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Gamazon: 'Feminist Whore' Powers Activate.
by Arinn Dembo on 09/08/11 03:56:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Surprise, surprise.  Dead Island, whose PR and publishing team won an advertising award earlier this year for a pricey and very artistic trailer, finds its way back into the news this week in a much less pleasant way.  A non-final “developer’s build” version of the game, which was accidentally released on Steam a couple of days ago, has been cracked by an enterprising fan.  Turns out that one of the unlockable “Skills” for one of the two female avatars is called “Feminist Whore” in the original code base:  re-titled “Gender Wars” in the “sanitized fit-for-public consumption” version of the game, it allows the character to deal extra damage to anything male.

Now the game’s “International Brand Manager” and publisher have to scramble and apologize for what must appear, to any sane adult, as an unplanned glimpse of the naked, bald-faced, slavering hatred of women which lives and breeds in their developers.

They’ve hurried to say that the person responsible for this misogynistic snippet of code was a “Lone Gunman” tech monkey, who introduced the phrase into the debug code as a “private joke”.  Thus the notion that all feminists were angry whores would “represent the views of only a single person” on that development team—or in this industry in general—and only one guy (at most) should suffer any professional consequences, naturally.

As outside observers we are in no position to contradict the game’s publisher or its brand manager. Unfortunately, what we can say is that the incident brings up a lot of pertinent issues which are systemic to the entire industry as a whole.  If this was a completely isolated incident, or if we were all working in a field where men did not outnumber women at least 10 to 1, we might see things differently.  But as it stands, the apology and explanation rings a bit hollow to anyone who actually works in this industry, for two reasons.

The first, and the most important, is simply this:  virulent misogyny is not a freak incident in this business.  It is actually the norm in many studios.  It’s extremely common in the culture of gaming as a whole, and it is present in developers, gamers, publishers and the gaming press in copious abundance.  Anyone who doubts that insults like “Feminist Whore” are unwelcome in gaming has only to check the forum thread where the “Feminist Whore” skill was first discovered.  You’ll see a typical string of comments which you might see on virtually any gaming forum.  Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few comments attached to this post later that will be equally cringe-worthy and repugnant.

Second, whether the “Lone Gunman” story is true of the Techland team or not, this incident could have happened to a great many other teams at any time.  Those of us who develop games for a living know for a fact that there are very few “lone gunmen” on a team of game developers.   Yes, outrageous things can end up in the code base of a game as the result of a single individual!  (Remind me to tell you about the time that we received a database from another company which had gigabytes of porn on it.)  But as an impartial outside observer, I find it odd that the name for this Skill was the private joke for a single individual, when it fits so perfectly with the rest of the Character’s design.

The problem here is not just that “Feminist Whore” is an ugly phrase that expresses violent hatred toward women.  The problem is that even with a more “sanitary” name like “Gender Wars”, the core design seems to express misogynistic hostility.  And the basic idea of the “Feminist Whore” skill, (a skill that does more damage to males) is deeply embedded in the design of the Character; it is not an accident or a slip-up. 

Giving the Skill a less harsh and openly hateful name is a welcome nod to civility, but I find it troubling that the Skill itself, and the core idea it represents, was never questioned.   Looking at the Character from the viewpoint of a professional designer, I don’t find this particular ability and its name to be inconsistent with the design as a whole.  It’s an integral part of the character’s Skill Tree, and fits in to some degree with her artistic design and character backstory.

Purna from Dead Island

Purna has an entire skill path called “Fury”.  She’s designed from the ground up to be an Angry Female Killing Machine. Rage is one of her core strengths, and her character backstory accounts for both her consuming anti-male rage and her provocative appearance, which is unmistakably that of a high-priced escort.  If you remove the weapons and the boots, she is wearing clothes that I have seen many times worn by upscale sex workers.  This resemblance is intended, as her character description clearly states:

“Purna is a former officer of the Sydney Police department. After losing her career when she killed a child molester who could not be touched legally because of his wealth and connections, Purna then turned to working as a bodyguard for VIPs in dangerous places all over the world. She is hired not just for her skills but her looks as wealthy men did not mind showing up with Purna on their arm.”

As for the use of the epithet “whore”?  It’s an ugly one, to be sure.  I can’t really say what motivates people to use it for a joke, private or otherwise, but comedy is often used as a means of venting anger.  If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it was motivated in this case by the same poisonous, long-frustrated and unrequited desire that motivates a lot of heterosexual misogyny.  There is a species of hatred that is born in the certain knowledge that the only way you will ever lay hands on an attractive woman is if you pay her to endure it, attack her violently, or manipulate her 3D avatar in a game.

Leaving aside the armchair psychoanalysis to return to cold facts:  the problem with a revelation like this is that it casts a nasty light on other aspects of the game’s design and promotion.  Once the Angry Feminist Whores get a hold of it, they’re bound to point out that Dead Island won its advertising award for a cinematic in which they murdered and zombified a little girl and threw her out the window of a multi-story building.  They may also point out that both of the female characters in this game regenerate their hit-points with a Skill called “Vampire”.  Hyuk hyuk…because all women are bloodsuckers, right?  And yes, before you ask,  I checked—the male characters have no negative word attached to their powers of health regeneration.  Funny that.

The ironies for me in this situation are many.  For one, I have actually worked on a low budget zombie game, and I was guilty of creating a female character who had an unusual, gender-based power.  One of the ten Keys in Fort Zombie was called The Beauty Queen; she had the power to increase the Morale of all other characters, and specifically to reduce the negative Morale suffered by male characters--which made them less susceptible to Zombie Rot, better able to endure pain and privation, and less likely to abandon the group in times of trouble.

As a designer, I was reaching for a way to simulate an effect that I have seen many times in real life:  a woman whose beauty and grace made people of all sexes and ages smile when she smiled, and want to be near her.  Heather Pierson was designed and written as the woman who could make the men in her company want to be better men for her sake.

Even more ironically, in the Beauty Queen’s backstory I also tried to address the hatred that beauty can inspire, in people in all walks of life.  Heather Pierson has an extended riff on the old phrase “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful”, and how that applies to the zombie apocalypse.

Of course, Fort Zombie also included a lot of other female characters with different abilities, from medical and technical skill to magical ability, swordsmanship, marksmanship and persuasion.  At the end of the day, I had plenty of things to say about women.  For the record, I also had plenty of things to say about men.  But oddly enough, I managed to get through all the designs for male characters without giving them any “special Skills” like “Needle-Dicked Loser”, “Macho Asshole”, “Date Rapist” etc..

Upshot of this is simple, really.  It seems to me that the REAL “raging bitches” in this industry—the ones who literally foam in their fury and launch the dirtiest gender-based attacks--are not the women.   

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to adjust my evening gown, hurt something male, and vamp some hitpoints off somebody.  I’m in the middle of a crunch and the work of a Feminist Whore is never done.


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Comments


Ben Abraham
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*applauds*

Sarah Johnson-Bliss
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Excuse me while I pick up my jaw off the floor. It's 2011 people. Why are we still dealing with this mentality? Shouldn't we be past that by now?



Of course, I suppose I shouldn't be that shocked since DNF had a similar misogynistic attitude.

John Martins
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So there's no such thing as a feminist whore? Not true. Obviously the "whore" part is an insult rather than anything literal, but nevertheless a character who consciously chooses to do more damage specifically to males sounds like the perfect person for the title.



The fact remains that when a black person is killed within a videogame, we shouldn't be required to kill off a white person just to even things out and stay politically correct. It's ridiculous and we know it. So why should a stab at (a small selection of) one gender require balancing? Sexism certainly exists, but a single comment isn't proof of anything. Nevertheless that's all it takes for the media to have a field day and the moral highgrounders to start their pathetic ranting because the world isn't being fair. Isn't it? A few years ago the reply to that statement would have been "well, that's life".

Ernest Adams
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A single comment is evidence of a problem. It's only one item in an absolute mountain of evidence, which you can see by logging into any gamer forum. It's just that this particular instance caught public attention.



And if you don't take the moral high ground, what ground will you take? The moral low road? Put that on your resume, why don't you? "I compromise on values, and don't try to live up to any moral standards. Sexism is just life." Let's see how many job offers you get.

Altug Isigan
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In case there is no name for a character who consciously chooses to do more damage specifically to women, I suggest "husband & father".

Christopher Enderle
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Racism/Sexism and all those prejudices take generations to weed out. It requires the full force of society to scrub away all the remnants of older world views that exist in all forms of media and education that people are exposed to from birth. It's really not surprising, especially when you still have US politicians being elected that are openly hostile to laws that force equality.

Alan Au
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Not that this excuses the use of the distasteful "Feminist Whore" descriptor, but if one of the developers had indeed classified a male character skill as “Needle-Dicked Loser” or “Macho Asshole” in a development build, would we be having the same conversation? (I'm taking "Date Rapist" off the table) Ideally good taste would prevail regardless of gender, but in the case of the zombie apocalypse, I can only imagine that some characters would rightly deserve some nasty epithets. I mean, there are plenty of "Macho Asshole" characters running around in games these days, and not all female characters are prim matrons.

