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Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough

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Kotaku's Mike Fahey reports on Jessica Cernadas, a 17 year old girl gamer who made a piece for NPR about her frustrations being a girl gamer. In it she argues that girl gamers don't get the respect they deserve, and that the oversexed representation of female characters is getting tiresome.

I hear and read a lot about the state of the online nation. Girl gamers who reveal themselves are taunted and harassed, flirted with and propositioned. Girl characters in games are often oversexed and under appreciated. Jessica brings up Bayonetta in her discussion, specifically the fact that Bayonetta loses layers of clothing for her finishing moves and that, says Cernadas, is the cancer that is killing gender equality in gaming.

There are silver linings, and challenging arguments that can be made to run circles around Jessica's piece. I argue that Bayonetta is one of the best examples of a truly strong woman character, and that her attacks are part of that. Kat, from Halo Reach, is a very down to earth, scarred, cyborg-limbed super soldier who kicks it with the boys club the entire game. Lots of little exceptions to the rules...but where is the true root of the problem? What are we really able to do?


Kat Halo Reach

Online communities offer the safety of anonymity, but they are a two edge sword: reveal any information about the real "you" outside the screen...and suddenly you invite criticisms from any of the faceless many you're gaming alongside. Can we truly censor the voices, the taunting? No, not really. But we can ban people who break rules. Can we have female characters in games that don't lose their clothes when they attack? Yes, we do.


Alyx Vance

This is a real issue, however. A lasting and hard to tackle problem that splits a community based on shared experiences into victims and predators and that's not something we as geeks/nerds/gamers should consider "part of who we are" or "part of the reality". There are ways around it. Listen to the story of Jessica Cernadas. What we want is right there, now we just have to keep moving towards it. Have we thought of any really good solutions yet? That remains to be seen.


A Teenager Tackles Respect For Girl Gamers
[via Kotaku]

6 Comments

Bayonetta is full of WIN! But I wish it would inspire someone like Drake (Uncharted) to have a similar special move, as long as they give him some fuzz to match his chin pubes.
Or more realistically, explosions or other disasters can tear apart his clothing... or maybe he takes off his shirt when it's wet.

questie said:

Male characters are also oversexed but not nearly as much as females. Simple solution: equally oversex both.

luminum said:

I think you can argue that Bayonetta is a strong female character, but that is always subject to the litmus test of "Is your strong female character heavily dependent on her sexual attractiveness?" Cernadas agrees that Bayonetta kicks a lot of ass, but she also points out that her ass kicking is dependent on her sexual proclivity. Strong? Yes. Empowering? To some girls maybe. The same old trope dressed up in the guise of "progressiveness"? Definitely.

When we point out the relatively few examples of strong female protagonists, we have to acknowledge that they're just that--relatively few. Then we have to examine if they're rooted in actual neutrality or if they're stymied in sexist tropes. We can't keep creating stereotypes and rely on their relative scarcity to give them a free pass as progressive representation.

Yes, perhaps the first few effeminate, swishy gay characters are "progressive" for just being featured gay protagonists. But there comes a time when swishy, effiminate gay characters should be one of many kinds of gay characters. Likewise, we can't always have pity the foo' Barrett Wattsons or funk-era Afro-haired Sazh Katzroys as our only representations of black men.

And to Cernadas' point, we can't keep pumping out Bayonettas, Hitomis, Morrigans, Tifas, and Kitanas and claim they're both strong AND progressive while they're clearly designed to be male wetdreams. It's great that characters like Samus and Kat exist, but they're the true pioneers in an industry that has continued to make 20 barely-there alternate costumes for their Mileenas for every one Kat. For every one Samus who dons armor that makes sense instead of illogically making room for her tits and ass, there are twenty Shahdees (Penny Arcade takes that up pretty deftly: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/12/3/) Characters like Kat and Samus shouldn't be the exception, they should be equivalently represented. When you've got just as many Samuses to go head to head with your busty skanks and your demure fully-clothed backseat good girls, then you've almost made it.

Until then, maintaining that that a character's prominent sexuality is "just part and parcel" of what makes her strong is a cop-out sort of argument. It's the same argument that causes porn-comics like Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose to maintain the illusion of female empowerment upon what is essentially just male fantasy and exploitation.

I mean, if you really want to be honest, even Samus, the golden girl of non-sexualized female protagonists, debuted with the special secret option to play as her 8-bit bikini-clad form. They couldn't make her look like a female and give her a full set of clothes?

And Cernadas' last point is actually completely true. If we want to make a true role reversal of sexualization (and not just "hypermasculinity", which is the poor argument that women and men are both equally disenfranchised because the men in games are hypermuscular and attractive), games would need to be all about beautiful, competent women whose male, just-slightly-weaker sidekicks are all dressed like they fell out of a strip joint. FFXII was almost nailed it...almost.

In writing, a similar litmus test exists that would completely apply to games: Every time your female character thinks/speaks/speaks with other women, does a romantic or sexual relationship come up in some form? Apply that to your female game characters and also add whether or not they're always dressed sexually or have to rely on their feminine wiles. If so, she may be strong and she may kick ass, but only at the behest of her rockin' tits, insatiable libido, or unending desire to be in a relationship.

Pete said:

Well put luminum, your mentioning of a litmus test reminds me of the Bechdel Test for movies, which I'm sure many of you are familiar with. Many movies don't meet the three simple criteria of the test, and I imagine even fewer video games meet the criteria. It's not a difficult test to pass; it's not even remotely close to the criteria that would be required to mark a film as a feminist film, but it is surprising what doesn't make the cut.

BrookeTF said:

Here here, Luminum. I want to see more female protagonists like Female Commander Shepard, Faith from Mirror's Edge, Samus Aran, Kate Wilson (Hydrophobia), Shanoa (Castlevania), Chell, Amaterasu, Jill Valentine (certain games excluded *coughre5cough*), Lightning (FFXIII), Joanna Dark (First game only) and the new grittier, flatter Lara Croft.
As much as I'd like to tell myself Bayonetta is awesome, whenever I play that game I just find myself getting distracted by her giant, occasionally naked ghetto booty. >_> She may kick ass but she was clearly designed as some kind of fetish sex dominatrix wet dream. I have my game heroine idols and Bayonetta isn't one of them.

Henshin A Go Joe said:

Good responses! I like the idea of tracking how female characters speak to each other, I'd heard of a similar test for movies as well.

What it boils down to is what are the ultimate goals of gender equality in the world of the game itself? What is it people ultimately want: for companies to stop designing sexy female protagonists or to stop doing it so well? Where is the line being drawn? It slides around so much during this debate: One minute we can't have damsels in distress, the other we can't have outwardly powerful women without a dress code.

Personally: If a female character, in her own game stands strong above her enemies/challenges and the world of that game is willing to accept it, so am I. No matter what she's wearing.

And girls who like girls who like rumble packs!

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Henshin A Go Joe on Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough: Good responses! I like the idea of tracking how female characters speak to each other, I'd heard of a similar...

BrookeTF on Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough: Here here, Luminum. I want to see more female protagonists like Female Commander Shepard, Faith from Mirror's Edge, Samus Aran,...

Pete on Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough: Well put luminum, your mentioning of a litmus test reminds me of the Bechdel Test for movies, which I'm sure...

luminum on Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough: I think you can argue that Bayonetta is a strong female character, but that is always subject to the litmus...

questie on Girl Gamer On NPR Has Had Enough: Male characters are also oversexed but not nearly as much as females. Simple solution: equally oversex both....

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