Tag Archives: sexism

Dickwolves and False Equivalency

So… Been a tough week for women in gaming .

The most recent controversy to hit gaming concerns Penny Arcade, and a comic concerning the Dickwolf.  Check out this link for a very detailed timeline, including links, of this debacle.

I think by the tone of this blog, you may get where I stand on this issue. However, I have been trying to figure out the other side’s argument. I gotta practise what I preach.

Let’s see: A piece of art is accused of promoting rape culture. Accusations of censorship arise.

Wait. I think I have heard this one before.

A piece of art is accused of promoting violence. Accusations of censorship arise.

Is this JT (Jack Thompson, noted anti-gaming activist)all over again? Is this why members of the gaming community have circled the wagons on this one? If this is the reason why some gamers are supporting PennyArcade, here is why the dickwolves-promote-rape-culture controversy is a false equivalent to violence-in-games-make-people murderers controversy.

1. Bringing down the dickwolves t-shirts or even calling for a retraction of rape jokes is not censorship. Calling upon the judicial system to make it harder to purchase games is censorship.

Remember, you or I can’t censor anything. We can make our displeasure known. We can implore others to boycott. But we can’t censor anything: only the government and the lawmakers can censor. The dickwolves controversy is some gamers stating (loudly) that certain actions aren’t okay, in their eyes. There was a business decision in response to stop selling the offending merchandise.

JT bringing an argument before the Florida judicial system is trying to censor games. Not the same thing.

2. One argument stated that the art would cause an individual to act in a reprehensible manner. The other argument stated that the art in question adds to a culture in which reprehensible acts are minimized, such that victims no longer come forward to report crimes, and thus further victimized. The minimization of the act makes it easier for reprehensible people to justify their reprehensible acts.

No one said that the dickwolves joke, or the t-shirt would make a person rape someone. Rape culture is a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women is common, where sexual violence is excused and encouraged. A quote from shakesville on a description of rape culture:

… Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what they wear and how they wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust, what you do, where you do it, with whom you do it, what you drink, how much you drink, whether you make eye contact, if you’re alone, if you’re with a stranger, if you are in a group, if you are in a group of strangers, if it’s dark, if the area is unfamiliar, if you carry something, how you carry it, what kind of shoes you are wearing in case you have to run, what kind of purse you carry, what kind of jewellery you wear, what time it is, what street it is, what environment it is, how many people you sleep with, what kind of people you sleep with, who your friends are, to whom you give your number, who’s around when the delivery guy comes, to get an apartment where you can see who’s at the door before they can see you, to check before you open the door for the delivery guy, to own a dog or a dog-sounding-machine, to get a roommate, to take self-defense, to always be alert, to always pay attention, always watch your back, always be aware of your surroundings, and never let your guard down lest you be sexually assaulted and if you are and you didn’t follow these rules it’s your fault.

The argument in a nutshell is that the dickwolves controversy is one of a multitude of things that promote this rape culture, a culture that we all live in, and why promote it if we don’t have to? Art A (plus C, plus D, plus E, etc) leads to a place in which act B is minimized to the point where B is normalized and then brushed aside.

The violence in games argument was such that playing a violent game would make individuals who played that game more predisposed to violent acts. Art A leads to individual performing act B.

Again: these two arguments are not the same.

3. The arguments against the controversy in one case held up the theory as true and on one case did not.

The arguments that were made, that the PA guys were in the right and that there is no such thing as rape culture contributed to rape culture. What did we hear? That rape victims should get over it, thus minimizing the effects of rape. That rape victims weren’t really raped and should provide evidence supporting the fact that they were raped. Strawman arguments from PennyArcade saying that rape culture means that guys will go out and rape a woman if he reads a comic. See- rape culture is idiotic! There were people who sent disgusting emails to rape victims saying that they wished that they would be raped to death. Victimize the victim for speaking out. That feminists should get a sense of humour – deflecting the actual argument by attacking the person making the argument.

On the other hand, when JT was making his arguments, no gamer went out and assaulted him and thus confirmed his theory.

