Wednesday, September 17, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I have to admit, once I read that conservative group American Enterprise Institute had something to say about video games, my cynicism shot right up, and I  was ready to discredit.

Today, AEI published a video seemingly very much in response to the rising awareness in gender representation and sexism within the video game community. Christina Sommers leads into the video with a proposed distinction between the general qualification of female gamers, and female gamers who engage in “core” genres, thus emphasizing the point that video games are very much a male activity with a 7:1 ratio of hardcore gamers.

She captures the hearts of many by mocking the general hostile view of violent video games as a whole, but does so to further serve her point that “the video game gender police have become harsh and intolerant”. She asks the questions, “But are video games rife with sexism?” and “Do they promote a culture of misogyny and violence that must be dismantled?” before her swift determination, “No”.

While there have been some corners of the feminist movement in games that have, say, targeted games like the Last of Us just because Ellie was a partially dependent teenager and not the main protagonist, Sarkeesian and others have made valid points. The term “tropes” doesn’t necessarily paint artistic efforts as a hostile agenda to perpetuate misogyny, it mostly relates to laziness, misunderstanding, and the tendency to fall back on stereotypes instead of investigating and exploring proper portrayal.

It’s less of an agenda to, as Sommers believes, seek the death of male video game culture, and more of an eye opening effort to express what’s offensive. I did so with Dead Rising 3’s portrayal of black characters, IGN’s Jose Otero did so by expressing his discomfort with the Xbox One launch title Loco Cycle, and many did with Far Cry 3’s colonialist narrative which influenced the writers of Far Cry 4.

But it’s the last two minutes of the video where she really started to lose me.

She justifies the sexualized female figures in bikinis, boob armor, and skimpy outfits because of the male dominated demographic. Though that’s pushed by video game publishers, it negates those, such as myself, who are disinterested in such a (in my opinion) rote representation, and males of the LBGT community.

She also claims that feminists fail to realize the accomplishments that the industry has made with proper women’s representation, even though all of the episodes of Tropes vs Women I’ve seen have featured Sarkeesian discussing games that have treated women with more sensitivity and depth.

Lastly, she questions why the same gender criticism in games isn’t targeted towards shows like Oprah and The View, and magazines such as Cosmopolitan. Though I can’t comment on Cosmopolitan, most of us have watched Oprah and The View for years, and I’m almost certain that these shows aren’t riddled with abs, abs, abs. Is the occasional “hunk” featured on the show? Sure. But the gamut of “male representation” is wide and varied.

Sommers certainly makes an interesting effort to target the feminist movement in games with a wink and a nod to gamers, however I question the agenda behind it. But then again, “agenda” is inherently behind everything.

In the end, I don’t quite care for AEI’s stance on gender issues in video games. 

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