What Women Want – The Mary Sue

  By Shamus   Oct 16, 2012   291 comments

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You might remember a couple of weeks ago I wrote the column Tropes vs. Women Protagonists. This led to a lot of interesting discussions. It’s a fractally huge subject that creeps into gender politics, marketing, game funding, game design, writing, and platform / market demographics. You could write about this for months and still wind up with uncharted areas of discussion. With this in mind, I posed a few questions at the end of my column, asking, basically, what women wanted.

I was happy to see that Becky Chambers took up the conversation and answered the questions in detail. I thought her answers were very illuminating. (For example, I had no idea Bayonetta was so divisive.) You can read her thoughts here: The Mary Sue: What Women Want (In Videogame Protagonists).

In addition to the thread at the Escapist, we also had a thread burning here on my site, which stopped just short of 300 comments. In that thread, a lot of people suggested that doing what Chambers did – clearly defining what they want to see in videogame protagonists – is a bit of a mug’s game. Since people are different, you’ll get a different answer from every woman. Then Bob Developer can point to the confusion and declare, “See! Women have no idea what they want!” and go back to designing the next Marcus Fenix.

The sad thing is, there’s some truth to this notion of it being a mug’s game. Yes, those guys exist and yes, they can and will make that very argument. But those guys were a lost cause from the start. Bob is not obligated to make his protagonist a female, and it would probably end in disaster if he tried. But like the murlocs in the Sarkeesian debate, it’s actually disastrous if you let those guys set the direction and tone of the discussion.

I gather this discussion has been going on for a long time in the feminist circles. To be honest, I don’t read those sites or follow those authors. More to the point, I don’t think most game developers do, either. Like any sufficiently complex movement, there are factions and groups and long-standing debates, within feminism, to the point where it could take months of study just to bring you up to speed on just how much you have to learn. And to be perfectly honest, it’s mostly opaque to me. It’s not in my area of expertise or interest.

This is why I was delighted when the Mary Sue picked up the story. I really want to take this conversation out of the Gender Studies Building and drag it out into the street. It’s easy enough to miss out on what academics are saying, but when passionate and engaged members of your audience stand up and say, “We want X!” it might actually give Bob a reason to stop and think, “Yeah. Why not X?” Instead of a circle of authors and professors discussing “Western Culture Gender Norms as Expressed in Electronic Gaming Culture”, we have a large group of enthusiastic gamers saying, “Give us some goddamn variety in our protagonists!”

The more we talk about it, the more obvious it is that this is something the audience wants. It’s true that it’s impossible to write a single female protagonist that all women will love. The same thing is true of male protagonists. But if someone takes the time to listen they can probably learn to avoid the most obvious pitfalls or repeating the mistakes of the past.

One final note: I realize it’s a bit unfair to repeatedly bring up these issues on the periphery of gender politics when I have such a staunch no-politics rule in the comment threads. I apologize for that. I’m not planning on making this a regular topic on the site. I just wanted to nod some approval and encourage this sort of thing. I suppose I’ve been emboldened by the recent XCOM game. The gaming community spoke, and developers listened. I can’t help but hope that lightning might strike a few dozen more times.


A Hundred!A Hundred!2020202011There are more than 290 comments. But less than 292


  1. Kylroy says:

    This isn’t *just* a politics issue: it’s a gaming issue, and with gaming as a whole ceasing to be a “no girl allowed” club, it’s getting more pressing every day.

    I’m glad you’re not avoiding this discussion for fear of it being political – sometimes politics lands in the middle of other issues, and being afraid of politics just makes you easy to silence.

    • Infinitron says:

      Gaming has never been a “no girls allowed” club. It’s just that in recent years a new class of girls have become interested in gaming. Girls who are disgusted by male geek culture and masculine culture in general.

      • swenson says:

        Oh, yes it has. There is a huge “video games are for boys” feeling out there. When I was young, even though I liked playing computer games, I never once thought about playing video games because, well, that was a boy thing, wasn’t it?

        I am so, so glad I ended up playing Portal and then the Half-Life games and have never stopped playing video games since. But yes, there is very much a feeling of it being a boy’s club out to your average teenage or pre-teen girl. I don’t believe it’s intentional, but it’s real.

        Truth is, if people want more female gamers to be out there, you have to catch us young. If young women don’t think they can enjoy video games, they’re not going to play them later in life either. Casual gaming has helped immensely with this, opening up the idea that yes, girls can play games too, but the “boy’s club” feel is still there (unless it’s all magically changed in the past five years when I used to feel like that).

        • Infinitron says:

          When I was young, even though I liked playing computer games, I never once thought about playing video games because, well, that was a boy thing, wasn’t it?

          Touching story. The fact is, there WERE girls playing games back in the 80’s and early 90’s, which I assume you would describe as a horrible Dark Age of “no girls allowed”.

          How can gaming have been “no girls allowed” when girls were, in fact, allowed? But sure, erase those girls from history, we all know girls didn’t really start playing games until Bioware started putting romances in their games, or something.

          • Abnaxis says:

            And there were girls in the United States military before 1948 (when they were officially allowed), yet no one in their right mind would say the military has been egalitarian with regards to gender, even today.

            Equality is not measured by “is X group present?” it’s measured by “does the percentage of sub-group X match the overall population of group X?” Females make up over 50% of the US population, yet their demographic among gamers is much smaller than that.

            The disparity is caused by a “boys only club” attitude that has attached a stigma to female gamers and pushes developers to ignore women’s needs. Women who play games do so in spite of these social barriers and inconsiderations put on female gamers, not because the stigmas don’t exist.

            The fact that female gamers exist just means that there are token cases for you to lean on while dismissing a valid argument.

            • Infinitron says:

              The disparity is caused by a “boys only club” attitude that has attached a stigma to female gamers and pushes developers to ignore women’s needs.

              Actually, that disparity is caused by a little thing called “evolutionary psychology”. Read up about it. I recommend Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” for beginners.

              • Cineris says:

                Actually, the idea that gaming has ever been a “Boy’s Only Club” is purely explained by just basic psychology, no “evolutionary” required. Specifically the kind of self-defeating psychology where someone sees lots of boys playing games and then tells themselves, “I’m afraid to try this out because I don’t see my [same-sex] peers doing this activity.”

                Speaking from experience, the boys who were playing games would have loved for girls to be more interested in videogames.

                This is a pretty common “Sexism in Gaming!” line of argument, both for videogames and tabletop games, but the fact of the matter is that the guys playing videogames and tabletop games in the 1980s and 1990s *really wanted* more people (including girls) to be interested in their hobbies. But girls weren’t interested in those hobbies because those guys were the nerds, geeks, and other social pariahs, the lowest of the low. Now that gaming is mainstream, and “Nerd culture” is “hip” we’ve got this attempt to reframe that scenario with a narrative of sexist, exclusionary elitism that never existed.

                • Deoxy says:

                  This. Exactly this.

                  The gamers weren’t the ones making it a “boys only” club AT ALL.

                  Well, except perhaps with their personal hygiene, but that varied a LOT from the stereotype.

                  • Alan says:

                    “The gamers weren’t the ones making it a ‘boys only’ club AT ALL.”

                    http://fatuglyorslutty.com/

                    Yeah, the gamers are totally innocent.

                    • Cineris says:

                      Oddly enough, this is probably better than average behavior for XBox Live norms.

                      Question I have to ask: What’s actually going on here? Who’s wielding the social power? Is it the kids on XBox Live we’re supposed to laugh at for being angry, lonely, sexual losers?

                    • Takkelmaggot says:

                      I wasn’t aware of that site until now, but I wonder if this is due to the surge in popularity that video games experienced in the 90s. If you accept the provision that video games were primarily a “nerd” pastime until that point, it leaves open the question as to whether this behavior would have existed had it remained so. I’d like to think not, but I can only base this on the behavior of my friends rather than a proper large sampling. Nevertheless I am fairly confident that their attitude towards women (in short: respectful, as one is of something which is mysterious, sacred and wonderful) were probably widely held within that subculture.

                • Dasick says:

                  I feel the need to point this out…

                  Equality is not measured by “is X group present?” it’s measured by “does the percentage of sub-group X match the overall population of group X?” Females make up over 50% of the US population, yet their demographic among gamers is much smaller than that.

                  If that is what equality means, then I’m sorry, but it sounds very wrong.

                  You’re expecting the sub-group divisions to match their over-group demographics, when there is no correlation between the two. Even if women make up 50% of the population, there is absolutely no reason to expect half the gamers to be female.

                  No two humans are the same, and human interests and abilities are somewhat arbitrary as far as we can predict. If 10% of women play games it doesn’t mean there is something preventing the rest from playing games. It just as easily could mean that 90% of women just aren’t interested, and it can mean any split between the two imaginable. Even if there is something in the way of achieving “equality”, it isn’t necessarily a sexist attitude. Someone above pointed out the feedback loop of girls excluding themselves because they’re not seeing other girls; it can also be “game shame”, lack of time, other interests, financial restrictions and hundreds of other possible reasons.

                  I’m not saying there isn’t a possibility of a sexist attitude getting in the way, but what I’m saying is that your “equality” is a really bad way to measure it’s impact.

                  • Shamus says:

                    This is why I don’t get into this debate: It’s a hole with no bottom.

                    Only a tiny fraction of developers are women. Are women just not interested in development? Or would they be interested, but pushed away from engineering-type disciplines in youth? Or do they find the material too boring when they reach college? Or are they driven away by the hostile work atmosphere? Or maybe they make it through fine, but they’re less inclined than men to put up with the savage bullshit all-crunch work culture of intimidation and humiliation. Are women being blocked by men on purpose because of misogyny, blocked by men carelessly because of apathy and habit, blocked by themselves due to their own expectations, or not being blocked at all and just less interested in this stuff?

                    And that’s just ONE aspect of this massive, massive subject. Everyone has a study, or a story, and everyone can argue what they THINK is the root of the problem. Everyone is offended by opposing viewpoints and thinks their position is obviously reasonable if the other side would JUST THINK about it for ONE SECOND.

                    This is exactly the same form that political debates take. Which is why I don’t allow them. People will fight all day, nobody agrees, lots of people get pissed off, nothing gets resolved, and I have to referee a hundred or so really angry people.

                    This is why I stick to points that don’t require this sort of argumentation: Having 90% of our characters being white men is stupid and boring, women enjoy a good power fantasy, and we can do better than we’re doing now.

                    EDIT: To be clear, I’m not responding to Dasick specifically here. I’m sort of offering a blanket commentary on the overall thread. I jumped in here because this is the point of no return for the discussion. :)

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    (Eh…Shamus already responded to this, but I responded to a copy/paste below so I’ll copy/paste here. I don’t think it’s too incendiary…)

                    I actually did look back at that post and flinch, because I wasn’t really saying what I was trying to say. I put connotations in by using the word “equality” when I didn’t really mean to, probably at least partially because I was irritated at the time.

                    To clarify the point, however: what I’m trying to say is that you can’t say that there is no difference between the participation of women and the participation or men when the split is 90/10 of even when it is 60/40.

                    Unless it is 50/50 there is something creating inequality between the level of participation between men and women in gaming, even if it is just “women don’t like games,” because there is a 50/50 split between men and women overall. This is actually the proper, impartial way to measure barriers to entry. Without barriers to entry, the sub-group composition will always have a 1:1 correlation with the over-group.

                    Ultimately, the point I was trying to make is that having a few token exceptions around does not equate to everybody enjoying equal opportunity. I am not saying “WE MUST FORCE IT TO BE 50/50,” rather I am making the (somewhat obvious, to me at least) statement that “unless the split is 50/50, something is making it less likely that women will want to be gamers.” This is in response to (paraphrasing) “I’ve known tons of women gamers for years, so the discrepancy is all in your head.”

                • Alan says:

                  “But girls weren’t interested in those hobbies because those guys were the nerds, geeks, and other social pariahs, the lowest of the low.”

                  How does basic psychology explain that there are no nerds, geeks, and other social pariahs among girls?

                  Too many geeky boys are interested in having girls join in their games because they’re looking for girlfriends. Nice Guy is sadly endemic in the population. (Well, it was in the 80s and 90s. I can’t speak to kids these days.) Girls are smarter than boys think; they can tell when they’re being viewed as potential girlfriends first, and fellow players second. And even among the boys with no such intentions, it’s real easy for pleas for more girls to play to come across wrong.

                  The boy’s club mentality is still present. Online video games are toxic to everyone, but it’s extra vile for anyone who is identified as being female. Tabletop tole-playing games still has an undercurrent; things are much better, but my wife still leaves Gen Con with at least one story of someone assuming she’s not a “real” gamer, having someone address me when answering a question she asked, being accused of receiving special treatment from a GM she doesn’t know because she is his girlfriend, or similar.

                  • Cineris says:

                    Alan: “How does basic psychology explain that there are no nerds, geeks, and other social pariahs among girls?”

                    There are and always have been, but they are far more rare than males for a variety of reasons. As gaming becomes more mainstream, and it steadily has, it’ll be less of an issue. Although games that are essentially videogame combat training, like CoD, will pretty much always heavily skew towards males.

                    Boys are also smarter than you give them credit for; they can tell when their hobby is being used as a way to build up a girl’s ego via rather than out of genuine interest. It happens, even unintentionally, and it’s disruptive when it does happen. For guys who generally struggle with having a social life, losing a gaming group can be losing your only group of friends.

                    It’s also difficult for guys who have been looked down upon their entire lives for enjoying games to accept the genuine interest others might have in their hobby.

                    Just to provide an anecdote: When I was in elementary school, I went to school with a friend who was overweight and bookish. We were good friends and played tabletop games together and talked about videogames (this was before online gaming became a thing). One day while riding the bus home, gossip began spreading through the bus and eventually I heard what it was… One of the cute girls on the bus admitted she had a crush on my friend. However, when he heard this he reacted really negatively. He thought someone was playing a joke on him, trying to put him into a vulnerable position and hurt him. So he ignored the murmurings, even when all of the kids on the bus started going wild and tried to force the girl to sit next to us. He wasn’t an ass, but he wasn’t having it (maybe a little bit rude depending on your perspective).

                    If you’ve been harassed all your life for being fat, nerdy, etc. lashing out in socially inappropriate ways isn’t uncommon or unexpected. Yeah, sometimes gamers are asses. That’s true of everyone. But almost all of the damning anecdotes tossed around about gaming are explicable without considering some kind of sex-based malice.

                  • Kim says:

                    speakign as a woman who was a geek back then, I didn’t think of tabletop games as a thing girls did. Read plenty of fantasy/scifi books, but that was different, somehow.

              • guy says:

                Actually, Evolutionary Pyschology is not inherently a valid explanation for anything because it makes heavy use of unfalsifiable claims, i.e. claims that cannot be demonstrated to be false if they are.

                • Cineris says:

                  Nothing is “inherently” a valid explanation for anything. Evolutionary Psychology / Sociobiology happens to be the best current paradigm for generating scientifically testable hypotheses for exploring the “Why” questions surrounding behavior in humans/animals.

              • Evolutionary psychology is interesting, and the general premise is sound (yes, how we think must in some way be based on what helped our ancestors survive in their environments), but the specific applications to things like modern gender relations tend to be full of “just so stories”. Which is to say, a nice and clever yarn gets spun but it’s untestable.

                It’s not too uncommon to see “evolutionary psychology” explanations given for gender behaviours that are actually quite culturally specific (and hence obviously not actually subject to that kind of explanation). I’m sure 30 years ago if evolutionary psychology had been a “thing”, men would have been explaining why evolutionary psychology made it inevitable that doctors would be men and nurses would be women, because it seemed set in stone. Now suddenly most of the doctors are women; changed like overnight.

            • Dasick says:

              I feel the need to point this out…

              Equality is not measured by “is X group present?” it’s measured by “does the percentage of sub-group X match the overall population of group X?” Females make up over 50% of the US population, yet their demographic among gamers is much smaller than that.

              If that is what equality means, then I’m sorry, but it sounds very wrong.

              You’re expecting the sub-group divisions to match their over-group demographics, when there is no correlation between the two. Even if women make up 50% of the population, there is absolutely no reason to expect half the gamers to be female.

              No two humans are the same, and human interests and abilities are somewhat arbitrary as far as we can predict. If 10% of women play games it doesn’t mean there is something preventing the rest from playing games. It just as easily could mean that 90% of women just aren’t interested, and it can mean any split between the two imaginable. Even if there is something in the way of achieving “equality”, it isn’t necessarily a sexist attitude. Someone above pointed out the feedback loop of girls excluding themselves because they’re not seeing other girls; it can also be “game shame”, lack of time, other interests, financial restrictions and hundreds of other possible reasons.

              I’m not saying there isn’t a possibility of a sexist attitude getting in the way, but what I’m saying is that your “equality” is a really bad way to measure and correct it’s impact.

              • Abnaxis says:

                I actually did look back at that post and flinch, because I wasn’t really saying what I was trying to say. I put connotations in by using the word “equality” when I didn’t really mean to, probably at least partially because I was irritated at the time.

                To clarify the point, however: what I’m trying to say is that you can’t say that there is no difference between the participation of women and the participation or men when the split is 90/10 of even when it is 60/40.

                Unless it is 50/50 there is something creating inequality between the level of participation between men and women in gaming, even if it is just “women don’t like games,” because there is a 50/50 split between men and women overall. This is actually the proper, impartial way to measure barriers to entry. Without barriers to entry, the sub-group composition will always have a 1:1 correlation with the over-group.

                Ultimately, the point I was trying to make is that having a few token exceptions around does not equate to everybody enjoying equal opportunity. I am not saying “WE MUST FORCE IT TO BE 50/50,” rather I am making the (somewhat obvious, to me at least) statement that “unless the split is 50/50, something is making it less likely that women will want to be gamers.” This is in response to (paraphrasing) “I’ve known tons of women gamers for years, so the discrepancy is all in your head.”

          • swenson says:

            You utterly missed my point. Yes, women played videogames–but I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize that at all until I really got into games and found like-minded communities of people on the Internet. I thought I was weird for liking computers. I figured barely any other girls liked them at all. Maybe I was just sheltered in some weird way, but when I was in middle school (and I’m talking the early 2000s here, so much for the 80s or 90s), the only people who ever talked about videogames were guys.

            The biggest relief of my life was when I discovered that no, I wasn’t weird, and yes, there were other girls out there who liked games and technology. But no one ever told me that. No one ever took me aside and said “Hey, it’s OK that you like that sort of thing.” If something isn’t really a boy’s club but no girls realize this, it’s still a boy’s club.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        I think it rather is, actually.

        Aside from egregious examples like the above, there are – as has been pointed out – games which are aggressively designed with male gamers in mind. Games with few (or no) female protagonists, or even characters. Game where female characters only exist as eye candy.

        This is not a hobby which historically welcomes women; it has said to them “this is a hobby for boys, so get your own hobby”.

        The vast, overwhelming majority of games are aimed squarely at white men, aged 18-35.

        It’s embarrassing, and it’s not a pleasant thing to admit to – but that’s our hobby. We need to make sure it grows up.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        I think it rather is, actually.

        Aside from egregious examples like the above, there are – as has been pointed out – games which are aggressively designed with male gamers in mind. Games with few (or no) female protagonists, or even characters. Game where female characters only exist as eye candy.

        This is not a hobby which historically welcomes women; it has said to them “this is a hobby for boys, so get your own hobby”.

        The vast, overwhelming majority of games are aimed squarely at white men, aged 18-35.

        It’s embarrassing, and it’s not a pleasant thing to admit to – but that’s our hobby. We need to make sure it grows up

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Gaming has never been a “no girls allowed” club

        I think it rather is, actually.

        Aside from egregious examples like the above, there are – as has been pointed out – games which are aggressively designed with male gamers in mind. Games with few (or no) female protagonists, or even characters. Game where female characters only exist as eye candy.

        This is not a hobby which historically welcomes women; it has said to them “this is a hobby for boys, so get your own hobby”.

        The vast, overwhelming majority of games are aimed squarely at white men, aged 18-35.

        It’s embarrassing, and it’s not a pleasant thing to admit to – but that’s our hobby.

        We need to make sure it grows up.

        • Infinitron says:

          Yes, hobby egalitarianism is truly one of the pressing issues of our time. WE MUST SOLVE THIS, all sexes must enjoy the same things.

          • Loonyyy says:

            Perfect World fallacy, and a non-sequitur at the same time.

            Just because the solution doesn’t necessarily make things perfect, doesn’t mean that an action which improves things is wrong, and pointing to other problems and going “We’ve got bigger things to worry about” is just plain rude, especially when you’re discussing a leisure time activity on a site dedicated to that hobby. If we don’t have time for being a bit more open, then you don’t have time for games. See?

            Asking that there be some variety is not unreasonable, and it doesn’t take much effort. It’s not about making sure both sexes enjoy the same things, it’s about breaking the mold of where games are targetted. And if that’s what you’ve got to add to the discussion (Basically a “Shut up, it’s not important!”), then maybe you’re a being a bit of a murloc, and should just let the discussion slide.

            • Infinitron says:

              But the “mold” is in your imagination. Gaming has never been monolithic, it was and is extremely diverse.

              It is not game designers’ fault that one particular genre (the “bro shooter”) that is aimed at men happens to sell vastly more than all others!

              The end result of your “solution” is the elimination of male genres simply for being male, just so you can achieve numerical parity in sales.

              • Fleaman says:

                I don’t see how elimination of male genres follows from encouraging developers to consider female demographics.

                • Deoxy says:

                  Go look at the real world results of Title IX – that’s EXACTLY what happens.