All this to say, sometimes gamers, we are just too sensitive to anyone telling us that our passion is somehow wrong. I get it. We have a supreme court date to decide the fate of mature gaming and all that. However, the way in which we can respond to criticism is telling. Why can we not sit back and think for a minute? Why are we incapable of saying that the criticism is correct and maybe yes- we need to clean up our act. When it comes to sexism and gaming, why do gamers deny that it exists?

There is nobility in self-reflection, contemplation and change, it’s not a weakness.

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Geek Feminism – On Catfights and How We Can Possibly Get it Together

I hate the term “catfight.”  It often trivialized when women had genuine disagreements with one another. “Haha – the Ladies are all in a lather! Sexy!”

But, perhaps in the geek world: we women have been guilty of bringing each other down. Meow!

This topic was explored in an amazing post on GamingAngels.com, please read and comment. It is truly a wonderful piece, inspired by geekfeminism.org.

As I stated yesterday, I honestly believe that in gaming culture we don’t do that great of a job at picking up on social issues. Personally, I find that social issues are often hand dismissed as “stupid PC BS by Really Stupid People who Love Censorship.” Now, this isn’t always the case, obviously, but that sentiment is out there.

Some readers and gamers are thoughtful, critical people who engage. Others just don’t understand why these social issues mean more to other people, or why other people see and experience sexism when they don’t. It’s a question of privilege, and I know I can’t change that. Still others, well… are just nasty and condescending: they fight the person and not the issue. Debate on issues I love. Straw-feminist rants: not so much.

I have seen this often, and for some reason, I am always more surprised when it is other women who mock and deride these issues and each other.

I think that by dismissing the sexism you are protected from it. I know I have been less happy with gaming, gamers and geek culture in general since I started to see the sexism that is rampant. Once your eyes are opened to it, you can’t ever go back. And, personally, the lack of decent discourse is even worse. I’m a talker. I need to talk these issues through, yet I sometimes feel like I am one woman fighting this alone.

It was gamer culture and gaming that made me a feminist. Now I stand here, wondering how to proceed and not knowing what to do.

Gamers: Let’s All Pick a Lane, Shall We?

Let's pick a lane. Where do we want to be?

We gamers have been under fire for ages.

We’re constantly told that our passion is juvenile at best; will turn children into godless murdering monsters at worst. Lately, the argument against our hobby has been more subtle and yet, more dismissive. Games are not art, and therefore not really worth taking seriously.

As a community, we have responded with a one-two punch against the nay-sayers: we are well informed with facts about our hobby (“Well, actually, the grand majority of games are rated ‘E’ for Everyone and so aren’t violent”) and, yes, sometimes we have been known to engage in all out on-line warfare (“This chick is an idiot! Let’s all give her book a one star rating on Amazon!”).

All in all: we defend, defend, defend. Everything is so fantastic in GamerWorld!

But I don’t think so.  I love gaming. I spend my free time writing this blog all about gaming. But I am not so in love with it that I’ve lost my reason.

We should be at the point where gamers must look at gaming with a more critical eye.  And sometimes that means we will have to acknowledge that the glass is not half full… in fact: some of the time, our glass is full of crap.  If we believe that games are art, as we’ve strenuously argued as of late, then we should be able to discuss the games at a higher level. To argue at a higher level means to acknowledge the flaws in our passion and in ourselves as members of this community.

Why is it that gamers tend to dismiss the homophobia, sexism and racism in our games and in our interactions with one another on-line? It’s as if the gamer culture thrives on being juvenile.  Tits or GTFO. See, we’re too cool and ironic to get worked up by mere political correctness.  If you can’t handle the homophobic, racist, sexist remarks on line well, then a) you are a whiny spineless worm — if this was 5 years ago I would add “hand in your man-card” — and b) get off of Xbox Live and let the REAL gamers play.

Perhaps there is also an ignorance, one born of privilege. A telling quote from N’Gai Croal and the Resident Evil 5 and racist imagery controversy:

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort  of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists?

While gamers don’t have control over the racism or sexism in the games themselves, we can control the dynamic in on-line gaming. Yet, here we also see ridiculous behaviour. In a study, it was found that women received three times the negative comments in Halo 3 than their male counterparts. This sexism can`t be blamed on the industry but must be placed squarely on the shoulders of gamers. The best we have come up with is `mute, report, pwn, a strategy which places all of the responsability for policing on the shoulders of victims of these remarks, and not on the enforcement teams at Sony or Microsoft. It also absolves other gamers from the responsability of acting on behalf of fellow gamers. We have become passive on lookers while others are harassed.

