By now, dear readers, you have probably heard about the Eurogamer interview yesterday with Gearbox about Borderlands 2 and what happened with their lead designer, John Hemingway. If you haven't, well, it got a bit sexist. Literally, just a bit. A single implication turned the internet into another storm of controversy concerning the role of women in gaming.
When talking about the Mecromancer, a DLC class to be added to the game after release, Hemingway described a skill tree called Best Friends Forever, which uses an array of abilities such as ricocheting bullets to help players that "suck." It's supposed to help newbies get a grasp on the mechanics of first person shooters and bring them into the genre, which can, admittedly, be daunting to the uninitiated.
Unfortunately, he described it as "Girlfriend Mode." It didn't go over well.
"The design team was looking at the concept art and thought, you know what, this is actually the cutest character we've ever had. I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree. This is, I love Borderlands and I want to share it with someone, but they suck at first-person shooters. Can we make a skill tree that actually allows them to understand the game and to play the game? That's what our attempt with the Best Friends Forever skill tree is."
Normally, such a slight and casual example of sexism would not be enough to set off my prejudice alarms, and this was no exception. I was much more interested in a major FPS release going the extra mile to make their game more casual-player accessible without sacrificing difficulty (though, it is via DLC, so it's not that much more accessible).
But that's just me, and writers much more diligent and talented than I raised their digital pens and said, "Hey, not cool." Gearbox has done some apologizing and the drama has essentially subsided. The beauty of it, however, has yet to be fully realized.
It's not okay to be sexist in video games anymore. We all know that. The fallout from the Tomb Raider and Hitman trailers this summer proved that large, blunt depictions of tired sexist tropes and threats of rape do not sit right with this community. And today we saw that small, offhand remarks are not okay either.
The comment was probably relatively innocent and few people really think John Hemingway is a secret misogynist trying to bring down the status of women. It was just an easy way to get his point across, right?. But that's the point of this internet drama.
Even tiny comments do bring others down and reinforce outdated stereotypes. They have an annoying tendency to push into people's subconsciousness and covertly spread prejudice. Basically, it wouldn't have made any sense calling a gameplay style designed for people that suck "Girlfriend Mode" if we didn't already think on some level that girlfriends suck at games.
Of course, today's "Girlfriend Mode" was a relatively small incident and no one expects misogynists to suddenly question their morals and decide to change before going to sleep tonight. No one's calling for any resignations or anything absurd like that. A small crime deserves a small punishment, and I certainly think Mr. Hemingway and Gearbox have had theirs.
But if we can keep the dialogue open and continue root out these easy-to-miss incidents, real change is possible.
We here at gaygamer.net love our Minecraft, and can you blame us? A testament to the strength of indie game development, Minecraft has built one of the single biggest followings in the entire gaming world. And of course, it's just good old fashioned addictive fun.
Now we have even more reason to love it, after original creator Markus "Notch" Persson took to his tumblr blog to share his thoughts on gender and sexuality in the game.
[Keep in mind I am no longer the lead developer on Minecraft, Jens is. This post is about what I thought about back when I was making it]
If it wasn't for the fact that the default Minecraft character is referred to as "Minecraft Guy" and that I once jokingly answered "Steve?" when asked what his* name was, Minecraft would be a game where gender isn't a gameplay element.
The human model is intended to represent a Human Being. Not a male Human Being or a female Human Being, but simply a Human Being. The blocky shape gives it a bit of a traditional masculine look, but adding a separate female mesh would just make it worse by having one specific model for female Human Beings and male ones. That would force players to make a decisions about gender in a game where gender doesn't even exist.
All the other mobs in the game are genderless and usually exhibit the most prominent traits of both genders. Cows have horns and udders (even if I've later learned that there are some cows where the females do have horns), and the chicken/duck/whatevers have heads that look like roosters, but still lay eggs. For breeding, any animal can breed with any other animal of the same species.
Obviously, I'm not saying this is a good way to deal with gender in all games, as the better your graphics are, and because of how quickly the human mind tries to identify the gender of other humans, you are going to have to make a decision as a developer about gender, but I felt we could get away with it in Minecraft.
There's no point to this post. I just wanted to clarify, so there's an official word on it.
Also, as a fun side fact, it means every character and animal in Minecraft is homosexual because there's only one gender to choose from. Take THAT, homophobes!
* I do regret using masculine terms to talk about the default character. These days I try to use the up-and-coming use of "they" as a genderless pronoun.
Quite the one two punch for gender and sexuality representation in gaming. Thanks Notch!
I want to tell you a story about boys, girls, and macho bros raging at fighting game tournaments. But before we get there I have to tell you a bit about myself. See, I'm a trans woman and a gamer.
When I was growing up gaming was a boys' club activity. Which was great -- folks saw me as a boy, after all -- and blinded me to just how much the "girls can't play games" mentality had dug its way into my brain. I grew up with games about army dudes and starships and testosterone-fueled gore fests. Of course girls didn't play games! Sexism is like an ear-worm; it burrows deep into the unconscious mind until it's uncovered by some sort of cognitive dissonance.
I'd been lucky enough to know some awesome gamers in college who complained loudly about how women are presented in video games, but again, girls-don't-play-games was hard to overturn when girls weren't around to play them (going to an all-male college ensures such). It wasn't until after college that I got a chance to break the the spell by, well, becoming a woman.
