Maturity, Inclusion, and the Game Industry in 2014

Microsoft E3 Presser

So, E3 is happening. Over Monday and Tuesday there were pressers and demos and a Brinks truck loaded with video. There’s always one or two things to stand out to me from these events, but the topic that’ll stay with me for awhile is maturity and the strange dichotomy in which this industry (fans included) needs more of it yet sometimes fails to recognize it when it appears. There are two catalysts for this post. One is the all too predictable trolling of Danielle Riendeau’s 100% on-point and valid piece on the lack of female presenters during the major press conferences. (Hat tip to the excellent work Danielle is doing at Polygon. We miss her a ton!) The other is a post from “Ashelia” on her Hellmode blog, defending the teaser trailer for the next Tomb Raider game against attacks that it’s made a victim of Lara Croft. (Apologies that I don’t have a real name to attribute to Ashelia.)

Originally, this post was mostly about Tomb Raider and a bit about Brothers and not laying charges of sexism where they don’t exist because it does disservice to those examples of brilliant work this industry is capable of producing. I can’t, in good conscience write on this topic without first calling attention to this sort of abhorrent behavior and state outright that when someone like Danielle speaks out on this topic and meets an ill-considered, reactionary response like this that it is all of our responsibility to condemn it in no uncertain terms. I don’t want these troglodytes, these soulless imbeciles, carrying the torch for who we are as gamers. I know we’re better than this. You know we’re better than this.  But unless we slam the door on this sub-human behavior we’ll remain defined by it. And in case you think I’m overstating, enjoy this piece of human filth:

TwitterHate

You stay classy, asshole.

Now, the flip side of the coin is the Lara Croft: Rise of the Tomb Raider teaser:

Evidently the reveal of Lara Croft sitting in a therapist’s office, clearly dealing with trauma has somehow struck a nerve with some people who think the character is being diminished for the sin of being human. Now, before I go further on this, let’s all agree that we don’t know what kind of game this will be. Sure, Crystal Dynamix isn’t going to leap miles away from a very successful formula they established, but you can’t watch a 2-minute clip that doesn’t show gameplay or story and have any idea what the game’s merits are going to be. The problem is that the ideas expressed in this trailer should be celebrated by those who want to see more maturity in gaming. We need more games in which the protagonist pays a price for enduring trauma, yet carries on. Again, read Ashelia’s piece on this. (Update: Susan Arendt just posted a good one as well.)

This question of how you can or can’t portray women, races, or any other group, minority or otherwise, in games an important one. And nobody, no matter how deep their insight, has all the answers. Just as importantly, no one answer will suit every scenario. It’s in these, often well-intentioned cases,  that the mere appearance of anything resembling a stereotype in a game automatically equates to that game embracing misogyny or racism. It’s a red-herring we should avoid embracing at all costs.

A few months ago, I read through an online discussion in which several participants (of both genders) felt Brothers is a horribly sexist game because the primary female characters in the game are victims (the mother and the captured ogre) or, by her nature, a deceitful predator. And, yes, these are very nearly the sum total of female involvement in the game. But does that make it sexist? Is one of its subtle themes that women are weak and duplicitous? I’m sorry, but no sale.

The tricky part regarding accusations of misogyny and racism in games is that they’re serious business. People put their heart and souls into making these products happen. If you don’t like a game, it doesn’t speak to you, or you think the design is bunk, that’s one thing, but to accuse people of engaging in something so ugly is entirely something else. That’s an accusation that sticks fast and is very hard to remove, so if you’re going to do it, you damn well better be certain about it. And the fact that Lara Croft is in a therapist’s office with obvious symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or that a game called Brothers is focused on male relationships doesn’t mean some group of white dudebros in a writer’s room are telling you that women are weak or deceitful.

It’s impossible to avoid all potential stereotypical pitfalls, 100% of the time. What matters is context and the benefit of the doubt in any single case should be the rule rather than the exception. (And, no, Assassin’s Creed: Unity does not get benefit of the doubt for the all-male cast of player characters. Opportunity… blown.) The rebirth of the Tomb Raider franchise does not diminish Lara Croft by giving her depth and perhaps a little human frailty. It’s those very additions to her character that make her so much more amazing than in any previous incarnation. This is a Lara Croft that feels pain, fear, and desperation, and still she pushes forward, beyond the bounds known to the rest of us lesser people. Did anyone think less of the Tony Stark character in Iron Man 3 because he hadn’t gotten over the events of the Avengers? This glimpse into the next Tomb Raider makes Croft ever more the hero, because we know that whatever the adversity, it will be a story about her overcoming it.

