Opinion// Gaming - The Feminist Flag Up the Phallic Flagpole

Posted 20 Jun 2012 13:06 by
Let's face it, E3 was the drowsy, numb calm before the next-gen storm. Three, maybe four games worth getting worked up over, and the rest were spit-shined IPs, CEOs in bad suits, awkwardly shifting their weight from brogue to brogue, mewling about 'experiences' and 'connectivity' - steering clear of such emotive, loaded terms such as 'games' and 'play'.

So, without much else going on, what took centre stage? Sexism. Nose punching. Rape. And I for one am glad they did, because there's no other art-form that needs a bigger kick up the Smartglass when it comes to the representation of women, than gaming.

One of the favourite titles I remember from my formative years was an open-world brawler by the name of Urban Chaos, the first game developed by the now defunct Mucky Foot.

The lead was a hard-nosed (more on fragile noses later) African-American woman called D'Arci Stern. She was authoritative, she could batter criminals with wanton, wilful abandon, but also coax suicidal polygons from the ledges of tall buildings.

Though a sassy, Pam Grier-esque caricature at times, race was never really any sort of issue. The fact that you happened to inhabit the body of a woman even less so. For the life of me, I can't remember a female video game lead that has come close to holding a candle to that tiny, bovver-booted heroine. And that's a damn shame.

A few weeks ago, IGN's Keza MacDonald wrote a thoughtful, and downright important piece regarding the frankly baffling E3 Hitman Absolution trailer.

Trailers by their very nature steal context and meaning from much of the action depicted within as they've got limited time to whet the appetite for a game you won't see for half a year at least. But when they use that time to treat our retinas to lingering shots of PVC nuns' capacious breasts, backside cleavage and smashed up lady noses - all for a game series that by and large is a grown-up game of hide and seek - it's a misstep, plain and simple.

Reductionist spaff

But, such is modern media that the right to reply is only one or two clicks away, so what followed was a torrent of some of the most furiously sanctimonious, reductionist spaff the internet had been treated to for some time.

I won't go into details, but suffice to say there was a lot of hand wringing and fist shaking; words like 'kitchen' and 'feminist flag' were chucked into the mix too. I'd love to see what a 'feminist flag' looks like. If I were a radical feminist, I'd surely find flagpoles way too phallic.

To be fair, a lot of the commenters were clearly on the young side (though battling misogyny with ageism serves nobody) and they perhaps didn't have the greatest understanding of human sexuality, certainly in regard to the use of religious imagery and why it commands such potency as a fetish.

Yes, some Hitman games have had their fair share of in-game sex workers, strippers, geisha and so on - but watching a latex-clad nun's nasal bone shatter in slow motion after spending an age ogling her behind? I count myself as being a fully paid-up Hitman aficionado, and I'm certain that kind of behaviour doesn't get you that 'silent assassin' sew-on badge.

But if I could address the commenters directly...

With the greatest of respect gents, you or I simply don't get to decide what women find objectionable. We have no more right than I, as a white man am able to decide whether or not black people get to wrap the 'N' word round their tongues, however distasteful I may find the connotations of the term.

We've never been routinely pilloried, censured or even executed due to which genomic sequence our bodies happen to carry.

We rarely get passed over for work because our nipples happen to reside a couple of inches further away from our ribcage.

The unassailable fact is that women still don't have equality. Either grow up and deal, or come back to me in another five hundred years, when woman have had the vote for the same amount of time as we have, and we'll talk about how unfair yet spectacularly empowering a Wonderbra is.

So, days passed. The outrage subsided. Went away. Disappeared. A trailer that threatened to further ghettoise an art form we care dearly about was quickly forgotten.

IO Interactive half-apologised without ever really understanding why the video put people's noses out of joint (if you'll excuse my turn of phrase) and even Square Enix's insistence that the autonomy of the creator was sacrosanct fell on disinterested ears. Gaming's always been able to shrug off controversy with swaggering ease.

Lacking in iRONy
Enter Crystal Dynamic's executive producer Ron Rosenberg. He squawked to gaming site Kotaku about his new title which happened to star a strong, sexy female protagonist; the darling of mainstream journalism a world over; old pointy boobs herself, Lara Croft.

Quite aside from the suggestion the trailer itself makes:

...that a vulnerable female can't be truly under threat until the aggressor is male sexuality, which is in itself an embarrassing, lame conceit, Ron's colossal bunkum about the character herself was the most laughable, telling aspect of the whole sorry mess. "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character. They're more like 'I want to protect her.'"

A Massive Fucking Dinosaur
Ron, whether you're male or female, it's really not any sort of stretch to project yourself onto Lara. You're flesh and bone, she's flesh and bone. Every video game character, male or female looks vulnerable next to a massive fucking dinosaur. Or a giant mystical stone robot, intent on staving your head in, all in the name of...being a mystical stone robot.

If I can manage to project myself onto Rayman, a multicoloured demented idiot with no forearms and built-up shoes, I think I can probably make the existential leap to one of those exotic long-haired humans who just so happen to have the power to bust out an ovum every month.

"You start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character." Ignoring the interesting use of the word 'root' and its antipodean double-meaning for just one moment, by this logic why not cast a Pret a Manger Hoisin duck sandwich as your next lead?

Here are my reasons why this is a brilliant idea and why I should have loads of money sent to my house:

1. It is neither male nor female, so therefore both can feel sorry for it when someone tries to eat it
2. It is vulnerable and soft to touch, like a lady
3. It probably has root vegetables in it. Maximising 'rootage'

The bottom line is, video game developers can build extravagant, beautiful worlds inside a microprocessor the size of a fingernail, yet can't bring us a female protagonist worth her salt.

Developers. Bring us real, believable video game women, then you can toy with non-consensual sex as a plot device. The ball is in your court.

Video game fans. This isn't a feminist issue. This is about industry-wide self-respect.

If you'd like to financially support a video project which deconstructs the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games, just click this link and think of it as your Duke Nukem Forever carbon offset, if you ever played that abject twaddle.

The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.

Want to vent your gaming spleen? Send 900 words max of well thought-out, deeply analysed opinion and we may even run it. Send in 900 words of incisive but mostly brutally angry invective, and we almost certainly will.

Read More Like This


org.apache.jasper.JasperException: An exception occurred processing [components/general/forumThreadList.jsp] at line [56] 53: if( inlineComments != 0 ) 54: { 55: reqData.getApp().startProfiler("forumThreadList:thread.messages"); 56: messages = thread.messages(); 57: reqData.getApp().stopProfiler("forumThreadList:thread.messages"); 58: 59: reqData.getApp().startProfiler("forumThreadList:moddedMessages"); Stacktrace: