Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Big Picture: "Gender Games"


Dave from canada said...

I forget if you covered this, but did you ever deal with the whole "dragon age 2 failing hetero gamers" thing that went on for awhile?

In the event you never heard of it, Dragon age 2 has 4 possible romance options. A sexy pirate queen, a superhumanly cute black mage, a brooding revolutionary who may or may not be posessed by an ancient spirit and what can best be described as a game long running joke about the annoying personality and design of every single square enix protagonist ever.

The revolutionary (a male) flirts with your character regardless of gender (albeit in a very clumsy way. It wasn't a well written scene) and some peopel took this as an indication that Bioware was betraying the hetero audience for teh gays.

Blue Highwind said...

Metroid Other M can suck my balls. Anti-feminist or not, fuck that game.

Samus was cool once. Not anymore.

Will said...

A very insightful and thought provoking episode Thumbs up, Bob, you did a great job.
Too bad a lot of people are probably fuming about the Other M comment and not paying enough attention to the rest of the episode.

Timothy said...

Unfortionatly, although you do make a lot of good points. I have to disagree again to a large degree. Just as you said in your junk drawer episode last week. We get Ivy they get the twilight boys. The moment they shut up about her, we'll shut up about them. At least if you actually look up Ivy's stuff she's a complex cursed, and ironically a girl with a vow of chastity. If you actually read the books, they....are pretty much horrible written characters, who exist solely as foils to a canon jerk sue.

No to mention isn't there like a whole sort of genre that is setup for female fanservice. I forget what it was called but it was basically a subform of romance novels. I think you covered it some other time.

Time-Machine said...

I think you'll find most feminists (myself included) hate twilight with the fiery passion of one thousand dying suns.

So, no, feminists don't get "The Twilight boys".

Unless you mean they get one irritating, sexist, gender essentialist thing that rightfully irritates them, and then ANOTHER ONE TOO! Clearly we are winners!


(And great episode, Bob! Spot on.)

Dora said...

First: Love the episode Bob, as usual.

Second: @Timothy

You're being naive or just stupid if you don't see the difference in how women are sexualized verses how men are. For centuries, no millennias women were treated as nothing more then the objects in stories, the object to be won, the object to seduce, and other incarnations. And a big part of that was sexualizing the characters.

Now I am a women, and a geek (though not a gamer, the one sphere of geekery I could never get into), and I can tell you I have no problem with female characters having sexuality as part of their character. I have every problem when that's the ONLY part of their character.

You don't get to say "Well they have Twilight! They have trashy romance novels! Fairs Fair!" You're comparing ONE movie/novel example and a subset of the entire publishing industry to an endemic and very problematic issue that permeates Comics, Television, Movies, Books, and yes Video Games. That's insanely narrow-minded to think half of the entire world's population should be satisfied with such a small degree of shows or properties directed at them, while the other half get everything else.

And the whole female-aimed romance novels and the silly movies like Twilight that feature attractive actors running around without shirts are a still pretty new concept and there are far, far less of them when you compare traditional fanservice media.

Pretty much every action movie I see, the main (far to often the only) female character is judged based entirely upon her sexuality and how she can kick ass in a sexy manor. Yeah, I'm tired of that. And if I played video games something tells me I'd be damn tired of that too.

And one last thing: No if feminists like myself stopped talking about the problems with video games or comics or movies about how they portray female characters it would not stop the male geeks from making fun of Twilight. Because we're talking about two very different things.

Feminists are talking about the problematic portrayal of women in media.

The guys who mock Twilight for the most part are laughing at the existence of A (not the singular) movie series featuring male models running around shirtless for the camera aimed at a female audience. Essentially mocking the idea that any media could be directed for a female fan based on fan-service, that the existence of a movie that has fanservice aimed at women is laughable.

(Though I do detest Twilight myself for various reasons, portraying an emotionally abusive relationship as "true love" among them.)

There is only one Twilight. Meanwhile there are thousands of movies, comics, T.V. shows, video games, and whatnot which have the exact same thing happening for male oriented fanservice. Don't pretend that both sides of the issue are equal when they just aren't.

Timothy said...

