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Hold the sausage: will videogames ever be more than playing with the boys?


(EDIT 11/29/2012 - edited the title and a couple of other uses of the term "misogyny" out of things; a friend pointed out I was using the term far too lightly, and it didn't fit the message I intended. Just a terminology hot-swap; nothing else has changed.)

The recent #1Reason____ trends on Twitter, as discussed in Jim Sterling's post regarding them, are the latest in a long and steadily building cascade of outcry against the treatment of women in the world of videogames. There are some with the misguided cajones to try and say this sexism doesn't exist, and that the women complaining about it are just doing it for attention's sake, or because they can't cut it in a man's world, among other reasons.

I beg to differ. I beg you to shut your mouths and open your eyes. The issue here isn't just the mistreatment of women who are or who seek to be part of the industry. There's a condescending, chauvanist attitude pervading gaming across the board, be it in regards to game content and marketing, gamer interaction on all levels from casual to professsional, game-related media production and reactions, or the making of games themselves. For a scene that's been building for forty-plus years (sixty-five, if you want to go as far back as 1947's cathode-ray amusement device), mostly in far more progressive times than other, formerly male-dominated cultures that have seen great strides in gender equality, the sausage fest that is gaming has done surprisingly little to welcome those without a Y-chromosome.

It's no secret or mystery that gamer culture has managed to stay a sausage party for a very, very long time. Take one look at all the skimpy outfits and jiggle physics tacked on to female characters in favor of actually characterizing them. Listen to the voices of the majority of players wearing headsets in any given matchmaking lobby; sure, some are higher pitched, but more often than not, one can tell that's the case because they're pre-pubescent, not because they're female. Name enough higher-ups in game companies, or even non-indie game developers (or hell, include the indies if you want), to count on all, if not just one hand's worth, your fingers. Go ahead, I can wait.

Not that easy, is it? And that's just part of the problem. Sure, there are segments of of the gamer population who are full aware of the problem, even on the male side from whence the problem spawns, and they've made fun of it as best they can, but there's a majority of gamers and gaming fans out there who don't think women belong in gaming in any respect, considering it a joke, an affront, or an outright deception on womankind's part should they pick up a controller or *gasp* go so far as to make a game themselves.

Some of this, at least back in the day, could be attributed to the fact that a great deal of the people creating video games came from realms that were already testosterone driven. The budding field of computer science was, as most sciences were back then, a no-girls-allowed clubhouse, and when Japan got their fingers into the gaming pie, it makes sense that their patriarchal society would only contribute to the male dominance of the industry. Game thematics followed suit, with concepts like war and combat being easier to portray within the limits of early gaming technology than more complex themes, and, once things evolved to the 8-bit era, the archetypical tale of the guy saving the day and getting the girl put ladies in roles of distress rather than participation, more often than not. Sure, there were exceptions, like Samus Aran of Metroid fame, and other leading ladies like the titular Athena and Alis of Phantasy Star, but for the most part, dudes were the ones killing (and being) badguys, getting things done, and saving the day.

Decades down the road, and how far have we come on that front? Not very. Super Princess Peach, a Nintendo DS title from 2005, takes everyone's favorite serial kidnap victim and sets her off to save Mario for once, with powers based on mood swings. Ladies have gained more and more ground in the realm of fighting games, but only in exchange for less and less clothing to wear to those fights. Lara Croft, renown just as much for her badassery as her enormous, polygonal bust, is now looking forward to attempted sexual assault to make her an empathetic character in an upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. And the aforementioned Samus, once considered a paragon of self-sufficiency, got some ridiculous heels tacked on to her Zero Suit and even more ridiculous overemotionality tacked onto her mental state in 2010's Metroid: Other M. Strong, respectable, and even reasonably accurate representations of women are few and far between in games, and it seems to be a product of both the men who are trying to write them and the boys who don't want them in their games beyond sex appeal in the first place.

Yes, boys. Not men. Children. Manchildren, in many cases, but still children have just as much of the blame for the state of descrimination against women in gaming today as the industry side of things. Harassment, both textual, verbal, and beyond are hallmarks of both online play and online commentary anymore. Websites like Fat, Ugly, or Slutty serve as documentation of the wide range of harassment female gamers undergo on services like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, as well as in chat in popular MMOs such as World of Warcraft. If a girl shows up in a lobby and it's clear she is actually female, the immediate response of most is to fall back on the tiresome "get back to the kitchen" line, assume they're hideous, or proposition them for (and/or threaten them with) sexual favors (and/or assault). Those instances, at least, seem to imply a belief in the legitimacy of girls' ability to play games from time to time, which could be considered slightly better than the conspiracy theories surrounding "fake" nerd girls and the looming threat they pose to the "real" gamers' status quo.