Arinn Dembo
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I think if the epithets had appeared in the same game for both male and female characters, the discussion wouldn't be about sexism: it would be about offensive language.



Since offensive terms were not applied equally, since we aren't working in an industry with gender equality in the workplace, and since we're not getting into what characters deserve to be called (only what they are called) we're having the discussion.

Jeff Beaudoin
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It is ridiculous to use Steam forum posts as an indicator of quality of people "in this business."



The skill name is obviously defined by a scripter or a coder in their backend/data. It is certainly possible that the designer who scripted the ability named it that as a throwaway name and no one else dealt with it at all. Using it as proof of pervasive misogyny throughout the studio (let alone game development as a whole) is similarly ridiculous.



The skill was unfortunately named, and Techland has, so far, taken the right steps to deal with the issue. Railing against this as well as the Vampire skill (the most obvious name for skills like this) and the inclusion of gender specific skills in general (which appeared without comment in Fallout 3 and actually have the potential to flesh out a character farther as your example of the beauty queen points out) doesn't honestly address the issue.

Arinn Dembo
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The Steam forum wasn't used as an indicator of people in the business, it was an indicator of the attitudes of gamers and of gaming culture. We have a problem, whether we want to admit it or not.

Ben Abraham
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Re: indicator of attitudes of people "in this business" I submit the comment thread on this article I wrote a couple weeks ago.



http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/36745/Opinion_Games_Criticism_
Women_Critics_And_Challenging_Sexism_.php



Obviously, game development as a whole shouldn't be tarred with the same brush, but to pretend there isn't a culture of (what Allison Croggon called in the thread) "unexamined attitudes of privilege" is to be either wilfully or accidentally ignorant. That said, all the developers I know personally are absolutely lovely, and are committed to eradicating this and other issues of inequality, so it's by no means an entirely bleak picture.

Arinn Dembo
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No, not an entirely bleak picture at all. I may be the only woman in the studio at the moment, but all the guys I work with are terrific people and there is nary a creep among them.

Adam Bishop
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Similarly, for an indicator of the attitudes of people "in this business", see my blog post about the pervasive sexism at the last studio I worked at:



http://gamasutra.com/blogs/AdamBishop/20101016/6219/Time_To_Grow_
Up.php

Jeff Beaudoin
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@Adam

Posts like yours are what I WOULD consider honestly addressing the issue.



My problem with this article is not that the conclusion is wrong, but that it fails to support that conclusion because the arguments are weak and/or fallacious.



Even if you are writing about something that is obviously true, you still need valid points.

Alex Hill
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I don't think a lot men would be as annoyed if a similar power called "Wife Beater" emerged (Yes this is an apparent sexist term but I am not sexist I'm just trying to get a point across, and yes this may be seen as an attack towards women but i'm using this example to suggest the male who selects this is a "Wife Beater" which is very derrogative and certainly not something I agree with, it would certainly insult me if someone were to call me it to my face)



Other examples of this in games include fallout 3 in which it's a lot more sensitive but achieves the same effect where you have "Lady Killer" and "Black Widow" which are both negatively suggestive though not an eyelid has been batted, so why now?



This "power" (Wife Beater) is the opposite of "Sexist Whore" in which the male characters inflicted more damage to female characters. It's certainly not very polite or socially acceptable term but I don't believe you'd get the same backlash. In this context I might personally might find the term "Wife Beater" quite funny and very clever in how the name relates to the power. Of course it's not very nice, but it's one of those things you select, laugh about and then carry on as usual only really selecting it to get the benefit. Just because its there and you select it doesn't mean its you, it's referring to the avatar you're portraying...



Maybe the character you're portraying is a mean nasty son of bitch who beats his wife and thats why he's such a cold hearted and efficient Zombie killer, or if you're a tough female character whose tired of men pushing women around and you're standing up for your gender showing how strong and powerful women can be.



If anything you should have more than one option for the same effect depending on the character you want to portray. So you could have "Sexist Whore" for a very anti-male female, gender wars for say "Neutral" or "Amazonian Heritage" for a strong female character.



At the end of the day what does it matter what the power is called, although it might be amusing to select the power for the first time in the end you will only select it for what it does to help you advance in the game.

Arinn Dembo
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I guess I just disagree that a game that rewards the player for gender-based violence is cute or funny. If you're the kind of guy who laughs about domestic violence references, um...yeah, I really have nothing civil to say to you, and I'm going to let other people handle your points if they want to. All I can say is that women are statistically more likely to be the victims of horrific gender-based violence all around the world, so I reckon there's a reason that I don't find this whole thing as chuckle-icious as you do.

Michael Gooch
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Actually, while I do believe that more woman are victims of domestic abuse compared to men, the numbers are most likely a little lopsided due to the fact that it is more socially unacceptable for a man to express themselves as being victimized by domestic oppression (and when I say socially unacceptable, I mean that other men will view these men as weak and insecure). And that is not even including passive aggressive psychological and verbal abuse, for that is much more difficult to measure.



Also, there is even a trend amongst school children where boys are using aggressive tactics that were considered more feminine, due to the fact that the more indirect exertions of aggressive behaviour displayed is much more hard to observe, and is therefor punished less frequently then explicit acts of violence.



Besides that fun piece of information, I could see how some people may find humor in domestic abuse jokes. Maybe they personally have not experienced it, so the whole idea seems "distant" and "foreign". Or, they have experienced it and use humor as a way to suppress and counter the negative feelings commonly associated with such imagery. On top of that, human beings (on average) tend to find sexual, grotesque, and violent humor to be the most humorous. I would reference you the research articles for all this information, but I usually hear most of this stuff from my professors as they reference it.



To comment on your article, I do find it sad that this behaviour, or at least the projected image of your average "game developers" behaviour, is still seen as this sexually frustrated, anti-social, and mentally unstable male who barely experienced the sun, let alone the outside walls of his parents basement. I really don't know how this destructive image has been able to survive for so many years, but at least I do know that this kind of misconception cannot last forever.



P.S.- I never saw the perk in Fallout 3 to be sexist in till someone mentioned it now. When I chose that perk in game, all I thought was "Oh boy, damage perk!"

Alex Hill
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I’ll be blunt, it appears the cause for your argument is to stir something up and start some sort of crusade against an apparent male-oriented game industry in which women are only seen as sex objects or nuisances.



Here is the stirring: “Once the Angry Feminist Whores get a hold of it, they’re bound to point out that Dead Island won its advertising award for a cinematic in which they murdered and zombified a little girl and threw her out the window of a multi-story building.”



Male Oriented game industry: “If this was a completely isolated incident, or if we were all working in a field where men did not outnumber women at least 10 to 1, we might see things differently”



Women apparently seen as a nuisance: “If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say it was motivated in this case by the same poisonous, long-frustrated and unrequited desire that motivates a lot of heterosexual misogyny”



I do not find domestic violence funny or clever but in a game environment where it doesn’t cause harm to anyone in “real life” (ok argue the case for videogame related violence if you like) but the effect is to inflict increased damage to the opposite sex, the name “Wife Beater” FOR EXAMPLE might seem amusingly appropriate.



I do not take games seriously, which is why I might laugh at a particular potentially offensive power however when it comes to hearing about a case in a newspaper or on tv it does sicken me because it is REAL. There is no hiding that domestic abuse happens and it can happen for various reasons. Maybe hard hitting names (excuse the pun) would call attention to it to help focus on real issues like domestic violence.



However “Macho Asshole” might have been a more appropriate point to illustrate as my example appears to have stirred up something I didn’t intend as it was only an example and I apologise if people have taken offence.



Games are or should be treated as an escape from reality where choices are made that you couldn't make in society, why do you think we have games like "Second Life" in which people create their own characters and personalities separate to their "real lives" in which they can follow a path they'd never consider in "real life" (or we'd hope so in some cases)



Saying all this I believe it would be seen as insensitive to use such a term as "Facist Whore" (unless as I mentioned previously you gave them a list of options for the same effect) The term unsurprisingly could be seen as sexist but as a rough draft for the general type of character they were trying to create this might have been perfect, focus groups etc would have toned down the language to be more acceptable.



You have indeed noted that the “basic idea of the “Feminist Whore” skill, (a skill that does more damage to males) is deeply embedded in the design of the Character; it is not an accident or a slip-up.”



All you have seen is a rough sketch which you are basing an argument upon forcing gender into the issue, rough sketches are generally pretty jagged, unprepared and obscene but have a lot of character and ideas can be developed from this. If you have been offended by this its by your own mistake this "sketch" was not meant for the general public.



I do appreciate you do not agree with a game that encourages gender based violence and that is your opinion and I do respect that, I just don't see why you have decided to spark a gender war.

Charles Battersby
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Alex the first thing that popped into my mind was Fallout's Lady Killer and Black Widow perks. Of course Techland just isn't quite the industry powerhouse that Bethesda is, so they make an easier target for angry editorials.

Leigh Walsh
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I noticed this. I felt a little uncomfortable about it, but I took it anyway for the extra dialogue options, haha. At least it's balanced on either side of the fence, as opposed to Dead Island

Dane Johnson
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This whole article comes off as incredibly abrasive. For someone who is accusing men of being deliberately anti-femist, I find this comment particularly incendiary, "There is a species of hatred that is born in the certain knowledge that the only way you will ever lay hands on an attractive woman is if you pay her to endure it, attack her violently, or manipulate her 3D avatar in a game."



