Oct 16, 2014

Unrealism: Sexism in Video Games

It’s actually a two-way street

 

So, there’s this recent headline about a feminist getting death threats and cancelling her lecture about sexism in videogames over in Utah – Anita Sarkeesian to be precise. I have mixed feelings about this, and (well) feminism in general.

 

By no means do I believe it is appropriate for people to be sending death threats like that, but on the other side of the coin her views are pretty standard in the whole fair of “Women are unfairly portrayed in hyper-sexualized context” thinking as is common among a lot of feminists. While I absolutely disagree with her train of thought, I wouldn’t go so far as to condone death threats.

 

So... what exactly is my take on the topic overall (you may ask)? It’s simple, actually. Sexism in video games is a two way street, setting unrealistic expectations upon both female and male characters for the sake of a fantasy storyline.

 

 

sam-fisher

 

What we seem to forget here is that we’re dealing with stereotypes and not really sexism. When we look at just one side of the coin, it looks a lot like sexism but the moment we pull both sides of the discussion together it ceases and instead just becomes a discussion about stereotypes.

 

As a conversation unfolded between myself and Diana Artazzi over on Youtube (she’s an ASMR artist), I was introduced to a book called The Myth of Male Power (for which I’ve been reading). She believes (much like I do) that the notion of this one sided disempowerment and burden is a fictional construct at best used by feminists to justify the “poor us” attitude.

 

Yes, women are disproportionately hyper-sexualized in video games. That much I am going to agree on. But in the same notion, so are men.

 

Now, I don’t mean that to be taken as guys are running around in little more than a g-string with massive bulges... but what it means is that in society there are two sides to this sexism, and the male side is rarely discussed in the realm of this ludicrous fantasy scenario.

 

If we begin from the basis of the stereotypical expectation of male and female, this makes a lot more sense than crying foul about sexism and unfairness.

 

Men are just as bad off in our portrayal in video games, but for different reasons. After all, we are predominantly portrayed as the hero, we are usually portrayed as the resident bad-ass that is ‘roided up looking like a seven foot tall super-hero with huge shoulders and dripping with testosterone and machismo.

 

In that notion, we’re usually portrayed as the bad-ass killing machine with no remorse. The total, unequivocal Alpha Male stereotype (HOO RA!).

 

And you know what, ladies? That’s sexist, too.

 

It isn’t meant to be based in reality.

 

What videos games do is simply take those stereotypes and inflate them into the atmosphere for a fantasy story and escapism. Where all the men are strong, broad shouldered, and dependable. The sort of testosterone ridden guy that would wrestle a bear and win to save the damsel in distress who happens to look like a porn-star.

 

I think this can be best illustrated by our choices in Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Predominantly (and as witnessed by your average visit to Wet Willy’s), women portray themselves as that porn-star Barbie and guys predominantly run around with the 7 foot Wolfen McAwesome avatar.

 

You know what I’m talking about.

 

The long hair, no shirt, tattoos... wearing leather pants.

 

And the ladies mostly run around in perfect little porn-star avatars and slutty outfits for their man (and for themselves).

 

What these two extremes in perception illustrate are societal ideals based on the illusion of perfection.

 

If society did not believe that these were the ideals of perfection (even if based on fantasy), then the entire adult entertainment industry would cease to exist.

 

The basic take-away then is simply:

 

Hyper-feminine ideals also have a counterpart in Hyper-masculine portrayals.

 

 

tera-armor-is-ridiculous

 

There is also that caveat that a lot of women players actually play male characters while a lot of men play female characters.

 

Which pretty much puts a hell of a lot into perspective.

 

Then there is the other caveat that most people like to overlook, in that what a woman defines as sexy and appealing in a man is just as idealized as what a man thinks is ideal with a woman. Being men and women, we do think very differently on those ideals (a lot of the time).

 

Although it is the perception of that testosterone manliness that is the stereotype appeal to women, while it is the sexualized estrogen bender that appeals to men.

 

Let’s face it... guys like tits and ass. You already knew this... that’s why the adult entertainment industry exists and thrives. Women like their ripped and powerful men as well. Both are stereotypical and idealized portrayals of the opposite sex as appealing to the other (woman –> men and men –> women).

 

In the bigger picture, yes the one above of Tera Armor, the realization is that the more “powerful” one is perceived in the idealized universe, the more those traits are either hyper-feminine or made hyper-masculine to exaggerate it.

 

 

  • If you’re a guy, you get the hyper-masculine exaggeration until you’re effectively a cross between MacGuyver, Terry Crews and your armor looks like a Mobile Suit Gundam. Exaggeration of total safety, masculinity, smart, rugged, insane proportions of a man’s man.

 

  • If you’re a girl, you get the hyper-feminine exaggeration. You get prettier, more seductive, more girly and feminine. You get hyper sexualized as the exaggeration.

 

 

And then we will always hear some women saying “I don’t find that sexy nor do I objectify guys who are like that”

 

Which is usually total bullshit. Like women saying they don’t watch pornography or own sex toys. It’s just something they say to sound like they are morally righteous while on a soapbox.

