Human Angle: Queer Games: The Secret Avant Garde of Videogames
Don’t miss this excellent video highlighting queer-focused games featuring Mattie Brice and Anna Anthropy!
I had a great time meeting 5th and 6th grade students at the Linden School in Toronto. The private all girls school promotes feminist and social justice values while encouraging academic and creative excellence. I was impressed by the students’ enthusiasm and sophistication when discussing issues related to girls and women in the media.
I’m deeply honoured that the faculty and students at the Linden School have nominated me for their annual Nancy Ruth Award. Every year the Nancy Ruth award is presented to someone in the larger community who has, in her life and work, made an enormous difference to the lives of girls and women.
“Why should we care about women’s representation in video games?”
“Nobody is going to want a female protagonist!
“Their target audience isn’t big enough to warrant any games!”
“Women aren’t as capable as men, they don’t belong in video games!”
“If more women started playing video games, maybe then they’d have a say in the matter!”
New Video Game Trailers Featuring Women at E3 2013
Yesterday I tweeted about how exactly zero of the next generation games presented at Microsoft’s Xbox One E3 event featured female protagonists. A bunch of gamer dudes on Twitter decided that they did not, shall we say, appreciate my pointing that out. But Microsoft’s Xbox One event was not the only press conference that took place at the E3 Expo yesterday, both Electronic Arts and Sony featured slightly more women in their line up of new trailers. Below are a few that caught my eye!
Mirror’s Edge Announcement Teaser shown at the Electronic Arts event: Dragon Age: Inquisition Teaser shown at the Electronic Arts event: Transistor Reveal Trailer shown at the Sony PS4 event: BEYOND: Two Souls E3 Trailer shown at the Sony PS4 event:
I was also excited to see that the Super Mario 3D World Trailer shown at the Nintendo Wii U event has Princess Peach as a playable option for the first time in 25 years. The last time she was playable in the core Super Mario Bros series of platformers was Super Mario Bros. 2 released in 1988 for the NES.
There were also a few other titles featured at E3 which don’t necessarily have women in the leading role but looked really intriguing including The Order: 1866, Witness, Rain, Below and of course Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare!
Twitter vs Female Protagonists in Video Games
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq)
Above is a tweet I made this afternoon in reaction to the fact that none of the games presented at Microsoft’s Xbox One E3 press conference featured female protagonists. Below are some of the Twitter replies to that observation which exemplify the male privilege and male entitlement endemic in the gaming community today. This is also a window into what it’s like to be a female video game critic on twitter.
Excerpt of Full Interview Q&A with IGN
Most of our conversation didn’t make it into the final article. The interview touched on a wide array of topics, including my experiences with games growing up, heroic women of the 1800s, and how I’ve responded to the organized harassment campaigns against me, among other things. Below is one of my ten answers and we’ve published the full Q&A on the Feminist Frequency website.
PD: Can I ask what you’ve been playing recently and what your responses to the depiction of women in these games has been? I noticed you recently tweeted about the female characters in Dishonored, which you felt disappointed by.
AS: I’ve been playing a ridiculous number of games over the past several months looking for either examples or counterexamples for each of the tropes in my series. I’ve also been revisiting a good amount of games I haven’t played since my childhood, which has been a little bittersweet to be honest. Mostly because along with all the fun nostalgia there’s also a number of seriously problematic gender representations, many of which I didn’t really notice back when I was a kid. So I’m playing (or replaying) everything from Zelda and Metroid to Secret of Monkey Island and Braid to the God of War and Bioshock series.
As you mentioned I recently played and enjoyed Arkane Studios’ Dishonored (especially the stealth options and the mystical listening heart!). The female characters in the game however were disappointing to put it mildly and I think they represent a failure of imagination. It’s a much longer conversation then we probably have time for here but let’s briefly examine the women in the game. First we have The Empress who might have been cool, except she is fridged within the first five minutes ending up in a pool of blood to provide a revenge motivation for the male hero (it’s also telling that there are zero other women in any positions of power or authority anywhere else in all of Dunwall). Next we have Emily who fulfills the damsel in distress role (twice). The rest of the female cast end up either in stereotyped roles or as set decoration (or both). We have cowering maids, suicidal prostitutes, the kindly caregiver, the evil mistress, the evil madam and the evil witch. It’s pretty standard stuff in game narratives unfortunately. Again, I say this as a fan of the game who’s hoping for a sequel.
