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LONG BLOG

What is wrong with feminist game criticism today.

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Let me say this before I start: I consider myself to be egalitarian, and support women's rights as well as further equalities. But God damn what is happening to video game criticism?
 
What is the difference between sexy and sexualised? I would like a feminist critic to enlighten me, because I think, in the mind of many, there is no difference. Please, any feminist critic, give me an example of a sexy character who is not sexualised. I'm not being sarcastic, or trying to call you out. I just genuinely believe that the two have become synonymous, and I would like to see what an example of a sexy but desexualised character (I think that's the right word) from your perspective.
The dictionary definition of sexualisation goes as follows:

verb
[with object]
-make sexual; attribute sex or a sex role to; (as adjective sexualized) sexualized images of women

Now forgive me if I'm wrong, but that's not always a bad thing, right? Nature does this, and also makes us do this to each other. Not to say that sexualisation is great, but it is something that happens to people, who are inherently sexual. And, depending on which psychological studies you subscribe to, people may even be sexual to their very core. My point is sometimes it's bad, but hey, it's a tool that creative people can use.
And this leads me to my next point. You cannot gauge authorial intent from the device used alone, without at least the context of the work as a whole. This is perhaps the greatest sin of what I call 'checklist criticism', that it disregards the game as it is and rather strains a few elements to fit a presupposed argument - that the game is sexist. Basically, the line of thinking in this case goes:

1. Does it feature women, in either an important or on important role? Basically are there any women in the game. If they're playable, you might be OK depending on what you do with them, but it's no guarantee.

2. Are any of them sexy? (Note: this does not mean sexualised, which has become synonymous with sexy in modern feminist critique of video games. This is exactly what I'm talking about: taking a surface detail; sexiness, and immediately assigning authorial intent and labeling it as sexualisation, using only the evidence that it is sexy, as though women aren't naturally sexy.)

3. Are any of them in weak or powerless positions? (Bonus points for captive female characters, or female characters who must be saved in some way)
This kind of thinking has to stop. It really does. Because it is so rampant, and so faulty that I don't even know where to begin. But it's criticism working backwards. You should not assume, on superficial evidence, that a game is sexist or not, and then work backwards to find evidence to support your theory, often ignoring any evidence which contradicts that. That's not criticism. That's selection bias.



It's a quick fix for a world which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Now if she was to explore why men think saving the damsel in distress is so recognizable and understandable for men, and why the trope is useful, or has been, for creators, rather than simply say 'it's sexist' and that be the end of it, then she would seem to be a more engaged and insightful critic. But at the moment she seems to find surface details which she can enter into her Microsoft excel version of criticism.


This is why literary and cinematic movements of the past have been driven by both the desire to create something new and also to move away from established ideas. It's no use denigrating almost all of a genre if you have no decent ideas for where it has to go. Go out, make a game. Grab a couple friends who can code and write what you believe is a true feminist game. There are already lots of people doing this. Get a Kickstarter. It is easier than ever before to create a game. And its not right that you have to do this while men get catered to by the industry. But the industry runs on money. So the best way to change the industry in a major way is to use that. Prove that games for women can be successful then the big publishers will take notice. Simply attacking games which cater to men fails as a tactic on two grounds: it offers no real suggestion on where to go next, or what women even want; and it also turns the industry against you, when you should, rather than seek to destroy parts of the industry, become a part of it, change it from the inside and reveal to it the new opportunities within the female gamer.


(Thanks to Elsa for her blog post which inspired me) http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/Elsa/feminist-frequency-and-relevance--260518.phtml Also thanks to anyone who read the whole thing, I know the topic's been done to death lately.
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About CJHRRIHRHone of us since 7:00 AM on 07.31.2011