What Do We Do About Video Games?

As some of you may have noticed in my bio that Jill posted, I’m a self proclaimed geek. One thing that I’m particularly passionate about is video gaming. I’ve been a huge gamer for almost as long as I can remember. My father purchased one of our first gaming systems, waaay back in the 2600 days. I can still remember the first computer that my folks had- it used a cassette tape as data storage- and the games I used to play on it (basically, a really primitive version of Space Invaders… only, with a single enemy). I still remember the sense of excitement and wonder when my parents brought home the ol’ Tandy computer- it had color graphics and a floppy drive. That was a big deal. Twenty plus years, multiple computers, and over ten platforms later, I’m still an avid gamer.

In the over two decades that I’ve been playing, gaming has changed tremendously- systems are more powerful, the graphics are prettier, the controls are better, and the stories they can tell are more involved and interesting. Lately, I’ve been particularly interested in the stories. As a feminist, and a philosophy student, I’m particularly interested in the intersection of gaming and morality/ethics. Not in a casual “games are corrupting our society” sort of way- but in the ways that games contribute to and are effected by our society, and the ways that we can explore and learn about complicated moral issues through the use of games.

But…

For all that games have the ability to raise interesting and challenging moral and ethical issues, I’m forced to admit that a lot of them have a long way to go. Sexism and racism are still really common in games- and not just in the really explicit Grand Theft Auto sense. Honestly, Grand Theft Auto is almost the least of my concerns- it’s so blatantly sexist and racist, that it’s easy to avoid it, and it’s really easy to criticize and make a case for why I object to it. The problem with video gaming is that some of the sexism and racism is harder to make people grasp. For me, the problem becomes: how do I reconcile my progressive values with the undercurrent (and overcurrent) of sexism and racism that surround gaming? How do I help change things?

For a long time, one of the major complaints about gaming was the inability to play as a woman. That is: The majority of the playable characters in video games have been men. That’s been the case since gaming became popular. There are a few exceptions, of course- Samus from Metroid, for example- but the bulk of the heroes in games are men. As gaming has matured, the option to play as a woman has become more common. Fighting games might have been the first genre to make ready use of playable female characters. I think that every major fighting game has at least a handful of playable women. Of course, men still outnumber the women, and whites dominate racially.

Even when you do get the option to play as a woman, though, you’re still hard pressed to escape from some pretty sexist depictions. Consider this article on the case of World of Warcraft- the most popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). I’m not much of a RPG fan, but Moira, over at Feminist Gamers took a look at the Final Fantasy games’ portrayal of women, and it doesn’t look like they’re much better, despite being, arguably, the most popular RPG series ever made.

Women in fighting games are often even worse- the popular fighting game series Dead or Alive thrives on the blatantly sexual way that the women are presented. The makers of the DoA series take pride in the “breast physics” of the game, and the myriad of hyper sexualized costume choices that the game offers for the female characters. Looking across the multitude of fighting games, and you’ll find that the majority of them feature women in costumes that hypersexualize them while the men tend to be dressed more appropriately for whatever role they’re in.

In terms of race, a lot of games don’t do any better. When I took a look through the games I own- in excess of 100 titles- I could only find a couple of games that feature non-white or non-Asian playable characters. The majority of the games I own featured white heroes, with a few games about Samurai or Ninja featuring Japanese characters. The only games that featured black or Hispanic players were fighting games, and even those were, sadly, rare. According to microscopiq, there have been all of eleven black main characters.

Eleven.

Five of those are either games based on black characters from movie properties, or black celebs. And one- Jade, from Beyond Good and Evil- is pretty racially ambiguous.

The problem is how to make people realize that there’s a problem, when there are so many vocal gaming fans who argue that this isn’t a problem. Browse through some of the more popular gaming sites and you’re likely to find that, when it comes up at all, feminist or anti-racist concerns about gaming are met with the same dismissals as most feminist concerns are. The criticisms are dismissed with a wave of the hand and a “games are made by men for men, so of course women are sexualized- we like looking at naked/mostly naked women,” or some other all too common justification. They point to the few games that do feature strong female characters as though that excuses the rampant misogyny of other games. Voices condemning the racism withing games are all but absent from mainstream conversations.

Add to that the fact that the most vocal critics of video games tend to be people like Jack Thompson or NIMF (the National Institute on Media and the Family) who accuse video games of being murder simulators or promoting cannibalism- and you’ll find that a lot of gamers are particularly hostile towards criticism of gaming, even from fellow gamers. Women and feminists are made unwelcome in many gaming circles, and concerns about sexism and racism in games go unheard, ignored, or mocked.

I’m not sure what the solution is, yet, but I know that it’s not silence.

What do we do about a game like, say, Soul Calibur 3?

On the one hand, most of the women are moderately to extremely sexualized, and there’s a distinct lack of racial variety. On the other, the game includes a fairly robust character creation mode. In it, the player can make a woman who looks awesome, but is appropriately outfitted for combat- wearing armor that looks like armor, and not just a chain mail bikini. The women created by the company are rather lacking, but the ability to make your own is fantastic. Should they be rewarded for the creation mode, or punished for the sexist characters they start the player with?

And what form does that even take? Does not buying the game count as punishment? Do we write letters?

And, I think it’s important to note, this is just a tiny slice of the bigotry that permeates video gaming. This doesn’t touch on the transphobia and homophobia within games and that seems to be rampant amongst gamers, or the ways that online gamers harass women gamers, for example. This doesn’t touch on the blatant sexism that many gaming magazines encourage and participate in when they publish pin-ups of various female characters, or when game manufacturers put their characters in Playboy.

As someone who is extremely invested in gaming culture, it’s not easy for me to so harshly criticize my hobby. It’s hard to admit that something I’m so involved with and have spent so much time, money, and energy in has so many problems, and is so hostile towards so many groups.

I guess I’m wondering- for gamers: what do you do to reconcile your love of gaming with the problems that exist in the gaming community? Do you do anything to try to change things or to fight the sexism/racism/homophobia that’s so common, for example, in online gaming? And, what games would you suggest to feminist and anti-racist gamers?

For the non-gamers on here (if you’ve read this far): is there anything in particular about gaming that’s kept you away? Were you aware of these issues? Is there something that would get you interested in gaming? What do you think can be done to help fight the bigotry in the gaming community?

Finally: I think that one of the most bothersome aspects of the conversation is how to make other gamers realize that criticisms of the sexism/racism/homophobia/transphobia within the games and within the culture surrounding the games is not the same as a criticism of gaming in general. That is: How do we convince other gamers that we want to improve games, not take them away? It seems like any time I’ve raised an objection or asked people to consider sexism or racism in games, there are people who think that I’m suggesting that games should be censored or that gaming as a hobby is wrong. There must be a way to get people to realize that a complaint about the problems is not a call to abolish gaming, right?

Right?


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112 comments for “What Do We Do About Video Games?

  1. June 12, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Wait — they put their CHARACTERS in PLAYBOY SPREADS?

    I’m a non-gamer, so pardon the ignorance. But… wow. I don’t even know what to say about that. That’s a hall of mirrors reflecting and refracting women-as-constructed-playthings-of-men in all directions.

    Honestly, this culture is probably why I never became a real gamer. I loved them when I was younger — I even defeated Pitfall — but at some point I just let it go as realm that seemed not to want me in it. Not a conscious decision, but that’s what it seems like in retrospect. I used to play with my next door neighbor, Spencer, who was a year younger than me. And then I just… stopped, while he kept getting more advanced systems and games, but suddenly they were all about war and fighting and big spiky creatures and things that really didn’t appeal to me.

    And now I can’t go near any of it. Last Christmas I had to go into a GameStop to buy a gift certificate for my nephew who was getting a Wii for Christmas. I was in there for 5 minutes, max, but my skin was crawling the whole time from the sideways stares of teenager boys fondling GTA. The checkout clerk hit on me. I fled.

  2. Xana
    June 12, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Great post! And one near and dear to my heart as a “girl gamer”. I have to distinguish myself as a console gamer as I’ve never gotten into the MMORPG world due to various reasons, but with regards to how I try to reconcile that many of the games I love are sexist/racist/homophobic is hard at times. I’m always well aware of these issues and a lot of times it bothers me while I’m playing. For example, I LOVE DoA, but having to watch the women so blatantly sexualized is grating. I’m bisexual and love looking at the pretty women, but not when they’re only there as a result of the male gaze.

    There’s a gamer culture and deviations or criticisms of it are met, with as you said, lots of racist/sexist/homophobic statements that are used to silence people’s voices who only want to improve the gaming world.

    I try to do the letter writing/emailing route when I want to try and change something. I’ve also gotten involved in some of the sites that cater to women gamers that try to make us more visible and respected. I’m also vocal with my gamer friends when they make a comment that is out of line.

    As for game recs: I’d say Fable (because while you can only play a man, you can fall in love with women AND men). I also like the ability to choose your own path of good or evil. I’m also a fan of Eternal Darkness. You get to play a wide range of characters (men and women) in a Lovecraftian inspired world. I’m totally in love with Square Enix games, but I can admit they don’t offer a lot of diversity beyond pretty white/Asian men and women. It seems when women are the game’s main character (i.e. Lara Croft) they’re only created to cater to straight men’s tastes. I know there are more cool game recs but I can only think of those two so far. I can’t wait to see what others come up with.

  3. June 12, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    I have the double duty of being both a gamer and game designer. My bigges pet peeve is the fact I can’t even play Halo or Unreal online with out virulent harassment. And not only sexual but sexually violent taunts, come-ons, and threats, mostly associated with men and even boys who are virtually emasculated by a girl gamer who has the audacity to win, beat them, or even pick up an item that the male player wanted. After several incidents where I logged off of Halo 2 literally crying, my husband suggest I just stop playing online, and sadly that’s exactly what I had to do.

    I love games and gaming. Heck, I’ve devoted my life to it. But I am worried about where this- well, it’s not even sexism, per se…it’s actual hate– comes from. I can’t help but agree that oftentimes my employers and fellow game-buying populace (myself included) are to blame.

  4. Aeryl
    June 12, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Here, here! And when they attempt to make a more fem-centric game, it sucks. I’m thinking Final Fantasy X-2, which was horrid. You had to change CLOTHES to get new skills, and the little girl-band story line. Eck.

  5. Aeryl
    June 12, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    Here, here! And when they attempt to make a more fem-centric game, it sucks. I’m thinking Final Fantasy X-2, which was horrid. You had to change CLOTHES to get new skills, and the little girl-band story line. Eck.

  6. C. Diane
    June 12, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    X-2 used a class-based skill system, which is more like the old-school games (I, II). But you could get each character to use any skillset, which was novel.

    I really wanted to cosplay trainer!Payne. Then I got distracted. This year, I went as Balthier.

    Disclaimer: I don’t play RPGs. I just watch my husband play them and be an OCD geek about them.

  7. Linnaeus
    June 12, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    The reason I’m not a gamer (though I very occasionally play Civilization) doesn’t have anything to do with the very real issues mentioned in this post. I’m just too attention-deficit addled to stick with most games they’re producing now for long enough to get good at them. I get frustrated, then bored, and then I’m on to something else. The last game I really got into and stayed with for a while was Starcraft, and that was back in 1998 or so.

    I’m not that familiar with gamer culture beyond a very superficial understanding of it. I suspect that what’s going on with the imagery of the games and the attitudes of some of the male players is similar to what I think applies in the comic-book realm: we’re seeing the designers’ and players’ psychodramas being played out.

  8. Tom
    June 12, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Jaclyn Says:
    — I even defeated Pitfall —

    Wait, you can defeat Pitfall?

    What happens at the end?

  9. Kristen
    June 12, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Thanks for the discussion Roy. I’m also a long time gamer from about the same era although I’m generally a console gamer.

    The issue of the role of women in gaming has irritated me since the original Legend of Zelda. I remember being frustrated that I couldn’t play as the Princess. (Why can’t Link be in trouble for Christ sake.)

    I think the solution is the increased participation of women in gaming. For example, I play tons of Rainbow Six and other similar games on XBOX Live (360). When the 360 first came out and I played online, there was a lot of inappropriate male response to my gender (either in the form of sexual comments or “I can’t beat up a girl”) But over time, with the increased participation of women, I’ve noticed that within this community there is a lot less of this crap. And when it happens I’ve noticed a lot more men telling other men to knock that shit off.

    As for things like GTA? I don’t buy it. Sure it’ll be the best selling game of the year, but it will have missed out on a growing segment of female gamers. We’ll still be downloading content for Oblivion.

  10. Linnaeus
    June 12, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    Forgot to add that I also don’t have the hardware that games require nowadays. If I did get into gaming today, the majority of what I’d play would be sports games: NCAA football, FIFA soccer, NHL hockey, etc.

  11. June 12, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Thanks for the link! Yeah, there’s a dearth of brown folks in video gaming, and some, like Barrett, are just awful.

    It’s maybe an obscure game, but Kya (from the eponymous game) was one of the few black (maybe mixed?) women I’d ever seen as a PC. I liked the game a lot, despite a few very frustrating bits.

