Experienced Points: Tropes vs. Women Protagonists

By Shamus Posted Sunday Sep 30, 2012

Filed under: Column 285 comments

In my column this week, I gently criticized the proposed Tropes vs. Women video series. This is a very touchy subject. It shouldn’t be. Sarkeesian herself has become a lightning rod and a lot of the discussion about her Kickstarter revolves around trying to discredit her. To be fair, not all of her critics are hate-filled troll monsters. Some of them are very reasonable and calm.

I don’t think the debate should be about her for the same reason that I never wanted the DRM debate to be about me. We’re talking about ideas, and that interests me. Even if Anita Sarkeesian is every bit the fraud her critics claim, it doesn’t really invalidate the debate itself. It’s just another Ad Hominem attack in a debate that’s already got way too much Ad Hominem vs. argumentum ad verecundiam.

This column was my own attempt to move the spotlight from her and her critics to the ideas I find so interesting. This is also why I try to keep the conversation positive. I’m not accusing anyone of of being outright misogynist. I’m pointing to a problem and hoping we can have a discussion that revolves around solutions.

The usual excuse – and I’ve already gotten a few responses to this effect – is that action games aren’t made for women because women don’t want to play action games. Everyone knows that anecdotes are the most reliable form of scientific study, so here’s mine:

A few night ago, my daughter was playing Left 4 Dead the other night with her friends. The gender breakdown of the players was 3 females and 1 male. Most of her gaming time is spent with other females. So females are playing, but they’re mostly playing with each other.

I’m not saying the split is 50/50, I’m saying the split is unknown and nobody has a really good way of finding out. And we have no way of knowing how much more even the split would be if online interactions weren’t so poisonously hostile and crude. And it might be better still if most action games weren’t stories where a man gets to be the big hero and the women are relegated to secondary importance. And no, I’m not saying those stories are invalid or that they shouldn’t be made. And obviously I’m not saying games need to be split 50/50. I’m just suggesting that there might be an untapped market out there. Instead of making another attempt to capture the same 18-30 male demo everyone is fighting over, it’s entirely possible that the right AAA game could open some new doors for the hobby.


From The Archives:

285 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Tropes vs. Women Protagonists

  1. Jeysie says:

    As a woman, my thought as always been that I don’t care if the lead character is male or female as long as they’re interesting and someone I want to help succeed. I’ve never been alienated by a male lead unless they were also unappealing as a character as a whole. Conversely, many of my favorite video game characters are male.

    Though admittedly I mostly play adventure games and turn-based RPGs, where the storytelling tends to be much stronger to begin with. I find action games unappealing due to the gameplay itself (I’m not good at “twitch” gaming) rather than the storytelling. I tend to find multiplayer unappealing for the same reason; it’s hard to find people who are neither so skilled you get curb-stomped or so unskilled that you curb-stomp them.

    Nicer attitudes from gamers would be a plus as well, though I wager surly gamers alienate just as many male gamers as they do female ones.

    1. Warrax says:

      I’m male and I avoid action games and multiplayer for the same reasons you do, including the fact that I feel alienated by the vocal minority of jerk-online gamers. I think part of the problem might be the fact that the suits making business decisions in the game industry like to think of ‘gamers’ as being one big group but we aren’t, there are so many different categories, and trying to appeal to a single stereotype often means only appealing mostly to not-my-type of gamer.

      1. Shamus says:

        I’ll add that it’s basically the classic moderation problem. It only takes a handful of broken people to turn a thread into a sewer. Some are genuinely evil. Some are just getting attention. Some are trying the whole system like a game, and enjoy how small actions can create a large and strong response. In any case, once people start waving hate words around, nobody else wants to try to have a polite conversation.

        We solved this on forums years ago, but we’re never brought those tools to the gamer space. Companies don’t want to babysit every single zone, server, and lobby. At the same time, they haven’t given the players the power to police themselves.

        And to be fair, moderating in-game communication can be tough. I can weed my own garden here on the blog, but if this was a voice-chat space I’d never be able to keep up. I can’t listen to everything that’s said 24/7.

        As a result, games have almost nothing in the way of moderation, which means they’re often dominated by the worst voices.

        1. Khizan says:

          Part of the problem with moderation in games is that there’s more to them than just a forum.

          Take League of Legends for example: you can ignore players there, which means you’ll never see their communications. However, you can still end up in games with them.

          That’s intentional, because otherwise ‘ignore’ stops being a strictly social feature to shut up the trolls and starts becoming a tool used to interfere with matchmaking. Is somebody beating you handily? Outplaying you? Just plain better than you are? Ignore them! You’ll never get spanked by them in the mid lane again! etc etc etc.

          1. Jeysie says:

            …I admit I’m struggling to see why getting to block being matched with someone I can never hope to beat in favor of getting more even matches is the negative you seem to be implying it is.

            The point of playing a game is to have fun, and “getting spanked” isn’t fun. Getting beat in a close match is fun, but getting spanked isn’t.

            1. Chauzuvoy says:

              On one level, it’s because of variations in what people consider a good, fun game. Some people only consider it a good game when they’re pretty evenly matched. Some people only enjoy themselves when they’re completely dominating the game.

              In an FPS it’s less drastic, because each individual player has less impact. One godlike ubershooter in a server of 50 people isn’t going to be the monumental pain in the neck that one dominating player in a 10-man LoL match.

              It’s also something of a concession to the competitive scene. A lot of people use their ranked Elo as a strong measure of how good they are at the game. It’s internet willy-waving, but given that they’ve had a five million dollar prize pool over this competitive season, anything that ruins the illusion that an average Joe can get a piece of that by raising their Elo enough isn’t exactly going to be received positively.

            2. Khizan says:

              If you never play them, of course you can never hope to beat them. You only improve when you play above your level, because stomping all over players who are worse than you doesn’t force you to improve.

              1. Sumanai says:

                Being stomped over people who vastly outclass you is not a good schooling plan. You need people who are around your own level so that the strategies are close enough to you that you can tell what they’re doing and why it works.

                Unless you’re spending a lot of time even outside of the game in being better, reading up on meta-games etc., but at that point you’re not really the average player. Well, outside of e-sport games possibly.

                The only problem comes when a new player has blocked a pro-player in the past, but is now good enough to take on the pro, but the block is still in place.

              2. Zukhramm says:

                Maybe I don’t want to improve?

                1. Dasick says:

                  Interesting. My knee-jerk response is “then why are you playing games?”. I realise there are many ways to enjoy a “game”, and there are “games” that cater to different audience, but still…

                  We need better terminology.

                  1. Jeysie says:

                    Why on earth would you need to become a master at a game just to enjoy it? Some of us don’t care about being the best player in existence; we just care about being good enough to get through the story, or run a few levels on a coffee break, or play a pickup match here and there.

                    Not everyone is super-competitive. Sometimes we just want to do the figurative equivalent of kicking a ball around.

                    1. Dasick says:

                      We need better terminology. The experiences you’re describing are very different, from each other and from what I want. They also require different approach in developing them.

                      But I don’t care about be a master at a game. I care about the process of mastering. Playing the game, learning the ins and outs of it, having those “aha” moments, having to use what I’ve learned, that’s what I care about.

                      A game that I can master means nothing to me. A game that I can get better at, but never reach the peak… that I like.

              3. Loonyyy says:

                I’ve heard this before, and it’s flat out wrong. If I can’t play a game well, I’ll be killed repeatedly. Look at mastery games like Guitar Hero. Low difficulties reduce speed or note variation, allowing you to master simple tasks. From there, increasing difficulty increases the speed or complexity, forcing you to master something new. But you’ll never succeed as a new player on the highest difficulty, because you’re being asked to master many skills before you know any of them.

                There are two forms of learning here:

                1.) Mastery.
                2.) New material.

                For 1.) we’re talking about becoming more efficient. If I repeatedly shoot bots with knives on Counter Strike, I can improve my ability to aim quickly without pressure. If I play the same riff over and over on Rocksmith, I can learn all the notes. This is vital to accomplishing any sort of proficiency.
                2.) Learning about things you were unaware of gives you more things to master, and a greater variety of abilities. This is like learning strategies for Chess or Starcraft, or making Strategies for RPGs or FPS games. You get a new skill, or devise one, and then learn it. Like for instance, learning to use a new weapon or class.

                It’s like in University: You’ve got Lectures where you learn things, and Tutorials where you practise them.

                You might not learn new strategies or ideas while playing players at your level or worse, but you’ll become more efficient at what you have mastered, whilst playing against players better than you will make mastery impossible. Playing against players who are better will show you what you could do, and maybe give you some ideas, but the skill disparity caused by their efficiency at those tasks makes it impossible for you to gain their mastery by playing them. You’ll be stuck in the respawn loop.

                Also, the system isn’t binary. You don’t have to “Stomp” or “Be stomped”. You can play against players of a similar level and balance the types of learning. But the important thing to take away is that people learn from a mixture of success and failure, and that it is impossible to learn exclusively from failure.

                1. Wedge says:

                  > I've heard this before, and it's flat out wrong. If I can't play a game well, I'll be killed repeatedly.

                  You’re right–there’s actually been a fair bit of research done about this, which I’m too lazy to dig up right now, but basically it turns out what’s necessary to improve (or improve easily) at a given task is that you need to be given challenges that are barely above your current skill level. Basically, if it’s too easy, it’s difficult to learn anything new, whereas if it’s too difficult you can’t really tell what you’re doing wrong. Also, from a psychological perspective, you’re more likely to get bored/frustrated and give up rather than continue and try to improve.

              4. Jeysie says:

                Loony wrapped it up in an excellent post for me.

                Though I agree with Zukhramm too, though it’s less “don’t want to improve” and “can’t”. I tend to reach an improvement plateau way earlier than most gamers do. Which is why I seldom play action games in the first place, really, since often the single player difficulty also rises above my ability to ever keep up long before the end. I have so many games from the old days I’m pretty much perma-stuck in.

          2. Alexander The 1st says:

            That’s what “Report: Unskilled Player” is for. <_<

        2. The Rocketeer says:

          “We solved this on forums years ago.”

          We did?!

          1. Ringwraith says:

            Well, some forums at least.
            Having moderators and also community moderators (though you have to be careful with those to make sure they are enforcing the rules properly, rather than using them to their own advantage.).

          2. sab says:

            Shamus did, on his website. But I’m afraid he doesn’t factor in that his content attracts a slightly more mature audience. If we’re talking about the entire interwebs, I’m not entirely sure this problem has been solved.

          3. Shamus says:

            Heh. Well, the TOOLS are there. You still have to use them. :)

        3. Dasick says:

          PC games have solved it. Dedicated servers, moderators, admins and big brother bots. Played Call of Duty 4 for 2 years. Rarely saw any bile. Rarely heard a woman get disrespected for her gender (yes, there were women playing). And when I did, it was over just like that *snaps fingers*.

          Just because the big publishers want to kill it off for some reason, doesn’t mean the solution does not exist.

          1. Wedge says:

            Yet, the Counterstrike community is the most vehemently misogynistic, racist pile of morons I have ever encountered. And last I checked, it’s a PC game.

            I’ve been playing CS:GO on and off since it came out, and while it’s a great game, the community is still just as fucking awful as it ever was.

      2. Jeysie says:

        Precisely. I’ve been forced to pretty much disengage from the mainstream gaming scene entirely to casual games, web games, and/or indie games because aside from a few outliers the industry just isn’t making the genres I like any more. So to me all the debate about action game sexism or whatever is almost utterly besides the point. I think it’s more than just sexism that’s driving female gamers to casual games.

        I’ve found more awesome free web and mobile games lately than I have appealing commercial big box games, and I find it telling that many of the big Kickstarter gaming successes have been adventure game or turn-based RPG revivals.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          Kickstarter seems to be largely the adult gamers that are going “where did all those awesome games that got made in the 90s go?” finally finding an outlet to vote with their money :D

          And it’s incredibly weird to think I pretty much qualify to be in that category…

          1. Jace911 says:

            I just turned 20 and I think it’s one of the best things to happen to the industry.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              I’m only 18, hence the incredibly weird to think I might qualify as “adult”

              1. Thomas says:

                You being 18 suddenly makes me feel really old, I turn 21 in November :( Still not quite old enough to be gaming in the 90’s though

      3. Jace911 says:

        Back when I used to play Halo 3 on XBL, there was one kid-couldn’t have been more than twelve-who threatened to eat my children after his team lost to mine.

        1. StashAugustine says:

          One minute we’re talking about a hole in the wall; the next thing I know, you turn into Grumps McGurt. Sounded like you needed a lozenge. Threatened to eat my children…not very cool, dude.

          1. Jeysie says:

            I am so glad I’m not the only one who immediately thought of that…

  2. Sucal says:

    I have to say, I enjoyed those reasonable videos until the thing that seemed like an attack on Moviebob and Extra Credits out of left field at the end.

    1. Keeshhound says:

      He qualified it with an annotation, although you do have to pause it to read it all.

      1. mdqp says:

        I must admit that, while I don’t share his (the poster of the youtube video) distaste for MovieBob and Extra Credits, I do feel that his complains are legitimate. I liked Extra Credits a lot more at first, but I felt it become more and more shallow, and also a bit condescending in the analysis they provide, in the sense that they state the obvious a little too often, which of course doesn’t make for an interesting video.

        I didn’t see a lot of MovieBob reviews, but what I saw I found annoying in tone, and not particularly insightful, altough I wouldn’t call him a “bad person” for this (I still hold a grudge on how he “labelled” people complaining about ME3, though).

      2. StranaMente says:

        I read the annotation and while he may make good points about extra credits, the one he makes about moviebob are not: nasal voice? He’s a bad person?
        I strongly disagree with the few review of games MovieBob made (and I’ve seen), and think he’s suited better for the movie ones (even if we sometimes have different tastes). The latest Big picture about Sucker Punch nails it for example.

        1. Thomas says:

          Yeah I think the annotation makes it a lot worse, it makes his video feel less credible for including it and it’s not even been used in an accurate way, so he put it in just to have a personal aside, because no-one can actually honestly say that MovieBob and Extra Credits are any less in the public eye than they’ve ever been and there’s no sign that’s about to stop. Also with Extra Credits, stating the obvious might be fair enough, but lacking research… I’m not so sure. There might be stuff they know that they left out for simplicity but considering the guys works in the industry and James gives lectures and studies it for a living…I feel like even if they didn’t research they’d no more than I ever will just naturally and unless they say something factually correct, I probably don’t even know enough to big saying whether they’ve done the research or not.

          1. Infinitron says:

            By stating the obvious, they create a perception that the obvious is all they know.

            EC is pseudo-intellectualism for neophyte gaming industry nerds. They really need to start making longer videos if they want to be taken more seriously by people who actually know things.

            1. newdarkcloud says:

              I always felt that EC was a little too optimistic for their own good. They often took simple ideas that weren’t inherently good or bad (like gamification) and made them out to be the best thing ever in the entire world.

              It seems like they have learned to temper this in recent videos, but it is still something I dislike about them.

              1. Shamus says:

                Man, the optimism of EC is really good for me. I enjoy their stuff because it reminds me that the whole industry isn’t going to hell in a handbasket, which is how I feel when I’ve absorbed too much gaming news.

                1. Dasick says:

                  Baseless “optimism” is poison. Optimism is seeing the situation for what it is, and looking/finding the way to make it better. I don’t agree with everything they say, so your mileage varies, obviously. But to be honest, some of their predictions about the industry make me feel dread a bit.

                  I don’t believe that by introducing Augmented or Virtual or whatever Realities into our gaming we will improve the existing craft. We’ll merely add another field to explore, despite the fact that simple, 2D, turn-based games are coming out and are completely ground breaking.

                  Game mechanics don’t have to be a metaphor for anything; a good game is a great tool by itself for reflection and deeper understanding. A well-made game played well is a form of art in itself.

                  Gamefication isn’t going to introduce deeper meaning into fundamentally unpleasant activities. On the other hand, gamefying an already rewarding activity detracts from it. The best it can hope to be is “non-offensive”.

                  But there is a lot to be optimistic about.

                  Craftsmen are given more power than ever. The indies, sometimes by sheer virtue of their limitations, can craft magnificent games. Just thinking about Bastion fills me with hope. Kickstarter and other forms of crowdfunding allows artists, passionate about their craft to make “AAA indie games”.

                  Big corporations are faltering. EA is losing stock. Diablo3 was a disaster for Blizzard in terms of PR and their consumer base. Call of Duties have reached their peak revenue. Valve isn’t the only digital re distributor any more.

                  WoW is past it’s prime, and TOR-tanic is going to haunt anyone who tries to make a WoW-like for a long time. At the same time, Guild Wars is second-healthiest MMORPG in the market, by the sheer virtue of how different, and how good it is (#1 is EVE. People will be playing that one for a lo-o-ong time…).

                  Game design is becoming more self-aware. We have much experience about what works and what doesn’t. We have so many people exploring the fundamentals of game design, from so many points of view.

                  Game development tools are becoming more and more accessible, and we’re reaching another “golden age spot”. Unity and UDK are very easy to pick up and use, CryEngine recently became “free” to use; they will also heavily standardise system requirements. My computer is 4-5 years old, and it plays most modern game pretty damn well.

                  And that’s just off the tip of my head. None of the points covered by EC.

                  1. Sumanai says:

                    Optimism is always inaccurate, as is pessimism. In optimism you’re always expecting a more favourable outcome than you really should be, and in pessimism you’re expecting a worse one.

                    The problem is when someone is blind to the fact they’re one or the other and insist that something will be okay/screwed and there’s no need/point in doing anything about it.

                    That’s not to say hearing either perspective can’t be invigorating, even if they’re by definition inaccurate.

                    1. Dasick says:

                      My personal definition of optimism isn’t expecting a more favourable outcome than reasonable, it’s the belief that it is possible to make any situation better, and having the mindset of looking for way to do that. I think that a grounded understanding of reality is essential to productive optimism.