Just recently, 343 Industries threatened (and later rescinded said threat) to lay down the banhammer on anyone reported for sexist, derogatory comments towards those of the female persuasion in Halo 4 multiplayer matches, which was met with a maelstrom of male gamers crying foul on the grounds of everything from First Amendment rights to nothing being done about "sexism against men" (AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA wut), or the rampant racism and homophobia on the service as well. While the latter issues are ones that could use some addressing as well, a lot of the commentary on sexual preference and race of some players, while hateful, stems more from terms like "gay," "fag," and racial slurs having infiltrated common parlance as less targeted negative terminology; the kids calling you the n-word don't know your race or care if you're actually of a certain ethnicity, they're just out to insult you. Hatred against women, on the other hand, is specifically targeted towards female players based on their gender once said gender is known, and is less likely a product of upbringing as it is the ambient gamer culture itself, hence the priority. What makes it more of a shame that this is an issue in Halo is that Bungie and, subsequently, 343 Industries, have been making a point in their past few games to include female options for in-game character models (as far back as Dare being unlockable in ODST), an attempt at inclusiveness that's being shot down by the player base themselves. Who's going to play as a lady SPARTAN when that's an even easier way to open one up to verbal abuse?

These disgusting assumptions carry over into the realm of video and written content about games, should the creators and presenters make the twin "mistakes" of being attractive and female. Sure, there have been some incidents of female hosts being chosen more for their looks than for any video game knowledge, and there's the occasional, documented case of girls taking suggestive pics with game tie-ins to appeal to a nerdier demographic, but more and more, especially in the world of digital media and online video, the women discussing video games have a fair, if not impressively extensive, familiarity with their topic of choice. Apparently, that doesn't matter if you're pretty, judging by the caliber of commentary on YouTube segments. Here, have some samples.

Regarding Lisa Foiles, occasional video game writer and host of The Game Station's "Remag":

BOOBS - nadir moh
Thats the hottest red head I've seen. No lie. - Branden Barnalaby
dont get excited she stuffed her bra - Blood0cean
please tell us u didnt open ur worm hole for that d-bag - silver1fox21 (the video in question featured an interview with rapper B.O.B.)
He totally fucked her after the show. - Maxim Nawangwe

Here are some GameTrailers user comments from episodes of Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?, discussing co-creator, co-star, and screen and voice actress, Ashly Burch:

So much for getting over my "Tie up Ashley Burch" fantasy <3 <3 <3 - Hoodin (doubly funny because it was Ash who was tied to a chair, not Blavis)
i bet ash gives a great BJ - MajorLeeStoned
ash is really hot especially with that ponytail on the side - Dozenbeer

Destructoid and Mash Tactics alum Pico Mause recently wrapped up a stint doing videos for Curse Network, where she and her successor, Lindsay Geektron, both get their share of *ahem* attention:

i want to fuck lindsey - gregwolz
Pico needs to be boned. - Peakiness
Lindsay has bigger boobs and automatically wins. - sevx1
soo when can i bang you - Adam Nelson
A girl with big tits moderates something about gaming. That kind of clishee is bullshit. - Nymly1 (I think he meant "cliche.")

And hell, let's look at some comments about Tara Long, from The Destructoid Show, while we're at it.

I want your fat fingers inside of me. <3 - TheLostGamingorg
Tara ur tits r awesome. can i buy u a fish sandwich? - Adam Laney
Uh...why is there an Xbox in the kitchen? - scathoob (Granted, they were discussing 343i's proposition to ban sexist players in Halo 4, but still.)

It doesn't end there, either. Barb, Kara, and the other women at Rooster Teeth get their fair share of objectifying commentary when they appear in videos, despite the nurturing and supportive nature of the bulk of RT's fanbase. Other Youtube personalities, such as Nixie Pixel, Dtoid community member Jess Brohard... the list goes on and on of video presenters who just happen to have breasts that are being judged on their looks rather than their content. And that's just currently; it's not as if this is something new.