Yet we pretend that this culture  of juvenile behaviour does not exist when we have to prove that gaming is a serious and adult past time.  And so we start pulling out “The average gamer is over 30 years old and so this is an adult medium.” argument.

So which is it? Are we cool and ironic and so un-PC, or are we adults playing games that, like all works, are flawed on a social level.

In the face of the big “-isms” I find that the reaction from gamers is to ridicule, and dismiss, but rarely to engage.  As a result, we give two very counter intuitive arguments in regards to gaming:

  1. Games are HIGH Art DAMMIT. You should come to appreciate the medium as I do.
  2. It’s just a game: STFU.  GTFO and stop overanalyzing.

No wonder outsiders are confused. We’re confused. We can’t keep saying that games are high art, and then when faced with the baser elements say “it’s just a game”. We gotta pick a lane, be honest with ourselves and be prepared, educated and brave enough to be critical of ourselves and our hobby.

Nope. No sexism in games. None. What. So. Ever.

These arguments are not new. There are many gaming journalists who have run up against these attitudes and tried to argue the same arguments that I am making now. I am not surprised that people whose job it is to question and engage the industry are asking these questions. I am surprised, however, that gamers haven’t acknowledged these questions more often and demanded better by now.

Maybe the confusion is with me.

If games are art, then we treat it like an artform and not a pretty picture. That means learning, questioning and being critical. We must start reading more critically. It means we identify and we start getting angry when we see sexism, racism and homophobia within a game. It means we each denounce this type of behaviour online instead of leaving the victim to defend him or herself alone. We question and question until we are satisfied.

Or if it’s just a game, then fine — don’t argue back when people say it’s just for kids and it’s irrelevant.

All I ask is that we start picking a lane.

The point isn’t that you can’t have black zombies. There was a lot of imagery in that trailer that dovetailed with classic racist imagery. What was not funny, but sort of interesting, was that there were so many gamers who could not at all see it. Like literally couldn’t see it. So how could you have a conversation with people who don’t understand what you’re talking about and think that you’re sort of seeing race where nothing exists? residentevil5-03-281.jpg

Games for Non-Gamers- First Person Shooters (aka How Can I Get My Girlfriend to Play FPS)

I’m female, and often as a female gamer, I will get the question, “Yelling at Pixels, you reek of awesome. How can I get my girlfriend to play games?”  They say games – but often they really mean first person shooters. They secretly hope that somehow, their wife or girlfriend will pick up pokemon, love it, then graduate to Halo the next weekend. 

Halo 3

I'm usually the person NOT standing. Courtesy of IGN.com

 To that I say “Dude, you can’t make your girlfriend do or enjoy anything, because she is her own person with her own mind. I also don’t know your girlfriend. Women are not a monolith: we are not the same type of person with the same likes and dislikes because we all have a vagina. Some girls respond to the “shrink it and pink it” method of marketing, but others would puke if they played something cutesy.  In short: listen to what she wants to play in a game then figure it out for yourself.” 

This is the attitude I attempt to bring to this series. I try to say what type of person will possibly like the game, but I also caution that one must figure out what is working, what isn’t and then go from there.  This is going to be doubly true this time around as we take on perhaps the most difficult-to-enter gaming genre of them all: the first person shooter. 

Who May Enjoy First Person Shooters? 

Non-Gamers who have said the following: 

  • I really do want to try something fast, competitive and on-line.
  • I am fine with using a controller
  • I am fine with hearing some of the worst sexist, racist and juvenile language known to man
  • I am fine with people abusing me if I am not good at a game: this isn’t going to bother me
  • I like and want to be apart of a bigger online culture, this really appeals to me

And maybe/possibly: 

  • Alright, my significant other/ someone I care about/the entire gaming universe seems to have fun with this game: I just want to give it a try to see what is up.

What is it? First Person Shooters Defined for the Non-Gamer. 