                      Though, this is another case where swiss-army words fail us. So many people use so many definitions of the same word!…

                    2. Sumanai says:

                      Your personal definition isn’t wrong, from what I know. “Optimism” and “pessimism” are really bad at conveying meaning, which is why I often describe myself as a cynic, even though I’m not certain if that’s accurate.

                  2. Infinitron says:

                    I think EC’s problem is that they’re trying to play it safe and not offend publishers too much, so they can’t talk about a lot of what you’re saying.

                    (I think one of them has worked on a Call of Duty title?)

                    1. Dasick says:

                      Well, as much as I don’t like the idea of “making money by making games”, I do believe that it is possible for game devs and suits to co-exist symbiotically, if they can avoid a power struggle. And sometimes, when a project is promising but needs money – well, that’s what the publishers are for.

                      And not all publishers are “evil”. Valve is pretty cool for an oppressive, monopolising DRM dealer, and Paradox Interactive has released some pretty diverse and interesting games. Much respect to them!

                      But you didn’t hear this from me ;)

              2. FalseProphet says:

                Almost all the other high profile voices in gaming are either exceptionally critical, or cheerleaders for the things that are actually bad. I’m very happy there’s at least one high profile voice that makes constructive criticism and offers potential solutions, and that’s Extra Credits.

                1. ehlijen says:

                  I sometimes feel as though they do advocate things that are bad cheerfully. It’s really just me seeing things differently, I guess, but it’s why I’m having trouble liking their videos.

                  1. Sumanai says:

                    I’m having the same problem, but I know my default state is grouchy (“old man” optional), I’m very pessimistic and I’m stubborn so their enthusiasm has a tendency of being met by a brick wall. Built of wrath.

              3. Infinitron says:

                I actually think the optimistic approach can work, but they need to support it more effectively. And they can only do that by adding more content, which means longer videos.

              4. Phantos says:

                I fall somewhere between your and Shamus’ comments on EC. I think there comes a point where optimism just becomes delusional. But at the same time, I’m just glad SOMEONE in this crap-blasted frontier has anything positive to say.

                So even though I think they’re giving this industry way too much credit, that doesn’t stop me from tuning in every week.

                MovieBob was also mentioned in that video, and as far as that goes… Well… sometimes I wonder if the murlocs finally got to him.

                1. newdarkcloud says:

                  I should clarify that it isn’t that they are optimistic. It is that they are OVERLY optimistic.

              5. Maldeus says:

                The optimism is why I keep coming back to EC. It’s a vital injection that keeps me going even if these days they aren’t bringing as much to the discussion as they were before.

        2. Guvnorium says:

          I agree on the movie bob thing. Even when I disagree with his opinions on movies (dear god, how did he think Salt was better than ‘okay?’), he at least gives interesting reasons for his opinions. When it comes to games, well, he has some pretty bizarre opinions. And I think the ‘bad person’ part comes from the fact that he is not really good at taking criticism, and tends to have a ‘I will do things how I want’ attitude. Not that I actually think that makes him a bad person.

          And EC is way too damn optimistic. I stopped watching it over the summer because I was away, and it’s the one video series I still haven’t caught up on. I guess I got tired of it.

          1. Amarsir says:

            I stopped watching MovieBob a while back (because that’s what I do when I don’t like something) so maybe he’s improved on this. But I eventually decided what bothered me is how in order to present an opinion, he had to demagogue a strawman to disagree with. The brainless “dude”, the puritanical Christian, the tactless executive … I just got tired of him setting up these one-sided fights instead of presenting his opinion with an open respect for the possibility of disagreement.

            1. Klay F. says:

              This is the reason I dislike MovieBob. Every time he argues his case, instead of addressing the opposing argument itself, he invents an insulting strawman to discredit. Its a very sleazy way of debating that the internet age sadly facilitates. What better way to prove you are right than by setting up the opposing side as a moronic stereotype?

              1. Fleaman says:

                I like Bob, but I know exactly what you’re talking about, and you’re right. For what it’s worth, I do think he’s gotten better over time; the strawmanning was seriously rampant in the early days of the GameOverthinker, and it makes them kind of unwatchable. Nowadays, if I don’t agree with him it’s generally on matters of taste, not style.

                1. Klay F. says:

                  The last straw for me was his Expendables review. I don’t care that he didn’t like the movie. Actually scratch that, I DID (past tense) care what he thought of the film as it was why I watched it. But he went past insulting the film itself into insulting anyone who dared like it. After that, I was like, “You know what? I have better things to do than listen to a man (a so-called professional no less) that feels the need to insult people who like a movie he doesn’t.”

          2. FalseProphet says:

            I love Bob as a movie critic. I probably agree with him on films about 90% of the time, if not always for the same reasons, and even when I don’t, like you said he usually explains himself well. And when I listen to and read other film-related things he’s done (mostly with other Boston-area film critics), it’s pretty clear he really knows film history.

            I find I disagree with him a lot on video games, moreso recently. But I keep watching Game Overthinker because there don’t seem to be very many diehard, loyalist Nintendo partisan pundits who are capable of making a good argument. So even though I don’t agree with him most of the time, I like to have that perspective I probably won’t get anywhere else.

    2. Infinitron says:

      *GASP* An attack on Extra Credits? Call teh cops!

      1. Sucal says:

        I think you missed the point of what I said.

        I don’t care if he attacks extra credits. He could make an entire video doing so, and I wouldn’t care much.

        Its the way that he snipes at extra credits/Movie Bob at the very end out of nowhere that ruins his point. Its like me making a nice long speech about gamefication then adding ‘and fuck George Bush’ to the end.

        Adds nothing to the piece, detracts from what was actually said and generally defeats the purpose that I made the speech for.

        1. Thomas says:

          I feel like that sort of jab can be irrationally effective too. I swear it’s an established pyschological quirk, that if you make a long form point about something and then quickly add on a short powerful statement on the end of it, people feel unreasonably attracted to the idea

          1. Sucal says:

            Especially since any attempt to try and argue about the Jab can lead people to saying your a monster because you hate the big idea. Sure, not as serious this time, but tends to occur in politics.

  3. CTrees says:

    And it might be better still if most action games weren't stories where a man gets to be the big hero and the women are relegated to secondary importance.

    This is what’s interesting to me, because I don’t see why we can’t simply provide a gender toggle when starting games. While some storylines would not work with a swapped-gender protagonist*, the plots of most action games are not all that deep. It would require more voice acting, but look at the Mass Effect games. Look at the CoD games and their ilk. Look at the sheer fact that you spend 90-99% of your time looking at crosshairs and a gun hovering in front of you (not even requiring additional animation work). It works in the Mass Effect games, and as bad as the writing is? The plot is orders of magnitude more complicated than in most action games. The gender toggle works in RPGs/MMOs…

    I’m just saying, it seems like a cheap option which might encourage more female players, so the only thing I can figure is that the people making the decisions in game design think people don’t want to play as women.

    *the first thing that comes to mind in my Sunday morning, hungover state is Nier, where the father/daughter, motivating relationship provides a significantly different dynamic than a mother/daughter or mother/son relationship would (or for that matter, the Japanese version’s brother/sister relationship). Point is, there are cases where it would require more than a minor rewrite to switch protagonist genders

    1. James says:

      i like this idea, as ive never really cared, what sex my protagonist is, i only care about two things about them,

      One: are they well written, is the character and the world compelling, can i get engrossed in the world in the lore and in the story?, if the character is a blank slate, a non-entity so to speak, can i fashion a story for them, can i make them a hard ass nails biker, who uses revolvers to solve their issues, or a scientist who uses logic and clever gadgets to get out of trouble?

      Two: Can i make them look as i want them to look, now this is less important then one, i can live with a well written character that doesn’t look how i want them to, can i have them in a duster with a stetson and a 6 shooter, or a huge heavily armor space marine, with a gun bigger then most people.

      Gender for me is a non issue, lets take a well received female sub-character , Alyx Vance (go check out Chris’s critic of Alyx, its a excellent watch) if we made her a guy, and Gordon a chick, what would change?, what if both we’re guys? For me at least he whole Half-Life saga is more about the gameplay, then its story, which isn’t bad infact its quite good, it Doesnt fall into the Good V Bad trope with Breene , i would have like more development of the combine, who seam to exist to be shot and to shoot you and little else.

      To sum up, if all games had an option to play either sex i would be happy, its not the sex that interests me in a character, its how they are written and how the world is written.

      1. Thomas says:

        I can imagine that most people wouldn’t like this idea. I’m assuming we’re not writing separate stories for separate protagonists (else we’d have more valid budget difficulty issues) and if the dialogue/story is pretty identical, it seems to me the message that would send out to the people who want female protagonists is that their wish is actually really a bit pointless and superficial and has no bearing on the character or story, it’s just a cosmetic thing that’s stopping them from enjoying the game.

        I think it could end up with really weird or homogenous stories where things don’t quite match up or the character isn’t as important. It might be a powerful anti-sexism message ‘there really is no point to gender identity’, but still…

        For example, Susan Arendt has always made the point that she doesn’t want a female protagonist who acts like an alpha male, she wants a female protagonist who acts like a female. Lightning annoyed her for being too much of a guy (something I don’t personally agree with) so I don’t imagine she’d be happy with a palette swap toggle.

        Also I imagine there would be some severe animation issues. I imagine lots of guy/girl designs wouldn’t be the same shape at all and it might be more work

        1. Aldowyn says:

          If you can switch the gender of the protagonist without breaking something significant, then the gender doesn’t matter.

          What is needed are leads that are female, and wouldn’t work if they were male, that aren’t obviously pandering to a male audience. That is a rare thing to find.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            So equality is achieved by giving us more stories that focus on gender than on the character?I disagree.I was always the proponent of “character first,gender insignificant”.We need our stories to be about the protagonist,and not about protagonists gender.

            1. Thomas says:

              Yeah but the characters gender is an integral part of character design as much as character appearance (and indeed part of character appearance) is, you don’t need to make the stories around gender, but gender is a component of who people are. The character type ‘alpha-male’ doesn’t have to be alpha male, but if they are female we need to recognise that this isn’t a common societal position for that person and that itself will play into character types, maybe she’s hardcore military, maybe she had lots of brothers, maybe she had a very tough life that didn’t allow softness. It has to be explained in a way that alpha-male-male doesn’t.

              I’m fine with treating different genders as basically the same (although there are a couple of differences in brain and hormone composition) but society as we currently experience it, their are certain character positions which are more associated with one gender than the other, and that in turn highlights the subversions and so when we build a character, that’s got to play in some factor.

              And as I mentioned before, it’s what people want, Susan Arendt didn’t want a shooty-alpha-male-female character because in some ways it was the personality type she was seeking much more than the physical appearance

              1. Aldowyn says:

                What Thomas said. Not that her femininity is the most important part of the character, but that it influences it in some significant way.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  And how often is the protagonists upbringing brought into the story as something other than flavor?Nothing prevents you from bringing the gender to the story as flavor as well.For example,lets take max payne:
                  If you switch the role to be a female cop that lost her husband and child to the gangsters,would you change the story significantly?Sure,you could add a few lines there “I was the best on the force,trying to prove myself in the men dominated world”,and would that change anything?It would add a different angle to the story,but in its core it would remain the same.

                  The gender of the protagonist is 99,99% of the time just flavor,nothing else.It is important only in stories that revolve around subverting general expectations,like in leisure suit larry,or in games that are rooted in realism(there arent that many female soldiers in active combat,for example).But in fantasy,in science fiction,it makes no difference.

                  1. Thomas says:

                    My other route reason is, I don’t like the idea even if it were switching between two similar looking male protagonists. You grow a bond with your guy and the idea that he can be a completely different person and look different somehow doesn’t sit well with me.

                    I was thinking with Nathan Drake, he’s got lots of crazy original concept art, but if we could switch between the two and both were equally valid story options, it feels to me like I’m suddenly confused about what I think about the character. Do I even really know them when they could equally well be completely different?

                    It feels like I’ve got to the end of a Night Watch Discworld novel and they’ve told me that I can replace the name Sam Vimes with Joseph Waldberg and that he’s got bright long blonde hair.

                    And if the gender had so little story impact, I feel like people would be less bothered by not being able to find female protagonists

                    1. Fleaman says:

                      Actually, I feel this way about Shepherd. I think Mass Effect has suffered for trying to both characterize Shepherd for their epic Space Opera and decharacterize Shepherd for their Role-Playing Game.

                      Since that’s the case, let’s restrict gender selection to games where characterization is unimportant. As you said, Nathamantha Drake would be inappropriate, but what about the earlier example of Gordon Free-chan?

                      Hm, this still might not be ideal for all situations. The concrete character designs for Link and Samus, for example, give their brands a lot of strength. Option more viable in Pokemon or Persona 3… where the brand’s art style is not dependent on the protagonist’s design. Hmm.

                      I think I’d have to conclude that the circumstances under which gender selection (or rather, character customization in general) offers a net benefit do not extend much further than the genres that already feature it: Mainly multiplayer or role-playing games (multiplayer action and shooter games should be viewed as lagging in this respect).

                      I think a better solution for single-player games is to just make more protagonists female when gender is irrelevant. Again, not always appropriate; man-Chell could make GlaDOS’s horseshit vaguely sexual rather than vaguely parental. But Bastion or Bioshock might be a place where this would work.

                      I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is just that solving problems with violence doesn’t belong only to mentally unfit males. Solving problems with violence should belong to everyone.

          2. Maldeus says:

            I have to disagree. Having female protagonists who avoid neutral plots like “revenge” or “learning the value of friendship” or whatever in favor of female-centric plots about motherhood or whatever is part of what makes the industry sexist right now. A lack of female protagonists starring in plots that apply equally to both sexes is a big part of the problem with the industry.

        2. James says:

          i see your point. and i see where my idea might be a bit broad of a fix.

          i don’t personally see sex as consideration when picking a character, but i agree that a pallet swap isn’t the best “fix”, it makes gender choice’s irreverent and lessens both sex’s by saying, we’re all the same right?

          Instead i think in a game where there is a pre-defined character, why not make two, granted it would cost more, but just grab budget from somewhere that’s hemorrhaging money pointlessly like making trees look more tree’y photo-realism is expensive and it often misses the goal, i would gladly have “worse” graphics and better characters.

          Voice acting could also be an issue, it can be very expensive to do, but i’m sure Jennifer Hale and Steven Blum could do with some more work, and i’m sure Nolan North wouldn’t mind, Voice Acting costs are likely to never go away.

          in a FPS character models would be easy-“ish”, i think it was Shamus who said it would be cool is instead of three body types Brink could have male and female. that’s not an exact quote.

          and character animations for RPG’s have been mono-gendered in games like TES, Fallout and Bioware stuff, why cant other studio’s do it?

          1. Thomas says:

            I mean for games where you role-play it should just be complete standard. There’s almost no reason in any game where you influence your character not to have it, because it doesn’t matter that you didn’t take into account gender when writing the character, because the character will be decided and fleshed out by the player. So when picking a character. Yeah it should be easy.

            The idea about making two charaters… it could work but I think maybe even above budget considerations, it would be a lot harder and require a lot more intelligent writers, because they’ve got to think of two seperate characters who still go through exactly the same events and react in ways that lead to the same places. It can dilute the message of the game as well. If in Spec Ops they wrote two characters then the game would be telling two seperate stories, so it’s overall theme wouldn’t be as strong.

            … but in games with excuse plots or at least not narratively focused in a huge way, I think you’re idea could really work. Providing it’s fairly cheap it could actually give games that would otherwise have a very weak story a bit of hook.

            The model thing comes back to character choices a bit though, because the same build with a man and women says very different things and it might make it even harder to write plots that could work for both. (Also TES and Fallout have absolutely crud animations full stop. They get away with it because the games are meant to be n first person =D. I guess providing you aren’t making extreme character designs it’s probably not too hard although you’ll get the odd femshep fighting Vegas scene but you can’t take it to Gears of War or Darksiders extremes :-) )

            1. James says:

              On the subject of story i’m not proposing they right two, you can have both characters go through the same Arc’s and the same emotional turmoil, but you can also have them act differently, AS LONG AS the character is written well and isn’t pandering, isn’t insulting, then it can work, a minor change in script can keep the story and its arc the same but have enough variation to make it worth doing.

              This sort of multiple select-able protagonists could be a massive selling point.

              imagine in say a few years a new FPS, like i dunno Spec Ops: The Line 2, and on the back of the box it says

              ” X Hours of Action Packed Game-play with a morally ambiguous tale, with a variable character choice ”

              OR you could have the same story told from two view points, the same things happen but the view point is different, you could even have the same dialogue, but have two characters be playable.

              Say in Witcher 3, you could play as either Geralt or Triss, or whatever, both are predefined, they could both be part of the same story and story moments, you could even make a co-op idea about it,


              1. Atarlost says:

                I think zombie is probably the best genre for female protagonists. Most action games seem to use military protagonists, which really don’t gender swap well.

                There are really good reasons not to have female soldiers or space marines. Iron womb technology is probably required as well as either the abolition of male protective instincts or the almost complete segregation of the armed forces.

                The zombie genre uses everyman protagonists, who can just as easily be everywoman protagonists. The zombie genre can also be about domestic themes in the way most other action genres can’t.

                Like Chris’s proposed family themed zombie game from that Errant Signal about advertising. Really the perfect vehicle to target female and mature male gamers. Maybe he and Shamus can collaborate on it after Shamus finishes his current book.

                1. Adam says:

                  We’re talking about video games, here. We’re not talking Tom Clancy (well, OLD Clancy) levels of realism and adherence to detail. I think that real-world objections to gender-blind military service can get stuffed when we leave the modern-day setting behind (and even if we are talking about a game set in modern-day afghanistan, why take away a girl’s ability to play as herself shooting terrorists because it bothers YOU specifically?) The point is compounded if the setting is fantasy or sci-fi because odds are the world follows very different rules ANYWAY.