If you want to see something spectacular, tune into one of the broadcasts the ladies of Kat Gunn's LT3 crew (which includes everyone's favorite Juliet Starling, Jessica Nigri) does on Twitch.tv, or one of their semi-regular appearances on Mash Tactics, and wait for the bans to start. Our own channel's moderators have probably set records for deleted comment counts given how many people get blasted out of stream chat just for spamming commentary about breasts and sexual propositions, rather than paying attention to what they have to say or play. Sure, they're an attractive bunch, and well aware of it, but Miss Gunn and her friends have stated time and time again that they're around to play games and prove that pretty girls can actually kick some ass on a professional level, and aren't there just to look pretty. Gunn herself has quite a portfolio in the gaming world, having won the WCG Ultimate Gamer 2 competition, made an impression on the pro gaming scene, and is a competitive RC builder and racer as well, nevermind how bad she's spanked some of Dtoid's own ringers, such as Philanthr0py, in Dead Or Alive 5. LT3 member Kelly Kelley schooled several of us in a similar fashion in Halo 4 and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2 in recent weeks, and she currently does competition commentary on the regular for Gamespot. Jessica Nigri, aside from being an amazing cosplayer, both on the conceptual and craftsmanship fronts, has regularly shown off just how much of a huge dork she is, with webcam shots from her room showing a plethora of anime- and game-related paraphernalia (which includes a surprising number of busty, nigh-hentai statuettes filling the shelves).

These ladies have, clearly, legitimized their claims to game, and so have my earlier examples. Tara, while often quieter than her cohorts during her time on Podtoid, definitely kept up with gaming talk when it snuck in between Jim's declarations of love for Holmes and the rampant sexual deviance, and has played games quite capably on the regular on various Revolution 3 shows. Pico Mause has done her fair share of time playing through Mash Tactics' four-hour, weekdaily episodes, spent a fair amount of time in several MMOs and Minecraft in her Curse days, and will soon be providing video content for Wargaming.net (the World of (war :p)Tanks/World of Warplanes crew). As if Ash's love for and knowledge of gaming in her performances alongside her brother weren't clear enough, she also streams gaming regularly at Hey Ash's Twitch.tv channel, along with the rest of the Hey Ash crew and other friends, like Dtoid vet Brad "Pecs" Nicholson. What I'm trying to say is, while there may be Pooksies, Kristin Holts, and other poseurs putting themselves out there as "gamer girls" to get your attention, your viewership, and your clicks, there are just as many, if not more, women out there who have game, know what they're doing with a joystick, and can prove it. And, chances are, they're about as likely to lose to you easily as they are to respond to your advances over chat, message, or comment.

Thirdly, there's the industry side of things. While the whole #1ReasonWhy hashtag may have been an eye-opener for many, the women commenting on it and sharing their stories have been around and working in games for quite some time. Just off the top of my head, let me rattle off some names. Jade Raymond, managing director of Ubisoft Montreal. Brenda Romero (nee Brathwaite), game designer on several series and co-founder of Loot Drop. Karen Traviss, lead writer on Gears of War 3 and author of several Gears novels. 343 Industries' Bonnie Ross, Kiki Wolfkill, and Corrinne Yu, the general manager, executive producer on Halo 4, and principal Halo 4 engine programmer, respectively. I don't even pay that much attention to the mainstream gaming scene, and I can still name plenty of women who've worked on some of the biggest, most popular titles out there. Go to the indies however, and I don't even have time to list credentials without running out of breath.

Zoe Quinn. Christine Love. Anna Anthropy. Sophie Houlden. Erin Robinson. Jennifer Rodgers. I could go rooting through my Twitter follow list to pad this out, but the article's already gotten pretty beastly as-is. The more open, welcoming spirit of the indie gaming community can, in many ways, provide a more hospitable environment for women to work in and on games, but at the same time, that independence can lead to even more strife than the ladies who've "made it" and are with larger, established companies. Between finding and dealing with publishers, trying to build hype at events and conventions, and generally dealing with an establishment that, while improving, is mostly still favorable to the big name, triple-A side of gaming, female devs are, in some ways, dealing with a deck that's even more stacked against them, at least in terms of seeking "success" in commercial and exposure terms. But they're there, and they're creating some of the most interesting, entertaining games you've never heard of, despite all the annualized, reiterative cash cows and easily digestable, wide-appeal titles that are churned out and overshadow them. For instance, check out Super Street Fire, SWIFT*STITCH, or Puzzle Bots, and then try to say that women shouldn't be making games.