  12. June 12, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Just to clarify, you are talking about fictionalized games, not games that recreate some existing scenario, correct? Minority characters proliferate in sports games, for instance.

    It’s important to remember that most video games represent fantasy of one form or another. Nearly everyone has unhealthy fantasies, whether violent, prejudiced, overtly sexual or otherwise. I discount the idea that gaming, or any other form of mass media, for that matter, encourages negative attitudes and socially oppugnant behaviors. These media have become an important emotional and cultural release valve, an outlet for activities that would otherwise be considered unacceptable. They have supplanted older forms of collective catharsis like the gladiatorial contests of classical times. White males being the traditional over-class in the west, I’m not sure that the preponderance of game-fantasies marketed to white males is necessarily a bad thing.

    It’s also important to note that nearly all video gaming characters are caricatures in one form or another, regardless of gender or race.

    Finally, let’s also remember that gaming, as a technology, is still in its adolescence. We’re only a few years beyond side scrolling game play and only a few years more past text-based role playing. The whole industry is still evolving, still maturing and still adapting in search of a wider audience. I’m confident that, as this renaissance of gaming continues, we will see more and more titles created for and representing a more diverse segment of the culture.

  13. Xana
    June 12, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    What is also interesting is that of online gamers, 60% are women. I know 1up.com has a report on it. We make up over half of gamers, and yet I wonder what percentage of men are working in the gamer industry? /sarcasm

    Game designers better believe this soon and design different games that aren’t just like The Sims and aren’t blatantly sexist like DoA. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to work on this issue worldwide in places like North America and game hot beds like Japan.

  14. Xana
    June 12, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    For those of us in the GLBT community, check out:
    http://gaygamer.net/
    for some gay-friendly games or games that feature GLBT characters.

  15. Bethynyc
    June 12, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    I used to play EverQuest (aka EverCrack), a not quite so popular MMORPG, with my then-husband and brother. It was fun, but I wasn’t willing to put in the hours needed to level.

    The only times I got comments on how I (my character) looked, I inevitably told the commentor “You know I’m a 50 year old bald man playing in my mother’s basement, right?” That usually shut them up.

    I play Live Action and Tabletop RPGs, and though there have been occasional problems, there have also been amazing groups where everyone works together to solve problems. I’ve also run games at conventions, and though I’m sure there are problems, I think by being a feminist GM who has written her own scenarios, I’ve hopefully helped the situation.

    Now I tend to play Diablo II at home, and I’m in a tabletop D&D group that is half women, half men. I don’t really know about console gaming–none of them really appealed to me.

  16. oljb
    June 12, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    I think the Zelda games have improved meaningfully from the early days. In the most recent one, Midna (female character) is in almost as much of the gameplay as Link, and there is a less gender stereotyping in the behavior of the characters. I also second whoever recommended Eternal Darkness, which is a really great game on a lot of different levels.

    One thing I’ve thought is pretty interesting, and for which I’m interested in other peoples’ thoughts is that a large number of these all white casts of characters (think of Mario, or most characters in the fantasy-based games) were made by Japanese designers for an audience that was never exclusively white to begin with. Japan has always been a huge gaming market, yet the bias towards video game characters has been overwhelmingly to make them white.

    Was this just a straightforward business decision– Nintendo (for example) figured that Japanese gamers would play with white protaganists, but white Americans would be less inclined to identify with more obviously Asian characters? I imagine there’s a great deal more complexity to it than that… I’d be interested if anyone had some insight into phenomenon.

  17. oljb
    June 12, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    I think the Zelda games have improved meaningfully from the early days. In the most recent one, Midna (female character) is in almost as much of the gameplay as Link, and there is a less gender stereotyping in the behavior of the characters. I also second whoever recommended Eternal Darkness, which is a really great game on a lot of different levels.

    One thing I’ve thought is pretty interesting, and for which I’m interested in other peoples’ thoughts is that a large number of these all white casts of characters (think of Mario, or most characters in the fantasy-based games) were made by Japanese designers for an audience that was never exclusively white to begin with. Japan has always been a huge gaming market, yet the bias towards video game characters has been overwhelmingly to make them white.

    Was this just a straightforward business decision– Nintendo (for example) figured that Japanese gamers would play with white protaganists, but white Americans would be less inclined to identify with more obviously Asian characters? I imagine there’s a great deal more complexity to it than that… I’d be interested if anyone had some insight into this phenomenon.

  18. Roy
    June 12, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Jaclyn: Yeah, they did. I think Playboy has had two issues devoted to nude video game characters? At least two.

    Just to clarify, you are talking about fictionalized games, not games that recreate some existing scenario, correct? Minority characters proliferate in sports games, for instance.

    Absolutely. Reality sports games have minorities in them because they’re based on actual teams- but outside of the sports genre it’s really hard to find any. I play fewer sports titles than I do RPGs, but thanks for bringing that up- it’s absolutely worth noting.

    It’s important to remember that most video games represent fantasy of one form or another. Nearly everyone has unhealthy fantasies, whether violent, prejudiced, overtly sexual or otherwise. I discount the idea that gaming, or any other form of mass media, for that matter, encourages negative attitudes and socially oppugnant behaviors.

    I certainly don’t think that it’s as simple as saying “Well, he played GTA, that’s why he killed those people!”

    But… video games are, like television, movies, literature, etc, an important piece of cultural media. I think that the relationship between pop-culture and society is complicated, and I absolutely believe that video games can have an influence on our society, just as I believe that television does. Video games might not have as strong an influence on society as, say, MTv does, but I think that it’s important to at least consider the messages that video games are reinforcing.

    These media have become an important emotional and cultural release valve, an outlet for activities that would otherwise be considered unacceptable. They have supplanted older forms of collective catharsis like the gladiatorial contests of classical times. White males being the traditional over-class in the west, I’m not sure that the preponderance of game-fantasies marketed to white males is necessarily a bad thing.

    I think it’s a bad thing, because it actively ignores, excludes, and discourages other groups from participating. It might not be surprising, but I absolutely think it’s wrong. Why should I, as a white man, have such a significantly easier time finding a game that lets me play a character with my racial/sexual identity? I think it’s every bit as important for, say, a black game player, or a woman, or Hisplanic, or a gay game player to be able to pick up games that reflect their identities. White men are not the only people with fantasies, and they’re not the only people who would like an outlet to explore and play with those fantasties. I love being able to pick up a game and do amazing and impossible things, and I have to believe that people outside of my specific identity would also like that opportunity.

  19. June 12, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    My husband is hugely into World of Warcraft and I also play it some; I played it a whole lot a short time ago.

    With WoW, the big problem is the other players. Homophobia is so common that it’s completely ignored. Racism is also pretty common, though more likely to be criticized by other players. Our guild has a very large number of women players (many of whom are in gaming couples); I can only guess that it’s because we’re one of the few guilds to treat women with respect.

    As to the game designs themselves: I think, as in a lot of other fields of business, the developers are misjudging their audience. They think their players won’t play unless all the chain-mail available for women covers only the minimum amount of flesh. They vastly underestimate the number of women, minorities, and LGBT people who play. And they stereotype their main marketing target (young white men) as troglodytes.

  20. June 12, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I don’t think the problems you cite are necessarily a problem with games but with media in general.

    Hmm…now that I think about it, there may be something about games themselves that somehow amplifies it? maybe because gaming systems are expensive and therefore tend to be purchased by members of a certian class?

    I wonder if that’s true. I’d like to see the demographics on it.

  21. June 12, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    I’m not a big gamer, but my (male, bi) partner is. One thing that he talks about (and that I’ve been noticing more since being with him) is that part of the issue has to do with the writing of games. Some games have ethical components to their storylines (such as Beyond Good and Evil or Planescape: Torment) and some do not. But, like literature, TV, and film, even games that don’t deliberately take up ethical or social issues are still in some ways going to be participating in them. Thinking about games as some miraculously new medium ignores the aspects that they share with other creative, fiction-based arts.

  22. Roy
    June 12, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I think that’s partially true, sweet machine, but I think that games differ from almost all other forms of entertainment media in a pretty important way: they’re interactive.

    When you sit down and read a book or watch a movie, you’re largely passive. You’re not making choices, you’re experiencing the choices that someone else made.

    When you sit down to play a game, you’re controlling, to some degree, the story. There are games that allow the player a lot more freedom than some other games, but that’s one of the major draws of a video game- that element of interaction. This is especially true in games that allow for multiple story paths or multiple solutions to puzzles- games where you can choose to accept or decline various quests, and where there is more than one ending, depending on the choices you’ve made.

    I think that’s pretty important, as it allows for games to explore problems in ways that other media aren’t able to.

  23. Kristen
    June 12, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Homophobia is so common that it’s completely ignored.

    This is the bigger issue than gender I think. The homophobic language on 360 live is ridiculous and far worse among American gamers. My husband and I have had our share of arguments and had ban quite a number of people from our servers/rooms.

  24. Yuri K.
    June 12, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    First and foremost, I think that the depictions of female characters as so oversexualized is mostly based on both the industry misjudging the total market for their products (which Nintendo stopped doing to remarkable sales of the Wii) and the usual self-perpetuating cycle of adolescent boys reinforcing misogyny and homophobia by putting up these kinds of displays as a sort of overcompensation.

    Also of note, I think, is that in many games, the opposite of the oversexualized female character is the virginal character, the pretty-in-pink Princess Peach/Toadstool. And then, of course, the various non-sexual, non-romantic witches, etc.

    Then you get to race, which is probably the most heinous. The list you link to is a pretty pathetic mix of street criminals and celebrities. I do wonder about the predominantly white characters made by Japanese gaming companies, even in games for a Japanese audience. And another question: it’s worth pointing out that even if designers say “hey, our players are white, and we market to them” that this implies they think (correctly?) that white gamers will shy away from playing as a black protagonist.

  25. Yuri K.
    June 12, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Homophobia might be more heinous than racism, actually, as I think about it. I can’t think of a gay character in the vast majority of the games I’ve played. The one possible exception is Sabin in FF6, but that’s only implied.

  26. June 12, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    Here, here! And when they attempt to make a more fem-centric game, it sucks. I’m thinking Final Fantasy X-2, which was horrid. You had to change CLOTHES to get new skills, and the little girl-band story line. Eck.

    The really irritating thing about x-2 was that it was actually a good game, and there was no reason for them to put in all of the really irritating cutscenes and whatnot. And if they had just referred to the changing of outfits as a changing of armor (like in every other Final Fantasy game, certain pieces of armor – or rather different ‘outfits – give your character certain attributes) then it would have been fine.

    I don’t know for sure, but it kind of seemed like a lot of that stuff was kind of tacked on. The actual gameplay was really good, and I actually thought the storyline was a nice reversal of the whole ‘rescuing damsel in distress’ typical type of thing.

    I’m right in the middle of Final Fantasy 12 right now, and one of the things I like about it is that the characters are completely flexible in their roles. As in, the females aren’t just the healers or the magic users or whatever, but rather you get the freedom to develop the characters in whatever way you want.

  27. louise
    June 12, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I guess I’m wondering- for gamers: what do you do to reconcile your love of gaming with the problems that exist in the gaming community? Do you do anything to try to change things or to fight the sexism/racism/homophobia that’s so common, for example, in online gaming? And, what games would you suggest to feminist and anti-racist gamers?

    I’m also a 30 year gamer; grandfather had an Atari set up in the basement with Pong, Space Invaders, chess, Pac-Man, some different race car games, etc. Spent high school years playing Centipede and sneering at the attempt to “get girls into games” ploy, um, I mean “Ms Pac-Man”. My daughters and I love to play Doom (original for me, thanks) and blow up monsters…we also play alot of Slots, Poker, and Bicycle board games. Our older daughter likes some of the Harry Potter adventures and the younger daughter likes Disney. But we don’t game every day.

    When I see the more graphic games available out there now, I just can’t wrap my mind around them because of the fast 3D graphics- the hell with the content! But of what I’ve seen and heard, I find them very, very disturbing. We’ve discussed that with the kids and they see no reason to get those, either.

    So I let my wallet do the talking- I buy only what I like. I tend to stick to classics. It’s a lame answer, but a better one has yet to present itself yet.

  28. Yuri K.
    June 12, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    Something else that’s difficult about changing the industry is that the barriers to entry are so high now. You can write a novel, a play, or even make an independent film with a nominal budget (relatively). You’re not going to release a console game or even really a PC one that’s not shareware working with your friends.

  29. June 12, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    I’m also a gamer and a feminist, and I run into this problem all the time. Naturally, I surround myself with people with similar social concerns as myself and similar hobbies, but voicing concerns about race and sex in video games strikes a nerve with gamers.

    I sat through a panel on women in gaming at last year’s PAX. One woman was there to promote Guild Wars, and when the panel was opened to questions, I raised my hand and asked if these women felt that booth bunnies at events like E3 created an environment that was exploitive of and hostile to women. Whereas the other women on the panel more or less said yes, but that that sort of thing was changing, the woman promoting Guild Wars became somewhat irate, laughing almost condescendingly and defensively saying that women in games -should- be sexy, because if you have to stare at your character’s ass for hours, you want it to look nice. I was happy with the responses of everyone else on the panel, but the person in question didn’t let go of her misinterpretation of it and continued to speak defensively of hypersexualisation of women in the gaming industry.