                  Or in more personal terms: You can accept games where FTL travel and chainsaw bayonets are commonplace, but women serving as soldiers is “unrealistic”?

                  1. Atarlost says:

                    I wonder what Sigmund Freud would say about how you immediately jump to the most wretched examples of the artistically worthless bro shooter genre and accuse me of being a sexist jerk for not wanting to see tits on them.

                    Your lack of respect for science fiction is depressing. The thing about traditional science fiction is that it is about how people or societies react to altered circumstances. Impossible technology is acceptable in, indeed nearly fundamental to, the genre as long as it is used consistently and people react to it like people. Once your societies and characters stop making sense you’ve left science fiction and moved into juvenile fantasies no more related to real science fiction than superhero comics, shonen manga, or vampire romances. Or bro shooters.

                    The fact is that people have and react to gender. Men, in general, have an instinctive drive to protect women and children. Societies may ignore this, but any society ignoring this will suffer more battlefield casualties than they need to.

                    The only way to have the sort of bro shooter equality you propose without it being pure misguided politics is a multigeneration dystopia like Nicholas Kerensky’s Clans. Femininity must first be made obsolete and then the meritorious elements of masculinity must be bred out. This is not feminism.

                    1. Alan says:

                      “I wonder what Sigmund Freud would say…”

                      Appeal to authority and ad hominem attack, all in one shot. Well played.

                      “most wretched examples of the artistically worthless bro shooter genre”

                      Derailing and evadive. It’s a hugely popular genre and the discussion is really focused on mainstream titles. Bro shooters are mainstream. Video games inspired by Asimov and Clarke are not.

                      “you [Adam]… accuse me of being a sexist jerk for not wanting to see tits on them.”

                      [citation needed]

                      I, however, will accuse you of looking for offense.

                      “Your lack of respect for science fiction is depressing. The thing about traditional science fiction is that it is about how people or societies react to altered circumstances.”

                      Fallacy of definition. Like it or not, Gears of War is generally identified as science fiction. You can’t redefine words for other people, then use a definition they don’t necessarily agree to as evidence that their argument is wrong.

                      “Once your societies and characters stop making sense…”

                      Where “sense” is defined as “meet’s Atarlost’s expectations.” Unfortunately, other people have other expectations.

                      “Men, in general, have an instinctive drive to protect women and children.”

                      [citation needed]

                      “Societies may ignore this, but any society ignoring this will suffer more battlefield casualties than they need to.”

                      Because human societies are famously rational.

                      “The only way to have the sort of bro shooter equality you propose…”

                      False dilemma.

                      For a fan of science fiction, I’m surprised at your lack of imagination. Even yielding for the sake or argument that men have an instictive drive to protect women that will lead to a less efficient military force, off the top of my head:

                      1. Medicine. Suppress the instinct with chemicals, training, or outright rewriting of DNA. Given that it’s clearly not an advantageous adaptation, using science to “fix” it seems entirely reasonable.

                      2. Concealment. Suppress the abilty to identify women. A bit of a stretch, but could work, especially if you start with the assumption that the battlefield is dominated by a sort of knightly nobility who might justify/demand private space to encamp and only interact via some sort of machine that trivially hides visible gender and could easily mask voices. (Say, the sort of machine that might weigh 20-100 tons and inexplicably be a bipedal humanoid. But it works all the way down to power armor.)

                      3. Women dominated. Just get rid of most of the men. A medical issue might mean most men don’t survive to adulthood (Spencer’s _A Brother’s Price_). Cultural mores might find it inappropriate for men to fight in wars.

                      4. Desperation. If you’re humanities last hope, you take who you can get. If you’re a volunteer army that is frequently sent on suicide missions, you take who you can get. If your only option is mercenaries, you take who you can get.

                      “Nicholas Kerensky's Clans”

                      I know when I think of traditional, serious science fiction worthy of study that I would recommend to almost anyone, I think of Battletech. (<– Appeal to authority and ad hominem attack. I figured I was owed one. :-)

                2. FalseProphet says:

                  Sorry, every time someone says it’s okay for there to be no female characters in “realistic” military shooters, my blood starts to boil. Mostly because I flash back to Modern Warfare 2:

                  In MW2’s campaign, the only women in the entire game are Russian civilians who get gunned down at the airport during “No Russian”. Even though shortly after this mission, you’re fighting Russian soldiers street to street as they invade Washington D.C.

                  So let’s look at this “realistic” military shooter:

                  1) In real life, there are currently a non-insignificant number of women serving in the US Armed Forces including the National Guard.
                  2) Even though their superiors try to minimize their exposure to front-line combat, in the kind of asymmetrical warfare the US military has found itself in of late, female soldiers have come under attack, returned fire, and died as a result of enemy action.
                  3) Modern Warfare 2 posits a scenario where an enemy nation invades the capital of the United States, and not one woman can be seen acting in its defense. No female soldiers or National Guardsmen, no police officers, no medics, not so much as a civilian handing bottles of fresh water to the fighting men, Molly Pitcher-style.

                  This is even more puzzling considering in the real world, when Russia itself was invaded 60 years ago, many women were deeply involved in the defense of their motherland. The exploits of female Soviet pilots and snipers were even legendary. And I’m supposed to believe not one American woman would try to defend her nation’s capital? I’m not American, but if I were, I’d be pretty damn offended at the insult to my countrywomen, and especially those in uniform. Even a crappy game like Homeland had women fighting against foreign oppressors, and even a crappy movie like Battle: Los Angeles can feature a woman fighting alien invaders, but a “realistic” military FPS can’t?

                  1. Shamus says:

                    Oh my gosh. This would have been the BEST setup for Homefront. The occupying force is an old-school all-man army, and they’re rounding up the men and shooting / imprisoning them. They’ve overlooked you, the main character, because you’re a woman. You use their gender-based blind spot as a tool to act against them. You could have any mix of genders you wanted on the player’s team.

                    1. Thomas says:

                      It would completely be broken by the industry though. The temptation to focus on the fact she’s a women would be too great and the story would be just full of ‘Oh my gosh, she kills people instead of caring about makeup!!!’ moments

                3. Don’t look now, but there are actually female soldiers and astronauts in real life. Also ten year old child soldiers.

          2. lurkey says:

            Speaking of Bioware…whether in pursuit of that thrice-damned Call of Duty audience or for whatever else (the project lead though it was sexy), they gave female Hawke a terrible, hip-dislocating strut for a running animation. So they’re actually regressing in this sense.

            1. Loonyyy says:

              Blaming the Call of Duty audience for sexualisation in games? Classy. And bollocks.

              Call of Duty generally tends towards shallow shooter. There are very few female characters, which, yeah, is dissapointing, but there’s no sexual exploitation going on.

              It’s in pursuit of childish sexually immature male gamers that those things have been done, and it seems that they feel that there are people who could be interested in those games who just need more T&A.

              Grow up.

        3. Blake says:

          If I can endure playing as a male dude-bro in an FPS, she can endure playing as a female dude-bro in an FPS.

          Variety in characters shouldn’t depend on gender, and if they made a female character who made sense in those games who wasn’t all dude-bro then I’d want a male version of that.

          More diverse characters would obviously be nice, but would be a lot more work (read: money), a palette swap is the cheapest, easiest solution, and if you have a future army game about a badass soldier who don’t take no crap from nobody, gender shouldn’t matter, because almost nobody playing it (male or female) could relate to them anyway.

          In a perfect world you’d have a couple of character types (badass, geek, or good soul for example), then maybe a few base character models for each (model, bodybuilder, everyman/lady), then a male and female version of each. Ideally you’d write a good story for each, but even just putting them through the existing games is much better than nothing.

    2. Our girls and I as well as our girl gamer friends are all very much gender toggle. We LIKE being able to choose our player– sometimes I want to play a male, sometimes a female, and if you give me a way to customize my character AND choose, then you have me. Same for my girls (as I sit here listening to my middle child building yet another Sims 3 character that she has no intention of playing, she is just designing characters for the fun of it.)

      1. Jace911 says:

        It might amuse Shamus to know that the most entertaining part of the Old Republic for me thus far is the character creator. :(

        1. StashAugustine says:

          The character creator does not have a mullet. This is a game where David Hayter voices a main character. Something’s wrong here.

      2. Wedge says:

        I agree with this to an extent, and I often enjoy rolling female characters when I have the option, but I would also like to see more strong female protagonists in games. Choosing your character’s gender is not appropriate for all games, and when that’s the case it would be nice to see more women protagonists that are written as such, that don’t fall into the Lara Croft trap of just being there to titillate men.

        (Full disclosure: I’m a straight, white cis male)

  4. Katesickle says:

    ” anecdotes are the most reliable form of scientific study”

    This has a weird underline to it for some reason.

    I think part of the reason we have so few good female protagonists is the idea (expressed by a few people in the comments on the Escapist) that you should only make a character female if being female matters to the story, because otherwise you’re treating gender as interchangeable. The problem with this view is that it sets male characters up as the default, and makes female characters special exceptions. So in scenarios where gender doesn’t matter (which is a lot of cases) the role goes to a guy. This means we have FAR more male characters than female ones, and thus far fewer chances to have interesting female characters. If we stop treating female characters as special exceptions whose chromosomes must be important to the story, and start just treating them like people who do interesting things, we’ll be in a much better place.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’m not sure where the underline is coming from. Must be some CSS shenanigans. That line is actually wrapped in the acronym tag, so that it can have mouseover disclaimer text.

      1. Katesickle says:

        Ah. Blame the computer imps, then. Little buggers are always messing things up.

      2. Jeysie says:

        The underline is the default for that tag for most browsers’ built-in display, presumably so the person knows to mouse over it.

        1. Bryan says:

          Yeah, I’d have completely missed the disclaimer, which I find hilarious, without the underline… :-)

          (The sarcasm was pretty obvious, so maybe the disclaimer wasn’t needed — for me at least — but I still think it’s funny.)

          It would be possible to put a title on an arbitrary , avoiding the browser induced formatting. But I don’t know if your markup tools let you do that, so whatever.

    2. Daimbert says:

      Well, it seems to me that the only way companies are going to change the status quo of only making female characters the lead is if they know two things:

      1) That it won’t cost them sales to do it.

      2) That it will gain them sales to do it.

      Even if the cost to do it is cheap, there’s no reason to do it if both of these aren’t true. I’m pretty sure 1) is true, but don’t think we really know if 2) is true. If it won’t gain them sales, then why mess with how things work now?

  5. zob says:

    That untapped market means nothing to the publishers. Because that market can’t compete with Modern Warfare 2 when it came to sales numbers. It’s not about breaking even anymore, they want gazillion $ profits.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Which would actually give them a reason to tap that market … if they could be assured that they won’t lose what they have. That’s the rub, then; if the way things are now turns off that market but appeals to the one they have, will changing things appeal to that market but turn off the one they have? At best, then, they end up even, and at worst they end up worse off.

      1. Bryan says:

        Er, at best, they get both sub-markets, and are actually better off than today. (Though depending on the size of the new sub-market, it may or may not be noticeable. I don’t know.)

        Agreed about the “at worst” side though, and given the money involved, *everyone* is being conservative, which is why it doesn’t happen. :-/

        *EDIT*: Oh, I managed to forget the “if” in there. Yeah, given that premise you’re right, but I don’t believe that premise is necessarily true. Anyway, whatever; if making games was cheaper, it certainly wouldn’t hurt. :-)

    2. Soylent Dave says:

      I’m willing to bet that publishers do care about these markets. What’s the best selling console at the moment?

      It’s the one that has Call of Duty released as an afterthought; as a poor-quality port.

      It’s the one that made its raison d’etre appealing to a ‘family audience’ – targeting women with fitness games and (pre-)teenage girls with dancing games long before either of the big boys caught onto just how big that market is.

      The Wii is comfortably the best selling console, even though it’s markedly inferior in performance compared with either the xbox 360 or the PS3, and is eminently unsuitable for playing the sort of games publishers have traditionally decided are all we want to play (CodBlops, Gears of War and so on)

      They’re still being enormously clichéd about the games they release – but the fact that ‘family audiences’ are suddenly so important to the big publishers shows that they’ve realised just how much money there is in gamers who aren’t men, aged 18-30.

      It’s no accident that Microsoft’s biggest investment of recent years has been into the Kinect, games for which are almost universally targeted at that family audience.

      All we need now is for developers to wake up and realise that there are also millions of women who want to play the more traditional action games they’ve been exclusively targeting at men (or boys). This seems to be slowly – oh so slowly – happening (just as developers are also starting to realise that sometimes people who aren’t white might want to see themselves in a game as something other than a hideous caricature).

  6. Artur CalDazar says:

    “I don't think the debate should be about her”
    That would require people to be aware of the issues, by an large, the angry mob is not.

    1. Peter H. Coffin says:

      Awareness of issues requires insight, analysis, and critical thought, and just might possibly lead to an answer other than what “feels right.” Instinct and overreaction take far less work.

  7. BeardedDork says:

    I wonder what would happen if the AAA studios attempted a “Girl Shooter*”? I have to expect the results would be catastrophically amusing.

    *I guess I should clarify, I mean a shooter targeted to a female audience, not a shooter where you shoot girls.

    1. A Gould says:

      I would suspect the protagonist would end up resembling Lara Croft.

      What I’d love to see is more heroes along the lines of Sheppard – same plot, regardless of gender. (Especially with a young daughter growing up who’s going to need some decent video games to play…)

      1. NihilCredo says:

        Was anyone else reminded of Grim Fandango?

        Anyway, I’d play that.

      2. BeardedDork says:

        Yeah, like that girls like flowers and rainbows and junk right? Maybe they could make it, I don’t know less gunny, I don’t think girls like guns, maybe we could make it jump-ropes instead.

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      Probably something along the lines of Meet the Pyro.

      1. guy says:

        Meet The Pyro was the best thing, so I have no objections to that.

    3. swimon says:

      Wouldn’t that just be a portal rip-off? (Portal 1 not 2)

  8. Warrax says:

    I don’t think Anita Sarkeesian is a fraud at all, I just think she might be in a bit over her head now. She asked for $6000 to make a few simple web videos and then, because of the the attention of all the trolls, ended up with over $160,000. That’s a lot of money that she absolutely has to somehow invest into this venture, and everything she does is going to be scrutinized by people who want to watch her fail.

    It would be like if you asked to borrow a dollar to get a coke from the machine, but then you got jumped and harassed by a bunch of pepsi thugs, so a bunch of coke supporters gather up a couple thousand dollars and trow it at you all at once, and now you need to spend thousands of dollars to make a point about coke drinkers rights while everyone, supporters and haters, are watching everything you do, and you’re on a time table and you better not waste ant of that money.

    Okay that’s a terrible analogy, but the point is I don’t envy the position she is in right now.

    1. Thomas says:

      Is there an option of Kickstarter to cut things off when it reaches a certain amount of money? It seems like it would be a good idea

      1. Aldowyn says:

        She could probably discuss an exception with kickstarter and donate the extra to a vaguely related charity or something. Or maybe put it back into a game that’s aiming to have a strong female protagonist…

    2. guy says:

      I think “Too Much Money” is a pretty trival problem to solve. How much do top-end video cameras cost?

  9. MrGamer says:

    After Anita began her thing I thought “Wow this will be neat, I have been wanting to try and learn how to make better female characters, this might be like ‘extra credits’ except more female-centric criticism.” But then the vitriol the internet heaped on her and her general oddity made me feel really dirty for getting involved in any way shape or form. Regardless of what side is right, there is so much fecal matter to sift through that it makes me physically ill.

    I thought gamers(or the culture in general) was nicer, but wow.

    That being said I really do like your column Shamus, it brings up great points about female protagonists and the fact that a little diversity and less aiming at the 19+ male demographic may just help alleviate the one-sided face of the industry.

  10. Daimbert says:

    “I'm just suggesting that there might be an untapped market out there. Instead of making another attempt to capture the same 18-30 male demo everyone is fighting over, it's entirely possible that the right AAA game could open some new doors for the hobby.”

    The big problem, though, is making a game that might hit that demographic AND getting it out there enough to make the money. One of the issues is that attempts to make games to reach the female gaming market have often fallen flat, mostly because gaming companies don’t actually know what female gamers want. Having more female designers might help, but even that will be hit and miss because not all gamers are alike, and designers who are really, really interested in gaming now are likely to not see the things that more casual gamers are going to want.

    But the other thing is that even if you make it, often the attempts aren’t really appreciated or talked about. In all of these discussions, I rarely see mention of the Fatal Frame series, which has some of the best female protagonists ever and generally had female protagonists, or mention of the PSP version of Persona 3 which added a female protagonist which meant reworking S-links. It’s not enough to say that female protagonists are few and far between, or hold some up as just exceptions, but to avidly and positively advocate those games that DO try and succeed. And some of that happens, but it needs to be just as vocal as the complaints, so that people who want to find games with female protagonists know exactly where to put their money.

    Kinda a pet peeve of mine, since I have a lot of games with strong female characters and even strong female protagonists, and get annoyed that when talking about this topic no one brings them up [grin].

    1. Blake says:

      I just think in almost all cases gender shouldn’t matter and letting people choose would be easy.
      Letting people choose between a badass guy and a badass girl is better than only letting people play the badass guy.
      I know most of my COD or halo playing female friends would pick it if the option were there, and maybe that might help a few of their other friends feel less alienated by the medium and sit and join them for a change.

    2. This is not a new problem. Marketers have been trying to extend products to new market segments since the concept of “selling things for money” has existed. Certainly in the modern era they have all this stuff like “focus groups”, “market research”, “polls”, and once in a while even “thinking about it” to help. Then once they’ve made it, if they get good marketers they might be able to come up with good ways of advertising it to that new group.
      Just because a half-assed job has been done at this in the past doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I think in the past people trying it have not confronted the scope of what they’re trying to do, or if they have they haven’t had the marketing muscle to bring their games to the attention of the alternative group/s they want to sell to. But with the cost of making a game these days, a strong secondary marketing push targeted in different ways from the main one would be a relatively small expense compared to the potential upside. And with the areas where game cost seems to be concentrated these days, a bit extra on character design and story and even research to include characters that will appeal to the new demographic probably isn’t even that huge a deal.
      And even if the target group isn’t in effect as big as the core one you’re targeting, being alone in the field makes up for a lot.

