Women in Video Games Videos

While I was out playing Renaissance Man, several people have responded to the Tropes vs Women video that I posted before I left. Not here, of course, but people have been responding all over the internet, and for the most part it’s exactly what you’d expect. I’d like to address a few of those responses.

The first to go through is Thunderf00t’s insipid and blinkered response. Now, I expect very little from Thunderf00t when he’s not debating creationists, largely because with the exception of that singular subject he seems entirely incapable of addressing actual arguments, preferring instead to carefully construct strawmen that he can beat to pulps later for the amusement of his equally vapid fanbase. But let’s look into the arguments he makes in his response video.

Thunderf00t makes precisely three arguments:

1. If Sarkeesian were making the points he is claiming rather than the ones she is actually making, then she would have no point.

2. Double Dragon isn’t sexist because in the 2012 remake the bad guy gets punched in the nuts once by the person he kidnapped.

3. If the market supports something, that makes it automatically right and good.

Really, that’s about it. Avicenna at A Million Gods does a great job of tearing this apart in great detail, but here are the things that Mr. F00t leaves out:

1. By switching focus to the original Double Dragon, he invalidates his “but she punches him in the nuts” argument because that wasn’t in the original.

2. According to backstory of the game, Marian is supposed to be one of the people who teaches at the dojo, yet when put up against the most common of male street thugs (guys you beat up dozens of times through the game), she goes down in one punch.

3. She didn’t make this happen and defeat the bad guy. She held her fist in the air while he fell on it. This is no more some sort of example of her strength than my tripping over a sleeping Navy Seal makes me an unqualified badass.

4. The original game ends with Jimmy and Billy fighting one another over who gets to be with Marian. Despite all of ‘F00t’s moralizing about how it’s such a pure expression of human kindness to want to rescue a loved one in danger, he doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. Because I can think of no better way to show somebody how much I love them than by beating up another loved one to determine which of us has the right to fuck her later, apparently regardless of her feelings on the subject.

But one nut shot in a remake 25 years later totes makes up for all of that, because what possibly worse thing could there be in the world, amiright?

I could probably dedicate an entire post to how he doesn’t seem to understand that “strength” is more than physical strength, that the chart in Sarkeesian’s thesis is where those qualities are socially attributed, not some sort of wishlist, or his incredibly poor hospital analogy wherein he says that feminism must treat hospitals as bad because doctors are acting upon patients (for the record, a major problem with the health care industry is that doctors treat their patients like objects rather than like individuals), but it doesn’t seem worth it. Thunderf00t will never read this, and if he does, it’s highly unlikely to have any impact on somebody who is so dedicated to opposing feminism yet continues to have absolutely no idea what it is.

As per usual, for a more rational response, let’s turn to Bob Chipman (a.k.a. MovieBob or The Game Overthinker). The first thing I want to address is that he had an excellent response to the people who immediately complained that Sarkeesian was somehow ripping people off because, I suppose, her first video didn’t have enough explosions and alien robots. Here’s a sample.

Having watched the video itself: She’s shooting and outputting in HD/broadcast-quality (this has clearly been designed for classroom/seminar presentation moreso than the web video) and most the MASSIVE amount of game footage looks to have been captured from either original sources (I’m assuming MAME or download-service copies for the retro stuff) – which requires both expensive equipment and the expense of the systems and games themselves. Also, I don’t know if she does her own graphics and animation, but her transitions all look like original work; and even if she did do them herself the “going rate” for that kind of work can get pretty damn high especially if you plan to buy or license it in perpuity.

However, I highly recommend that you watch his Overbytes episode about it. For some reason I can’t embed this type of video into my WordPress blog, so just follow the link.

Bob’s point is largely that after all of the controversy, all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, all of the months of fear-mongering about how this will…do something, I guess. I was never really clear on what people were afraid of other than some woman might not be talking about how wonderful men and video games are. But after all of that, the result was fairly non-threatening. It’s not some excoriation of video games and the video game industry, nor some fiery manifesto imploring women to stand up and burn game cartridges on the bodies of the men who owned them. It’s a reasonably dry but interesting academic discussion on the use of the damsel in distress trope in video games and how the games industry keeps falling back on it.

In fact there is almost zero criticism in the first episode other than acknowledging things like the repetition of themes and the overuse of character types that the gaming community was complaining about long before Anita Sarkeesian showed up.

Bob also addresses Double Dragon, pointing out that Sarkeesian’s only real criticism of anything in the video is calling the opening sequence of it “regressive crap.” But, of course, it’s supposed to be regressive crap. Double Dragon works very hard to be this, “sleezy, cheesy, grindhousey 80s mashup of…The Warriors and Fist of the Northstar.” That’s not to say that that makes it less problematic, and it’s also not to say that I don’t love Double Dragon and that people shouldn’t play it, but that is a completely different topic. The point is that when people like Phil Mason (Thunderf00t) try to make the argument that it isn’t, that’s much like saying that this blog is not attempting to be polemical. Of course I’m making an effort to say that some things are right and some things are wrong and demonstrate my point through evidence, and of course Double Dragon is attempting to play up the worst aspects of the ultra-masculine action genre so popular in the late 70s and through the 80s. To argue otherwise is to reveal that you either haven’t paid attention, or are ideologically committed to that not being the case.