    It was a little disappointing that feminism became such an unwelcome topic of discussion at a panel about women in the industry. No one used that word. They complained about being novelties (well, one of them seemed happy to be a novelty) and about harassment from other gamers, but this wasn’t labeled a feminist issue as it should have been.

    Online, the “fans” of my art rankle at my feminist blogs, especially when movies and games come into it.

    I still play games like DOA, but I admit whole heartedly that they’re abhorrently sexist. I don’t understand why people can’t accept that they enjoy a medium so rife with this kind of thing. Really, they must be terrified of being labeled racist or sexist, but if it matters so much… why do they do it?

  30. louise
    June 12, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Sorry, Roy- meant to box your words, not mine.

  31. j swift
    June 12, 2007 at 5:46 pm

    I watched Road Runner and Bugs Bunny cartoons and listened to Elvis on my mothers old record as a youngster. I did not bully and beat up kids in my neighborhood.

    I played Dungeons and Dragons on paper back in the day. I never ran away from home, did drugs or sacrficed babies at altars in the woods.

    I got a used Commodore 64 in, oh around 1981 I think, and have had some kind of a computer since then. I have played various cheesey little games on them over the years and now own a gamer computer and play WoW and City of Heroes/Villains. I have yet to lock myself in apartment for days to play these games. I have yet to get a character in these games to the top level. I have not turned to making extra real cash by selling game gold on WoW, nor have gone on a killing spree at the local supermarket.

    Do we have to do anything about video games?

    Don’t think so, most people who lack touch with reality don’t play them as far as I know. My experience has been that the people that stray from reality seem to take to politics and religion.

    Roy – I don’t know how much you know about CoH/CoV and WoW but you can create many varied characters. I have male and female characters on both games or varying skin color and of course mythic races.

  32. Anatolia
    June 12, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    With regards to WoW and some people’s fascination with expressing annoyance or reservation at the bodies of the female Night Elf characters, I give you Shiromar:

    http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/underdev/1p9/shiftingsands.html

    :)

  33. Roy
    June 12, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    swift: I’m not sure what those things you’re talking about have to do with the rampant bigotry in gaming. My problem with the bigotry in gaming isn’t just that it may or may not cause problems when people who play games go out and beat people up or whatever other things that people like Thompson might claim- the problem is that the bigotry in gaming hurts the people who want to play games and not be “othered.” When a woman goes online to play a game, and she’s hit on, called names, and verbally abused, that’s a problem.

  34. Roxie
    June 12, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    for years I frequented http://www.srk.com and eventually left when the trolling and arguing got so bad that people who had known for years (over the internet and IRL) began to not believe what I had to say b/c another guy would say it better (i.e. “pwn” me or put me down).

    They loved to hate the fact I was confrontational feminist. Put downs were always celebrated. Objectification and dehumanization was the norm (well you know, that’s srk for you). Very few would stand with me and most of those who did were gay men (who made they’re own gaymers thread..that absolutely puzzled the other hetero guys).

    Appearance was always brought up as a way to discredit.

    It left a very foul taste in my mouth. I still play games, but only with people who aren’t so..so. I don’t even have the words.

  35. everstar
    June 12, 2007 at 6:13 pm

    I love playing WoW, but oy, the homophobia. I used to try to report all the instances of homophobia I saw in /say or /yell or the channels, but it’s impossible to keep up with. It’s really discouraging. What that paper glosses over with regard to male blood elves is that they’re (on the Blizzard forums, anyway) widely regarded as being effeminate, with the not-so-subtext of if you’re playing one, you’re probably gay yourself.

    For my own part, I play a female night elf, because I love elves in general and the history and mythos, such as it is, of the night elves really appealled to me. (I play a night elf rogue, because I love cliches.) Most of the time I don’t think about the fact that she’s centerfold material, because I’m too busy trying to kill things as fast as possible. But sometimes it’s really hard to ignore. Mostly when I trigger the dance emote.

  36. j swift
    June 12, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Ah, sorry Roy, I misunderstood. I did not know that it was a problem.

    In my experience, I have been playing CoH since it came out and WoW almost as long, that is not a problem. I do see some offensive and rude character names. There is the occasion jerk who makes bigoted remarks, but there are reporting and banning mechanisms to address bad behavior.

    I don’t know who the person really is in game. The two characters that I play the most on WoW are female. Never had a issue with being othered or hit on. You are anonymous and no one knows whether you are white, black, gay or not. You may be a member of some larger group of regular players that remove some of anonymity by the name of your group. There are gay and christian groups in both games. That could lead to be people being victimized by jerks but I do not hear about that or see in the time I spend online. Possibly I do not play enough to see it. Not sure.

  37. Anatolia
    June 12, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    I love the female night elf dance in WoW! Alizee is awesome, and lovely, and talented. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I guess, unless you’re a woman with the temerity to have boobs, be thin, and have a knack for moving your body rhythmically to music, then it’s….?

    I’ve heard the WoW Night Elf females referred to simultaneously as big-boobed, stick-figure pole dancers and children with breasts. I find this ridiculous, to say the least. As if the very audacity to create a thin, breasted female character is rude and pornographic. I find the reaction far more insulting than the depiction. Am I crazy or missing the point?

    Also, the male gnome dance is more titillating and suggestive than the female NE dance.

  38. Roy
    June 12, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    As if the very audacity to create a thin, breasted female character is rude and pornographic. I find the reaction far more insulting than the depiction. Am I crazy or missing the point?

    I can’t speak about the WoW night elf because I don’t play WoW, but… well… I feel like you might be missing the point. It doesn’t take audacity to create thin, big breasted women in a game… they’re the norm. That’s practically the only kind of female characters in most games.

  39. Anatolia
    June 12, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Roy, not true of WoW. Lots of body types to choose from. The female NE isn’t even all that busty compared to the humans, dwarves, undead, trolls, and Draenei as far as I can see. It’s not a Lara Croft thing.

    Here’s an NE female as I tend to see them ingame:

    http://wow.allakhazam.com/images/fashion/Fullironhide.jpg

    What do you think about it?

  40. Marksman2000
    June 12, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    Learn something from the Germans and try playing board games with your friends and family.

  41. June 12, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    I guess I’m wondering- for gamers: what do you do to reconcile your love of gaming with the problems that exist in the gaming community? Do you do anything to try to change things or to fight the sexism/racism/homophobia that’s so common, for example, in online gaming?

    I’ve started Iris (which hosts the paper on WoW that you linked), a feminist-oriented gaming community devoted to getting women’s opinions into the mainstream, and its magazine Cerise, which is the second ever gaming magazine for women and the first ever feminist-oriented gaming magazine.

    I also help compile links for Jade Reporting, a link blog that archives all the posts we can find that are on gender and gaming.

    On top of all that, I talk about gaming on my personal blog and am intending to start up a blog on game design, as I will be studying it starting this coming April.

  42. June 12, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    And, what games would you suggest to feminist and anti-racist gamers?

    A couple things you can do:

    Join Iris’s forums and contribute to the discussion. We talk about gender, race, class, and a whole host of other kinds of cultural intersections with gaming. We’re a pretty good group, but we could always use more people.

    Jade Reporting is in some serious need of some help. There are too many articles and only one really active archiver, which means we only get an update out once every couple of weeks. If you have some time to help out, please check out our Volunteering FAQ.

    Another thing I would suggest is support the cause. If you’re on a mainstream site, speak up. If you have your own blog, link to us and other women gamers (you can find a lot of them at our Directory). And just in general try to be aware of these issues.

  43. June 12, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Roy, I definitely agree with your comment at #23 that the interactivity aspect of gaming makes it different from other media; I guess what I’m trying to say is that games are still fiction-based art, and thus their creators should be putting thought into the ethical/social implications of their work if they want it to be taken seriously as art. It seems that a common defense of why it’s okay to have misogyny, homophobia, and racism in games is that they’re “just games” and not anything serious. But every art form has gone through a “it’s just a frivolous [x]” period (see, for instance, discourse around novels in the 17th and 18th century England), so saying they’re just games and no one should take them seriously is disingenuous.

    Which is a fancy way of saying I agree with your point. :-)

  44. Allison
    June 12, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    For people like me who don’t know what Anatolia is talking about, apparently Alizee is a French artist on whose dancing the female night elf emote is based. Here is a helpful and entertaining video. I think that claiming we’re all pissed off about the objectification of women in gaming because she has the audacity to dance sexily is a major red herring, though.

    I have to say that I never encountered any sexism during the couple months I played WoW, and all my characters were female. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that my primary character was an “unsexy” dwarf paladin, though. Fully-clothed! Substantial! Heavily-armed! Also, I was on an RP server, and I think that RP players are in general more invested in creating an amicable play environment.

    The fact stands, however, that I stopped playing video games for most of high school because of the stigma. The fact also stands that when I enrolled in a seminar on the history and cultural impact of video games last year, only 10% of the students were female, even though women constitute 50+% of gamers. And the other 90% of the people in the class were either budding MRAs or full-fledged Nice Guys, TM. The kind who contended that video games feature lots of naked women because when you get a bunch of male programmers together, they can’t help but only think about Teh B00bies.

  45. Emily Jane
    June 12, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    Yeah. I’m not sure what really to add, except to say that I’m a feminist, a gamer, and that I’m with you that the way female characters are represented in games is a huge problem. I can’t stick with a game where I can’t play a woman. I remember playing Super Mario Brothers and getting so frustrated that I had to play a *dude* saving a *woman* that I ran Mario off a cliff for a few hours. (It didn’t make me feel better, I still didn’t beat the game.)

    And as for WoW, I agree that a huge part of the problem is the player community, and I might go as far to say Blizzard’s management of the player community – the only thing that makes playing tolerable is that I’ve found a player community that does not tolerate sexist or homophobic behavior, whereas the creators of the game have made a point of allowing it every time it has come up (and at one point, disbanded a LBGT guild as discrimatory, although they apologized for that.)

  46. Allison
    June 12, 2007 at 7:14 pm

    PS. Sabin was gay? I totally missed that.

  47. Emily Jane
    June 12, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    quote about PAX

    Guh, you’re making me glad I’ve missed it for a couple of years. Don’t get me started on PAX ’04…….

  48. June 12, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    Oh, sorry, one more plug and then I’m done.

    Another way to help combat bigotry in gaming is to help us get some killer content for Cerise. We aren’t a paying publication yet (we have no $$), but please check out our submission guidelines. We accept a whole range of articles from academic-oriented papers to personal stories about gaming.

  49. June 12, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    I work at BioWare, which makes CRPGs, so I don’t know that my thoughts map to what people at other companies would say.

    At least for BioWare and companies like it, the advice that I’d give is this:

    If you find a game offensive, and you don’t think that it’s making any attempt to put out a positive message, then don’t buy the game new. If you do want to buy it (for the gameplay), buy it used, so that the company doesn’t make any money off of your purchase.

    If you find a game promising but troubling — maybe it had a strong female character but did something stupid with her in the story, but you could tell that they were trying; maybe it had good gender representation as far as women in positions of power but also had a lot of sexist humor; maybe you loved the women’s characters but hated their outfits — then buy the game. At least on BioWare’s forums, there are areas that only people who have purchased the game (and typed in a CD key for their user profile on the forums) are allowed to post.

    You vote with your dollar by buying the game, showing the company that yes, you are, in fact, one of the people who pays everyone’s salaries. Then you talk candidly about both the positives and the negatives, because your opinion is now important to them.

    If you never buy the game, and you talk about the reasons that you didn’t buy the game on your blog or on another messageboard, the company will never change. It doesn’t get that message. People not buying the game could mean anything from “our ad campaign stank” to “they just don’t like games like this”, so “I would have bought it, but the sexism/racism/glorification of violence turned me off” is a ways down on the list.

    Buying the game and positively pointing out that parts that worked really well (and also, as noted, wishing that certain parts had been done differently) gives you a much better chance to influence the next game that team puts out.

    Just one voice with a very tiny data set (this is my first video-game-company job), but I hope it helps.

  50. Bolo
    June 12, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    I guess I’m wondering- for gamers: what do you do to reconcile your love of gaming with the problems that exist in the gaming community?

    I really inhabit my own little gaming-community sphere. I don’t really associate with other gamers and tend to play single-player games. When I do play multiplayer games online, they tend to be of the sort where race/sex/etc. doesn’t really come into play (spaceships fighting, colonizing planets, etc.) When someone does or says something racist or sexist while playing online, I will try to call them on it–but that usually draws their ire and brings unwelcome attention from the others playing the game and can make it less fun for me.

    So, my solution (which has just come about naturally for me) is to really not participate in gamer culture so much and to play games that are less sexist/racist/etc. than usual. This doesn’t mean that I try to steer away from Grand Theft Auto or various fighting games–I just don’t find myself as interested in them.

    Do you do anything to try to change things or to fight the sexism/racism/homophobia that’s so common, for example, in online gaming?

