My first ever memory of playing video-games was that of a SEGA Genesis (or Megadrive in Europe); it was given to us by a friend with classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Mega Bomberman and Echo the Dolphin. From then on my youth has been defined by a passion for video gaming. My parents never discouraged this as such, yet they also never encouraged it, seemingly expecting my brother to spend his earnings on games and me on Polly Pockets. But that was simply the case then; my parents were one example among many others who had expectations of their children’s interests purely based upon gender. Times have changed dramatically, as now around 40% of active gamers are female.
However, despite this enormous shift in the gaming audience, it’s not just mainstream media and older generations who seem to still believe females aren’t interested in video gaming. In fact, it seems many titans of the very industry itself believe, or want to believe, that the majority of the gaming audience are white, western young males, when it simply isn’t true. Rather than moving with modern cultural and social shifts, many games companies and associated establishments still cater to a similar audience that they had in the 1980’s. Women are either grossly misrepresented in video games or not represented at all, as are many races and ages.
But the latter cases are topics to discuss within entirely separate articles, yet are just as relevant in video gaming as sexism. Yet recently, all these hidden issues have been dug up – the fact that I’m even writing this article shows that – and much of the gaming community has been discussing ideas surrounding the misrepresentation and abuse of women in this industry.
Perhaps the best point to begin from is the summer of 2011, when a journalist and entertainment analyst named Anita Sarkeesian decided to begin a Kickstarter for a collection of Youtube videos discussing the misrepresentation of women within video games (see below). Sarkeesian is a member of an internet website called Feminist Frequency: specialising in articles and videos studying the issues surrounding feminism and popular culture. Previously Sarkeesian created a number of videos concerning the
misrepresentation of feminism within television shows, films and even books, so she was no stranger to publicaly broadcasting her views. However, last summer when she proposed the Kickstarter for her Youtube project Tropes Vs. Women in Video-Games, a violent back-lash erupted seemingly out of nowhere. Sarkeesian then received a tirade of abuse; with the comments section littered with insults ranging from plain misogyny to actual rape threats, while her Wikipedia page was hacked into and spammed with pornography, people tried to hack into her accounts to find out where she lived and someone even created a game on the internet where players are invited to ‘Beat-up the Bitch’!
This is not to say that other women within the gaming industry haven’t been subjected to abuse before Anita was; others including cos-player and actor Felicia Day, who received insulting comments and other varying abuse. Yet the sheer levels of abuse mounted against Sarkeesian, and her precise decision to publicaly report this abuse, led to a light being shined upon both the misrepresentation of women in video games and the problems many women face in the industry and community today. Her $6000 kick-starter was fully funded within 24 hours and the total eventually reached a whopping $158,000.The first part was released in March this year and the second part around last month; both are very enlightening, broad and intelligent in their criticism and analysis of the various tropes placed upon women. The abuse Sarkeesian received appeared to have the opposite effect to what her abusers desired; rather than silencing the subject, it became the catalyst for the gaming community to discuss women in games and for many women who had suffered prejudice to describe their experiences.
Another interesting product of this discussion was the #1reasonwhy twitter feed that emerged last year, wherein several women who were members of the gaming industry tweeted about the various injustices they’d endured. As well as these employees revealing their various experiences, many women and girls who had been victims of abuse while playing online or commenting on gaming websites also spoke up.
As well as this, various news and gaming websites have taken it upon themselves to continuously discuss the topic, as well a large collection of both men and women finally holding their heads up high and questioning why? An article on the website Destructiod written by the journalist Jim Sterling was concerned with the news that had be recently leaked by Dontnoid entertainment: that they had to struggle with superiors to allow them to have a female protagonist within their recently released video game Remember Me. Another article detailed how company Naughty Dog had to fight to get one of their lead characters, a girl, on the front cover of their game The Last of Us.
What this means is that many games companies are still struggling with idea of catering to female gamers, with many still convinced that female protagonists don’t sell unless they are objectified for men. With an industry that seems to be obsessed with selling ridiculous numbers of their products, they attempt to market to an audience that is guaranteed to buy; and with every company wanting their own Call of Duty it seems it could be a long time until women are finally well represented. Yet, there is hope, with awesome games with great female protagonists enjoying success, such as EA’s Mirror’s Edge (which has now been awarded a sequel), games like the Mass Effect series which features options for both highly developed male and female protagonists, and games like the new Tomb Raider being written by women; women are achieving more and more.
As a female gamer, I have had my fair amount of shocked looks from people when I have mentioned that I avidly game, and I’ve had to play any number of games wherein the best I can expect from a female character is that she isn’t dressed in a chain-mail bikini with jiggling double F’s. Yet in the last several months, I’ve begun to grow extremely optimistic for what this industry and community can achieve, that there will come a time when that small lingering feeling of embarrassment for my hobby, will eventually be entirely dismissed.