More than that you make the aspersion that, "Heather Pierson was designed and written as the woman who could make the men in her company want to be better men for her sake." Maybe that's what you had in mind, but in real life men want to be better men for their own sake. A man doesn't get rich because of a woman, but more likely to get a woman. Obviously not in all cases, but my point is just basic survival and mating. I fear this may be interpreted badly but I'm just pointing out the millions of times I've heard something to the effect of "I started playing music to meet women".

Roger Klado
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bless u!

or...

"I started to learn to play guitar to pick up women"

Makes me cringe to even write it.



On topic:

Feminist whore mistakenly released is fairly easy on the subject compared to a revolutionary piece of work like Birth of a Nation or Olympia.

What would be more problematic for me is if the Feminist Whore character actually represented a groundbreaking contribution to the majority of button mashing dribble that exists otherwise.

In which case as an artist i'd regrefully have to pick an uneasy side.

Charles Battersby
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Of course, if one of the male characters DID have a power that granted extra damage against female zombies, we'd be hearing the EXACT SAME rhetoric about how it "Expresses violent hatred toward women."



Note how Arinn complains that "Purna has an entire skill path called 'Fury", which she purports to be another example of sexism, yet both male characters have the same skill tree!



I'm waiting to hear about how Xian Mei's "Blood Rage" skill "Indicates the developers deep-rooted male hatred and fear of menstruation".

Arinn Dembo
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I've already stated that I would be equally uncomfortable with a gender violence power solely for men, especially if it had a name that attacked men personally, politically and sexually. Not sure why this makes me a villain in your eyes, but I'm fine with my views on the subject.



As to the Fury skill path of other characters--you're right, the male characters in the game do have a "Fury" skill tree as well. Funny how male rage and its causes don't seem to be demonized in the code base, though, and that male characters don't seem to be designed as caricatures of one-sided gendered violence. To propose a hypothetical counter-example:



Take the Sam B character from Dead Island, who is written and artistically designed to be an African-American male musician from New Orleans. Let's give him a special ability to harm female zombies. And then, when we crack the code base, let's just say that we find some clever tech monkey has called it "Nigger Pimp Slap".



If this was the phrase being discussed, would you actually understand why it was offensive, why it was a problem at the level of design, and why the issue deserved more than to be shoveled under the rug without comment? Or are you as blindly affirming of hateful racist caricatures as you are of sexist ones?

Christian McCrea
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I love how each time there's some horrendous outrageous moment like this, there's a dozen men in the comments threads on every game site huffing and puffing about 'how there wouldn't be an outrage if the genders were reversed'. Let me just lump you all together like one homogenous mass because, well, frankly, you are.



Here's a response just for you all and for future reference. This is as civil as I get.



1) The genders aren't reversed. Its almost always women, and its almost always a combination of sex and violence.



2) Women face more threats to their person day-to-day than men. In your minuscule experience you may feel that women are treated equally, but they aren't and your experience doesn't men a speck of anything anywhere to anybody in any way.



3) Sexism is rife and getting worse in games culture and some game development studios. Yes, some other studios are awesome and humane. Denying that sexism is rife in games culture is frankly, a plainly cretinous stance. It deserves no quarter and shouldn't be engaged with - its an extremely circumscribed and status-quo-reinforcing lie that can never ever be backed up except by the double-blind of 'prove that its sexist.' Its been proven. Go away.



4) Rushing to dismiss feminist questions stinks. Always. A vicious dismissal of the concerns of others because you have some haughty anti-PC bent doesn't make you George Fucking Carlin. It makes you a vicious pig. You are not an iconoclast and your protection of a broken and diseased culture also stinks.

Jamie Mann
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@Christian:



I'll (un)happily agree that your first and second points are true: I'm fortunate enough to be involved in a subculture where there is generally far more equality and less abuse than elsewhere.



As for the third point: for better or worse, I don't think the games industry has a higher ratio of sexist men than any other industry. In fact, I'd hope that it generally manages to be better, given that it's an intellectual industry with a significantly higher percentage of young, intelligent people than might be found in other industries. Admittedly, that hope could well be proven inaccurate, but my personal experiences tend to suggest there's at least some cause to keep hoping.



And for the fourth: personally, I'm certainly not dismissing "feminist" questions; I'm a strong believer in equality for all. At the same time, in this particular case, I'm concerned about the extrapolations and assumptions which have been made about the individual and the games industry as a whole, based on a single data point taken out of context.



True, these extrapolations and assumptions could well prove to be true, but I'd like to see some stronger evidence before damning one individual and then tarring the hundreds and thousands of people who work in and around the games industry!

Christian McCrea
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I think I covered my objections to your position already, but again, for the record, I didn't tar the entire industry. I said that games culture has, and some game development studios have, a sexism problem. It is severe and obvious and I think wilful ignorance of it is also a problem. Saying what I did is not the same thing as 'tarring the game industry.' I said some. I don't know how to qualify that in a more obvious and total way.



I don't have to or want to provide evidence of anything because thats not my job and I don't seek to convert anybody. If you don't think its a problem, great.

Jamie Mann
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Christian,



Apologies if it wasn't clear, but my comments about "tarring the entire industry" were aimed at the original article, not your comments.



Again, my personal experience of the games industry (and IT industry in general) has generally been positive, as noted below. However, I'm certainly not going to suggest that everything is perfect, or that there's no room for improvement...

Richard Vaught
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If sexism is rife throughout the game industry, then I propose that the industry does not have a problem with sexism, you do. Might I ask why, as a woman, you are opposed to being treated differently than a man. I am not referring to urbane things like equal pay and such, which I fully support. A person that performs should be paid for that performance regardless. However, I would not want to be treated like a woman, or a herm, or a gay, or a lesbian, or an emasculated male for the pure and simple reason that i am none of those things. And to be quite frank, I do not now, previously, nor at any time in the foreseeable future treat a woman the same as I treat a man. I will not go out of my way to hold the door open for a man, or compliment a man on his new hair cut, nor any other list of things that are labeled 'to do with women only' in my brain. Ironically, what you, and quite honest the vast majority of annoyingly vocal feminist, go on about is not equality, but being identical. Which god only knows why you would want to be identical to anyone, much less another gender entirely. But I digress.



However, in direct response to Jamie's comment, and your own rebuttal, you are right. You didn't smear the game industry. You smeared the whole flippin culture, and by extension every one associated with it, including players, writers, and those directly in the industry. As is normal and quite expected, you also try to relinquish all responsibility on your part to provide adequate proof to support your claims. Well, news flash, if you slander (technically libel I suppose)someone, or in this case a multitude of someones, you should indeed be prepared to back up your statements with facts.

Ernest Adams
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Well said, Mr. McCrea. Bravo.

Ernest Adams
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Strange; I hold doors open for men all the time, and do indeed occasionally compliment one on his hair cut, especially if it's particularly interesting or flattering. I've never known these courtesies to be refused or taken in bad part. Perhaps you just need better manners.



The only facts needed to smear the entire flippin' culture can be found by logging into gamer forums and reading the comments there. And by reading this forum. Instead of hearing male game developers shouting "Bravo! Damn right! Let's clean up game development!" instead we get a chorus of derision from men who don't like the ugly truth about themselves. That's pretty much all the evidence that *I* need.

Ben Freund
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Much agreed. The most depressing thing about these racism/sexism threads is the possibility that many of the people 'defending' this behavior might be the same people perpetuating it across the industry.



Of course, there's still a lot of healthy anonymity here as well, so just about anybody is as likely to be a QA tester as a design lead. Or as likely to be a chef, I suppose.

Roger Klado
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5) Women characterizations in games are even more insulting and tacky ego accidents then the sad list of male characters.

Leigh Walsh
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Richard, I like how all this talk of "Different" is covering up the fact that you really mean "Worse". Women are constantly objectified in the gaming world and sexist attitudes are very common.



"If sexism is rife throughout the game industry, then I propose that the industry does not have a problem with sexism, you do." is about the most ridiculously privileged thing I've ever read. Sexism is everyone's problem except for the pricks that get off on it.

Jamie Mann
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I'm a bit worried about the way a vehemently nasty picture has been drawn up of a single individual, based on a single, minimal datapoint (the *internal* labelling of a single item) and without knowing the context in which this was done - for instance, it could well have been done as an ironic in-joke on the cliched stereotypes used in the games industry (and elsewhere: how often does Hollywood cast a female as the lead in an action movie?). It certainly seems more likely than the premise that the person involved has a "naked, bald-faced, slavering hatred of women"!



In the end, the context is key.



In my personal experience, all the people I know who work in the games or IT industries are generally unprejudiced. In fact, a significant percentage lead alternative lifestyles: there's lots of goths and pagans and significant numbers of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transexual people, as well as a smattering of people who enjoy polygamous relationships and/or more esoteric behaviour.



And it's these same people who actively go out and campaign on political and equality rights; they freely donate to charity and often volunteer their time for related causes.



