Why can’t feminists just leave our games alone?

FemiFeliciaDayFlip

Pardon me if this statement is trite, boring, or totes obvious to you and yours: Feminists love to play videogames too. Are we on the same page here? Hopefully yes. Because when I see articles like “Chaos Between Gamers and Feminist: Is the Gaming Industry Doomed?” I get all screwy in the face.

Why your face so screwy?

FemiFuschia

I’ve been playing videogames for a very long time. That banner on the top of my page? I made it over the course of probably a month, pixel by pixel, after coming home from a dead-end super crap job. In-between polishing it up (Did you notice the needler shards in Master Chief’s armor? The Vic Viper and Raiden Mk II tearing up the sky? The Prince tending a garden on Majora’s-fucking-Moon?) I played a crap-ton of Spelunky. That was pretty much my life at that point: Dead-end job, pixel art, Spelunky. At that videogame-immersed point in my life, I was a nascent, budding feminist. Gasp!

Spelunky, that game in which gender representation is absolutely not equal, wherein an intrepid male explorer rescues a helpless, pitiful damsel in distress who is essentially just a sexualized prop and/or health powerup. You know what? I still love Spelunky. Unreservedly. I have Spelunky saved to my external hard drive, forever. I have X360 Spelunky, PS4 Spelunky, and Vita Spelunky. I love Spelunky. I will destroy you if you say I’m not allowed to love Spelunky.

In fact, I still love the exact same types of games that I did in the 20-some years before I even thought I might be feminist. So when I saw the above article, I had to wonder: Did the author never even consider that feminists could also be gamers?

Yeah but feminists just whine about games like constantly

FemiLeague3

The chief argument against feminists seems to be that they are shrew-like harpies (contradiction!) that exist only to ruin everyone else’s fun. Everything great about gaming? Feminists don’t like it. Killstreaks, digitized boobies, men doing anything at all. You name it, feminists hate that thing.

My question is this: Where have you been? Go on any videogame forum and try to tell me everyone doesn’t hate everything. Nintendo: Stupid baby bullshit. Indie games: What are they even. Mass Effect 3: So bad the internet baked cupcakes. Gamers are mad all the time because they really effing love videogames.

The same holds true for feminists. We be like, argh!, why can’t this game just not have a non-dumb portrayal of women? I don’t even need to play as a cool sassy weapon-toting badass bitch; I just want this lady convo to be more interesting than watching my autistic cat licking the damned shoe rack again. But the thing is, we’re playing these dumbass, trite motherfucking games because we love them. My girlfriend can rant for literal hours about how mad Silent Hill makes her. Literal. Hours. Fun fact: Silent Hill is her favorite damned game series, and don’t you even try to say that Silent Hill 4 isn’t “true” Silent Hill fucker because that game is bomb and true psychological horror plus also Joe Romersa’s vocals on Cradle of Forest are sexy audio man-candy, pure fact, deal with it.

There are lots of problems with the videogame industry. Tons. And people love to complain about them. People talk about the games they love, the games they hate, and can we please just kill cover shooters once and for all. Sometimes, gamers just want games to be better. Feminist gamers want that too—that’s just part of being a fan.

But all the games will be pink

FemiPinkStare

Most women do not want all games to be “girl games.” They don’t want to be pandered to, and they don’t want to radically change the face of gaming. The women I know personally have a strong and inexplicable love for first person shooters and survival horror games. I don’t really get it, but there it is. It’s almost like they enjoy the same types of games that guys do.

But hey! That doesn’t mean everything’s perfect in gamer-world. There are very few positive female role models and very few leading ladies in videogames. You’ll note that I didn’t say “strong women.” That’s a phrase that gets a lot of flack, and rightly so, because it misrepresents the issue. When people hear about “strong” characters, they take it to mean “perfect” characters, flawless even. I don’t want that. Perfect characters are boring. I want female characters with substance, with motivation, characters who screw up, characters who feel like they could exist outside their one line of dialogue. And I want that from male characters, too.

This is a big sticking point for people, because What Exactly Do Feminists Want From Female Characters? Bayonetta is a textbook example. Feminists love her for owning her sexuality; feminists hate her for pandering to the male gaze. There’s no winning! The fact is that different people have different opinions. Some gamers prefer Call of Duty and some prefer Battlefield, even though they’re the same damned game.

Most feminist women don’t want a million hidden object games and visual novel samurai romances. They want the same types of games that guys want, because play is a culturally inherited cool thing. But they do want characters that they can relate to, characters who do more than look (vaguely) like them.