                  • Alan says:

                    A booming (relatively speaking) interest in college women’s basketball and volleyball, turning it from an underfunded sideshow to a serious competition, all without causing any harm to the still overwhelmingly popular men’s basketball and football? The occasional elimination of boy’s high school teams and capping of men’s college teams when it became clear that this strictly extracurricular, non-academic, recreational activity subsidized by taxpayers was essentially a handout to boys and men?

                    Sign me up!

              • Abnaxis says:

                But the “mold” is in your imagination. Gaming has never been monolithic, it was and is extremely diverse.

                Can you honestly say a cross section of gamers is even remotely representative of the overall population? You think 50% of gamers are women? 13% are black? 15% are Hispanic? Diversity doesn’t mean “there is at least one person from each group present” it means “all groups are equally represented.”*

                The end result of your “solution” is the elimination of male genres simply for being male, just so you can achieve numerical parity in sales.

                No one even remotely suggested that. Seriously, nowhere in the commentary will you see anyone saying that bro shooters shouldn’t exist. It just that male pandering shouldn’t be the ONLY thing that exists. As it stands, any developer who wants to make a game with a non-traditional protagonist will either be shut-down outright or see their creation whitewashed.

                White males between 18-35 make up 16% of our population, but they are virtually the only audience targeted by large game companies. You don’t think we would all be better off if we couldn’t expand the appeal of games just a little bit?

                *TECHnically, heterogeneity is maximized when all groups have an equal number of members (i.e. if your two groups of interest are white/black, 50% white and 50% black), but most academically accepted measures view “group composition reflects population composition” as the optimal point where barriers to entry are the same for all demographics.

                • Infinitron says:

                  Can you honestly say a cross section of gamers is even remotely representative of the overall population? You think 50% of gamers are women? 13% are black? 15% are Hispanic? Diversity doesn’t mean “there is at least one person from each group present” it means “all groups are equally represented.”

                  I don’t care about this definition of diversity. I’d tell you exactly what I think about it, but Shamus doesn’t want politics in his comments section so I won’t.

                  My intention was to refute the notion of gaming as “boys-only club”. Utter nonsense.

                  Roberta Williams’ adventure games were boys-only? Tim Schafer and Monkey Island are boys-only? Myst was boys only? The Sims – more like girls-only! Felicia Day got her start playing 80’s and early 90’s PC roleplaying games.

                  I regularly participate in oldschool gaming forums with lots of women who remember those games fondly. Are they a minority? Yes. Do they have a problem with that? No.

                  So why the grievance-mongering? Who needs it?

                  • Alan says:

                    You seem to be missing the intent when people talk about it being a “boy-only” club. It’s not that it’s literally a space in which females are forbidden to enter. It’s about a culture that pervasively discourages women. That some women enter anyway, that some women are fine with the situation isn’t relevant. It’s like claiming that because we elected Obama, there must not be racism.

                    The question is: how many women would play and enjoy these games, but don’t try, or gave up, because they found the culture around it toxic, because they weren’t willing to put up with constant little jokes, comments, behavior, and more that suggest they’re not welcome. Want to play online as a woman? You expect this: http://fatuglyorslutty.com/ . Want to play competitively in fighting games? “The sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community….” http://www.penny-arcade.com/report/editorial-article/sexual-harassment-as-ethical-imperative-the-ugly-side-of-fighting-games Want to review a bro shooter? http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/06/513794/ Want to write about the industry? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kathy_Sierra#Controversy

                    Some women put up with this crap and stay involved in games as players or creators. Some, for a variety of reasons, don’t see it. But many encounter it and decide they can do things with their life that don’t involve this bullshit. This makes the audience for video games smaller. It deprives us of a large pool of people who could make games better. That sucks.

                    • swenson says:

                      Yes, this. I don’t use a mic in multiplayer games, for example. I’m sure most people are perfectly lovely and aren’t sexist dicks. I regularly play with several male friends to whom my gender doesn’t matter at all.

                      But… I’m still scared to use a mic. I shouldn’t be scared to use a mic. I shouldn’t be scared of people discovering I’m female. It is stupid and appalling that I do. It’s probably also unwarranted. But the fact I feel this way at all–and I’m hardly the only woman to feel this way–is a very bad sign.

                    • Kim says:

                      Honestly, there are some awesome p0rn games designed for boys/men, that women would really like.
                      Good luck on getting them to play them, though.

                  • Lalaland says:

                    The majority of games do feature the same generi-dude who is invariably a white thirty-something guy, I’m a generi-dude so I enjoy those games but I’d still like an opportunity to play something else or hear another point of view. I can’t help but believe that this is because while the demographics of gamers may be diverse the demographics of consumers who have high levels of disposable income are far closer to generi-dude.

                    The indie scene is better at providing more variety but I like high cost, big budget graphics extravaganzas and for that it seems I have to accept boring generi-dudes over and over. The main characters in Spec Ops: The Line are generi-dudes in the screenshots and for the first third of the game but the writing eventually elevates them beyond that into people. I particularly liked the subversion of the ‘urban’ black character who moves from gruff stereotype to a person I felt guilty for dragging through all this.

                    In the end it probably all comes back to the old complaint of ‘Gee all this stupidity and lameness could be fixed by a pinch of good writing’

    • Deoxy says:

      Gaming was never a “boys only club”. Ever.

      However, since males were the dominant demographic, the MARKETING of games largely became a boys only club.

      Don’t blame the game PLAYERS for that, go flay the marketers – crap like that is what they do… unfortunately, because it works.

      Or, well, it works in the short term, which is what most marketers care about most of the time. In the long term (more than just maximizing the sales numbers on any one game), it poisons the well… resulting in the discussions we’re having here about said poisoning.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        I don’t think anyone is flaying the players for it.

        There are a few male gamers who get really defensive when you suggest that developers make some more inclusive games, because they seem to think this means “only make games that I will hate” (which would never happen; developers want to make money).

        Yeah, marketers and developers are to blame for this. Gamers are too – we’ve settled for mediocre, samey game releases for decades. We let developers release sequels which are basically the same game, only with less content – and then we pay more for it. That part is our fault.

        I find it hard to believe that a world where more varied games were being produced would be a bad one.

        This wouldn’t be bad for the developers / distributors either – the best selling console of this generation is the one that doesn’t really do bro-shooters, the one that very deliberately opened up its target demographic. That’s not a coincidence – in pretty much every way the Wii is an inferior console to the other two. But it outsells them massively, because it isn’t just trying to sell to the same few million boys that have historically been targeted.

        Xbox have also started trying to target this demographic (primarily via Kinect).

        And yet the sky hasn’t fallen, and shooters are still being released.

    • kddekadenz says:

      I want a poll about this topic, but not an obvious one.

  2. Vagrant says:

    I call for more female game designers. The more people with a vested interest in making these changes the more changes we’ll see. Forcing designers to make games outside their interest is silly and it goes against the idea of games as art or expression.

    • MichaelG says:

      Agreed. Expecting male designers to figure all of this out and satisfy everyone is unrealistic. Not being sarcastic here.

    • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

      The problem is that there aren’t that many women even aiming for the field of game design in the first place. Looking at all the other fields of work, it’s clear that even if all the obstacles of “discrimination” (both perceived and actual) were removed, women would still be a minority in game design.

      The problem is also that people still keep buying the stupid, assembly-line crap shat out on schedule by big publishers. As long as template, high-production-value, low-content games sell well, only a small minority of developers and individuals will be striving for ANY good writing or characterization.

      • I don’t buy this kind of argument in the least. If it were remotely true that nothing will ever get better if people keep buying the old crap, we’d still be riding horses instead of driving cars. After all, people are still buying horses, so where’s the incentive to make better transportation . . .

        Yeah yeah it’s just an analogy, but it’s still true–there’s going to be innovation regardless of how well the current variety of crap is selling. The thing is, people are expecting innovation from the wrong place. They keep whining at the big, entrenched developers and publishers that can only stay in business at all if they sell tons of copies.

        The place to look for innovation is in recent breakouts. Like, say, Project Eternity. They’ve got a different funding model and (for nowadays, anyway) a radically different style of game going on. That’s a great place to look for innovation. And if it does well, you can expect to see a lot of people trying to jump on that bandwagon.

        So the solution isn’t to STOP buying the old crap, it’s to keep your eyes open for new stuff and buy tons of it.

        • Din Adn says:

          Also, just to add, there might be less females and/or women interested in getting into the games industry if their only exposure to games and gamer culture is coloured by some of the attitudes we’re seeing now. Games are a medium, but they’re one of many, and any kind of hostile environment could well drive away potential contributors.

          Even if I agreed with Stalker of Zona about there being less women intrinsically interested in creative industries [which I don’t], should we be creating an atmosphere that is discouraging to those that do want to participate?
          I mean really, what is there to lose? It’s more people making games, simple as that.

          • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

            Men trying to get into child care and elementary school teaching are almost automatically seen as paedophiles by many. There are even laws reflecting that, and not in the “don’t discriminate against men” way, but in the “touching children in any way when instructing them (holding a hand to show how something is done) is superbadwrong” way – the latter of course applies also to women, but more so to men, and unlike men, women aren’t automatically under suspicion for aiming at the field.
            “Hilariously” enough, this correlates with more problem children, which is a “fun” contrast in the light of the study that shows that the presence of men is more important to the healthy development of children than the presence of women (although the presence of both is probably the best). Female teachers (at least in some places) are actually taught to ignore and/or punish male children because “you can’t do anything about them anyway” and just concentrate on teaching the girls. Some teachers are actually openly antipathous towards boys BY DEFAULT, before any given boy has even done anything wrong (or “wrong”).
            THIS is a HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT. A bunch of idiots putting off women isn’t nearly the same thing.

            And with game development, a big thing is the hours. It’s also the same with many professions. Many fields are male-“dominated” simply because the majority of women do not consider the conditions agreeable enough. It’s also (also) no coincidence that there are demands for more women in the government, in executive positions in business, in high-profile positions and/or “cool” professions such as firefighting, police and military, but no cries for more women in garbage collection, mining, oil drilling, welding, construction, etc.
            Whether or not women are more, less, or equally interested in creative industries is irrelevant. If they aren’t trying to get into gaming and game development on their own volition, there’s no reason to start dragging them in. I’m seeing way more “men should change games to suit women” than I’m seeing “women should make the kinds of games they want to see if nobody else is”.
            That publishers (and even some developers) like defining strict demographics to maximize assumed profits, instead of striving for quality anyone can appreciate, is their own incompetence.

            “should we be creating an atmosphere that is discouraging to those that do want to participate?”
            Here’s the thing, though, we (or “we”) are NOT creating that kind of atmosphere. It may exist to an extent, but it is not being actively and deliberately created.
            The problem isn’t that getting more women into game development is a bad thing, it’s that previous examples of getting more women into any field consists disproportionately of quotas, ridiculous laws, and changes in the end product.
            What we do NOT want is a forced induction of more women into the industry just to satisfy someone’s unrealistic fantasies of “equality”, if/when women on the whole aren’t that interested in gaming.

            And really, I’m not really seeing these famous negative attitudes, at least definitely not on a scale which should concretely discourage women from pursuing career in game development or gaming.

            And also also and and and (how do I stop this?), I don’t want more women or more men in game development, I want more competent writers and designers. I don’t care if it’s a blind quadruple amputee dog-bee as long as it’s good at its job.

            • Abnaxis says:

              Two wrongs don’t make a right. For every case you bring up about men being discriminated against I can pull out a field where women have it worse. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s bad to discriminate, whether it’s local governments discriminating against male elementary teachers or private companies discriminating against female developers. I think this comic said it well.

              Here’s the thing, though, we (or “we”) are NOT creating that kind of atmosphere. It may exist to an extent, but it is not being actively and deliberately created.

              Then who is creating it? Did it just come out of thin air? Ethnicity and gender are completely, 100% created by society and, like it or not, you and I are a part of that society. We all have our own miniscule part in the forming gaming culture, and it’s my opinion (supported by various scientific facts and studies) that we’re better off if the culture we form is as accepting and diverse as possible. I will therefore do my best to contribute to our culture by buying from companies that don’t conduct themselves like misogynists (I’m looking at you, “girlfriend mode”) with characters that don’t make me eyeroll every five minutes and advocating that everyone else do the same.

              Note that nowhere in there did I mention the word “quota”

              And really, I’m not really seeing these famous negative attitudes, at least definitely not on a scale which should concretely discourage women from pursuing career in game development or gaming.

              Then you aren’t looking. Seriously, you would have to deliberately be feigning ignorance to prove a point, or you’re (unjustifiably) trying to write off the fact that gamer culture is just really unfriendly to women with your two wrongs fallacy.

              • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

                “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
                And I’ve never said it does.

                “For every case you bring up about men being discriminated against I can pull out a field where women have it worse.”
                Warren Farrel, author of “The Myth Of Male Power” would disagree.

                “Then who is creating it? Did it just come out of thin air?” Nobody created it, and it came tens (hundreds?) of thousands of years ago from what was advantageous in the circumstances of that time. And while a lot of things even nowadays aren’t exactly helping, it’s also true that women as a whole cannot be accused of having been too active in changing things.
                And why wouldn’t many male gamers be reluctant to have girls/women around when their experience includes ridicule by women for his gaming hobby, and girl gamers (and/or “girl gamers”) whose primary objectives have been bringing attention to their gender, seeking attention (to the detriment of all else), and causing drama (and not always without intent)? Personally I don’t have much of that sort of experience except peripherally, but I’ve seen it, and on a domestic TF2 server a regular female player, who was otherwise competent at the game and a gamer in behavior, could not ultimately refrain from using insults typically used by girls against male gamers and nerds (pizza-face, etc.) just because someone disagreed with her opinion.
                For people who experience that more directly and more often, it’s not hard to see why they’d have attitudes that look bad. Even so, the most caustic attitudes come from the few individuals already seen as complete twats by the larger community.

                “companies that don’t conduct themselves like misogynists (I’m looking at you, “girlfriend mode”)”
                Wasn’t the term a reference to an earlier thing by another company, and even then more of a “can’t think of an actually fitting term at the moment”-thing – and even still a thing that was overbloated by media based only on that term, entirely ignoring the explanation? Not to mention that the Mechromancer, while having the newbie-skilltree, also has the hardcore-skilltree.
                And if you don’t buy from companies that conduct themselves “like misogynists”, do you also NOT buy from companies that conduct themselves like misandrists?

                “Then you aren’t looking.”
                I’m not actively trying to find it, but I do keep my eyes open. I still haven’t seen that level of hostility outside of 4chan (or absolutely ridiculous communities mocked even by 4chan). Actually, I have seen that level of hostility and worse – but from feminists.
                And frankly, I personally only truly know of two gaming communities, 1) World of Warcraft during the previous decade, and specifically on the two servers I played on during that time, and 2) Men of War: Assault Squad.
                In the former, female gamers were not discriminated against. Quite the opposite. The female players (not female characters) had an easier time getting into guilds (and getting more significant positions within those guilds) and finding groups.
                In the latter, every now and then some douchebag just has to make a forum account just to complain about how MOWAS isn’t Company of Heroes. It’s not particularly surprising that MOWAS isn’t for everyone, it has a relatively steep learning curve. But another notable thing is that Americans are a minority there. It’s dominated by Europeans, and especially eastern Europeans tend to be represented heavily in the top ranks. Similar European domination appears to apply to the STALKER and Operation Flashpoint (the original by Bohemia)/ARMA series. And with MOWAS, there has not been any “no-girls-allowed” mentality at all – but there still aren’t any girls anyone knows of.

                “gamer culture is just really unfriendly to women”
                I can agree that it’s unfriendly at times, but not that it’s really unfriendly.

                P.S. For sake of ЗОНА, pointing out fallacies (especially where they do not exist) is NOT an argument.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  And if you don’t buy from companies that conduct themselves “like misogynists”, do you also NOT buy from companies that conduct themselves like misandrists?

                  Absolutely. Prejudice is counterproductive, no matter who it’s practiced against. Show me a company that conducts themselves in a way that categorically discourages men from playing and developing games, and I’ll think twice about buying a game from them.

                  Nobody created it, and it came tens (hundreds?) of thousands of years ago from what was advantageous in the circumstances of that time.

                  I would posit the point that gender roles of today are wildly, wildly different from what they were millennia ago. Why do you suppose that is? While gender does indeed have a strong basis in history, today’s society gets to dictate what gender means now. We don’t get to just throw up our hands and blame our ancestors because they got the ball rolling, we have our own hand in where it goes from here.

                  P.S. For sake of ЗОНА, pointing out fallacies (especially where they do not exist) is NOT an argument.

                  It is half an argument. See, you say something, I say it’s wrong, give a reason, and then say what I think is right. You then return in kind.

                  For example, virtually all of your points rely on over-generalization of anecdotal evidence. You pick a few games that aren’t a problem, and generalize from there that the problem doesn’t exist. Or you pick a few women who play games and say that there must not be sexist prejudices in the system. Or you pick a few women who are caustic assholes and say “see? Men are justified in acting like dicks if that’s women are going to be. No one had a problem until girls started complaining…”

                  These are all fallacies. You can’t generalize that all games are pillars of social equality because the Sims has a lot of women players. You can’t say that women being prejudiced against men suddenly makes prejudice against women right. These things do not logically follow from one another.

                  What I want to present in return are two points, an the conclusion I draw from them. First, diversity is good. Groups with a more diverse population have a higher sense of community, and companies with a more diverse clientele and employee base make more money and better products. If you want scientific evidence of these facts I’ll have to dig around for papers that discuss the subject but I am at work right now.

                  Second, any time a groups population does not have the same demographic breakdown as the overall population, that means there are barriers to entry that favor one category of people over another. For example, if the makeup of gamers is 25% women and 75% men (according to wikipedia, that’s the breakdown of console gamers in 2004) that means there are social barriers to entry that more severely affect women than men. A counterpoint might be that the barriers are justifiable (“women don’t like console games” is a social barrier many think is justifiable), but you cannot deny that the barriers exist.

                  I am personally of the opinion that the conclusion of these two points is that it is preferable to minimize the barriers of entry that affect any subgroup–regardless of the subgroup–so video games can make more profit and consumers can get better products. We can’t do that if you’re going to deny that the prejudice exists in the first place.

                  • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

                    DISCLAIMER: Just because I name a group without attached pages upon pages of caveats, I am not implying that 100% of that group is exactly as described by the statement necessarily simplified due to me not being in the process of writing a huge damn book.

                    “Show me a company that conducts themselves in a way that categorically discourages men from playing and developing games”
                    That would be hard, since it’s traditionally, even now, both natural AND expected of men to be proactive and ignore adversity. That, and because the people complaining the most about sexism in gaming and game development don’t actually, you know, make any games themselves.

                    “I would posit the point that gender roles of today are wildly, wildly different from what they were millennia ago.”
                    Yes, and the biggest difference between “then” and now is that women have less duties and more options, and men have less rights. However, gender roles aren’t the issue here. Physiological evolution is. Certain physical features and certain behaviors (which are emphasized and/or encouraged by physiological features) are.
                    The resulting behavior, not systematic gendered oppression, is what keeps women a minority in many fields.

                    “These are all fallacies.”
                    The problem here though is that I SAID NONE OF THAT. I did not say the problem doesn’t exist. I did not say that there aren’t any prejudices. I did not say that men are justified in acting like dicks.
                    What I did say – or rather, meant to say – is that the problem is NOT AS STRAIGHTFORWARD AND ONE-SIDED as feminists make it out to be.

                    “You can’t generalize that all games are pillars of social equality”
                    But what is “equality”? Because only equality of OPPORTUNITY is equality. Equality of OUTCOME can only come from forceful intervention – and that is damaging.

                    “First, diversity is good.”
                    Maybe. Depending on specific context.

                    “Groups with a more diverse population have a higher sense of community”
                    Where does this come from, what is “community”, and “higher” in what way?

                    “companies with a more diverse clientele and employee base make more money and better products”
                    Only if the “more diverse clientele” correlates with “more clientele”. And still, all the “diversity” in the company will not make up for sheer incompetence, corruption, or lack of vision.

                    “Second, any time a groups population does not have the same demographic breakdown as the overall population, that means there are barriers to entry that favor one category of people over another.”
                    Yeah, and those barriers are “it smells”, “it’s too hard”, “I don’t like it”, and “it’s too demanding” in fields such as garbage collection, oil drilling, mining, construction, metalworking, veterinary when it concerns large animals, especially farm animals, with military, police, and firefighting having LOWERED STANDARDS FOR WOMEN. Also while some fields have lower barriers of entry, like business, cooking, medicine, etc., any field with long and demanding hours are fields which women are more likely to take more time off, work less overtime, and leave early than men. And in education, more women are admitted than men if you count the number of applicants, and not on merit, but quotas. The education system is either designed, or incidentally particularly suitable for women: school involves lots of sitting, listening, and memorizing, while boys learn best by DOING.
                    For men, those barriers are things like “automatic suspicion of paedophilia” and sometimes even “open hostility” for men looking for work that involves children, pressure from society, family, and spouses for getting a “real”, guaranteed-income job for men interested in risky-income things like art, “exclusion in female-dominated fields” due to women have a sense of “us” and “them” in terms of sex, which men do not have, or even “yeah actually we need you to go in the army now (and risk death or injury if it’s wartime)”. This is also a “funny” contrast to the common demand for men to “grow up”, “man up”, “take it like a man”, and “get over it”.
                    I’ve had concerns with barriers in school, but nobody told me “there must be some bias going on”. I was almost exclusively told to stop whining and stop making excuses.

                    With the things feminists keep bringing up, a big part could be solved if women just “grew a pair” and stopped whining.

                    “I am personally of the opinion that the conclusion of these two points is that it is preferable to minimize the barriers of entry”
                    And by what means would they be minimized? Because forced induction of women into the industry and the hobby can only be achieved by quotas, and restrictions on men.

