Following on from last months interview with a truly talented and funny artist, I got into a heated discussion on gaming. One comment that kept cropping up was how sexist games are. Even the most cursory look at sites like Sexy Game Babes (don't judge!) shows some serious wish fulfillment on the part of the designers. Now, apart for a fondness for Elves,I don't really play games, that is more Chic Geek's thing. Fortunately, a friend was able to point me in the right direction for answers.
Hi, would you introduce yourself please.
My name is Anna, though online I mostly go by Wundergeek. I write a feminist gaming blog called Go Make Me a Sandwich, in which I explore issues of sexism in gaming. In addition to being a cranky feminist blogger, I am an artist, photographer, and somewhat half-assed writer living in the wilds of Canada with a wonderful spouse and two slightly broken cats.
How do you break a cat? Mine seem totally boneless and brainless!
I wouldn't know - ours were broken when we got them. Neither of them meow properly, and they have a propensity for rolling around in our tub. Also, one of them has a curly tail. Even for cats they're pretty weird.
Sexism in the gaming community. Why?
Oh, jeez. Ask a toughie... Why is there so much sexism in life? Our society as a whole is sexist. Gaming is more sexist than mainstream society, but we can't claim that this sexism exists in a vacuum...
A lot of it is just inertia. When gaming started, it was pretty much a male-only hobby. All of the pioneers in game design were men, all of the first hobbyists were men, the vast majority of first-generation gamers are men. It led to the idea that being a man is somehow integral to being a gamer - that women who game are still not "real" gamers because they're not men. Game devs buy into this idea too - games are designed with the presumed 18-24 horny male audience in mind. A lot of male gamers like this - they don't want to lose their scantily-clad sex objects - and they will fight vigorously against anything that could result in the Dead or Alives or Soul Calibur IVs or Duke Nukem Forevers of the world being taken away.
So when women who game try to express the radical idea that we are people we face backlash from men on two fronts. The men who want to keep their scantily clad porn stars know what they like is wrong and they don't care. These guys are usually the ones you hear about saying horrific things on XBox Live. (Just check out Fat, Ugly, Or Slutty for some examples of what I'm talking about...) For these guys, the misogyny is almost part of the gaming culture.
The other sometimes-problematic group is men who aren't necessarily attached to pornular women in their games but who have a hard time separating criticism of a game and its developers from criticism of them as gamers. A lot of the time it's this subset that resorts to flailing and strawmen and arguments like "well she's a crazy feminist", because if the games they like are sexist then that might make them sexist as well - which is an idea they just can't deal with. (And one that's not necessarily true. I'm always careful to reserve judgment for game devs and companies and not judge individual gamers for their tastes.) The guys in this group aren't all bad - I've had interactions that started out bad and turned out positive - but they're also the quickest to dismiss my feminism as "radical" and "crazy".
To be fair, there are men who don't fit into either of these groups, who don't like stupid sexist characters in their games and who don't like the misogynistic behavior that happens in the game community - so please don't think I'm saying that all men who game are mouth-breathing woman-haters. But, sad to say, these guys are in the minority of gaming men.
You do massively in depth analysis of game characters. It sometimes feels like I am reading a science journal. Why?
Well this gets back to why I started GMMaS in the first place. The gaming world is rampantly sexist and I got tired of being silent about it. The thing is, this being the internet, you can't just point at something and say "that's sexist" without being able to back up what you're saying - otherwise you're just another crazy person on the internet. So the detailed analysis I do is so that I can say "no really, that's sexist and here's why".
Being able to back up what I'm saying really helps me reach out to people outside the feminist community, which is really what I'm trying to do. I really want gamers who don't identify as feminists to think about the sexism and misogyny that is prevalent in the gaming world.
You have a large readership. How does it feel knowing that you can influence the success or failure of a game?
I have a large readership, it's true - which is something that still baffles me. I honestly thought when I started my blog that I would be doing the internet equivalent of ranting crazily in the wilderness. The popularity I've enjoyed is something that encourages me because it means that there is at least an audience for the stuff that I'm saying. But I'm afraid that I don't have any real power to influence whether a game succeeds or fails. My blog is pretty unapologetically feminist, which selects for a pretty biased audience.
Sadly, the people who do have the ability to influence whether a game succeeds are all game "journalists" who have almost universally forsaken objective reviews and actual, you know, journalism, for transparent attempts to manufacture controversy in an effort to garner pageviews. (I'm looking at you, Jim Sterling.)
Trolls are a huge problem on any blog, especially ones that attack what they hold dear. How do you deal with them so confidently?
Oh, man. I actually have huge self-confidence issues. But here's the thing, dealing with trolls on my blog actually got really easy once I realized that the trolls aren't really attacking me, per se. They're attacking the radical notion that I espouse that women are people, because they don't see any reason why the stuff they like should have to change. Also, all the trolls I get pretty much sound like they're reading straight from anti-feminist bingo. So it's pretty hard to get bent out of shape about the trolls I get since most of them are just helping me prove my point.
Graphic by permission of Naomi Braun. All rights reserved.