There are obviously exceptions to the rule. The Witcher 2, much as I love that game, falls into some uncomfortable areas. It is possible to make a game that takes place in a misogynist world without endorsing misogyny and I think Witcher 2 largely succeeds in that. There are moments in it, however, lingering scenes where what should be clearly repugnant behavior makes you wonder if some in the design department instead found it titillating, which is troubling and awkward and the mere moment’s reflection upon it immediately takes away from the game. I can’t state how how much I want to be wrong about that.

In other games there are elements that are more obviously shameful and the work of minds in desperate need of maturation. Dead or Alive, anyone? I know, I know. Too easy. I also know Bayonetta is largely regarded as a strong female heroine, but I could never get over being told by a male designer that, “her clothes are her magic hair,” and that’s why she seemed to turn nude every so often. Because, magic! And why exactly did Bioware, a pretty progressive developer, feel the need to give Flemeth this particular makeover in Dragon Age 2? Crazy sack-wearing swamp lady to smoky dominatrix because, oh, that’s just the unreliable narrator of DA2… err.. fluffing up his imagination. Riiiight.

But this is where you have to be fair too, because for every bit of cheese DA2 has plenty of moments that deftly and maturely handle a range of human drama. And that’s why this gets so tricky. There’s only so many open and shut cases of actual Hate or bigotry in individual games. It’s the same problem acceptance of global warming has. It’s extraordinarily hard to look at a single weather event and say it’s evidence for or against climate change. It’s only in the aggregate that we know we have a very serious problem. Likewise the role of women and people of color in games. The industry doesn’t have a woman problem because Two Worlds or Heavenly Sword show ill-proportioned women in skimpy outfits completely ill-suited to their surroundings and role in the world. The industry has a problem because you can’t throw a rock without hitting a game that shows ill-proportioned women in skimpy outfits completely ill-suited to their surroundings and role in the world. The comic book industry is even worse in this regard and it makes the whole industry look awful.

That is what makes the piece Danielle wrote important and relevant. There was nothing wrong with any single white male being up on stage to tout game X at E3. But when you look at the whole thing, the balance is unmistakably off. And don’t tell me it’s because dudes play games and chicks don’t or because it was all design leads and CEOs making the presentations. Make that argument in 1992, if you must, but it’s outdated in 2014. Change does take time, but by now we should see more heterogeneous representation, especially at the highest level of game publishing.

Wherein, then, lies the balance? When do wet let the innocent go without comment and when do we speak? Damned if I know, but it’s a line we should all be working together to define because, yes, we need better examples of strong women in games. We need to see better portrayal of people of color in games. We need more authentic depictions of homosexuality in games. But not in every game, all of the time. What we need is balance. And in the mean time we should praise efforts to raise the bar for maturity (real maturity) and inclusiveness in games while still poking the industry with a stick at every corner, because, yes, they absolutely need to know when they feature more decapitations in their press presentations than women speakers on the stage. And when the worst offenders of the worst sorts of stereotyping sludge out from their depressed hovels, we absolutely should call them out. But as progress is made, as it has been, as it will continue to be, let’s not throw under the bus those games and people who’s only crime are telling a story that doesn’t have room to address every cause. If we truly want a big tent, there should be room for a little bit of everything.

37 Responses to “Maturity, Inclusion, and the Game Industry in 2014”

  1. pinkwarriorneedsfoodbadly June 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm #

    A few months ago, I read through an online discussion in which several participants (of both genders) felt Brothers is a horribly sexist game because the primary female characters in the game are victims (the mother and the captured ogre) or, by her nature, a deceitful predator. And, yes, these are very nearly the sum total of female involvement in the game. But does that make it sexist? Is one of its subtle themes that women are weak and duplicitous? I’m sorry, but no sale.

    The tricky part regarding accusations of misogyny and racism in games is that they’re serious business. People put their heart and souls into making these products happen.

    Seeing this fallacy in an article written by someone clearly trying to be a good ally to women, with his heartfelt callout of some truly toxic people harrassing Danielle Riendeau, is depressing.

    It’s really easy, and really comforting, to act like sexism and misogyny are always intentionally perpetrated by cartoonishly awful people (such as those harrassing Danielle). But no. No; when a game only represents women as victims and villains, it is part of the problem.

    And acting like it’s not part of something bigger, part of a trend, is equivalent to talking about how not every storm is caused by climate change; how not every home run hit in the 1990s was powered by steroids.

    They weren’t — but there is certainly SOMETHING GOING ON.

    “Is one of its subtle themes that women are weak and duplicitous?”