                    “so video games can make more profit”
                    Frankly, video games (or rather, the publishers – and even developers) need to make less expenses.

                    “consumers can get better products.”
                    EA&co would still sell the same level of lowest-common-denominator crap they do now, it would simply be of a slightly different color.

                    “We can’t do that if you’re going to deny that the prejudice exists in the first place.”
                    Strictly speaking, you/we/they CAN. But that would require accepting adversity, and overcoming it, which is three things too many for anyone, amirite.
                    And I’m not denying that prejudice exists. I am, once again, saying that IT IS NOT AS STRAIGHTFORWARD AND ONE-SIDED AS CERTAIN PARTIES, NOTABLY INCLUDING FEMINISTS, CLAIM IT TO BE.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      I’m sorry if I misunderstood your positions. However, it seemed like you were writing off my position, using a combination of “men have it just as bad” (from your point about male teachers) and “there are plenty of women gamers” (from talking about Sims / MOWSA). I agree that we are talking about a nuanced and multifaceted issue, however I was never trying to make the point that men are trying to grind women into the ground under their heels. Rather, I’m trying to make the point that women are underrepresented in gaming, the this is a result of society discouraging female gamers, and that this is a bad thing.

                      That out of the way, I’ll try to hit the highlights of what you said:

                      Maybe. Depending on specific context.

                      Benefits of gender diversity to companies:
                      http://eprints.qut.edu.au/40895/2/40895.pdf

                      Warning, the article is dense. TL;DR, service industry companies which rely heavily on creativity, innovation and problem solving see a significantly increased productivity from increased gender diversity, though there is a drop off in benefits after a 28/72 split among the companies surveyed. I would predict that the optimal point is higher for game developers since they rely on intellectual assets more than your average service industry, but that’s just conjecture.

                      Where does this come from, what is “community”, and “higher” in what way?

                      I butchered what I needed to say by posting hastily again. Technically, more diverse groups don’t necessarily have a greater sense of community, however, they do wield more influence.

                      To be clear: for the discussion, “group” is a “voluntary association” (term used by sociologists for bridge clubs, bowling leagues, book clubs, etc. in academic papers; I think online servers, game forums, blogs, etc. can fit into this category). “More influence” refers to “greater social capital generated through interaction.” Social capital is (grossly oversimplified) basically a sociological term meaning “influence”. Here’s the wiki article on it

                      I know of many papers which discuss the benefits of diversity in voluntary associations on social capital, but I haven’t found one you can read online for free yet. I’ll hunt around some more tonight.

                      Also while some fields have lower barriers of entry, like business, cooking, medicine, etc., any field with long and demanding hours are fields which women are more likely to take more time off, work less overtime, and leave early than men. And in education, more women are admitted than men if you count the number of applicants, and not on merit, but quotas

                      Yes, and the biggest difference between “then” and now is that women have less duties and more options, and men have less rights.

                      I am…seriously going to need some source from you for this. I am mostly relying on half-remembered discussions from years ago and anecdotal evidence, but I have worked for a University’s admissions department and there are no gender quotas. Girls do tend to do better in schools than boys, but it’s a bit of a jump to attribute it to “girls are better at memorizing, boys are better at doing.”

                      Further, from most information I have ever heard they haven’t found a significant difference between childless men and women on time off or overtime. The difference between men and women as a whole is almost fully accounted for by the fact that women are expected to pick up children from school, take time off after childbirth, and other such child-rearing responsibilities.

                      Finally, what rights did men give up?

                      But what is “equality”? Because only equality of OPPORTUNITY is equality. Equality of OUTCOME can only come from forceful intervention – and that is damaging.

                      Let me be perfectly, 100% clear–I am NOT advocating affirmative action. I think the best way to change society is by doing exactly what we are doing now–presenting competing ideas and fostering dialogue. Establishing that there is a demand for higher gender equality in art. Endeavoring to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and advocating that others do the same.

                      For my part, I do my share of household duties. I work to support my spouse’s career, as she works to support mine. We both changed our names when we got married. When we have kids, I will take off just as much time as she does. Any time I see a situation where she would be obligated to do something as a woman, I volunteer (and she does the same for me).

                      We get made fun of at sometimes, but I think we have also slightly modified the way many people in our family and our circle of friends and colleagues look at gender. Gender differences are 100% constructed by society; the best way to eradicate them is to change your behavior, and go forth and advocate that others do the same. Like I’m doing now :)

                    • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

                      Yay, reply stack too fat. Anyway…

                      I am…seriously going to need some source from you for this.

                      This might seem like a dick move, but it’s somewhere in here:
                      http://www.youtube.com/user/girlwriteswhat/videos
                      http://www.youtube.com/user/manwomanmyth/videos?flow=grid&view=1
                      http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDD40D63DBCDFCA94
                      http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3783EEA1314B4432

                      The links to the actual studies etc. are in the videos/descriptions, somewhere, but the videos explain the points in layman’s terms (and you might notice I’ve been more or less just repeating what’s said in the videos) and there’s also lots of context and stuff.

                      And before you ask, pretty much ALL the videos are related to THIS particular issue, because the lack of girls in gaming and game development, as well as the whole Sarkeesian thing, is nothing but a small part of the big picture.
                      If/when you watch them all, you might notice also that this response is more or less a response to all your previous posts.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      …I hate youtube.

                      Seriously, that’s what, 10 hours of videos? For information I could probably read in and hour or two…

              • Cineris says:

                This sort of “tit for tat” mentality is exactly why these sorts of discussions are usually not worth having. Not only are they essentially all about emotion, “I had it worse than you!” “Nuh uh!” but the very premise that the challenges one person faces are comparable to another is simply false and unhelpful. Thus it’s always disappointing when you see Shamus adopting this sort of argument because it’s necessarily incomplete.

                No one really disputes that women have challenges that they face. We’ve had 50 years of Feminism drilling on that. But men also have challenges that they face that arise from their sex. Unfortunately the Feminist line of argumentation on this point is largely to talk past the reality of challenges men face, dismissing them as we see Abnaxas trying to do here. And what’s brutally ironic? Many of the challenges we see some people discuss having faced are things that other people would have loved to face. For some people, social condemnation of their peers is something that is crippling, but for others this isn’t even a factor.

                That’s why when I read Abnaxas talking past the points СТАЛКЕР makes, it’s pretty obvious to me that what’s needed is not Animal Farm-esque calls for “more Equality” or “more Feminism”, but a realization that the premises of Feminist critiques which are so dismissive towards others’ experiences are woefully incomplete. Trying to argue for social change without a holistic understanding of sex (& personal) differences is just an argument for privileging your own pet grievances over those of others. And that’s not right.

                • Abnaxis says:

                  Who’s writing what off? You think stereotyping male teachers is wrong? So do I! But that doesn’t make discriminating against women in video games good. That’s like saying the Syrians should just sit down, shut the hell up, and let their dictator murder them because the Rwandans had it way worse during their genocide. This in no way disproves the point that genocide is wrong.

                  You think men have it bad in video games (remember, the discussion here is about video games…)? Great, let’s sit down and have a discussion about how to fix it. But bringing up the fact that we have a second problem doesn’t in any way discredit the validity of the first issue.

                  And you need to read what I say, not the words you want to project on me. Not once did I appeal to emotion. Everything I say here is based on scientific fact and logical conclusions. Organizations with higher diversity in their employees and in their clientele do better. They make more money and release better products for lower costs. If any organization lacks diversity, that reflects a higher barrier to entry for one group versus another group, and the organization is not going to function to it’s fullest potential. This is not a good thing.

                  Nowhere in there is a single emotion, nor is there a single political statement. All I have stated are hard, proven facts. It only becomes political when people react to those facts.

                  • Dasick says:

                    I think the point Cineris and Stalker are trying to bring up is that there is a bigger issue, one that transcends both gender and video games. If you’re talking about solving sexual discrimination in video games, you’re only treating the symptoms of this larger problem.

                  • Cineris says:

                    Abnaxas: “That’s like saying the Syrians should just sit down, shut the hell up, and let their dictator murder them because the Rwandans had it way worse during their genocide. This in no way disproves the point that genocide is wrong.”

                    Not only is this a great way to Godwin yourself, but this is a terribly illogical analogy and shows a complete lack of comprehension of what I said.

                    It’s also amusing that you insist that everything you say is based on “scientific fact” and logic since almost everything you’ve said in this conversation thread has been misleading, unscientific, or just plain wrong.

                    You accuse СТАЛКЕР of engaging in fallacious arguments, but you yourself use the exact same arguments with no pause.

                    Earlier you asserted, “Ethnicity and gender are completely, 100% created by society,” a statement which is not only untrue, but demonstrates a complete disconnect from observable reality. Of course we can argue that the terms “ethnicity” and “gender” only refer to traits of humans that don’t have their roots in biology, but that’s a sophist argument that relies entirely on the fuzziness of the language you have used.

                    You claim, “Any time a groups population does not have the same demographic breakdown as the overall population, that means there are barriers to entry that favor one category of people over another.” Again, this isn’t scientific. It isn’t even clear if it is mathematically possible to achieve what you suggest, much less possible in the real world where actual people vary not only as individuals but as groups across a wide range of attributes.

                    You also make a wide number of assertions regarding “diversity” but fail to define your terminology so it’s not even clear what you’re advocating. Someone who claims to be supported by science should be well aware that “diversity” is by no means an unqualified good, as many studies have shown. Why did you then only mention certain benefits of diversity and not the drawbacks and other consequences? Huh. Well, for reader reference, see Jehn, Northcraft, and Neale’s 1999 study on diversity in work groups or Putnam’s 2007 paper on diversity’s impact on societies.

                    I considered calling out this dreck in my previous post, but I wanted to make a broader point. It just isn’t possible to look at the complex reality of how sex (or biology in general) informs society & individual experiences and boil things down into “How can we address sexism against women [in games]?” and then as some side note, “How can we address those other complaints you touchy dudes have?” Those two things are inextricable.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      Men trying to get into child care and elementary school teaching are almost automatically seen as paedophiles by many.

                      THIS is a HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT. A bunch of idiots putting off women isn’t nearly the same thing.

                      Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I took this statement to mean “male teachers have it much worse, stop complaining about women in video games.” That is where the Godwinesque analogy comes from, and I think it fits–while I sympathize equally with male schoolteachers (or male nurses, or male doctors), that doesn’t make it any less wrong to act like misogynists in video games.

                      Why did you then only mention certain benefits of diversity and not the drawbacks and other consequences? Huh. Well, for reader reference, see Jehn, Northcraft, and Neale’s 1999 study on diversity in work groups or Putnam’s 2007 paper on diversity’s impact on societies

                      If you read the paper I linked above (wouldn’t hold it against you if you didn’t) you would see that it explicitly addresses Jehn, Northcraft, and Neale and self-categorization and social identity theories (the theoretical basis for Putnam’s paper, which came out around the same time as the one I quote). Two out of the three hypotheses tested were grounded in it. There is, indeed, a point of diminishing returns, where diversity can in fact make things worse in certain situations. As I stated above (I’m not cherry-picking here), the paper I quoted found that point to be about 28/72. Game companies are nowhere near that.

                      Also, with regards to the gamer community, neither Putnam nor Jehn, Northcraft, and Neale apply, because I believe game server, forums, and the like that make up the gaming community should be categorized voluntary associations (groups that you can quit/join at will), whereas their work almost exclusively deals with neighborhoods. These two types of groups have very different social dynamics and are affected differently by diversity.

                      In short, I did reference the ideas you mention, where appropriate.

                      Of course we can argue that the terms “ethnicity” and “gender” only refer to traits of humans that don’t have their roots in biology, but that’s a sophist argument that relies entirely on the fuzziness of the language you have used.

                      Um…what? Why would we argue that? That’s the definition of gender.

                      Gender–specifically, so we can get our definitions clear, the sexual identity imparted on individuals by society (which is what we are trying to discuss here)–is created by society. Men don’t wear dresses in America because society says so. That’s all I’m trying to say.

                      If it’s the 100% you take issue with (I suppose not everyone agrees on that), fine. I’ll the possibility that it’s not a 100% social construction, but you cannot deny that society has a profound effect on gender roles. So when someone says that gender was created by society thousands of years ago and we’re stuck with it now (which is what I was responding to when I said that), I’m going to call them out on it and point out that we have our hand in it too.

                      You claim, “Any time a groups population does not have the same demographic breakdown as the overall population, that means there are barriers to entry that favor one category of people over another.” Again, this isn’t scientific.

                      Actually, it’s a mathematical fact. If you draw a large enough random sample from a population, the central limit theorem states that your sample will, on average, have the same demographics as your population, with some variance from sample to sample. How much variance depends on the size of your sample and the percentages involved. Otherwise, your sampling method has bias.

                      For example, let’s say I try to take a random sample of 100 people. I should expect, with 95% certainty, to have between 40-60 women in my sample. If my sample only has 20 women in it, I can say with greater than 99.99999% certainty that something is making me more preferentially sample men.

                      It’s the same with sub-group demographics. If a large enough group only has 25% women in it, I can say with mathematical certainty that there is some sort of barrier that biases the subgroup population toward men (and I have said multiple times that a “barrier” is “anything that makes the group demographic not match the population demographic”). It’s not just scientific fact, it is a mathematical certainty.

                      You also make a wide number of assertions regarding “diversity” but fail to define your terminology so it’s not even clear what you’re advocating.

                      This is true, and unfortunately it is a consequence of me hurriedly pumping out words during my breaks at work when my knowledge is based on papers I read three years ago that I didn’t fully remember when I started typing. I have been trying to do better as the discussion has worn on, and in places where I have gaffed I try my best to own up to it and correct my earlier statement. Sorry 8|

                      It just isn’t possible to look at the complex reality of how sex (or biology in general) informs society & individual experiences and boil things down into “How can we address sexism against women [in games]?” and then as some side note, “How can we address those other complaints you touchy dudes have?” Those two things are inextricable.

                      Actually, I have been doing my best not to get into “How do we address sexism against women [in games]?” because that swings too far into political territory and Shamus doesn’t like politics on his blog. The only fact that I am trying to establish is that “We would all see benefits if there was less sexism against women in games.” To this end, I am trying to: 1) establish that there are barriers against women in games, 2) show that we would be better off without those barriers, and 3) try to address those complaints you are referring to. And I’m doing my best to do it without appealing to emotion in any way, which someone else accused me of earlier.

        • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

          I mean that as long as EA and co get away with the shit they pull, the standard for the industry will be strict deadlines and expensive, low-content, lowest-common-denominator games. Sturgeon’s Law will apply in any case, but the current situation only exacerbates it, because they are not forced to take risks and can still meet shareholders’ demands while bumbling along.

    • ccesarano says:

      This ins’t necessarily a cure-all to the situation, though. Kathryn Bigelow directed The Hurt Locker and what’s the movie about? Male soldiers at war. She is putting out a new movie, Thirty Zero Nine or some combination thereof, about the hunting of Osama Bin Laden (which this year gave a new ending than was originally planned).

      These are films that could have easily been directed by a man. No one would have known the difference if you weren’t told. Does that make a difference? I dunno. The only other female director I’m aware of, though, is the director of Wayne’s World, the sort of movie that The Academy and other “academics” and such aren’t going to respect anyway.

      Which also goes to show that video games aren’t the only place we see the problem of hardly convincing female protagonists. In fact, I’m gonna link this Cracked.com article all about this very subject.

    • Phantos says:

      Maybe we’re still a bit cautious after Jane Jensen?

  3. Factoid says:

    The solution to this problem is both frightfully simple and incredibly difficult to do in practice. We need more women developing games. Especially in leadership positions.

    I don’t have any statistics, but it’s well known that the gaming industry is heavily male dominated, especially in the designer and producer roles. I think Ubisoft is one of the few companies that have a high profile female producer in Jade Raymond. Yet none of her games have female protagonists…unless you count The Sims when she was with Maxis. Big surprise that that series is incredibly popular among women.

    More female leads will mean more diversity in the choices and assumptions that drive development. That can only be a good thing. The problem is that it’s not a field brimming with female job applicants. And it’s an industry that I can only imagine is even less friendly to women of childbearing age than other industries, what with the almost mandatory 100 hour work weeks, etc…

    • Adeon says:

      Another example would be Melissa Bianco (aka “War Witch”) from City of Heroes (before NCSoft decided to shut it down and fire everyone anyway).

    • Mari says:

      But why would I want to work in an industry that clearly already hates me for having the audacity to have breasts and simply CONSUMING their products? Would they hate me less if I wanted to help in the production end of things? I somehow doubt that. There are and will continue to be women who work in the games industry but right now they deal with such an astounding level of loathing and discrimination that it’s not an industry the majority of women, especially those of us with a lot threshold for asshattery, are likely to join. Calling for more female game designers is like calling for more horses to run the glue factories.

      • Shamus says:

        Another important point is that the internal company culture of these places is deeply dysfunctional, poisonous, and dehumanizing. You work 70 hour weeks, your input is not valued, and all too often the company is just waiting until you finish your bit so they can fire you. And that’s how they treat the DUDES. How twisted would it be for a woman to look at that and say, “I demand to be treated like everyone else!”

        I’ll agree that these places could use more diversity, but they need basic human decency even more.

        If anyone asked me (nobody asked me) I’d suggest going indie. It’s hard, it’s risky, and it takes a long time, but when it’s over you get proper credit.

        • Blake says:

          I’ve only worked for a couple of companies, one small (about 10 people) one small-medium sized (30-60 people), and in both cases the culture hasn’t been close to poisonous.
          Having said that we’re an independent studio that don’t have any external bosses which means people don’t get randomly cut to show quarterly growth.

          The number of women we’ve had working for us is a lot smaller than the number of men, but they’re always treated equally, as friends, colleagues and bosses, and I largely attribute that to the bosses quickly cutting people that act counter to the company culture.

          I guess the main things are basically to really check places out before deciding you want to work there, and that the smaller the studio, the better you’ll get treated.

        • Violetta says:

          I’m trying to do that. It’s embarrassing to be a starving artist (though in my case that’s more due to social anxiety than indie-ness), and I’m not even sure if I have what it takes to complete a real game, but I’m nearly certain I don’t have the mental fortitude to endure the infamous AAA-company working conditions just to help some dude realize his dream of creating Meathead Rampage XXIV: Invasion of the Flubber Torso-Parasites.

  4. Ateius says:

    Academics might conceptualize revolutions, but nothing happens until someone unites the masses. I do want more variety in my videogame protagonists, and I hope the discussion moves, as Shamus puts it, “into the streets” sooner rather than later.

  5. Ciennas says:

    Of course, you could just have a female or two that actually play games sit down and give the developers some pointers, and otherwise helm the project. Since the parts that are irritating are not in fact engineering problems but social, they don’t even need a coding language skillset, or anything other than being female, and having a good head for story and art direction.

    Just y’know. Market research, like in every other medium.

    I bet a company that did this with a game of every genre, from sims clone to the various flavors of ass kicker, would start to mop up the sales demographics.

    And I wouldn’t mind a game that didn’t feel like it was attempting to cheaply pander, myself.

  6. MichaelG says:

    I was surprised at her comments on Chell in Portal. Other than the view of the character you get in portals and a line or two of dialog, there’s absolutely nothing female about the character. And she mentions this in the piece. But then she goes on about how she put all these characteristics onto Chell —

    “What is it about Chell? Well, for a start, courage. Resourcefulness. Perseverance. Intelligence. Even with no dialogue and no backstory, we know these things about her. On top of that, the camera doesn’t leer at her. No one gives her shit for being a woman (well, except for the Adventure Core). I think, generally speaking, these are many of the things we’re searching for. Look at how attached we are to Chell despite her lack of nuance. I see that not only as an indicator of all the things she gets right, but of how starved we are for fully developed female protagonists who are treated as well as she is.”

    The thing is, she is in no way “fully developed.” If this is what you want, you are asking for stick-figure stand-in characters with no personality. If that’s what you want, just have a gender switch on the character model, and have absolutely no dialog for the main character…

    I really don’t know what to make of this!

    • The Other Matt K says:

      I think the idea was that because female fans are so starved for fully developed female protagonists who get to be portrayed as smart and courageous, that many have formed a strong attachment to Chell despite her lack of being fully developed.

      • MichaelG says:

        The contradiction is what you are saying – “I’m starved for fully developed characters, so I love this one-dimensional protagonist.”

        And I’m saying if that’s all you want, the game industry could satisfy female players easily — just add a gender switch and make the lead characters 1-dimensional.

        Somehow I doubt that a female Gail Freeman with a male sidekick Alex is enough to solve this problem.

        • Peter H. Coffin says:

          It’s not “I’m starved for fully developed characters, so I love this one-dimensional protagonist.” It’s “I’m starved for fully developed characters, but this is what I’ve got that admirable at all, so I’ll love Chell.” Chell doesn’t represent the gaming ideal for fully-developed characters. She’s merely a character that isn’t developed WRONG. Which is still a huge step forward.

          • Exactly. Chell is my oldest daughter’s all time favorite video game character– BECAUSE she isn’t WRONG and she can at least put her own personality into her compared to all the ones done horribly, horribly wrong (she is even going as Chell for Halloween, and designing her own Portal gun using bits and pieces from around the house.) Also, isn’t it interesting that because of the very design of the game, even without a backstory we all know that Chell IS resourceful, courageous, intelligent and perseveres. We know because that is how she BEHAVES. Just like in Grand Theft Auto– you know your character is destructive, crazy, anti-social, etc because of your character’s behavior. So just because a character doesn’t have backstory or an obvious personality doesn’t mean they don’t have personality beyond that attributed by the player.