I found out what it was called the genre: "Harlequin Romance". That's what I was talking about. Also my mistake, it was Spoony that covered the genre not Bob. Sorry if anyone did an archive binge trying to find what the hell I was talking about. LOL

Joe said...


If gaming wants to be taken seriously as art and part of the mass culture, then it needs to be able to represent the whole human condition. If games are only ever made to be masturbatory aids for adolescent male power fantasies, then that's all they'll ever be seen as by society at large.

Hell, Harlequin does a far better job of representing a broad spectrum of humanity than most games do.


What's to cover? Some gamers had a ridiculous moment of gay panic and got their panties in a twist because DA2--unlike 99.95% of games coming from heteronormative assumptions--offered the option of same-sex romance?

Highman_95 said...

Didn't you kind of do this with Game Overthinker Episode 6 differently about 3 years ago? It's still a Great episode but it seemed like it had been said before. And are you really going to ignore all the fans asking for your opinion on the 90's Are All That block on TeenNick? Granted I think you've made your point clear that you have a general dislike for the 90's, but it would be kind of fun to have your opinion on this.
P.S. Can't wait for October now!

Atomic Skull said...

@Blue Highwind

Bob loved Other M and strawmanned any complaints people had about the game because of that.

Yahtzee pretty much hit the nail squarely on the head in regards to what was wrong with it.

Shark said...

I strongly disagree with your opinion. You are intentionally using pictures of scantily clad women to reinforce the stereotype that the gaming industry is marketing to the white male 18-34 demographic, which is an unfortunate implication.

If you look hard enough, then you will find pictures of female protagonists who don't wear skimpy outfits. Second, If you actually play the game and read the scantily clad female character's biography as opposed to just judging her on the clothes she wear, then you will find that these scantily clad women have some depth to them.

Has it ever occurred to that these feminists do not speak for all women in the world, and that some women like seeing women in skimpy outfits just like their male counterparts?

I think this has less to do with sexism in the gaming industry, and more to do with getting gaming companies to think outside of the box every once in a while. The best way to write a good female character is to defy the expectations of the gamer by using their encyclopedic knowledge of the genre against them, and ignore gender stereotypes.

Dave from canada said...

@ Shark.

I sortof agree.

I don't really have that much of a problem with the eye candy.Pretty much every game protagonist is idealized physically. This is an industry where nathan drake, a jet setting treasure hunter with insane upper body strength, and alan wake, a millionaire thriller writer who fights lovecrafting monstrosities are considered 'normal'.

As long as their is ample eye candy to go around and it doesn't destroy suspension of disbelief (ala every team ninja game ever), everyone should be happy.

Let's not act like we don't have at least one female game friend who has admitted to writing FF7 Yaoi in her spare time.

And yeah, Other m's insistence on making samus into ally mcbeal who is incomplete as a woman without a strong male figure to tell her what to do and also a baby (cause she's a woman) is a HELL of a lot more damaging than cheesecake ever could be.

RiderBlack said...

@ Shark.

I think the problem is that you have to look hard for it in the first place.

And how about we shut up about Other M for a change, since nobody seems to be arguing about it properly here anyway, no matter the side you are on.

smile said...

A very interesting take on an unfortunate issue for video games.

The timing of seeing this video couldn't have been better as I just finished a great platformer on the PS3, Alice: Madness Returns.

While Alice is very attractive, her poses, her mannerisms, her animation and her costume never rely on putting on a peep show for the player and contribute to her character.

She's a fleshed out character in an equally fleshed out game and I can't recommend it highly enough if you've been yearning for a sprawling 3D platformer this generation.

I do think we need to strike a balance in the portrayal of women that we see in game - but if titles like Alice and Portal can prove to be profitable, it won't be as difficult an issue to resolve as the critics like to sensationalise.

SonofRyan said...

Shark, I'm sorry, but you completely missed the point here. The point is not about scantily clad people, I repeat, the point is not about scantily clad people.

It is about the fact that they are represented as the fact that they are attractive and scantily clad as the predominant thing about them, Nathan drake is NOT presented as primarily sexy, with other things being secondary.

The point is not that these people are unreasonably attractive or something like that, the point is that for female characters, and not for male characters, sexiness is touted as the all-important virtue while other things are secondary.

Catwoman in Tim Burton's batman has what can only be described as a fetish outfit, yet, that is not what is emphasized as the most important thing about her. Halle Berry's catwoman had an equally fetishistic outfit, but THAT WAS WHAT WAS EMPHASIZED. The former is a character who happens to dress sexily and is attractive, she was an attractive person who also happened to be a character. That's why it's not the same.

Lee Kalba said...

Part of the problem, at least on the Internet, is that people tend to live in echo chambers. Message boards that become a collective of me-too's and dissenting opinions are usually scorned.
I was browsing a "chicks like comics" board and found an interesting bit challenging artists to try and draw male characters in the poses usually reserved for female characters. Of course, it's an absurd idea, since men and women carry themselves differently, excepting certain stereotypes associated with homosexuality. But, it did serve to point out some of the overly cheesecake poses, seen in comics.
However, the same board had a very popular topic that was nothing but bitching about breast size, with Power Girl being one of the primary targets. Basically, any character above a C cup, angered them, as if variety in breast size doesn't happen, naturally. Especially in a medium where deviating from certain body plans are often seen as mistakes.
Obviously, they have a right to complain about sexist depictions, but I learned long ago that women are at their most vicious when other women don't have body types that they, themselves, don't find appealing. Skinny women describe buxom women as slutty and buxom women will describe the skinny as toothpicks. At least in my experience.

Shark said...

@SonofRyan Women like to see female characters where sexiness is touted, whether they are lesbian, straight, or bisexual. Not every woman, or woman who calls herself a feminist believes that these female characters in sexy poses are bad; its just a few pricks who ruin it for the rest of us.

As I said before, if you take some time, then you will find artwork of female game characters who are conservatively dressed, and have personalities.

Here's a food for thought, what if this not a gender issue? What if it's someone who is using this as an excuse to enforce censorship in games? Complaining about the sexy poses of female characters, and how they act, and dress without reading their back story, or playing the game itself does not sound like a feminist argument. Especially there are different kinds of feminists. It sounds like a concerned parent who's afraid of what these images might do to their children.

Xirema said...


Fantastic. You can find an example of female game characters NOT dressed like sluts (or else are, but with a meaningful, artistic justification). That doesn't excuse the hundreds upon thousands of female characters that ARE dressed as such, with little to no justification.

And anyways, the fact that someone would have to "take some time" to find such characters seems indicative enough that there's a serious problem that needs addressing.

I can think of dozens of characters, without even needing to spend time doing so, that are male and defined by characteristics other than their sexuality. I can't do so for female characters without having to spend time doing so. It's not sampling bias. It's an imbalance in the treatment of female characters in video games, and said female characters NEED to be elevated to the level of their male counterparts.

@Atomic Skull: You'll have to cite when Bob claimed he liked Other M, because I do not recall such an instance.

Ryan said...

I liked the idea that the poses, not the outfits, are the problem, since obviously there are plenty of bare-chested guys in loincloths throughout the gaming world, and the physique of the average male game protagonist is clearly not lined up with the physique of the average male gamer, either.

But part of the problem isn't about misunderstanding, but rather some legitimate and complicated bitterness. Games represent fantasy fulfillment. Male gamers (and that's most of the gamers) are given male characters they can project their own masculinity onto and female characters who look like the kind of girls they - on some primitive level - think they could get if they were as buff as their game avatar.

The people who object are objecting to a) The fact that it's hard, as the kind of girl who plays fighting games, to project yourself onto visually-soulless Barbie dolls, but also b) the fact that men think said Barbie dolls are hot.

It's legitimately threatening for a real woman to feel like she has to compete with Cammie from Street Fighter. It's also legitimately irritating for a straight guy to feel like he's morally deficient for wanting to look at hot girls while playing video games.

I'm not sure this has an easy solution beyond a little empathy and patience with one another.

Shark said...