That’s not the only problem, or even the main problem. Women are excluded from conversations because they’re assumed by default to know nothing about videogames. Teammates treat them differently after they finally speak over voicechat. Women are harassed in online games, then attacked on blogs and forums if they speak out about that harassment. A lot of guys seem to think that feminists want preferential treatment for women, but that’s not the case. What we want is for women to be accepted—and treated like anyone else.

Feminism just sucks the fun out of everything though

FemiKids

Secret confessions time: I enjoy multimedia entertainments a lot more when I view them through a feminist lens. A lot of people seem to think criticism kills fun, and that feminist criticism is the most fun-killing type of criticism around. It simply ain’t true.

Tell me: Do you love every single piece of media you consume? Do you love Super Mario Kart and Borderlands and Superman 64 and Psychonauts and Bubsy 3D and Zork and Bejeweled? If you answered no, you don’t love every game in the world, then congrats! At some point in your life you’ve been a critic. You’ve decided what you do and don’t like, and you’ve maybe even thought about why.

I can have problems with a game through one critical lens but be totally fine with it through another. I would say that 99% of the games I own are really, really dumb in some way, and I can say that without even applying any feminist criticism at all. That doesn’t stop me from loving those games, playing them to death, and arguing about them when I should be sleeping.

Debating feminist issues with man and lady-friends is fun as hell. Half the time they don’t even know you’re going feminist on them, and if you’re a dude it keeps everyone on their toes. Somehow though, as soon as they realize you’re applying a feminist critique, that’ll drain all the fun out of a conversation, right? Because feminism. You don’t like Yoshi’s Island because Yoshi’s flutter jumps take a hundred years—whatever. I don’t like Call of Duty because it’s fucking dumb. Oh, and because everyone’s a dude in that game.

I’m a dude, I should know! Dudes are just terrible.

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8 Responses to “Why can’t feminists just leave our games alone?”

  1. vahrkalla Says:

    I enjoy seeing multiple perspectives on games criticism and the feminist angle is a booming one, you see it in a lot of places nowadays. You can quote me on saying that current mainstream feminist critique is laughable, not because any of it is particularly poor but because there’s so much internal disagreement. Please don’t take what I have just said as a personal attack on yourself or your writing, it’s really not, I actually enjoyed reading this 🙂

    I do have a few things to say though, and this is in regard to why people have a widespread disdain for current feminist critique:

    The Bayonetta case you presented is a perfect example of why people are sceptical of this type criticism, criticism of any kind is made to help the consumer know whether to buy a game or not, and it is made in hopes of advancing the medium. When no one can agree with each other on a particularly divisive title like Bayonetta, unfortunately, any criticism of it is redundant. That’s not to say that the people who laugh or laud at it are wrong, but they can never be right either. How can you use the criticism if no one fully agrees with it?

    Secondly, feminist criticism is never objective criticism. You can objectively say that a female character is being represented as a damsel in distress, but you can never ever explain why this is objectively bad. You can never show a statistic that says that these kind of representations reinforce gender stereotypes in society. Again, this doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it remains as theory and not objective criticism. I sympathise with this, as I have written thousands of words on why I am conflicted with Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes’ story, but unfortunately you can never prove that what I said is right or relevant. Subjective criticism is always dogmatic, it can be cathartic, beautifully written, but it is always dogmatic. I can say that Ground Zeroes was gratuitously violent, and someone can say ‘no it’s not’ and it can only ever end there. You can say ‘representation matters’, someone else can come along and say ‘no it doesn’t’ and you can’t provide facts or statistics to prove that it does.

    Another thing is that you mention that once feminist opinions are brought into a conversation, the conversation becomes dull. I would personally disagree with this. Although the journalism side of feminist critique is pretty buggered, I think it’s buggered because that’s absolutely not where discussion happens. It’s lengthy articles that often never consider different opinions and are mostly products of an echo chamber. Discussion is imperative, and I would think that discussion is always happening between other feminists if not between feminists and others.

    This piece happened to be more discursive than most, and I enjoyed.

    (MANDATORY PLUG) You may be interested in this piece I wrote: https://vahrkallasvideogames.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/female-protagonists-are-they-an-issue-or-do-we-make-them-one/

  2. catstronaut Says:

    Thanks for the comment! It’s always nice to get a well thought-out response 🙂 And by that token, your post makes a couple of points I’d like to respond to as well:

    1. “criticism of any kind is made to help the consumer know whether to buy a game or not”

    I think this viewpoint is a symptom of videogame criticism and review score fetishism in particular. I absolutely do not believe this to be true; I’d say that the purpose of criticism is not to say “should you play/watch/read this” but “why is this important” and “how can we make meaning out of this?”