      1. Daimbert says:

        My point here is more that the people who want to see more of these games can indeed help hit that market, especially since more of them have access to the sites and things that that market reads. And what I find is that for the most part the attempts at making games with, say, better female characters/protagonists don’t bring out those people enough lauding it. They generally get ignored, for a number of reasons. So, if you want to help companies do more of it, make sure they get attention when they do it right.

  11. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Five minutes into this debate I lost all interest because there’s not much interesting being said that hasn’t been said before, and a great deal of recycled garbage.

    Shamus’s missive wasn’t much he hasn’t talked about before, but it at least was interestingly presented. It also raised a question for me.

    ME3 has largely burned me out on shooter genre. Assassin’s Creed is burning me out on the free-running platformer genre. Medieval II: Total War put me off RTS games (though I am looking forward to X-Com this month). So I’m interested in a new genre which may be more woman-oriented simply because it would add some variety.

    But short of adapting Jane Austen to the Xbox, I’m not sure what it would look like.

    So what would this genre -niche though it would be -look like?

    1. Thomas says:

      The Sims.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Oddly enough -that is what I’m playing, right now. My goal is to build an entire Metropolitan Area from the ground up starting with 5 families and no NPC lots except civic structures (because I’m the kind of crazy who will build a city hall and courthouse because real cities have them).

        But what would this look like with writing and a story, and not my own slightly eccentric goals?

        1. StashAugustine says:

          Actually, now that you mention it, you could make a game in the general vein of Gran Torino or A Bronx Tale- the neighborhood’s gone to hell and you have to raise your family to stand up to the corruption. Be an interesting noncombat RPG.

        2. Thomas says:

          Little Big Planet.

          …that’s quite an interesting question. My sisters are gamers but they aren’t big on very male games, so they play Sims, Little Big Planet, Spore, Pokemon, inFamous (I don’t quite understand that one), Lego games etc but I can’t think of storied games that would fit. It’s probably tapping into the harder question of non-violence in games. I’d love to see them do a Jane Austen somehow, I’d play the heck out of that, and you could probably make a Heavy Rain style game that was less male centric.. but actual gameplay? It’s the Errant Signal thing, where games are mainly about manipulating 3D space and the most usual way we think of that tends to be a bit combat centric

    2. Aldowyn says:

      Pretty sure X-com is turn based, not an RTS. Just a minor quibble.

    3. StashAugustine says:

      Adapting Jane Austen to the Xbox? As long as there’s a PC port.

      1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        You know, I was joking about adapting Jane Austen. And yet, as I’ve thought about, we could probably reinact Emma with the engine from Fallour 3. Take out the guns, have the physics engine, give us a relatively large estate to explore, and then use skills, exploration, and conversation to move the plot. You could even have a branching plot. Play as Emma Woodhouse, and you have the option to stop meddling much earlier and see how the game plays out (of course, this would require someone to conjur up an alternate universe version of Austen’s story).

        But totally doable. And I think it’d be fun.

        And I say this as a guy who can’t actually get all the way through Emma.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not really gender related,but FTL is a pretty good game,in a weird genre of roguelike starship simulator.

      1. Blake says:

        It’s all fun and games until you bring a six legged horse creature on board and have one of your crewman instantly trampled to death :'(

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Well thats what you get for wanting to be a slaver.

    5. How about a 4X that pushes the modern tendency to include more influence and negotiation to the point where conquest and warfare becomes a secondary component? Build, grow, nurture . . .
      (Ideally, you could have a toggle or slider to bring back “lots o’ fighting” if you wanted it)
      I guess that would make it mostly only 3X. But anyway, I’ve been missing that genre, which has become very niche of late years but was always about my favourite.

      That Jane Austen thing almost exists. The Japanese have those dating sim things, some of them quite story oriented, most of them guy-centred but some of them woman-centred. Do a Western, story-oriented version of those with female protagonists. If you wanted guaranteed sales while you established the model, wait for the next “Twilight” style blockbuster book for romantic teen girls and do one as a tie-in. Just imagine someone had come out with one of these when “Twilight” fever was at its height and all the kids could have had a Bella character trying to pick between Ed-ward!!! and Ja-cob!!! They’d have gone nuts over it. OK, admittedly it would have been a horrible abomination from which decent folk fled in dread, but it would’ve sold like hotcakes.

  12. Raygereio says:

    As for the Sarkeesian thing. I had a similar problem with her as I do with pretty much every video, blog, whatever, about this topic. It’s mostly just the same old crap where they point out the obivous “Hey, this marketing/game/movie/whatever is sexist”. That has been done to death; it’s boring and doesn’t lead to any sort of discussion.

    The usual excuse ““ and I've already gotten a few responses to this effect ““ is that action games aren't made for women because women don't want to play action games. Everyone knows that anecdotes are the most reliable form of scientific study

    If anecdotes are allowed, then I got your reason why women don’t want to play action games right here: http://fatuglyorslutty.com/ Dear Ao, that site is depressing.
    The problem I see is that a lot of gamers and developers have the mentality of a 16 year old. They’re often working through power fantasies and when it comes to women they seem incapable to go beyond BOOBS!! and your general run-of-the-mill, teenager-level misogyny.
    And this issue is not a problem unique to gaming. It’s not even unique to nerd culture. It’s a problem that you can find quite easily in every single sub-culture, in every single culture in the world. Maybe one day we´ll grow up. Who knows.

  13. This is a test. Watch this video and see if you can spot the one lone female developer who speaks on camera. Hint: If you blink, you’ll miss her.

    I’ve lamented that the Assassin’s Creed franchise is on its third title and is STILL doing male-only protagonists. But part of the reason for this may be that 99% of the developers working on the game are male.

    I currently work in a small, 6-person game studio. I’m the only woman.

    I doubt that we’ll see an improvement in the representation of women in video games, until there are more women actually creating said games.

    1. Daimbert says:

      Thus creating the Catch-22 that you won’t have that many women making games until you have more women being interested enough in games to go and make them. I’m also not convinced that simply having more women making games will lead them to break the standard tropes and status quo as much as seems to be implied here.

      1. Thomas says:

        I bet it would help, even unconsciously, particularly in the indie scene, a lot of studios probably aren’t publisher mandated (naturally with the indie’s) to make male characters, but they just don’t think about it. Whereas the opposite gender probably would. It might not catch on with the CoD’s but it should filter through the lower markets pretty quickly and there are AAA games where the devs have been allowed to take risks on the character. Square Enix allowed a female protagonist for their flagship series for example. I bet they probably don’t choose their characters by audience pleasing demographics and the run of males was more lack of thought, because the actual personalities have varied a lot protagonist to protagonist, as well as the ethnicity

    2. Aldowyn says:

      Hey, does the portable spin off Liberation count? They’re doing a female protagonist for that one. Link.

      On a more on-topic note… I think we all agree that the split is more even than most publishers seem to think, right? So why AREN’T more females trying to get into the industry? Or are they, and just being shut out by the guys?

    3. Jace911 says:

      Although Assassin’s Creed is in the somewhat unique position of actually having an excuse for why their protagonists are all male: can you imagine how awkward it would be for Desmond to lie down on the Animus and wake up with breasts?

      Of course the obvious answer is ‘then introduce another modern-day protagonist who is a woman dummy’ but this is Ubisoft we’re talking about.

      1. Josh Russ says:

        “why can’t desmond wake up with breasts”

        I understood that the animus simply worked off his DNA and any female relative could work as a protagonist…

        Unless you mean that then Ubisoft would have to write decent lines and have a very real contrasting situations of:
        1. a man learning how to deal with female anatomy
        2. a man dealing with living as a woman in an unenlightened era
        3. a man dealing with sex and sexuality as if it was a real problem
        4. other women misunderstanding how he behaves and how that he is a man but yet a woman

        Yeah actually you were right, it would be impossible for ubisoft to do that

        1. Jace911 says:

          My point exactly.

          At best we’d get a terribad commentary between Desmond and the Animus owners during the contractually-obligated sex scene, a la “so that’s what it’s like to be on the other end”.

        2. Jakale says:

          1, 4, and maybe 3 would be a different game, I think. AC only has you playing memories. It’s not like Desmond has gone back in time and possessed the body of his ancestor to make them do kooky things.
          I’m not even positive of his role as it pertains to gameplay, especially for the dialogue parts. Does he just watch, does he move like we do, without feeling any stimulus from the person, does he actually feel like he’s that person, with weight, muscle strain, and all that? If the third, is he just plopped into ancestor with memories appropriate, which would mean he’d need to get used to things like, possibly, breasts?

          1. anaphysik says:

            “It's not like Desmond has gone back in time and possessed the body of his ancestor to make them do kooky things.”

            Somehow I think it’s better then that his ancestors really *did* act as completely kooky as Reginald d’Cuftberto.

        3. PurePareidolia says:

          Oh man, they might even have to do something interesting with the synchronization mechanic, where Desmond has to actually act in order to remain synced. He could even have responses to the weird gender dysmorphia he’s feeling in such a way that he gets characterization.

          I mean, he’s never been in conflict with his past selves, mainly because they’re all varying states of masculine wish fulfillment and he’s a doormat. But that could actually let them examine a new implication of the animus that the series has totally glossed over.

          Actually, I kind of want to see Obsidian do this. It’d end up as a total deconstruction of the Assassin’s Creed setting and they’re really good at that kind of thing.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            Yep. Say what you will about Obsidian’s technical competence, but they are very good at taking existing universes and deconstructing the hell out of them while still managing to keep it all in-universe. I could not look at the Star Wars movies the same way after I played KOTOR II.

            It really makes me wonder what they would do if they were asked to make a follow-up for Mass Effect (besides, you know, bugs).

            1. X2Eliah says:

              Set it 300 years in the future and give everything a cowboy slapdash tone?

        4. Klay F. says:

          “Yeah actually you were right, it would be impossible for ubisoft to do that.”

          Rather, it would be impossible for ANY videogame character to pull that off tastefully. You’d need writing and direction on a Shakespearean level to do something like that.

          1. Keeshhound says:

            I know what you’re trying to say, but Shakespeare wasn’t really about doing things “tastefully.”

            1. Klay F. says:

              Heh, point taken. Replace “tastefully” with “skillfully”.

    4. Klay F. says:

      Um, you know Ubisoft are making a female protagonist AssCreed game right?

      Granted its on the Vita, so its not going to be a main game, but still, baby steps.

      1. guy says:

        Wait, she’s only in a platform-exclusive side game? That’s a shame, I’d thought she was going to be the actual main character.

        1. Aldowyn says:

          For the Vita she is. I suppose it depends on how legitimate you consider the portable titles to be how important you think that is.

          But AC3’s protagonist is a male native american with the anglicized name of Connor.

          1. guy says:

            If it doesn’t have a PC port it’s not really important. :crossarms:

    5. 8Megabyte says:

      I’m fairly certain I saw two women working in the studio in that video.

      Granted, neither of them spoke at any point or appeared for more than a moment but still…

  14. Thomas says:

    Some of this problem probably comes from still having a gender balance in the industry. It’s more natural for someone to think about writing a guy protagonist when you’re a guy, because that’s what you know most about and associate closest with. When you look at books the gender more often than not matches the writers gender. There’s not necessarily a lot of thought in it, just when choosing from two equally valid options you’re just likely to naturally choose one more often. I bet if the lead dev balance was more 50/50 we’d see women protagonists pop up more often. (Hmm. Rhianna Pratchett wrote Heavenly Sword right? Except I imagine the character was created by someone else. They’re getting her to write Lara Croft too though… maybe it’s more attractive to get a lady to write ladies… or maybe she’s just a really class writer and it’s coincidence instead of some great conspiracy=D )

    It’s a nice horrible feedback loop though. Women are put off from gaming through lack of relatable female protagonists, so less women become game designers so less female protagonists get written

    1. In my experience, Thomas, the “nice horrible feedback loop” is exactly what’s going on in the industry.

      1. Thomas says:

        Sorry about repeating what you said, we must have been writing at the same time.

        I don’t really know what can be done about it to get more equality in the industry though :(

    2. Torsten says:

      I have found the argument that because most game designers are men then games appeal are somehow naturally geared towards men hard to believe. White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Males form largest demographic group working in film, music, fashion, home electronic and car industries, yet those industries are capable of constantly making products that appeal to both genders and are commercial successes.

      Granted, the other entertainment industries have learned that even if you do not try to appeal to members of the other sex, they should not be alienated either.

      1. Thomas says:

        I’m not saying geared towards, so much as that people write with what they’re comfortable with.

        I’ve got fairly reasonable evidence too, look at books, the action military shooters that men tend to like tend to be written by men, the books exploring the heartfelt tragedy of person with x disease or in x exploitative social situation that women tend to favour are written by women.

        Their are plenty of exceptions but the broad trend is true enough that our minds get set in the patterns of thought that publishers make authors do stupid things like adding a ‘K’ as their middle initial to make their femininity less obvious when writing in a guy dominated genre.

        1. Soylent Dave says:

          It’s not really that women write things aimed at women; it’s that publishers (and the rest of the industry) decide that female authors are writing books for women. It’s got very little to do with the subject matter.

          So if a man writes a humorous book about relationships (e.g. Nick Hornby) it’s “comedic fiction”. If a woman writes a humorous book about relationships (e.g. Helen Fielding), it’s “women’s fiction”.

          Unless a female author is doing some particularly niche writing (e.g. Horror, Sci Fi), she’s liable to get pigeonholed into that “women’s fiction” category no matter what her book is actually about.

          Male authors don’t get pigeonholed into “men’s fiction”, because quite a lot of the industry considers “books for men” to be the default setting – just as quite a lot of the videogame industry considers games for men to be the default.

          It’s really quite embarrassing, given that we’re now a decade into the 21st century.

          1. Thomas says:

            Okay how about this for an example (I think I got muddled in my early point, not sure why i was bringing genre into my discussion, although I’d still note that the male dominance in stuff like sci-fi and action isn’t a classification problem, it’s just people writing about what they’re interested in), I’m still convinced that if you did the stats on protagonists gender matching writers gender, it would be something like 70% in favour.

            So lets take Terry Pratchett. Famously not sexist, has written whole books ridiculing the gender stereotyping in fantasy work. Also has written enough books for the stats to become more worthwhile.

            Yet despite all that, out of 39 books, only 12 have female protagonists, that’s less than a third (31%) and he’s a writer who has made conscious effort to be more gender equal(also a lot of his females one shared a dual male protagonist, which is much less true of the male ones).

            If you break them down into storyline continuities, of his 8 major recurring protagonists 3 are women which isn’t bad (but, still only just above a third) and of his 7 standalones, only 1 has a women protagonist.

            I’m convinced this would generally be even worse for other authors, for example if we take The Edge Chronicles by a male author, there’s 13 books with no female protagonists.

            Jane Austen wrote 6 books and none of those had a male protagonist.

            Maybe you’re right that female authors would be less likely to write only female protagonists, Agatha Christie had a lot of male ones, but I think it’s pretty clear, even without publisher mandate, lots of people tend to write their own gender.

            I have 18 books in front of me right now, 3 by female authors (which is sad enough as it is) and of those only 1 has a different gendered protagonist. (Mother Courage by Brecht)

  15. Vect says:

    Admittedly I’m one of those guys who tends to play women characters if given the choice. Always just thought it was more fun.

    That and a potential damage bonus against male characters (AKA 90% of what I’ll be fighting) is nice.

    My opinion on women characters is that there’s nothing wrong if they’re sensitive or “soft”. They have to at least be useful/competent at what they do and have depth more than “Oh mercy me, my clothes have flown off”.

    I’ll admit that I liked Jack as a character and I thought her development in 3 was really nice.

    1. StashAugustine says:

      I play female characters if given a chance because a) it allows me to disassociate myself from the character and b) they’re all named after my first FemShep.

      1. guy says:

        I play female characters modeled on Vin from Mistborn ever since I realized Skyrim would totally let me dual-wield daggers and theoretically cast buff spells.

        Also, FemShep voice acting was a big driver for me going with her in Mass Effect.

        1. anaphysik says:

          I’m convinced that “MaleShep” is some sort of modded-in conspiracy.

          There is only FemShep.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I had an hour long debate with andy chalk of the escapist over the legitimacy of alternate versions of shepard as opposed to the media-driven broshep… Started with someone mentioning how femshep wasn’t going to be on the Trilogy cover.

      2. Jace911 says:

        For me it really depends on how connected the story expects me to be with the character. In games like Mass Effect or TOR I have no issues playing a female character because they’re very narrowly-defined; I can easily distance myself from them and think of them as a separate entity. “What would Shepard do in this instance? What would my Jedi do? What would my Agent do?”

        In a game like Fallout (Or other games with first-person, non-voiced protagonists) however I almost universally play men because it’s much easier and more natural to step into the shoes of a character that is the same gender as me. “What would <i.I in this situation?” That’s not to say I play male characters 100% of the time in those games-one of my most-played characters in New Vegas was female-but they’re rare and far in between.

    2. Raygereio says:

      Admittedly I'm one of those guys who tends to play women characters if given the choice. Always just thought it was more fun.

      I’m the same. Though my reasoning is that if I’m going to be looking at someone’s ass for several hours, I will choose a female ass over a male one.

      1. Thomas says:

        I don’t know it feels a bit embarassing saying it in a thread involved with feminism, particularly about exploitative protrayal of women in games, but since you said it first … yeah me too.