        • Phill says:

          I think it is more that Chell is a protagonist (and in a game) that isn’t actively alienating women. Which is pretty much what I took from the MarySue column and similar discussions at Gamasutra: women gamers aren’t looking for anything that panders to them specifically as women (and I suspect many would be actively put off by such things) – they mostly just want games where the protrayal of women and gender in general isn’t actively off-putting.

        • Mari says:

          Here’s a metaphor to make it make sense. I’m in the middle of a desert and starving to death. As I trek through the wasteland I imagine eating all of my favorite foods: rare prime rib, plates of pasta alfredo, homemade bread fresh from the oven, the world’s largest green salad, and so on. As I wander along dreaming of my favorite noshies I come upon an emaciated mouse. Because I am starving to death I seize the mouse, kill it, and consume every bite of meat from it. It isn’t the food I’ve been dreaming of but it IS nourishment that holds off my death for another few hours and I rejoice in this tiny meal for that reason.

          Chell is that mouse. She may not be exactly what we’re starving FOR but she’s enough to fill our hungry tummies for a little while longer, to keep us pushing X to not die a few more times as we wait for salvation in the form of a huge prime rib roast. And we thank her (and her creators) for giving us that small bit of sustenance in a vast pixelated desert.

    • KrystelCandy says:

      You don’t need dialogue to “fully develop” a character. You don’t need a huge backstory, you don’t need alot of those things.

      She embodies many things we like and appreciate, and she’s female, so as a result we like her and appreciate her character. Gordon Freeman is the same thing for alot of men (I am assuming of course, but for what he is, he’s pretty popular), so why can’t we like Chell for similar reasons?

      What would you want to include to “fully develop” her? What IS your idea of “fully developed”?

      • I think both Gordon and Chell are the “everyhuman” character that we play along with and sympathize with because we’re allowed to fill in the blanks with, well, “us.”

        I’d also put GLaDOS as one of my favorite female characters of all time. She’s wickedly funny, a genius, has clear motives, is well-written, and has an evolutionary arc over the two games she’s in.

        • Blake says:

          Until now I’d never actually noticed that both the protagonist and antagonist in Portal were female, I’d always just seen them as person and computer.

          That’s some good design right there.

          • I always thought of GLaDOS as female, but that could probably be the effect of the voice talent. I came late to the game, and by that time I’d seen the concept art for Chell as well as the design for GLaDOS that suggested she was patterned after a female form inverted and restrained (supposedly a reference to the personality cores they used to keep her from killing everyone).

            It’d be interesting to come at it without any preconceptions and see if the effect would be the same, but until they perfect the memory wipe, I’m stuck with it. :)

    • ccesarano says:

      She’s the female version of Gordon Freeman, basically. Think of the big deal people make about him, even though all we really know about him is he graduated from MIT and his job was to push a cart into a thingy.

      • GiantRaven says:

        It’s good to know that Gordon Freeman’s expensive education ended up being just as worthless as mine did. It really connects me to his character and his underdog status.

      • MichaelG says:

        Does anyone really imagine themselves as Gordon Freeman? He’s just a gun with an arm attached to it! Alyx mostly struck me as annoying — especially the few times she runs ahead and you have to keep her from getting killed.

        What I liked about Half-Life was the world and some of the characters like Breen. It would have been a better game if the combine soldiers weren’t all so stupid.

        Mostly it’s just a series of puzzles, like Portal. I guess you can project whatever characters you want onto that.

        • MelTorefas says:

          Valve is genius in their ability to create characters we can attach to/relate to without even giving them any lines. We appreciate them because of their ability to constantly overcome the obstacles of their world (or at least, that is why I do). I am not sure I ever imagined myself as Gordon Freeman, but I rarely if ever imagine myself as ANY character.

          I also really liked Alex, though I was a little uncomfortable with her increasing displays of affection for Gordon as the franchise went on (due to the first person nature of the game). I also found her to be FAR more useful than hindrance in the missions you have her with you in. ESPECIALLY when she commandeers those Combine sniper rifles for you.

        • swimon says:

          Tons of people imagine themselves as Gordon Freeman, he’s the archetypal messiah character to a lot of people, I don’t get it but he is. Also one-dimensional is pretty typical for video game protagonists so a ton of empty silent protagonists who happened to be female, while not a “solution”, could probably go a long way to make this medium a bit more inclusive.

          Also also just because it’s awesome this article argues that portal is essentially a feminine subversion of the typically male FPS genre. It’s pretty much the greatest (short version: instead of male character killing violent enemy with phallic symbol it’s female character traveling through yonic symbols to stop emotionally manipulative foe).

        • Would you rather have a Gordon Freeman who has a personality like Duke Nukem? Or maybe someone who had their own combat taunts like “I have a PhD in shooting your ass!”

          Leaving the protagonist as largely a blank slate allows the player to invest whatever they want into him/her. It’s a lot like Harry Potter, before the books became movies. Harry was pretty nondescript and bereft of a lot of detail, allowing readers to envision him however they wanted and kind of imagine themselves in the role.

          There’s a difference between playing HL2 and playing Arkham Asylum, of course, but Gordon Freeman didn’t have decades of backstory and development behind him to dictate a personality that the fans were already familiar with and clamoring for.

    • Torsten says:

      Chell is usually given as an example of good treatment of female protagonist more than a good female character. It is not her personality that makes her popular, for she does not have one really. But she is never mistreated, talked down or sexualised because of her gender.

      Nobody is suggesting that there should be more Chells in vidoegames, but that the treatment of Chell on her games should be the minimum standard of how women protagonists are treated.

  7. KrystelCandy says:

    Girl who started the fight over Bayonetta in that thread reporting in!

    Allos, I mostly agree with everything written in that thread you posted by Becky Chambers. The one disagreement I had was that I personally don’t hate the “Some guy makes offhand comment because I’m a woman.” as long as it’s extremely rare and handled well (like her example with Sten).

    She expanded alot on the same issues I tried to articulate though, so yay, nice to read.

    I gave up on that thread though underneath your article, too many repeats of the same stupid arguments I hear all the time and usually from the same people.

    • Kylroy says:

      I guess I was just stunned to see that there are any significant number of female gamers who find Bayonetta admirable. I personally wrote her off as cheesecake pandering to 13 year old boys.

      • swenson says:

        As a straight woman who’s never actually played Bayonetta, I have to say I think Bayonetta in not-totally-naked mode is really pretty. Not just huge tits sexy pretty, but genuinely pretty. This might be the glasses. And she looks like the kind of woman who can kick butt and not care even remotely what anyone thinks. That’s far better than being the emotional, reliant-on-men type of girl.

        But then again, she’s still obviously eye candy, and I know very little about her for real (this is all based on promo art and seeing a few very small clips from the game), so maybe I’m way off base.

    • FalseProphet says:

      The one disagreement I had was that I personally don’t hate the “Some guy makes offhand comment because I’m a woman.” as long as it’s extremely rare and handled well (like her example with Sten).

      If I’ve read her correctly, part of her argument was that Sten’s comment was acceptable, even revealing an interesting bit of lore, because he’s an outsider from a culture with strictly defined gender roles. But similar talk from other characters in Dragon Age made absolutely no sense given that in the Fereldan culture we see, gender equality is quite entrenched. Loghain’s right-hand knight is a woman (and a really tough fight to boot), the Human Noble’s mother rocks a bow and arrow, the Orzammar underworld is controlled by a female mob boss, women warriors fight in The Provings, women have important roles in Dalish society, Leliana’s ex-mentor is a badass lady, you can learn the Duellist specialization from Isabella, the Jesus-figure in human religion is basically Joan of Arc crossed with Spartacus, and the church hierarchy is matriarchal. So why is Alistair expressing any doubt at a female Warden’s abilities, given this is the culture he’s from?

      I think she’s saying the same thing you are.

      • Danath says:

        I don’t remember exactly what Alistar said, but to my knowledge he only comments that not many women are in the Grey Wardens.

        He never mentions WHY, it seems more like a statement of fact.

        His full quote is… “You know… it just occurred to me that there have never been many women in the Grey Wardens. I wonder why that is?”

        The responses don’t seem that great, but the comment itself by Alistair doesn’t seem all that bad, he doesn’t seem to be doubting women’s abilities or anything, just making an observation on the state of the order. Although maybe I’m missing some context.

        • Vect says:

          It’s because women Warden that end up captured by Darkspawn become Broodmothers, which is not only the Darkspawn’s way of reproduction but also an utterly nightmarish fate.

  8. postinternetsyndrome says:

    The fact that issues like this can be considered “politics” at all is a bit sad really. One would think it should just be common sense.

    That said, I like both your and Chamber’s your level-headed approaches. Keep it up!

  9. ccesarano says:

    Colleen “Momgamer” Hannon over at GamersWithJobs wrote an interesting piece on how strong a female character GLaDOS is, yet how rarely she gets brought up in these discussions. Within that article came a lot of interesting insight. Being a machine GLaDOS is removed from things such as sexuality, so that is no longer a factor in her character. While you could technically throw in some motherly type things, it wasn’t included nor did it seem to fit the setting of Portal.

    Yet her dialogue still sounds very feminine. It sounds feminine in the little details that you don’t really think about. People often enough think of women as “catty” as a stereotype, but some of GLaDOS’s insults are such perfect encapsulations of that behavior. The insult that sounds like a compliment (at first), meant to bite and dig down when you least expect it, as an example. The voice is only a part of the equation. It is the words spoken that really drive it home that, yes, GLaDOS is indeed a woman.

    But when this discussion has come up before I’ve seen a lot of contradictory viewpoints as well. People don’t want a sexless character, as many strong butch-types tend to be. But people don’t always want an overly sexualized character either, such as Bayonetta (though some women are…more embracing? More flaunting? …of their sexuality than others, and so Bayonetta is a perfect female lead to them).

    I recently saw Looper in theaters, and I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on Emily Blunt’s character. She is a strong woman, with a sense of strength founded in motherhood, a connection men cannot often understand in the same manner (though video games have explored the Father Trying to Save Daughter plot device enough). A man’s behavior towards his children is greatly different than that of a woman. Hell, the stereotype was alive and well in my parents. I went to College and my Dad was giddy as Hell for having the house empty and free at last. My mom couldn’t stop crying and sought out ways to deal with Empty Nest Syndrome. They are very different personalities, though, and both of them are very archetypal, so I can’t use them as good all-purpose examples.

    Anyway, back on topic. The one thing that really has me scratching my chin is the gratuitous sex scene in Looper (which, as far as gratuitous sex scenes go, is pretty nonexistent). It starts out with Emily Blunt lying in bed, her fingers curling about her skirt/nightgown, her body language and expression hinting at a designer. She then effectively calls Joseph-Gordon Levitt up for a booty call. No romance, and there has been no indication of romantic feelings on her part the entire movie. In the sequence after she isn’t really glowing or any stereotypical movie crap. It was exactly what it was. She had personal needs and thus she initiated it.

    Is this good? Is this bad? On one hand it seems positive to me as it expresses a woman who has desires of her own and is using the man as the object rather than the other way around. On the other hand, was this scene necessary in the first place? Is it still bad that we have to make sex a factor at all?

    The problem is, however, that we’re discussing this as if searching for an answer. I don’t think we can get one. I think, ultimately, the only real solution is to have better writers on average. But I think it is bad to knock Bayonetta for her personality or who she is. Some women like her, some women don’t. Some men like Marcus Fenix and Master Chief, others don’t. Some men like Gordon Freeman, I raise an eyebrow and ask “why?”

    Lots of people like Alyx from Half-Life 2, and I flip my lid because she has so little personality and serves so little purpose other than to smirk cutely at Gordon Freeman, by which I mean THE PLAYER, and look into his (or maybe her) eyes with big puppy dog eyes, and then people are like “She’s such a strong character!”

    Bullshit.

    • KrystelCandy says:

      Because people point at Bayonetta and say she’s “empowering” figure representitive of strong women in games. Like she’s a standard or ideal we should aim for, or strive to emulate.

      People look at Fenix and say he’s a caricature of testosterone based manhood with his huge muscles and bro-powers and other various stuff.

      Women can like or dislike Bayonetta, men can like or dislike Fenix or Master Chief, but how they are held up as representatives of their gender is veeeery different.

      I haven’t seen Looper myself so… I can’t really comment on the sex scenes or story much without probably getting SOMETHING catastrophically wrong.

      As for Alyx Vance… it’s the fact she’s a female NPC companion who is largely not useless. In a bit more detail, she’s not the bestest character ever, but she’s strong emotionally, confident even in the face of adversity, she shows emotions like sadness or distress when bad things happen. In addition she’s not totally useless or stupid as a sidekick… usually.

      • ccesarano says:

        I think that’s part of the issue. To some women I know, a woman like Bayonetta does reflect empowerment, using her own sexuality to take advantage of and get a leg up (no pun intended) on men and their weakness for desirable woman flesh.

        Guys that think they are feminists probably feel the same way.

        I’ve spoken to a sampling of women from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints on sex and sexuality, and I can see both sides of the coin.

        I do think you’re right, though. I’d say Bayonetta is a much more developed character than Marcus Fenix, but she is still defined by her sexuality. The only difference is she is presented as a woman in control of her own sexuality, there to tease and tantalize, to say “look but don’t touch”, rather than “Here, have a woman whose boobs and ass you can look at”. Though in the world of video games, is there really a difference? Only in what we project onto those characters, I suppose.

        • KrystelCandy says:

          Perhaps. It was the hair outfit and combat poses that pushed it a little bit too far for my personal enjoyment though.

          I commented more on how she was presented in the thread as well as the developers intentions in creating her, which does matter to me, but on the other hand it matters less so to some. The fact that most people who do compliment Bayonetta can mention pretty much nothing OTHER than her sexuality is also a sticking point for me.

          I don’t begrudge people liking her though, this is all just personal preferences at this point.

          • ccesarano says:

            There is also the iffy “because Japan” thing going on with Bayonetta, too. Not as in it’s an excuse, but I’m not terribly knowledgable about how gender politics operate over there except for the stereotypes. For the Japanese, that could be progressive! I’m not sure.

            I do think it is important to note that we are also dealing with another culture when discussing video games. What we like in a story is founded on Western traditions of a three-act story and The Hero’s Journey while theirs is founded in five-act structures and Kabuki. The differences can be subtle, but it also explains how a lot of anime don’t really get going until halfway through and then seem to abruptly end. To us, it can be terrible. To them, it’s just how stories are told.

            This is still based on Wikipedia and accounts from people who have studied Japan more than I have. The point is, though, that we can’t just say “Oh your culture is doing it wrong” because that’s 1) closed-minded and 2) insensitive.

            Be that as it may, Bayonetta as a game also pissed me off and I cannot comprehend the immense love for it, so I’m not partial to defending it beyond playing Devil’s Advocate. Whenever I have to think of strong female characters, though, I always first go for characters like Agrias from Final Fantasy Tactics or Terra and Celes from Final Fantasy 6, but that’s also because those games are fucking outstanding in the characters department. So there’s that.

            • FalseProphet says:

              Not all of us like 3 act structure or the Hero’s Journey. But they do dominate Western narrative of late, especially in genre fiction.

              But you probably have a point. A local sci-fi author who did her thesis in kabuki’s influence on manga and anime told me once that in kabuki, the popular theatre for the masses, character traits are very exaggerated, almost to the point of caricature. This might explain why subtlety of any sort is quite rare in anime and manga and by extension the games influenced by those stories, while that’s not true of live-action Japanese drama as a whole.

              On the other hand, it’s not like Japanese developers haven’t made dozens of games that did resonate deeply with Western audiences, and the same goes for manga and anime. It’s even arguable Western appeal for Japanese games started to decline the more Japanese developers actively tried to target Western audiences. So maybe the lesson is, it’s better to tell a good story your way in the hopes the other guys recognizes it’s goodness, than to tell a bad story the other guy’s way, ensuring he sees how bad it is.

              I didn’t mind Bayonetta personally. It was pretty cool that Bayonetta always seemed to be in complete control of the situation. Then again, Bayonetta seemed to be one of the few characters in the game who actually understood what was going on–I couldn’t make heads nor tails of that plot. I sure as hell wouldn’t want every or even most game protagonists to be that self-assured and cocky–it would probably drive me crazy. But it was refreshing to see it in a female protagonist at least once.

            • Vect says:

              People enjoy Bayonetta because despite the character because as a Spectacle Fighter it’s considered one of the very best of the genre like how Planescape: Torment is considered one of the best Western RPGs. Platinum Games is considered one of the best developers of Action games, even making a really awesome Cover-Based Third-Person Shooter (Vanquish, which put a focus on moving and shooting and will penalize the players for staying in cover for too long). Stuff made by Platinum don’t exactly have stories that are meant to be taken seriously but as far as gameplay goes are top-notch.

              ‘Course, people here don’t really care much for that. I actually like Bayonetta, both the game and the character (she’s fun, entertaining and has moments in which she gets to show that she’s not a terrible bitchwhore). I’m not going to say that she’s an empowering character, then again I’m a heterosexual male so I might not be the best judge for that.

          • N/A says:

            I think the crux of my stance on Bayonetta is that I don’t directly equate sexualisation with the objectification and oppression of women. It has often been used to objectify women, yes, but that’s not the same thing as saying that the two are inherently and inextricably linked. To be sexually objectified means more than mere sexualisation. At the core, sexualisation just means bringing out the sexuality of a thing as important. Which it is. Human beings are sexual creatures. These desires are big, important parts of our species, so I see nothing wrong with a character who engages with that.

            As an anology, consider the swastika. It’s not, originally, a Nazi symbol. Originally it’s a symbol of good luck and rebirth, but it was hijacked and misused by the Nazis to promote their ideals. Does that mean the swastika is now intrinsically a symbol of Nazi ideals? No. It’s still used in its original capacity, and I hope that over time, the bad associations will bleed away.

            In the same vein, Bayonetta represents an aspect of female sexuality that is real and powerful. Unfortunately, it’s an aspect that has been blown all out of proportion, saturating the media and twisted into a tool of oppression. Does that mean that this aspect of women and sexuality in general should be considered irrevocably suspect, tarnished by its ill-use? I hope not.

            That said, the aspect she represents has been extensively used to oppress and it is not the sum of female sexuality or power. It would be good, in the current climate, to have characters and stories that championed those other aspects, and I would damn well like to see some. But if, in the process, it means denying these very real parts of what it means to be human? That’s… Well, I guess that’s a victory against oppression, but to my mind it’s something of a shallow one if that oppression is still defining things like “what women can be”, even if only by saying “they can’t be this.”

    • Chris says:

      I’m with you on Alyx. So much of her dialogue was focused on fawning over Gordon. Of course, since Gordon never speaks, Alyx ended up coming across as desperate and obsessive. I can kind of see what Valve was shooting for, but I just don’t see how it can work with a silent protagonist.

      • ccesarano says:

        To be fair, everyone makes a big deal about you being Gordon Freeman. So much to the point that I’m wondering if Valve is laughing their asses off because no one has figured out that they made a complete male power fantasy that is viewed as the pinnacle of gaming by many while thousands shout about how blatantly terrible these modern war shooters are as a more obvious male power fantasy.

        The crowbar is a metaphor for the penis…only…crooked.

        • Tse says:

          Yeah, and it’s never explained WHY Gordon is a big deal. He was an intern (or one step above one, he never did anything other than grunt work), then he killed a lot of soldiers, saw more of Black Mesa than most people and disappeared. The only people who knew about him were some soldiers (most of them died), some scientists (same) and the G-Man. Why would anyone know, remember or care about him?

          • ehlijen says:

            My guess is because a few scientists and soldiers survived after seeing Gordon dive headfirst into the alien dimension so save the world?

            The backstory of half life isn’t meant to make sense. It uses some basic mysterious yet familiar elements, throws in just enough new wierd stuff and let’s you imagine the rest.

        • Dasick says:

          You see those warriors from Hammerfell? They’ve got curved swords. Curved. Swords.

    • Eldiran says:

      I think Alyx actually spends less time fawning over Gordon than most of the characters he meets.

      Her strength as a character is more because she’s extremely competent (saves Gordon in the beginning of the game, is way more acrobatic than Gordon, and can fight alongside Gordon later on WITHOUT an HEV suit) and that her motivations for her actions are actually not about Gordon at all. Often Gordon is spending his time helping her, rather than the other way around.

      She’s certainly not perfect, but she’s not a fawning hanger-on or anything.

  10. Dreadjaws says:

    So, I guess XCOM turned out great after all, huh? I almost regret having chosen Dishonored for day-one purchase instead. Almost. Dishonored is another gem that deserves every piece of praise it has gotten.

  11. CaptainMaybe says:

    This is a bit of a non sequitur, but I find it really interesting how the higher up you go in university-level computer science classes, the fewer girls are still pursuing the (computer science) major. First semester is about 60/40 boys:girls. Second semester is 65/35, third is 70/30 and it trickles off from there. I can imagine that the rate is even lower for people going specifically into something like game design. Just something to think about.

    On another note, I think that they not only need more varied protagonists, but the gaming industry, as a whole, needs a larger variety of games. As far as I can tell, there are myriad untapped genres of games that might appeal to a different audience–not to say that girls don’t like shooting people and blowing up space aliens, but a lot of people I know would prefer navigating the social intricacies of court rather than spewing bullets into humanoid creatures. Just my opinion, of course.

    • ccesarano says:

      I don’t necessarily feel the solution is more women interested in technology, though. The thing about creating characters is it has nothing to do with being good with computers. It’s more focused on intuition or simple creativity, same with story-telling in general.

      But the games industry is HORRIBLE at getting creative types that involved in the game development process as to really have an effect on the story. You have to start in the company at a lower level and work up to the top, or at least theoretically. Only the people making our games these days are in their 40’s and up. The only young people having any creative influence, usually at least, are indies.