    I will make comments to people who are saying offensive things–like when people brag about how they “raped” (i.e. killed/outscored/etc.) someone online or make racist/misogynist jokes. Interestingly, I’ve found that in most games racism is frowned upon by those playing but misogyny is a-OK, no matter how bad.

    And, what games would you suggest to feminist and anti-racist gamers?

    Hmm… That’s a tough one. Most turn-based strategy games leave sex and race entirely out of the equation, so starting with those might be good. Civilization 4 is an exception, but it does a pretty good job of including its fair share of both female leaders and non-white cultures and I would recommend it as a starting point. There are certainly others, perhaps No One Lives Forever, but its been a while since I’ve played most of them that I don’t trust my recollections.

    One last thing: Most of the people who make games also play them. Since all but the most gifted individuals construct narratives from what they already know, when game makers play games that are misogynist, racist, and homophobic, they tend to make games that reflect it. They draw on the templates that are around them.

    What’s really needed is for a fresh infusion of people from outside the gaming culture. The culture is self-reinforcing in many ways and may even be incapable of changing on its own.

  51. Fizgig
    June 12, 2007 at 7:46 pm

    I’m a gamer feminist married to a game designer so I have thought a lot about these questions. First I will argue that these kinds of representations of women are not really as ubiquitous as people often make them seem. I find in a lot of games there are strong, independent, assertive women – yes they are sometimes outrageously built, but no worse than Hollywood and in fact I find it better because they are usually toting a BFG (that’s a Big F***ing Gun for non-gamers) and are kicking ass unlike much of the movie world.

    Gamer culture is definitely still a boys club in some ways but if you walk into any game company now you will find increasing numbers of women creating games. In response to your question what to do about the sexism that does exist – encourage more girls to game, and encourage more women to go into game development. That’s the only way things will change in my opinion.

    Already game companies recognize that there is a huge market of women to cater to and they really are changing their attitudes. Now, the communities are a different story, but I don’t think we can blame games for the racist, homophobic, sexist drivel spewed forth by teenage boys. You find that crap anywhere online and I would argue that we have a lot of work to do as a society outside any venue where that kind of horrific vitriolic crap is expressed.

    Just a few of the games I would recommend:
    The Longest Journey (adventure)
    Dreamfall (non-white independent female main char, adventure)
    Any MMO (you create your own character, especially City of Heroes)
    No One Lives Forever (shooter, action)
    Gladius (real time strategy)
    Fatal Frame
    Resident Evil (alternating between male and female leads)

    Anyway, I could go on…

  52. Anatolia
    June 12, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    I think that claiming we’re all pissed off about the objectification of women in gaming because she has the audacity to dance sexily is a major red herring, though.

    Except that I didn’t say that. I was responding to another poster who was referencing the female night elf dance, and anyone who is familiar with the game and the character in question (which, incidentally, was also made a point of discussion in one of the links that Roy offered for review). Also being a female gamer who plays WoW, I am familiar with the *controversy* surrounding the female night elf model and the dance. In other words, I know this particular bit of material rather well and have heard the complaints. I just don’t understand them, given the actual design of the female night elf and the experience of it ingame.

  53. Chet
    June 12, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    I guess I’m wondering- for gamers: what do you do to reconcile your love of gaming with the problems that exist in the gaming community?

    Well, I’m ashamed to say it, but being a white male gamer gives me the privilege of being able to “turn off” my recognition of problematic gender constructions, etc. and just enjoy the game.

    So I don’t find my video game experiences to be fundamentally different than any other form of media typified by sexist pandering.

    Ever since Street Fighter Turbo I’ve been “gaming in drag”, and I used to use the “might as well stare at a female ass” justification until I realized that was more than just a little sexist – and not really why I was doing it. (I identify more with skinny, dexterous character models than with the linebackers that males are typically modeled as.) I’ve never experienced any sort of sexism or preferential treatment in WoW, but it’s probably obvious to everyone that I’m just another dude playing a female character.

  54. BlackBloc
    June 12, 2007 at 8:17 pm

    I don’t play videogames as much as I used to. In CoH there were a lot of asswipes but as soon as you locked out the Broadcast channel you were mostly kept out of the general stupidity. My Supergroup once backed me when a guy on our team started with the homophobic slurs and I complained and told him to knock it off. We had a bunch of women gamers in our Supergroup so that probably had something to do with it. I can’t count the number of times my girlfriend got sexual advances while playing CoH though.

    Nowadays I mostly play collectible games, and the attitude is about as bad. My fav game is Dreamblade though, and it’s not big enough right now to have attracted the idiots. I’ve had absolutly zero problems with racism or homophobia, though there is a distinct lack of women gamers playing the game. Not a lot of minority players either, but there’s a bunch of them that rank at the top of the game so at least there’s some visibility for black and asian players (no Hispanics that I know of, IIRC). Magic, my second game, is rife with ‘bad boys’ who constantly talk about raping you (which means winning against you in game, really offensive) and how gay their opponents were. I’ve complained to judges and tried to get them to act based on Unsportmanslike Attitude (which is a penalty according to the tournament guidelines) but most of the time nothing happens. Some of them actually brag about having been DQed or Suspended from Organized Play.

  55. Etoile
    June 12, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I’m a female gamer, and I’m very frustrated with the oversexualization of women in games. There’s a new website called Girl in the Machine that discusses women and queer characters in games that looks really promising.

    Hooray for Eternal Darkness! Multicultural AND has a female main character.

  56. Allison
    June 12, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Except that I didn’t say that.

    You’re right, Anatolia. I was snarky and unfair. On first reading I thought I got a whiff of “feminists hate me because I’m sexy!”, but I’m in a pretty bad mood today and projecting. Statement retracted, and I’m sorry.

    I will not apologize for hating X-2, though. I can hardly play through the tutorial of that freakin game. “Empowerful” is the word that springs to mind.

  57. Linnaeus
    June 12, 2007 at 9:14 pm

    Hey, whenever I played Street Fighter II, I always played Chun-Li.

    Of course, I understand better now the flaws in the character. I just thought she was cool at the time.

  58. June 12, 2007 at 9:18 pm

    Hey, whenever I played Street Fighter II, I always played Chun-Li.

    Interestingly, in fighting games (or at least the ones around when I was playing them 15 years ago) were often the best characters in terms of playability.

  59. June 12, 2007 at 9:21 pm

    Forgive me if I hit a tangent real fast…

    Sexism and racism are still really common in games- and not just in the really explicit Grand Theft Auto sense. Honestly, Grand Theft Auto is almost the least of my concerns- it’s so blatantly sexist and racist, that it’s easy to avoid it, and it’s really easy to criticize and make a case for why I object to it. The problem with video gaming is that some of the sexism and racism is harder to make people grasp. For me, the problem becomes: how do I reconcile my progressive values with the undercurrent (and overcurrent) of sexism and racism that surround gaming? How do I help change things?

    You know, I don’t know how many people remember John McChesney formerly of NPR and Wired’s Hotwired radio programs was, lets say, an elderly FPS player (by FPS player standards). Even in the salad days of the early 90s when the internet was still for nerds, the whole social environs of games were, frankly, horrid. They have only gotten worse.

    There is still a 6 seat circular LAN party table I helped a friend build. Each seat had a stenciled handle for our core game playing crew… Including 2 females (one being my sister) one black guy and one gay guy. Honestly, in the world of Quake 2 and R6-1, the level of sexist and homophobic chatter that came from “the kids” almost made me blush. That is something hard to do. Especially when the game companies see these kinds of… children (though not all of them minors) playing their games, it is hard to make an argument that the market wants something better.

    As an iteresting aside, all of us playing Quake and Quake 2 played female characters because the targetable area for a female was smaller than the uber-aaahnold type male characters. These days the collision bound box for both sexes is generally the same in shooters.

    But back on to the main point of the post:

    Even when you do get the option to play as a woman, though, you’re still hard pressed to escape from some pretty sexist depictions. Consider this article on the case of World of Warcraft- the most popular MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). I’m not much of a RPG fan, but Moira, over at Feminist Gamers took a look at the Final Fantasy games’ portrayal of women, and it doesn’t look like they’re much better, despite being, arguably, the most popular RPG series ever made.

    You know, the thing I remember about the Star Wars Galaxies beta, which I participated in from the “It barely compiles” stage, was the attitude of *young women* about their characters. Granted they still composed only about 1/3 of the players in the early stages, I still remember the protests of two “under 22” girls about the “lack of sexy clothing” for females. *Women* were complaining that they couldn’t play some sexed up Pamela Anderson with the Fake Tits cliche. Actually the men never had a problem with it.

    This is always something that has bothered me as someone who spent a good bit (read: WAY TOO MUCH) time in college writing code for MUDs rather than classes. In the old guard, women actually had a tendency to play styles that encouraged the game to continue. Richard Bartle has a bunch of text on this topic I won’t bother to go into.

    And now, my asshole moment:

    Seriously, if women want better representation in video games, they need to go into the industry. This isn’t 1950’s Hollywood. Most tech companies in general — not just game companies — would LOVE to hire more female staff. The thing is, women don’t go into CS. The ACM has gigabytes of research into the phenomenon, and I won’t go into my “Women and Blacks can’t be nerds” social stigma rant (There are more gay guys in the CS professions than African Americans and Women combined). But really, until women get into the field and assert themselves, this kind of stuff isn’t going to change.

  60. chicgeekchick
    June 12, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    Hi, long time lurker, first time writer…

    As a 23 years-old Hispanic, Spanish-speaking gamer geek, I found that the best way to prove your worth is to step up to the plate.

    What I mean is that I’m thinking of early here in this very thread, where someone said that she felt uncomfortable when she stepped in a Gamestop and left quickly.

    It reminded me of an incident when I was kid. My friends and I always loved video games, but one of them almost changed her mind into buying the then-popular SNES, citing it wasn’t ‘feminine’. Of course, budding feminist that I was, said that women burned her bras so we could play video games, goddammit, and that femininity had nothing to do with it. She did buy it and did have a good time with all my borrowed games, so its a happy ending.

    But still. I, for one, refuse to be intimidated or to give up or get chased away from video games. I feel that the best way to counteract male stupidity is to go out there and browse videogames at your leisure with your head up high, because it gives you visibility and fights stereotypes.

    One of my favorite strategies to assert my authority is walking up to the clerk and asking difficult questions. Did it when I was into comic books with great success, and hasn’t failed me when a clerk sounds condescending.

    And in online games, Guild Wars as I don’t own WoW, I’m as good as the rest of my teammates, and often take it upon myself to save the day if I have to. Maybe I got lucky, because I’ve never encountered sexist comments, and even got accused of being a 40-year-old male once, so who knows?

    So I guess that what I’m trying to say is that geeky women need to assert authority and not be afraid of getting it. Too often I see, like in this very thread, women giving up on games just because they’re sexist. I say no way, don’t let that stop you. Nothing throws the less-bright male gamers in a loop more than a woman playing GTA. Yes, I own it. And I’m starting to believe it would be worse if I didn’t own it and just stuck around with ‘safe games’. For me, it would mean that I let myself be intimidated, which I refuse to do.

    (And just to throw this out there… I also believe that this should extend to all types of technology. When I walk into a store to search for my new high-tech toys, I read up everything about it, because I want to hold intelligent conversations with whoever it is that’s trying to sell me stuff. I’ve seen too many women just giving up and leaving all high-tech TV shopping to the males, because its ‘too hard’ to keep up with the lingo. Fuck that, I say. Then again, I’ve been programming my family VCR since I was six years old… something my mother learned to do to this day…)

  61. Nique
    June 12, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    I only pay attention to games since I started dating a gamer/game designer. He worked on Prince of Persia so I scrutinized that game and noticed something: The main character, while Arabic, has blue eyes. WTF? I pointed this out to my bf and he rolled his eyes and told me that the character was presented to focus groups with brown eyes but was seen as “too mean” and unlikable. So they gave him blue eyes and suddenly the focus groups loved him. Blatantly racist? You bet. But it’s all about the bottom line, getting the game sold, so they changed the eye colour. Also of note, in PoP, they wanted the princess to be a character you could play but just ran out of time and couldn’t integrate that option, so she remained a passive character.

  62. Cerberus
    June 12, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    This is actually an interesting question because I was recently going over in my mind video games which have featured feminist or homosexual characters, character presentations, and/or storylines. And despite the many disreputable examples (Dead or Alive, Leisure Suit Larry) and the hideous state of online experiences for women, there are reputable examples as well (Parasite Eve, Wild Arms 2(featuring a homosexual main character), Beyond Good and Evil, Septerra Core, etc…).

    This is not to excuse the tendency of characters to be oversexualized or the fact that the heads of gaming companies seem fundamentally opposed to the idea that women actually play games and look for many of the same qualities that men do (minus perhaps boobies). However, and I’m sorry for sounding like an apologist, it seems as time goes on and longer and more in-depth storylines are not only more common but more required, that these problems are often mitigated by other strong feminist, homo and trans friendly, and otherwise quality stories. And more and more the white obsession and sexism becomes more a reflection of our society than a specific problem tied only to gaming.