        Also so people can be even more disgusting with my mind and inner pyschology, being shy and socially withdrawn I like to imagine quiet, more openly vulnerable people with inner resolve *coughpowerfantasycough* but I imagine that more easily in female characters than male. I dunno seems like a pretty disgusting way of thought really, society influenced but then the whole point is trying to change the way society thinks. Don’t really know what to think about that

        1. Raygereio says:

          As a hetrosexual male I like looking at women more then I do men. There’s nothing inherently sexist or exploitive about just that. It’s nothing more then a simple preference.
          The sexism starts when you see the women you’re looking at as not as a character or person, but solely as a lust object and nothing beyond that.

          1. PurePareidolia says:

            I see this defense used a lot as a get-out-of-responsibility-free card where someone can’t be implicated or concerned with sexism because with them it’s just personal taste, nothing more. And while I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong for taking that position – it’s a perfectly valid way to continue getting female protagonists, I really don’t think it’s one to be proud of in this context. The reason being, it’s not that simple, and you won’t necessarily get *good* female protagonists out of it.

            Think about it – if men (the most known demographic in gaming) play men in games as a power fantasy and women in games because they like ogling them, what do developers do? Men get to be buff and heroic, women get chainmail bikinis. Nathan Drake gets to be a young Indiana Jones, Lara Croft gets to be famous for her massive chest. Male orcs in WoW get to be hulking Conan style barbarians, female orcs get to be green skinned supermodels. Male characters look like warriors, female characters look like prostitutes wearing warrior themed novelty outfits. This isn’t because you think women should be dressed provocatively even at the risk of their personal safety, it’s because the developers know you don’t mind it when they are.

            Simply put it validates the lowest common denominator approach used to appeal to as many men as possible, because that’s what market research says heterosexual males like. The fact that we do like it isn’t wrong or sexist, but it’s very appealing for developers who have to sell to a wide audience and would rather sacrifice minority approval than alienate the majority of their target audience.

            Even the good studios do this – I recently played through Dungeon Siege 3 as Katarina, who at all times wears a corset showing massive cleavage and no armour whatsoever (in my defense, I like shooting people in fantasy settings). The other alternate female character was Anjali who turns into a floating blue, nude fire elemental on a regular basis. And this is an Obsidian game.

            The thing about DS3 is that Jeyne Kassyner – the big bad – was actually dressed very reasonably (most of the time except when she was spoilers), presumably because we’re not expected to be looking at her nearly as much as Katerina or Anjali, and also because she has to be taken seriously as a Joan of Arc style crusader. It’s telling that the ones you’re expected to see most, and the ones you’re less likely to complain about not being threatening are the most fanservicey.

            The point is, sexism starts when you or I or people like us *look* like we see the women we're looking at as not as a character or person, but solely as a lust object and nothing beyond that. Because at that point developers know they can get away with it. Apathy will absolutely going to get what you want – more female protagonists designed solely to titillate you – so if that is indeed what you want, you’re going the right way about getting it.

            1. Raygereio says:

              You could have saved yourself most of that rant if you hadn’t gone and made the asumption that I like how the female form is portrayed in game. I don’t. In my opinion, a well dressed woman is far more atractive then a naked one.
              That said: still a decent rant. Though I feel like you’re mostly complaining about the symptom, and not the cause of the problem.

              because that's what market research says heterosexual males like

              No, that sad truth is that’s what market research says hetersexual man children like.
              Back when I was hormone crazed teenager, boobs filled 99% of my thoughts. But I’ve grown up – matured; now boobs merely occupy 95%. But a lot of people never grow up. They never move past that teenager misogyny.

              I’ll tell you what I actually want. Two things:
              For one I want gaming to mature, so that it can go beyond the bikinis and boobplates and all that nonsense. It is just childish and silly.
              Secondly I want well writen characters. Not characters that are foremost male, female, straight, gay, white, black, whatever. That’s all secondary, mere aspects. This is something that I feel of lot of people who want more female or characters are missing the point on. You don’t fix this problem by overcompensating.
              Take New Vegas for example. That game has gay characters. One of them being Arcade Gannon. It’s entirely possible to completely miss Arcade being gay, because there is more to his character then just his sexual preference. It doesn’t define him. I honestly didn’t know wether to laugh or cry when I read a forum post from a homosexual man who found Arcade to be ofensive because he wasn’t gay enough. Apparently according to him the only way to portray a gay man is by making him the queerest queen imaginable. He didn’t want a well writen character that just happened to be gay, he wanted to overcompensate not realising he would end up with caricature.
              This also goes beyond fiction: for example every time we have a new government in the Netherlands (Which is quite often in recent years), we have people bemoaning that there aren’t enough female ministers and whatnot. I always want to slap those folks. Because no one is talking about wether or not these people are actually qualified for their positions. It gets especially bad when the women that are in government are celebrated just because they’re women. Not for any of their accomplishments.

              You mentioned apathy as a bad thing. But that will eventually get what we want. Stop caring about wether someone has a penis or a vagine, but deal with the person. In fact apathy can solve a good deal of society’s problems. For example when people don’t care what colour your skin is, we won’t have racism.
              But we need to grow up (not just gaming, but as a society) first.

              Oh, speaking of Obsidian. I love them, but boobplate confirmed for Project Eternity. *sigh* The big names over there are pretty decent about this sort of thing actually, but there’s at least one artist there that’s a silly man child.

              Sidenote: In Dark Souls you have a big ugly monster with a huge ass. I just noticed that its ass has jiggle physics. I feel like that’s commentary on the industry somehow.

              1. PurePareidolia says:

                My thinking there was “Why would you want to stare at something you don’t like?” But I was addressing a reasoning that specifically states “I don’t care about anything other than appearance when I choose my character’s gender” so you can see where that assumption comes from. In any case I was trying to comment on that specifically, and what it looks like from an outside perspective.

                Anyways, I really don’t think market research differentiates between age and mental age. In fact from the marketing papers I’ve done I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. I think ultimately that was the point I was trying to get across rather poorly. Market research works on generalizations – it’s a painter trying to represent every grain of sand on a beach. A market researcher has only so many focus groups they can conduct, and only so many testers they can hire, which will be a miniscule fraction of the game’s audience.

                So whether my motivation for playing Katerina is mechanical, aesthetic or narrative, the most I can expect a researcher to get form that at first glance is “+1 person playing the gypsy in a corset”. From there they’d infer several things about me from where I live perhaps, but the conclusion would be that corseted gypsies are popular.

                And I mean apathy with regards to a debate, not the subject matter itself. To use skin color as an example, it would be bad to not care that people discriminate based on skin colour. So in this case, I think that reason is often used as a way to ignore the over-sexualization of female characters, rather than ignoring the fact some characters are female. If that makes any sense.

                With regards to Project Eternity, Cadegund’s breastplate is fitted, but it’s honestly pretty tame compared to what it could be and even what it was in the Penny Arcade interview. At a glance her armour looks plausible and decently protective, so better than DS3 at least.

                Seriously though Katerina was a great character and I enjoyed playing as her, I just wish her regular outfit was relegated to non-combat areas.

                1. Raygereio says:

                  I don't care about anything other than appearance when I choose my character's gender

                  Well, that assumption is not entirely false.
                  I’m actually a bit silly when it comes to my character in games. If a game has a facial customisation, I will spend hours – days even, toying with it to get a good looking (female) face.
                  I will also always choose to use/wear items that look good over items that are statistically better.

                  At a glance her armour looks plausible and decently protective, so better than DS3 at least.

                  That conceptart is pretty good actually. I could have sworn there was concept art of actual boob armor, but I can’t seem to find anymore.
                  That’s for the better, I suppose.

                2. guy says:

                  Katerina’s character concept as gypsy mercenary gunslinger doesn’t quite fit with her wearing much armor, and a male character with the same concept would just be wearing a shirt. But the incredibly low neckline is a bit much. Likewise, Anjali in fire form could have done with an obscuring aura of flame.

                  I preferred to play Anjali and usually brought Katerina, because, well, the male characters frankly sucked mechanically. Lucas had no ranged attacks, which made fighting bosses incredibly painful even discounting the ones that straight had a death aura. The other guy had a melee single-target mode and a fiddly fixed-distance ranged group mode, though his powers made up for it some. Also, Katerina had amusing dialogue and Anjali has an awesome reverb effect going for her.

            2. Zukhramm says:

              That is under the assumption that if I played female characters only for the visual appeal, what I want is the same thing marketing has decided I should want. The developers might think I don’t mind, but I do.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:

    We need something similar to salt to hit games.When you can switch the protagonists gender and still have the same story,thats when you know youve reached true equality.And its a shame that that movie wasnt particularly good,because it deserves a lot of press coverage.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      That’s the easy way out, and we already have that in every RPG ever that lets you play as a female. It requires absolutely no change in the story and doesn’t actually make a significant difference overall.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        No,games with gender toggles are a different breed.Im talking specifically about games with a fixed protagonist.

        And like Ive said above,of course it requires no change.In most stories,gender is not the driving factor,but merely a flavor.

  17. Josh Russ says:

    I am currently studying “Crucial differences” (a breakdown of racism, sexism etc and to what extent these are constructed and to what extent they are physical) at a technically lower but in actuality higher level than Sarkiesian’s masters degree.

    I was planning on writing an article about this pretty much summing up why the idea of feminism is a problem (referring to RW Connell’s masculinities which puts it pretty simply) why people don’t believe it’s an issue (referencing cracked’s “5 ways modern men are trained to hate women” which succinctly explains in the latter points why however much control men have, it will never be enough) and then round it all off by saying what’s wrong with everything sarkiesian is doing AKA examining the effects without thought for the cause.

    But I don’t have a website and couldn’t be bothered to write something interesting without anywhere to put it.

    If anyone wants an informed guest to write the article for their website, I’d be happy to co-operate though.

    1. Aldowyn says:

      I’d volunteer mine, but not very many (whoever happens to see it on twitter, really) read it TBH. And I’d definitely end up commenting on it like Shamus did on the analysis posts for Spec Ops.

  18. Maldeus says:

    I don’t claim to speak for the Murlocs, but personally the reason why I think calm and reasonable people feel they should try to take Sarkeesian down a peg (myself included, if we assume I count as calm and reasonable) is because her arguments are poisonous to the debate. A lot of what she says is poorly informed or illogical, and it’s depressing to see what is essentially blind whinging get so much attention when the fundamental problem she’s discussing really does exist, because it means that more level-headed assessments of the problem aren’t going to get heard. Sarkeesian’s arguments are kneejerk reactions couched in academic language that makes it seem impressive, but which also makes it inaccessible and cloaks the fact that its actual content is one step above YouTube comments. It’s like the inverse of the sort of analysis people like the Understated Nerdrage guy, Errant Signal, and yourself put out, an insightful analysis which, whether you agree with it or not, gives you something new to think about while at the same time making it easy and accessible to people who aren’t familiar with the subject and aren’t academics.

    The fact that Sarkeesian’s anti-analyses have a support base which is so massive suggests that most people who complain about this problem don’t want to solve it, they just want to make a show of how enlightened they are for being disgusted with it, and that’s very upsetting for anyone who genuinely does want to see the problem solved. We don’t have nearly as much support as we think we do. It looks like $150,000 worth of the people hypothetically “on our side” actually benefit from the problem continuing so they can continue to be disgusted with it. Being angry on the internet isn’t likely to actually solve that, but it’s where a lot of Sarkeesian’s level-headed opponents are probably coming from.

    1. StashAugustine says:

      Yeah, the problem with this debate is that although it’s obvious that there are problems most people can agree need solving, the loudest people on both sides are either far-out feminists like Sarkeesian or misogynistic assholes.

      1. Sean Riley says:

        … I’m genuinely curious which feminists you would feel are not ‘far out’. Sarkesian’s views I have some issues with (that video set Shamus linked is dead on in its criticisms of her framework of positive vs negative male vs. female traits, although I feel it gets 90% of everything else wrong) but geeze, she’s a very moderate feminist overall. (For serious. She’s a fairly typical, insofar as any person is typical, third wave feminist with a focus on media studies, and very little if anything she’s argued would be outside mainstream feminist thought.)

    2. newdarkcloud says:

      This is why I can’t say I look forward to her contributions. I will support her in so far as I will support anyone’s right to free speech. She has the right to speak her mind and others have the right to support/criticize her.

      That said, she is the kind of person who, imo, poisons feminism by seeing sexism in things that simply have none.

      For example, she thinks Zia from Bastion and Maria from Assassin’s Creed 1/Bloodlines are sexist characters.

    3. Shamus says:

      I can totally understand this sort of frustration with her work. I really wish we’d had more of this and less murlocs. Actually, I wish we didn’t have the murlocs at all. Heartbreaking.

      But on this point:

      “The fact that Sarkeesian's anti-analyses have a support base which is so massive suggests that most people who complain about this problem don't want to solve it,”

      The reason I wrote the column – and the reason I jumped in on this topic when it’s kind of far from my normal thing – is that I hope people DO want to solve this. My hope is that we can encourage a more productive conversation. I’m hoping her audience is so big because there are a lot of people worried about this problem, and they’re looking for a flag to rally around. Kind of like how some people flocked to this site when I began waving the anti-DRM flag.

      1. Maldeus says:

        Certainly I hope the same thing, but I’m not betting on it. Maybe I’m just a cynic.

      2. Steve C says:

        Well that Jimquisition video was 7m43s I won’t get back. He could have made his singular point in 7.43sec. I had no idea who this Anita person was before or after that video, so I watched the reasonable link above. That was at least informative and well reasoned. Still ridiculously hard to get through due to my strong apathy to her, her opinions and the opinions about her opinions etc. In short the entire subject. I completely don’t understand why this is a thing worth addressing.

        What is worth addressing is Shamus’s point that female characters in games are handled poorly and more importantly that solutions are needed and should be discussed.

        1. Maldeus says:

          I don’t watch the Jimquisition. I abandoned it after the first three or four episodes proved so terrible. He’s just a smug prick who wants to be Yahtzee, and a lot of the positions he takes seem to be taken mostly because they’re controversial and will get him pageviews.

          1. Irridium says:

            If the Excapist Expo panel videos are any indication, the smug prick thing is just a persona used for the video. In fact, I’d say he stole the show whenever he spoke at the Expo. In a good way.

            It is annoying, but his videos have gotten considerably better over time and often give you something to think about, but I understand how he could put people off.

            1. newdarkcloud says:

              Yeah. In everything else, Sterling seems like a pretty reasonable guy. I think he intended that persona to be funny. It didn’t really work and he needed to play around with it, but I like where he went with Jimquisition.

              1. Thomas says:

                How much later are we talking about them getting better, I think I got to 30 or something before I gave up in utter frustration. It was the point when he was saying that Skyrim selling well despite not having an online pass, proves online passes are rubbish that I decided his logic wasn’t doing it for me. I don’t think he’s arrogant so much, but I think in most of those videos I never really met an argument that felt it was considered before he had an opinion. It’s always felt like the kind of argument you make when you have an opinion and want to justify it rather than the other way round (I’m hugely guilty of this, but that’s possibly why no-one has paid me to rant at them yet)

                Whereas say Yahtzees Modern Warfare review, it felt like he went into it biased against it, but a quality of the game actually stood out and made him like it. Whereas with Jim, he portrays it (true or not) more like everyone is ragging on Modern Warfare, so he decided to have the opposite opinion and throw in some support for it (which is what I do a lot I guess =D)

                1. newdarkcloud says:

                  Just take a look at some of his more recent ones, like the one about the Wii U.

      3. Steve C says:

        The poor use of protagonists due to gender is a problem for games but solutions to that particular problem are known. They just aren’t being adopted.

        For example, extreme character customization should be standard practice now. There was a great video (that I can’t find right now) about Saint’s Row and how it’s character customization made it the best game ever for women. That level of customization is something that can and should be used as default. 10 years ago it wasn’t a realistic solution due to technical limitations. Now there’s no reason why it can’t be the default.

        If your game is so hinged on your protagonist looking like Bayonetta or Marcus Fenix then you’ve screwed up. You’ve put “artistic vision” before “fun”. That is always a mistake in a game. The characters are a means to an end (fun) and not an end to themselves. Fun should trump all.

        If a country club won’t allow women to join, the problem isn’t with society, the kinds of men at the club, or the kinds of women that want to join. The problem is with the singular person who chose not to allow women.

        The problem with poor use of female characters in games isn’t archetypes, market forces, narrative structure, power fantasies etc… the problem is that the game designers are choosing to use them poorly.

        I think the solutions to this real problem are pretty simple. The real issue is getting them adopted. Only the people choosing to do something stupid can choose to stop doing something stupid.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          You've put “artistic vision” before “fun”. That is always a mistake in a game. The characters are a means to an end (fun) and not an end to themselves. Fun should trump all.

          That’s not true for all games, though. Nor should it be true. Videogames are a vehicle for providing entertainment in many forms, fun being one of them. What about games like Amnesia, that provide entertainment via scares, thrills and psychological fear? That’s not fun. But it is entertaining. And it is a videogame. And it would not be better if it had clowns or BFG9000’s or whatever to turn it into “fun”.

          And discounting all the ME3-related snark and bile for the term “artistic vision”, I’d say it is still a perfectly legit thing to base a game around. Some people make games to tell a story (e.g. Papo and Yo), some make games to get people to buy them (EA games etc.), some people want to provide pure fun (idk. tetris? mario? whatever ancient elite renowned game that everyone gets stuffy about if it isn’t mentioned, goes here), and some games are created to portray a vision. It may or may not be art, but a game can be stylized and have artistic influences. With or without fun.

          1. Steve C says:

            Fun =/= Silly
            Silly can be fun but that’s not what I was saying above. Nor was I referencing any ME game as I’ve played none of them. However scares, thrills, and psychological fear are fun. Fun = Enjoyment. It should not matter what the character looks like in order to reaction to emotional or physical stimuli believable. “Pfft. My immersion is broken because my character looks Asian and everyone knows that Asians can’t feel fear.” Bzzzt. No. Humans are humans and body shape, race, sexual orientation, fashion sense, and even gender has little to do with how believable they will react in a situation. And if that avatar is supposed to be an extension of me, then it has absolutely nothing to do with it.