Jim Sterling’s video today also takes on a similar point (sorry, again I can’t embed this type of video in WordPress for some reason), which is that not only are there very few female protagonists in video games, there is active opposition to them and, when they are introduced, to allowing them to behave like human beings. In this video, Sterling addresses Mason’s ridiculous free-market fapping (albeit indirectly) by pointing out the chicken and egg nature of video game marketing when it comes to gender.

Basically, Sterling’s point seems to be that it’s very hard to tell whether games marketed to women (or at least not exclusively to men) don’t sell well, so they’re not worth marketing, or whether the fact that only about half the budget is given to marketing games not primarily aimed at men reduces the sales for those games.

What really struck me was the quotes from Jean-Max Morris, the creative director of Remember Mewho said in an interview with The Penny Arcade Report that, “We had some [publishers] that said, ‘Well, we don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.'” and, even more disturbing from my perspective as somebody who would love to see just what they’re afraid of in more video games, “We had people tell us, ‘You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.’”

I’m really not sure what to be more offended by, the idea that women can’t be main characters in video games and have relationships because the player is likely male, or that male players feel “awkward” at the very idea that their on-screen avatar might be doing something that could make them, as players, feel gay. And that’s somehow bad.

The point that Sterling eventually makes, and I would use to respond to Mason, is that it may be true that video games with female protagonists or that don’t immediately satisfy the sexual power fantasies of male players might not sell as well, but that’s still really, really sad. More to the point, that doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It’s the result of a society that tells women that they aren’t supposed to like video games, then turns around and refuses to make video games that might appeal to women because “women don’t like video games.” Games with male protagonists and heterosexual love stories are no inherently more fun for satisfying some magic formula. This is no more valid or reasonable than when people, notably even the otherwise pretty brilliant Christopher Hitchens, suggest that women are somehow less funny because…something. Well, in Hitchens’ case, he makes the incredibly stupid suggestion that it’s because women have boobs to get attention and don’t need humor, which reveals how even very smart people can have really, really ridiculous ideas.

The point is that the “market” argument only holds water if games are marketed the same way, but they aren’t. You’re otherwise left with this circular argument of “we don’t market to women because women don’t play video games because we don’t market to them…” ad infinitum.

I suspect that video games, as they struggle to find their place as an artistic medium, will also continue to struggle with gender like every other artistic medium has or is. However, this is also a really good time, while gamers are already angry about other things (like the Sim City almost-launch), to really start to address these issues and demand a better product overall. Not just one free of online DRM, but one that begins to represent other types of people, notably women, and treats them as valuable characters, not simply side-kicks and objects to be won.

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Game Overthinker and Some Thoughts on Self Identification

The new Game Overthinker came out last week and I just got around to watching it. It’s very story-heavy and will be the last episode of it that Bob hosts on Screwattack.com due to its formatting not really being what the website needs.

The chief focus of it is Nintendo’s “I’m Not a Gamer” campaign and the surrounding controversy among gamers who, after decades of loyalty to the gaming giant, feel a little put out that Nintendo is trying to distance itself from them. Gaming grew up as a culture of the rejected and dispossessed, and having the refuge to which many of us ran running away from us now is not only hurtful, but infuriating.

However, as Bob overthinks the problem, he brings up a point that changes the narrative a bit. Think about how many people are involved in some form of gaming these days. Not just console gaming, but Facebook games (I know several of you reading this are because you keep sending me requests that I will never, ever respond to), smart phone games, enhanced reality games, etc. We are a culture that craves entertainment and have found new ways to satisfy that craving. Bob’s thesis is, essentially, that in a world where everyone is a gamer, nobody is a gamer, and the label fails to have any sort of significance. I find this a little optimistic, since I think that there is a certain weight placed on self-identification in the application and growth of subcultures (i.e. claiming membership in a group has a lot of resonance, hence why most people would agree with basically every feminist ideal yet are reluctant to call themselves feminists because it’s easier to believe the details than to claim the name), but there’s a certain comfort in thinking that what was once a rallying cry for the dispossessed can be put down, the fight basically over if the result is not what anyone expected. Gaming is mainstream, everybody does it, and claiming to be a gamer is no longer a defiant cry against those who told you only freaks and losers played video games.

That being said, it made me wonder how this may be a model for other sorts of self-identification. The rise and embrace of gaming is a fairly new phenomenon and it’s hard to compare the treatment of gamers, who have had it comparatively easier for no more than a single generation, to the ideological and physical minorities that have been mistreated for centuries and watched a bunch of kids breeze past (or sometimes step on) them to get to a point of general mainstream acceptance. I suppose you could argue that the building of the gamer subculture had foundations laid by the movie geeks of a good portion of the 20th century, who owe their leaps to the teachnology geeks of the Victorian period, who were accorded status by the natural philosophers of the Royal Society, etc., but that ignores that racial minorities, women, LGBT people, etc. existed through all of that in largely the forms they are currently in and received none of the structural support that gamers could claim they walked into. Basically, what was it that gamers had that bought them into the mainstream?

