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This week in Video Game Criticism: From misogyny to exploiting gamers
This week in Video Game Criticism: From misogyny to exploiting gamers
February 28, 2012 | By Kris Ligman

February 28, 2012 | By Kris Ligman
More: Console/PC, Design

[This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including the exploitation of gamers with downloadable content, misogyny in the gaming industry and community, and more.]

We've been holding out for a hero, and we're not gonna take it anymore. It's time for This Week in Video Game Criticism!

Love is a battlefield, and we keep paying for map packs. Paul Tassi, writing for Forbes says we create our own problem by continuing to buy into the DLC schemes we decry:
"It just isn't correct to call these companies evil for attempting to extract more money from their industry. It may be eye rolling or exasperating, but it's sort of like getting upset that auto companies charge extra for GPS, when really, all cars should come standard with it. The "exploitation" of gamers that I allude to in my title is really all in the control of the gamers themselves. Yet we all either fail to realize it, or simply don't care."

One of the more toxic news items of the week was when the weeks-long campaign against Bioware developer Jennifer Hepler came to a crescendo. Many bloggers rallied to the writer's defense, and several also pointed to the larger issues at work. Alan Williamson advocates for a change, saying "Passivity solves nothing." Alex Layne, writing in Not Your Mama's Gamer, wrote explicitly about the misogyny pervasive in the attacks against women in the industry and community:
"We are called bitches, fat, whores, sluts, ugly; we are threatened with rape, beatings, and death; we are regularly hit on; we are told to get back in the kitchen, to cook some dinner, to shut our fucking mouths; and when we stand up for ourselves, we are blacklisted. Those in the industry continue to make games with all male protagonists, reinforcing the idea that gaming is for men; or they make female avatars with such enormous breasts and so little clothing that they become fan-fic porn stars; they hire men for the technical jobs, and leave women to women's work. While game companies may not be casting stones, they are the ones bringing dumptrucks full of rocks and dumping them in front of an angry mob."
Two posts took a closer look at some of the remarks taken out of context in the 2006 interview with Hepler and contended history would prove her right. Tom Auxier of Nightmare Mode argued that some of the best ideas for games derive from unpopular opinions. And Jeremy Klemm of The Pause Button declares Hepler "the Galileo of gaming," writing:
"[She's] ahead of her time, and she's being punished for it. I don't want to make too big a deal of this, but let me be clear on one thing: not only is Hepler right about her opinion, but I believe that history will prove it. Ten years from now, the option to skip (or automate) gameplay will be such a standard feature that no one will think twice about it, and this incident will be little more than an interesting footnote for everyone but Hepler."
The recent release of thechineseroom's Dear Esther on Steam has also generated some (certainly less charged) commentary. The first, from Michael Abbott, suggests the unusual game's influences should include Soviet montage. Jordan Ekeroth, meanwhile, dives headfirst into the psychological and spiritual crisis of the experience, writing:
"In the end (and beginning, and all in between) Dear Esther is about being alone, and that can be a temporarily beautiful thing, but ultimately maddening."
Over on Play the Past, Roger Travis suggests that oral and bardic traditions were to be "played" with in much the same manner as modern games:
"[In] each case, our play is bounded by a ruleset that controls the choices we make and the effect those choices have on the state of the performance in which we are currently engaged. Moreover, I want to suggest, those rulesets may be read comparatively in the way they specifically allow the player to play a mythic past."
Meanwhile, The Game Design Forum is in the midst of a very long and meaty deconstruction of Final Fantasy VI. On the leaner side, Patrick Garratt writes about how Far Cry 2 lends a sense of immersive plausibility he can't seem to glean from its sequel.

Lest you thought we could go one week without getting into a meta-discussion on game blogging, Douglas Stewart suggests that game journalism is not the place for game criticism:
"Writers for sites from IGN to 1up are video game journalists, performing the filtering and distribution function of a chain that starts with a publisher, lands with the consumer and ends in accounting. They serve to categorize, describe and quantify in their own terms the subjective worth of a game to potential consumers who are trying to make informed decisions of purchase. They're also fans and gamers themselves, lest we forget. While I don't envy game journalists, who have to deal with rabid fanboi's, restrictive NDA's and juggling authenticity with publishers demands, in the system I described there is no room for them for wholesale videogame criticism."
Wake me up before you go, go. But between now and then, how about a nightcap? Lewis Denby interviews Alexander Shcherbakov, the developer behind the lost cult game Stalin vs Martians.

That's all for this week! Remember that you can submit your links via Twitter and email. Without your reader submissions, it'd be the end of the world as we know it.

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Michael Kelley
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"they make female avatars with such enormous breasts and so little clothing that they become fan-fic porn stars;"

I find it outrageous and incredible, in the classic sense of the word, that the rallying cry against misogyny hasn't a thing to do with the portrayal of violence against women. As a teacher, I have seen school girls become the victim of very specific media inspired violence. So what's the difference between the two issues?

Women fighting men = empowering. Jade beating up Johnny Cage is ego fodder, no matter how unrealistic, no matter who gets hurt in RL.

Jade having bigger breasts than you = A self-esteem bruising.