Let see: Princess Peach, Princes Daisy, and Rosalina from Mario. Zelda, Malon, and Saria from The Legend of Zelda Games, Virginia Maxwell, Maya Schrodinger, Melody from Wild Arms 3, Bianca, Professor Juniper, Roxanne, Lenora from Pokemon series Aeris, Terra, and Riona from Final Fantasy series, Xion, Larxene, and Olette from Kingdom Hearts, Tsaria Alena and Meena from Dragon Quest IV (haven't played this game, but the mere mention of Torneko in the gender games, and a couple of funny music videos reminded me to these two.) Oh Samus Aran from Metroid and Aqua from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep because of the armor they wear. Oh yeah, Roll from the Megaman games, (Taking about original, caskett, and the Net Navi)

See, I can name lots and lots of female characters who aren't drawn as sluts. Its not that hard.

Anubis C. Soundwave said...

@ Shark (acsound (my) commentary inline)

Let see:

Princess Peach

(Has to be rescued by Mario most of the time.)

Princes Daisy

(First game: rescued by Mario. Second: Luigi's caddy in NES Golf Tournament. Subsequent games: secondary opponent to play sports, party games, or race karts with.)

Rosalina from Mario.

(An enigmatic NPC that does less than Peach.)

Zelda, Malon, and Saria from The Legend of Zelda Games:

(Zelda, while interesting (as herself, Shiek and Terra), is an NPC in most of her games--and unlike Peach, her name's in the title. The only two games where she was playable (aside from Super Smash Bros. Melee & Brawl) are a pair of ill-executed Phillips CD-i games. The other two: NPCs.)

[the rest is truncated]

= = =

The others: most of them are NPCs in their games. I would have mentioned the women charas from Shining Force, but even they have (optional) cheesecake to offer male players (Tao's bikini, Anri's mini-skirt, the SF2 Master Monks wearing inexplicable sexy cheongsams).

You seem to be fixated on "female characters who aren't drawn as sluts". The charas being drawn as "sluts" (that word is offensive to most women, BTW) isn't the problem. As MovieBob pointed out, the problem is the rarity of game women being portrayed as characters outside of their cheesecake poses. The girl charas don't exist for themselves, they exist to arouse the teenage boy playing the game. This is what feminists are crying foul about.

As far as Twilight vs. Soul Calibur: this is just the latest in a long line of "girl" entertainment sucking compared to "boys".

Straight Men: Awesome, well-crafted fighting game series with bouncy, scantily-clad cheesecake.

Straight Women: Poorly-written, tepid, and (until Breaking Dawn) sexless series of books with boring, unsympatheic Mary Sue protagonists and a pair of hunky, emotionally abusive males fighting over her. (At least competent dimestore romance novels give straight women sex and believable, honest adult romance.)

Feminists aren't saying: "Women should look like Gloria Steinem, and tote big guns in FPS games like Fenix." Instead, they're saying: "Hey, I think it'd be nice if Ivy wore something that was suited to sword combat, and posed less like 'Playboy centerfold' and more like 'I'm here to kick your ass in a fighting tournament'."

Just sayin'.

~ acsound

Shark said...

@acsound Anubus

Okay, now you're just moving the goal post. The truth is, there are game artwork of women who are not drawn in cheesecake poses, and that you have to take some time to search for those pictures. If you don't take some time out to search for a female character who is not drawn in a cheesecake pose, then you are just a lazy slob, and need to play something other than a first person shooter, third person shooter, or fighting game every once in a while. These characters are not as rare as you think, or as Moviebob wants you to believe.

Do you honestly believe that the gaming industry really panders to a bunch of male teenagers, and that they somehow intentionally draw female characters in cheesecake poses exclusively for these sex crazed males?
Do you have proof and evidence? Do you know the political positions of each gaming company, or game designer?

Sam Robards, Occasional Gamer said...

A very good video, Bob.

There is an interesting impasse, if you will, right now between games and comics. And I, being the DIEHARD comic fan I am, will VERY briefly explain the issue.

If you were looking to expand upon the feminism issue as it relates to pop culture, you could delve into the issue currently plaguing DC Comics's New 52 series Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws.

Long story short, Catwoman and Starfire are depicted as mindless sex fiends, while DC wants to claim that they're representative of some sort of "new, independent woman."

