Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Arguing About Women In Video Games. But This Time the Women Can Beat You Up.

Frankly, I want my avatar to look more like this ...

The argument about how women should be portrayed in video games rages inexplicably on. Speaking as someone who writes these things for money, not systematically alienating half the human population and almost half of actual gamers is just good business.

Happily, progress is being made. There have been quite a few games out this year, indie and AAA, that prominently feature interesting women as main characters and supporting cast. (e.g. Gone Home. Last of Us. Tomb Raider. Bioshock: Infinite, sorta.)

We're getting there. Fossilized designs like Grand Theft Auto V are increasingly out of place. But angry young men on forums make it seem like there's an actual controversy, so on we go.

It's all kind of a waste, because, as far as I'm concerned, the interview that should settle the argument decisively came out in September, and it didn't get nearly as much attention as it should have.

It's an interview with two female soldiers, one who served in Afghanistan and one who served in Iraq, about how women are portrayed in gunshooters.

It's full of great quotes, but here's a nice one, talking about Call of Duty (which only finally put in playable female soldiers in the newest title) ...

It's because you have men who are designing these games in the first place. Put me, or any of the women who have served in charge of a shooter that includes women as the main protagonists. You can bet that you'll get a character who is far more concerned about her kill streak than she is her makeup or how she looks. And you can believe she wouldn't be running around in a bikini either. Save that for Dead or Alive where the women don't do any real combat, and flounce around with their tits bouncing like they are in a rodeo.

I think that this should be the beginning of the end of the conversation. Here's why.

... than this.

Soldiers and Video Games, The Basics

Bear in mind here that video games are insanely popular among soldiers overseas, as they provide a reliable distraction during the inevitable seemingly infinite hours of boredom and inactivity.

I have received so many e-mails from soldiers who wanted to get my games up and running before they leave on a long deployment. Of course, I find it impossible to reject requests like that.

The Last Stand of Principle

Of course, in our society, pretty much any moral principle can instantly be abandoned if the money is right. In the video game industry, it's gotten to the point where anyone’s appeal to basic ethics is generally treated with open mockery. (How many huge games in the last year or two shipped in a basically non-functional state?)

There is one principle, however, that is almost never questioned by the sane: The people who chose to sacrifice years of their lives (and perhaps their entire life) to defend their countries deserve respect.

The people willing to die for us should be honored for that. Must it be said that this is still true when they are women?

From the upcoming game, Warface. This is a PR image. Everything about it was carefully planned. What does it want to say, and what does it want to teach? (Answer below.)

So Here Is The Absolute Minimum That Is Required

One. If it's a game about soldiers, female avatars should be available whenever possible. With a AAA budget, there is NO excuse to not have this in the multiplayer. You can afford it.

Two. Women soldiers should look like soldiers. When someone goes overseas and gives up years of her life in public service, she should not see that her culture regards woman warriors as a bunch of mindless sex dolls.

I mean, right?

And let's be clear. I know game devs. I've been around them for decades. They are mostly doughy, deskbound guys who never came within a thousand miles of serving in the military. That these guys are insulting the women doing the tough job so few of them signed up for is truly galling.
Answer: Thank you for your service.

And It Matters

Culture matters. I mean there's not a question, right? The images we surround ourselves with affect us. Why are such massive fortunes spent on advertising? You think they don't affect people? Corporations like wasting money?

(And don't kid yourself. There is a wealth of research that says that ads do affect you, even when you don't realize it.)

We absorb the media around us, and it shapes us. Nobody plays these games more than kids, and kids learn.

So ask yourself the question. What do you want young people to learn? Not what it is easiest or most profitable to teach them. Ask what we want. What is best for the country. What is just. What is right.

I'm no white knight. The women in the interview don't need my help or my pity. They do, however, deserve respect. Depicting soldiers as soldiers, man or woman, seems like a tiny, reasonable way to start.


As always, we're still on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. hey nice post mehn. I love your style of blogging here. The way you writes reminds me of an equally interesting post that I read some time ago on Daniel Uyi's blog titled Subconscious Attitude That Pushes People Away From You .
    keep up the good work.