      Kim Swift and co. were lucky, I think, for being a young team developing Portal, and look what happened there. Not saying we need to get rid of the old and bring in the new, but as video games are partially a creative endeavor the industry really ought to be more accessible to young creative minds that don’t always have a spot to fill in at the lower rung of the corporate ladder (especially because the corporate ladder hates anyone that isn’t effectively an assembly line worker, only with things like code and TPS reports).

    • swenson says:

      Truth. I’ve noticed the same thing in my CS classes. I think my second year, it was about 5:1 or 4:1 in favor of guys; now of my two technology classes (a 300-level web design class and a 300-level assembly language class), I am the only girl. At our ACM meetings, I’m also the only girl (technically there’s another female member, but she’s a senior and no one ever sees her anymore because she’s extremely busy).

      I don’t really care much, because everyone’s nice and I’ve never once gotten looked down on or treated differently because I’m female, but… man, is it ever lonely sometimes…

      And I get torn between this weird feeling of wanting everyone to just think of me as a guy, because I don’t want special treatment or attention (either negative or positive) for my gender, and an equally weirder feeling of wanting to flaunt my femininity, such as it is, and wear skirts and curl my hair and stuff. Not sure if that’s out of some subconscious desire for male approval or if it’s because I’m the ornery type who wants to rub their faces in the fact that I’m female, but… it’s an unappreciated feeling all the same.

      • Din Adn says:

        Oh, rockin’!

        As a guy who majored in linguistics, my classes were mainly populated by women. It’s really weird seeing such a gender divide going on at higher levels of academia. I mean, you’d think by that stage people would be pursuing their personal interests, and yet it gets more pronounced the higher you go. Personally, it seemed to me like it had something to do with people’s ideas about what professions and fields are appropriately feminine or masculine, which is weird, but I’ve not done any inquiry into this so it’s complete speculation.

        I dunno. Thoughts?

        • Thrawn says:

          As an engineer, I wish there were more female engineers. But what I find fascinating is not just the gender gap by discipline, but the large variation by sub-discipline (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/tables/dt11_290.asp). Engineering is a male-dominated discipline, but some are 8:1 (Aerospace, Electrical, Mechanical) and some are less than 2:1 (Bio, Chemical, Environmental). Why such variance in sub-discipline? I dunno, often the departments are the same, Chemical engineering isn’t really much different than mechanical in math or subject matter.

          Now we could say there is an actual propensity for women and men to choose different disciplines based on biological/instinctual differences apart from societal pressures (this is untestable directly, since you cannot remove actually societal pressures). But Biochemistry, Biochemical Engineering, Biotechnology and Biological Engineering are very similar in subject, but the engineering side has fewer women; which makes it seem like some of the bias simply happens based on what the field is called. I think you must be at least partly correct, at some level it must have something to do with perception that some subjects are more masculine/feminine than others.

          • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

            “which makes it seem like some of the bias simply happens based on what the field is called.”
            According to Warren Farrel, in his book “Why Men Earn More
            The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap and What Women Can Do About It”, women tend to choose the “easier” professions and hours. They’re more concerned than men about things like personal fulfillment. Men work more hours, they work more overtime, they work harder (more/better work done in the same time), they work longer and more reliable (for the employer) careers overall. Men do almost all of the heavy, hard, dangerous and dirty work in all fields.
            Warren Farrel states that the “pay gap” is caused by numerous decisions made by men and women during their career, starting from school. The general rule is that the more demanding a field is, in any way, the less likely women are to choose that field or make the decisions that lead to a career in that field. If I remember correctly, he also states that the women that DO make the “correct” decisions tend to out-earn men in equal or equivalent positions.

            Warning, long-ass multipart videos ahoy:

            Why Men Earn More:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cb_6v-JQ13Q&list=PL3783EEA1314B4432&index=1&feature=plpp_video

            The Myth of Male Power (relevant in the overall context of sexism and accusations thereof, and related attitudes in both sexes):
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFtGwBsKgKs&list=PLDD40D63DBCDFCA94&index=1&feature=plpp_video

        • swenson says:

          Funny you should mention linguistics! My minor is English, and I first noticed in a linguistics class how reversed the gender ratio was from my usual classes–out of about 25 people, I think only two were male!

          I do have to wonder how guys feel in those fields, if that ratio holds. Do you feel awkward or out of place at all? Or is it no big deal?

      • Blake says:

        I don’t think there’s anything unusual about that dichotomy, you’re in the group and want to be treated as such, but at the same time everyone likes feeling sexy and wanted and desired and unique.

        So long as you don’t get surprised if people notice when you’re flaunting and still treat you professionally when you’re not then it’s all good.

  12. Dev Null says:

    It’s true that it’s impossible to write a single female protagonist that all women will love. The same thing is true of male protagonists.

    And yet its so very very easy to create a protagonist – of either sex – that everyone hates. Wonder what that says about human nature.

    Ta for the article link; it was an interesting read. My usual example of good female characterisation is Firefly. Is Inara a sultry sex-worker? Yes. And some people want to see that character. But she’s also smart and 3-dimensional. And she’s on a crew with a button-cute technophile, a spooky waif, and a badarse efficient warrior, if any of those are more your speed (and Zoe, to my mind, is by far the sexiest one of the lot; but I digress.) Set up the crew of Firefly as playable characters, and _now_ you’re giving me _and_ the women players some options, instead of just “should I make Steak-for-Brains blond this time?”

    • Aldowyn says:

      Ah, Firefly… I’m going to give a +1 here. All of those characters are distinctly feminine but in completely different ways.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Hmm. There’s a few points I agree with and a lot I disagree with. I’m not going to go through it unless someone insists though.

      • Dev Null says:

        Yeah. Certainly the characters aren’t perfect – they’re _all_ physically gorgeous, for one, though I blame Hollywood in general at least as much as I blame Joss for that. But some of that article seems pretty off-base. Kaylee showing up the pretty girls by being interesting and knowledgeable isn’t an attack on feminine women; its an attack on jerks, whether they’re wearing skirts or not. The context of the rest of the episode, which is all about two rich upperclass men, one of whom is a jerk and gets his just deserts, and one of whom is quite likeable, surely brings that home.

        Still, thanks for the link – just because I didn’t agree, doesn’t mean it wasn’t interesting, and I _do_ agree that the women of Firefly aren’t perfect examples of feminist writing. I would argue, though, that by deliberately not making any of them a perfect feminist caricature, Joss has instead made them more realistic and interesting people. Compare them to Bayonetta and I think hes strides ahead of much of the Video Game industry at least.

        • Gruhunchously says:

          Well, to be fair, all of the men in Firefly are physically attractive as well, so at least it goes in both directions. Like you said, it’s really more of a problem of society in general rather than that of any one show. We, as viewers, like looking at pretty people.

        • Joshua says:

          Well, I’d disagree with you about Kaylee -I felt that they were trying to show that she was attracting men more with her personality than the women trying to be pretty but bland. We don’t know that all of the women at the party were snobs like the one she talked to, but we get the idea that they’re typically just frivolous arm candy, and the men wanted more than that.

          As far as the article though, it seems like they’re going out of their way to find fault, as they’re looking at any negative depiction of a female character as sign of misogyny.

          There are just a flat odd amount of odd statements:
          “While “Heart of Gold” would have us viewing illegal prostitutes as admirable rebels from within the framework of a show which glorifies piracy and other illegal activities, we are shown at the same time that their life is grim and dangerous because they reject the draconian regulations used to control Companions.”

          Um, when was it shown that there are draconian rules controlling Companions? They seem to be pretty autonomous and wield quite a bit of power. They can even choose which clients to see.

          “Oddly enough, it’s another woman, Inara, who traps (Saffron) in a trash bin and leaves her for collection by law enforcement so that she can learn a lesson and get her comeuppance for finding creative approaches to living in a masculine-dominated world.”

          Yeah, this is about the part to stop treating the author seriously.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Honestly I dug through the archives on more of the joss series and there’s a lot of valid points in there. That was probably the article I agreed the least with. There’s some interesting things about feminism and anti-feminist characters in Buffy that seemed interesting. There are still some (less) things that just seem flat-out wrong.

            • Joshua says:

              I’m sure there were some accurate comments in there. It seems to me that the author took a “throw a bunch of crap on the wall and see what sticks” approach to argument, so of course there are going to be some valid points.

              Unfortunately, there are plenty of flat out stupid comments too. And some comments that are valid, but tangential to the main argument, like the fact that Firefly showed no Asians despite having a Chinese culture heavily embedded into the story. Very good point, but not when the rest of your thesis is about the role of women in that universe.

      • postinternetsyndrome says:

        I’ll admit to not finding the article I was really looking for and making do with one of the first google results I skimmed through. It exaggerates to be sure, just wanted to make the basic point that Firefly is not flawless and using it as some kind of platonic ideal for female characters is kind of stupid.

        I love the show to bits on a more general basis though.

      • Blake says:

        Sounds to me like the author is trying really hard to make things offensive. Like saying Zoe is subservient is subservient to her captain, but ignoring the fact she’s the boss of her marriage and there’s a whole episode about that whole Mal/Zoe/Wash thing.

        And the whole “Why can’t Zoe be a good XO and a good cook?”, I bet if she was a good cook the author would be harping on about how this tough military woman also needs to be able to cook for her husband instead.
        A better question is “Why SHOULD Zoe be a good XO and a good cook?”? I can’t see anyone complaining that Jayne never cooks.

        And Kaylee “captivates male attention not with her feminine wiles, but with her knowledge of mechanics and engines”, so the author is saying it’s bad for a girl to be getting noticed for something other than her looks? To me that seems like a good message to be sending, substance over presentation.

        This author is making me rage, I need to quit the internet for a while.

    • Tse says:

      And yet they are all walking barefoot or in sandals because the director has a foot fetish.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        Please cite one episode where Zoe (or even Kaylee for that matter) was “barefoot or in sandals.”

        While River was occasionally barefoot, I seem to recall that her usual preferred footwear was an old pair of combat boots.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Yeah. It was just river’s feet that were the extra character.

        • Tse says:

          Hm, you may be right about Zoe, Kaylee on the other hand:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-c-EdeNFUvg
          I’m so sorry! Also, I wouldn’t read the comments.
          My point is, a lot, if not all, of the female cast is still being objectified.

          • Daimbert says:

            This is one of the annoying sorts of arguments that come up around “objectification”.

            Are they being presented as attractive and in sexually appealing ways and situations? Yes.

            Does that mean that they are being “objectified”? Not necessarily, and I’d argue absolutely not in Firefly, because their attractiveness and sexuality is being expressed as PART of a full and complete character. Objectification, to have any meaning at all, must refer to being PRIMARILY portrayed as an object of attraction, and that’s absolutely not what’s happening in Firefly. Their appeal is always based at least in part around who they actually are, and so they aren’t being reduced to nothing more than their sexual appeal.

            • Tse says:

              I mean that they are objectified not because they are shown in a sexy way, but because they are shown walking on a rusty run-down spaceship walking barefoot, on the same floor the boys walk on in combat boots caked with dirt from tens of planets. It looks uncomfortable and a little bit dangerous, like bikini mail.
              It is possible for a director to fawn over an ancestress’s feet without it being illogical in the plot, just look at Kill Bill. Every time the bride is barefoot the camera takes advantage, but she is never barefoot without it making sense in the story.

              • Daimbert says:

                Well, ignoring the fact that in that clip Kaylee is basically in the lounge, and mostly isn’t walking around with that, and so it isn’t actually all that illogical and that for River, well, for her it could be seen as a personality issue, kinda like Tahiri in the Star Wars EU, and so not that illogical, you need a bit more than some gratuitous and perhaps illogical fan service to claim that they are being objectified. Fan service and objecitfication are not the same thing, pretty much for the reasons I mentioned above, that highlighting — even illogically — some kind of sexual appeal isn’t objectification if it’s done in the context of a complete character who is more than just a sexual object. It doesn’t miraculously turn them into nothing more than sexual objects if at some points the sexuality or attraction is highlighted more than the other traits.

                • Tse says:

                  I claim there is some objectification, not that it’s the only thing about their characters. Just find it a little bit grating because they are otherwise very well done.
                  P.S. I also find it rather disturbing that most of River’s fan service is during her psychotic episodes.
                  P.P.S Maybe unneeded sexualization would be a more correct term than objectification.

                  • Daimbert says:

                    I prefer “fan service”, which is indeed basically sexualized content that isn’t necessary for the plot but is there for that sort of appeal. But, put that way, it’s harder to see why having some fan service is a problem. Sure, fan service characters might be, or it might be a problem if it’s overdone, but fan service can be done for both genders and doesn’t seem to me to be a real problem or undermine the portrayal of the characters most of the time.

                    • Nimas says:

                      Just want to point out fan service wasn’t just limited to the women in the series. In the final episode, when the bounty hunter wakes up Simon they chat for awhile with Simon only wearing pants (no shoes for the rest of the episode if i remember correctly too ;) )

                      Listening to Joss’ commentary on the episode he said he got alot of thankyou notes for topless Simon, and I believe he said “I’m not above some cheese” too :P

                      He also apologised in the commentary of Serenity for having Nathan Fillion topless and then shooting him from the clavicle up.

  13. Spammy says:

    Oh man… whenever Other M comes up in these kinds of conversations I just have to quietly stew in my conflict of emotions.

    I did not find Other M to be on the whole incredibly sexist or misogynistic. I also didn’t think that Other M destroyed Samus as a character.

    And that freaks me right the hell out because I don’t think of myself as some kind of misogynistic pig-monster grunting “Get back in the kitchen” jokes and acting like they’re funny. I don’t want to be one of those, I groan and mute people online whenever they start acting like that. When Killing Floor finally added a female character model I nearly quit a server because I guy kept making those kind of jokes and saying he “smelled fish.”

    Maybe it’s because my previous personal involvement in the Metroid series was the Prime trilogy, where Samus was almost a non-character. Didn’t ever say anything, we only saw her reaction in a few moments scattered through the game. The only time that she was a woman was at the end when she took her helmet/armor off and they did the same, “Ha ha, you’ve been playing as a girl the whole time!” moment they’ve been doing since the first game. And is that what women want from their protagonists? To be indistinguishable from men until the very end when they give it a big reveal? To only be able to do anything by hiding their gender and shutting up and being all but sexless, personality-less robots?

    After playing Other M I kind of saw Samus in the same light as I saw Zoe from Firefly. They’re both women who served in the military and were affected by it, and during the course of the story being in contact still with their old commanders. I mean, I never heard anyone complaining about Zoe being a horrible female character because she was loyal to Mal and followed his orders. So… it didn’t bother me that Samus was following Adam’s orders. And I also thought that Adam spelled the situation out soon after they met: If she wanted to be a part of this mission she’d have to follow his orders like the rest of the soldiers. And in that first boss fight, none of them pulled out their Ice Guns until Adam allowed it, so the same “Wait for authorization to use the more fancy stuff” rules were in place for them.

    And it didn’t seem that wrong to me that, in the vastness of the universe, there are two people that Samus cares about. Especially coming from the Prime trilogy where she left Tallon IV without a word, all but flipped off U-Mos on her way off of Aether, and wouldn’t have given the admiral in III the time of day unless he paid her to.

    Of course what worries me is that someone in a better position to judge these things (i.e. a woman) will come along, call all that bullshit and I’ll have turned out to be misogynistic pig-monster the whole time.

    • Aldowyn says:

      Although I haven’t played it, I’m pretty sure most people would say that Other M portrayed Samus as a “weak” character compared to the other games. It’s also totally reasonable to see Samus as an incredibly independent person – after all, she is a bounty hunter that spends entire games fighting horrible monsters and things, completely by herself.

      It doesn’t matter if the character is silent, that silence itself becomes a characterization if you give it enough time. Think about it. Gordon Freeman, Chell, even Master Chief to some extent. I will admit her femininity isn’t particularly important to the character except as the symbol she’s obviously become.

      Let’s put it this way. You mentioned Zoe as following Mal’s orders without question being similar to Samus following Adam’s orders. Can you see Zoe waiting for permission to pull out something she needed to get the job done?

      Also “waiting for authorization to use the fancy stuff” is a dumb idea anyway. The specific example I usually hear about getting heat-protective armor AFTER crossing the lava pit is like waiting for permission to wear a bulletproof vest.

    • guy says:

      There’s a few major issues that brought out the near-universal condemnation for Other M.

      1. The whole motherhood motif. Not that it’s unreasonable or bad for a woman to be concerned with motherhood, but the implicit message that all women must be focused on it, because it’s as odd for Samus as Master Chief obsessing over fatherhood.

      2. The whole authorization thing. Most notably the Varia Suit incident. There was no good reason to leave it deactivated while proceeding through a superheated area, yet Adam didn’t tell her to turn it on and Samus didn’t decide to do it on her own. There’s some other puzzling incidents where he doesn’t authorize and she doesn’t use equipment helpful in the current situation that has no chance of inflicting collateral damage, but that one placed her in direct physical danger.

      3. Samus freezing up with flashbacks when Ridley appears, having returned from the dead again. Again, not an entirely implausible thing to happen, but she’s chronologically killed him twice by this point and didn’t freeze up either time, what possible reason does she have to start now except so a male character can swoop in and save her?

      4. Adam shoots her in the back right as she finds herself within arms length of a Metroid.

      • FalseProphet says:

        Part of the problem with Samus and Lara Croft–at least for me–is their positions in the pantheons of gaming. They are probably the oldest playable female video game protagonists who can be held up as icons. There are certainly more from the same time periods, but not with the prominence or longevity. And both, from the start, have been confident, self-sufficient, courageous badasses. Probably because both were originally supposed to be male protagonists, before their developers said “wouldn’t it be a neat twist if it were a woman instead?” Yes, their gender was commented on and even exploited in later games or by the larger culture, but even then, you could gender-swap them and the games would play pretty much the same.

        Then, both get a modern-day “reboot”. And both dev teams decide to do prequels/origin stories. And both teams make these badass ladies into emotionally fragile, vulnerable little girls. (Admittedly, for Lara Croft I’m going by the trailer and other released information–for all I know the final game won’t be as bad as I fear.)

        Now, I’m not saying a story about the origin of a female character who struggles with fearsome and overwhelming odds but prevails and eventually becomes a badass hero can’t be a good one. Done well, it could be a really awesome one. But why force it on to these established badass icons of gaming?

        Does anyone honesty think they’d make a Castlevania game where Belmont was threatened with sexual assault? Or a Gears of War game where Marcus Fenix sits horrified in a trench while his friends all die around him?
        Would they ever make an Uncharted game where Nathan Drake was threatened with sexual assault? How about Mario?

        I don’t think it’s likely that most established male gaming icons would ever be shown in such a vulnerable, weakened state. So why do it to the handful of badass female gaming icons we have? If you want to tell that story, why not write a new character?

      • Spammy says:

        I didn’t mind the motherhood motif. The title of the game is Other M. It’s a franchise inspired by a movie series that also hard a large theme of Motherhood. Samus has already had a surrogate mother story with the baby Metroid. Exploring it in another context didn’t bother me.

        The Federation has a clearly professional military. In that context, some instances where protocol and standard procedure lead to face-palming moments doesn’t surprise me. Yes, the Varia suit thing is silly, and ideally Samus should have told Adam immediately about the conditions in that room and gotten authorization.

        Here’s the killer problem with the whole “Aurthorization is bad!” argument for me, the one that makes it not work for me: When Adam becomes unwilling or unable to answer the radio later in the game, Samus starts turning on equipment herself. If I recall the scene correctly, she comes to a gap she can only cross with the Spin Jump, dryly comments, “Any objections, Adam?” and then turns the Spin Jump on herself. Later, in emergencies, she turns on the Gravity Suit and the Super Bombs without hesitation. To me that indicated that she was following orders and standard protocol. And also, I want to point out again that Samus isn’t really being singled out like this. In the first boss fight, none of the other soldiers go for their Ice Pistols, despite living in a universe where experience teaches you that when you fight any new monster you cycle through your guns until you find the one that works.

        Maybe you want to argue that Samus shouldn’t have agreed to follow military protocol. That’s fine. But in the game, she chose to. Chose to be no different than the other soldiers. Not singled out by gender. The only real difference is that she has more equipment.

        The Ridley scene was an example of overly dramatic silliness, but… Ridley is the reason why Samus was orphaned and adopted by the Chozo. He killed her parents and destroyed the colony she was born on. Quite frankly, I think I was more enjoying the fact that for the first time she was having an emotional response to seeing him again than bothered by the fact that she was terrified. But, that might be a problem of my personal experience of the series being with the Prime games, where she was all but an emotionless robot. I have a GBA emulator but haven’t played much of Metroid Fusion yet, which I’ve gathered that Other M took most of its inspiration and presentation from.

        Adam hitting her with the tazer is also silly, but it fell under a Rule of Drama thing to me. Samus wouldn’t let him go through with his plan to blow up the Ultra-Metroids and he wouldn’t let her stop him. It could have been handled better, but it didn’t bother me that much.

        • Zukhramm says:

          I can accept the authorization for weapons, it works for power bombs and missiles. But when it comes to the Vario suit, it’s nonsense, and it raises two questions.

          1. Why would Samus agree to it? Even though she’d agreed earlier, when told to run through extreme heat without protection should be the point where she leaves, or where the game should reveal additional reasons for why Samus would accept it.

          2. Why would Adam make that order? Does he want to torture Samus or is he just an idiot? Does he know she’ll accept it or is ha trying to make her leave?

          I don’t mind characters acting stupid, but if they do, I’d like a little insight into why.