    Look for instance at the number of best selling novels or movies or TV shows featuring strong women characters who don’t have to compensate by flaunting feminine traits or sympathetic non-white characters that aren’t just tokens. It’s a sort of general failing both here and in Japan which are the countries most of these games are created in and for. Does this excuse the industry from trying to address these problems? Hell no, it is a problem that needs to be tackled on all fronts in all disciplines.

    I think video games tend to be more easily picked on in this category though because it has less of an independent or arthouse category like films or books that cater more strongly to these issues and it does have such a weak showing for racial diversity and often feminism as well.

    I think it is also picked on because the fantastical worlds as the WOW article points out tends to have characters with “exaggerated” body structures that lead to centerfold female bodies. But by focusing only on the females in these games, we ignore how sexualized the men are in these games as well. Well-muscled shirtless men in tight pants or shorts are in each of the games highlighted for unrealistic females. FFVII’s Sephiroth and Barrett, FFX’s Tidus, FFXII’s Vaan, and the exceptionally tight pants on FFVIII’s Squall. Sexualized male body image is also in WOW and even in ultra-violent ultra-sexist “male-centric” games like God of War. It’s hardly women only getting the sex object character design treatment.

    As such, I’m less dismayed by the way the advance of games inevitably leads to the tired fantasy cliches of chainmail bikini warriors and rather more interested in the growing number of games, even games obviously marketed towards men including more and more feminist messages and characters in their storylines from “The Boss” character in the Metal Gear Solid 3 to the total lack of defined gender roles in The Sims and coming from milestones like Lucca in Chrono Trigger (the smartest character in the game is a woman).

    To me these are the more interesting focal points, but then, as you point out, these focuses on sexualized productions and intense racism and sexism in some of these newer games also paints a possible backslide. It’s difficult to see if this medium and indeed all mediums can escape the intense racism and sexism of our cultures.

  63. chicgeekchick
    June 12, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    Although, now that I think about it, the first female elemental dress in the original Guild Wars was mind-blowing awful with boobs having all out, so I deleted that character quickly and became a nice tough looking ranger. I only became an elementalist when they had nicer dresses in the Nightfall campaign.

  64. Caja
    June 12, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    I don’t play games – of any kind – much any more, but about 10 years ago, as an undergrad, I had a few gaming addictions. Magic (the card game), MUDding, and a handful of computer games. I played on the same MUD for several years, and only got mildly hit on a couple of times. I don’t know if it was the culture of that MUD, or the fact that my character name was gender-neutral, or what. I don’t recall there being much racist or homophobic chatter, either, so it sounds like online games have taken a turn for a much much worse (or again, perhaps this MUD just didn’t attract that crap, though I know for sure there were plenty of gamers my age and younger). The other games I played were Doom, Diablo, and games like um Warcraft, I think? Starcraft? Territory building games where you didn’t play a character so much as an empire.

    I’m unlikely to get into online gaming because I have largely replaced my gaming addiction with a blog addiction. Plus I think I’d get way too irritated dealing with all the assholes. And I’m not into games much n general because while they are fun, they ultimately seem, well, unproductive, and I usually like to spend my free time doing crafty things, or learnin’ things, or just completely couch-potato things. However, I do hope to get back to tabletop RPGing again – I have a friend who is a really great GM, and puts together good gaming groups.

    And as a summary, for anyone still wondering why racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. in games is a problem, it’s because it’s just one more place where the bullshit status quo is reinforced, and we know it’s bullshit, so why accept it without complaint? Maybe games don’t cause racism/sexism/homophobia, but they don’t seem to be helping reduce it any, either.

  65. Henry
    June 12, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    I’d just like to chime in that the GTA games are works of art, and if you avoid them completely because of their subject matter you’re missing out. They’re worth getting for their art and presentation alone.

  66. winna
    June 12, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    The notoriously unwelcoming attitude of the tech industry toward women might have something to do with that.

  67. winna
    June 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm

    Seriously, if women want better representation in video games, they need to go into the industry. This isn’t 1950’s Hollywood. Most tech companies in general — not just game companies — would LOVE to hire more female staff. The thing is, women don’t go into CS.

    My comment above was directed at this quote.

    ‘The notoriously unwelcoming attitude of the tech industry toward women might have something to do with that. ‘

  68. Holly
    June 12, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    Hi, I’m already in the field and asserting myself plenty. I’m a female game designer, one of a handful I can think of. Seriously — the game industry is not the most friendly place for women. There aren’t many of us, although more and more, and no, a CS degree is not required unless you want to be a programmer, which is just one of many roles. But still, for the most part it’s an industry dominated by gamer guys, many of whom are seriously adolescent in their worldview and the way they interact with women — real women or abstract ideas of audience. I’ve had younger dudes act like they don’t know what to do with me in a conversation about game design, and older guys just ignore me completely in group discussions, the classic “oh you must be the secretary” act. Not sure which is worse, being treated like a bizzare anomaly or being completely invisible — phenomena that I can tell you from first-hand experience don’t happen to guys.

    There’s all sorts of the usual pressure that you find in male-dominated industries — the idea that you should just do your best to fit and be “one of the guys” and not complain too loudly. It really does send a message to female gamers and game developers when the walls of a conference center or a game company are plastered with boobalicious exaggerated sexed-up art of female game characters. At last year’s Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Robin Hunicke (one of the designers on the Sims and other games, also a personal hero of mine) got up in front of a big audience and delivered a rant on exactly that subject, since there was a huge gallery of “Boris Vallejo” style artwork lining one whole section of the conference. “If I had only known,” she said, “that the secret of success in the game industry was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME ALL ALONG!” (while grabbing her boobs and shaking them angrily.) I just had to mention that because she kicked ass.

    I mean, is the solution really for more women to join teams of game developers who are making games like Doki Doki Majo Saiban and The Witcher? Like Cola Feminist says above, there ARE women in the industry who get absorbed, perhaps just to be able to get by, in the same catering-to-adolescent-dudes mindset that a lot of the rest of the gamer-culture is into. Progress needs to happen on multiple fronts: game companies need to stop catering to crass, objectifying tastes that they assume will sell more games, gamers need to stop supporting this, more women need to make their voices heard inside the industry and as gamers, and game companies need to actually step up and hire women, and have projects that women would actually want to work on.

    There are a lot of diversity problems in the game industry and if you ask me, one of the biggest ones is actually reaching out beyond traditional “gamer” audiences. A lot of the women who identify as gamers are women who just happen to have similar taste to the core audience that’s already being catered to, but there are a lot of other kinds of game-players out there who are not into Halo, World of Warcraft, Tekken, Devil May Cry, and Starcraft — male and female. The industry has to break out of a bunch of molds in order for gaming to reach its real cultural potential.

    It’s also worth keeping in mind that when we talk about “game culture,” in this very thread even, we’re usually just talking about the most prominent part of the game market, the blockbuster games that fill most of the shelves at Gamestop and in Walmart’s gaming section, PS3 and Xbox 360 fare. Thankfully, there’s a lot more out there — even on consoles, as the Wii is showing. The statistics about 60% of online gamers being female are mostly from games that are NOTHING like the titles I mention in the last paragraph — the biggest chunk of gamers in that 60% are older women who are playing mah jong games and other “casual games” online. There was also a study in the New York Times recently that showed that between 18 and 35, there are twice as many female game players as male ones. That seems crazy high to me, but it’s just a fact that there are TONS of female gamers out there. It’s just that female gamers are not being catered to in quite the same way, unless maybe you count “casual games,” and even those are geared towards a very weird targeted-audience — housewives in their 40s and 50s.

    I’m going to use one little paragraph to toot my own horn… this game was my company’s biggest hit and still puts dinner on the table for me. The protagonist is a woman, amazingly without an enormous chest, and although it’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking to have a female waitress character, she also runs the restaurant in the game, and she’s a former stockbroker. We’re trying to push the envelope a centimeter further with our latest game, which I am writing the finale to at this very moment — or rather, I should get back to it. It’s an office-sitcom in game form, and we actually put real people of color with personalities in it, and lots of female characters, and themes about racism, gender, and relationships… albeit lighthearted ones. In this industry, it’s like working on the Mary Tyler Moore show in the 70s, pushing things very subtyl, bit by bit. Sneak preview, limited time only for Feministe readers… here is the title screen to the new game. Also, speaking of “the ways that we can explore and learn about complicated moral issues through the use of games,” the Games for Change conference was here in New York today and yesterday, and another game that we made in collaboration with a bunch of local high school students and some folks from Haiti won a prize: Ayiti: The Cost of Life, which is meant to be an interactive exploration of interconnected issues surrounding poverty in Haiti. Far from perfect, but we took a shot at it.

  69. Allison
    June 12, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Too often I see, like in this very thread, women giving up on games just because they’re sexist. I say no way, don’t let that stop you. Nothing throws the less-bright male gamers in a loop more than a woman playing GTA.

    See – and I wonder if any other female commenters have had similar experiences – I often find myself having the opposite problem. I am totally OK with playing GTA, Halo, Soul Calibur, and most stereotypically male-oriented games, because I feel like doing so is helping subvert stereotypes. Moreover, when I do play FPSes and fighting games and such, the reaction I get from men is mostly positive, along the lines of “I feel like I can be myself with you”. It’s when I start talking Final Fantasy/RPGs/less stereotypically-male-oriented games that the reaction becomes “you only play girl games and are not a true gamer because you’re a girl, ew, cooties”.

    Does this happen to other people, or is it just me? Is it internalized feminist guilt at liking RPGs better, even though they’re more “girly” (which, I know that’s total crap, but it seems to be a popular perception)?

  70. Roy
    June 12, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    I think it is also picked on because the fantastical worlds as the WOW article points out tends to have characters with “exaggerated” body structures that lead to centerfold female bodies. But by focusing only on the females in these games, we ignore how sexualized the men are in these games as well. Well-muscled shirtless men in tight pants or shorts are in each of the games highlighted for unrealistic females. FFVII’s Sephiroth and Barrett, FFX’s Tidus, FFXII’s Vaan, and the exceptionally tight pants on FFVIII’s Squall. Sexualized male body image is also in WOW and even in ultra-violent ultra-sexist “male-centric” games like God of War. It’s hardly women only getting the sex object character design treatment.

    I hear that argument sometimes- especially with regards to comic books, and I have to say, I don’t think it holds water. Male characters in video games come in a variety of shapes and styles. Sure, they tend to have exagerated musculature, but that’s because they’re active.
    Muscles = strength = heroic.
    In other words, the exagerated muscles on most male characters can be directly tied into the fantasy of being a hero. In a lot of games, the costumes that men wear tend to be somewhat appropriate, if fictional. Again: Look at fighting games. Look at Soul Calibur.

    If you pick a male character you can be a pirate, in full pirate get-up, including a version with armor. You can be Siegfried- the knight- in full armor. You can be a samurai wearing robes or armor. You can be monk-like character, etc. There are a wide variety of costume types, and the bulk of them are appropriate for the occupation that the character is supposed to have. The only male who is hypersexualized is Voldo- the bondage freak.

    If you pick a female character, every one of the costumes is hyper sexualized.You’re looking at excentuated breasts, tiny, tiny miniskirts with garters, thongs, exposed midriffs. They’re wearing minimal armor, if any, and most of them would look more at home in strip club than a battlefield.

    I’ll agree that some male characters are sexualized- but few of them are sexualized at the expense of the character. And most of them are done so in a way that appeals to men.

    I also think that there are issues of relative positions of power that need to be considered when you talk about the sexualization of men and women in games. I don’t think that a few hypersexualized men in games really has the same effect right now that hypersexualized women does.

    I’d just like to chime in that the GTA games are works of art, and if you avoid them completely because of their subject matter you’re missing out. They’re worth getting for their art and presentation alone.

    Meh. I don’t see it. I’d grant that some of the gameplay elements are fantastic (but, sadly, others were abysmal) but the content is enough to make me sick, at this point, and visually? I was never that impressed. The visuals in the game were passable, but certainly nothing to write home about. It doesn’t even come close to making my top-ten in terms of visuals.

  71. June 13, 2007 at 12:25 am

    I’m not much of a gamer, and don’t have much to add to your thoughts but I thought I’d share anyway:

    Watching Adult Swim last night, a commercial came on saying something like “For a long time, video games were made for men, by men,” and for a split second, I was incredibly hopefully. Then they go on to say men wanted a change so “‘instead of a hedgehog [picture of Sonic], or a plumber [picture of Mario], you get Lara Croft’s shapely bum [pictures of Lara Croft’s ass].”

    Fantastic.

    (I’ve loved your posts thus far, by the way! And I really enjoyed your post on the Frag Dolls in your blog.)

  72. Arianna
    June 13, 2007 at 1:03 am

    Ok, I skipped the whole comments thread to rant because I have been waiting for an opportunity to bitch about World of Warcraft, which I’ve been playing since closed beta.