  2. I'm amused by your tags. Sadly, the article itself isn't really amusing so much as sad. :( Uh... I guess that's redundant. I agree with you, is what I'm saying.

  3. I love reading your blogs because I love the points you make and the way you make them.

    But I have to ask-- are you just like a hardcore leftist/progressive-type or do you link to these types of articles because that's the only place you can find people writing on these subjects?

    It was an issue I had with your blog on problems with employees in the gaming industry as well. You made these outstanding points... and then the articles you linked to as support for your points were radically left people using the serious issue you were talking about as a mechanism to advance their political agenda. It makes it very hard for me to take what is being said seriously.

    To return to my main point. If you're linking to these articles because you agree with the idea of socialism or communism/progressivism as the best and most effective means of solving the problems you're talking about, please please let me (and everyone) know. I won't stop playing your games because they're freaking awesome. I'll just stop reading your blog.

    If you're linking to those articles because they happen to be talking about the problem you're highlighting in a given blog post, consider placing some kind of disclaimer noting that they are also overtly political and should be taken with a grain of salt... or something along those lines.

    1. The fact hold communists and progressives as equivalent tells everyone all we need to know about how relevant your political concerns are.

    2. (1) Your reply has absolutely nothing to do with what I'm asking Jeff and the point I'm trying to make re: his recent blog posts.

      (2) If you want to have a serious debate on politics I'm perfectly happy to do so, provided Jeff is ok with his comments turning into that and provided you can keep a more respectful tone than you've shown so far. " relevant your political concerns are" indeed.

    3. This isn't a matter of political ideology, but simple facts. Communists and progressives are as equivalent as donkeys and monkeys: both animals, but completely different species.

      And your request for Jeff is to interrogate him on his non-gaming relevant political preferences to see if you want to continue to read his blog. Never mind his clear and sardonic points about gaming: this is communism we're talking about here!

    4. I know I'm commenting on this way too late but;

      How is this article in any way leftist, progressive, communist, or otherwise? As far as I can tell, he merely seems to be bringing up the notable fact that women are not portrayed enough, and most certainly not accurately, in today's video games. As a male gamer, I might like how the female models are typically cute, very feminine, and at times overly sexualized in a game. But it's important not to isolate the other half of the gaming world, and many female gamers like the idea of a strong, tough looking female avatar and there is nothing wrong with that. Jeff is only expressing this point, in that we shouldn't be designing games with a primarily male audience in mind because there IS a very significant female audience these days and we have been isolating and treating them as second rate citizens in the gaming culture. We should be designing models with them in mind, and there should be more AAA titles that feature female protagonists. If you have a problem with that opinion David, then you should clearly state what specific point was made that you disagree with, instead of blaming it on political ideology which has nothing to do with the treatment of female players and their representation in games.

  4. Wait, how is an interview with 2 US marines a "radically left" ?

    Is it crazy-day, and I forgot to put on my silly hat?

  5. I mostly agree. Personally, I am not very distressed by the situation, because the games with overt objectification are mostly cheesy and uninteresting to me, and as a male, I have no personal stake in the general state of things. It seems to be just one of many stereotypes that lazy or weak artists rely on. I am rather curious as to where the Mass Effect series falls in this discussion, though, because many of the female characters are highly sexualized, but are still portrayed as soldiers, and (arguably) look the part. But perhaps it is easier for them to get away with, since the futuristic setting and art style both allow for skin tight "armor". However, it's interesting to consider specifically the character of Ashley, whose style changed over the course of the trilogy; from a much more sensible look for a soldier in the first game, to heels and shampoo commercial hair by the third game.

    1. You could also take a glance at how female characters are portrayed in Dragon Age as well. In the first game, female characters typically had less revealing, yet still somewhat sexualized armor and models. Then in the second game, they made the same type of changes as Mass Effect, much more sexualized models, even more revealing armor. My own opinion? Those darn EA executives... On a side note, Dragon Age 3 is in the works, and has quite a few female designers on the dev team. So we might actually see some much more sensible characters this next time around.