 


 

I’m still not Misogynistic

 

Whenever I hear the argument from the feminists about sexism in video games, and how women are unfairly portrayed in them... I like to counter with the sexism of hyper-masculinity to balance the conversation. Because it is then that we realize that most of this griping is about stereotypes and not really sexism.

 

It would be sexism if it only was about women or if it was only about men. But since it is about both being unrealistically portrayed, it is simply catering to stereotypes in a fictional/fantasy setting.

 

Here’s an example: Whenever I play a fighting game like Street Fighter, I almost always choose a female character as my favorite. While it is true they are usually hyper-sexualized (and so are the guys), it is because a female character in a fighting game is usually weaker but faster/nimble. This is where the stereotype of women being the fairer sex gets overblown because where they lack in one area they make up in another quite readily.

 

 

Street-Fighter-Chun-Li-Game

 

Dexterity and speed vs raw strength.

 

Now, what do I mean about guys being hyper-sexualized when clearly they aren’t all running around in loin cloths and war paint, right? Well that’s the root of the matter in a nutshell when we’re dealing with the perception of stereotypes in a fantasy setting. What we are really addressing (and noticing) is less about sexism and more about the exaggeration of stereotypical features and traits for a more “ideal” person – whether that is female of male.

 

Women are beautiful, which is why the Goddess of Love wasn’t Hades.

 

So that’s a trait that goes into the mix as “exaggerated” in order to appeal to that ideal of perfection. In much the same way that a male character would be exaggerated as being super macho and muscular to symbolize strength and power.

 

But of course, we then talk about how women aren’t portrayed as strong and powerful in video games... but that’s not entirely the point here because we’re dealing with exaggeration of perceptual traits of ideals and stereotypes.

 

When it comes to feminism, more often than not it is a hypocrisy at best (in my opinion).

 

It is an attitude of empowerment (good for you) until such a point when the responsibility of that empowerment and equality comes up, in which case a majority of feminists will suddenly want to be treated as the lesser of the duality for their own benefit.

 

Let’s say you’re on a date, ladies. Who is paying?

 

More often than not it’s the guy.

 

Sure a woman could pay for that date, but she would think lesser of the man for having to do so and she wouldn’t be likely to continue dating “the moocher”. We hear it a lot out of women... they want a strong, independent man that knows how to treat their woman (blah blah). But the moment this sexism in video games comes up... now they want the empowerment and so on.

 

Where were those feminists when we said “Check, please.”

 

So yes, men have those hyper-masculine properties and stupid expectations put upon them in society as well because they represent what is a turn on to women in general (straight women).

 

Ultimately, video games are business and it’s about making money. So all of this sexism (on both sides) are playing into our illusion of perfection and expectation.

 

So what happens when we aren’t playing into that male power fantasy? Well we end up with games such as Lester The Unlikely, which turned out to be such a horrible game that The Angry Video Game Nerd did an episode about it. Clearly that game didn’t make much money.

 

 

 

But what about powerful female protagonists? Let’s say Samus Aran from Metroid.

 

Well, that’s only a partial female empowerment when you think about it. Because of those stereotypes about male hyper-masculinity and female hyper-feminism, Metroid offers us the duality whereby Samus Aran herself is a curvy and sexy blonde in a blue body suit and the power comes from the suit itself which plays into the male hyper-masculinity. Even with Samus Aran, she isn’t a powerful female protagonist without relying on the male stereotype to boost her.

 

So we’re pretty much screwed when it comes to this sexism issue.

 

Sexism is more or less playing into the stereotypes and perception of male and female strengths and weaknesses exaggerated. A woman, for example, is perceived to be the pretty one and so a video game (and other media) would exaggerate that trait. A guy is perceived as the testosterone beefcake bad-ass, and again we exaggerate those perceptual qualities for our “fantasy” and escapism.

 

But there actually are plenty of games whereby a female protagonist is front and center, but we don’t usually bring those into the discussion. The reason we do not bring it into the discussion is because that would just go ahead and bitch slap our feminist argument into submission... about 999 times.

 


 

Counter-point

 

Ok, so there is a much used counter-point to all of this in that the male power fantasy is an ideal and not sexism. Whereby the female reduction to ideal perfection and weakness is not ideal.

 

Effectively, every guy wants to be the bad-ass and no woman wants to be the tits and ass sex toy.

 

I suppose this almost makes sense unless you were to ask exactly why those traits were the ideal for men. I mean... I have no interest in becoming Captain Bad-Ass and jacked up on testosterone...

 

And a video game character is really only as clever as the player behind it, so if Captain bad-Ass is honorable, stupidly brave against all odds, and super powerful... well it is merely the result of expectation of ideals. We actually are reduced to an object of desire in that form – the stereotypical beefcake bad-boy.

 

It goes back to fairy tales where the guy is supposed to be all kinds of heroic, chivalrous, strong, and so on... for the damsel in distress. But of course damsels aren’t usually in distress these days and women (sometimes) can hold their own in a similar situation.