            My point is that having a player character look exactly like such-in-such and no other look is possible does not help a game. It hinders it. If I want my hero of Uncharted to be a fat old guy… why not? Sure it looks good with Nathan Drake being the Indian-Jones-esk hero but screw the art style if I’d rather it not be. If I decide I want something different like the Harrison Ford of 2012, (the 70yr old Indy) let it be so.

            I played Metroid when it first came out and it was a pleasant reveal at the end that Samus was female. I thought Samus was an android up to that point. It was pleasant but not surprising because why should it be surprising in the first place? Why couldn’t it have been a girl? That’s an example of doing it right in just 8 bits.

            Generally a game wants players to at minimum identify with the protagonist. With power fantasy protagonists the games wants you to be that character. So a group of 20-40yr olds have meetings to decide what kind of “look” most people will identify with. I’m sure they endlessly discuss hair, clothes, etc until they get it “just right.” Because if they don’t get it “just right” it will screw up a key part of the game. It will fall flat if the player cannot identify with the protagonist.

            For example, Resident Evil 4. That power fantasy game had a ton of problems and one was Leon. I could not identify with that character and it hurt the experience. I’m a super agent and I’m supposed to be scared of zombies? I’m sure that worked for a lot of people but I would have much rather played a skinny kid with bad legs. At least that would have been a reason why I couldn’t run.

            So why? Why bother to guess at what people will like when there’s so much to lose at getting it wrong and it’s only a benefit if you hit it out of the park? Just give the player the tools to pick what they like.

        2. Aldowyn says:

          I wish to mention that MOST games won’t let you have the extreme customization for guys OR girls. So I’m not quite sure how that would help all that much. And for something like, say, Skyrim or Mass Effect, it just wouldn’t make sense. (Especially Mass Effect)

          1. Steve C says:

            Ok it doesn’t have to be extreme extreme character customization. It just has to be enough customization to satisfy whatever itch that particular player wants to scratch even if the majority of people would loathe it. Skyrim had enough (you didn’t even need to be human) and Mass Effect could come up with some pretty fucked up models. The guy who recorded that video certainly sounds like he’s having fun.

            Most of the important aspects won’t have clipping issues at all, and if they do, they shouldn’t. If your boob slider causes untenable clipping issues then you’re probably doing something wrong, plus probably something disrespectful to women. The face of the avatar is the most important thing.

        3. Shamus says:

          While I would LOVE more character customization, I want to stress that it is crazy hard and expensive to do. Swapping textures on a fixed male model is trivial. (The first Deus Ex.) Making a male where you can swap out hair and beards is a bit more work. (Alpha Protocol.)

          But making males and females with a fully customized physique is HARD. I’ve messed with this myself, and we are talking about an order of magnitude more work, even if everyone knows how the system works and you don’t need to do a bunch of prototyping first. Moreover, it’s specialized work where you need artists and programmers collaborating closely to make this thing work with your given art pipeline.

          You can make things a bit easier if you just make Mr. Potato Head figures, where you can match up different fixed models. (For example, you choose from one of 3 pre-made physiques, as opposed to messing with a dozen sliders.) But still, just 3 physiques per gender means you need 6 high-definition models. If you look at the limited enemy variety in your average game, they don’t even have the models to spare. Like, if we take the artists that were making enemies and have them make more player models instead, then we end up with a game with no bad guys. :)

          We can also make things easier on ourselves if we’re going for a comedic / lighthearted game where a little bit of model clipping isn’t going to kill a cutscene. If the Saint’s Row boss sticks her gun inside her massive thigh in a cutscene, nobody really cares. The same animation freak-out in Mass Effect or Spec Ops jumps out at the player and screams UNPOLISHED!!!

          This is not to say that customization wouldn’t be a wonderful feature. I think it’s worth the investment. But if games are already struggling to stay in-budget and on-time, then this asking a lot.

          1. anaphysik says:

            “The same animation freak-out in Mass Effect…jumps out at the player and screams UNPOLISHED!!!”
            And yet occurs *all the time* in the ME series, hilariously enough.

            1. guy says:

              And when it does it completely kills the mood if we notice.

          2. Sumanai says:

            It would be interesting to find out how much of that could work through procedural generation if the positive stuff I’ve heard about Spore’s animation is to be believed.

      4. Isy says:

        I think we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt on wanting to solve the issue, even if its arguably going about it in the wrong way. Hell, you yourself, Shamus, wrote a bunch of reasonable-seeming questions in the article:

        So what should a proper female lead look like? Where do you draw the line between “attractive” and “cheap pandering cheesecake”? Which female leads resonate with women? Which ones repel them? Is it better to have a variable gender protagonist like in Fable II where you can choose a gender that basically doesn’t matter, or is it better to have a protagonist with a specifically crafted character? What genres of action-type badassery are most attractive to females, and would make a good starting point for a developer looking to court a female audience?

        They’re all perfectly reasonable, and perfectly natural, questions to ask. “Tell us what you want.” But at the same time, I could argue they’re just as poisonous to the debate. There aren’t going to be any answers, because every woman has a different opinion – some women love Bayonetta, or Laura Croft, some women think they’re sexist drivel. Some women don’t want “men with breasts”, some women think gender shouldn’t matter. Suddenly, people are mad at the women for not being able to come to a consensus. The blame shifts from the game companies to the people complaining at them. “Why can’t you all just agree what you want? You’re ruining the debate!” The women all turn on each other as well: “You’re doing it wrong, you’re arguing the wrong thing!”

        It’s like if Bob and Joe and Dan came to their three lady coworkers and said, “alright, we all ordered what we wanted, but we can only afford one more dish, so decide what you want for all of you.” And Sheryl and May and Betty look over the menu, but May is a vegetarian and doesn’t want the beef, and Betty doesn’t want bell peppers, and all the while the men just shake their heads at how women can never agree on anything. It seems to me these well-meaning, innocent questions have turned into a bludgeoning tool. “If you had a real point, why can’t you agree how to go about it?”

        Maybe Sheryl has some of Dan’s dish, and Betty goes to another restaurant alone, but you’ve already stated the solution to the problem in your article. You need more women, in more roles – more metaphorically, you should order more dishes.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I think, though, in line with what has been said below, that you need to add on to your example “But if they get it wrong, at least two of the women are going to complain that they don’t know how to cook”.

          The issue is that if the developer fails to deliver good female characters, they aren’t just considered to have failed but are considered to be typically sexist. But when they ask how to do that, no one can answer them. So it’s a bit of a catch-22 … and enough for them to decide that maybe they don’t really need that market in the first place.

          That’s one of the main reasons I keep advocating for spending more time talking about the good examples where it’s done well instead of griping about where it’s failed.

          1. Klay F. says:

            This is the gist of it basically. Anita is going through every videogame she can, pointing out things that are sexist in order to (allegedly) improve depictions of women in fiction.

            That would be like Shamus going through every videogame he can, pointing out every plot hole or continuity error he can find in order improve storytelling.

            Pointing out problems is easy. A child could do it. Everyone with a brain KNOWS there are problems. Pointing them out in excruciating, needless detail is detrimental to her stated goal.

            Finding viable solutions is hard. Pointing out problems is easy. This is why you don’t see her providing any solutions: see has none, so she decided to go the easy (and useless) route.

            1. Sumanai says:

              Correctly pointing out problems is easier than fixing them, but from what I’ve seen on forums and comments in various sites it’s apparently not very easy. Otherwise I wouldn’t so easily run into threads that are filled with people complaining about the strangest stuff while there are completely valid complaints to be made.

              It’s completely possible, and quite common, to notice that there’s obviously a problem, yet to be unable to point out the source.

              But yeah, just going around saying “this is bad, as is this” isn’t really the best approach, far from it.

            2. sarapickell says:

              No, it is not easy. Finding problems is certainly ‘easier’ than fixing them but that is not the same as being ‘easy’. Analysis takes time and effort, making that analysis in such a way people will listen is to is hard. Every good writer is familiar with the process of critique and being critically analyzed. Not everyone who recognizes the flaws in your work are going to hand you solutions, many can not and some simply will not. And that is okay, because it is not their job to make you a better writer. It is, as a creative person, your own job to improve yourself and overcome the problem.

              The act of creating media is the act of putting it up for critique and review. Feedback like this is exactly what one should watch for. People pointing out mistakes, missteps and apparent errors so that the creator can review their own work with a new perspective and ultimately decide how to fix the problem, or wrestle with the flaws that have a led to an incorrect perception.

              Writers are not gods, we are not omniscient and infinitely prescient of how our work is received. It is not hard for people who are wholly capable of creating the kind of female characters in demand to fail and fall short in their endeavors, then correct their work to their level of competence later because someone with a different perspective pointed out a flaw they themselves missed. Even when they do, their work is not somehow above critique. It is the hardest to please that continually provide actual feedback long after the easy to please have fallen to silence.

              Now, I’ll go back to actually using contractions. My point is, you’re pissing on gold selling me a line about it being worthless. I ain’t impressed.

              The solutions to these problems are not some arcane ritual beyond the bounds of human understanding. It’s the same way you get better at anything, you learn what you can then you make an attempt full of mistakes and then listen when people chew you out for it. Then you make another attempt. The information is there, you just have to let go of trying to design a perfect answer. Make your best shot, take your licks and make a better shot next time. Taking your licks, or better yet noticing the licks others are taking, is a kind of a PIVOTAL AND IMPORTANT part of that process though.

              I think it would be awesome to see Shamus go through and point out all the plotholes in games. I’d revel in the chance to learn more of what not to do in my own plots.

              1. Daimbert says:

                I think you’re missing that an important part OF doing a full critical analysis includes suggestions for how it could have been different. If you complain about something that couldn’t have been different in the circumstances of the work, no one should take you seriously. The very best critics very, very often point out how things would have worked better with some minor tweaks — Chuck Sonnenberg over at SF Debris does this a lot, and when I comment on works at my blog I try to do the same — as part of outlining the problem and why it’s serious. If to fix a perceived problem you’d have to re-write the entire work, maybe it isn’t that big a problem after all; maybe you just don’t like that type of work. So in order to separate more objective problems from personal problems it is very important to suggest possible solutions.

                Again, if you can’t find even a quick suggestion about how it could be done differently, maybe it isn’t really a problem, but just something you don’t like.

            3. ehlijen says:

              I wouldn’t say it’s useless. Pointing out where things went wrong at the very least creates a checklist of things to look out for when you do try to avoid sexism.

              It’s not as useful as trying to suggest alternatives, and it’s no substitute for trying to fix things seriously, but it is not absolutely without merit.

              1. Daimbert says:

                But in order to do that, you have to be able to say that the same overall effect could have been achieved in a way that avoided the problem. Once you do that, you’re already suggesting alternatives. You don’t have to have the absolute solution to all of the problems, but you should be able to suggest how things could have been done differently to make it at least better. All that simply listing all the problems does is list things you didn’t like … and if others do like it, then that’s an issue.

                I guess one way of putting it is that you might say that something came across as sexist to you because it portrayed the female character as having too vague a personality. If the person was trying for that in some way, it sounds like you’re just saying that their plot/characterization was sexist. If you say more that it made her too vague and so she came across as just another two-dimensional female character, but that if you wanted a more cipher-type of female character doing this instead would move her into cipher and away from two-dimensional, that not only reflects that you understand what the author was after but also makes it clear what sort of things they might look at to improve things.

          2. Isy says:

            I think you’ve gone off metaphor here, and moreover, missed the whole point. You say more time needs to be spent advocating what was done right, and I agree. My point is, every single woman you ask is going to have a different opinion. Some will like Bayonetta. Some will like Laura Croft. Some might like Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3, some may like GlaDos. Some will hate all of those, and give you well thought out and reasoned arguments why. Some will say “I can’t point out what I like, because I haven’t seen anything I like.”

            And this is some of the problem, but the real problem is, I can go to the Half-Life character page on Wikipedia and count 13 characters. Women are only 2 of them. They got lucky because people like Alyx Vance,but if they’d screwed her up, the game would wind up being labeled as sexist, because all their eggs are in one basket and there’s no one else there to counterbalance her. And when that inevitably happens, people just throw up their hands and say, “Women can’t tell me what they want, and complain when I do it wrong. I give up.”

            Women aren’t a hivemind, they all want different things. Asking what characters are right isn’t going to help if there’s a “single designated female slot” that every woman has to be satisfied with.

            1. Daimbert says:

              Well, my view on this would be that one of the answers could be “You could have put in more female characters here and here and then it’ll seem more equal”. My extension of the analogy was more that you seemed to be considering the “What do you want?” a bit of a mug’s game, considering that they all have different preferences … but the issue is that the question is being asked because if they miss they’re accused of being sexist just for missing. Heck, even adding more female characters in more roles won’t necessarily solve that, as it depends on the roles and how they’re done; you can have a game full of women and still have it be seen as or be sexist (see, for example, dating sims).

              Ultimately, that’s why I think also advocating the positives as much as or more than the negatives does a better job. When they ask what you want — ie what should games have to avoid the sexism/appeal to women — then you can actually answer it, by saying “Kinda like this, but in your universe”. It, to my mind, splits the difference by giving them at least a basic idea where to start without you having to spell it all out, or even be able to spell it all out.

              1. Isy says:

                I think it is a mug’s game, for the reasons both of us have stated above. And you’re right, it’s more than a little annoying for the developers, because the problem isn’t limited to hurting only one side. That’s why I said above that they were both reasonable and well-meaning questions. I’d ask them too, in their position, but I don’t think it works at all. It’s a mug’s game for everyone, and there’s valid feelings on both sides, but the developers are looking down from a position of power. If someone calls them sexist… eh? They’ll still make money. But I think developers are looking for an easy solution to a complicated issue, and women are actively hurt by trying to answer them. We’re never going to all agree, because it’s an impossible question, and the indecisiveness is taken as a weakness of the position.

                Saying “I don’t like this, it didn’t work” is the other side of the coin to “I do like this, it did work.” It’s just as much an answer, they’re both valuable, and I think people have been doing plenty of both – see the praise for Alex Vance, or Chell, or whomever. But we’re not all going to agree on which people were done well, at which point the developers just give up, because they’re being told to do too many different things.

                It’s not helped on the one side that the word “sexist” has sort of morphed to mean “the developers are cat-rapists”, and then people still fling it around as if they were discussing society and not persons. Anita apparently uses the word “sexist” to describe Zia from Bastion and Maria from Assassin’s Creed, which a lot of people react strongly against, and I agree to a point. But what if she’d said, “Zia and Maria represent a systematic framework where women are relegated to secondary roles, and have little to no control over their own fates.” Would more people agree with her?

                On the other hand, I have a certain impression and frustration that the developers aren’t bothering to listen, for the reason you stated above: it’s not hurting them to leave women out, it’s too much trouble to put women in, why bother. Which leaves me with a reinforced impression the whole debate is just a mug’s game. They’re not going to listen to the things we can agree on: we’re still going to get stripper Asari, the camera is still going to be wedged into Miranda’s hindquarters, Princess Peach is going to have the average use of a pile of dirt, we’re not going to get that many female protagonists. And if we can’t agree on something, it’s ammunition against us. In fact, there’s a strong counter-movement against feminists already.

                My current hope is that sites like Kickstarter allow interested women to create their own games, in ways that interest them, free of the troglodytes that Anita managed to attract.

    4. Khizan says:

      The problem is that people weren’t giving her the money or attention because her message was worthwhile.

      They were giving it to her because the trolls were trolling and they wanted to give money to spite them, so she got hugely overfunded and now has this giant crushing burden of expectation on her.

      1. Maldeus says:

        The problem is that her arguments aren’t helping the discussion at all, either before or after her Kickstarter. Whether or not she can reasonably be expected to contribute to the discussion isn’t actually relevant. She tried. A lot of people are apparently satisfied with what she produced. And that’s terrible, because what she has produced is not a solution.

        I don’t care about Sarkeesian’s character, because I am not making an ad hominem attack. Sarkeesian may well be a well-intentioned person with impeccable honesty and integrity who is secretly a costumed crime fighter who restored justice to Gotham, and none of that will change the argument she’s produced, and that argument is all I’m really concerned with.

        1. Khizan says:

          The post I responded to says:

          “The fact that Sarkeesian's anti-analyses have a support base which is so massive suggests that most people who complain about this problem don't want to solve it”

          My point is more along the lines that “I don’t think her support base is based around her shitty arguments or content at all, it’s based purely on ‘fuck those trolls, I’m going to fund that’, and I think that’s going to turn into a hugely embarassing flop.”

          1. Maldeus says:

            Ah, okay, I see where you’re coming from now.

  19. Mechakisc says:

    I’m a straight man, and pretty shallow in a lot of ways, though I try to have an open mind, and tell myself that I do. Who knows.

    A long time ago I tried to read a story by … I forget, maybe Mercedes Lackey? The protagonist, at least in the first few pages, was a paraplegic gay man, who was a master swordsman. I say the first few pages, because that was as far as I could stand to read. At the time, I concluded I must not be as open minded as I previously thought I was, that a gay male protagonist was enough to put me off my feed.

    A couple years ago, I got into Richard K. Morgan. When his fantasy novels with the gay master swordsman came out, I assumed I wasn’t going to be able to read it, but I tried anyway because who knows when or if there will be more Takeishi Kovacs books? (SOON I HOPE)

    Uhm, yeah, it was an entirely different experience. Perhaps my increasing age has made me more tolerant. However, I assume the author’s style or skill is sufficiently different than my previous experience, and that such made a difference.

    Then there is China Mieville’s work. Perdido Street Station was the first thing I read by China, and there was no protagonist that I could identify with. I’ve long believed that there has to be a protagonist I can identify with in order to enjoy a story. But that wasn’t at all the case here, but I loved the story, and the world, and the characters were fantastic even if I can’t reverse Mary Sue myself into any of them.

    So I’m left thinking that the details of the protagonist of the story matters less than the skill with which the story is executed. I think several folks who’ve posted here have made the same point; I just wanted to say “me too”.

