Feminism and Videogames (part 2)

– by Gabrielle Friesen, student staff

In last week’s post I mentioned my frustration with mainstream feminist academia’s illiteracy in regards to videogames. Since conversation has in my experience often stalled around Grand Theft Auto IV (2008) and Duke Nukem (assumedly the first one from 1991), I thought I would bring up some more recent and some more varied points of discussion, and questions that it would be cool if women and gender studies as a field got more caught up with (not in any way a comprehensive list).

From IGN's "The Devolution of Character DesignsOr, 'How Every Game Hero Looks Like Vin Diesel'"

From IGN’s “The Devolution of Character Designs
Or, ‘How Every Game Hero Looks Like Vin Diesel'”

I strongly recommend investing in this game and supporting Moris’ above sentiment

I strongly recommend investing in this game and supporting Moris’ above sentiment

  • Similarly, the videogames Portal (2007) and Portal 2 (2011) have been called “feminine shooters.” The game features spatial reasoning puzzles and a gun that shoots portals making the player defeat enemies by dropping enemies through them, or dropping things onto the enemies, instead of shooting them with bullets. So apparently: shooting people in the head = masculine, physics puzzles = feminine. The game also features a mute woman protagonist, Chell, and her nemesis GLaDOS, the lady supercomputer forcing Chell to run deadly gauntlets. The main charcters both being women may also play into the “feminine shooter” idea. What does it mean that the game is being termed “feminine shooters?” Is that designation positive or negative? Why can’t Call of Duty be called a “masculine shooter,” normalizing feminine and othering masculine instead? Also, is it just me, or is the Chell featured in merchandise lighter-skinned with more Anglo features than the Chell you can see in-game if you position portals correctly to use as a mirror?
Chell as she appears in-game

Chell as she appears in-game

chell poster

chell action figure

  • Some videogames are beginning to acknowledge that gay people exist. Wow, ridiculous, who would have thought. Fallout: New Vegas (2010) allows players a few specific dialogue choices with different characters, making apparent the player character’s sexuality. The player character’s sexuality only appears in game through this dialogue, and several other queer characters appear throughout the game, and are even fairly major characters. Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age Series (2012 and 2011 for the latest game in each series, respectively) features several queer characters who act as traveling companions/fighters for the player character, as well as being romanceable characters, meaning the player character can pursue a relationship in-game with them, which involve a sex scene. However, besides the three or four romanceable queer characters per game, queer people are fairly rare in the game world, whereas straight people are everywhere. Straight companion characters also vastly outnumber queer companion characters in all the games but Dragon Age 2. Additionally, how much does the male gaze play into the construction and subsequent viewing of the romances and sex scenes involving two women? Skyrim (2011) allows the player character to get married to various characters, regardless of gender, but other than a queer player character, only straight couples appear in game (unless there happens to be a dragon-slaying lesbian couple tucked away in a cave, attached to the one sidequest I haven’t found). Additionally, what does it mean for a closeted queer person being allowed to role-play an openly gay character while saving the known universe? What does it mean for a straight gamer to role-play a gay character?
Gay Marriage and Dragons: Get on it, Supreme Court

Gay Marriage and Dragons: Get on it, Supreme Court

  • MMORPG’s like World of Warcraft frequently have players who name their characters or their character’s pets racist or sexist epithets. These games exist in the boundary between internet anonymity, and a core game mechanic being interaction with other players and therefore creating at least some level of intimacy. Players then to some extent hide behind anonymity, while at the same time openly flaunting their racism or sexism. Dragon’s Dogma (2012), while not an MMORPG, still includes a mechanic of creating and sharing a henchman character who aids the player character. Dragon’s Dogma also features innumerous characters named with racist or sexist slurs. In light of the games sharing mechanic, and the fact that players benefit from the sharing back and forth of henchmen in terms of in-game resources, players then must be secure enough in their racism and sexism to first name their characters who will be seen by other players with slurs, and also be secure enough that other people will agree with those names and continue to use those characters, enabling the original racist/sexist player to continue to cash in on rewards for sharing henchmen.
  • Spec Ops: The Line (2012) falls under the shooter genre, a genre whose staples generally include glorified hyper-violence, jingoism, and idolization of American militarism. Spoilers: Spec Ops: The Line is fiercely against these staples and not only criticizes other games for using them, but the player for enjoying them. However, the game was not upfront about this, and in its marketing and first few hours of gameplay seem like any other jingoistic hyper-masculine shooter, which sort of lures people who maybe wouldn’t otherwise hear the game’s criticisms into hearing them. What are the pros and cons of this, and does the messaging and its impact change significantly if a player goes into the game expecting a generic shooter, or already knowing Spec Ops: the Line’s agenda?
  • It took me like two and a half hours to find a female Machop in my Pokemon game, but I found a zillion male Machops in the meantime. C’mon, videogames, why are you so against female bodybuilder pokemon? They look the exact same as male Machop’s, it’s not even that you’d have to use more resources making a second sprite for them. Is this a secret evolutionary psychology agenda? A vendetta against female bodybuilders?? Illuminati??????
Machop’s second evolution, Machoke

Machop’s second evolution, Machoke

Granted, that last point is probably not real (I’m just bitter about that two and a half hours), but the others are all really interesting discussions that I wish mainstream feminist academia would get caught up to, instead of stalling out on Grand Theft Auto IV. And like I said in my last post, its not as if people aren’t already talking about these issues. But people writing books and making documentaries largely aren’t, instead defaulting to generic cop-outs instead of applying any real critique.


2 thoughts on “Feminism and Videogames (part 2)

  1. Excellent analyses and great resources! Also congrats on the Lady Machop.

  2. Machoke was created during a time that Pokemon did not have Gender. Had it been a more recent edition they probably would have made different forms for it’s female counterpart but considering its in the original game they would have had to make a separate pokemon for it. So just consider that when Machoke was first created it was an it and did not have any gender, it just appeared to be male.

    On another note maybe the species just looks all male. I have myself thought of a race for start trek that appears to be all males but has two genders. These are a lot of ifs and whatnot but there could be other explanations for stuff other than excluding certain groups.

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