The first person shooter (FPS) is a genre of game where “you” the character go around and… shoot things. The view-point is first person: i.e. it’s like you are looking through your own eyes onto the play area. Think Halo, Call of Duty and the like. In truth, I mentally include third person shooters, like Gears of War in this genre as well, since so much of the game mechanics are so similar. While all FPS shooters can be described this simply, they all have a slightly different feel. This slight difference in feel can make various FPS games feel much different from each other.

FPS have two main components. First is the single player campaign, where you play by yourself, or cooperatively with a partner, to save the day: just like any other game. However, it’s not really the single player campaign that makes the FPS as popular as it is, the multiplayer campaign tends to be the big draw. 

Multiplayer is where you play on-line with other people from around the world. You will need to have access to the on-line component: the game, an internet connection and if you are console gaming, access to the Playstation Network or XBox Live. 

Sometimes you can choose whatever game type you want, then go into a “lobby” of players waiting to start the match. Sometimes you can play with your own friends, and your leader will choose the game and the “rules” around the game. 

These “mini-games” come in many flavours, but can be broken into three big groups: 

  • Free-For-All (FFA) where you shoot every other player that you see. There are no teams.
  • Team Deathmatch (TDM) where you are put into one of two teams, you shoot anybody not on your team.
  • Objective based games – This is the gametype where you have something to “do.”  You may have to capture the other team’s flag (Capture the Flag: CTF) or shoot one target, or occupy a space. There is lots of variations here.

First Person Shooter Culture: (Warning: Here be Dragons) 

So far, everything sounds pretty good. Very fun, right? Why the trepidation? 

Multiplayer FPS has its own little subculture in gaming. This FPS subculture can be quite unforgiving, as there are many unwritten rules surrounding  how to play”properly.” Just for kicks, go into gaming forum and post “Camping: is it part of smart gameplay or is it cheating?”  Guaranteed, you will get pages upon pages of back and forth passion about one tiny aspect of this gaming subculture. Most of it will be heated to say the least. 

There are unwritten rules about what kind of “load out” to use, (some FPS let you have special abilities, some of these abilities are considered “cheap”) there are rules about what weapons to use (again, some are considered “cheap”). There are rules about how to play the game (i.e. ugh: don’t even get me started). No one agrees on these rules, and it’s rare to see a rational discussion about these things.

To top it all off, for some reason, FPSers can be both vocal and vulgar. If you are a woman you will hear more of it and will consist of anything from the benign (WHAT? You are a GIRL? REALLY!!) to full sexual harassment (guys will send you pictures of their boy-junk over Xbox Live – don’t open pictures from people who are not your friends).  I’m not even going to go into the racism. Let’s just say FPS can highlight the worst of the worst of gaming and on-line culture. 

Why Would Non-Gamers Enjoy This Game? 

GEEZZZZ Yelling at Pixels, if it sucks so much, why do it? 

Because – if you can fall in with a great room, with a great bunch of folks it is possibly the most fun you can have in gaming. The trick is to somehow get to that point where you know enough, know how to handle yourself where you can find these people. 

It also has the potential to be incredibly social. Remember that subculture thing? Well, not all of the folks who are part of that subculture are knuckle dragging neanderthals. Some of them are really cool people. And being part of a subculture is fun. Last time when I was on maternity leave, I got into first person shooters. I was at home all day with a baby, and once she was in bed, it was nice to play an adult game with adults and be silly, loud and yes, a bit vulgar amoungst friends. I enjoyed it, far, far more than this RPG fan ever thought she would have. 

Give it a chance. Just try it. Even if it’s just to see what it’s all about and to try something really different.

Advice for the Non-Gamer 

  • Play the single player campaign. It will guide you through how to play the game. Play it on easy if need be. The objective here is to get a feel for the game, to learn and to not get too frustrated. 
  • Think long term. The people you are playing with/against have *years* of in game experience. You will not be that good. It’s okay. Have fun anyway. You will improve over time. Learn to enjoy your own death sequences, because you will see them often.
  • Be a good team mate. Tell people they played a good game. Try as hard as you can. Pull out the rules you learned in Little League and Timbits Hockey. If people are jerks, don’t worry about it. Just leave the room, and find a new one. Mute, Report, (and theoretically) Pwn.
  • You can mess around with the controller settings. Try it… it may feel better if you switch the axis around or increase/decrease sensitivity.
  • Remember that not all FPS games are the same. There is a different feel to each one. You may like Halo, but you may LOVE Battlefield: Bad Company and vice versa. Rent new games, play the single player campaign until you find something that feels right.