    1. X2Eliah says:

      So very much this. Bad writing, or obnoxious style, can turn any character/story into an unlikable mess. And sometimes, due to societal pressure, it is hard to distinguish whether the reason for disliking something is because you aren’t as openminded as you believed, or because it is just plain rubbish.

      Details of the protagonist/story matter less because those details are inherently a subset, a part of the writing itself – thus, a subcategory compared to the skill of the writer. It is possible that a good writer can have bad characters. It is very unlikely that a bad writer will have great characters, however, unless you are prepared to do a lot of handwaving and interposing.

    2. Aldowyn says:

      Didn’t happen to be one of the last herald mage series, did it? It seemed to end up slamming me over the head with the main character’s homosexuality. Romances are hard in the first place, and a lot of it seemed partially to make a point as opposed to actually bettering the story. That said, I don’t have a significant counter-example of a homosexual main character in literature done correctly.

      I’m pretty meh with respect to Mercedes Lackey. It wasn’t HORRIBLE, but I wasn’t invested enough to read the second book in the series.. (The huge jump in time and circumstance didn’t help either)

      1. Khizan says:

        IMO, everything Lackey writes slams you over the head with “The hero is gay!”, and the surest way to identify the enemy is to find the straight male.

        My sister was hugely into her books for a while, and I read a few of them, and that’s about all I remember out of them, at least. Granted, I was maybe 14-15 at the time and I could be remembering them completely wrong because I was an idiot teenager, but I still don’t have any desire to read anything else by her.

        1. Daimbert says:

          Depends on the books. The “Wing Commander” collaborations she wrote are pretty good, and some of the other works don’t have that.

          But this strikes at one of the issues with writing with an agenda … if the agenda takes precedence over making an interesting story, then you end up with a bad story, which is what kills you … but you can blame it on people rejecting the agenda.

        2. LadyTL says:

          I’ve read alot of Mercedes Lackey (almost everything actually) and most of what she writes isn’t about gay anyone. She writes mostly stories about women or coming of age in men. The Last Herald Mage trilogy does have a gay man in it but I think you are misremembering if you think it was all about the gayness. But fair enough if you don’t want to read her stuff.

  20. Johan says:

    “I'm not saying the split is 50/50, I'm saying the split is unknown and nobody has a really good way of finding out.”
    Wait, what? Surely game devs and publishers do market research.

    1. ehlijen says:

      They do, but it’s hard to argue with:
      Things like that game that sold well sell well, so let’s make more like it.

      It is entirely possible for people to like a piece of art without being able to properly articulate it, especially if it is a mass market piece; artistic education simply isn’t that common.

      That’s why ‘giving the fans what they want’ is so dangerous: there are good odds they don’t know what they want and will praise something for the wrong reasons.

      So between selling things that have sold well in the past and fans giving inaccurate praise, market research is pretty much ‘let’s make more of what we’ve made’ (see EA sports games).

  21. SAJ says:

    I was reading the column, but when I got to the second page, there was a banner ad across the bottom 30% of the screen for WOW that had no (obvious) close button. It didn’t scroll, it stayed on the screen.

    That was so obnoxious that I just left the site.

    Sorry, I like your columns, but not enough to put up with practices like that.

    I realize that you (SY) have no control over their practices, but I think that reduces the credibility of your own columns on their site.

  22. Porecomesis says:

    I’ve had a rather scary thought in the past few days after reading this column on the Escapist; do you think people reacted so harshly to Anita because it’s a woman making the “games are sexist” message? I never watched the videos and I don’t intend to but I’m beginning to think that people like Shamus who make supporting arguments are received much more warmly because they’re males making that point.

    1. postinternetsyndrome says:

      Well duh. Of course it’s because she is a woman. Welcome to reality.

      1. Shamus says:

        That was not a kind or reasonable answer, particularly in response to such an earnest question. PARTICULARLY since it’s not nearly as clear-cut as you make it out to be. My friend Susan Arendt at the Escapist has written on this topic before, and she didn’t get that kind of hate.

        Gender may be a factor, but it’s not the ONLY factor.

        1. X2Eliah says:

          A part of that could be a factor of both exposure and tone. From what I’ve read of Arendt’s work, she is very leavel-headed and calm in the way she gets her points across. And her exposure level is slightly above the readers of escapist. I imagine Sarkeesian has a much, much higher audience (involving pure jerks from #chans and SA – it is a self-feeding spiral of publicity gone wild) and a much more strict, confrontational opinion/tone.

          1. Aldowyn says:

            I’m pretty sure she’s one of the leading authorities on the issue at this point, partially due to said level-headedness. Wasn’t she on the women in video games panel at SDCC or PAX or something?

          2. swimon says:

            She also has a lot laxer philosophy. Without making judgements about which philosophy is “better” I think we can all agree on Arendt’s philosophy of “amount of clothing is largely irrelevant as long as there are active and strong female character” is easier to live up to than Sarkeesian’s “sexual objectification and fetishisation of violence towards women is deeply troubling as is a cultural devaluation of personality traits seen as traditionally feminine also active and strong female characters are important too”.

            That said: no she would not have gotten as much shit as she did if she were a man. As a comparison just look at the actively hateful and awful things that come out of so-called men’s rights movements in the darker places of the internet. Now they too get a lot of angry comments but I have yet to see anyone of them getting hate campaigns and rape threats en masse.

        2. postinternetsyndrome says:

          I’m sorry for being douchy, it wasn’t neccesary. I do think it’s obvious though that her gender is quite central to the reaction. And even if a male in the same situation would have gotten the same amount of hate, that hate would not use his gender as a weapon. In fact, I’m willing to bet the female sex would be used as a weapon against him too.

          1. Dasick says:

            1 – When a person is too lazy to make a proper argument, s/he mocks the opposition. When a person makes petty arguments against someone, s/he uses the most obvious insult.
            2 – People tend to be very self-centred. Thinking about oneself and immediate things is the natural state for many, thinking about others or longer-lasting consequences requires awareness. When a person is self centred, anything like him/her is good, anything different is bad.

            Let’s apply this. If we have a man wanting to insult a woman, and to get the point across with minimal effort and thought, what’s the path of least resistance? Find something that sets her apart from you and use that. If it’s not race, I’m betting it’s gender. Therefore, her ideas suck -> she sucks because she is different -> she sucks because she is a woman.

            I doubt the men insulting her are all misogynist swine. They just disagree with her ideas, and don’t care enough to make a proper argument.

            A while back we were discussing bullying in schools on this website. Same principle many brought up: it didn’t matter that you had big ears, or a funny accent, or whatever. What matters is that they want to hurt you, and they will always find something.

    2. СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

      No, because she doesn’t actually have any point. A man making the same “argument” would’ve received more or less the same reaction. If anything, then her specifically being Anita Sarkeesian has everything to do with the intensity of the reaction, rather than her being female.

      Besides, a lot of it has to do with the fact that she had the money to make the “documentary” before the Kickstarter, and that you don’t really need any money and a “documentary” to tell that Sturgeon’s Law applies to character design too. Add to that the focus of the “documentary” being “all men and male gamers are horrible scum” rather than asking “why is it so goddamn hard for a big company with professional writers and artists to come up with a half-decent character”.

      1. Adam says:

        I was going to append that with “you meant ‘a half-decent FEMALE character,’ right?” but then I thought about it for a second and realized that by and large your statement stands as-is.

        1. Perivale says:

          The thing is, she does have a point, in that there aren’t that many strong female protagonists that aren’t clearly there just to titilate male players. Her reasons for the point and hatred of sexuality in all it’s forms; however, are just clear insanity.

          One of the best female characters I’ve seen in a game recently was in Gears of Wars 3 in Anya Stroud. She’s not the protagonist (obviously), but she is a strong female supporting character who still displays femininity. She’s clearly attractive, but is wearing (almost, WEAR A HELMET!) sensible, bulky heavy armour which shows only the merest hint (as you’d expect) of the form underneath, she shows as much badassery as any of the guys as well as appearing intelligent and calm under pressure. Must admit I’d have loved it if they’d made a sequel based around her as it’d have been very interesting to see the sales of such a title; however, I do accept that this is Epic and in general prefers “RAWR, GUNS WITH CHAINSAWS! LOOK AT THE GORE, QUICK GET BEHIND THE CHEST HIGH WALL AND KILL THE GIANT MONSTER”, which is unfortunate, but, also why I was so surprised that they created Anya in the 1st place.

          1. Gruhunchously says:

            Given the survival rate (or lack thereof)of people who wear helmets in the Gears of War series, I would say she’s probably better off without.

            1. Aldowyn says:

              Also known as “The carmine brothers compared to everyone else”…

              And Anya’s commonly put on a pedestal along with Alyx Vance and occasionally Cortana as one of the best female characters in games, IIRC.

              1. PurePareidolia says:

                I’ve never seen those two on a pedestal with Alyx. Maybe it’s just that I don’t play console games, but I’ve really never seen Halo of GoW renowned for their characterization in any regard, so to see it brought up here is rather surprising. Not that I have anything to contribute on the matter, I just wonder if there’s more of a divide between what console and PC gamers consider good than I realised.

          2. Adeon says:

            Lt. Mira from Space Marine is another good example from a relatively recent game.

            1. StashAugustine says:

              Odd that those are two of the most hypermasculine games I can think of.

              1. Adeon says:

                Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or simply the designers feeling that since the rest of the game is so manly gamers won’t feel threatened by having a realistic woman.

                I hope it’s the former.

            2. Ateius says:

              You know, I spent that entire game (spoilers!) worrying that Lt. Mira would do the usual Strong Woman Secondary Character thing and be horribly killed to provide pathos, but she lived through the whole dang plot (I think? It’s been a while). I was pleasantly surprised.

      2. Jeysie says:

        I have to admit that at least 90% of the major feminist arguments to me fall into one of a few categories:

        1. Self-victimization and/or an effective demand to be treated with kid gloves like a little easily broken thing.
        2. Refusal to accept that humanity sucks and you have to accept and deal with the fact that you’re going to get negative reactions to certain things whether you like it or not or deserve it or not, so yes, you’re going to have to change the way you do some things if you don’t want those negative reactions.
        3. Refusal to accept that equality means being held to equal standards and getting an equal share of the crap, not just getting equal benefits.
        4. That almost all of the things women complain about men doing to them, women also do just as much to men. (Bonus points if the feminists pretend we don’t or pretend it’s less of a problem when we do it.)
        5. Double standards.

        1. Adeon says:

          Well something to keep in mind is that for both genders the loudest people rarely represent the majority view.

          There are plenty of feminists who don’t hold the views you complain about but they tend to be less vocal about it than the ones who do.

          1. Jeysie says:

            They seem to be the official view, though, in the sense that those sorts of blogs are always the ones I get linked to whenever I criticize the movement.

            It’s also depressing to see so much attention focused on frivolous things like this, while in the US women have been dealing with things like having their access to things as basic as birth control and sex education restricted further and further and attempts to correct that get massive backlash.

            Why is it I can’t seem to go anywhere without listening to things like this video game backlash or sexism in comics, but the outcry against actual real issues is something that’s unfocused and you have to find via chance?

    3. Isy says:

      Since we, on occasion, use anecdotal evidence around here: I once read an interesting post from a male to female transgender woman who spoke about her experiences as both genders. The thing she said she noticed most was people tended to be far more patronizing to her. Statements that would have been taken for granted were questioned and confronted, feelings were brushed off, and opinions weren’t believed.

      Someone immediately asked if she was sure she hadn’t been doing something differently to provoke this, which I found amusing.

      That being said, you’re never going to get an answer to this question. Certainly all women aren’t attacked in this fashion. There may be an underlying trend, but it’s nearly impossible to prove, and evidence for either side is easily brushed aside by citing other factors.

      1. MetalSeagull says:

        That is quite interesting. Plus I enjoyed the irony of having one’s experience of being dismissed met with dismissal.

        I had recently heard of another transgendered person’s experience of going from female to male, and having to get used to men not making a physical space for him. Lots of shoulder checking on the sidewalks, etc.

  23. Winter says:

    A good example of male protagonist vs. female antagonist is Metal Gear Solid 3–I’m talking about The Boss. Although ultimately she’s not really a villain (and is in fact, really the biggest hero in the game) she is one of the final boss fights. It’s also interesting in that the ultimate fight with her is a fist fight to the death and yet it’s done in such a way that you’re never (or at least, i was never) saying “oh man, gendered violence” or what not. At several points in the game she totally owns the badass Solid Snake and even at the end she’s kind-of-letting-you-win because that’s how it has to end. I think the biggest criticism you could make is that her character is another “badass supersoldier”, just with the gender flipped. I think the game tries to go out of its way to sell her as the female version, in that her story wouldn’t work in the same way if she was a guy.

    An example where it does just seem to be a gender-flip on the typical “badass supersoldier” is FF13’s Lightning. I love Lightning anyway, so i let it slide.

    1. The Rocketeer says:

      I have never understood respect for the Boss. Her bosses sent her to betray and kill everyone she knew or loved and certainly either die or live in permanent ignominy afterward so they could make a lot of money.

      And she goes right along with this, no problem, like she always has, because she’s, I’unno, a ‘true soldier’ or something. A great character should have something to differentiate their actions from those of an emotionless android. She doesn’t.

      1. Isy says:

        Shallow as it is, I respected the Boss because of how she looks.

        I didn’t much follow the plot of Metal Gear Solid 3 and frankly it was so over the top that I doubt it would have mattered anyway. I respected her because she’s a strong-looking, middle aged woman. I respected her because I didn’t feel she was sexualized at all. Even when she opens her uniform in that… bizarre ending sequence it didn’t feel sexual. (Compare with Eva.) I liked that she wasn’t ever forced into a position of submission by anyone (which happens far far too often), that she never had to be rescued, that she never broke down sobbing so we could see her “sensitive” side or some other inane crap.

        I’m not a very feminine girl myself, and it was nice to just look at a woman and think, “she doesn’t have lipstick or high heels, and she looks awesome.”

        Which I realize all sounds very shallow, but I think looks matter a lot more than any of us want to admit. Just read the following if you don’t believe: http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/post/30604112152/damnlayoffthebleach-sorry-about-submitting-this

      2. StashAugustine says:

        I likeher because she gave up everything to serve her county. While I agree she could have used a little more characterization, I still admire her conviction.

        1. The Rocketeer says:

          No. No.

          When I say the Boss is symbolic of Metal Gear’s ‘perfect soldier,’ what I mean is this: in the logic of the writers, being a soldier requires the total abandonment of your identity and values. That’s fucked. Here’s why.

          The Boss kills her child’s father, sends her closest friends and comrades to be killed by her protege, who is so scarred by the experience that he becomes a genocidal terrorist, and gives herself to be sacrificed, knowing that her mission is a sham based on giving nuclear weapons to ambitious madmen to steal money. That’s fucked.

          And this is an important question, Isy: if showing off all that sideboob in the final battle wasn’t just fanservice (and I’m not convinced it doesn’t serve this purpose), why did she do it? I’ll tell you: she was showing off her jiffy-Caesarian scar to Snake. And why would she do this?

          Because she was showing him that she had given up her ability to have (more) children for the sake of her mission once. And in the game’s logic, this equates totally to her womanhood. She gave up her gender to serve as a better ‘soldier.’ I repeat: in the eyes of the game, the Boss is not a woman any longer. She is a ‘perfect soldier’ in spite of her sex, because by murdering her lover, abandoning her child, and becoming sterile, she has abandoned it for her mission. They present this as a good and admirable thing. That’s fucked.

          The Boss has given up everything that made her an individual and betrayed every logical and moral qualm in service of reliably carrying out her orders, no matter how obviously immoral or contrary to the actual needs and aims of her supposed role as a warrior. When she tells Snake that he is “the finest man she has ever met,” she is confirming that he, having learned the terrible truth of his masters’ desires and the hollow, sickening nature of the entire mission, is still willing to murder his mentor and only friend and carry out his mission for the sake of its completion. This is meant as praise. That’s fucked.

          They duel to the death, each knowing the truth of the whole situation, knowing that they have both been used and betrayed, knowing that they have actually been on the same side, knowing that there is no reason to fight other than the letter of the mission, knowing that they hate having to do something so senseless and doing it anyway out of the game’s monstrous misconception of duty. They battle in a field of perfectly white flowers to symbolize the utter purity and nobility of this battle. That’s fucked.

          And the Boss knew the entire time, from the very beginning, that what she was doing was not for her country, not for her people, not for anything even remotely justifiable, but to tempt global thermonuclear war to steal money for a cabal of shadowy oligarchs who stand in utter political and ideological domination of and opposition to all of those things. She knew this from the very beginning, knew that this was the reason she was throwing away her life and the lives of all her truest, best friends, and threatening the entire world with atomic holocaust. She knew, and she did it anyway, because it was her mission, and for her there is only the mission. She hints at this as early as her very first conversation with Snake. They present this as the ultimate show of dedication, duty, and nobility. This is what they believe it is to be a soldier. They praise this concept. That’s fucked.

          You say the Boss was never in a position of submission to anyone…? She had no will! No desires, no values, no emotions! No gender! She had willingly surrendered everything that made her an individual, specifically to better submit to a system that cared nothing for her! She is the most submissive character in any video game ever made! This is the knee-jerk example of a strong female character in video games from so many people?! That is terrifying, disgusting, and infuriating! That. is. FUCKED.

          The complaint about many female characters in games is that they simply fail to advance the role of women in games when taken individually, but create an aggregate that ultimately marginalizes women. The Boss is not like that. She is a uniquely loathsome and terrible creation that sets back female characters by divesting herself of her gender, lacking any and all character of her own, and serving not as a true character but as a symbol, the thesis statement of Metal Gear’s absurd, psychotic misconception of duty, honor, valor, nobility, sacrifice, and warrior ethos, a misconception so nauseating and terrifying that it must address a fundamental warp in the writers’ sanity.