Now, they're definitely not perfect: there's plenty of personality quirks and flaws (especially when there's alcohol involved) - and there's never any shortage of feuds and intrigues. But the vast majority - if not all of them - treat with other people as individuals and base their opinions on the person's personality, not their gender, race or religion. And at the same time, many of them like to refer to things and behaviour (both in themselves and others), in ironic/controversial terms, just like the "Feminist whore" description which launched this debate.



And finally: "It seems to me that the REAL “raging bitches” in this industry—the ones who literally foam in their fury and launch the dirtiest gender-based attacks--are not the women."



Is there any evidence of this? Fundamentally, sex and violence sells: this has been true ever since (and before) Oedipus killed his father and slept with his mother, two and a half thousand years ago. The fact that people work in an industry which leans heavily on this fact does not necessarily mean that they are all guilty of the stylised, charicatured behaviour their productions highlight.



To turn it around a bit: there's parallels with the way Mel Gibson keeps getting caught uttering homophobic, racist and anti-semite comments. As he's in the film industry, does that mean everyone in the film industry has exactly the same opinions?

Sean Hayden
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"based on a single, minimal datapoint (the *internal* labelling of a single item) and without knowing the context in which this was done"



Agreed with this -- I don't think it's fair to judge the company, or even the programmer who wrote the term, by this occurrence. While it's entirely possible that there is a sexist atmosphere, and that is terrible, it would be jumping to conclusions to say that's the case based on this snippet of code.



If your dismay is based on other experiences, please feel free to rebuke the industry, but don't base judgments on this bit of code.

Arinn Dembo
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"Is there any evidence of this?"



Actually, yes. There is ample evidence. We are an industry that is dominated by males at a ratio of 10-to-1, particularly in the actual trenches (programming art and design, as opposed to PR and administration). And we are cranking out, marketing and socially affirming an alarming amount of ugly sexism on a daily basis.



As for what "sells" (or has artistic merit)--the comparison with Greek theater is not particularly inspiring. The dramas of Sophocles were written and performed by artists who were exclusively male, to audiences in which males were heavily privileged, in a society in which women had no political, social or legal rights whatsoever. Can't we do better than this over 2000 years later?



As to the comparison with morally dubious figures in the film industry: you can make some powerful inferences about a film industry and its values by observing the way they treat people who have been associated with various crimes.



Mel Gibson has verbally attacked other people, by going on record as a homophobe, a misogynist, a racist and an anti-Semite; his career has not benefited from this, and a few people have openly canceled projects with him in reaction.



Roman Polanski was arrested for sexual assault and charged with multiple offenses against a victim who was 13 years old; anyone who wants to work with him has to leave the USA to do it, as the authorities are still prepared to arrest him, and the US film industry has done nothing to defend him or repatriate him to my knowledge.



Leni Reifenstahl made "Triumph of the Will" and "Olympia" while in service to the Nazi party--she was never given the resources to make another serious film again, and every attempt she made to create a new film was met with sharp criticism and public protest.



To me, this indicates that the film industry is not completely amoral. They may not be as morally reactionary as an individual person, but there is certainly a scaled response: running off at the mouth can be nasty, but it is trumped by an actual charge of sexual assault, which in turn is trumped by being associated with a regime that destroyed 18 million people in death camps.



People use "political correctness" as a pejorative term when it comes to art, but the arts do not exist in a pure and pristine bubble, sealed off from the real world and the people in it. The things we say, do and create all have an impact and they are all weighed by our fellow human beings, including our working peers.

Roger Klado
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The primary responsibility the artist has is to truth. Good work only exists when what rings true is executed till completion. If yer truth is ugly than your ultimate responsibility as an artist is to what is true. No matter how insulting "Birth of a Nation" might be to some...

Ignoring that through such ugly inspiration much of the language of film was born. And to deny a great work of art because it offends one's own moral agenda will always be the greater sin. Whether it be american soldiers slashing up hitler portrait paintings during world war II or Mao's cultural revolution History will only remeber yer moral cause as a footnote but Riefenstahl and DW Griffith will be timeless.



As someone who has experienced much discrimination and racial hatred my entire life ( having yer house painted nightly with racial epithets as a child will fuck you up pretty good ) I personally think that in general I fight the good fight. But in defense of freedom of expression as the ultimate ideal only if what is said doesn't make you feel uncomfortable is not it.

If given the choice: that I would not have anyone challenge my right to exist in my country ever again( or neighborhood for that matter ) For the price of censorship and polite truth in art? Then I'd prefer step n fetchit cinema over such an existance anyday of the week.



In this instance however no line in the sand needs to be drawn. ( feminist whore does not represent any vision that was to be held up for society to consider ) Which is a relief considering the legilative agendas of some.



In which case I can also easily just express my disdain for such an immature slur in an industry and art I care for.



On the subject of male dominance in the industry.



I must agree with the author as well. We definitely need a stronger female dork presence at all levels.



btw...

138 comments and counting! Nice work.

Joe Cooper
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I'm sorta new in this industry but I'm seeing a lot of sexism around. It's not the same as any other job I've had, including ones with lots of young men.



I think I'm not up to talking about it more right now though because my brain is fried this week (food allergy) so I deleted some rambling that was on this post that I'll probably regret when I'm "sober".

Martain Chandler
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This article is worth commenting on - but not here.

Charles Battersby
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Did anyone else notice how the author just assumes that the coder was heterosexual?



"I’d say it was motivated in this case by the same poisonous, long-frustrated and unrequited desire that motivates a lot of heterosexual misogyny. There is a species of hatred that is born in the certain knowledge that the only way you will ever lay hands on an attractive woman is if you pay her to endure it, attack her violently, or manipulate her 3D avatar in a game."

Arinn Dembo
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It's amazing how few gay men commit hate crimes against women, and how few straight men commit hate crimes against men.

Dave Endresak
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Umm... Arinn, you just undermined your academic credibility whe you claimed that heteresexual individuals who identify as male do not commit many crimes against other individuals who identify as male.



Let's also keep in mind that crimes are defined by society and are far from universal in either time or space. As I mentioned in my reply below, many artists and scientists have been prosecuted during their lives only to be honored after their deaths. That includes many individuals who identify as male, of course.





I'll also point out that your comment above about Greek society would be disputed by a senior professor I know who has studied Greek society all his life and teaches a wonderful course on gender in the ancient world. ^_^;

Arinn Dembo
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I didn't say "any crimes", Dave. I am referring specifically to hate crimes motivated by sexual rage, and thus likely to involve words of sexual rage, like "whore".



As to the issue of Greek society? Give me the actual professor's name, and I will be more than happy to contact him and see what he actually said and meant before I cast judgment. I suspect that your interpretation of his message in class is...dubious. If he really is teaching students that Greek society was egalitarian, I am more than happy to address his views in print. I hold a degree in Classics and I specialize in feminist archaeology. If someone is teaching a revisionist history of ancient Greece, I would be delighted to know more about it.

Dave Endresak
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Arinn, my point was that you are offering an academic debate, but are attempting to claim that your view is "right." No, your view is just that - your view. Other academics have other views and may feel just as you do that their view is "right." I have participated in such debates, of course, but I do not like debate. I like discussion. When the discussion becomes debate, or if the academic insists on making it a debate, I lose interest because I prefer to avoid conflict.



I am one of the top scholars at my institution by the way, graduating from my undergrad and grad women's and gender studies programs with departmental honors and summa cum laude. I think it's safe to say that I have as much expertise on the topic as anyone, and more than many. Yes, that includes hate crimes.. Check modern stats regarding reports of same sex harrassment, for example. Keep in mind the admonition that has been offered that people who identify as males are far less likely to report any problems due to social denial that males have problems. That includes psychological and physical health problems, by the way. It's also true that violence amongst females and "girl gangs" has skyrocketed over the past two decades. You will have to define your terminology such as "sexual rage" of course. I also find it interesting that you choose to define "whore" as an example of a term of sexual rage.



The professor I mentioned is Dr. James Holoka of Eastern Michigan University. He teaches a course on women and gender in the ancient world that is cross-listed for classics, women's and gender studies, and... history, perhaps? I have forgotten the third area of cross-listing, sorry, but I took his course as part of my wgst undergrad and discussed topics with him several times outside of class. NOTE: I did not say that he claimed that Greek society was egalitarian. However, the problem is that the conceptual definition of "egalitarian" differs with time and space. This is also why so many Western people think (mistakenly) that cultures such as Japan have a patriarchal society. Rather than judging such a concept based on our own perceptions, we would gather a far more accurate understanding of another individual's world view by judging the concept based on that individual's perceptions.



By the way, if anyone wants to see a good example of sexism, play Deus Ex: Human Revolution and see how the characters who identify as male are presented. Females, too, although I'd say the lack of presentation in certain roles is more noteworthy (e.g., lack of gang members, police officers, etc).

Eric Davis
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Guess you havnt seen very many prisons.

Ronildson Palermo
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Right now, I believe the resolution for most prejudice-related issues can be solved with the following mindset: "Just wait for the biased people to die and teach your children better".



There's not much anyone can do past this point... not allowing people to be vocal about their beliefs is wrong. Even if it is biased and doesn't please a big chunk of the crowd, namely women in this case.