    This is the subtle, and not so subtle, theme of society, which this game is a part of. The hardest kinds of sexism to uproot are the insidious ones, the ones that people are eager to pretend are no big deal. Every time a game is made with only-male protagonists, only-white protagonists, only-heterosexual protagonists, and so forth, it sends a message to the rest of us: that the gaming industry isn’t FOR us. That it’s not ABOUT us.

    That we aren’t welcome.

    And as long as this idea persists that it’s okay to have males-as-default, and that a game that ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN is therefore not sexist in its simple, passive exclusion of them as anything but victims or villains, because that’s not the point of the game…

    …nothing is ever going to change, no matter how many internet trolls we call out.

    That doesn’t mean every game needs to have female queer protagonists of color — but it isn’t passivity that causes games to lack them. It’s a choice being made. A choice made by very good people, who put their hearts and souls into the creation of their products, but a choice all the same.

    So let’s not pretend that that choice doesn’t exist.

    • Todd Brakke June 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

      First, I absolutely do appreciate that you took the time to write this and if my reply is hasty, I’m on the clock before I have to leave my computer. I’ve re-read your words a half-dozen times and in disagreeing with you I’m not intending to express invalidation of your viewpoint.

      That said, I simply cannot ascribe to the notion that to be included that every individual’s viewpoint has to be expressly presented in every product, which seems to be the argument you’re making when you say things like, “every time a game is made with only-male protagonists, only-white protagonists, only-heterosexual protagonists, and so forth, it sends a message to the rest of us: that the gaming industry isn’t FOR us. That it’s not ABOUT us.”

      Every time? Is there no way to appreciate what a game has to say unless it has characters that fit your own experience? I don’t see that. I didn’t need for the protagonist of Gone Home to be male or straight to appreciate what it had to say. Is Walking Dead Season 2 exclusionary because I have no choice but to play as Clementine? I *love* playing that game as Clementine. She’s one of my favorite characters of the past few years.

      No, Brothers is not a game that balances the scales of inclusivity and gender equality, but I reject the argument that in Brothers the mother is a victim. It’s a hugely gross oversimplification of what her character represents in that game and it was a mistake for me to endorse that notion in how I wrote the piece above. If you look at the life of her family as it’s depicted in the game, she was clearly the pillar of strength. Those boys and her husband relied on her and their lives are lessened in her absence. That she fell to a tragedy, but ensured her young son’s survival… I’d call her a heroic motivator. (I’m seriously asking – have you played the game? It really isn’t right to judge on these terms if you haven’t.)

      Could Brothers have been Sisters instead and gender-flipped everything? Sure. And it still would’ve been brilliant, but it’s not endorsing misogyny or sexism to tell a story about the brotherhood experience.

      I really do think it should be about the aggregate and specific egregious examples. We can list the games that were strong in inclusivity and those that weren’t and see the numbers and deduce, “Yes, this industry still has a problem; the balance is off” and, yes, we can look at individual examples and point out, “here’s where you could have done better,” but that isn’t the same as calling a game or its makers sexist/racist/misogynistic only for the sin of not moving the needle.

      I doubt very much you’ll agree with any of this, but in your mind, does my perceived ignorance on this subject make me sexist? A misogynist? I’m not going to claim I’ve never had a sexist thought or action. I’m human, those occurrences do not represent the whole of who I am, anymore than any number of times you’ve surely said/thought/done things that were beneath your character represent the whole of you are. Judging on a purely pass/fail criteria is hugely counter-productive.

      As I tried to state above, the context matters and I think targeting a game like Brothers in that way (calling it sexist/misogynistic) is a huge mistake because that’s not the whole of what it is, the whole of the people who worked on it, or the whole of what it endeavors to represent.

      • pinkwarriorneedsfoodbadly June 11, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

        So –

        You seem like a nice guy genuinely trying to Get It, and that’s why I took the time to write this, and why I’m going to respond. Because you seem like the kind of person who engaging with directly is worth doing.

        However, it’s kind of a slap in the face to have, thrown back at me, “the notion that to be included that every individual’s viewpoint has to be expressly presented in every product,” as your interpretation of my viewpoint. Obviously, that notion is indefensibly silly, and indeed not at all where I was coming from. Perhaps I was unclear: let me try again.

        Let’s discuss:

        1) My Actual Argument: All* Games Are Sexist, So Let’s Talk About It
        2) The Sin Of Not Moving The Needle
        3) The Not-Me Protagonist False Equivalency
        4) Brother

        1) My Actual Argument: All* Games Are Sexist, So Let’s Talk About It

        *Almost all.

        Let’s get a little more specific, since we seem to be talking specifically about sexism as defined by gender role assignment:

        When almost all games limit women to the roles of victim and villain, almost all games are sexist, and that contributes to sexism.