To be fair, I'm not convinced every male gamer out there is a disgusting, femme-bashing pig. During those aforementioned LT3 sessions on Mash Tactics, those amongst the several thousand viewers in-house who were being respectable human beings and asking serious, sometimes even thought-provoking questions in chat, outweighed the scumbags getting booted several hundred to one. I actually had to put some effort into finding sexist comments for my YouTube sampling, which came as a quite a surprise given their rarity amongst genuine praise, or at least more socially acceptable admiration of the ladies in question (though, truth be told, both sides of that coin were dwarfed by the general stupidity of YouTube commentary as a whole). Plenty of men tuned into the gaming scene are helping spread the #OneReason____ word on Twitter just as much as women are, and getting anecdotal, I've had plenty of gaming sessions where a girl was asked to stay around for a few rounds on account of her ability to wreck face, rather than having a pretty one.

Those exceptions aside, the attitude toward women on all levels of gamer culture, be it in regards to characters or the real women playing, talking about, and making games to play needs more serious reassessment and a dramatic overhaul. The resentment, backlash, and general negativity and dismissal displayed toward the ladies of gaming has no good reason to have persisted this long, never mind as vehement as it's grown to become nowadays. It just doesn't make sense. Women haven't ruined the beer, movies, or TV that are all traditional mainstays of the male entertainment diet, so what damage could some more progressive attitudes do to gaming?
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About nekobunone of us since 5:17 PM on 06.29.2007

Hi, I'm Chris, though I've been going by nekobun and variants thereof for so long, I kind of answer to both anymore.

While I've kind of got my own thing going in the realm of indie coverage, at least in the form of playing through (and streaming) (and writing about) the huge backlog I'm developing of games gleaned from various indie bundles, I try to keep my more mainstream, game-related features here, as well as opinion pieces on the industry at large, out of mad love for the 'toid. When I'm not rambling here or trying to be clever in comments threads, you can catch me rambling on Facebook and my Twitter, and trying to be clever in the Dtoid.tv chat.

Now Playing:
360: Halo 4
PC: F.E.A.R.
SNES: Secret Of Mana

I suck at games: PEW PEW LASERS
Improving game communities: Collective consciousness
Nothing is sacred: These walls have torn my world apart
The wrong thing: Only cream and bastards catch them all.
Love/Hate: I love to hate -you-
Love/Hate: B(u)y the book
The Future: Is still what it used to be
My Expertise: Playing the race kart
Something about sex: Sex sells, but who's buying?
E3 Approaches: It's oh so quiet
Freedom: Together, we'll break the chains of HUDs
East vs West: We've got the empire
Handhelds: Graduating as 2000's Catchemaledictorian
Relaxation: Cheesy double Chief burrito
Online Passes: A spoonful of sugar
Peripherals: Many tentacles pimpin' on the keys
This is what MAGfest is all about
Beginnings: Put it on the pizza
Disappointment: Bad(vent) timing

Recap Topsauce:
It's Thinking: Could you quit playing with that radio, love?
Do the wrong thing: And do it right, for once.
Afraid to shoot strangers.
Not if you were the last junkie on Pandora
Is Jim Sterling servicing the video games industry?
Something About Sex: Unsafe at any speed.
Doing DLC right
Congress passes sweeping Elfcare reform bill
Bottom five healthcare systems in videogames.
Pushing my love over the quarter line.
When my life would depend on an eight point none.
Remember the heroes.
Every Journey begins with a single step.
It's all over now, bomber blue.
Being Social: We'll always have Rainbow Road
Labor Day: Of course you realize, this means wark.
Please, aim it higher.
There Would've Been Brawl: Show me 'round your eggplantcage.
Integration: A place for everything
Zelda Week: I guess this is growing up.
MAGfest: the (don't be an) idiot's guide
Promotions: The bees are alright
Now is the winter of on-disc content
This was supposed to be a dozen items about nekobun.
Without Slenderness, there's something missing.
Cheap tricks (and treats) don't come cheaper than free.
The legacy of the (unlikely) wizard.
Cheap Tricks II: Sugar rush boogaloo
Thank you, for bringing me here, for showing me Home.
Burnt flowers fallen: the tragic bitchotry of Lilly Caul
Red and blue, resolving into purple.
Xbox LIVE:nekobun
PSN ID:strictmachine
Steam ID:nekobun
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