The guy thought it was funny, what you're going to do? Humor rubs people in different ways. Worst case scenario the game doesn't sell well among women and Techland/Deep Silver/said programmer learns a lesson.

John Martins
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This rubbish is why the media gets bad rep.

Jeff Stolt
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The media doesn't need help generating a bad reputation.



If that seems funny, it's only coincidental.

Greg Wilcox
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As much digital ink as this is getting, it's funny that there's more outrage over a talent that simply could have used a better name. Yes, the "Feminist Whore" tag is reprehensible and yup, "Gender Wars" is actually a dumber name if you put too much thought into it. Projecting the fake reality of a GAME onto real-life situations is generally a bad idea, anyway. I suppose the real thing to take away here is freedom of speech isn't freedom FROM responsibility, particularly when creating a product that's supposed to sell to a large amount of users of all sexes.



Still, it's also a case of fake outrage as well. Hell, the new Mortal Kombat allows you to beat up, maim and yes, brutally kill both its male AND female characters and no one has complained because the game was well executed (ha ha). That and hell, anyone who's played God of War knows Kratos loves him some threesomes (and pottery breaking), killing his own mutated mother quite horribly, ripping harpies a new one and so forth and so on. I was more offended by transporting hookers in the Saint's Row games than by Purna's power naming. Going even further back, whip out a copy of D2 on the Dreamcast and pay attention to Kimberly's story arc. Let's just say that she's a man-eater...



Anyway, the offending dope who wrote the descriptor should get a kick in the ass, a stern talking to and any future work he does should be triple checked. That and hell, maybe have a woman write for a female character so we can see how a she would portray someone in this situation the game sets up. Of course, i can see THAT suggestion being called sexist by some who want to look too hard at it, but to me, it makes sense. Most guys probably think of tough women as some sort of awful mix of Ripley from the Alien movies, some nun who cracked them on the knuckles in Catholic school and a few other cliches. But it would be nice to see a female writer take on a female character and add a dash of reality to her personality and actions.



Meh.... this is more or less "Hot Coffee Part Deux" as the offending stuff wasn't supposed to be discovered by normal means. Unless we see someone stupidly mod the game to include the descriptor, or Fox News gets a hold of this and runs with it as another "Mass Effect Will Make Your Kids Sex Fiends!" story. I think this should pass away into the good night (until the next scandal pops up, of course)...



g.

Altug Isigan
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I don't know, can you really "balance" a game that has "feminist whore" in it with an equivalent expression for males? I mean, does that even make sense? You might play on things like impotence or homosexuality if you want to "insult" a male who has this kind of mindset; but in general, all you would do would be just to reproduce the binary oppositions of the very discourse that produces "labels" like "feminist whore".



"Feminist whore" is not just attacking women, it is anti-intellectual too. It is the anti-intellectualism in this this that really worries me.

Dave Endresak
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First, Dead Island doesn't interest me due to the artstyle and focus on melee rather than ranged combat.



As for feminism and feminist issues, I commented at length about this in other threads on Gamasutra. I could write a book about it for the gaming industry, assuming a publisher would actually want to hear some facts or pay for research for a global industry.



For example, it is not a fact that the gaming industry as a whole (globally) is lopsided. I have pointed out that the majority of illustrators in Japanese media are women, including works with violence, sex, or a combination of these two hot topics. That includes works that have violent and sexual content between males, of course. Such content is embraced in America while sexual and/or violent content focused on females is generally disdained or even banned, regardless of who created the work itself.



Perhaps more importantly, the idea of sex (not gender... gender is psychological while sex is physical) is not dichotomous. That is, it is not "male or female" just as gender is not "male or female." This is a huge problem on many official forms, including forms such as the US Census. These concepts are a spectrum of continuous data, but research is often still stuck in the social normative idea that the data are categorical (and binary). If we did have exact equality between "male" and "female" (however one defines such concepts, which is not a simple task, of course) the many transgendered and intersexed individuals would have the same problems with the industry (and other areas of society) that they have today.



Yes, feminism is about equality... for everyone, and everything in our existence. That is the ideal, of course. However, the reality is that many feminists are actually just as sexist (or agist, or classist, etc) as anyone else, and many of them do not like it when their own political agendas or life philosophies do not match the ultimate consequences of the concepts they propose. For example, are digital avatars alive? Do you consider them alive? Do you treat them accordingly with respect and honor? "Oh, but they are not real." Really? How do we define "real"? How do we define "alive"? Existential questions, to be sure... but also the ultimate consequence of many feminism concepts and ideals.



Take the movie, "Sucker Punch" as an example. When the movie came out, many people panned it regardless of whether the individuals were male or female, or identified as male or female, anyway. One complaint was that it was not empowering to the female characters or to females in general. However, in the commentary on the Blu-Ray release, at least two women who helped create the film (one actress and I believe one of the producers) state that it is actually a feminist movie. Obviously, there are different views of what such a concept means depending on individual philosophies.



I do not care for Barbie; I prefer Licca-chan and other Japanese dolls. However, Barbie was created by a woman as a toy for her daughter, and the original form was modelled from a German adult film star. Today, there are individuals who identify as either male or female who are huge Barbie fans as well as individuals who identify as male or female who are totally against Barbie. Who is right? Do all individuals who identify as female think alike? Do all individuals who identify as male think alike?



If someone doesn't like a work of creative art, don't look at it, listen to it, or play it, or whatever. However, equality also means that someone else who loves it must have the choice to enjoy it, and someone who conceives of it must have the freedom to create it and share it. Keep in mind that many great artists and scientists have been prosecuted, even killed, during their lifetimes, but their contributions were honored years after their deaths. Why do we insist on perpetuating such mistakes? Will we ever learn to accept each other without judgment even if we do not share each others' philosophies about various topics?



One final point: there are many, many different "branches" of feminist philosophy. An individual who claims to be "feminist" may adhere to one philosophy while another individual in making the same claim may adhere to another. In many cases, this is why feminists (such as myself as well as possibly some people on Gamasutra) do not see eye to eye and very heated debates occur. In fact, heated debates occur between feminists of different generations and between feminists from different cultures around the world. The category of "feminist" does not mean much as far as all members sharing the same views, just as all "females" or all "males" do not share the same views.

Arinn Dembo
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Not really sure how your taste in Japanese dolls or your personal view of feminism or censorship relate to this blog post, but...ok, sure.



I have nowhere stated that this game should be banned or that consumers who wish to buy it and play it should not be able to. However, people who argue that Dead Island and Techland are "poor little underdogs" getting spanked for something that Big Guns like Bad Old Bethesda can do with impunity...probably need to check the sales figures posted today. This post is just one of many that will be made about one of the top-selling multi-platform games in North America. Dead Island is big news and making big bank. If the team committed a Big Booboo in their codebase, it deserves mention.

Dave Endresak
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The fact that you are not sure how it relates says a lot, I think. It relates because your post is simply your subjective perception, as mine is, as other replies have been. Top selling? Mature rated titles only account for 15% of North American game sales, at least according to NPD data (which is about all we have, to my knowledge).



Plenty of stuff makes big bank. The Sims is popular and makes a lot of money for EA, but I never cared for it (artstyle, again). If it were not for mods to fix the terrible character aesthetics, I would not have played Bethesda's games for hundreds or thousands of hours. If I cannot identify and empathize with a character, I cannot play a particular game for long.



About dolls... the issue of aesthetic design is a huge one for dolls, virtual characters, robots, and other industries. This relates to games in several ways, of course, and not always the obvious one of virtual characters. For example, there are various Barbie games, but I don't care about any of them because I don't find Barbie's aesthetic appealing. There are also Licca-chan games, and I find them quite appealing (well, the first one... still have to get the second one, but I know I'll like it because I love the characters). I don't usually care for music rhythm games, but I love Hatsune Miku: Project Diva because I love the character's look and voice, and I identify with the issues raised in her songs.



As I said, Dead Island won't get any money from me because of poor aesthetic design (I cannot empathize with the characters) and focus on melee rather than ranged combat (my characters do not like getting hurt so they always prefer ranged/non-combative encounters).



I was simply offering my input for everyone as a contrast to some assertions made in your post and in some of the replies.



If I had my way, I'd be working and living in Japan surrounded by moe culture like Danny Choo. ^_^ (although probably not married as he is, but who knows?)

Philip Michael Norris
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Admittedly, I too sometimes name my assets inappropriate names while working on them if only to break up the monotony. I can see something mislabeled making it allaway to alpha easy.

Ernest Adams
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Unless you're an indie, they're not your assets, they're your employer's assets, and I think your course of action is unwise at best. Cease and desist before it comes back to bite both of you someday.

Robert Boyd
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Here we have a game filled with offensive content - gore, dismemberment, drug use, harsh language, child molestation, sexism, etc. - and yet nobody complains. However, somebody hacks into the code and finds an offensive comment and suddenly it's an outrage?



Being offended by an offensive comment that requires hacking to find while being perfectly fine with all of the offensive content that's on display for everyone to see strikes me as more than a little hypocritical. Either be offended by both or offended by neither - take a position.