        It really is overwhelming, the way the industry puts women (for example) into very specific roles. And it is the idea of this choice of male protagonists as ‘not a choice worth discussing’ that makes it an INVISIBLE choice, a choice that people don’t think about. A choice that, probably, a lot of developers don’t think about.

        It’s a choice that matters, and it is a choice that, in the aggregate, sends the message that I described and you quoted above.

        But it’s also a choice that needs to be raised for every individual game that makes it — at least for some of us. And for those of us who, left with an industry that presents us with an unending string of men rescuing or thwarting women, want to critically examine each and every game that does so — the fact that we’re capable of doing so while still enjoying the game is really important. ‘Critical enjoyment’ is the term I’ve heard, and that’s me in a nutshell. I enjoy a game while being able to criticize its problems, and no game is somehow above critical examination of its handling of social issues.

        And your trying to limit the discussion, the debate, to ‘the aggregate and specific egregious examples’ is really not very different from, to quote someone else in your article, saying “why don’t you do your own ‘PC diversity event’ and stop shiting on everone else’s fun?”

        Why /don’t/ we limit ourselves to specific egregious examples? Because sexism is the Matrix, and we live there. And once you start seeing it, you start seeing it everywhere. And once you understand just how deep the rabbit hole goes, it’s impossible not to at least voice concern. Nor is it harmful to do so. If someone can’t handle people critically discussing the way their game’s handling of diversity, or social sensitivity, that’s their problem, not ours.

        I don’t think it’s any more wrong to call the Legend of Zelda sexist than it is to call huge swathes of Shakespeare sexist, or any other cultural product. They both have their issues; they are both more than their sexism. But ignoring their sexism in favor of only focusing on the cartoonishly egregious sexism is the same as ignoring the quiet daily sexism that permeates our lives, and that IS harmful. So if that’s what you’re advocating, I stand against it.

        It is possible — and NECESSARY — to be able to engage on the way a game is simultaneously sexist and awesome. It’s the only way we can move forward. If you feel that calling something sexist or misogynist is ending a conversation or a review, then you’re limiting yourself to a very narrow viewpoint of what sexism is and how it impacts our lives.

        2) The Sin Of Not Moving The Needle

        Representation matters.

        To dip into comics for a moment, Miles Morales, the black Spider-Man, matters a lot. His existence tells kids of all colors that black people can be superheroes too, and that’s an important message for everyone.

        To dip into television for a moment, Uhura, from the original Star Trek, matters a lot. There’s a wonderful anecdote of Whoopi Goldberg seeing Uhura on the TV screen for the first time and running to tell her parents, “THERE’S A BLACK WOMAN ON TV AND SHE ISN’T THE MAID!”

        To return to video games, Aurora, the heroine of Child of Light, matters a lot. The number of straight-up high fantasy RPGs done in this style that just unapologetically has a female protagonist is awfully close to zero. And at no point does the plot of the game hinge the fact that Aurora is a girl, and that, too, is a precious resource, hard to find, omni-present for the treatment of male protagonists. (Girl Power as an entity is simultaneously nice and also a bit problematic, because it sends a bit of a message when it’s no big deal for a boy to be a hero, but a heroine gets her gender brought up constantly as something she’s managed to OVERCOME, but that could be its own article, so I’ll try to focus.) It tells my daughter that girls can be heroes too, girls can go on adventures and get tricked and lose sometimes but also take a stand and fight, can fight and fight and fight and fight and win.

        Representation, as I’ve prattled on above, is a choice.

        No: I do not expect every game to choose to move the needle. But I do think that every game that /doesn’t/ is a missed opportunity, and that it does more good than harm to acknowledge that. We have thousands of years of storytelling that mostly wrote down the stories written by men about men, and now decades of game-based storytelling that mostly tells the stories written by men about men (because, yeah, it’s still really hard to be a woman in the gaming industry).

        Every game that chooses to move the needle should be celebrated; and every game that doesn’t isn’t necessarily a BAD GAME — but it is a lazy one, and it deserves to be called out. The choice needs to be acknowledged before anyone will start thinking about making other choices.

        Imagine, for a moment, that for the next twelve months, every game that was released would feature at least one playable protagonist who was in some way, some combination of non-white, non-male, non-straight, non-other socially invisible defaults that I’m privileged enough to not constantly have to deal with in my own worldview.

        This wouldn’t double or triple the number of games with non-standard protagonists. It would multiply it by some terrifyingly, depressingly large number that I’m not going to try to estimate. And it wouldn’t even begin to dent the library of white-male-straight protags, either, it would make essentially no difference whatsoever in terms of that slice of society having games about themselves to play.

        And it will never happen.