Other Ways to Make the Game Fun

There is strength in numbers. Get a clan.

A clan is a group of like-minded gamers who play together. There are a wide variety of types: some are serious and hold try outs. Some are just incredibly social and are there to have fun.  You can go to the official website of the game you are playing and look in the forums. Let people know that you are just starting out though. Someone will take you under their wing. Just be a good team mate, try as hard as you can. If you let people know that you have not played before, they are not expecting you to help them, they KNOW that you are going to cost them games. But people like to show off their knowledge and some people even (gasp) are really nice and want to help out a junior gamer. 

  • Over 25 and NOT a jackass? Sign up with www.2old2play.com find “J-Cat” (ahem… that’s me) and ask for help. I’ll find you a clan. If you are a woman, over 25, join up with 2old2play, find me and say pretty please: I’ll let you into TheCabal: the woman’s clan on 2old2play.
  • YellingAtPixels Favorite Pick 

    For the newb, IF you have a crew of people to run with… I say that silly custom Halo 3 matches are the way to go. My first clan was a Halo clan. We played a game called “pinball” where the shields were high and the gravity was low. Grav hammers and rocket launchers only. The result? You run around whacking each other with these huge hammers, but when you do, your character goes flying backwards… very silly. Very fun. 

    If you are thinking a little more hard core: I preferred objective based games. Often people with say “FFA is the way to go for newbs.” I disagree: you are on your own too much. Where do you go? what do you DO? No clue. BUT If i’m told to take a position… well, maybe that is something I can do.  

    But keep in mind I rarely play FPS without a full room of folks I know. Too much hassle.

    Important Last Words 

    While games can be fun in and of themselves, it’s also important to have the right atmosphere. First Person Shooters are high-risk, high reward in terms of fun. It isn’t for the faint of heart… but give it a try. And let me know how it’s going!

    Sexy Girls! Gaming! Double Bind of Modern Feminism!

    I’m a bit concerned about my reputation. See… my egregious and sinful error is that I have been into a casual gaming kick for a few months. It gets worse: I’m a woman on a casual gaming kick. How can I possibly be respected as a real gamer?

    A long time ago, I was looking up women and gaming, and I stumbled across a rather unfortunate article. I have tried to find it again, but to no avail. It was about “Girl Gamers” and I  bet that the editors cross referenced “Female” “Gamer” and “Model” into facebook and found these gamer women. The “article” was merely a series of pictures of these incredibly beautiful models; some pictures were from their professional lingerie portfolio.

    Everyone ripped into these women for not being “true gamers,” for not having enough gamer cred.  “Ah-hahahahahaha! Stupid Bitch… She said Legend of Dragoon, when it’s Legend of THE Dragoon.”  Somehow because these women were a) beautiful, b) displayed provocatively and c) didn’t play the right types of games – they couldn’t be gamers. 

    I have seen this in my own tours around various gaming communities. Women who are too sexy are loved for their looks, but not taken seriously as people. Other women practically deny their feminine self and go out of their way to identify with the men, to be one of the guys. Both sides of this coin seem like they want to deny that another possibility exists: a smart woman, who relishes in, but does not exploit, her own sexuality.

    I’ll admit… I sometimes have mixed feelings about the HAWT gamer girl phenomenon.  A woman should have the freedom to dress the way she wants to, she can choose her own path, who she has sex with and she can certainly choose her own wardrobe. Don’t ever assume that a woman is stupid if she’s beautiful and outgoing.

    But on the other hand, if your only schick is being sexxxy or cute for the boys, watch out. That only works for a select number of years, then it’s kind of pathetic. Look to be respected for your thoughts first and foremost, be true to yourself, and you can never go wrong. Physical attractiveness gets noticed eventually and all on its own. Then it’s gone and the teenagers win the battle of beauty again as they have since the beginning of time.