 

But in real life, most women actually don’t.

 

That’s reality in a nutshell. For every woman that takes karate classes and can kick the living shit out of a guy in a bar fight, there are a thousand more who carry pepper spray in their purse and won’t go out at night for fear of being victimized.

 

So it’s a strange sort of doublethink we have as society.

 

Cause let’s face it... not every guy is the alpha male and not every female is just a pair of tits and ass looking to play house.

 

I think honesty, intelligence, valiance and all those things are qualities for both male and females. But I also think men and women can achieve them in their own way that isn’t trying to be the other. For instance, female empowerment doesn’t come from trying to be more like guys any more than male empowerment comes from being metrosexual and like those bishonen boys in video games.

 

Yes, we seem to have left out that entire massive section of video games in this male/female hyper-feminism and hyper-masculine consversation, which is pretty much why we don’t see much in the way of talking about male dis-empowerment in video games. Because it’s alright for a woman to be the damsel, but not the guy.

 

Which in and of itself is a ridiculous premise (both ways).

 

We could say there are a ton of guys in the games industry and so hyper-sexualization and idealism kicks in... but then I have to ask – why aren’t women taking the initiative to be game programmers?

 

Why aren’t women taking the initiative at all, but instead talking about it nonstop?

 

We point out the problem but aren’t seemingly doing anything to actually solve it.

 

The hell are you waiting for, ladies? Some guy to come along and save you from the objectification and disempowerment?

 

Yeah, that was sorta a low blow there and it was on purpose.

 

If a guy is somehow disempowered, and we complain about it... we’re told to quit bitching and do something about it. Overweight? Get to the gym. Assert yourself. Take responsibility. Be strong. Be all these amazing qualities to become a Spartan Warrior and ...

 

Ok, you get the point.

 

Women who are objectified in video games are just as often deadly as well. Where a guy would be a beefcake bad-ass, a woman isn’t typically a beefcake and so the natural body is exaggerated traits just the same.

 

The bottom line is, both are usually representations of stereotypical ideal traits that both men and women lust after and find highly appealing.

 

The alpha-male stereotype and the porn-star barbie stereotype.

 

I’ve seen a lot of women say stuff like “No, I don’t find that sort of guy attra-“ and then I cut them off because their lies make my ears bleed.

 

It’s just as asinine for a woman to say the stereotypical alpha male isn’t attractive to them as it is for a guy to say that the hyper-sexualized woman isn’t attractive to him. Effectively we’re lying through our teeth whenever we pretend this isn’t true.

 

Go ask all of the nice-guys that got put into the friendzone about this one...

 

Go ask all the overweight women that got blown off just the same because a porn-barbie walked in and they stopped existing.

 

 

Testosterone = Male Power Fantasy

 

Estrogen = Female Beauty Fantasy

 

Welcome to reality.

 

 

That doesn’t mean women aren’t cunning, intelligent, brave, and so forth... and by god they absolutely should be. Hell, they should even be strong. But not looking like He-Man.

 

I think characters like Lara Croft do this sort of thing justice. And of course, a lot of people will still complain that Lara Croft is still made to be pretty...

 

Ok, then just go the full length. Because at this point what women are complaining about is a woman who happens to have a pair of tits and a nice ass. You’re reaching a point of self-loathing here when we get down to it. That “She looks pretty and I don’t and how come guys objectify women like that?”

 

The same reason women lust after G-Money and his swagalicious 12 pack abs at the club.

 

Duh.

 


 

One Point for Gryffindor

 

Jeez, I can’t even properly counter-point any of this. I really am trying though...

 

sighs

 

Ok, the thing about all of this is that most people try to separate the idealization of men in video games (power fantasy) from the sexualization of them. That in a nutshell is the problem because those same assets of men are what make them inherently sexy, and throough exaggerating those traits and qualities it is the same as making a scantily clad female character with a Barbie body and huge tits. Those are traits which make a woman immediately desirable to men.

 

It’s just how each is perceived and what makes them sexy in the looks/attractiveness department. It is the stereotypical guy and stereotypical woman. Those are the traits associated with either and both are exaggerated.

 

Looking back into Second Life, and blatantly given a choice in the matter for both men and women, we see predominantly that they choose the ideal and sexualized nature of men and women as self-representation.

 

Which pretty much negates the whole feminist argument there when a majority of women voluntarily choose the idealized version over the realistic one.

 

Guys do that too...

 

It’s what we try to aspire to... because society (that’s all of us) still believes it to be true no matter how much doublethink we try to throw in there.

 

To say – Oh, no... see, that’s just a power fantasy thing and an ideal... women aren’t objectifying men by saying those are ideals... but guys imagining the ideal woman is objectifying them and it’s sexist...

 

That’s more or less what hypocrisy looks like. A double standard.

 

But we don’t see guys in video games running around in banana hammocks and g-strings!

 

 

borat-at-the-beach

 

But I digress and it’s early in the morning. I’m sure this is a topic that will rage on for years to come until guys no longer like skinny porn barbies and women no longer like a man with rugged good looks and well built physique.