          • guy says:

            Pretty much, yeah. That particular instance of the authorization system has Adam being either stupid, inattentive, or sadistic, and Samus being either stupid or obedient to the point of madness. The weapons authorization system makes sense, because Samus can inflict staggering amounts of collateral damage and there’s probably strict rules of engagement concerning acceptable use of force by military personnel, but the non-combat authorizations are nonsensical. What could activating improved thermal protection and armor possibly hurt?

            There’s also an incident where Samus can’t pursue an enemy she had been ordered to chase without the grapple beam and Adam doesn’t authorize it, but that’s much more readily explicable because he might have simply opted to give up on it and send her elsewhere.

            Even with the weapons authorization, there’s a couple of points where I’d expect her to just turn on a setting without waiting for Adam, like when she first needs the wave beam. I mean, I’d expect anyone to do that, but especially a mercenary bounty hunter.

    • Dev Null says:

      Just checking we’re talking about the same thing; this was a _platform_ game, right?

    • ccesarano says:

      The Zoe/Mal relationship in Firefly was different because it was based on a shared past and because, after you’ve served, that sort of relationship is hard to break. To Zoe, Malcom will ALWAYS be her superior officer. That is their relationship. Where it becomes interesting in terms of dramatic conflict is the result it has on Wash and his marriage with Zoe.

      Samus, on the other hand, had a strange sort of father-lust going on. He was her father figure and in a sense she was also in love with him. At least, this is how it comes off. Once you throw that dynamic in there it throws things WAY off kilter, because you are now making sex a thing that matters, and it is turning Samus into a subordinate partially because she is a female. Not necessarily the service she had in the past, but because she is the “daughter”.

      Samus serving is actually what bothered me even more, but that’s off topic. That’s just….stupid and ….how does it make sense?!

      Anyway.

      The REAL problem is people have been projecting an image onto Samus, one that resembles Ripley from Aliens. A tough exterior, balls to the wall alien slaying woman that will done some space armor and stare down an extraterrestrial monstrosity and shout “Get away from her YOU BITCH!” Or perhaps Sarah Connor. James Cameron likes writing strong women that also happen to be mothers or have that mother/child relationship in some way.

      This is not the sort of character Other M portrayed, and honestly it isn’t what Samus should have been. Then again, to me, Metroid isn’t about Samus anyway. It’s about the worlds she explores. But that’s also off topic. The issue is everyone had already projected their own ideas of who Samus was, and it was not the Samus from Other M in ANYONE’S head.

      I still wish I could find fan response from Japan for Other M. It sold, certainly, but it’s a new entry in a Nintendo franchise made by Team Ninja. It was bound to sell over there. But did people like it? I dunno, but whenever I Google for it I cannot get any actual fan opinions.

      • Spammy says:

        I’ll agree with you that I think the real problem is attempting to define Samus as a character. I think that’s a problem you run into with all silent characters. The player sees them as stoic and unstoppable, but if you tried to actually write that… it’d be kind of boring. “I went through the dungeons. I beat the boss. Midna made a sarcastic comment.”

        Imagine if Gordon Freeman or Chell ever talked and expressed some doubt and fear at their situations. I’m sure everyone would talk about their characters being destroyed too.

  14. Aldowyn says:

    Soooo… Basically, devs just need to actively TRY to make decent female protagonists more and maybe they’ll hit it. Also female devs would be nice.

    Question though. Why AREN’T there female devs? This leans towards technical majors in general, actually, but from what I’ve heard even more so for game development. Why don’t women try to become game devs? Is it because of the apparent/supposed/alleged negative attitude towards women in the industry? The idea that games are a guy thing? I honestly have no idea.

    • Harry says:

      I imagine it’s a catch-22; the lack of female games developers means relatively few games appeal to most women. Because relatively few games appeal to most women, relatively few women play games and decide they want to make something similar when they grow up.

      • Aldowyn says:

        That sounds like the equivalent of women not wanting to work movies if there aren’t chick flicks to me.

        Although I suppose the emphasis on combat is what pushes away a lot of female could-be-gamers :/

        • Tever says:

          Speaking as a woman, I like my share of combat-oriented games. That’s not going to drive me away any more than it would a man. It’s not women like one thing and men like another. All people have different preferences.

          • Aldowyn says:

            speaking generally, combat/action is mostly considered to be enjoyed more by males I think. Like say the generic action blockbuster or whatever. I know my sister is put off from games due to the killing (obviously anecdotal evidence)

            • Tever says:

              I’m just trying to say that just because it’s perceived that way doesn’t mean it actually is. Your sister is turned off by actiony games, but so are a lot of men I’ve met around the internet.

              • lasslisa says:

                People who feel strongly one way or the other about combat games will continue to feel that way. But there is a middle ground of people who are more willing to ‘go with the flow’. I definitely feel, socially, like violent video games are considered normal for boys. So a boy who says “I don’t like hurting people” gets social pressure to be less sensitive ’cause it’s only a game, and a girl who goes “hah! I will DESTROY you! HEADSHOT!” gets social pressure to be nicer, or gets told she’s a “tomboy” which still reinforces the bigger idea that normal girls don’t do that.

                It’s not deterministic, by far. But it tends to push undecideds in one group one way, and in the other group the other way.

      • swimon says:

        Plenty women play games (about 40% of the audience). I think the problem is more due to how close games and programming have been historically (today you don’t actually need to know any programming to be a game designer from what I understand). Programming and engineering in general have always been seen as something very masculine (why I don’t know) and because of that there are very few women working in engineering (I would guess my class is about 20% female at most). Since modern games were very heavily tied to engineering in it’s early days I think we kinda inherited that problem.

        I think our current situation is a combination of inertia (few female game developers means few women apply to become game developers) and the fact that the stigma of playing games is bigger for women.

        That said there are quite a lot of women who work on games as visual artists or writers (composers? I wouldn’t know). Personally I don’t think that the lack of women in the industry is the reason women are underserved by AAA games (I think it’s true in the indie scene tho) that would imply that the people who work on AAA games have creative freedom, or creative ambitions for that matter. I think the reason most games don’t really care about women is because they’re always marketed to the 18-34 male demographic. Why is it marketed to them? Because the guys who write the checks in the games industry aren’t very good at their jobs and only try things that someone else have shown works, works decently at least. Form follows funding after all.

        • Aldowyn says:

          Honestly, although I know plenty of female gamers, gaming seems WAY more widespread among males. Most guys game at least a bit, while I’d judge less than half the girls do.

          My point is, that 40% number that gets thrown around… what’s the definition of a gamer? I think lots of females being casual gamers throwing out the numbers may be dismissed too quickly.

          • Swimon says:

            I’m on the phone currently so I’ll link the study later but the conclusion it reaches is that there is no visible difference in the genre tastes of men and women. The 60/40 split exists in FPSes as well as in the casual games market. Men do play more hours on average but there is no real gender distinction in tastes.

            The question then becomes: why are men so much more visible in games. Because you rarely “see” women in games. If I had to guess it’s because a lot of women are hiding, the stigma of playing games is much stronger for women and I’ve heard a lot of women say they consciously hide their gender to avoid harssment.

            • lasslisa says:

              The stigma is definitely stronger, especially for violent games. It’s easier to admit to playing a puzzle game or a story game than a war game, for whatever reason… and easier to talk about going on a hike or watching a movie than any game at all.

              • swimon says:

                That makes sense, it would explain (at least partially) why women are so much more visible in the casual games scene.

                Also here is the study I mentioned. It’s a very interesting read, not at all what I thought initially. It’s both very uplifting (a lot of women play games, maybe games can start becoming less exclusionary) and depressing (there are that many women who play games yet we so rarely hear from them?).

        • Dasick says:

          You should be a programmer anyways.

          Game design is about designing rules for players to follow.
          Programming is about designing rules for machines to follow. (writing down code is the easy part. debugging? That’s just re-design)

          There are a lot of parallels and the skill set from one discipline is easily transferrable to the other one. And since games are really systems with rules, a programming designer will be able to go to the much deeper level of rule design and have her say. There are a lot of cases where the way something works in terms of programming can become a hug or an exploit, because the programers weren’t considering the impact of their solution on the game.

          Example? Diablo auto-attack vs Starcraft autoattack. Diablo plays animation then delivers damage. SC play animation, delivers damage, then triggers a cooldown. In Diablo, if you aren’t attacking, it’s a valid choice. In SC if you aren’t hit and running, you’re wasting time.

    • Interestingly enough I noticed that the number of female developers was significantly higher among indie developers at PAX East. All in all pretty much half the indie developers there (actual developers– mostly programmers and art) were female. So that is encouraging.

      • Thrawn says:

        In which case the question is not so much how many women are becoming devs NOW, but how many became devs 10-20 years ago. In a major company, it would take some serious talent to get a high-ranking dev position instead of the guy with 20 years of experience under his belt. My guess is that back in the day, the male/female gamer split was more pronounced, and this whole thing is as much residual artifact of that older split than anything else. I could be wrong, of course, I was not paying attention to such things 20 years ago.

    • Alan says:

      It’s the journalist accusing a geek woman of being an impostor.[1] It’s the PR representative who doubts a woman can play a PC shooter, and takes the controls away from her.[2] It’s a toxic online play culture.[3] It’s a tech conferences where as a woman the hallway discussions all end up being a semicircle around you formed of men obviously more interested in a date than a technical discussion.[4] It’s the workplace where sexist jokes by men are viewed as harmless.[5] It’s violent imagery used to attack women who speak up in a critical way.[6] It’s the popular comic implying a women speaking in promotional materials for a video game is only there for the sex appeal.[7] It’s all these things and far, far more.

      Any single one of these probably wouldn’t be a big deal. But it’s one thing after another. Every little thing says, “You’re not welcome here, this is for men.” It’s a miracle that as many women are in the industry as there are.

      [1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/tarabrown/2012/03/26/dear-fake-geek-girls-please-go-away/
      [2] http://www.kotaku.com.au/2012/06/513794/
      [3] http://fatuglyorslutty.com/
      [4] This was the straw that drove a female friend out of the tech industry.
      [5] I feel deep shame for my own participation at a job in the game industry right out of college.
      [6] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/06/internet-trolls-online-beat-up-anita-sarkeesian-game_n_1653473.html
      [7] Sadly(?), I can’t find it. The comic in question suggested that the woman in question, part of the development team, was there to give oral sex to reviewers.

      • Aldowyn says:

        The ‘negative attitude’ part, then.

        Also quite a bit of that seems to be just more widespread than just the tech/gaming industries, although I haven’t seen much of it myself.

      • StashAugustine says:

        Fat, Ugly, or Slutty is where I go to simultaneously laugh and despair at the human race.

        • Dasick says:

          Most of their stories involve XBox live and games that attract ankle biters. A toxic community can turn off anybody.

          There exist ways of moderating that have to be more widespread (or not, but devs need to understand the tools they have). I played Call of Duty for several years on dedicated servers. Well moderated servers were pleasant environments. Poorly moderated environments made me understand why I don’t own an XBox.

          And while Stracraft, for example, is a matchmaking-based, unmoderated game, it is considered bm (bad manners) to NOT say “gl hf” and “gg” at the beginning and end of match, respectively.

          I’m not saying it’s not a problem, just that it is a part of bigger problem of toxic environments, which prevents me from clearly seeing the sexism. If that problem is solved, but women are still facing verbal harassment, then there is an underlying sexism problem that needs to be fixed.

          • Alan says:

            I think we agree: there is a loud subset of players who are douchebags. Absent strong moderation, they will create a toxic community one that drives people, including you and I, away.

            Now I look at the reports, sites like Fat, Ugly, or Slutty and others, and I see a pattern: players who are identified as female are targeted with remarks specifically about being female. Players identified are female are prone to unwelcome, crude sexual advances. Threats of rape are made, not one in the heat of the game, but considered ones sent after the fact like, “I’m going to find you and rape you.” I don’t believe men are subjected to such threats with anywhere near that frequency. This even extends to how men are taunted; when someone

            From that I conclude that not one is the culture toxic, it does treat women differently in a variety of ways that emphasize that women are the “other.” That all leads me to conclude it’s likely that women are likely disproportionately driven away from online gaming.

            You can make a case to try to fix the overall toxic culture, and that in doing so you’ll fix the uneven attacks on women. Indeed, it may not be possible fix the unevenness without fixing the culture as a whole. But in the meanwhile it’s a toxic culture that is, in part, sexist.

  15. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    While incorporating more women into game design might work, it would -it seems to me -more likely devolve quickly into tokenism.

    The bigger issue is that games are stultifyingly similar. I say this as a guy who actually likes the Marcus Fenix character -more variety is good. To bang my particular drum again, the problem is that the people running the game publishers aren’t trying to build better games, they are trying to make money. So they rely on formula because it makes them money.

    Bringing in women won’t solve that problem, it will just force women to conform to the formula too.

    I’m not saying we need autor artists with vision to make better games. What I’m saying is that right now “getting published” has less to do with having a good product and more to do with conforming to existing conventions.

    We need to find the developers actually trying to make better games -for general audiences, for a niche audience, whatever -and actually give them a shot. Let them fail, or let them revolutionize the industry, or make a killing marketing to a segment of the market that doesn’t get a lot of service. As the Nerdrage guy says – making games ought to be really cheap these days (the technological innovation is certainly there for it).

    And the best thing to bring that about might be kickstarter -or it might be EA going bankrupt.

    And regardless, someone more competent than I really ought to study this industry.

    • FalseProphet says:

      I agree with you completely about more variety. I’m very glad you like Marcus Fenix. I would never want to deprive you of the ability to play that type of character. But I am sick of having to play that kind of character over and over again.

      A lot of people don’t like Nathan Drake. Ezio Auditore has problems, especially with the writing in his games. But I still love those guys, because unlike what seems like 90% of AAA gaming protagonists these days, those guys can lighten up and have fun with life from time to time. And as an Italian-Canadian, Ezio really appealed to me. After years of playing brooding WASPs, and sullen WASPs, and angry WASPs, and WASPs with no apparent culture, it was refreshing to play a character who i) had to take care of his living relatives as much as avenge his slain ones, ii) had to work to improve his family’s house (I was a new homeowner at the time), iii) once established in a position of influence, used it to help people like him, iii) had an appreciation for art and culture, and v) wasn’t a Mafioso stereotype. I’m a member of an ethnic group that by no means has been disadvantaged during my lifetime, and I was ecstatic to be playing someone a bit more like me. I can only imagine how much rarer those experiences are for women, LGBTQ, and visible minority gamers.

    • Thrawn says:

      True, and this brings us back to the games as art discussion. If game devs get more ability to have artistic control in the place of publisher executives who probably don’t care about anything but business, we’ll all be better off.

  16. Sumanai (Asimech) says:

    Since I don’t have a Disqus account, from what I can remember, and I’m not in a state of mind to create one, I’m saying here that I like what Chambers said.

    I have other things to say, but apparently I can’t make non-angry comments right now, so I’ll hold.

  17. TMTVL says:

    I wonder… How’s Touhou fit in the equation? Is it “oh, that’s indie, we’re talking about triple A”? Because triple A is in general terrible, horrible shlock. I think it started somewhere ’round 2003 or 2004.

    • If we’re allowing indie games, then Touhou is pretty good; the cast is entirely female in the Windows games, they are all generically cute/attractive without being either “cutesy” (in the “targeted at five-year-olds who are obsessed with the color pink” sort of way) or sexualized in any way, and the few times male characters do show up in the out-of-game works, gender is treated as a non-issue and nobody even remarks on the fact that the cast is mostly female. The only potential problem is that there’s no real “range,” so to speak — they’re all young women, with a few “little girls” and “ambiguously 20s or 30s woman”, and they all have pretty much the same level of attractiveness (as opposed to having any ugly characters or old women, which got brought up in the comments on Chambers’ article); I’d mostly chalk that up to the fact that 1. the creator cannot draw very well, and 2. he just does whatever the hell he wants in general; he’s not really trying to make a “feminist statement” or anything, like I would in his position.

  18. As I said in the article’s comments, the line about “she’s in an outfit that says ‘sexy’ while all the men say ‘powerful'” made me want to see a squadron of soldiers which is almost all male, with one or two women, and all of them are wearing “sexy” camo sports bras and short-shorts and crap like that.

  19. swenson says:

    I really enjoyed Chambers’ comments.

    More specifically on one of them, I’ve realized that when it comes to variable gender protagonists, I will forever think of the character as whatever gender (usually female) that I played as. To me, it’s not just that I played a female Commander Shepard, she is female, to the point that I have to stop and mentally recalibrate most times that I read people refer to her as “he”. Similarly, Darth Revan will always be female. I know canonically he’s a guy, but my mental image of him is still female.

    And this, like Chambers says, is not a bad thing!

    I also really liked her list of questions at the end. They weren’t proscriptive, like saying you MUST have a 1:1 ratio of female and male characters, just intended to get you to think about what your characters were and why they were that way.

    (Actually, on the topic of Mass Effect, I thought FemShep was implemented very well. There’s a few relatively minor changes depending on gender, and yes, that includes a few slightly sexist remarks from various characters, but there’s never a feeling that they actually apply to Shepard, just that the characters who say them is a jerk.)

  20. Wraith says:

    It’s a pity KOTOR II was so butchered on the cutting floor due to being rushed, because that means some of the best writing and characters in video game history fly right under most peoples’ radars.

    If you want a prime example at a well-written female character, just look at Kreia. Her character could easily have been made a man, an Obi-Wan Kenobi expy, but she works so much better as a woman, as a motherly figure. It helps that she was impossible to sexualize due to being an old lady.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Clearly you missed Atton’s openning line about her.

      More seriously, Kreia, Atris, and Brianna should be on a list somewhere (especially if you believe Brianna is Kreia’s daughter) for excellent characters who not only are women, but need to be women for the characters to work.

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I shall expand on my point having now seen the debate. The reason Kreia, Atris, and Brianna have to be women is because they represent three different aspects of femininity -as has been pointed out above: the crone, the mother, and the lover. What is interesting is that they switch roles over the course of the game, and their role switching is a major theme. Brianna starts the game as an aspiring Matron, or even Crone (despite her naivete) and shifts to lover before (especially in the restored edition) taking on the proper characteristics of a mother. Atris wanted to be a lover, but having been rejected atempts to recast herself as the mother -and ends up overcompensating and becoming the crone. And Kreia starts as the crone and desperately wants to be accepted as mother to the Exile -but in failure then acts like a jilted lover.

        And similar things are going on in the other characters too.

        This mirrors the game’s themes about relationships, perspective and point of view, decisions and consequences, and living a good life when presented with a defined roll.

        While I think it could have been done with men – I don’t think it would have worked near as well.

    • Daimbert says:

      Hmmm. To me, Kreia was the annoying character that I didn’t want to talk to at all but the game made me talk to. I didn’t get that “motherly” feeling you got from it, and she annoyed my light side and dark side characters, because she was too callous for my light side characters and my dark side characters weren’t going to take her advice just ’cause she said.

      Comparing her to Jolee Bindo, for example, Jolee fits a better mentor model because he was more than willing to call you out on your mistakes, but wasn’t annoying about it, and could give advice that at least light side characters could see some sense in. And I think he could have been done with either gender equally well.

      • Wraith says:

        There is a LOT of depth to Kreia, but most of all I think the best thing about her is that she brought something fresh and direly needed to a universe like Star Wars – moral ambiguity. Yeah, Jolee Bindo was a neutral character, but he was never morally grey, he was unambiguously good. Kreia constantly talks about how the duality of Light/Dark Side does not and cannot accurately illustrate real morality, that Light Side actions can have just as much negative consequences as Dark Side actions and Dark Side actions can have just as much positive consequences as Light Side actions.

        For some time it’s bothered me that the Jedi are ALWAYS portrayed as unambiguously good and righteous in their actions and attitude, despite Jedi characters and Jedi philosophy (especially in the movies) being extremely distant emotionally. This makes them hard to empathize with as characters. I know Karen Traviss gets a LOT of hate from Star Wars fans, especially for her making Mandalorians a Mary Sue race and making the Jedi seem like a bunch of jackasses, but for I didn’t mind a lot of it, because her books for the EU brought up some important anvils that needed to be dropped. For all their supposed righteousness, the Jedi use an army of mindlessly obedient slaves without questioning the rightness of doing so. The Jedi are similar to real world religions in that they absolutely refuse to budge on their principles and view any teachings that might disagree with the mainstream as, basically, blasphemy.

        Kreia brought an incredibly interesting take on the nature of the Force and morality. And she might annoy and clash with the other characters of your party, but that’s the POINT – every single other character in your party has been taught, almost indoctrinated you might say, to believe in a specific set of morals. Brianna was basically brainwashed by Atris. Mandalore believes unflinchingly in the Mandalorian ways and culture. Visas was Darth Nihilus’s weak-willed apprentice. Bao-Dur, while more conflicted that the others, is blinded by his hatred for the Mandalorians. Those party members that are more morally grey, she manipulates. Atton was a Sith assassin who turned from his path, but still hates Jedi. HK-47 acts as a mouthpiece for Revan’s – and therefore, Kreia’s – philosophies. The game’s entire plot is basically Kreia manipulating YOU. That’s what made her an interesting character.

        Then Star Wars: The Old Republic, ruined Revan and the Exile forever. Such is life in a corporate culture…

        • Daimbert says:

          Well, part of the issue here is that by that point I’d seen enough in the EU to already get that unique perspective in a much less annoying fashion. I know that I had read “I, Jedi” before the first game came out, and Corran Horn in that book calls out a lot of those sorts of issues, and I’m sure that other series did it as well. So, being used to the idea that the “Light=good, Dark=bad” was questionnable, having it be questionned didn’t in and of itself didn’t appeal to me in and of itself.