        Never.

        So, yeah, every time a game makes the choice to be other than the standard, that’s a big deal. And every time a game makes the choice TO BE STANDARD, that matters too. It is, at least, worth recognition of what might have been.

        3) The Not-Me Protagonist False Equivalency

        Obviously, there is a way to appreciate what games have to say without characters that fit your experience, because that’s what the rest of us nonwhite, nonmale, nonstraight people do all the time. That’s where we START. If we want to enjoy most games, we are going to enjoy them through the lens of characters who are ‘not us.’ And we do, and that’s why women (for example) in gaming exist — it sure as hell isn’t because of Princess Peach. You’ve held up a couple of lovely exceptions, and I celebrate them, and I’m really glad that you enjoyed them!

        But trying to compare your limited experiences enjoying playing not-me protagonists to my omni-experience playing not-me protagonists is as unfair as expecting me to be satisfied with a handful of me-protagonist games while you get the rest. Our experiences, yours and mine, do not actually go both ways in a reasonable way. That’s called false equivalency. Please don’t. :(

        4) Brother

        Nope! Haven’t played it, won’t claim otherwise. I responded to your description of “victim and villain,” and I’m as happy to hear that it’s more nuanced than that, as I am skeptical that it still doesn’t, on some level, have male protagonists and female victims and villains. I think that the idea of gender-flipping it to Sisters is missing the other invisible choice, which is, of course, that not only are men chosen to be the protagonists, but women are chosen to be the victims(ish, apparently, in the case of Brother) and villains. In some ways, based on your description, I think it would be more novel to have Brothers be about saving their dad.

        Stories about brotherhood are totally valid and good. But ‘bildungsroman’ is, as a word, practically synonymous with “story about a young boy who grows up.” We can have more of them, and they can be good… but we’ve already got kind of a lot.

        Ultimately, though, what really troubled me about your article wasn’t the specific case of Brother, but the idea that anyone should be dictating which specific cases we talk about, which is why I’m responding at length.

        It is about as offensive to me as saying “well, you only make $0.70 per dollar that YOUR male co-worker makes, and that’s normal, so let’s focus the discussion on the specific bosses who pay their women half what they pay their men.” Or, “well, you only got kissed while you were drunk and they wouldn’t take no for an answer, but she’s pregnant because of what happened to her, so let’s focus on that.”

        In a way both of those analogies are pointlessly extreme. They’re certainly incendiary, and they make my point viciously, but perhaps not helpfully.

        Here’s a more grounded way to put it: when you tell me that it would be best to only talk about ‘the industry’ and ‘a few egregious examples’, you’re telling me not to talk about the little things. The tiny acts of sexism that, when taken over the course of every day of my life, define my experience as a woman. The things nobody even thinks about.

        The invisible choices.

        I choose to make them visible, consider them, and then appreciate a game in the context of them. And I think that’s better, every time, than pretending that they don’t exist. NOT TALKING ABOUT PROBLEMS is the most damaging way of all to handle them.

        • Brandon June 11, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

          This has been a really great and eye opening discussion and I’m really glad that you took the time to respond to the length that you did.

          I can tell you from my own experience that ever since I started reading more about the politics of race and gender I see the small but no less damaging examples of sexism, racism and classism every day. I’m glad you mention the ability to enjoy a game and be socially critical, for lack of a better term, of it because now that I see more examples I struggle with how much I should enjoy the experiences that house them. Watch_Dogs has some icky sexist moments in it but I still like dicking around in the game.

          Thanks again for responding.

          • Todd Brakke June 11, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

            Echoed. And I will have more to add, but such a thorough and well-thought out reply deserves one in kind and that will take me a bit of time. :)

        • Todd Brakke June 11, 2014 at 11:50 pm #

          Wow is this a lot to reply to. I’m going to take my best shot at it because I respect both your viewpoint and that you took such time and care in composing your thoughts here. That’s not saying I agree in each point you raise, of course. ;)

          So, a couple of bits:

          “…it’s kind of a slap in the face to have, thrown back at me…”

          This is where words fail to do the job of thought, conveying tone and nuance in the way I intended. I didn’t really think that was your point on every perspective appearing in every game/product, but in the phrasing you used it I found it impossible to parse where you felt the line should be or quite what it was you actually mean to convey. (Not that there is ever a real line you can draw in these things.) I do think it strong to call my phrasing a slap in the face, but as that is how it came off I apologize nonetheless.

          Speaking of which, words will surely fail me in this reply, but for what it’s worth, my intentions are not meant to be derogatory/inflammatory/accusatory. Also, I’m going to default to focusing on sexism here simply because the verbal ambidexterity required to also fold in the racial aspect (which is every bit as important/relevant)… well, I’m just going to fail to properly word every instance and I don’t want to be nitpicked because in paragraph 26 I focused too narrowly or used the wrong word.