The predictable defensive response to this observation I hear most often, from fellow gamers, is what I like to call the “historical accuracy” fallacy. I just have to facepalm at that kind of reaction for a number of reasons. First the game is not a historical document, it’s a fantastical alternative reality with steampunk style technology and supernatural powers derived from whale bones. Developers are perfectly willing to bend, twist or entirely throw out the laws of physics and no one bats an eye, but somehow it’s impossible to imagine even an alternative reality in which most women aren’t horribly oppressed, stereotyped or merely decorative. I’m certainly not saying all female characters need to be heroes but the “historically accurate” mantra is really just a flimsy excuse used to justify the continued exclusion of strong women from central or starring roles.
Second, even if a game was trying to be as historically accurate as possible, there were countless incredible women doing all kinds of extraordinary things in the 1800s to draw inspiration from. Ada Lovelace (1815 – 1852) is widely regarded as the first to conceive of computer programing. Sarah Emma Edmonds (1841 – 1898) disguised herself as a man and fought in the American Civil War. Harriet Tubman (1820 – 1913) was a union spy running rescue missions into confederate territory and was the first woman in American history to lead a military expedition. Annie Londonderry (1870–1947) was an international sports star for bicycling around the world. Ching Shih (1775–1844) was a pirate commanding a fleet of 1,500 ships that controlled the waters of the South China Sea. Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872) was one of many female mathematicians writing about math and astronomy in a time when women were formally barred from science fields. This is just a small handful of examples off the top of my head but there are countless extraordinary women from every era in history. Unfortunately, there is an enormous amount of ignorance out there about women’s historical contributions because their heroism (or sometime villainy) has been systematically downplayed, dismissed or written out of the history books altogether. So the truth is that inspirational women are, in fact, very “historically accurate” and as such there is just no excuse for the failure to include heroic female characters in modern games, regardless of the time-period or setting.
SIDENOTE: After I did this interview I started playing The Knife of Dunwall and so far there are a few more women in a wider variety of roles. Though the DLC does start with the murder of the Empress from first-person perspective which is unsettling to say the least.
This is the second in a series of three videos exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this installment we look at the “dark and edgy” side of the trope in more modern games and how the plot device is often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women. Over the past decade we’ve seen developers try to spice up the old Damsel in Distress cliche by combining it with other tropes involving victimized women including the disposable woman, the mercy killing and the woman in the refrigerator.
Due to the nature of the topic, this video comes with a trigger warning for violence against women.
For more information and a full transcript visit: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2013/05/damsel-in-distress-part-2-tropes-vs-women/
The Damsel in Distress: As a trope the damsel in distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must then be rescued by a male character, usually providing an incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest. This is most often accomplished via kidnapping but it can also take the form of petrification, a curse or demon possession. Traditionally the woman in distress is a love interest or family member of the hero; princesses, wives, girlfriends and sisters are all commonly used to fill the role.
Damsel in the Refrigerator: A combination of the Women in Refrigerators trope and the Damsel in Distress trope. Typically this happens when a female character is killed near the beginning of a story but her soul is then stolen or trapped and must be rescued or freed by the male hero. Occasionally time travel or some other form of resurrection may be involved in the quest to bring the women in question back from the dead.
Disposable Damsel: A variant of the Damsel in Distress trope in which the hero fails to save the woman in peril either because he arrives too late or because (surprise twist!) it turns out she has been dead the whole time.
Euthanized Damsel: A combination of the Damsel in Distress trope and the Mercy Killing trope. This usually happens when the player character must murder the woman in peril “for her own good”. Typically the damsel has been mutilated or deformed in some way by the villain and the “only option left” to the hero is to put her “out of her misery” himself. Occasionally the damsel’ed character will be written so as beg the player to kill her.