Great little webcomic for y'all today from the routinely entertaining Manly Guys Doing Manly Things by Coelasquid. This one is all about Poison...and the way her transgendered status is addressed is not only funny, but extremely trans-positive. In a surprising change of pace for the internet, even the commenters on the comic were largely trans-positive as well, though it seems that most of them aren't aware that "tranny" is usually used as a pejorative term in the same category as "faggot", so feel free to hop on over and respectfully educate them as they've just got incomplete dictionary definitions.
I don't think I'd qualify for more than a coffee date, but what about you, gaymers? Any of you think you'd have a chance with Poison?
When an entire planet of hot topless Martians mysteriously rises up in arms against you, what's a lesbian spider-queen to do? Why, grab your crystal sceptre, recapture the entire slave population, and solve the mystery of who started the rebellion in the first place that's what!
And in Adult Swim Games' Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars that's exactly what you'll be doing.
It's no secret that the portrayal of women in gaming has a bit of a muddy past. Whether it's a princess that always needs rescuing, a fragile mage who needs someone to help her control her power, or even just the main character's love interest - gaming's biggest and brightest females have almost never been allowed to shine as much as their male counterparts.
However, one MMA franchise is seeking to change that: CVG interviewed Ricci Rukavina, the co-founder of indie developer Kung Fu Foundry about their upcoming game based on the Supremacy league, which includes female fighters in all their muscle-bound glory, with no more skimp or sass than their real-life counterparts show off.
Rukavina notes the contrast between their game and more traditional fighters: "I would say the main difference is women are typically represented in those games with an exaggerated sense of body proportion and are often times overtly sexualized." He cites the ridiculous size of certain characters' assets from Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive, which itself has a long history of giving some truly ridiculous angles on its fighting crowd.
Of course, as any market-focused executive should, KFF's co-founder also focuses on the competition. "THQ's UFC game doesn't feature women because Dana White has all but banned women from ever competing in the UFC. Strikeforce is definitely more ahead of the times than UFC as they promote female fighters on their fight cards, but EA chose to exclude them."
Also conspicuously absent are any images so far of a female fighting a male in Supremacy. Given that another one of the features they hope to draw attention to is the 'brutal, no-holds-barred combat,' it's almost worrying to think of the reaction to the first video or demo online where a muscle-bound champ is beating the hell out of a female muscle-bound champ.
In an ideal and perfect world, there wouldn't be any alarm or distress from such an image--they both signed their contracts and are ostensibly getting paid to hurt each other for our entertainment, so what does the gender matter? However, the world we live in is one where some women's experience with a bloodied face was far more real--and traumatic--than any game.
Personally, I'm not of the opinion that development studios should pull any punches (ha!) when it comes to including female fighters as good and proper equals in the arena of MMA combat. However, the specter looms for any game that gets published to end up spinning into controversy because a single M-rated image crosses the desk of a Fox News anchor.
Though, is that so bad?
You know all of those stories that have been floating around forever about the effects of gaming on young children and how won't someone please think of them? This is another one of those, but as a change of pace it's awesome instead of stupid. Bonus points: it's all about the lady gamers.
You know the arguments: games corrupt the minds of youth to make them amoral violent psychopaths with a penchant for beating hookers. Or something. Professor Sarah Coyne from Brigham Young University (yes, that BYU, but stick with me on this) has conducted a study whose results fly in the face of that bit of conventional wisdom. According to a study of 287 families with adolescent children, daughters who gamed with their parents "behaved better, felt more connected to their families, and had stronger mental health." For the sons, video gaming with family wasn't a significant factor for those same categories.
The games selected were age-appropriate, so no "M" titles were used, and the girls seemed to favor more cooperative games such as Rock Band and Mario Brothers (though which Mario entry is not specified), while the boys went with the more directly competitive titles like Halo and Call of Duty.
It's worth acknowledging that this is a small study and it's entirely possible that this is the result of correlation, not causation, and they explicitly admit that "It's also possible that the time boys play with parents doesn't stand out as much because they spend far more time playing with friends." Still, it's a fascinating result and I like that they plan to explore the basis behind these differences with further exploration in their overall study. Hopefully this study will surface again with even more interesting results. In the meantime, mom and dad, get your girl to game!
Like a lot of gaming issues, the lack of quality female protagonists is not a new one, but thankfully is one that is gathering more steam as time goes on. Just yesterday Henshin A Go Joe reported
on a teen gamer writing a piece for NPR about her frustration with female video game protagonists. Also yesterday, an article over at The Border House
picked up a rant from Microsoft Games Studios developer Tom Abernathy about the lack of female protagonists in games. He says in part:
I'm tired of those of us who care in the game industry complaining that there aren't enough female protagonists while those of them who make the money decisions keep responding, "Gee, we'd love to, but the market data is clear. They just won't buy it." I hear that from WOMEN in those money/marketing positions, too. And they say it while agreeing with the principle of the thing. Since when did it become okay to NOT do something we know is in best interests of our kids, just because our profits won't be as obscene? I am all for obscene profits, but I want my daughter to see and play characters she can relate to. SHE wants that; nobody put it in her head.
The part of Abernathy's quote that really gets my interest is the "data" the decision makers are referring to. What "data" is surrounding games with female protagonists that suggests gamers don't want them? I have theories.