          On to your 4-point breakdown. :)

          1) All* Games are Sexist (asterisk noted)

          At this point let’s agree on what we mean when we refer to sexism. And let’s throw the term misogyny, literal hatred of women, right out because in my mind, that’s an entirely different (and abhorrent) level. Do we agree that sexism is the discrimination against or stereotyping of a gender? (That is the textbook definition… looked up just to be sure.)

          Because if we’re going by that standard I should draw boatload of offense at male portrayals in games that in no way reflect my value system or what I think it means to be a man. And, at points, I do draw offense at that stuff, but it’s the of the “shaking my head” variety because I don’t feel the popularity of Call of Duty or GTA define me or my gender.

          This is absolutely *not* to say this is an apple to apples comparison (see your earlier point – Equivalencies, False), because there a load of reasons, historical and modern (which we both know you could list in your sleep), why it’s not, but can we agree there is danger in someone, anyone allowing themselves to feel or be defined by the appearance of their gender in mass media? And, yes, I realize that is part of your point. I’m just trying to get a baseline down for what my perspective is coming from.

          “Why /don’t/ we limit ourselves to specific egregious examples?”

          I truly respect your idea of critical enjoyment and your point of not ending the conversation at the label of sexism/misogyny is very well-taken. I think that’s a wonderful way to frame both of those points. And, no, talking about these things and raising questions is absolutely not harmful. Nothing in what I wrote was deliberately intended to mean otherwise.

          But we should also be very aware of what images a label like sexism conjures when used. I think where we differ is that I think there *is* harm in applying that label too casually, using it in places where what we’re what we’re talking about is, at its worst, marginally stereotypical portrayals as opposed to those things that revel in derogatory stereotypes to the point of discrimination or actual outright misogyny. I think doing so simultaneously diminishes both the power of the word and casts into question the character and motivations of authors/creators who had zero intention of diminishing anyone. (Yes intentions and reality aren’t the same thing, but hopefully you understand my point.)

          When we talk malicious sexism, I just think there is more to be gained in focusing ire on the obvious aggregate problems the industry has and the more clear-cut (outrageous was too strong a word from me) individual examples than there is in directing that word at examples who’s primary sin is simply not moving the needle… Speaking of which. :)

          2) The Sin of Not Moving the Needle

          I think there’s a difference between arguing that we all benefit from things that move the needle and that anything that doesn’t move the needle engages in sexism/racism. Miles Morales is a wonderful addition to the Spider-Man canon. His existence is important and it does move the needle. Likewise Uhura. Likewise the new Ms. Marvel. You have me at every word you’re writing (although RPGs have a much better track record of offering the player gender choice than do most genres) until we get to this…

          “Every game that chooses to move the needle should be celebrated; and every game that doesn’t isn’t necessarily a BAD GAME — but it is a lazy one, and it deserves to be called out.”

          Here is where you lose me. I just cannot go to the extreme that says that not moving the needle is about either laziness or in need of calling out. Brothers, which is just the easiest one for me to focus on, is not lazy storytelling. It doesn’t deserve to be called out when there are so many examples of this industry engaging in practices so much more callous and harmful than this game.

          To your earlier point, I think it’s fair to ask the questions, “What if the brothers were of a different race,” or “what if they were sisters,” or even “what if they were split-gender siblings?” But to accuse of it of being harmful to society or setting back inclusiveness in gaming (he says w/o intending to put words in your mouth) for not pursuing these angles, I think is also harmful to open discourse. (Disclaimer: I also can’t say with absolutely certainty what race the brothers are, given that the dialect spoken in the game, I’m told, is derivative of Portuguese.)

          It accuses the creators of being complicit in perpetuating male dominance in a way that they simply, in my view, aren’t. (It’s very hard for me to make this point in the way I want, knowing you haven’t played the game, because there’s no way for me to know what sins you’re specifically envisioning when you read my descriptions about the game. It can’t be the same as experiencing what the game actually is.)

          I do understand the sheer volume of white-male-focused material is already in existence, but to say anything that isn’t part of the solution is part of the problem is, to my ear, not a lot different from saying if you’re not for us then you’re against us, and surely we don’t need more of that in the world?

          3)False Equivalencies

          Let’s be fair. I wasn’t trying to equate my experience to yours, at least not on 1-to-1 terms. I’m not asking you to be satisfied with what you have. Again, text fails. Clearly. Because the core point of my article is a statement for more inclusivity in games and in the teams making them.