If you believe treating women as sex-objects in games results in men treating women as sex-objects in RL, you must concede that beating women in games results in men beating girls in RL. You can't have it both ways. All that's left to do then is prioritize.

Grow up girl gamers. There's more at stake than your body image. If you don't believe me, grab a ouija board and ask Zoe Garcia.

Kris Ligman
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As a girl gamer, I find it outrageous and incredible, in the classic sense of the word, that you are a teacher.

Rowan Kaiser
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I'm sure this argument made sense to you as you were writing it, but that got lost somewhere in the process.

El Winchestro
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I don't get it why women complain. They are a minority that gets threated very well and enjoys many advantages in the multiplayer scene. I am part of the minority of trolls and we get threated realy bad in comparison. People call us "Trolololo" and make ugly smiley faces representing us. They ban uns and insult us. They don't feed us.

A wise troll once said: "If you want to flame someone, you should first walk a mile in their shoes. Then you would be a mile away and you would have their shoes."

Chris OKeefe
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If you really believe that violence against women is primarily a byproduct of violence against women in games, then you're missing the point. Violence against women is a byproduct of a long-held view that women are inferior to men in some capacity, and only in very recent times have we even begun to realize the flaws in that point of view.

In order to reduce violence against women you need to change culture, not teach men that it's wrong to hit women because they are women. It's wrong to hurt anyone, practically speaking, because it is wrong to hurt human beings, whether they are male or female. Games, of course, being full of violence, treads an uncomfortable line where 'respect for women' often comes in the form of sexualizing them and having male characters protect them. That is not a way forward, that is essentially the same 'white knight' sexist chivalric attitude that doesn't seem especially harmful on the surface, but is a result of a much bigger issue of how society views females as inferior and in need of special protection.

There is much more at stake than body image. But you are way, way, waaaay off track if you think that the best thing that games can do for women's rights is to coddle female characters and only let the big strong brave men do all the fighting. Games which glorify violence against women are certainly harmful, as they implicitly promote that violence. Games which allow for incidental violence against females as a direct consequence for including them as equal contenders in combat, are only illicit and harmful if the person abusing that freedom already holds the view that females are inferior and that violence against them is in some way amusing or appropriate. That is a problem of culture, not a problem with the game itself.

Joe McIntosh
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I (and my wife, and the handful of other female gamers I interact with regularly) have very little concern for the way women are portrayed in games. We appreciate the realistic "non-supermodel" characters when we get them, and shake our heads at DOAX's jiggle physics. But we still play the games as long as they're fun. Exploitation of women, while sickening, is not new.

Regarding violence against women in games: PvP fighting games seem more about equality than superiority. To use Michael's reference, it's Jade vs Johnny and only one person is going to survive. Regardless of gender, if you're fighting for your life you'd best bring your A game.

*spoiler alert* The misogynistic scene in L.A. Noire was an interesting case and could probably have it's own long and drawn out discussion, but I don't believe it promoted violence against women. It used it to inform the player about the character's... well, character.

The biggest problem I see on a consistent basis is misogyny amidst online multi-player community. Really, it boils down to immature people hiding behind faux anonymity and saying whatever hurtful things they can in an attempt to get a rise out of a perfect stranger (whether to gain a tactical advantage in the game, or simple because they get a kick out pissing people off. And it's not just the males doing this).

Calling a woman a "bitch" or telling them to "get back in the kitchen" is unacceptable social behavior. So is shouting "fag" and dropping "N" bombs.

"While game companies may not be casting stones, they are the ones bringing dumptrucks full of rocks and dumping them in front of an angry mob."

I think the angry mobs are picking up their own stones, and those stones were left for them by their parents.

Jonathan Jennings
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I feel like This discussion heavily resembles the Violance in games discussion in the beilef that " Violent games make Violent people" . I think its the same thing to say " Sexist representations of women in games makes for sexist gamers ". To me that outlook is extremely insulting to the intelligence of gamers as human beings and a great way for people to once again not turn the mirror on ourselves and recognize where the true problem lies. Joe expressed it best the sexualization of a female character may be embarrassing for a moment but as for it being something that completely controls my gaming experience it just doesn't. A fully clothed IVY is going to eat my Astaroths sword just as fast as the Ivy who's least revealing accessory is her whip .

At the end of the day its people who sit down and play games. a sexist jerk in halo was sexist FARRR before he heard you ask for backup over your mic . Putting the blame for the sexism, racism, hate-speech that let's be honest infests nearly every corner of online interaction ,let's not put undue responsibility on developers for the misconduct or mindsets of their users. I'm all for greater Gender representation in gaming but my stance tends to be more on not forcing equality or diversity for diversities sake but not dismissing the opportunity to create diversity when its exploration can be a good thing. Jade from beyond good and evil is one of my favorite gaming characters and that is regardless of gender .

Eric Cartney
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"Those in the industry continue to make games with all male protagonists, reinforcing the idea that gaming is for men; or they make female avatars with such enormous breasts and so little clothing that they become fan-fic porn stars"

That's because most gamers *are* male. Do you often complain about how most cartoons seem to be aimed at kids, too?