    It’s tough, I’ll admit. In a male dominated world of gaming, showing off your sexuality will get you attention, and lots of it. Yes, sometimes it’s not about being sexy for men; it’s about personal expression.  Yet, buying into the “let’s be provocative… FOR THE BOYS!” mentality is harmful. It perpetuates the notion that women are there to be eye candy for the guys. That we exist for the gaze and touch of men.  And this IS gaming… it’s not known to be very liberal on women’s issues.

    And let’s not forget what happens if  women speak out.  Call someone out for being sexist, racist or homophobic and it’s assumed that you are an ugly, man-hating humourless bitch who can’t have any fun. And has cats. And is a lesbian. And needs to get laid.  I forgot fat. Fat too.

    It’s sometimes a no-win situation. Stereotyped as a whore-slut, become a man hating (gasp) feminist or act like something we can never be: men.

    Women have to be twice the gamer to get the same amount of respect as the men. When it comes to hardcore gaming, let’s face it: we are still the minority. Our gender takes us front and centre. 

    It’s a fine line. Should I change who I am to be one of the guys? Ditch my feminine self in order to be taken seriously? If I go with option three, a woman and a feminine one, do I run the risk of being disrespected based solely on my gender?

    And after all this: how does one bring up feminist gaming issues, when the chips are stacked so far against you? 

    I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll find the answer in a game of Puzzle Quest 2. So what if it’s casual? It’s still gaming: it still counts.

    Rated M for Adolescent

    A while ago, Leigh Alexander wrote an excellent piece for Kotaku, about the extreme violence in games. In the article she writes:

    But as games get ever more immersive and lifelike, it starts to feel less like healthy play and more like unsettling aspirational fantasy to me. And as the economic competition around the genre heats up, the push for bigger-bloodier-more seems especially opportunistic and shameless. I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience.

    What I find interesting is that in the debate afterwards, I heard the refrain “Yes, games are violent, but most games are not. Most games in, fact are rated ‘E’.”  An example from the fantastic Ngai Croal:

    Ngai Croal discusses L. Alexander's Kotaku Article

    And I completely agree. Most games are not the overly violent “blockbuster movie” type faire that have people wringing their hands with worry. The games industry is more akin to Pixar’s “Up” than to “Saw.”

    Here’s my problem. I’m an adult. I don’t necessarily want to play a kid’s game, but that doesn’t mean I want something mindless either. Where is our “Saving Private Ryan”?

    I would rather see more games that are rated Mature, not for their gratuitous sex or violence, but for their themes.  I see plenty macho space marines that are underdeveloped stock characters having to save humanity (again).  In see women in games portrayed as ice princesses, vixen-whores or beautiful commandos: none of which are realistic and are a bit insulting.  I see sex scenes straight out of a teenaged boy’s fantasies.  I see games where I blow stuff up real good. Hey, all great games and a ton of fun… but mature they are not.

    For me an example of a Rated M for Mature game, with mature themes was Fallout 3.  Tongue in cheek, laugh out loud funny, and disturbingly violent, yes; this game was also one of the most mature I’ve seen. You play as a survivor of the nuclear apocalypse, 100 years later.  Nothing grows. Raiders that roam the land leave dead bodies hanging in their territory as a warning. There are charred skeletons of children next to teddy bears and toy cars. Mailboxes contain letters of regret: there is no room at the fallout shelter for the homeowners, their bodies can be found inside holding each other. There are prostitutes, not the funny stereotyped BBWs of GTA4, but women who sell the only thing they have ownership of for a night of security. This is just the world, the trend continues as the main and side stories the state’s responsibilities to the citizenry and so on.

    There must be a reason for the lack of truely mature games. Maybe this is what the Rated M market wants and what sells?

    But as the gaming population ages, are we going to continue this trend? It’s one thing to be titillated at a lesbian sex scene with a Goddess, it’s another when the next day you have to take your little girl to little league. Shooting up baddies is fine, but after reading the news on-line… well you may not be as keen. 

    As gamers continue to take on the “games as art” debate to heart, will we see more critical analysis of the story, universe and themes that we see in games? Will we come to a point where we can debate racism, sexism in games intelligently, or will we simply say “it’s just a game” if it all becomes to difficult to defend?