          Stop saying the Boss is a great character. Stop saying the Boss is a great female character. Stop saying the Boss is a character at all. That’s fucked.

          1. Shamus says:

            I can appreciate that you’re passionate about this, but you are way too angry and aiming way too much of your anger at other posters. Even if your analysis is 100% correct, some people just don’t see what you’re seeing. You’re outraged at other people over a difference of perception, not of values.

            “I really liked Baron Von Badass in Shoot Guy 3. I thought his motivations really made sense.”

            “What! That symbol on his arm was clearly an anti-gay slur! You’re saying it’s okay to hate gays?”

            “I didn’t know that’s what that meant!”

            “Too late! You now hate gays and are evil!”

            In a world with as much stupid action schlock, pretension, and incoherent moral posturing as Metal Gear I think that’s lots of room for someone who looked at Boss and just saw “strong person” without looking for anything deeper.

            1. Steve C says:

              I normally agree 100% when you weigh in with your moderator hat on, but in this case I don’t agree. The Rocketeer’s anger is entirely focused on his aversion to the concept he is railing against. I do understand the line you wish to draw between perception and values but I don’t believe Rocketter is doing that. I saw no hate or anything else inappropriate directed at other posters and found his argument a good read.

              1. Shamus says:

                To be clear, I was responding to “Stop saying the Boss is a character at all,” which really sounded like a demand that other posters change their view of Boss, and was offended that anyone liked her. Maybe I just took that wrong.

                Either way, this is a post on FEMINISM. We’re doing really well here. This is the first time I’ve had to step in, and it sounds like I didn’t need to. I doubt many other sites could hit 250+ comments on this topic without setting off the sprinkler system. :)

                1. Isy says:

                  Even if you didn’t need to, I appreciate you dropping by to make sure – it’s one of the reasons I feel safe to discuss on your site and not on an open forum.

            2. Isy says:

              Thanks for the work you do moderating, Shamus. I didn’t take the anger as being directed at us. I appreciated the read, certainly, though I maintain my appreciation of the Boss (which I already admitted was superficial). Maybe her character is stupid and makes no sense when you look at it closely, but this is a game with bee-tommyguns and people who kill you when the game is turned off. I don’t take anything that happens there seriously, but it’s good to hear from someone who does.

          2. Klay F. says:

            I contest that the game presented what the Boss gave up as a good thing. In fact, the ENTIRE REASON Big Boss founded MSF and later Outer Heaven was to ensure soldiers never had to endure what the Boss endured. The game, if anything, presents the Boss as a tragic character.

  24. Talbot says:

    I agree that there are issues with the way women are portrayed in videogames and media in general, but Anita Sarkeesian is not contributing anything useful or original to the discussion.

  25. Perivale says:

    Wow, I’m late to the party. The article is great and helps make an important case, that allowing radicals who shout loudly to dominate discussion prevents any attempt to actually solve it in a meaningful manner. I will admit that I do strongly dislike the sort of feminism preached by Sarkeesian as it excludes any woman who likes to be sexy as “betraying the cause”, while enforcing it’s own brand of misogyny. Luckily there are plenty of other sane feminists out there, who are truly seeking to create a fairer, more balanced society, unfortunately they tend not to be in the realm of pop culture and we end up with Sarkeesian on 1 side and (generally) screaming, hate-filled mobs on the other.

  26. StashAugustine says:

    Okay, completely irrelevant. Does anyone else hear “Tropes vs. Women” in the tune of “Step in Time” from Mary Poppins?

    1. Maldeus says:

      Now I can’t unhear it.

  27. swimon says:

    Well if we’re not allowed to use anecdotal evidence (although I know I guy who did once and he was ok) maybe we should look at real studies. Now as an engineering/physics student I feel it’s my duty to be snooty towards the softer sciences, but it’s better then nothing right? Still grain of salt and all that.

    Here’s a general market-study made by the ESA in 2011. I haven’t read most of it but the relevant part is their conclusion that there’s a gender split of about 40/60.

    This study finds a similar gender-split but more interestingly also tried to analyze how the genders are split over different genres. Their conclusion was that if there is one it’s too small to find with their margin of error. Now I found this study to be especially “grain of salty” since there are problems with the methodology and a few other minor points but it’s a very interesting idea and not at all what I would’ve expected. Also while I may doubt the exact numbers it makes a good case for “most women only play casual games” being a myth.

    Lastly this study looked at the genders (and race but that’s less relevant right here) of FPS avatars in 566 different games and found a lot of interesting things. Perhaps the most damning is: if you remove all games where the gender is enforced for narrative reasons (military shooters for example since women aren’t allowed to be front-line combatants) then the games where you have to play as a female, genderless or both as female and a male avatar or games where you can choose your own gender make up for only 27% of all FPS games. Again this is with all military shooters removed. Without removing them then the fps games where you don’t always have to play as a male avatar make up for 19% of the market.

    If all of these studies are true it would mean that 40% of everyone who plays FPS games are female yet only 19% of all games allow for a non-male avatar. That is a pretty big difference.

  28. Mumbles says:

    I find myself bitching about this woman and her video series privately, but we’re all friends here so what the hell. She’s from this part of feminism that hates the provocative to a point where she doesn’t understand it. The part that can point her finger at characters I love like Power Girl or even Batwoman and call them sexist. The part that has zero sense of humor and can’t ever see anything past her own offended point of view. On top of that, her arguments are weak, her education is limited and if she was any farther up Joss Whedon’s ass she’d be in the next Avengers movie.

    As someone who broke into the gaming scene as a woman all by myself, I don’t need people like her making the rest of us look bad. Yeah, I want some strong, independent female characters~ but I actually care more about complexity than anything else. What’s wrong with having a woman character who doesn’t do anything but give sound advice? Oh because she doesn’t bash in skulls, she has to be sexist! It’s this kind of mentality that hurts us and draws the line between men and women. A line that myself and many other gamers that aren’t fucking children want to blur a little.

    All that said, life is a lot easier for women (in the gaming community) now than it’s ever been. I hope she does this video series and grows to understand why the rest of us actually like characters such as Catwoman and Zia and even Peach.

    1. PurePareidolia says:

      Catwoman’s a great example of where the provocative dress fits with the character – she’s supposed to be sexy, flirtatious and have a thing for cat puns, and that’s exactly what her outfit portrays. She needs to be agile, and tries to avoid getting in gunfights, so it makes perfect sense for her not to wear full body armour.

      The way I see it, the problem comes when someone like Vasquez gets the same outfit – she’s supposed to be a tough as nails tomboy marine so dressing her like Catwoman would make no sense whatsoever. Anita doesn’t really differentiate between those cases, and whats more she’d probably object to both of them. In some cases I’d understand but neither character exists in a vacuum.

      Catwoman’s supposed to be a foil for Batman (arguably everyone in the Batman universe except maybe Robin is a foil for Batman, but let’s ignore that for now) and her character does that well. She’s passionate where he’s stoic, she’s whimsical where he’s obsessed, she’s playful where he’s serious, and that’s what their whole relationship dynamic is based on. If she was serious or focused or anything like that the chemistry goes and their interaction starts being professional and not personal.

      Vasquez on the other hand is part of a unit of Marines – all of whom are tough guy macho archetypes, and she’s probably tougher than half of them combined. She fills a niche the other characters don’t – she’s eager to fight the aliens, whereas Ripley would really rather never see them again. She also keeps it together when Hudson freaks out and has a lot more combat experience than the Lieutenant.

      The problem with “tropes” vs women is that it examines a single story building block out of context where you need that context to make sense of it. Yes, a femme fatale is a negative stereotype, but most of the time those women are villains – the fact they lie and cheat for personal gain isn’t treated as something to be aspired to. Alternatively they can use their guile to help people, in which that trope can be used positively to express how intelligence and charisma can be more valuable than brute force.

      1. Klay F. says:

        Regarding female villains: Has Anita ever actually acknowledged that women are even allowed to be villains? Rather, I’m pretty sure that she believes that any negative portrayal of women is sexist, regardless of context. Granted I could be wrong, I could only watch so many of her videos before I wanted to slam my head through my bedroom wall, so I might have missed something.

        1. newdarkcloud says:

          She thinks that Zia from Bastion is sexist, as is the fairy from Rayman: Origins and Maria (the girl who was a body double for the 9th target) in Assassin’s Creed 1.

          1. JPH says:

            And I agree with her on all three! Zia less so than the rest.

            1. newdarkcloud says:

              I’m going to just say I disagree and end it here.

              1. JPH says:

                ‘Cause we already discussed it over THERE, of course.

    2. Jeysie says:

      The problem I’m having is where we’re forgetting that flawed, offensive, one-note, etc. characters are valid types of characters to have in storytelling, yet nowadays it’s only acceptable to have white males as being one-note and/or having any negative traits because otherwise somebody will complain.

      Not every woman or other minority needs to be a fleshed-out, badass, perfect Mary Sue/Gary Stu of a character. Especially since even that is getting complaints now, too–see “Affirmative Action Girl” and all that. I feel like half the reason male writers are reluctant to include female characters is because they almost can’t do anything with them at all without them being held under the microscope by everyone.

      It’d be nice if we could chill out and get back to appreciating stories just as stories again, without picking them apart for appropriate levels of political correctness.

      1. Kita-Ysabell says:

        Can I just say that it’s not just male/masculine writers who fact this problem?

        And of course the alternative is to create works with all-male casts, which is just as problematic in its own right.

        I don’t think the best solution is to close stories to interpretation, but rather to engage them in dialog, since problematic ideas in works become much less influential if you understand them.

  29. Vect says:

    I’ll admit, I actually like Bayonetta as a game. I’m not going to say that it’s “Inspiring” for women, but I will say that it’s a very silly game that one needs to approach with a good sense of humor.

    And on that billboard, I’m not sure if Skullgirls really counts as a “sexist” game. I’m of the belief that the character designer mostly just wanted to make female characters that are fun/interesting to look at/play as.

    Just curious though, how has that series of her’s gone? Has it started or is she in the process of doing research?

  30. Kita-Ysabell says:

    I think my biggest complaint about Sarkeesian’s analyses is that she doesn’t respect authorial intent. Kanye West’s “Monster” and the film Sucker Punch are both intended as subversions (whether or not they achieve this goal is debatable, that they attempt it not so much) of the sexist standards she herself opposes, but she refuses to acknowledge this intent and dismisses them and encourages her viewers to avoid them.

    Actually, that might be my biggest complaint about her series: she encourages the disregard for intellectual rigor. Those terms that have been developed in academic settings to most accurately describe very specific ideas and phenomena? Too hard! Using a control group when presenting concrete data? Not worth it! Encouraging your audience to better understand your analysis by taking a look at the work in question? Perish the thought!

    It bothers me, because this is not what feminism is about. This is what Straw Feminism is about. It’s what feminism was about forty years ago before those arguments got traded in for stronger and more challenging ones. Today, feminism is largely about challenging the dichotomies once thought to be inherent to issues of sex and gender, but in her videos, Sarkeesian doesn’t even make clear that sex and gender are not the same thing, and a number of her arguments even hinge upon the two being interchangeable.

    I’m sad to see that she has a University degree, because her arguments just don’t stand up.

    1. Maldeus says:

      What feminists as a whole really need to understand is that a major that is today run by feminists was likely created in the 70s as a ghetto to satisfy demands of women getting into college without letting them into classes that people actually cared about. If you get a degree in “Women’s Studies” or whatever, you’re getting a degree in information that is at least 30 years out of date from someone who doesn’t want to update any of their ways of thinking or conclusions because they get paid the same either way.

      1. Klay F. says:

        I’m pretty sure Anita’s brand of not-feminism is not old. The 60s feminist movement was all about sexual freedom and the ability for women to be free to choose FOR THEMSELVES what to do with their bodies.

        Anita’s anti-sex feminism is exactly the opposite. They think they alone have the right to dictate to a woman how to dress, act, etc.

        Anti-sex feminists are also massive conspiracy theorists. They are like regular conspiracy nuts, but instead of aliens and the CIA, its the patriarchy.

  31. Alex says:

    As someone in the 18-30 male demographic, I’m proud to say the $200 I’ve spent on Kickstarter has been to advance the cause of women in gaming. No, not by buying a set of DVDs about how awful the video game industry is, by buying a board game with this woman as the setting’s protagonist.

  32. Dasick says:

    Most video game characters are offensive to me, if I think about them. They often make no sense as they chase the rule of cool/sexy/awesome/whatever and fail miserably at it.

    But… if the game itself is good, why is it hard to ignore them? Curios.

  33. decius says:

    Yeah, the videos you linked aren’t troll chow, but they are anti-intellectual, actively misogynist, and have an unacceptable ratio of personal attacks to challenges to academic integrity.

    I lost all respect for the commentary when it digressed into a discussion of Sarkeesian’s marital status and makes ‘safe assumptions’ about her parenthood status as though that is relevant.

    Some of his points may be valid, but I can’t pick out which ones are valid and which ones are papered-over rationalizations for his position.

    Regarding your ‘minor objections’: What are they, and why? Are you of the opinion that the series is better off not being produced than being produced without addressing those objections? (In other words, do you think the problems you see are fatal?)

    1. СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

      It’s Sarkeesian and her like who are anti-intellectual, not the Instig8iveJournalism videos. The few editing tricks and not-entirely-serious-or-necessary side comments in the videos do not change this. It’s Sarkeesian and co. who want people to just believe unquestioningly, unlike IJ. It’s Sarkeesian who deletes videos, censors comments she doesn’t approve of, and hides ratings when they aren’t to her liking.
      The videos are not misogynistic either. Rather it is again Sarkeesian and feminism in general that is misandrist AND misogynist, as they both paint men as oppressive brutes and/or sex-crazed adolescents, and women as too weak and stupid to 1) be anything but victims and 2) have independent opinions or tastes. It’s also Sarkeesian who is anti-sex, which is its separate and own multifaceted bag of Richards.
      And her questionable academic integrity is relevant, as it sets a precedent for the expected quality of the “documentary”. The personal “attacks” are not attacks, but explanations of her bias – which again reflects on the expected quality of the “documentary”. Sarkeesian also doesn’t have a real argument – she more or less just has statements she wants people to accept as truth without challenge – and this points out and explains that. Shamus has said far more than Sarkeesian on the matter, in terms of quality, and he didn’t need thousands of dollars to make YouTube videos.

      The marital and parenthood status thing is just an editing trick. It’s a method to avoid jerky transition. It is not presented as relevant, and it doesn’t have any relevance. It is merely an artifact of the tone and presentation of the video, and in such things it is a given that your mileage may vary.

  34. Wedge says:

    I have to take issue with…basically your entire article, Shamus. While I agree that the lack of female protagonists in games is a huge problem, saying that talking about female secondary characters is “like arguing over the thermostat during a house fire” is incredibly dismissive. Maybe that’s true if they only thing you’re focusing on is how to attract women to the hobby, but that’s not the only thing that’s at stake here.

    How women are portrayed in media reflects and reinforces social ideas and norms surrounding gender, and what Sarkeesian is doing is pointing out why these tropes are harmful to women. This is true whether those women are protagonists, antagonists or secondary characters.

    In fact, it’s not even clear to me that she’s only focusing on secondary characters, or that she’s not addressing the lack of good female protagonists. As far as I can tell, the videos haven’t been released yet, so until it’s released or I develop psychic powers, it’s impossible to say whether your criticism is even valid or not.

    1. СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

      “lack of female protagonists in games is a huge problem”
      No, it is not. Female protagonists in games are unnecessarily underrepresented, but there is no ACTUAL problem – and most definitely not a huge one. It would be a bigger problem if 50% of protagonists in games were female, because a lot of games are about fighting or racing, which aren’t exactly female-dominated fields. The fact that there aren’t many good female characters only reflects the fact that the percentage of good male characters is low too.

      “How women are portrayed in media reflects and reinforces social ideas and norms surrounding gender”
      No. How any group is portrayed in media REFLECTS social ideas. Media also reflects how any group portrays ITSELF. “Reinforcement” in media has never been good enough when *I* – as a male – have tried to explain or excuse my shortcomings with it. So either we agree that media doesn’t “reinforce” anything, or MY convenient excuses are valid too. And as far as any “reinforcement” goes, women’s – as well as any demographic’s – portrayal of themselves is a significant part of that (as a bonus: biggest “slut-shamers” by far are women).

      “and what Sarkeesian is doing is pointing out why these tropes are harmful to women”
      No, she’s not. She’s pointing out what she doesn’t like – and it doesn’t seem she likes much aside from TV and hating things. From what I’ve seen so far, it would seem like that these tropes are harmful to women because somehow women apparently cannot play games unless they are entirely and perfectly accommodated to SARKEESIAN’s specification.

      “so until it's released or I develop psychic powers, it's impossible to say whether your criticism is even valid or not”
      Considering where this “documentary” is coming from, and the way it’s presented, it’s pretty safe to say we already know what Sarkeesian wants to say. She wants to hate something and blame men for it. If there’s a positive surprise, great, but nobody sufficiently media-savvy would bet on it.

  35. wererogue says:

    Coming into this a little late, but I wanted to make a couple of points.

    1. Like one of the first posters said, bad secondary characters are a barrier to women enjoying a story that they might enjoy even though it’s about a man.

    2. Women vs. Tropes isn’t really a “everything’s fucked, let’s rewrite society” manifesto. It’s a catalogue of tropes. It’s the academic legwork needed to build a reference. Your argument that it’s more interesting to talk about the lack of good protagonists is like saying that watching Fight Club is more interesting than reading TVTropes. On reflection, this is pretty much the same complaints as the poster above (not the reply with the weird sheltered opinions).

  36. Phantos says:

    Today, I had light correspondence with a woman who claims that there is no misogyny in video games. At all. And that any claim otherwise is unfounded.

    This was in response to a video she made responding to/rejecting Anita Sarkeesian’s videos about misogyny in games.

    I’m not sure which of their view-points is more willfully ignorant.

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darth_Vader">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *