My real name is Max and I'm a diehard Browncoat. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe left over from a childhood obsession, as well as an actual Star Wars encyclopedia, but that's another matter.
I like to sleep, but keep odd hours, I like food A LOT, I like TV on occasion, I'm not a huge fan of any music except symphonic, and apparently I have bad music taste, even at 20 I can barely grow enough facial hair to justify shaving more than twice a week, I love to write, I kinda read, I hate a couple of the people in my J-school program, HBO is perfect, LOST is actually alright, I'm a total gearhead, Avatar was a terrible movie but an incredible experience, How to Train Your Dragon was very, VERY awesome, and all I want at this moment is a 1:1 stuffed Appa.
Guess what this last paragraph used to be for? My two cents on the games/art debate. Guess what's here now? NOTHING, and that's the way I likes it.
Feminism and sexism are increasingly relevant topics in our industry; few discussions polarize faster, yet few are more important. Their recent prevalence is due in part to an increasing critical interest in the medium, and amazingly, growing interest from women.
I say amazingly because a woman who's interested in games is so rarely the target of advertising, and worse, so often low on the list of demographics that developers try to relate to narratively. This industry is, at least outwardly, almost completely uninterested in making women feel welcome.
The harm that creates is compounded by the fact that with fewer women in the audience, there's less reason to portray the gender in a balanced way, or even in a way women can feel comfortable with; it only really has to be agreeable to men. Men are ready and willing to accept very different representations of women than women are, and this problem only intensifies as the feedback loop gets fed by sales and a lack of criticism.
There are a lot of people braving a lot of online hate to make you aware of this trend. Anita Sarkeesian is the most well known and often burned. She gets some of the most disgusting responses around, and she's trying to bring values into the public eye that would benefit even the people who insult her.
But she's doing it wrong.
What most people I've spoken with hate about her message is that it involves heavy criticism of games they like. More, she's criticizing elements of those games they don't normally look at critically. What possible effect could the portrayal of female characters and problems have on the enjoyment a game?
On the one hand, there's reason there. In an otherwise excellent game, sexist portrayals of women would have a hard time ruining the experience for many gamers, except in the extreme.
On the other, this is precisely the point, to her and enough other people that we should pay attention. Many gamers don't care or even notice when they see these things, and it's when we allow them to pass unrecognized that we reinforce that unwelcoming reputation.
But Anita Sarkeesian and many others are still doing it wrong.
Anita is trying to convince the vast majority. She is trying to tell you that your view is wrong, that it needs to be fixed to stand on the side of morality, and she's doing it by criticizing the things you like.
Doesn't matter how inclusive or morally important that value is, or how deserved and constantly justified the tone of the pitch is. You're not really buying at that point, are you?
That's because the message is an inherently negative assertion; negative in that we literally need to subtract sexism from the equation. Things get even more challenging when you consider that the success of those speaking out in favour of these ideals is measured only by the number of people they can convince.
In the case of Anita Sarkeesian, my expectation is that if she were to balance the negative assertion of criticizing sexism with the positive assertion of celebrating feminism in her videos, her results would improve. There's usually more of the first.
And exact balance is what's needed. Gamers resistant to this message aren't usually defending their sexism, not directly. To them they're defending their favourite games. So if you're gonna tell them those games are broken in an important way, you have to praise the ones that aren't just as much, or you'll lose them. A proportional approach or anything close to it won't work.
And in respect to actual numbers, Anita's ratio of around 4 games with sexist tropes to 1 with healthy representations of women is optimistic to say the least.
If you can't agree with her and those of a like mind though, at least respect them; they're passionately advocating for something they believe in their core is right, despite being constantly shat upon by legions who actually care for what the shat-upon are trying improve.
That's not easy to do, and it'll be similarly difficult for all the other demographics who want equal, hell, even unoffensive representation in the medium. What's important to remember is that despite the methods used, the value behind them is pretty damn hard to disagree with.
~ Om nom nom nom...
In the interest of not warping any perspectives myself, Else wrote a really well informed rebuttal to this in the comments, and it's worth your time to read the whole thing.
PS: I did my best to keep this stuff from making it into the article as you read it, but they're important notes for the reader, because they affect my bias as the writer:
- I believe games as a whole benefit from a broad range of characters, protagonists, and narrative conflict.
- I believe games as a whole benefit from attracting a diverse audience.
- I'm a man, which is relevant here in this discussion.
PPS: I'm excited to discuss this, so I'll be floating around the comments today as much as I can.