    World of Warcraft initially could have been phenomenally female-positive, as far as games go. They started off very carefully balancing the gender of all the guards, the flight masters, the class trainers, everything. In the popular imagination, Tyrande Whisperwind was the leader of the Kaldorei and Jaina Proudmoore was the leader of the humans by the end of Warcraft 3. The male and female models of the original races were pretty decent.

    But then… Fandral Staghelm leader of the Kaldorei what? And the paladin armour that they had to eventually change because they’d designed it to be basically a plate bikini on female paladins? And don’t get me started on the deformed, swaybacked, tilt-headed, oh-so-pretty female Blood Elf models. And the all-male guards of Silvermoon. I mean, ok, I get it, the Blood Elves are the anti-Night Elves, who have the all-female Sentinels, but that’s because of WC3 related plot difficulties (all Druids must be male, all everything else must be female, because they only make one character model for every class in the RTS games) meaning that all the males were asleep for 10,000 years. Oh, and all lower-level armour on female BE is slit to the navel (yes I play a female Blood Elf anyway).

    Oh well, at least Sylvanas is still badass :/

  73. ipomoea
    June 13, 2007 at 1:17 am

    I’ve casually played video games since I was about 18 (my parents thought that if we played VGs as kids we’d rot our brains and shoot up the Safeway), and recently gave in to WoW.

    I can definitely see sexism and homophobia in the game, at least from the other players, but like the other gamers on here, I got lucky and am in a guild with RL friends who wouldn’t tolerate crap like that. From what I understand, Blizzard included the Blood Elves and Draenei races in the BC addon because people weren’t playing Horde (undead, troll, Tauren, orc) characters, as they are all rather ugly. I bought in and made a BE character, but just couldn’t get into it/her. Sure, the new races are pretty (esp. the Draenei, all big and blue), but the BE, while pretty, couldn’t be played as warriors. I’m sure this had something to do with the ratio of warriors to other classes in the Horde.

    I (and the other women who play WoW I know) originally wanted to play the prettiest thing I could find, but also kick all kinds of ass (I watched a lot of Buffy). Eventually, I ended up playing something fairly ‘unsexy’– an undead warlock. However, her minion is a succubus with a whip and bustier who stuns enemies with her kiss, so….

    I also LOVE Soul Caliber, but I usually go for whomever has the most bad-ass weapon. The games that I see other girl gamers play are the Sims, WoW, FF, and Guitar Hero. I personally prefer We Love Katamari, but the whole aspect of “clean up the house” is a little creepy.

    Did anyone else see the WikiHow entry on “How To Get Your Girlfriend to Play Video Games“?

    More than a little creepy, and completely off-base.

  74. June 13, 2007 at 2:50 am

    I have so much to say about this issue I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll just hit a few quick points, I suppose.

    I’m a woman in CS (though not the game industry specifically), and statements like “women don’t go into CS” frustrate me like nothing else, with the possible exception of women saying “I wish I could do that,” when I tell them what I studied. The issue of why women don’t go into CS is huge. It starts when girls are kids, and don’t get the exposure to computers that boys do, continues with the expectation that women will major in something more traditionally feminine, continues with the geek stereotype, continues in classes when there’s more men than women and the men know more than the women do to start with, and all the professors are male, and everyone looks at you oddly, and you get treated differently all the time, and pretty soon if there were many girls interested to start with, they’re gone.

    It is fucking hard for women to go into CS in our current culture. My dad is a programmer and both my parents were feminists, and it was still hard. My dad didn’t actually teach me any programming when I was young, and in my first CS class in high school I was one of three girls in the class and there was a guy I knew in the class who’d had a programming job for going on two years. It intimidated the hell out of me. But I had mad skillz at it nevertheless, so I kept going. But it never stops.

    On a lighter note, as a girl gamer (mostly girly RPGs like Final Fantasy, I’m afraid), although the “men are sexualized too” thing is generally wrong and refers to male fantasies of a powerful male body, I have to say that some male Final Fantasy protagonists are actually sexualized, and I say that not entirely because I’m part of a pretty extended community dedicated to sexualizing them. *grin*

    Cloud, Squall and Tidus are decidedly pretty, but see particularly FFXII’s Vaan, who looks in that art like one of those female-pose parodies you see occasionally. (In the game his vest is closed, for what that accomplishes.)

    Full disclosure: I love FFXII.

  75. June 13, 2007 at 2:53 am

    Ack, I forgot this part! Totally off topic, but:

    OMG, C. Diane, you cosplayed Balthier? I want to do that so badly… *pokes at scraps of fabric that are the beginnings of my project*

  76. June 13, 2007 at 4:18 am

    Holly: I’m one of the senior editors of Cerise, a gaming magazine aimed at women (mentioned earlier in the comments), and I would absolutely love to get an interview with you in our magazine. If you see this, can you contact me here? If that doesn’t work, you can contact the other senior editor (Robyn) here.

  77. Bles
    June 13, 2007 at 5:49 am

    I’m a female gamer as well. I play partly on console and partly on PC, though right now I’ve somehow gotten sucked into playing MMOs. I’ve refused to play WoW because I’ve heard about all the utter assholes on there, and I’m not that engrossed with the storyline anyway. I play LOTRO instead, and so far that’s been mostly okay. The clothing for female characters isn’t skimpy, it’s actually functional for once. Proper armour for women, at last!

    I’ve seen people come up with some racist bollocks in the channels, and they tend to get smacked down quickly and easily. I’m not sure whether homophobic or transphobic remarks would get the same quick response, though. As for sexual harrassment, I’ve gotten some remarks here and there, but I generally make it very clear that that sort of attention is unwanted and offensive. It might just be that I’ve lucked out in terms of guild choice.

  78. Nathanael Nerode
    June 13, 2007 at 7:36 am

    I miss the era of Zork.

  79. June 13, 2007 at 7:39 am

    Patrick, I’m sorry but I can’t get over one of the BioWare people going on at length in his blog about how women who ask for multiple options for female characters are “Valerie Solaris wannabes” and should just shut up. Followed by dead hooker jokes. When people ask why I stopped gaming, that’s basically the reason.

    When I *was* gaming (primarily NES and PS, because I am dull), I used to name the main male characters female names and make a complicated back story where they were really girls disguised as boys, going out on adventures. My back story made the romances in game so much more interesting to me, because how would a woman-disguised-as-a-man take the romance aspect of the games? I was young, and had never encountered the idea before, so I thought I was hard core.

  80. TheBends
    June 13, 2007 at 7:46 am

    Meh. I don’t see it. I’d grant that some of the gameplay elements are fantastic (but, sadly, others were abysmal) but the content is enough to make me sick, at this point, and visually? I was never that impressed. The visuals in the game were passable, but certainly nothing to write home about. It doesn’t even come close to making my top-ten in terms of visuals.

    I agree totally Roy. GTA doesnt make it into what I would categorise as artistic game design. Id say its simply very palatable to the average gamer, and is well marketed. Personally I find the actual games rather bland and simplistic in terms of gameplay and storyline. Plus with its added shock factor (i.e. GTA is controversial, like taking drugs, and perhaps for some people that is the hook) some people just give it much more credit than it deserves.

    I would however like to think Im somewhat down with Feminist gaming ideals, so I wont get into anything major about that here.

    I myself however, am something of a gaming recluse I imagine. Id like to think I keep up with the latest on gaming a fair bit, but its hard for me to take myself seriously saying that, considering Im still playing Baldurs Gate Tutu and Baldurs Gate II. (Along with other infinity engine games that were put to bed years ago, and a few others from the late 90’s early 2000’s).

    Still, in regards to some commenters points about changing the industry, I think it needs many things, not just one thing. I think it needs more women (and in cases minorities) in the industry, and a more accepting environment for women/minorities in the industry. And I think developers ALREADY in the industry would do well to try and create games that include women and minorities in a positive way. Which I think would contribute to the point about some diversity in the industry, instead of this race/gender bias that seems to be prevalent. And also this stereotypical view of gamers as skinny white guys who are still virgins living in their parents basement has got to go as well. A view as gaming as something for everyone, not just the boys would be a good idea (something that I think the Wii does nicely, even if it doesn’t cover my more “hardcore” gaming needs).

    That hardly comes from any personal experience mind you, just the opinion of someone who loves games, yet can see there is a certain tilt towards gamers of a certain race, and sex.

  81. Hawise
    June 13, 2007 at 7:56 am

    God I feel old!

    I’m from back before the days of electronic gaming and I still board game, I console game as well. I used to be one of only four women at gaming conventions and the trollish male-only club behaviour was there then. Not every gamer has that attitude but enough to make my multiple walks down the aisle to pick up the trophies very satisfying.

    Involvement is the only way to make changes. Not just on the threads where the gaming fans natter on but e-mailing companies and finding places like IGDA (International Game Developers Association) to voice your opinions. Many games start out with the best intentions but marketing and other pressures change them in the development process. Living in Montreal, I have gone to some of IGDA’s open meetings ($5 and you get a beer) and had a chance to be heard. We want more representation then we have to get in on the ground floor, the companies are hiring and always need testers. Changes don’t start by only talking to the gamers, you need to talk to the makers.

  82. June 13, 2007 at 9:11 am

    Cadence, let me tell you, that vest was such a pain in my butt. And I didn’t finish it, because I procrastinated too long before the con, and I had to make my husband his Gankutsuou costume (a tailcoat, for dinner!Count). I’m going to wind up taking the vest mostly apart and redoing it before Dragon*Con (and making another Victorian outfit as well.)

    My day job pays for my costuming habit.

    ObGaming: fighting games are about my speed. Not because I want to be subversive, but because they’re about all the focus I can deal with. I don’t have the patience to play long games. (Notable exception: harvest moon.) I usually play the Mishimas and Hwoarang in Tekken, and Yunsung, Kilik, Raphael, Mitsi, and Cervantes in SC. And I’ve written J/H fic ^_^

  83. Cerberus
    June 13, 2007 at 9:13 am

    I hear that argument sometimes- especially with regards to comic books, and I have to say, I don’t think it holds water. Male characters in video games come in a variety of shapes and styles. Sure, they tend to have exagerated musculature, but that’s because they’re active.
    Muscles = strength = heroic.
    In other words, the exagerated muscles on most male characters can be directly tied into the fantasy of being a hero. In a lot of games, the costumes that men wear tend to be somewhat appropriate, if fictional. Again: Look at fighting games. Look at Soul Calibur.

    A good point. I have to admit I was thinking more along the lines of what Cadence was saying about the Final Fantasy designs for main characters which have been distinctly sexualized, but you’re absolutely right that a lot of the chiseled man-candy can tie into ultra-masculinity role-play idea (Zangief from Street Fighter anybody?) much as it is performed in comic books.

    I suppose I’ve always been easier on Squaresoft (makers of the Final Fantasy series), because especially in more modern times they’ve really been slipping some very interesting attacks against homophobia, sexism, and racism into their storylines for a while now and has been constantly bucking the “conventional” wisdom that that will not sell. They’ve attacked gender definition in Chrono Trigger (cross-dressing villain), Final Fantasy VII (main character cross dresses), and Final Fantasy VIII (genderless playable character). Homophobia in SaGa Fronteir (lesbian main character who actually has to deal with internalized homophobia), Wild Arms 2 (main character is a gay male who isn’t stereotypically feminized because of it), and Wild Arms 1 (lesbian NPC). And issues of racism usually via species analogues much in the Terry Pratchett style of doing things such as Final Fantasy XII’s complex species interactions and xenophobes and one of SaGa Fronteir’s storylines dealing with a xenophobic leader and your main character’s quest to see that your race isn’t all racists and that the hated groups preached by the leader are people as well. Add to that a deep intensity to write very strong and independent female characters that are just as 3-dimensional and felshed out and they’ve created a trend among many of the storyline-centric games to include more issues along these fronts and treat them sympathetically.

    Does that excuse napkin armor or the tendency to put those same strong characters in sexualized outfits? Not as much, but then like most medias these days, it’s a long journey towards breaking past this repetition of reinforcing oppression and I can appreciate them trying as much as they do even if that apparently gains them a reputation for being “girl games” * .

    * I’m actually rather amazed that these games are considered “girl games” and “girl RPGs” as the males in my circle of gamer friends are pretty much RPG addicts first and so have never really considered them as such (the fact that they also tend to be more egalitarian and feminist than most men I know though probably means something there). I think that attitude is worrisome because as many point out, Final Fantasy is far from “Intercourse” by Dworkin, and yet is met by sexist resistance by an apparently large segment of gamers and possibly game designers.

    On that note, what would those “girly RPG” sexists consider a “man RPG” if Final Fantasy and any game with its traits (pretty much all RPGs) are not on the list?

    If it is RPGs specifically that are womanly for having plots and parts you have to think about stuff, does that just leave shooters and fighting games and the occassional action game like GTA for men? And if so, what are we supposed to gleam, “man games” are stupid and violent? As this board often points out, it is rather intriguing how those supposedly standing up for “masculinity” have such a low opinion of what it is (Yay cavemen).

    Sorry for the long post.

  84. Linnaeus
    June 13, 2007 at 10:48 am

    I miss the era of Zork.