          And so the key difference, then, for me between her and Jolee is that Jolee was generally good … but not necessarily light. THAT, to me, brought up far more of that difference than Kreia did, at least in part because Kreia was pretty much a moral nihilist, and it’s hard to learn anything about morality from a nihilist. For a lot of her complaints and pointing out that there might be consequences, my light side characters would retort with the obvious “So, what, are you saying that I shouldn’t ever even TRY to help people, because it might not work out for reasons totally not in my control?”. And, again, my dark siders won’t learn anything from her because she doesn’t teach or demonstrate, but mostly just lectures, and they all were confident enough in themselves to tell her where she can stick her lectures if she’s not going to convince me using reasons that my way doesn’t work for MY goals and purposes.

          Jolee, at least, could show how not doing some things the “light” way could achieve light-siders’ goals of helping people. Kreia couldn’t do that. Neither could convince dark-siders that their best interests were best served by not doing the dark things they did. So, for my characters at least, she was just that annoying, cranky person complaining about me no matter what I did.

        • guy says:

          What moral ambiguity? Her archtypal Sith suffering breeds strength response to the beggar? Her mind-controlling crewmates? Her standard Sith recruitment line that the dark side of the force wasn’t a real thing despite it literally being a malevolent force of corruption and destruction that Jedi can sense?

          See, Star Wars does not run on Grey and Grey morality. The Dark Side is actually evil and corrupting and people who claim otherwise are wrong and probably also evil. This is especially so if they are Sith Lords and lie constantly about everything.

          I will grant that I’ve only read the Jedi Jesus LP in the lparchive, but I was thoroughly unimpressed with Kreia’s “moral ambiguity”. She only appears ambiguous because she’s a very good liar- hence her status as sith lord of betrayal. Sure, she’s more subtle than the typical cackling madman Sith Lord, but so was prequel Sideous. I wouldn’t say she’s a bad character, but I am thoroughly sick of hearing her praised as “ambiguous”.

          • Daimbert says:

            In the beggar scene, if you choose the Dark Side action she points out that cruelty simply causes that beggar to be cruel to others … at which point my dark-siders always asked why they should care, and breaking the fourth wall were irritated that they couldn’t just ignore it.

            So her morality is more gray, but I always found it, especially when thinking back on it, as more nihilistic than really gray.

      • Zekiel says:

        It’s my belief that Kreia is not just the finest example of a female game character, but possibly the finest example of a game character full stop. I can totally see why people find her annoying – she’s designed deliberately to disagree with whatever you do – but to be fair she does have a sensible reason for doing so (she does it in order to try to help you learn).

        As Wraith and Sabrdance say, she has characterisation that specifically relies on her being female (so it’s not like she’s genderless). But she is not sexualized, yet she isn’t asexual either (she talks about sex occasionally, in quite a creepy way). And she has a lot of the best lines in the game (most of the others coming from a droid, obviously).

        She fits into a fairly standard character archetype (the crone) but I can’t think of any other computer game that uses this archetype in a main character.

        Atris is also pretty awesome. Brianna… well she does take off most of her clothes to do sparring which I’m not quite so sure about for the cause of gender equality and respect…

        • Daimbert says:

          I think you need to see more female characters [grin].

          I just talked above about why her approach couldn’t teach anything to my characters (because she couldn’t find a way to make her lessons either help me achieve my goals and couldn’t find a way to change my goals) which takes out most of what you say makes the character great, although that’s subjective. Again, I never really saw anything in her that made her have to be female, so right there I have two issues with your characterization. Despite having two characters from KOTOR II on my list of top ten female characters (find it here), she didn’t make the list. In fact, none of the ones you liked did; Mira and Visas did. Although, again, favourite characters are subjective.

          Now, the person at the top of the list — Miku Hinasaki from Fatal Frame — I think DOES fit BOTH of your characterizations. She’s a very brave character who enters a haunted house WITHOUT A WEAPON to find her last surviving family member, her brother, who went into it carrying the actual game weapon and disappeared. She also has a vulnerability that would be hard to pull off with a male character (also adding in that she’s fairly young). My description of her sums it up better:

          “Of all the female characters, she’s probably the most real. She’s not a hard-boiled mercenary type, tough as nails. She’s a young girl who decides to go to a haunted mansion to find out what happened to her only remaining family. She doesn’t even start out with the camera weapon; she gets it later. She’s brave, but still demonstrates fear. She gets the chance to feel compassion for the ghosts that she ends up having to free. With only a little effort, you can imagine meeting someone like her in real-life. She’s a heroine that manages to maintain being female without pounding you over the head with it.”

          • Zekiel says:

            Yes, I’m sure you’re right Daimbert – I don’t play enough games to really be able to make any authorative statements about ‘best ‘.

            But I stand by my comment that Kreia needs to be female to work – I took her characterisation to be very motherly (though maybe that only comes out if you’re a certain gender/moral combination?) although it’s long enough since I played that I’m afraid I can’t give any examples of where that comes out…

            I think what impressed me so much about Kreia is that the whole game is built around her manipulating your character, as well as pursuing an agenda that, while in some ways typically megalomanical, is way, way more interesting than the usual “conquer/destroy the world/galaxy” schtick, which, to pick a non-random example, is all that Darth Malak can come up with. And all of that is dependent on her characterisation and past experiences – which I’d say makes for a pretty strong character.

            In terms of Kreia’s lessons… yes I think this probably is a weakness of KOTOR2. If you play an Exile with certain motivations then Kreia’s advice and goals – even if they run counter to your Exile’s – can create an interesting story. But I guess there are other ways of playing that mean Kreia’s advice and perspective make less sense, or at least are far less convincing. The perils of allowing lots of player freedom…

            On a separate note, reading your favourite female characters, I realised I don’t know who most of them are :-( I never thought much of Mira – she seemed to me to be a distaff Han Solo in a silly outfit – but I’m willing to accept that that’s a subjective opinion!

            • Daimbert says:

              Well, for me part of the issue is that part of being a really good character for me — at least in the context of protagonists — is LIKING them, and I don’t like her. That being said, I will concede that as an antagonist she’s better than most antagonists, and certainly most female antagonists.

              Elsewhere the “Crone/Matron/Maiden” angle was mentioned, and I concede that it could be seen that way and then, yeah, it would be required. But I didn’t really get that, possibly because Handmaiden was never a really important character in my games.

              As for my list, it is fairly heavily influenced by JRPGs and primarily console/Japanese games. Only the KOTOR series breaks out of that, with the others being Fatal Frame, Suikoden, Shadow Hearts, and the Personas. Which might be one of the reasons I really like JRPGS; they tend to have really interesting characters.

        • Wraith says:

          The reasons I didn’t bring up the other female characters from KOTOR – Atris, Brianna, Visas, and Mira – is because 3/4 of them are almost completely motivated by an infatuation with the Exile (2/4 only if male). Atris falls to the Dark Side because she loved the Male Exile, which led her to envy him when he did what she could not – go to war and defy the Council. Brianna defies her oath to Atris due to being in love with the male Exile (female Exiles do not even get her as a party member). Visas feels your presence in the Force and instantly becomes infatuated with you, seeking you out and then betraying her master, Darth Nihilus, out of affection for you. Now, all of this infatuation with the Exile MAKES PERFECT SENSE in the context of the Exile’s true nature, but I still thought of it as violating the bullet points Chambers was putting forward.

          Mira, interestingly enough, is NOT attracted to the male Exile – if you attempt to start a romance with her, she rejects you out of hand for being too old. She’s a good example of a female character as well, except for one thing – she is quite sexualized (I only have to point to her default outfit for that). However, the good thing is that this is not the sole purpose of her character, nor the trait that defines her as a character – I would say that it feels like a logical extension of her personality.

          • Daimbert says:

            Actually, it’s established in the game that Mira IS attracted to you, but not interested because of the age thing and the headaches that it would cause due to the infatuations of the others. I don’t mind the sexualization that much, for the same reasons I’ve talked about elsewhere: yeah, it’s a bit of fan service, but she’s a complete character outside of that. And in my opinion you should be able to put aside a bit of sexualization if that sexualization isn’t the character’s defining characteristic, which is definitely the case for Mira.

          • Zekiel says:

            If you’re male I think the game (fairly subtly) implies that Kreia *is* attracted to you. With either gender Exile, it makes it fairly clear that Kreia cares very deeply about you, and about your attitude to her. I don’t think this is a bad thing (although you could consider it a bad thing, since it means one of features of her character is what another character – who could be male – thinks of her).

  21. Thrawn says:

    The comments are tl;dr, so sorry if this is all a rehash of someone else’s comments.

    I really appreciate the way Shamus and Becky here have gone about this discussion. What usually gets lost in this debate is that all types of characters are ultimately permissible in some context. The problem (as every single person on the internet has stated) is that the quantity of implementation of these types is skewed, revealing gender bias. Sure, and one can argue market forces or whatever, but that is pretty pointless. Since a market exists for female protagonists, such games will be produced as the writers who can make such games are recognized by the people who play such games. This will take all too much time, but then again I have a long list of things I dislike about the video game industry, so we are all in the same boat in some regard.

    But let’s cut through the nonsense for a second. I am a male gamer. I like male protagonists in games where gender matters for story purposes because its easier to immerse myself in a character I more fully understand, and I do not understand being a woman. I never have been one, and I don’t intend to become one, so this is simply a fact of life. Furthermore, I like my game characters attractive because it is easier on the eyes (if the characters were on the same level as me, then we would never have found a reason to get higher resolution displays; almost every Hollywood actor or actress is good-looking by the same token). But as a straight male, I pay more attention to the females on screen, and I am far more inclined to enjoy myself if those characters impress me, this too is merely a fact of who I am. Denying this is pointless.

    Ergo, I am a driving force against what women want. I have no malice towards them; I don’t fear that feminists are ruining my “male space” or whatever; and in those rare instances where strong female leads do exist, it isn’t even a put off, but it also isn’t an attractor the way the opposite can be. But if the game is good, I’ll play it; if it is terrible, I probably won’t. So either I am a chauvinist merely because I do not project someone else’s sexuality/gender-role concerns upon myself (hint: I’d argue almost no one does this, including, perhaps especially, feminists), or such concerns are peripheral to aspects of my personal game enjoyment which is intrinsic to the entire point of gaming. To this end, I think the only viable general conclusion in to the question “What should this female character be like?” must be “whatever fits the narrative/game best.” If gaming is ever to be taken seriously as a literary form, if its artistic value is ever to be appreciated, then this must always be the answer, even if that answer leads to buxom bimbos occasionally.

    Now I know the same debates rage on in the literary world too (so on some level, the fact that academics care about games is good), but for whatever reason the militant strain of debate always seems to focus this issue on an “us vs them” level. Games are male-centric because of those stinking males (like me, who just want a fun time playing games), or gaming is under attack because of those stinking feminists (who likewise just want to have a fun time playing games)… this is a basic fallacy. See, escapism, entertainment, and pleasure experience do not exclude artistic merit. Some games will always have ridiculously sexualized females because that is part of general “male fantasy” and is therefore necessary for some forms of escapism, entertainment, and pleasurable experience for us. This is ok; it is part of who we are.

    Now, women feel that their equivalent is simply not done. This is legitimate. As I said before, the industry will too slowly correct this, and I’m sorry for you in the meantime. But when the debate centers around examples of “poorly done females” or “male-centrism”, it seems a bit like me complaining that a game is an RPG because I feel that there are not enough RTS games being made (which is true). If a game advertises itself as an RTS and turns out to be an RPG, sure, go to town, but otherwise… well… it doesn’t come across well.

    • swenson says:

      Quite frankly, I feel your opinion that you like to look at attractive women to be an entirely understandable and ordinary one. I like to look at attractive men. There’s nothing inherently horrible about that. You’re entirely right in saying, as Chambers and Shamus have done, that there’s a place for the sexy babe in a game.

      Honestly, if we had a bunch of games with objectified men to go along with the games with objectified women (and a bunch of games with non-objectified men and women in the middle), well, I don’t think I’d have a problem with that!

      • Thrawn says:

        Right. I guess what I’m saying is I understand the frustration in the lack of games catering to women (well, I understand it via analogy, obviously I have not experienced it personally). I just think we get into trouble when we get into trouble when we say, “Game A is bad because there is no game B to offset it” when we really mean “Game B needs to get friggin made by somebody.” Worse, we are really in trouble when we say something like “Fans of game A are bad for liking game A when there is no game B.” Sometimes from, at least from my perspective, that’s how feminist critiques can sound, although maybe that’s oversensitive of me.

        To be fair though, sometimes that’s my reaction when I think that console-centric run-and-gun FPS games are precluding the production of tactical PC FPS games (which is significantly less meaningful than gender, obviously). So I’m not saying it is inappropriate to feel annoyed or put off by the situation or to express that put-offed-ness (not a word); I’m just saying the debate often gets sidetracked.

        I’ll shut up now; I’m way too long-winded in these kinds of discussions.

        • Dasick says:

          The casual shooters sidetracking tactical shooters is something I can empathizes with you on. I don’t think it’s a less import ant issue than not having more female characters, but rather a good parallel that is devoid of political and very personal connotations.

          And while I lament the potential (begin the keyword here) loss to the genre, I feel that no one has a right to demand that bro-shooter companies develop tactical shooters. Games are artistic expression, and bringing up words like “Demographics”, “Consumers”, “Markets” into the discussion is wrong.

          • Alan says:

            “Games are artistic expression, and bringing up words like ‘Demographics’, ‘Consumers’, ‘Markets’ into the discussion is wrong.”

            Games are art. But mainstream games are also commercial interests. (See also: movies, television, music, etc.) Mainstream developers and publishers talk about demographics, consumers, and markets constantly. What is funded, what projects get cancelled, how publishers demand changes from developers, and how developers self-censor are influenced by demographics, consumers, and markets.

            Spec Ops: The Line, one of the best claims of being an art game in the bro-shooter market, was tainted by the inclusion of a multi-player mode that undercut the fundamental point of the game. The developers didn’t want it, felt it was a waste of money, but the publishers demanded it because they believed their demographic consumers in the market demanded it.

            Demographics, consumers’, and markets influence what games we get. It seems very relevant to the discussion.

            • Dasick says:

              First of all, what I meant to say is that I don’t think we need to do anything about changing mainstream games. They’re free to do whatever they want, and the only thing we can do is buy, or not buy, their product.

              Howevre, I do think that product-oriented is a backwards way of thinking. Remember Tasteful Underrated Nerdrage? It’s the difference between

              “We want to make games, so we need to earn money” and
              “We want to make money, so we need to sell games”

              Demographics, markets and consumers factor into the development of games, and I don’t think they need to be cut. But they shouldn’t be a deciding factor.

              Well, that’s the unrealistic ideal :P

      • Fleaman says:

        Beefcake: Answer to cheesecake?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “I suppose I’ve been emboldened by the recent XCOM game. The gaming community spoke, and developers listened.”

    Yeah,but that was firaxis.Theyve shown,time and again,that they listen to fans and implement good ideas often(beyond the sword and mods it had implemented,for example).There are companies like that(valve,stardock),and they arent the problem.You tell them what you want,and they will consider it,and maybe even implement it in their next project.The problem are those who will just look at the end sales and say “See,we know best,so shut up and buy our next product”.Or if the sales were low “See,we told you pirates are rampant,so shut up and endure our next drm”.

    • Thrawn says:

      I personally think Valve is really one of the best here. Becky Chambers mentioned Chell, and I’ve often heard Alyx Vance from Half Life 2 held up as a good example (even though she was not a protagonist), too. I remember some criticism of the L4D series along these lines, but I never really played those, so I didn’t really pay attention.

    • Jace911 says:

      Game companies seem to have trouble grasping the fact that “massive sales=/=perfect product”. The backlash after Mass Effect 3 is a perfect example of this: tons of people bought the game, but when they got to the end and complained about it Bioware just shrugged and said “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over our awesome reviews and huge sales figures”.

      The fact is even if a game ultimately turns out to be disappointing like ME3 did the sales aren’t going to reflect that in the first few months. Tons of people are going to buy the game on launch not knowing anything about the technicolor ending, so Bioware assumes “hey, they all bought it so we must’ve done something right”.

      • Aldowyn says:

        … The main point I agree with, the specific example not quite so much. There’s no way Bioware didn’t care about the backlash over the ending. They changed it! The fact that they did that at ALL established that they cared at least somewhat for some reason about the ending backlash.

        • Lalaland says:

          Did they change anything beyond the superficial though? The changes were largely about filling in plot holes such as Joker seeming to do a legger and your companions teleporting to him to abandon you too. The only new ending had a strong whiff of ‘didn’t like our endings? Hah you lose!’ but I do appreciate that it was added and I’ve made it my canon ending.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Its like saying that the french aristocracy listened to the revolutionaries when they stormed the bastille,so they were actually pretty decent.

  23. Soylent Dave says:

    The reality is that yes, we simply need more variety of characters.

    We need more female characters, because then the few we do have won’t need to represent all women – humans are multifarious, we can’t expect a single character to be acceptable to all of us. But we can fairly expect a few hundred characters, spread over a few hundred games, to break out of stereotyping every single character.

    We need more ethnic variety, too. Again, having just one or two token characters means that each one is seen as an attempt to represent or codify that entire ethnicity. If this was more commonplace, it would simply be “another black character”.

    The more characters we have, and the more variety, the less chance an individual character is going to be seen as sexist or racist (and the less requirement to make that character a paragon, in order to deflect criticism).

    This all applies to the standard white male character, of course – it’s just that we do have – a little – variety with that now, because there are so many of him.

    Because the reality is that clichés and stereotypes are useful storytelling tools. And they exist for a reason – slutty, ‘helpless’ girls do exist. Manly men do exist, too.

    It’s only a problem when they’re the only characters being presented – when they move from stereotype to archetype.

    • Shamus says:

      That’s a really interesting point. A character that might seem like an awful stereotype or insult in a game of all-white-male characters might just seem like “another quirky person” in a sufficiently diverse cast.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        I think we do see it happen, now and again, in Sci-fi.

        One example I often return to is Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica reimagining.

        She’s a fighter pilot, who drinks, smokes cigars and brawls with the other officers. In effect, she’s not all that far away from being a man with breasts.

        If she were the only female character (or even the only major female character) in the TV series, I think that would probably come off as pretty offensive – perhaps suggesting that women have to be just like men to be worthwhile.

        But she isn’t the only female character. She’s not even the only strong female character – she’s just one of the few who is strong in a more masculine way (compared with, say, the President who remains feminine while still being very much in charge).

        Having a large female cast also enabled the writers to create emotionally troubled or even flat out damaged female characters, without having to worry too much that it would be regarded as “how women are”; because in such a large, ensemble cast, they are merely characters.

        We just need to start doing this sort of thing in games.

        • HiEv says:

          It should be noted that Starbuck was originally cast as a male. Heck, in the original Battlestar Galactica Starbuck was a male.

          That explains a large part of why Starbuck is “not all that far away from being a man with breasts.”

          I will say that it apparently worked for most people though.

          • СТАЛКЕР of ЗОНА says:

            There are women who are like that, women who act like that, women who are or act partially like that.

            But one important thing to note is that not even many men are like that.

            Frankly, a more feminine (or “feminine”) character might not even feel plausible for an ace pilot. Man or woman, an ace pilot must be in great physical shape and have good eyesight, but also must have initiative, judgment, and a very specific type of “balls”, where you must have the mindset to push, the mental stamina to remain at the limits, and yet have the presence of mind to not go too far. All of this is quite likely to correlate with a certain type of personality.
            Especially when Starbuck is clearly a peace-time pilot (as in she was already a pilot before the war broke out). During war, more people will volunteer, and while there is also a bigger pool to draw from, there are also wartime considerations which lower the bar, which again increases the variety in personalities.

            Of course, to this is added the requirements of the show, they needed a somewhat rash, mid-rank person to represent the dirty fighting point of the humans, to both bounce off the enemy, the civilians’ concern and lack of understanding, and the high command’s bigger view and long-term demands of the war.

            And really, there’s no need for Starbuck to be more feminine. Fiction needs more less-than-perfect characters anyway. This of course pisses off some individuals and groups who are known to hate everything which doesn’t conform to their views a 110% – which, to me, is also a good reason for it.

      • Kim says:

        Can we please start bitching about faceless main characters?? Male, naturally.

    • Jace911 says:

      Ethnic: you mean like Desmond Miles of Assassin’s Creed, a video game by Ubisoft, which is composed of a multinational team of various faiths?

      Yeah, at the rate we’re progressing we might start seeing a shift away from 30-something white male protagonists by the turn of the century.

      • Aldowyn says:

        Counterpoint: Altair, who was at least vaguely arab, and Connor, who is… half? indian, I think? Desmond is not the focus there, the setting inside the animus generally is. Especially the Templars and, in the original, the Crusades.

    • Thrawn says:

      I agree with you, but I will say though, things should be kept in context. Maybe having a non-diverse cast is the point. Historical games for instance should generally conform to the realities of history, you don’t do anyone any favors by pretending women or different races were treated equally in contexts where they were not (an ethnic Confederate General would just be odd). When designing a fantasy world, this is a question that the devs should ask themselves, is race/gender an issue in this world? In a world where humans are fighting big green aliens, maybe we got past all of that… or maybe we didn’t, who knows? I think we usually get in trouble when we forget to ask that question.

      Life was so much more simple when all you had to do to diversify your characters was re-color their face pixel. When everyone looks almost real, we expect them to reflect almost-reality, too.

      • Soylent Dave says:

        Oh context absolutely matters.

        It would be equally ridiculous & bland if we insisted that every single game had an all singing all dancing equal gender balance multi-ethnic cast (especially if it just doesn’t match the setting).