Ben Freund
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Robert, you're a smart, talented guy, so you should know better.



You've characterized yourself as a shy guy who has a little difficulty making connections with others. So it's understandable that you might not be entirely suited to relate to this issue.



The position that the offended are taking may not be clear to you, but it revolves around context.



Your games have a lot of wild, wacky stuff that I enjoy, but I probably wouldn't want you to write the next Red Dead game. I enjoy both you and that game, but the combination probably wouldn't appeal to me.



Likewise, I can enjoy all kinds of offensive content in context. But if you change that context, there is the potential that the same content would appear to be much more aggressively offensive.



So, a brutal, violent, zombie game? Sounds good. Drug use and child molestation presented in context as negative things? Sure, that's fair. Finding out that any of the developers considers, say, child molestation to be a generally funny subject for casual jokes? Hm, now because of that context, the whole game leaves a bad taste in my mouth...



It's great that you have an open mind on this subject, but it's not too cool to suggest that people who see things a bit differently are being hypocrites. They're just seeing a different fine line than you are.

Robert Boyd
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Ben, that's a well thought out response. However, going along with the whole idea of context, the offensive comment's context is that it's hidden in the game's code. Whoever put it in there, never intended for anyone except himself to ever see it. It's quite possible that even he thought the comment was too much but then never bothered to delete it because who's going to see it?



To put it in another perspective, if J.K. Rowling had written something offensive in one of the early drafts of one of the Harry Potter books that never made it into the final draft, would people be justified in getting mad at her for it?



EDIT: Oh and you have nothing to worry about in regards to Red Dead Redemption and me. I'm not a fan of sandbox games or Westerns so that's one combination that will never happen. :)

Ben Freund
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To follow your premise, if she had written something anti-Semitic in one of the early drafts, I think people would definitely be justified in asking some questions!



And, for another wacky story-example, what if a Disney animator had drafts for a new ethnic-minority princess and titled those drafts "Feminist Whore"? No matter how the movie turned out, I'd have to wonder who the hell Disney is hiring to design princesses. Or do other important things.



So again, context would decide how wary I'd be of Rowling or Disney.

Eric Davis
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actualy... you should see some of the stuff that made it into disney movies....

Richard Vaught
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Ok.. I heard blah blah feminist rant blah blah. Great, you're a woman and proud of it. You should be.



But let's face the English language here. The character is a) a feminist of a type, and is implied in her bio to be b) a whore(i.e. a person that gets paid to perform sexual acts with another person) occasionally, all body guard or mercenary duties aside.



Would it have made you feel better if they called her a 'feminist escort'? How about 'Man Hating Murderer that sleeps with clients'? I can not speak for anyone but myself when I say the following: grow some skin. You are offended? Excellent! Exercise your right to be offended and I will exercise mine to keep on offending you and to be offended in return. To claim that the man should be fired for using the English language properly is tantamount to saying that whatever company you represent should fire you for using the same terms in your blog here.



http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/26/no-boys-and-gi
rls-at-gender-neutral-preschool-in-sweden/



This is what this sick mindset is leading to. This is real. This is happening. And if you think someone using the term feminist whore in a video game is twisted, much less important, then just put your blinders back on and ignore the damage that is being done in the real world. Perhaps, just perhaps, the person who used the term 'feminist whore' had every reason to feel just as offended by the twisted things happening as a result of this messed up mindset as you do by his use of the words. Oh, but wait. I forgot this is all supposed to be viewed strictly from the feminist view point. No other points of view allowed. Particularly not any that contain the slightest trace of reality or humanity.

Altug Isigan
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Weird. How often do you hear someone complaining about an expression being sexist? If this is the real world and someone dares to say, once in a while, that she doesn't like the world as it is, and you cannot even take that bit of criticism, isn't it you who has a too thin skin?

Richard Vaught
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If she would have left it as stating fact, then I would have had no problem whatsoever with it. Someone telling me that a programmer put sexist crap in his file names wouldn't even make me blink. But that is not what has happened here.



A) There is the assumption made that the person in question is male

B) There is generalized slander applied to all males, not just the supposed person in question.

C) The author uses one person's poor taste in a joke to slander the entire gaming industry.

D) The author is a hypocrite:



"Upshot of this is simple, really. It seems to me that the REAL “raging bitches” in this industry—the ones who literally foam in their fury and launch the dirtiest gender-based attacks-" ~ Says the woman who is launching a dirty gender based attack against all males in the gaming industry.



Not to mention that the author candidly admits that she did the same thing, the only difference being that she did not use the phrase 'feminist whore'.



What happened in this blog was not criticism. Criticism would have ended at the perpetrator of the offense, or perhaps even at the company who the perp worked for. This was a tirade that systematically accused everyone associated with gaming of bearing the stigma of being a misogynist.



Lastly, what offends me most is not that she said what she did, but the far reaching affects that attitudes such as the one she displayed have, hence the reason for the article that I linked. If people are too blind to see that telling their kids that gender roles are unimportant is a very very bad thing, and that this type of vociferous slander of one gender by another only perpetuates such a system, then I have nothing but sadness for the ultimate fate of the human species.

Ernest Adams
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Somehow I have a feeling that the human species will continue to perpetuate itself despite your sadness.



I love the hypocrisy of your complaining about the "vociferous slander of one gender by another" when in fact that's exactly what goes on in the game industry day after day after day after day.



I guess you don't mind when games dish it out to women, but you don't like it when you have to take it... especially when it's justified.

Ran Pal
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The fact that in your internal dictionary 'feminist' and 'man-hating murderer' are filed together negates pretty much any argument you care to tender. You compound the problem by calling it 'proper English', and then attempt to invert the issue into an attack on male privilege.



Stunning.



Ernest and Christian offered eloquent rebuttals, but clearly they have fallen on deaf ears. As depressing as the issue, and this thread, have become, I am thankful for the sane male voices that join the chorus of condemnation. It gives me hope that we don't have to wait until 'everyone is dead' for this kind of problem to go away.

William Volk
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It would help to have more women in leadership roles at game companies. For a social game company it seems crazy NOT TO given the audience for these games.



It is humorous to note the Brouhaha over the departing Yahoo CEO's (Carol Bartz) use of profanity. Would anyone even notice if the CEO was a man?

Ben Freund
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Yeah, I think it's usually news when a high-level CEO reacts to bad news with overt profanity. If Steve Jobs had gone out on the line "Fuck you, fruit-huggers," we'd have heard of it.

Alan Au
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There are a couple of issues I'm still trying to reconcile in my mind in follow-up to my earlier thoughts on the boundary between bias and bad taste. And of course, this was never meant to see the light of day, but after the "hot coffee" incident, developers should know that nothing is truly hidden from view.



At one level, because of the under-representation of women in the development community, there's a huge risk that female characters could be marginalized. The term "feminist whore" should not be thrown around lightly, as it highlights an unsavory view of a demographic already struggling for more equal representation. Even if it was a deliberate decision, the perception of bias makes this unfortunate.



At another level, what does this say about equality if all female characters are whitewashed and held up as paragons. Is there no room for a female Duke Nukem counterpart? Are flawed female anti-heroes off the table? Are we holding ourselves to a double-standard? I mean, what if Purna *is* occupationally a whore with feminist beliefs? You can argue that such characters are in questionable taste, but that's not specifically a gender-equality issue.

Sean Lander
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Beyond taking something that should never have been publicly let out (the trait's name is in bad taste, with that I will agree), going through and deciding that now every piece of the game is somehow misogynistic is an extrapolation of information past what can be considered rational thought. I would be surprised if this ex-cop who killed a pedophile DIDN'T have a Fury tree - that sounds like a pretty angry woman. Tearing apart their advertisement because it showed a completely believable scene (besides there being zombies) of a single child family on vacation? Should it have been a little boy instead to make sure it was PC?



The problem with large hate-filled articles like this is it's what keeps developers from ever expanding their character base. It's not right to have an overtly gay character because more conservative gays and religious groups will get upset. It's not right to show an anti-male character because it portrays all females as angry. It's not okay these days to have a character that isn't a) uber-macho guy b) average male character or c) average female character (average, in this case, means average for weight, height, looks, and wearing generic clothing).



People wonder why only indie games these days seem to have involved casts - it's because the second someone makes anything "inflammatory" in a AAA title the media and partisan groups rail against it and make sure it fails! *You* are one of those people keeping big budget video games from ever being as evocative as cinema, books, plays or even indie games. Even if you disagree with how they did it, if you've really been in the industry that long be HAPPY that someone is trying to make a character that isn't so generic you forget their name at the end of the game. If it pisses you off that much then continue making your own games and *push the boundaries* of social norms yourself.



I know not everyone here will agree with me, and I don't believe that any developer who think's it's appropriate to be sexist should be representing our industry. I would just like to see the industry at all levels, not just Indie, push the boundaries in terms of story and character development. Having any art always attempt to conform to someone's social standard will stunt its growth, and in the end, kill it all together.

Ben Freund
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Do you really think this article was "hate-filled"? Or "large" for that matter...



Blaming the critics for the state of the industry is an absurd position to take. Cinema, books, and plays all had to endure the same types of criticism in their infancy. They seem to have survived. I think games will too.