That's the barest amount of information, and you can find any number of full articles about said issues damn near everywhere right now.

The difference in the interaction between gamers & feminists and comic fans & feminists is that comic fans, by and large, are JOINING feminists in this argument against DC.

This shows, in my humble opinion, that comic fans (myself included) really are interested in strong, positive female characters that aren't just sex-addicted goldfish, to paraphrase another writer.

Of course, we still enjoy a certain amounts of sexuality, as long as it fits with the character, and the occasional T&A book. What? We're only human.

The fact that DC is taking so much flak for this from ALL sides can only help the portrayal of women in the medium.

I wonder why gamers can't do the same thing...

Shark said...

@ Sam Robards

I don't know, I feel that fans are using sexism and feminism as an excuse to voice their disapproval of the DC Reboot. The controversy surrounding the recent Red Hood and Catwoman comics has gotten so out of hand that some parent shattered her daughter's faith in Starfire by intentionally showing the little girl the infamous Bikini scene in the Red Hood Comic.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob?


Anyone else noticed that of all the pictures of skimpy girls shown regarding this problem, only three of them didn't come from the Land of the Rising Sun? I'm just saying there's an elephant in this room that no one has pointed out yet.

SonofRyan said...

Shark, I'm sorry but you're just not worth debating with, all you seem to do is try and draw away from the actual point that women are treated as sex objects not characters in games. It's not how they dress, but you ignored that point in responding to me and just pretended this is some stealth censorship campaign, indulging your own ridiculous paranoia while ignoring the issue, I'm through talking with you if you're going to just pretend it's about somthing else like censorship or fanboy angst at the reboot while ignoring the very real issue of sexism in games.

Also inferring that the people who feel the objectification of female characters in games are "pricks" ruining it for "the rest of us" is just so out of line and presumptuous that it makes me think you're the kind of person that help alienate many women from nerdy hobbies.

Anonymous, I never bought Bob's line that 'video games come from Japan" and, more importantly, what's that have to do with anything? Are you inferring that Japanese people can't be sexist? (I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, if you could explain what you mean better maybe I cul better respond to you.

Shark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shark said...

@ SonofRyan

I am just trying to see this from a logical standpoint, and from a logical standpoint gaming companies should think outside the box more often, and stop copying what their rival is doing. Or they could technically deconstruct, satirize, or parody certain video game related tropes to create the strong female characters that the fans so desperately crave for.

What I fear is that people are overusing the words sexism and feminism; especially when used to make negative assumptions about the gaming industry based on some picture of Ayane in Bikini. If we keep using these words, then they will lose their meaning and historical importance.

Look, I don't believe that the gaming industry is really sexist, or racist; its just a few bad games, or just a few bad moments in good video games that ruins it for the for the rest of us.

Remember, video games are still young; especially when compared to feminism, which has stood the test of time and has been in the world for nearly a hundred years.

Anonymous said...

"Are you inferring that Japanese people can't be sexist?"

Very much the opposite. This is a country that sexualizes pre-TWEENS to say nothing of their pervasive rape fetish. But that's okay, it's a different culture after all. :P

Similarly, we have this issue that deals with the objectification of female sexuality and not once is the fact brought up that the majority of the examples provided comes from said culture. It throws a huge monkey-wrench in the so called solution to this issue because it's saying a decidedly western cultural viewpoint regarding females takes precedent over the eastern one.

Or let me put it this way...I have seen plenty of articles regarding female gamers complaining/commenting about this issue...and they are NEVER from Japan.

Dr. Pibb said...

@ Shark
The problem with your argument regarding deeper female characters is that although tie-in backstory may add depth, it's not the most important aspect of their character in terms of what the developers want the audience to see. To paraphrase Bob, if you saw E. honda or Luigi or Professor Layton or Dr. Robotnic, you could get a decent gist about their characters at a glance. This is because the medium requires visually distinct characters. The same can't be said for female characters. the argument about tie in backstory compensating for visual lack of characterization is like saying a sexist, on note character in a book can be made up for with a foot note explaining her behavior.

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