    The most important role of a critic is not to make sure people play what’s good or avoid what’s bad, but to advance new ways of thinking about a work. For me, Roger Ebert wasn’t a great critic because he could tell me if something was worth my time or not, he was great because he could tell me why, as well as lead me to a deeper understanding of films I’d already seen.

    Somebody who didn’t have a ton of experience watching films could read Roger Ebert’s reviews and say “Aha! These are the things I should be paying attention to.” And through that criticism, they could form a structural paradigm that would allow them to assess other movies, and enjoy them on a deeper level.

    2. “When no one can agree with each other on a particularly divisive title like Bayonetta, unfortunately, any criticism of it is redundant. That’s not to say that the people who laugh or laud at it are wrong, but they can never be right either. How can you use the criticism if no one fully agrees with it?”

    Just because all feminists can’t agree on whether Bayonetta is a strong/good/cool female character does not in any way undermine feminism as a critical tool or mode of discourse. As I’ve said, people have differing opinions even within the feminist paradigm, and that’s totally okay.

    As an example, I might ask you: Is Bill Gates a good person? Now, you and I both understand what a “good person” is. That’s obvious, right? You might say something like, “Well, Bill Gates has agreed to donate his entire fortune to humanitarian causes. That makes him a very altruistic person, which is good.” I, on the other hand, might say “Well, he’s donating all of his wealth to charity and not leaving anything for his children. Sacrificing the welfare of one’s own family so that you can *look* altruistic isn’t good at all!” And so, even though we each have a clear fix on (probably many, many) attributes that can make somebody “good,” we can arrive at a totally different conclusion of whether somebody is good or not.

    Bayonetta is tough; she’s cool. She doesn’t take any shit. She’s unique. But she’s obviously sexualized past any human limits, just look at the ridiculous arching of her back. And is it really a good thing that she uses her sexuality in such an exploitative way?

    That’s up to the individual to decide, and that’s a strength of any paradigm rather than a weakness. One of the earlier phases of childhood development is “X is good, Y is bad.” Truth is good, lying is bad. But that’s not really realistic. Is lying bad if it saves somebody’s life? Eventually morality goes from clear black and white to shades of gray, which depend on context. Any good philosophical model will be similarly pliable.

    3. “You can objectively say that a female character is being represented as a damsel in distress, but you can never ever explain why this is objectively bad. You can never show a statistic that says that these kind of representations reinforce gender stereotypes in society. Again, this doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it remains as theory and not objective criticism.”

    Are you ready for this? There is no such thing as objective criticism; all criticism is subjective. You cannot say objectively that a female character is being represented as a damsel in distress. What is distress? By what bar is it established? Is she a damsel or is she a hag? Does our universe exist, or is it a projection on a screen?

    However, and this is important: We must move beyond this if we are to argue anything at all. The idea that nothing can truly be known is called “relativism,” and it is absolutely infuriating trying to talk to a relativist because nothing can be talked about. One thing I find jarring about your articles is that they’re overly relativist. I think this is because you want to be fair to all sides, but after reading some of your pieces, I end up unsure of what exactly you’re trying to say.

    The way to critique a work is not through objectivity, it is through subjective reasoning. You and I both have words and phrases that we generally agree mean the same thing, and so we manipulate those to try and reach a common understanding of a subject. There’s nothing objective about it. If I want to say “slavery is bad,” I don’t point at charts and graphs involving the economy. Instead I discuss the (very subjective) emotional impact that the institution of slavery is having on a group of people.

    In order to criticize a work, we examine it from a million subjective angles that have been culturally arranged into a working paradigm or gestalt. We can never “prove” a single thing in this world. So we need to provide reasons that appeal to common (subjective) experience regarding the perceived (subjective) understandings of how the world works.

    4. “I can say that Ground Zeroes was gratuitously violent, and someone can say ‘no it’s not’ and it can only ever end there. You can say ‘representation matters’, someone else can come along and say ‘no it doesn’t’ and you can’t provide facts or statistics to prove that it does.”

    The beauty of criticism is that you can say “Ground Zeroes is gratuitously violent because of X Y and Z,” and I can say “No it’s not because, um, huuuuuuuuuh.” And then others will see the debate and they will totally agree with you, because you’ve articulated your subjective points in a way that’s made sense and logically follows your argument.

    5. “Another thing is that you mention that once feminist opinions are brought into a conversation, the conversation becomes dull.”

    I argued the opposite. Feminist thought has livened up a great many of my conversations. The only time it clams people up is when they realize you’re talking from a feminist perspective and immediately clam up because of a knee-jerk reaction to feminism. I can say with confidence that I’ve had a great many conversations, and increased my understanding and love of a great many games/shows/movies because I could apply a feminist critical lens to it. If I knew of more critical lenses that I could learn and apply that would give me equal pleasure, I would do so in a heartbeat.

