineer lacking the ability to think of anything beyond what to cook for dinner. As a final shocking point, the majority of people like breasts. Men like them for obvious reasons and women often appreciate another woman aesthetics for entirely different reasons. Case in point, the character that I have often heard several women pointing to as a “positive” influence is:
With many people trying to proclaim the death of the single player game, Skyrim comes along and puts a flaming dragon down all of their pants. I would however argue that a good amount of the reason that Skyrim has been so well received is that it is not a single player game as we once knew it. Skyrim is a game where rather than telling you a story it creates a story for you to tell. It is a water cooler game.
What do I mean by this? I have heard a number of people talking about the talking dog they ran across. After 150+ hours, I have not come across this dog. I have also heard stories from other people who have put in a similar level of hours and have seen other things that I have not but at the same time, have not seen things that I have. This creates a point of conversation where people can pick at each other trying to work out what they have each seen. This is made possible by the way that you come across things. Quests are not exclamation points over people's heads. Some occur at fixed positions but others appear at apparently random moments and locations around the world. This enhances the real life conversation where every participant can posit a theory.
This is also enhanced by the random interaction of NPCs. People tell stories of dragons getting beat down by giants and other moments of equal craziness. If you think about the in game mechanics, it is a simple matter of two AI having their attack ranges crossing each other. When you tell the story however it becomes “I was being attacked by this dragon and I was low on health so I tried to run away. Unfortunately I ran straight into the path of a giant. Screaming with fear, I jumped behind a rock. Taking a moment, I turned back around to see where the next threat was coming from only to see the giant and the dragon slugging it out in an epic battle between a giant club and epic fireballs.” While it may not bring that much weight as I write it here, in person you get caught up in the moment waiting for the time when you can share you experience and describe your epic battle.
This story telling instantly takes Skryim from being a single player experience to being something that allows you to be the story teller to your friends and turns a single player experience into an experience shared amongst everyone else that is playing the game. This is different from a game like Mass Effect where even with multipul choices to make in conversations, you still only have only a limited number of paths you can take into and out of the conversation. Mass Effect is a game where virtually any player experience can be recreated by simply following the same steps as the person before you. In Skyrim however, events occur in an essentially random order that even the original person who experienced the event may not be able to recreate it. This makes every moment it's own unique experience for you to share with others.
Thinking that I was creating the term myself (but knowing that someone must have said it before me) I did a quick Google search for the term Meta Multiplayer and came across a description that included the concept of leader boards, passing controllers between players and other competitive benchmarks. I would however argue that these systems are still within the bounds of the games themselves and are therefore not “meta” experiences. I would propose that Minecraft is another example of Meta Multiplayer. While you can create a true multiplayer server, the majority of the games social success came from people sharing their creations over the internet. This is the Meta Multiplayer of Minecraft. A leader board is just that and functions regardless of if you are chasing your own score or that of a friend. To stick to the theme of the need to share your creation in Minecraft, building something in the game is the same as making any other piece of art. The need to show off your work and the pleasure gained from others enjoying your work is surely greater than the stand alone sensation of just making something that only you will see.
Returning to my opening statement of the death of single player games, I would argue that for at lease a purely single player experience, this will be the case. If the success of Facebook and Twitter have taught us nothing else it is that people enjoy sharing with other people. In a world where everything else is moving towards connectivity and social networking it is only natural that games are taking the same path. Where games like Dead Space are shoehorning true multiplayer into their games, Skyrim has taken the better path of creating a single player game that still allows for each player to share their experiences. While I would argue that it was perhaps an accident for Minecraft to stumble across this formula, I would equally argue that the core design of Skyrim is to allow this to happen and in this we see the future of the single player experience.
As far as I can tell, the biggest rejection that “core” gamers have against motion controls (aside from having to actually move) is the lack of precision they provide. Hopefully this will resolve itself over time however there is one specific aspect of current generation motion controls that baffles me and that is Duck Hunt. Duck Hunt was a game that was released more than 20 years ago on the NES that came with a light gun that essentially offered absolute precision. You could walk up to your screen press the gun against the duck flying across the screen and pull the trigger. So why then does the current Nintendo gun fire via relative positioning? What happened to the 1 to 1 point and shoot?
It is my understanding that the technical specs of modern televisions renders the Nintendo light gun unable to correctly identify the target it is pointing at but is this really an excuse? What is stopping them from developing a new set of technology that works on modern TVs? Imagine plugging an analog stick controller into your light gun and playing a first person shooter where you actually shot what you were aiming at. Imagine combining this technology with a Kinect like camera and microphone system where you could hide behind your couch for cover (the camera would know you are in cover), shout orders to your team members (or at your opponent) and then pop up and just shoot at the screen without having to worry about your position relative to anything other than actually pointing at the screen.
In this regard, the new PlayStation TV brings me some hope. Basically, aside from being a 3D TV it allows two viewers to view their own unique image. This allows for two players to play a “split screen” game where each player gets the full screen and they can not cheat by looking at the other person's screen. Where was this when I was playing Golden Eye on the Nintendo 64? So perhaps there really is an insurmountable problem with modern TVs. Solution – build a gaming TV that it will work with.