But they won't get far if their idea of a non-generic character that pushes the boundaries is... this.



Personally, I'm confident those boundaries will get pushed. How could they not? A piece of cultural criticism isn't going to slow that process down.



If people involved in development think that "edgy" and "pushing boundaries" are the same thing, then I'd be a bit more pessimistic. If they decide that "social standards" have some value in a mass-market game (as opposed to being forced to that decision by a censoring body), I don't see that as being much of a road bump.

Sean Lander
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Just as in most of your replies above, you have jumped to comment without fully reading or understanding the post. The original poster seemed to have a problem not only with the skill, which I explicitly said was in bad taste and should not have been there, but with the character herself. After re-reading that section of the article, I'm not entirely sure if this is the case or if it was a product of reading other comments before posting my own.



"... they won't get far if their idea of a non-generic character that pushes the boundaries is... this." I don't see how there is anything wrong with the character she described (talent excluded). The backstory lines of with that of someone who is willing to use violence as an ends to a means, so Fury seems appropriate. Also, they're at a resort - last I checked a cocktail dress was appropriate attire in such places (though I question where she obtained the boots).



"Personally, I'm confident those boundaries will get pushed. How could they not? A piece of cultural criticism isn't going to slow that process down." " If they decide that "social standards" have some value in a mass-market game (as opposed to being forced to that decision by a censoring body), I don't see that as being much of a road bump." So what you're saying here is that regardless of criticism the boundaries will be pushed, and that sticking with the social norm will somehow incite that? This article is attempting to work as a censoring body, blatantly saying that since this offends someone it should be removed. In the name of "equality" she would be alright if there was an inverse skill that would cancel out the current one, but I'm sure if there was a male Talent that improved damage against female characters there would be just as much outrage.



And "hate-filled":

"There is a species of hatred that is born in the certain knowledge that the only way you will ever lay hands on an attractive woman is if you pay her to endure it, attack her violently, or manipulate her 3D avatar in a game."

"Upshot of this is simple, really. It seems to me that the REAL “raging bitches” in this industry—the ones who literally foam in their fury and launch the dirtiest gender-based attacks--are not the women."



I'm sorry, but I'm a male who makes and plays games, and neither me nor anyone of my friends/co-workers who are male have ever paid/raped/virtually molested women, in the same way that none I know are frothing-at-the-mouth misogynistic trying to find any way we can to make sexist comments. I'm all for equality, but the inflammatory comments used in this article diminished nearly the entire point attempting to be made in this piece.

Ben Freund
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I guess we disagree about what is or is not inflammatory. Also, whether criticizing something is the same as 'blatantly censoring' it. I can hate what you say, but still defend to the death your right to say it.



If you see this article as 'hate-filled,' then I can only assume you haven't been exposed to much hate in your life, and I'm happy for you.



I'm also glad that you have such a close relationship with all of your male friends and co-workers (all of them!) that you have all solemnly discussed (possibly in a round-table setting) the absence of sexually aggressive activity at any time in any of your lives. That shows an unusual level of sensitivity to this subject, and I now feel bad for suggesting that you might be the kind of person who casts baseless generalizations.



EDIT: As far as male/female talents that affect opposite genders, I think a lot of games have those, they just have less offensive titles. Fallout is a good example.

Tiffany Song
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You're absolutely wrong. Critics are not the reason that AAA titles don't push boundaries - audiences and production costs are.



You mention "keeping video games from being like cinema" but cinema has this exact same problem. Most large production movies from major studios are very mainstream, derivative and low risk films. Indie films are the ones that take chances and push boundaries.

Duong Nguyen
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Are programmers and designers to program only in politically correct PC terms now? It's one thing to criticize a finished product but to criticize a hacked pre-release executable trawling for dirt is far different. Developers are an irreverent bunch, not prone to PC..If they hadn't been so incompetent as to release a developer build, would anyone even care that the ability is called "Gender Wars"? Maybe it points to a misogynistic tread through the industry? I doubt it, plenty of games have strong female leads and women have been making in roads into game development for along time.. Worse thing this said is Techland is a misogynistic developer which might be true.

Ernest Adams
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Yes, programmers and designers are to program only in PC terms now. Welcome to the adult workplace. Welcome to responsibility. Clue in or go indie, where you can be as obnoxious as you like.



When you work for a company you are working on THEIR product. It's not yours to screw around with and put dirty jokes in. They'll be the ones who get the flak from Congress. They'll be the ones recalling their products and losing millions. That's why programmers have to behave like grownups, not drooling adolescent morons.

Ernest Adams
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Guys... quit squirming; you can't wriggle out of it. There's a problem. "Feminist whore" is merely a symptom.



The precise details don't matter; who did it doesn't matter; whether you or anyone else are or should be offended by this particular instance doesn't matter. There's a problem. We all know it.



Some of us don't like to acknowledge it or face it, because that would mean we might have to change, and lose our boys' club privileges. But it's true whether you admit it or not and whether you like it or not. The game industry and gamer culture, especially hardcore culture, is pervaded by a particularly vicious, nasty kind of sexism.



It hurts us all... even those of us like practice it and like it. It harms our larger public reputation; it is part of the reason that public officials keep trying to censor us.



I once worked for a company in which there was an E-mail mailing list for jokes. Someone sent out a joke in which the central character was described as a "black cunt." That person was fired within a couple of hours of the message going out, which was right and good; but what is disturbing is that he was so misguided and antisocial, he thought this was appropriate behavior in the first place. God knows how many more there are like him around.



There's a problem. Get used to the idea.

Altug Isigan
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Amen

Dave Endresak
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Ernest, you may have "boy's club priviledges" but I assure you that I do not and never have. Maybe if I went through a transexual operation people would believe me rather than assume things about me? That option isn't really available to me at present, but it also would seem to remove my freedom to choose and ask that I be accepted as I am rather than as others expect me to be.



Let me point out that I worked in the industry in several capacities, including managing amusement centers for six years from 1990-1996, selling retail software, and being part of a Japanese startup. I worked under women district managers and regional managers while managing amusement centers and helped female customers of all ages in several states where I managed stores. I also knew female managers, and hired female managers (and fired some, too, if need be). Anecdotal, to be sure... like other posts here, of course.

Jeff Beaudoin
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Good points, unfortunately the original article has less to offer the issue than this post does.



This article doesn't advance the debate in any meaningful way, because the arguments are poorly presented, not because there aren't arguments to be made.



She points out a skill called Vampire, which steals life from the victim and frames it as an obviously sexist addition to the game. The name vampire is not inherently sexist and is used almost universally for skills like this.

She sets aside the name "Feminist Whore" and details issues with the existence of the skill itself, issues she doesn't have with Fallout 3 or her own design that from her description sounds no different.

She uses a comment thread as proof that misogyny exists among gamers and must therefore exist among game developers. A point that might be true, but this is equivalent to using youtube comments (notoriously devoid of value) as an indictment of the movie industry.

A random name likely created by a single designer/programmer and not intended for public consumption is simply not a good basis for any sort of well thought out argument on this topic, if you want it to apply to the industry as a whole.



It is worth working towards equality and acceptance, and there are plenty of articles about sexism in the industry that could be written, but this one just doesn't do the issue any favors, in my opinion.

Charles Battersby
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I find it rather interesting that Arinn is enraged over the word "Whore" being used in the beta code, while the very first cutscene in the game has a man singing a song called "Who do you voodoo bitch".

Ben Freund
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Do you find it rather interesting that there is difference between a character saying something and a developer saying something?

Charles Battersby
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Not as interesting as my suspicion that most of the people here haven't actually played the game they're discussing.



After all, this is a game where you spend half your time killing bikini-clad zombie girls with a shovel. I would have thought we'd have heard about how "The use of phallo-centric weaponry betrays the developers' repressed desire to subjugate women into a zombie-like state through rape".

Ben Freund
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Well, that would be a convenient way to disparage them, I'll grant you. If it was true.



But it's also possible that they have played it and have a different sense than you do of when and where certain types of language or behavior are appropriate? That could be a more interesting way to approach the issue. Not everybody is a Freedom-Lover or a Church Lady. There are many other points of view.

Altug Isigan
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@Ben

+1

Charles Battersby
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Not as convenient as you disparaging anyone who disagrees with you by falsely accusing them of having extremist political or religious views. Not everybody who disagrees with you is a "Freedom-Lover" or a "Church Lady".

Ben Freund
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Er... what? I'm not even sure what you're trying to suggest I said here. I think I said people were NOT just FLs or CLs. How do you come from that to me saying that everybody IS an FL or CL?



Incidentally, in this scenario, I am the Church Lady condemning moral iniquity. But I'm actually NOT a Church Lady. I'm just a normal guy, like you, who sees something offensive where you see something that is just good fun.



And you are the Freedom Lover, defending the right to free speech. But presumably you don't like it when people yell fire in a crowded theater, and you probably wouldn't appreciate somebody yelling "feminist whore" at your mother. There's more to you than that.

Christian McCrea
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If you didn't think games had a sexism problem before, just come and read all these comments and be disabused forever.

Misha Icaev
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Ha-ha-ha ... nice article ...