    6. “I think it’s buggered because that’s absolutely not where discussion happens. It’s lengthy articles that often never consider different opinions and are mostly products of an echo chamber. Discussion is imperative, and I would think that discussion is always happening between other feminists if not between feminists and others.”

    This is the nature of arguments, especially online ones. Two people feel two different ways, and end up shouting at each other and digging in their heels. Oftentimes, this is just because both sides are bad at arguing, and don’t really want to hear what the other person has to say. If you’ve ever sat in on an argument between somebody who watches Fox News and somebody who doesn’t, then you know what this is like.

    I don’t think this is a weakness of feminism; I just think it’s a weakness of people who get too caught up in one paradigm (any paradigm!) accusing others of being closed-minded buttholes. Turning things into a shouting match is *not helpful,* no matter who’s right and who’s wrong. Eventually nobody’s even hearing what the other person is saying and everyone’s pissed off.

    Whew, that was too much text @_@ Like, as much text as the original article, maybe. So I’ma stop here. But thanks for commenting, and thanks for writing a lot of interesting WordPress articles. Keep on bloggin!

  3. Gesina Says:

    Dude this whole post makes me so happy. I wish I had anything intelligent to offer but basically my response is yes, yes, yes.

  4. vahrkalla Says:

    These are good points, you really sold me on the relativism argument, I’d never heard of relativism before now. There are a couple of things I would say to this, though:

    Firstly, I actually completely agree with you that criticism shouldn’t SOLELY be a buyer’s guide. You worded it better than me, but I also believe that criticism should have an element of cultural commentary which developers should use in hopes of advancing the medium.

    And it is on that note that, unfortunately, I still think that divided criticism of Bayonetta, in the progressive context, is redundant. I think this because if PlatinumGames were to create a third instalment of Bayonetta, based of the divisive criticism of the second, the third instalment would have the exact same critical divide, and in this sense nothing would have changed or progressed. I absolutely agree with you that the most effective criticism should instigate a discussion within the individual, but this same, fascinating divide really does confuse developers.

    Also, sorry, I worded it badly, I meant that you were insinuating that to an outsider the conversation may become dull if a feminist opinion is inserted, not to yourself.

    Apart from that, these were all fair points and I enjoy discussions like this 🙂

    In regards to the relativism of my articles, I don’t tend to try and make a point with them, I tend to summarise arguments for and against topics, so that someone reading with a certain disposition hopefully gets to understand someone else’s.

    Look forward to more writing from you 🙂

  5. Laura E. Says:

    As a currently broke gamer, but a gamer since I was 8. I really just want to go back to enjoying videogames the way I used to when I was little. Being able to like a game and not being accused of being fake or not-hardcore enough. Also there’s the whole rape/death threats thing that scares the fuck out of me from saying, “Hey, I actually hated Legend of Dragoon.” Also being broke means I’ve had to sell off a damn good chunk of my vast collection for college. So there goes my street cred.

    It seems like the term feminist is being used the same way boogeyman would to children. Oh, no the feminists are gonna take away your Leisure Suit Larry games. They’re coming after Tifa’s pointy boobs next! It just seems like a way to prevent a dialog about games from happening.

    Games are not games, they are art and storytelling. We can discuss films and books without this turning into an all or nothing fight. We can talk about the racist bullshit in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but we can’t say anything problematic about storytelling in videogames. This really does make it harder for games to evolve past kids toys, if they can’t get critiqued.

    Roger Ebert, Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael, would’ve gotten doxxed so much if they were game reviews and not film critics. And that’s what game publishers want. They want their games to be above critique cause that means consumers will be ok with it, and if they’re ok with one thing, then they’ll let other things slide too.

    Pretty soon you’ve got the makers of Duke Nukem running a promotion: “Hey, don’t let feminists kill Duke, buy this $60 game and the $80 DLC to keep him alive! And if you don’t put in $20 extra for the special edition, you can’t use guns in the game. You get to run around like a pansy pacifist because you let the feminists win.”

    • catstronaut Says:

      Yeah, I definitely agree. There’s an entirely anti-critical bent surrounding games journalism; if you say anything bad about a game that doesn’t directly tie into the game’s mechanics, then you’re automatically wrong. It’s like videogame nationalism (Videogames are good! Good gamers must say positive things about videogames!), and it’s preventing interesting conversations from happening in the videogame space. I want games journalism to be a place where writers feel free to express their honest opinion, and can allow videogames to be more than a clustering of mechanics and graphics.

      Also, I want you to know that I’ve heard many people say Legend of Dragoon is total garbage. You are not alone!

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