I think the answer is pretty simple: games. Games are entertaining, and growing more so every day. The availability of games to a wider audience and the targeting of games to new demographics meant that in order to be a part of the club, you had to stop knocking the club. Gamers offered a benefit that, and this is important, signified no potential for loss to cultural gate keepers.

This is why “gamer” is a different label in many respects. The only thing that people lose by accepting gamers and gaming culture into their world is the ability to beat up on gamers and gaming culture, despite what Nintendo’s ad campaign seems to imply. That’s an easy trade when you get awesome video games for it that target you and make you happy.

Not having to claim one’s atheism, on the other hand, will probably not be something we can look forward to in the near future. The very act of not believing threatens whatever dominant religious hegemony exists in your particular region of the world. We believe because we all believe, and the existence of non-believers threatens the power, prestige, and control of those at the top of that faith-based pyramid. All we offer, ideologically, is the abandonment of that thing that we’re trying to subvert, and that’s just not as much of a selling point as games are.

Similarly, LGBT activism or feminism offer a world where heterosexuality isn’t the assumed default and male is not inherently treated as superior, and the cultural gate keepers tend to be heterosexual males who quite like being assumed to be that and treated as superior. There is nothing to offer other than a sense of having done justice.

I’ve said a number of times that the reason why the LGBT community co-opted “pride” and “straight pride” is not a thing is because it’s the opposite of “shame” and straight people have never been told they should be ashamed of their sexuality. The taking on of labels is usually as a reaction to those who say that the thing which those labels signify is shameful, and thus we proudly proclaim our allegiance, defiantly refusing to be ashamed. With gaming, it’s no longer something to be ashamed of, any more than being able to use the internet is, so the label becomes more limited, if not entirely unnecessary.

That’s why I can almost see this Nintendo ad campaign in a hopeful fashion. Perhaps now I’m the one being optimistic, but it would be nice if the other labels we use to push back against shaming tactics can someday start to crumble from lack of necessity. It won’t be today, and probably not tomorrow, but it’s something to look forward to.

New GameOverthinker: Ask Ivan

I love, love, love Game Overthinker. It’s my favorite web video series, not only for the really smart commentary on video games and video game culture, but I’ve grown to love the corny plot segments that really do a fantastic job of mocking and satirizing that same culture.

The Game Overthinker

In this episode, we have a mailbag that’s probably their best so far, answered by Ivan the Intern. Things to watch out for: how many times Ivan is asked his favorite pony, the note perfect parody of hardcore gamers in the Robothinker, Ivan’s answer to “What’s with you and Tinkerbell?”, the difference between censorship and vocally disliking something at the 11:06 mark.

Most especially, watch the extended commentary beginning at 12:30 about why a girl Link would actually be a fantastic idea. There’s nothing particularly masculine about Link, he’s relatively gender-neutral to feminine in design, and there’s no reason why Zelda can’t remain a woman in this version. And no, that isn’t me saying that Princess Zelda should have a lesbian love affair with the legendary hero of Hyrule. As Ivan points out (among other things, so watch it), in most versions of Zelda, the two of them are just friends, barely know one another, and were even related in A Link to the Past. We just have it in our heads that they must be a couple.

Anyway, just watch it. If you’re new to the series, scroll for a quick “The Story Thus Far” summary for the plot bits before and after the analysis. I won’t do this every time (maybe I’ll just link back) and while you can skip the plot bits, I recommend watching them since they’re fun.

The Game Overthinker (Bob Chipman) is a hero that stands between the world of games and our world. The barrier between them is weakening, letting video game creatures through. For the most part, there’s small things like Goombas or throw away ninjas, but occasionally a real threat passes through. First came the Anti-thinker, a douchebag who tried to take over the Overthinker’s show. Then came the Pyrothinker and Cryothinker, two ninjas who burned down arcades all over the city. Bob defeated all of them, and started gathering colored crystals that seemed to be fueling their powers, each with a different prime element magic.

In the ruins of one of the burned arcades was found the Retrothinker, a guy who loved video games and cryogenically froze himself so he could see how amazing video games of the future would be. Disappointed by the flood of Call of Duty clones and Zynga games, he was transported to another dimension where a mysterious figure imparted to him a colored crystal that turned him into the Necrothinker and gave him the ability to raise video game zombies (characters that nobody remembers any more). Bob defeated him, too, and Retrothinker has now moved in.

At the beginning of this arc, the Anti-thinker returned, only to be handily defeated by the Omegathinker, a man from the future named Clogs Shoes who tells Bob about the appearance of the Robothinker and subsequent destruction of the Earth. Clogs then warns Bob not to get involved, as the Robothinker will kill him.

Beyond that, the police commissioner is a rabbit (Commissioner Bunifacio, but often called “Commissioner Bunnyface”) and the ambiguous Senator Lieberson, our first Ninja-American Senator, has been making frequent appearances.

Ok, now go watch them all. Leave comments about things you enjoyed or want to discuss in more detail.