But I wounder which is cause and which is cure?

Take a look at characters of Purna and Heather Pierson and what lesson they give us:

Heather is woman that enchant her beauty with grace to help those around her - I never played game, but this description is pretty much sexists role-model of how woman should be, isn't it?

Purna is woman in fancy dress and looks to match and she have noble (former police officer) and caring (killed molester) heart. But this princess-like traits are cleverly spiced-up with her free-spirit allowing her to be both whore and feminist at the same time. So in result she is beautiful noble whore and caring feminist.

In result Heather is sexist propaganda and Purna teach audience to value woman's free-spirit. Is it wrong for noble and caring woman to be feminist whore? OR rising moral of her party is only job good woman should do?

So which character design is more sexist? And which character teach us to accept freedom as a strong point of woman?

Ernest Adams
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I'm guessing that English isn't your first language. "Whore" isn't a nice term no matter how much positive spin you put on it. Prostitution is legal in some places, but the women who do it don't call themselves "whores."



Your point is an interesting one, but the "feminist whore" term actually referred to an in-game skill, not to a character.



There is a very interesting debate to be had about the depiction of women in games. We certainly need to get past the virgin/slut dichotomy. Even women can't agree whether Lara Croft is a positive model or not.

Misha Icaev
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Yes, English isn't my 1st language.

But isn't it kind of Xenophobic to claim that Whore (Immoral person) can never be Feminist?



And while it's "just a skill" it's a skill unique to Purna (as I can get from description). So it is a character's trait. And fact that specification "Whore" was applied to "Feminist" shows that it's not something obvious for those who used term. But they was attacked because they do NOT think that "Feminist" is (by default) "Whore".

Adam Bishop
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Anyone who thinks this is an isolated issue that wouldn't occur elsewhere in the industry should read my blog post on the last studio I worked at:



http://gamasutra.com/blogs/AdamBishop/20101016/6219/Time_To_Grow_
Up.php



This kind of stuff happenned *all the time*.

Misha Icaev
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I'm glad I live in Russia. It's hard for me to imagine This degree of cultivated sexism. Isn't it just step away from Taliban's practices?

Joe Cooper
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@Icaev



I've had several jobs in the US and in Poland and have only encountered any even remotely serious sexism in the latter, as have multiple people I know.



But a lot of the above commenters and issues and developers are Americans.



Your personal experience just can't go very far. You might as well be Ahmadinejad telling us there are "no gays in Iran".

Misha Icaev
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@Joe



Thing I *know from experience* is that "equality grows from comradeship" - equality must be deserved. Demand of *undeserved* equality is *invasion* into personal space - it is oppression.



Don't get me wrong I'm not advocating sexism, but if you look at *roots* of this problem - it have nothing to do with sex - sexism, racism, homophobia are just few fruits from the tree of *Intolerance*.



Such Intolerance isn't something natural, kids have no problem with talking and working animals. So who teach those *fearless* kids to *be afraid* of talking and working gays, women and black people (having no problem with color)? It's politicians: *divide to control* - is ancient, but effective recipe of political success.



Democracy breed fear - Dictatorship breed love. Now I looks even more like Ahmadinejad don't I? But it explains why there is much sexism in USA and Poland.

Dominic McDonnell
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Unfortunately this is a good example of the male juvenilism that is endemic in our industry.



Also unfortunately I can see where they are coming from, being exposed to inexplicable hostility from some feminists. Being pro-equality I can understand and support, but hating me because I am male?

Larissa McCutcheon
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This whole Feminist Whore debacle is troubling on several levels.



Firstly, there's a misunderstanding of what a feminist is. What the makers of the game made is a Misandrist Whore. One who hates men. A truly feminist whore would deal equal damage to both sexes, because feminism is not about promoting women over men. That's sexism. Feminism is about equalising opportunities for men and women.



You see it's not just that we want women to have everything men have (except penises, those are all yours, guys). We want the same opportunities men have in terms of career, economics, power and choice. But there's another side to it as well, and this is where the equality comes in. Feminists want men to have the same options as women, to destigmatise the feminine. This means things like support for men in what are often considered 'female' jobs, it means confronting and destigmatising the issue of the rape of men, it means supporting single fathers and stay at home dads, it means paternity leave.



True feminism adds to the richness and opportunities for everyone. Misandry, like the game character presents, is sexism just as surely as calling her a whore is sexism. Misandry is to feminism what the Westboro Baptist Church is to mainstream religion.



The second troubling aspect is that this is lazy design. Let's make a tough chick. Oh, she hates men and she's a whore. That's new! I was once critiquing some character designs and every female character hated men, was raped or had issues related to missing or dead children. These are the standard foundations of a female character in game, movie and story. I ended up issuing the challenge to make a compelling female character whose background has nothing to do with things going into or out of her ladybits. Remove sex from the equation and see what you can make.



Laziness and ignorance are not the hallmarks of compelling game design.

Enrique Hernandez
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I believe there is a lot of generalizing here.

Not just from those misogynistic men in the industry (of which I know none), but also about the people who feel offended and shout that this is a misogynistic industry.

I think it is mainly a predominantly male industry, unfortunately. But not misogynistic.

Sure there are cases of bosses being sexists, or coworkers. But I don't believe it's a general rule of how the whole industry is.

I personally believe that anyone should get the same pay for the same work, and be treated the same way weather they are men or women, old or young.

Christian Kulenkampff
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some evidence for unequal sexualization of females in media:

http://www.br-online.de/jugend/izi/english/publication/televizion
/21_2008_E/goetz_herche_body.pdf

Mikhail Naumov
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I dont really see any problem. So what? Guys are bashed all the time on TV/media etc. Like the bad guy is always a white male? Nobody has a problem with that. Or kicking guys in the balls - that supposed to make everyone laugh? While girls are almost always portrayed as good/sexy characters that kick everyone's ass. And by god someone may think/say otherwise in their game. Its funny how a bunch of pussywhipped guys may stress so much over it.

Christian Kulenkampff
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http://i1213.photobucket.com/albums/cc462/tolkir/bbhsJ.gif

manou manou
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Can we finally stop with the genders/colors/penis sizes and start doing important things... like making awesome games?



Internet articles won't change misogyny. You can't stop an idiot that didn't get the chick he wanted from hating all women. The problem has a root somewhere... I wonder where exactly. I have this almost intangible feeling that it has something to do with the relationships between people.



Writing an article like this one serves no purpose but to point at someone and say "That guy hates women!". So what? What do we actually do about it?



Looking at our history, the notion that women are inferior to men, is like many of the superstitious and religions crap that used to plague the people's minds, like the flat Earth for example. Historically these notions disappeared as people became more and more educated. So educate yourselves and those around you, teach yourselves to work with men, women, aliens, whatever... learn to respect other people for who they are and things will slowly change for the better.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Internet makes it possible to communicate with people who are "virtually" arround you. Writing an article is a good way to do exactly what you demand. There cannot be enough articles like this. They inspire discussion and help us to understand each other.

Richard Vaught
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@Ernest Adams (By the way, I am actually a fan of yours, and have read several of your books) "Strange; I hold doors open for men all the time, and do indeed occasionally compliment one on his hair cut, especially if it's particularly interesting or flattering. I've never known these courtesies to be refused or taken in bad part. Perhaps you just need better manners."

I don't go out of my way to do those things, I didn't say I don't do them at all. Most of the men that I associate with are simply not that vain nor are they concerned with being complimented on something as trivial as their appearance. The point, which you seem to have missed entirely, is that, in my humble opinion, women should be treated different then men for the simple reason that THEY ARE DIFFERENT. I chose to celebrate those differences instead of denigrating them by trying to eradicate them altogether. I wouldn't slap a woman on the butt after a good play in a company soccer game, but I would another male and not think twice about it. I wouldn't go on a date with another male, but I would a female and not think twice about it. While I do not go around calling women whores, sluts, bitches, or any other number of derogatory terms, i still do not think that they deserve to be treated identically to men. To do so would be to deny all of the wonderful things that I love about women in the first place.

"The only facts needed to smear the entire flippin' culture can be found by logging into gamer forums and reading the comments there. And by reading this forum. Instead of hearing male game developers shouting "Bravo! Damn right! Let's clean up game development!" instead we get a chorus of derision from men who don't like the ugly truth about themselves. That's pretty much all the evidence that *I* need."

If you want to label the entire culture based on the vocal minority then you are doing yourself a disservice. My wife, who happens to be a game programmer, sees no issue with oversexed female characters, nor even violence perpetrated against female characters, provided that it fits within the context of the game. Not having played this particular title, I have no idea if the character was in fact a feminist or a whore, neither of which are in fact derogatory terms, contrary to popular belief. One is a description of an ideology and the other is a profession, one of the oldest in existence in fact. The idea that there is something wrong with being a feminist or a whore is a matter of personal opinion. Personally, of the two, I find the term feminist to be more insulting than whore. At least a whore is honest in that they expect to be paid for services rendered. If feminist were at all concerned with equality they would call themselves humanist instead. Instead, they hypocritically lobby for privileged treatment while at the same time slandering anyone who disagrees with their mysandrist vitriol.


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