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Sexism in games: Is there a line to draw?

Anyone who  pays close attention to the controversies in the video game community should be no stranger to the heated theory proposed by those who believe sexism is a permeating issue within video games and, in some cases, society itself. Unfortunately, this debate is remarkably one sided, with very few people on the other side of the fence who, in many cases are too afraid to take a contrary stance in fear of being publically shamed or called a sexist. But myself, being the low life with no self respect as it is, take no issue with arguing the contrary. Not that sexism doesn't exist in video games, of course it does, it exists in all facets of life and it effects both genders, not just female by the way. My stance, instead, is that despite the fact that sexism in video games exists, we should take no action toward stopping it. Open your mind and take a journey with me.

Drawing the battle lines.

In the thickest of fighting over the issue of video game sexism stands an icon of gaming feminism, Anita Sarkeesian, host of Feminist Frequency and champion of feminist gamers all over the world. She gained notoriety through her Youtube channel, speaking at several conventions (including TEDx) and most notably, the massive success of her Kickstarter project, Tropes vs Women, which raised over $150,000, well past the targeted goal.

Naturally, trolls from every corner of the world were quick to jump on the bandwagon and begin harassing Mrs. Sarkeesian and her followers. But instead of ignoring them like any sensible vlogger would, she instead dedicates entire speeches to denouncing the trolls and claiming they're part of a massive coordinated "hate campaign" . I've never, for instance, heard Anita address her alleged public shaming of Twitter users. The Youtube user, Thunderf00t, for instance, has put together a brilliant dissection of Anita's arguments, found here.

No sensible person has an issue with giving your opinion on an open forum like Youtube, but when you complain about how feminists are being misrepresented and then dedicate entire, syndicated speeches to misrepresenting your opposition, that's when you should reexamine your arguments and see if they would actually hold up to scrutiny without trolls to use as scapegoats.

You don't have a right to not be offended.

A few months ago, in the final week of last semester, I sat with two other game design classes and watched a great presentation by game industry veterans. At the front of the room they talked about their career history, what games they worked on and gave us advice in their respective fields before we plunged ourselves into the competitive world of video games.

One of the many moments that stuck with me, however, is when the speaker spoke briefly on the difficulty of joining the gaming industry. At one point he explained how few female game developers there were throughout the industry and that he doesn't know why it had "taken so long for the game industry to get more women". It was the way he phrased it that rubbed me the wrong way. Was he suggesting that the gaming industry is a conscious being that decides what gender ratio should be allowed to develop games? He seemed completely oblivious to the fact that there is absolutely nothing preventing women from obtaining a game design degree or starting an indie project. Instead he tried to push the blame on to the industry itself for being "anti-woman".

As I said at the start of this article, sexism in games absolutely does exist but people seem to forget the reason. Back twenty or even ten years ago, if you played video games, you were considered a loser. You hid it from your friends and you hid it from any girls you knew. You were afraid to reveal that you played video games. Video gamers were seen as nerds on the lowest rung of the social ladder and often times they were simply by virtue of the fact that throughout their young and teen years they were out caste by members of the opposite sex. Video games were a male past time, especially back then when most teens and tween girls wouldn't even touch gamers never mind pick up a controller.

Eventually these gaming nerds grew up and began making their own games. Entire game companies full of almost exclusively male developers. And knowing that at the time there were so few female gamers and even fewer female developers, they didn't have to worry about offending anyone and when left to their own devices, a male majority will create male centric products.  It's nature. But now it's 2013 and the number of female gamers has increased dramatically and we are beginning to see developers walk on egg shells as not to offend any potential female consumers. But why is this a bad thing? 

I think it is any developers artistic duty to offend their viewers. Provoking thought through expression is the only way to create compelling pieces of art. Instead what we see is an industry that is vastly more censored than any other industry. For some reason, in the past few years, comedy and video games have been under fire as the only artistic mediums that are not allowed to be offensive. When Mayor Giuliani proposed the closure of an art museum for containing works of art he found offensive, people were up in arms about how censorship is the death of art. But for some reason, going after game developers and comedians is considered admirable.