          Regardless, the only experience from which I can write is my own. It is different from yours. That doesn’t mean I presume to say mine is better than yours. I’m not trying to mansplain (I really hate that expression, but it’ll have to do here). I’m not intentionally using my voice to condescend or to belittle or to stifle dialog and any inference that I am is a gross misinterpretation/misunderstanding of my intent. (And in that case I’m not putting that wholly on you or any other reader. Perhaps I’ve failed in the way I’ve constructed my argument, but in doing so it’s fairly illustrative of my point that message perception and message intent often don’t go hand in hand.)

          4)Brothers! Plural! :)

          So, uh, Brothers actually *is* about them trying to save their dad. Their mother dies at sea in the game’s intro, saving the life of her youngest in the process. The father falls ill and the brothers go on a quest to find an elixer to save him. If you want a full synopsis and why I love this game so much, you’ll find it here – http://www.nohighscores.com/2014/03/11/brothers-a-tale-of-two-sons-is-manipulative-and-perfect/.

          That’s neither here nor there, as your larger point is the notion that you believed my article intends to stifle discourse. As noted above, that’s just so far from my intent. In expressing my opinion that I think there are targets that are more deserving and will produce more positive change than others isn’t me telling you that you have to agree with me. Your words here and my responses to them, if there was any question, should be evidence enough of that. I just hate to see this game held up as an example of what’s wrong with inclusiveness and gender portrayal in this industry. I think it deserves better than to be reduced to how it handles one female character who is deceitful (and not strictly human, btw), which is really what it comes down to.

          And, yes, in all honesty, I do find your comparisons to pay equality and male sexual dominance to be horribly extreme in relation to this discussion. I mean I understand the point you’re making (at least I think I do), and I’m not taking offense because I know your intent is in the right place, but I would argue there is false equivalency in comparing those things to me standing in front of a particular game and saying, “Hey, this game doesn’t deserve to be painted with that brush.” In the end, I don’t want you telling me my heart any more than you want me telling you yours, you know?

          Anyway, it’s the farthest thing from the truth that what I wrote is me refusing to talk about a problem or pretending said problem doesn’t exist. I do understand how it could come off that way but ultimately what we’re really talking about here is you and I not agreeing that one of several examples I brought up in the post is complicit with the problem that we both agree exists and needs rectification.

          This article spoke against boorish male behavior towards women working in the industry, it spoke in favor of far more inclusiveness at the highest levels of game development, it spoke in favor of more nuanced and real heroines in games. Given that, hopefully it can be okay that we don’t agree that Brothers represents part of the problem, because no matter what I’m so glad that you took the time for this discussion and I hope those who read this exchange after the fact come away with more to think about than they’d of gotten from just the main piece itself.

          • pinkwarriorneedsfoodbadly June 12, 2014 at 4:31 am #

            I’m sorry to not have the time to give your response the thorough consideration it deserves. Thank you for it, truly. Instead, because I’m simply unable to dedicate further resources to this discussion, I’m going to see myself out with a single observation:

            If nobody had message-boarded about the sexism contained in Brothers, this conversation, which is clearly a valuable experience for us both, and for others, in its simple existence, never would have happened.

            And that is perhaps the most elegant explanation as to why it is worthwhile to point out sexism wherever it appears, in large ways and small.

            Thanks again for your time, Todd. I’ve been reading articles at No High Scores for years, and will be reading them for many years to come.

          • Valmorian June 12, 2014 at 6:31 pm #

            I created an account just to reply to this, because the comments on here are amazingly good compared to what I’ve seen in pretty much any other discussion on these matters.

            I do, however, think that when it comes to sexism, it’s important to recognize the kinds of things that are less obvious.

            Brothers is a game I very much enjoyed. It was moving in a way no other video game has ever been for me. While I played it, it never occurred to me once that the game was sexist.

            HOWEVER, once it was pointed out to me that all the female characters in that game were damsels, evil, or killed to motivate the protagonists, it became painfully clear to me that Brothers is indeed quite sexist. Not INTENTIONALLY so, mind you, but that’s the insidious nature of the sexism in question.

            The clearest way I’ve been able to express the issue with Brothers is to imagine if the game had been called “Sisters” and to swap the gender of EVERY other character in the game. I have absolutely no doubt that a game about two sisters trying to save their mother, running into the gender-switched characters in that game would have caused all SORTS of buzz about it being offensive to men.

            • Todd Brakke June 13, 2014 at 11:50 am #

              First, as always, thank you! The more level-headed participation shows up in this the better!

