Daily Reaction: Are We Selling Sex or Games?

With core gaming seen as a male dominated market, and developers generally dominated by male workers, the Daily Reaction team of Seb and Dan weigh in on the topic of sexism in gaming.

Seb: It’s sad, it can’t be fun being a ‘girl gamer’. That term shouldn’t even really exist. OMG, you know what I saw the other day? A girl reader! And she was sitting next to a girl film viewer! What a crazy world we live in. There’s a segregation between males and females that doesn’t exist in any other entertainment industry, and it’s not healthy.

Before writing this piece, I hopped onto Xbox Live and pretended to be a girl. The amount of childish hatred and horrible language is just crazy. Those interested should check out Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a compilation of some of the ludicrous stuff that happens on XBL (and don’t turn this into a fanboy thing in the comments, XBL has more mics). Now I didn’t give a damn about what was said to me, but if I was a young female gamer, I could see that being rather disconcerting. And Microsoft – as well as Sony, Steam and the like – are still criticized for their lack of action over the matter.

And hell, games websites can’t exactly take the high ground on all this. Sites run with titles like “10 Hottest Game Characters” or “Best Nude Mods Eva!”, or they use intentionally provocative pictures to try to get you to click through, like the one below. Or they make a big deal out of Jade Raymond, simply because she’s a woman rather than her achievements in the industry.

Dan: The biggest problem with the games industry – and this is not something exclusive to it – is that most people do not understand gender or sex. Males usually celebrate the more masculine traits they are exposed to, while women usually do the same with more feminine experiences. This is not something that is exclusive to each gender, as both are actually human experiences, but socially the more we veer from our gender roles, the more we are seen as weird. This is especially more true for men than women, much like clothes, style, and tastes in certain things are more inclusive for women, than they are men. Which is a source of issue, as males more than females are not as adept to looking at the other side, so there is a lack of understanding on a substantial level.

While none of this is an excuse, but more of a way to rationalize the root cause, which needs to be addressed before we are able to even right this ship.

The other issue is that things like “Top 10 Hottest Female Game Characters” are not, in their basic form, sexism. Simply, comparing attraction of characters or images is not degrading to women, much as Kratos and his shirtless self is not degrading to men. Men and Women have physical traits which are designed to appeal to the opposite gender, and both men and women both are known to look at each other. So anyone who states that it is a form of “objectification” seems to be ignorant in the fact we are all objects before we are something more. Characteristics are always judged first, what you do with those judgments is what can be considered sexist. It is simply impossible to see every person you as more than an object, as you really do not have time to understand who they really are, but we must at the very least understand we are all human before we open our mouths.

Seb: I understand that there is a difference between reasonable sexuality and downright sexism. All forms of media use people’s carnal desires to increase sales, and it’s with both genders. You can’t tell me Megan Fox and Johnny Depp are paid such ludicrous amounts because of their acting talent.

But there still needs to be a line drawn, a mixture of the more adolescent-aimed games, and those aimed at people who aren’t thinking with their lower half. We’re seeing some move towards it with Faith from Mirror’s Edge, Chell from Portal and the new Lara Croft, who don’t look like they’re trying to win a Guinness World Record for the most over-the-top breast surgery (although I would love to see a completely fugly character to see how the market reacts). It’s still an issue in a lot of games though, and doesn’t make sense to chastise those XBL gamers while openly selling them games where the female characters have body armor that’s simply designed to enhance their chest and thighs, rather than protect them.

Perhaps this is down to publishers trying to appeal to the market, but it certainly isn’t helped by the inequality that female games developers sometimes suffer from. Develop did a survey of developers, and found that 6% were female and the female execs earned on average £3,000 less than their male counterparts, despite being more experienced. Maybe it’s this inequality that lead to Techland including a skill called “Feminist Whore” in the early build of Dead Island that was released on Steam.

Dan: Well the issue that seems to differentiate actors playing a role where their sexuality is marketed, and a game where someone creates a character’s sexuality – comes down to choice, and I think it is an odd thing to have someone of the opposite sex selling your gender’s sexuality. That is not so say it is wrong or right, but lines do need to be drawn, just neither group should be the deciding factor. As one side of the group can’t say more than “boobs” and the other can’t seem to ungeneralize against their status quo of “all men are dogs” mentality. Yet, it should be decided by those of us who can actually comprehend our own and others’ sexuality, embrace it, but not be dominated by it or other views.

Which is actually one of my biggest pet peeves in video games, as female characters seem to be jammed into games as a way to appease the female market. It is simply a way of saying “here is your dumb female character” and checking it off a box. As our industry grows, hopefully the understanding of the mass-markets needs and views will also grow. Female characters forced into games is not a way to appeal to that market, much like throwing a half-naked Megan Fox in Gladiator would not appeal to female moviegoers. Not to overstate my understanding as to what females want in their games, but studies have shown women seem to appreciate more organizational, and social methods of gameplay, which seems to associate with the popularity of social games like FarmVille with the female gamer. While male gamers like us may scoff at the issue, since it doesn’t seem relevant to us, the truth is that our industry is only a fraction of what it could be, as we really are marginalizing almost half of the population from the start.

Is sexism an issue in the games industry, or should everyone just have thicker skin? Share your thoughts in the comments below, email us pictures of your gender and follow Seb and Dan on Twitter to see our oversized breasts.

Be sure to email DR ideas, podcast comments and general stupid stuff to [email protected] to enter a competition to win nothing.