    It just occurred to me that for some reason, I don’t associate text-based games with video gaming. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense because they are, you know, games.

    So, I was a video gamer for several of my teenage years, because I absolutely loved text games. I thought Infocom made some of the most interesting games of the time (and I consider them classics even today). By the time Infocom was disbanded, I’d moved on to The Bard’s Tale (EA made some really good stuff in the 1980s too).

    Zork is probably Infocom’s best, but the one I miss is Leather Goddesses of Phobos. Hey, I was a teenager.

  85. everstar
    June 13, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    I love the female night elf dance in WoW! Alizee is awesome, and lovely, and talented.

    I enjoy it too, a lot of the time! I don’t mind having an attractive character at all. But the thing is, for a long time, I had NO IDEA that the female Night Elf dance was modelled on Alizee’s video. Up until earlier this year, I didn’t know who Alizee was. (Now I do, and yes, she is.) So it seemed really jarring to have most of the characters doing an homage to some other, clearly recognizable dance, and the night elf female doing… that. Now that I know that it is a copy of Alizee, it’s a little less jarring to me, but still, when I watch it, part of me’s like, “Oy.”

    I find the reaction far more insulting than the depiction. Am I crazy or missing the point?

    No, and I agree that it’s annoying that a attractive female character can’t do a sexy dance without being referred to as a “pole dancer” as if having a sexy dance automatically makes her a stripper. I guess… actually, I don’t know what my point is any more. I guess it still makes me a little uncomfortable, but I enjoy it more often than not. But sometimes I’d like for her to be able to dance some other way.

    Also, the male gnome dance is more titillating and suggestive than the female NE dance.

    They thrust, don’t they?

  86. Mhorag
    June 13, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Damn, I’m old …

    My experience with current video games is virtually non-existent, and the games I did enjoy playing were usually either shoot-em ups like Galaga or puzzle games like Shivers (PC). It’s tough to see the racism/sexism in a game that involves a space ship blowing up bug-shaped spaceships … :)

    But I did roleplay for a while – D&D, Traveller (GREAT game), Chill (by Pacesetter), heck I even played The Late, Late, Late Show where you played an actor playing a character filming a movie. (talk about mess with your head) The point of this is, my husband was the GM for a D&D game where all the players and player-characters were women! You would not believe the strange looks and “you did what?!” comments he would get when he would talk about it at cons.

    I kinda miss that game – a group of women adventurers, roaming through the countryside, killing monsters, cleaning out dungeons, taking lovers and/or husbands, having children (THAT blew some minds of adolescent gamers, let me tell you!), taking out pirates, and finally deposing and killing my character’s evil uncle in order to ascend to the throne that should have been mine in the first place. We had a world to play in where there was birth control AND fertility spells (trust me, being able to bring a pregnancy to term and delivery within 12 hours is really, really useful), and we kicked the asses of any NPC who tried to get all chauvinistic on us.

    Damn, I would like to live in that world … :)

  87. Bolo
    June 13, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    The only male who is hypersexualized is Voldo- the bondage freak.

    I would always play as Voldo. Being able to fight backwards or on all fours was cool, plus his “crotch-bounce” attack generated endless amusement. :)

  88. Perkyshai
    June 13, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I’m a gamer, but play LARP, CCG and tabletop. My last hardcore campaign was an exalted tabletop.
    I had a commanding, geeky librarian former child-slave character who had become a successful diplomat and businessperson.
    This was my specialty book:
    http://www.white-wolf.com/Retail/RetailDownloads/2004PDFs/7July04PDF/ExaltedSavantandSorceror.jpg
    The gaming industry assumes that the majority of consumers are male, heterosexual, and will buy based in part on the idea of women as hypersexualized consumables.
    Not all men are like this, not all gamers are like this. Unfortunately being inundated with this kind of drek and then feeding these people (male AND female) who have learned to tolerate it, into the gaming industry is more likely to perpetuate the problem rather than solve it.

    To that end, the feminist gaming groups who challenge and confound the stereotypes of women gamers are incredibly valuable not only to the next generation of gamers, but in creating games that keep the fantastic and lose the crap.

  89. Bunny
    June 13, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    As a gamer I find using PC Gamer (the UK version) as my litmus test for games is a pretty good way of avoiding the worst horrors in gaming.

    They run articles and encourage discussion regarding a lot of improvements gaming needs to make- games and violence, games and women, games and racism, games and their potential as an educational tool, games and politics, originality in gaming…

    And they gave leisure suit larry a teeny tiny crappy score out of sheer horror at the misogyny in that game.

    Other than that, yeah, I try to avoid games where I have either no choice for a female character or no choice to cover myself up. I play guildwars, not warcraft, because I can chose not ONLY my height, skin colour and gender but I can buy armour that is either sexy or practical depending on my preference.

    That said though, without the positive aspects of gaming like my mag, my fav games and my partner who loves playing with me, I’d probably have given up on most games (except sims) and pcs a long time ago. Gmae shops are kinda creepy to enter when you’re a girl and people keep asking if you’re buying “for your boyfriend” (I had one sales assistant spend 5 minutes talking to me about a game I’d just picked up and “but if you think your boyfriend would like Serious Sam how about getting him THIS as well?”) and PC repair shops are humiliating (how many GUYS get shift-click and ctrl-click explained to them verrrrrry slowwwwwly with eyes focussed on their chest?).

    Stick with it- buy games based on your preference and the message you want to send manufacturers (money sells)- write to progressive gaming magazines/groups/etc who are likely to publish your views and/or take you seriously, and when asked why you don’t play game X, shop at store Y or get tech help from Z tell them EXACTLY why.

    At least games are trying to improve and recognise their female audience to some extent- can’t say the same for comics…

  90. Anatolia
    June 13, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    They thrust, don’t they?

    Yep, they do that little ass-spanking-doggie-style-thrusting motion. Now that is suggestive, and it makes me almost blush. :)

    I’m not sure why the issue of the NE dance bugs me. Maybe it is just that I love watching women dance and by extension the female characters and the NE. I love the grace and beauty that women extend to the art of dance, even the mesmerizing swaying of hips. The dances like the blood elf with the short, stilted, robotic movements mimicking Britney Spears in whatever video that was are ok, too, but I really like the smooth transitions and the movements of Alizee–and translated to the WoW NE. I love watching women dance. To me, it is an expression of joy and confidence, and maybe I just recoil a bit inside when I see that disparaged or apologized for or guilt-tripped, and want to protect my feelings about it. In any case, I hope you enjoy your NE and enjoy the pleasures without the guilt. :)

  91. Medicine Man
    June 13, 2007 at 2:43 pm

    An oh so very long time ago I actually wrote an article about gender stereotypes in gaming. Going back and reading it now I’m not entirely sure about what I was trying to say, other than I thought FF8 was a terrible game with terrible characters. Here’s a link in case anyone’s interested: http://www.gamegirlz.com/editor/dumbwomen3.shtml

    In hindsight, I’m a touch surprised at how unconsciously patronizing and niave I was. Oh well… my heart was in the right place. Here’s the column I was replying to: http://www.gamegirlz.com/editor/dumbwomen.shtml

    The gaming industry has used some really crap stereotypes for a very long time. I’m not sure if it’s unconcsious bias or marketing strategy, but it has been the norm for as long as I can remember. Too bad really, because it is also frequently lazy and uninteresting.

  92. Medicine Man
    June 13, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Another article that covers the gender politics in World of Warcraft to some extent: http://www.axess.se/english/2007/04/theme_strom_ernkvist.php

    In my experience, men playing female characters is very common in WoW. In fact, my main character is a female tauren shaman. I went cow for aestetic reasons, although I suspect I’m in the minority of people who think female tauren are cute. :)

    The interesting thing is, the population advantage has typically been in favour of the Alliance – the faction with the majority of the conventionally pretty avatars. I also have encountered quite a few anecdotes of people trying out the Horde for the first time after Blizzard added the Blood Elves – a new Horde race that is more or less the fantasy equivalent of Ken and Barbie dolls. I’m not sure to what extent, but conventional visual appeal has an impact on what people decide to play.

  93. Medicine Man
    June 13, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    There’s so much in this thread I’d like to respond to, but I’ll just leave it at this: wtf?! Sabin was gay? How did I miss that?

    @Arianna — I agree, Sylvanna Windrunner is badass. She’s the fantasy equivalent of Mao Tze Tung; ruthless, amoral, and sickeningly effective. The missions in Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne where Sylvanna and her sister banshees wage a guerilla war against the Burning Legion in the Ruins of Lorderan are just brilliant. She became the Banshee Queen of the Forsaken by her own hand.

  94. bluetara
    June 13, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    I’m so excited to see a post about this! So first of all, thanks for writing it. I’m not a serious gamer, but most of my friends are, and as a result I’ve been sucked into WoW. Being a feminist, I’m constantly evaluating WoW to figure out if I’m losing some integrity by playing.

    The way I’ve rationalized the avatar issue that you mentioned is that it’s equal opportunity idealization/sexualization. For the most part, the male avatars are as ridiculous in appearance as the female. What I enjoy about WoW is that strong female heroes play an important role in the lore. There’s Sylvana, like others have mentioned, and the entire Night Elf army is composed of women. The fact that women have played significant roles in the history of Azeroth makes me very happy (although some like Azshara follow the stereotype of beautiful and morally bankrupt leaders).

    The racism though is more complicated to me. The war between the Alliance and Horde is very clearly an issue of west vs. non-west, civilized vs. savage. And the fact that the avatars of the Horde are then barely recognizable as humanoid, and they’re considered to be the less intelligent side of the war. Yeah, that’s pretty messy. There’s a lot of Noble Savage stuff going on in Horde lore. Also, I can only think of one human NPC that is not white in the game. Racism is still a huge problem in fantasy, even while sexism seems to be lessening.

  95. Matthew
    June 13, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    It’s strange. I have, for various reasons, played female characters on MMORPGs and led people to believe it was a woman playing them. The difference in treatment was astounding.

    I recall one time where I was on a Neverwinter Nights server and somebody had just killed another player’s character. It was a female character, and the person who had done the killing was saying something like, “Are you a girl in RL? Cuz if you are, sorry about that. Would never hit a woman.” He got jumped on by several people over that, including me.

    I was actually the most vocal one, and had some woman send me a private message confirming my vocal guess that, “Yes, there are a lot more women on here than people think. I’m one, and I keep it quiet for just this reason.”

    I’ve been doing tabletop gaming for years now, and am currently running a game at a local boardgame store. Gender ration is even, excluding me. One is my wife, another is the girlfriend of one of the other players and the other is one of a couple, though I think she was the one who made her boyfriend sign up.

    The one who was pressured into signing up is treated rather patronizingly by others in the group, sadly. Didn’t like hearing her boyfriend say how proud he was of her portrayal in some specific instance. Dammit, he’s dating her, he should know how competent she can be if she so chooses; she’s just not all that interested in D&D is all (I was surprised that she expressed an interest in Shadowrun though; she’s got to be the only one in my group that likes that game and I thought she was completely disinterested in tabletop RPGs).

  96. Holly
    June 13, 2007 at 4:58 pm

    The interesting thing about night elves is in how popular they are, overall, according to a study by Nick Yee, who’s mentioned in the article Medicine Man linked.

    Night elves (the “stereotypical skinny model” looking race) and gnomes (the “cutest” race) are the two most popular choices for female players. Note that this survey doesn’t cover how many of these players are crossplaying (playing an avatar of the other gender), but according to another study only 3% of female players crossplay. ((Because WoW is only 16% female, this means that on average half of the female avatars you encounter in game are played by male players, and less than 1% the other way around.)

    Basically, I think this suggests that most female players are going for conventional notions of attractiveness. And in fact, some of the early accounts of how avatars were modified during the WoW alpha suggest the same thing — even female players demanding more “sexy” avatars, etc. It’s almost become an ingrained part of the culture. I mean, maybe there would have been more outrage if there was exactly one female body type (as in City of Heroes, actually, where I do remember a lot of complaints about not being able to have different body shapes) or if the women looked like the extra-exaggerated characters in Dead or Alive. But you probably could make a case that for WoW, at least, the developers were catering to wait their female audience wanted as well — which is not too surprising if you think about what the average person, regardless of gender, thinks of as attractive. Games are just part of the larger beauty myth, and offer an opportunity to control / express yourself through an idealized avatar. So maybe they do hold up a very detailed mirror, through interactivity and choice, to what our preconceptions are.

    I mean, I picked up Oblivion for the PC a few weeks ago, and it has the most ridiculously customizable face editor I’ve ever seen. I spent a lot of time messing around with my avatar’s facial bones and eyes and giving her dark circles under her eyes and so forth. More than I did playing, actually… but the “game” that I ended up spending the most time on while doing that was “what settings do I, personally, find the most attractive?” I have to say, it wasn’t anything amazingly far from conventional notions of beauty, maybe a little more quirky and tough looking.