Censorship is the death of art. If you are reading a book, or watching a movie or playing a video game and you are not offended at some point in the story, than it has failed as a story telling medium. Without anger or objection in a plot  line, whether by gender or not, the story will fail to engage readers or viewers. 

And if your reasons for objecting to sexism in game is personal, that the story does not suit your tastes and you wish the developers took a different path so you could enjoy it more, than simply admit that is the case. I wish the Transformers series was more in line with my tastes, but I have accepted that Michael Bay's vision for Transformers is a vapid expression of art. I didn't start a Kickstarter to speak out against bad directors, I didn't make videos talking about how action movies have no place in the theatre, I simply did not watch.

Societal damage.

Some may argue that sexism in video games promotes the 'rape culture'. This ties once again with comedians being shouted down for rape jokes. These people seem to miss the entire point of free expression. Free expression isn't there to comfort you, it isn't there for you to mold into your own personal soap box. Free expression allows for anyone to share their opinions and vision, whether it be in a public forum or through an artistic medium. 

Harkin back to Mayor Giuliani trying to close an art museum over offensive content. Now contrast that with the fact that many gamers, myself included, consider video games to be a form of art. Are we, as gamers, so willing to restrict and censor a form of art simply because we are afraid of offending someone? If video games are an art as many of you say, than no amount of offensive content would be grounds for removal or alteration. No amount of sexism or racism or any content that one would deem offensive should be subject to censorship or, god forbid, legal action. For years gamers have tried convincing the masses that video games are a form of art, but how can they take us seriously when even we ourselves do not treat video game as a form of art? And if you deem that video games should be censored, than you have forfeited all grounds to call video games an art. Censorship is the death of art.

Some feminists may also argue that sexism in video games effect us as a whole on a societal level. This argument is not unlike the debate on whether or not we should ban violent video games. The proponents of this philosophy propose that the consumption of violent video games has contributed to the murder rate, mass shootings, suicides and crime rate despite the fact that the crime rate has seen a steady decline even as video game consumption increases. This also rings true for sexism. There is no study that suggests that sexism in video game has a direct correlation with rape or violence toward women and in fact the number of rape and domestic violence is decreasing with the overall crime rate. In fact, in countries where abuse toward women is common, particularly countries like Kenya, Pakistan and Ethiopia, the video game consumption rate is remarkably low.

It is logically impossible to take to the stance that violence in video games does not affect society but sexism in video games does.

The bottom line.

If, after reading this article, you still maintain the stance that sexism in video games is wrong, than you forfeit the right to call video games a form of art through virtue of censorship. If you call video games an art but still maintain your stance against sexism in video games than you must admit that it is for a personal reason and that the best course of action is to simply not partake in the purchase of said game.

If you maintain the argument that sexism in video games effects society negatively, than you must also take the stance that violence in video games also increases the murder and violent crime rate, in which case you have lost the empirical argument given that a magnitude of scientific studies has  debunked this claim. This arguments house of cards cannot stand under scientific scrutiny.

Should you take anything away from this article, let it be this: Censorship is the death of art. Artists should be left to their own devices without fear of censorship or scrutiny. Any rational human being would not dump paint on a piece of art they found offensive, no rational human being would prevent people from entering a movie theatre showing a movie they found objectionable. No matter how offended you get, no matter how hateful the content of a piece of art is, nothing should drive you to actively work for its removal. 

When a developer releases content you do not agree with, simply do not purchase it. Any further action against that product would be absolute selfishness.

For more blogs from myself visit GreaterThanGaming.blogspot.com and you can follow me on Twitter @GreaterGaming (please follow me, I'm lonely)
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About GreaterThanGamingone of us since 7:18 PM on 06.24.2013

My blogs are made of shattered dreams and disappointment.