        The problem we have at the moment is that almost none of our games have enough variety, and that there isn’t enough variety across gaming as a whole.

        So when developers make a game with a cast of white guys, even if it’s setting-appropriate, it’s just yet another game where every character is a white male.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      I very much agree.

  24. Carnadan says:

    If I may just pose an open question here: what do you guys think of games like The Elder Scrolls and the recent Fallout games where you have large a large quantity of good/evil male and female characters, but little if any attention is ever paid to gender.

    • Thrawn says:

      I think that’s ok, but it could usually be better. By and large, I think we can benefit from gender concerns as part of narrative/immersion, though. I feel more engaged with a story when the characters are fully developed, and gender is a serious character trait (as it is a serious trait of real personal identity). If this is ignored, characters are less complete. That being said, smacking people in the face with gender identity constantly is no better (example: we tend to get the obligatory bisexual romance option nowadays, which can sometimes just seems forced).

      Obviously every NPC can’t be fully written, and I think it totally depends on how you want your world to be developed as to how your gender make-up is done (misogynistic societies have existed in real life, why not have the player deal with that… or reverse it and have a misandrist society?) at least for your gender ratio of nameless NPCs. An interesting example imo is Dragon Age: Origins, they bucked the male-only knights and lords trope, but still hinted at a male-dominated society (I’m still not sure how I feel about it). I guess a lot of this gets dropped by the stigma against violence against female characters… if the NPCs job is to get killed by the player, they will tend to have fewer (or none at all) females. This actually seems to be a common criticism of those gender-neutral games. Honestly, I never understood this, if hurting human-shaped polygons is morally wrong, it’s wrong whether those polygons approximate a man or a woman, but there it is.

    • Aldowyn says:

      With some bit characters, gender is pretty irrelevant. Medium importance characters, like those involved in quests… it CAN be important, but by no means is it necessary. Once you get into plot-critical characters, optimally it would affect the character in some manner. IMO.

    • X2Eliah says:

      The common fault there, unfortunately, is that as good as those games are for exploration, world detailing and microstories, the characters themselves in those games are quite unmemorable. I mean, consider Delphine from Skyrim (The blade-leader-lady-masquarading-as-inkeeper). Is that a good female character? Does her being a woman matter? Is she a good character as such (and this, imo, will tend to no)?

      • Lalaland says:

        I could barely remember who was who while playing Skyrim so I completely agree here. There just isn’t enough dialogue in a game such as Skyrim for more than a handful of main plot characters to get fleshed out. Everyone else might just as well be vending machines or notice boards for all the characterisation they get. Gender is largely irrelevant the only time I’ve seen it impact anything was the LadyKiller/LadiesMan perk in FO3 and FO:NV.

        That’s not really a problem for a game such as Skyrim which I once saw best described as a ‘hiking simulator’ on the RPGCodex (at least that’s where I first saw it). Plot is largely irrelevant the drive is a mix of power fantasy and exploration, I would argue that a little plot goes a long way but the current formula still got 60 odd hours or so of my life so it’s not that bad.

  25. The Rocketeer says:

    Like a lot of people here, I think a great deal of this would clear up if women had greater representation within the ranks of these games’ developers, and that this change in demography is something that must happen, preferably sooner rather than later. But I do want to say that I think this line of thinking, by itself, can be risky. Decent characters of either gender should be written with similar ease by developers of either gender, and this is a shift even more crucial to the medium.

    Simply accepting that it takes a woman to write a woman, or just going with that setup as Plan A, is a defeatist and paradoxical attitude. Acting as though folks of the other gender are just alien and inscrutable and relying on writers of a particular gender to service their own kind is not substantially different than the system we have right now, and couldn’t be even if both groups had similar representation. I think fixating upon and stumbling upon the differences between genders is exactly the attitude that fosters the kind of apathy and complacency that that have kept female characters ghettoized and marginalized since the birth of the medium.

    I want to reiterate that getting more ladies into all aspects of the development industry is a crucial and urgent shift. But as long as the industry is in the hands of men who are okay with just accepting women as a discrete and separate entity, who would believe that they, themselves simply cannot grasp how a character could be both well-developed and a woman, could never allow such a change to occur in the first place. We cannot rely on an industry that would have to outsource empathy to acknowledge that this is necessary or possible.

    We need to change the industry we have now to see the change we want later on down the line. We cannot rely on men who are dumbfounded by the myopic dilemma of making a woman character who is also, somehow, a good character; writers who use gender as a starting point are the reason that we have an industry that tends only to use women when the narrative or marketing devices specifically call for a female character. We need to foster a development climate wherein developers understand and believe in the fundamental humanity that makes men and women alike, and that this is so much more vast and meaningful. Only then will we see developers shift from trying to make female characters who are good, and failing at this, to making good characters who are female, and doing a far better job, or at least a far more sincere or altruistic job, which I’d take any day. And only in such a development climate would we ever see a shift in developer’s gender ratio in the first place, because no one should expect more than a few women to beat their heads against an industry unable to and uninterested in seeing or treating them as equal folk.

    This is a change that really can’t be effectively steered, or effectively measured, and that sucks. But it is the most necessary step, and it will happen a lot faster if gamers truly desire it, and say so.

    Addendum: The first time I saw the Mary Sue’s article linked in Shamus’ Twitter, the link didn’t work and I ended up never reading the article… until he linked it in this post, and I want to say that it is an outstanding read. It is earnest, remarkably easy to read, impressively comprehensive, and almost eerily cordial, given the usual climate this subject evokes. I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t already done so to drop by, give it a read, and leave some kind words for them.

  26. ehlijen says:

    To combine the topics, what do people think about Dr Vahlen from the new XCOM? Granted, the writers didn’t manage to make her sound convincing as a scientist and her accent switched to english when she tried to speak german, but I did get a good idea of what she seemed to be like as a person. Too bad the game didn’t really go anywhere with that ethical debate between her and the head engineer.

    • Adeon says:

      Personally I didn’t like her. She came across as a somewhat stereotypical Morally-Ambiguous-Russian-Scientist which is a character type I find boring. I also don’t care for Omnidisciplinary Scientist characters in general so that was another strike against her.

      Now the female characters in XCOM that I did like were some of the soldiers. “Raven” (going by nicknames because those are what I remember) was one of my top snipers, always calm and she demonstrated her ability to make difficult shots on multiple occasions including taking out the leader of the ethereals with a quick double tap.

      “Kitty” was the senior XCOM officer (by date of rank) and demonstrated good tactical leadership and a definite care for the soldiers under her command, using her skills (both physical and psionic) to protect them and make sure that everyone made it back to the Skyranger.

      As her nickname suggests “Crater” was a huge fan of high explosives toting a rocket launcher on all missions. Along with “Road Block” (my other heavy) she held the line, keeping the aliens pinned down until other XCOM operatives could flank them. “Road Block’s” heroic sacrifice on the final mission hurt her deeply, she was on good terms with most of the team but he was a friend.

      There were some others but those are the ones I really remember.

      • StashAugustine says:

        Random note on nicknames: One of my characters has last name “Rose” after a friend. Her nickname is “Axle.” I’m not sure that wasn’t intentional.

      • ehlijen says:

        Russian? I thought she was german (horribly english accent while speaking german not whithstanding, she does burst out ‘Nein!’ in one scene, which is german). She wasn’t really likeable, true, but at least not without personality traits. Would she have (not) worked as well as a man?

        As for nicknames, the only one I reall paid attention to was when I got a random ‘Santa’. Red armour and white beard where mandatory at that point. He was even a support guy, so it was grenades for the naughty and wound repellant spray for the nice…

        But all in all, none of the Soldiers really have a character. Which really is to the detriment of the final cutscene, amongst other things.

        • Adeon says:

          Yeah you’re probably right, replace Russian with German in my original post, it’s a cliche either way :). In terms of gender I would have the same attitude about her as a man, it’s the cliche I dislike more than the character.

  27. Ben says:

    On the subject of Objectification…

    I would argue that part of the issue stems from the fact that most men would prefer to be MORE sexually objectified. Particularly the demographic which makes up the bulk of game developers.
    That being an object of desire is one of the more common male power fantasies.

    While it isn’t quite as visually overt as female objectification, if you make a list of traits that are attractive to women (or at least those traits a socially awkward game dev thinks are attractive), you will find that most male protagonists tend to check off all the boxes.
    Furthermore, even with females, not all of it is physical. People have complained about physically unexceptional characters like alyx vance and tali’zorah being designed to pander to a male audience via their personalities.

    A lot of males are looking at this and wondering what all the fuss is about.
    (It probably doesn’t help, that merely looking at attractive females triggers a positive endorphin response in the vast majority of human males. With some being literally addicted to pretty women, is it any wonder that there is such a defensive response to perceived calls for their eye “candy” to be taken away?)

    Looking at bioware RPGs where there is a romance option. The options for heterosexual female protagonists tend to be rather bland. Is this sexist on the part of the developers?

    Well bioware protagonists tend to be very socially dominant characters, performing the role of alpha male or female depending on player choice. Meanwhile, the player party is made up of beta males and females.
    All the romance options of both genders are physically attractive (at least as much so as the technology allows.)

    However, males and females place different values on social dominance VS physical features when evaluating mates, and the beta males tend to come out looking the worse for wear. (garrus being more of an omega male seems to be one of the exceptions.)

    My guess as to why there aren’t many alyx vance analogs for female game protagonists, is that it either wouldn’t work because being somewhat less competent than the player and needing to be rescued isn’t considered quite as charming in a male character, or it would tend to creep out enough of the male audience to reduce sales. (men don’t like unwanted advances any more than women, despite generally lower standards for unwanted, and many men also have a fight or flight response to the sight of non-blood-relative naked men, which can also be triggered by thinking about the aformentioned sighting.)

    I would also like to point out an area where gaming media is decidedly anti-sexist. To the point of ignoring biology.
    When was the last time you saw stat differences for gender in an RPG?

    In the real world, women have less muscle mass due to lower levels of muscle building hormones. Women also have lower heart and lung volume for their mass due to having smaller chest cavities in proportion to the rest of their bodies when compared to men.
    The benefit to this for women is that they don’t require as many calories to survive, and their larger lower bodies mean that fewer die in childbirth, but that doesn’t translate well into game settings.

    • postinternetsyndrome says:

      Have anyone actually tried making an Alyx Vance-type character for a game with a strong silent female protagonist? I think you’re assuming a lot here.

      Also, when was the last time the physical limitations of the human body informed events in a game? Not recently I’d say.

      • lasslisa says:

        I think games are very realistic about physical limitations! For instance, Chris Redfield’s very specific knee injury that keeps him from walking around chairs, up gentle slopes, etc… (Invisible walls? What invisible walls?)

      • ben says:

        And as for making assumptions about why we don’t see many male love interests for female protagonists in games where you don’t choose your gender.

        That’s why it was a guess, not a statement of fact.

        I do know that as someone who lives in redmond and who has been going to a game industry school for the last 4 years, that the majority of the people I know who work in the industry are single males. And the horror stories of marketing departments handing down dictates from on high regarding target demographics are well known.

        I also know that despite my school having 30%+ female students, they make up less than 5% of the programers and game designers.
        They do however make up more than 50% of the 3d animation students.

        Which makes it particularly ironic that the most vocal complaints I’ve heard about sexism in the industry are regarding the visual representation of women.

        • postinternetsyndrome says:

          Well, yes you did, I read too fast and didn’t really notice that you said you where guessing and didn’t adjust my rethorics accordingly.

          I’m also thinking about statements like this: “However, males and females place different values on social dominance VS physical features when evaluating mates, /…/”

          While stuff like this is probably partly true, and partly maybe even dictated by nature (somewhat, possibly), I always hate it when it is used as an argument for anything. So maybe it would be a strange and kind of awkward experience to play a game with a strong female lead and a weaker male sidekick, but I wouldn’t mind trying it out just for the sake of it! Uncomfortable can be entertaining too. (People like horror movies right?)

          Of course there are always people unable to think their way past the basic power fantasy and will lash out against anything even slighly different from the norm, but I think (or at least hope) that most people would give it a chance, and probably not hate it.

          And again, we should at least try before giving up.

    • Blake says:

      “I would also like to point out an area where gaming media is decidedly anti-sexist. To the point of ignoring biology.
      When was the last time you saw stat differences for gender in an RPG?”

      I was thinking about this recently, but then realised stat differences would only be bad. Remember you’re playing an exceptional person irrespective of gender, some people might want to play a strong warrior woman, and some might want to play a meek pacifist man.
      You’re not playing the average of everyone of your gender, you’re playing as some kind of hero.

      • Cineris says:

        It’s not always true that you’re playing an exceptional person.

        Regardless of whether you are or not, it doesn’t really impact the larger point to be made about eliding real sex differences. If you can play the strongest human woman in the world, then you can also play the strongest human man in the world. If games were realistically representing these biological differences, does it reduce the meaningfulness of your choice knowing that the male character would be twice+ as strong as the female?

    • swenson says:

      “I would also like to point out an area where gaming media is decidedly anti-sexist. To the point of ignoring biology.
      When was the last time you saw stat differences for gender in an RPG?”

      First thought into my head: Woman? -4 STR! It’s probably a bad thing that I know this meme.

      • ben says:

        Yeah I was pointing it out as an example of developers not being sexist in an attempt to reach a broader audience.

        Though I can name at least a few RPGs which made gender more than just a cosmetic choice which don’t overdo it. FFTactics, Arcanum, the later Fire Emblem games, and a few others lower the strength stat of female characters by a marginal in exchange for some other marginal stat increase.

        • postinternetsyndrome says:

          Yes, in Arcanum females have -1 Strength and +1 Constitution. Sort of reasonable, though you can still argue about it of course. Especially since Strength is often a more useful stat in that game.

      • StashAugustine says:

        I tried to google ‘Woman? -4 STR!”. Apparently ‘str’ is a porn term.

    • Abnaxis says:

      I would also like to point out an area where gaming media is decidedly anti-sexist. To the point of ignoring biology.
      When was the last time you saw stat differences for gender in an RPG?

      For the sake of sanity, I’ll assume you’re talking about games where either sex can be any class, so I can’t just blurt out “Borderlands 2″ because it came out a few days ago :)

      Oblivion had different stats for different sexes of the same race. Overall it was balanced though, and I personally enjoyed finding ways to make a badass out of either one. Of course, that meant they had to remove practically all differences between race AND genders for Skyrim…

  28. Dasick says:

    Many Ekoisies here feel the need for more female game devs, and I disagree (partially). I don’t think we need more game developers, we need better game developers. I don’t care much what their gender is.

    I believe that having better game developers will fix the problem of character diversity. Here is why:

    Being a Good Game Developer (a GGD if you don’t mind the acronyms), means a lot of things, but I think that one thing is important above all – having an understanding of your game as a whole. That means having a strong, clear vision of the core and tuning every aspect of the game to it, so that it may be further enhanced. Even “superficial” aspects of the game, like characters, context, visuals and sounds, have a big role in presenting the core. The basic function of character design and characterization is to be a short-hand visual explanation of game mechanics, and how you are supposed to interact with them, and at higher levels of understanding they can enhance one’s understanding of the game and it’s world. Therefore, a GGD will never give the player choices about the character unless something is changing about the experience, or it means absolutely nothing (and with a GGD, every superfluous element of character design is at best, a wasted opportunity).

    However, another aspect of being a GGD is being a good artist. A good artist lives at the edge of her ability, never establishing any field as a comfort zone, using her experience to propel herself further. Which means that for a GGD, variety is essential, charting unexplored areas is the norm. The cores of her games is constantly changing, and so must the character design.

    Games deal with many different subjects. Some of them are historical or factual in nature. Some subjects deal with things humanity has never encountered. A GGD should be able to research and imagine a subject well enough that it shouldn’t matter if the character is male, female or alien. Yes, I know, there are things we know and things we understand, and experience is required for understanding, but Joss Wedon can approximate pretty darn well what women are like (they’re … diverse) without being one himself.

    And lastly, consider the nature of art mediums themselves. They only present interest to us when they make us expereince something new. Experiencing something you are familiar with results in diminished return. Even using the same technique within a single work results in the same old thing, unless we find ways to modify it, combine the elements in unexpected ways, develop layers of meaning. Games are no exception, and in my opinion variety within the game, as well as within the medium, is the only logical goal for a Good Game Designer.

    • Alan says:

      What are Ekoisies? Google fails to elucidate.

      If professionals in a field are not reasonably reflective of the population at large, it’s a clue that perhaps you aren’t getting the best you can. So for games, it seems likely to me that the percentage of potentially great game designers is similar between men and women. If there are far fewer women game designers in practice, it suggests that some portion of the potentially great female game designers are passing on the field, making the field weaker as a result.

      If you have a discrepancy, it’s important to look for barriers, but obvious and subtle. If they’re there, you work to remove them at every level and hopefully improve the quality. You can’t just fix one level. No matter how hard you work as a game company to find great people regardless of gender, you’re still missing out on Sally, who became a nurse instead of a game developer because as a child her friends gave her crap for liking first person shooters.

      (And this cuts in different ways in different fields. For example, how many men who would be great nurses pass because it’s perceived as a field for women?)

      • Adeon says:

        “eikosi” is apparently the Greek word for Twenty so the Twenty-Sided Guild in GW2 is called the “Eikosi League”.

        • Dasick says:

          yeah, “Eikosies” is what I use to refer to people who comment on this blog… sorry XD

          Used to be “Twenty Siders”, but Eikosies has less letters and is one word.

      • Dasick says:

        First of all, I don’t see a direct correlation between the discrepancy and there being barriers. A discrepancy may be a signal that there are barriers, but there could be tons of other reasons why it exists. It’s a bad way to measure effects and presence of sexism is what I’m saying; too much outside noise. It could just as easily be the dice gods messing with our heads, as they are known to do.

        Second of all, I see “being a good artist” as a question of dedication to one’s art, rather than pure inborn talent. I believe that it’s not about where the limit of your abilities lies, but how consistent you are at staying at that limit, at pushing it outwards. If Sally chooses to conform rather than go after her dreams, it’s a potential loss, rather than an actual loss when existing good developers become lazy and complacent.

        Not that that isn’t a problem, but it strikes me as something more than just sexism.

    • Ben says:

      I can’t emphasize this enough…

      You cannot evaluate an entire medium based solely on a genre that you dislike.

      There are always going to be artists that make shitty art, there are always going to be artists that make art that offends someone, and there is always going to be art made to profit from specific target audiences. This has absolutely no effect on supply or demand for the products that you would prefer!

      If a games with male caucasian protagonists and sexy bimbos sell better to the single male caucasian demographic, then someone is going to make that game whether you like it or not.
      And they are going to keep making that game until the market for that product reaches saturation. That is just how the free market works.

      This is not a zero sum game, where every bro-shooter is one less tasteful piece! No amount of demand for your ideal product will reduce the number of tasteless games being made, and no amount of reduction in demand for tasteless games will increase the number of “good” games being released.

      This is like game publishers listing huge numbers of sales lost to pirates… If those people weren’t pirating, they still wouldn’t have bought the game! They would just be playing some other free game of lesser quality!

      • ehlijen says:

        It’s not a zero sum game, no, but the bleeding hardware edge and competition are turning into a game of follow the leader.

        A bro shooters top the charts, companies will start making them in preference to other genres because they seemingly offer more return of investment. And once that pattern has been established, pattern entrenchment will prevent experimentation even if it could improve the situation.

        So yes, hating on one genre isn’t going to fix anything. But not trying new things that sound like good ideas won’t either.

      • Dasick says:

        I’m not saying “don’t make bro-shooters”. I’m not even saying we need to get rid of bad games and their designers. I’m just saying that if you want good, diverse games, you need to cultivate good artists. If good games are made, then it doesn’t matter how many tasteless bro-shooters are out there.

        Cultivating good artists might seem like a tall order… and it may very well be. Nevertheless, I plan to make my contribution by becoming one, and spreading the word to anyone who might listen.

  29. susie day says:

    Minecraft. In my two years running a computer club, Minecraft was the game that all the females (most who were there with their boyfriends) enjoyed and got excited over.

    It might be worth it to note that one of the first things they did was change their avatar to a female skin.

  30. Kavonde says:

    This is, of course, a hopelessly naive statement and probably all-around pretty dumb, but I can’t help thinking that if we could just get every writer, developer, and artist in the industry to watch a few episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a lot of these problems would disappear.

    It’s a show starring six complex, likable, strong, and occasionally badass characters who are able to embrace their femininity without succumbing to its stereotypes. They’re presented as attractive (to other characters, and, however oddly, to some fans) without being exploited as sexual objects. And they’re able to have significant relationships without making everything about the boys. Really, it’s like a cutesy, colorful primer on how to create and use female characters effectively, and Celestia knows a lot of folks could use even the most basic lesson.

    Yeah. I just brought ponies into a discussion on feminism. I’m that guy.

    • Kim says:

      But, what those developers need to remember is — guys watch this stuff!

    • Gilosean says:

      And a lot of guys – at least online – seem to like MLP too. Which just goes to show that when presented with well-written characters people will like them, regardless of gender (or glitter :) ).

      I never hear about the writers on game teams – only lead designers or the engine team. If writers were respected more, game development might draw more respected writers. That would be an improvement. And even without that, given how many writing-focused college graduates the US is turning out, how hard can it be to put together a decent character?

      Have a university contest for characters, promise an internship to whoever wins the contest. Not with a game development school, but a real university with a large English/Writing department, and hopefully pull in the other soft sciences too. Do this several times – maybe make it a few $$$ if your character design is chosen for minor characters instead of an unpaid internship. You’d need real writers to sort through everything, but I think it’s worth a shot. Is anyone trying / has tried this kind of thing?

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