By Paul Casey
John Walker, the co-editor of video game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun has written something rather good about women in video games, and the ongoing obfuscation from “male rights activists” (MRAs). You should read it, as it is one of the best recent bits on the most important issue in video games of the last year, and probably 2013, too. Walker raises some interesting points from his perspective working on Rock, Paper, Shotgun:
“What’s interesting about the nature of the MRAs is that they take this behaviour, and whether consciously or not, subvert it. So when they encounter an article describing a negative treatment or depiction of women, they adopt the agenda-driven irrational response: because you have written this you don’t care about men’s issues. Not because they believe that, but rather because it proves the fastest route to diverting attention away from, and derailing discussion of, sexism or misogyny. The real goal, of course, is to prevent the discussion of such matters.”
As Walker points out, this can be seen as a tactical move to frustrate any attempts to make progress on issues they for some reason or other can’t stomach. Over the past year there have been some shameful acts of intimidation and stupidity from various sectors of the “videogame community” towards women who dare have an opinion on their representation. It is also fairly common, though, to find deep confusion when a man takes interest in the same issues.
This kind of response can also be found directed at efforts that address gay rights or racism. “WAIT, you are not gay, why would you care how we treat them?” These are the kind of people, I’m sure, who would have had no problem with segregation as long as they were on the right side of it. The answer to the question, though, need not simply be in the shape of altruism or an appeal to a universal concept of right and wrong. This is especially true in the case of representation of women in video games.
People who think that video games are a worthwhile medium should care most of all that the representation of women is able to move past this infantile phase. That so many of the loudest, dullest assholes unable to see how this benefits their beloved pastime, are also the most defensive, is unfortunate. One look at how Deep Silver promoted Dead Island: Riptide is depressing not just because brutalizing women and tit-fucking corpses is intended to be erotic, but because this is thought acceptable for the mainstream.
It is not that video games are alone with this kind of thing. Cinema has had more than its share of weird, violent, exploitation movies, which were meant to provide an erection first, and a scare second. To point to I Spit On Your Grave! or the work of Takashi Miike or Lucio Fulci as a defense is to forget that these movies were still on the outskirts of the medium. They were niche movies, and they did not define the standard output. This is the problem. If Fulci’s horrid The New York Ripper was not an obscure, bad movie from a good director and was instead common, and its most horrible scenes of sexual violence used to market a summer blockbuster, then we would have an appropriate comparison.
Not even Takashi Miike has marketed his movies with a call to the woman-hating, necrophilia crowd. With his weird imagery, in say, Visitor Q, where a man’s penis gets caught in a dead body, or where a grown man is birthed by a woman in Gozu, the sexuality is never simple. It is rarely just about titillating the audience. These scenes are primarily intended to disturb. There is little that is meant to be unsettling about the Dead Island statue. Apart from the fact that it’s a corpse, it is clean, the breasts are perky and receptive to the introduction of a male organ.
Those strange men who think that addressing this and moving it from mainstream to an outsider niche is somehow working against their interests need to have a cold, hard look at their brains. Creatively, I believe that the individual is more important than gender, race (as a social construction), and social background. For those individuals to have a chance to create, though, it is no good if they are removed from the conversation simply because of something they could not control. When you have half of the entire human race pushed out of a creative field, you are sabotaging its progress. You are also working against your own interests.
All mediums need new ideas to survive. If those throwing non-sequiturs—like the suicide rate of men—around in a discussion about a creative medium actually care that men are represented badly in video games, then they should be happy to see women fighting for something better. The goal is not to introduce more women who will talk about FEMINIST (scary!) issues in every game, or to steal precious objectification fests from teen boys, but to increase the number of talented individuals who are able to contribute.
This includes, by the way, all people who are not satisfied with creative homogenization. Assuming that a less narrow representation of women will naturally lead to a terrifying ANTI-MAN situation is the sign of a deranged mind. It is an indictment of those claiming to be less in sway to their gender and a failure to think of women as individuals. Which I guess is where the problem originated. Including all people who are shut out of the conversation can only end up benefiting the range of ideas that video games can cover.
Seeing as the depiction of super powerful, sexually aggressive/potent men is the other essential part which goes along with viewing women as objects, it is likely that these male rights sorts would get their (alleged) wish granted. And maybe, that next great idea from a woman won’t have anything at all to do with being a woman! Imagine that?
Creatively it makes sense for all people who care about video games to be appalled by the way in which women have been treated, especially by those who claim to care most. Unless you are completely happy with men and women being defined solely by their genitals—leading to the same dull-minded, Michael Bay bullshit in countless games—then you should support those people—like Anita Sarkeesian, like John Walker—who are attempting to change it.