    In WoW, I play a female troll — among the least popular racial choices for female players, weirdly because they were definitely the most conventionally attractive choice for female avatars on the Horde side until the expansion. Female trolls also have a sexy dance, based on a Shakira video, but nobody ever talks about it. This is probably in part because there just aren’t as many female trolls; night elves have become emblematic of the “World of Warcraft avatar chosen only for sexy poses,” and I would be very unsurprised if they were at the top of the list for crossplaying guys too, along with the newer (Britney Spears dancing) blood elf girls. It’s practically a stereotype, night elf being synonymous with “sexy girl avatars dancing in their underwear” and even the infamous caught masturbating to the night elf dance video.

    Female trolls, on the other hand, have tusks, and joke about chomping on and eviscerating their partners, and how they like to mate over twenty times in one night when they’re in heat. I don’t know why they’re not as popular, personally I think that’s dead sexy. (Well, not dead sexy… that term ought to be reserved for the decomposing ladies and gents of the Forsaken: “What? of course they’re real. They’re not MINE, but they’re real!”)

  97. Kristen
    June 13, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    Gmae shops are kinda creepy to enter when you’re a girl and people keep asking if you’re buying “for your boyfriend” (I had one sales assistant spend 5 minutes talking to me about a game I’d just picked up and “but if you think your boyfriend would like Serious Sam how about getting him THIS as well?”)

    Wow. Seriously? That’s terrible. I have to say I’ve never experienced this myself. But then the GameStops I’ve been to generally have a women working there as well. Oddly enough I had the opposite reaction the other day when I dropped in to buy a game for my husband. He mentioned earlier in the week he wanted some final fantasy game for the DS, so I went in to get it and had to ask which one was newer since the FF III looked newer, but was earlier in the series than another FF game. (Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve never played Final Fantasy.) Anyway, when I explained to the clerk that it was for my husband, he looked at me like I had grown a second head. People are so weird.

    I mean, I picked up Oblivion for the PC a few weeks ago, and it has the most ridiculously customizable face editor I’ve ever seen.

    Yup. My character looks exactly like me. It’s almost creepy. But at least there is awesome armor (although I strenuously object to being required to wear a DRESS when not in armor.)

  98. Medicine Man
    June 13, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Female trolls, on the other hand, have tusks, and joke about chomping on and eviscerating their partners, and how they like to mate over twenty times in one night when they’re in heat. I don’t know why they’re not as popular, personally I think that’s dead sexy.

    “I’ve got all this and personality too.” *haawwkk spit*

    Trolls rock. For some reason my guild has a metric crap ton of them too. In classic, more than half of our priests and rogues were trolls – male and female.

  99. rachel
    June 13, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    i stopped playing after nintendo 64. all i did was be peaches in mario kart and mario party. natalia or whatever her name was in golden eye was pretty cool too. once halo and all those war games became popular, i quit. war sucks enough, why would i want to spend all my time immersed in it?

  100. Ron O.
    June 13, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    I’ve never been a video gamer, but you did say you wanted to hear from us. I didn’t have the money for it when I was a kid, so I never really learned. The few times I tried as an adult it was too frustrating just working the damm controls to be any fun. I could get past my frustration and learn, but why? In my (limited) experience the culture is unsupportive and mocking of newbies. I have no intention of learning any time soon. Which is kind of too bad. I like driving games and occassionally go to an arcade to play. But I choose to surround myself with kind and supportive people and I havn’t gotten that impression. It reminds me of junior high, where you were expected to know how to play sports without any instruction and if you didn’t you were socially outcast. Frankly, I’m suprised at the number of people who enjoy that, but there are lots of thing others do that I don’t get. Whatever floats your boat.

  101. j swift
    June 13, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    Ron O, I have had a generally positive experience playing WoW. People will help you out. I help people out alot too. I will not hand out money to other characters nor will I use my higher level characters to walk people through quests with ease. That removes all the challenge from it.

    If you get in a good guild, the people in them will help you learn the ropes. You also have to just get out in the game and get whacked alot. You learn the right ways to use your class skills by doing that. When you team with a group of people you should be proficient with your class abilities and you will learn the right tactics in battle. This is where you are most likely to catch shit from fat heads though, it gets tedious if you have a inexperienced player and that is leading to breaking up the flow of the battle.

    What I find pretty amazing about MMORPG is that you take a group of strangers who are reasonably competent at the game and they will often fall into synchronized team that can kick ass. I found this particularly true in City of Heroes. Of course you change one character out and it just does not work. No chemistry as it were.

    As with life in general there are always overly competitive assholes in the games. If you fall in with one of those, you wait to a break in the game and leave.

  102. Mercredi
    June 13, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I think the Suikoden RPG series by Konami, while not a pillar of feminism, does fairly well. We have strong female characters who are dressed _sensibly_ in all of the games, who play major roles in the plot and certainly break the glass ceiling of magic. Many of the women in the games are capable generals, bodyguards, brilliant strategists, heads of their clan or army, founders of rebellions, and wise seers who know way more than they’re going to tell you right now. That’s not to say there isn’t objectification in some of the character designs – Jeane, for example, who wears less every game – nor that the games are perfectly gender-balanced – but they do fairly well. There are also canon lesbians in the fifth game. :)

    I suppose I’ve always been easier on Squaresoft (makers of the Final Fantasy series), because especially in more modern times they’ve really been slipping some very interesting attacks against homophobia, sexism, and racism into their storylines for a while now and has been constantly bucking the “conventional” wisdom that that will not sell. They’ve attacked gender definition in Chrono Trigger (cross-dressing villain), Final Fantasy VII (main character cross dresses), and Final Fantasy VIII (genderless playable character). Homophobia in SaGa Fronteir (lesbian main character who actually has to deal with internalized homophobia), Wild Arms 2 (main character is a gay male who isn’t stereotypically feminized because of it), and Wild Arms 1 (lesbian NPC).

    I don’t mean to be rude, but… are we playing the same games, here? I mean, you’re right about Saga Frontier, but I’m not quite sure Flea is necessarily an attack on gender conventions (I got the sense that his/her gender ambiguity was supposed to be considered funny, not respected). And Cloud’s cross-dressing most certainly isn’t.
    In the effort to get the female clothes for the main male character of FF7 to cross-dress (so that he can sneak into a brothel – there’s nothing particular gender-bending about the motivation here. If anything, it’s meant to be funny that Cloud is cross-dressing, because lolz man in dress!), you have to go to the gym and play some minigames. There’s also a fair amount of stereotyping in the character who gives you the clothing. It’s not the standard US stereotypes, to be sure, but they’re there, and slightly homophobic/transphobic. And that game has other proglems with gender issues – Tifa’s character design, for example. *wince*

    Additionally, Squaresoft is not the producer of the Wild ARMs series. That’s Media Vision, at least for the first few games.
    The main character of WA2, Ashley, is a straight or bi male, ad evidenced by his having a girlfriend. (Unless you’re going to argue that his romantic relationship with Marina is due to him being in denial about his sexual orientation, but that’s going beyond the scope of what’s presented in the game.) If you meant Brad… I really didn’t see any evidence of Brad’s sexual orientation being anything in particular. He’s got war buddies, but there’s not really any indication of those relationships being romantic, at least in the US translation. So while Brad may certainly be gay, or straight, or bi, the (US translation of the) game doesn’t really seem to address that.

    And I can’t even guess who the lesbian NPC in WA1 would be, to be perfectly honest. There’s just not much evidence about anyone’s sexual orientation in that game, except Jack’s.

  103. Torri
    June 14, 2007 at 3:26 am

    I’m a big game fan… I’m heavily into RPGs and anything with ‘shiney’ graphics.
    I have to bring up Final Fantasy 9 which is still my favorite game in the FF franchise. Mainly because of Kuja and the battle system. Kuja is the main villian, he’s male, sashays his wonderful hips and is more scantily dressed then any of the main female characters in that game. His femininity isn’t particularly a joke either and after he was described to me by a friend I knew I just had to play the game to see him. He’s also more theatrical then camp, his monologues sound like lines from an old poem and he often quotes a play in the game “I want to be your canary”
    I’m currently playing Fatal Frame 3 and have recently finished kingdom hearts 2.

  104. karpad
    June 14, 2007 at 3:43 am

    You know what game I want to enjoy, really I do, but know I won’t be able to?

    The upcoming Conan MMORPG. because while I love REH’s Hyborian Age fiction, (yes, you CAN enjoy Conan the Barbarian and be feminist. it’s just difficult, depending on whose take on the character you like ht most.) and the gameplay mechanics seem great (much customizable, the gameplay is stand alone driven for quite a while, so no interacting with jackasses until you’re high enough level to not need to put up with jackasses.), female PCs start as sex slaves.

    that isn’t optional. Male characters are galley slaves on a ship, female characters are sex slaves in the captain’s quarters.

    and that little bit of information basically tells me all I need to know about which version of Conan we’re getting. No Practical and Deadly Low Fantasy for us.

    Really wish there were more like Beyond Good and Evil and Dreamfall, and I’m definately looking forward to the gender-nonspecificity of BioShock. but otherwise, I’ve kind of stop caring about humans in console and computer games. Kirby has better gameplay, anyway.

  105. Arianna
    June 14, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Gmae shops are kinda creepy to enter when you’re a girl and people keep asking if you’re buying “for your boyfriend” (I had one sales assistant spend 5 minutes talking to me about a game I’d just picked up and “but if you think your boyfriend would like Serious Sam how about getting him THIS as well?”

    Tell me about it. This happened a while back, my boyfriend and I were in EB, and I decided to pick up a copy of KOTOR (clearly this was before the release of WoW, I haven’t bought any other PC games since beta) and there I was, standing at the counter with my copy of KOTOR in hand, and the clerks kept trying to talk to my boyfriend! He was flabbergasted and tried to ignore them.. it took rather a few AHEM!s from me to get their attention.

    The next time I was in that EB, I was with a female friend picking up an extra dance mat for DDR because one of ours had finally worn out from extended use. The clerk asked us if we had the game, and we said yes we just needed an extra mat. That’s fine, because people are stupid sometimes, but he pressed.. .are you SURE you have everything else? You don’t need the game? or another mat? Because it won’t work without the game you know.. .etc.

    Needless to say I avoided that EB afterwards until months later when I saw they finally hired a female clerk.

  106. Ron O.
    June 14, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    j swift – Thanks for responding, though I know I should avoid posting when I’m having a really bad day like yesterday. Anyway I wiki’d WoW and it looked pretty interesting. It doesn’t seem like you need a controler to play – just a keyboard, right? I’ll look into that. I used to do roleplaying LARPS and tabletop games (mostly World of Darkess), but I stopped when my group got too intense for me. I wasn’t interested in doing homework; I just wanted to show up, roleplay, drink some good wine, etc, but after a while that became unfair to those who had spent hours preparing.

    I also remember seeing one once where you have to build a community by using limited resouces wisely. Less war, more coorperation, but I don’t remembe the name of it, Civilization maybe? I’ll have to check it out.

    Also, I hadn’t really considered it, but I could probably also get a PC racecar game, though that migh require some additional hardware to be fun. I’m not abou to pay for an Xbox or any TV driven game at this point.

    Anyway, thanks again, you’ve given me some things to think about.

  107. Rhiannon
    June 14, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Arianna – That’s why I do all my game shopping Online.

  108. rmt
    June 14, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I play WoW, and I have three avatars, all female – a Dranaei paladin, a Blood Elf paladin, and an Undead priest.

    Do the over-exaggerated female attributes bother me? Somewhat. I wish there was more variation in the body types. A lot of my complaints in that regard are balanced by the fact that the femaleness of my avatars are strictly aesthetic. I’m no princess languishing in a tower. I kick as much ass as any other character, male or female (sometimes more ;P).

    I haven’t really been harassed in any way, with the exception of someone with a male avatar using the “lick” emote on me once. I employed my “slap” emote, and that put an end to that. Otherwise – no problems of any kind from either players in chat or avatars.

    I never see racist terms in chat, and I’ve only seen “f*g” get used once (the user got yelled at quite sufficiently before I noticed and hit my talk button). I hardly ever see homophobic comments (“that’s so gay” or similar), and it usually isn’t countenanced by the other users. Maybe I’m just lucky in that regard – I imagine it’s a lot worse on other servers – but I can only report what I know.

  109. Medicine Man
    June 14, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Ron O.

    You could be talking about any number of building simulation style games: Pharoh, Caesar, or any of their spiritual successors. They’re all kind of like Antiquity age SimCity with a little military defence thrown in.

    I would recommend Civilization IV for anyone who likes a nice abstract strategy game though. I blow countless hours playing low-difficulty builder games of Civ.

  110. Chet
    June 15, 2007 at 2:27 am

    I mean, I picked up Oblivion for the PC a few weeks ago, and it has the most ridiculously customizable face editor I’ve ever seen.

    I hated the Oblivion character generator.

    1) Not enough hair styles. The hair doesn’t even look real; just texture-mapped skullcaps.
    2) Too hard for me to make human-looking faces! I had more luck just clicking “random face” over and over again than trying to deal with a hundred sliders.

    Maybe my brain just doesn’t “do” faces that way. My wife didn’t have a problem with it at all. I was hopelessly lost trying to make a face that looked like a heroic badass instead of a malformed monkey.

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