              I’ve become incredibly torn on this whole thing, specifically as it relates to Brothers. Honestly, it has weighed on me this week. Here’s where I think I’m starting to evolve to…

              If we’re judging something as sexist based solely on surface level (as opposed to intentional) gender stereotyping then yes, Brothers is sexist. I can’t argue against that. The problem I have is that, judged on that level, and right to PinkWarrior’s point, almost everything is guilty of sexism on some level.

              And you know, she’s right when she says that label shouldn’t be applied and then be the end of the conversation. But most of the time it is. That’s just reality. This game, this person, they’re sexist, in the sense of being discriminatory and I think discriminatory is a much deeper level of sexism because that is generally purposeful and extremely harmful and therefore when you apply that label to a person or group you’re saying they’re guilty of doing disservice to society. That’s incredibly harsh to lay at the feet of damn near everything.

              This is why I think we should be very careful about how we lay that charge at the individual instances who’s sin is of the not moving the needle forward variety (Brothers, IMO) versus the sin of setting the needle back (the Assassin’s Creed: Unity controversy).

              See, as much as the imbalance obviously exists, I don’t think it’s inherently wrong for a creator to want to tell a masculine story, when the person(s) clearly have something they want to say. I don’t know the lead creators for Brothers, but my gut feeling is that we’re talking about a person or small group who wanted to tell a story that was very personal to them. Could they have done sisters or split-gender siblings? Sure. But should they have had to, purely to avoid a sexist label and more deliberately move the needle forward? I can’t make that mental leap.

              Which is where we come back to aggregation. Because Brothers should absolutely be on any list of games that features a lack of diversity/inclusion. And I think we can all agree that if you took a list of games from even any single year in which a game fails to feature diversity and compare that to a list of games with genuine diversity then the latter is going to be far too short in comparison. That, in my mind, is where we know we have a problem and we can justifiably poke the industry with that stick and say, “you need to do better.” And that doesn’t require calling out individuals as sexist when laying that charge is unnecessarily harmful to that person or small group — which also has the side effect of putting people on the defensive who would otherwise be part of the chorus calling for more inclusion.

              To be fair, there are people who I think would say Brothers is guilty of discriminatory sexism, but A) I think if you’re going to do that you damn well have better played that game start to finish and B) I’d still argue that you (not you specifically, Valmorian) are interpreting that charge at a level of strictness that goes beyond reason, a strictness that means you’re guilty of discrimination purely by virtue of having a female antagonist without a featured female protagonist. Maybe I’m wrong in this, but I think that is putting yourself in the designers’ heads and judging their motivations and I can’t make that leap.

              So yeah, that’s where I’m at now. We’ll see how long that lasts because I know I’m going to continue to chew on this for a good long while. :)

              • CraigM June 13, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

                I’m largely with you Todd. I totally see where Pinkwarrior is coming from, and can appreciate her viewpoint. I simply can not concede that every game that doesn’t actively move the needle forward is sexist. It’s the a variation of the classical fallacy ‘if you’re not with me, you’re against me’. It’s a blunt approach that ignores any sort of context.

                This is especially true with stories with a minimalist cast. Brothers has a story about two brothers, and really mostly about the younger brother, with only a handful of other incidental encounters. Switch the gender of almost any side character and you could make a different argument of how the game is sexist. Saving the mother instead of the father? How about changing the female ‘companion’ to a male, thus eliminating the sole female present in the last half of the game (also the sole other human in that last half)? About the only genders you could swap without bringing in another argument of sexism would be the troll couple. In other words because of the nature of the story, and the near complete absence of other characters, trying to pin Brothers as sexist simply doesn’t hold water for me.

                How about Gone Home? It has no male characters, but calling that sexist seems off. Or in movies, is Castaway, All is Lost, Gravity, 127 Hours, etc. sexist because they lack major roles for both genders? There is a substantive difference between those not having prominent female role, and a game like Assassins Creed not. By all means, we need to point out the imbalance, but tarring Brothers (or the others) with the sexist brush only diminishes the word. The question shouldn’t be why is Brothers telling a distinctly male focused story, but rather why aren’t there more games like Shelter telling a distinctly female focused story.

                But for the Assassins Creed’s, Battlefields, and other sprawling AAA games, by all means go for the jugular.

              • Valmorian June 13, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

                I am all for stories that tell a “masculine” tale. Also I am for stories that tell “feminine” ones. I don’t think anyone criticizing brothers has said a single word against the basic premise of the protagonists being brothers.

                The issue is that every representation of a female character in that game falls into tired, lazy, and slightly misogynistic tropes. There is no reason that had to be the case, and having even ONE friendly non-stereotyped strong female character would have detracted from the tale of brotherly love.

                And that’s the thing, isn’t it? The idea that you can’t tell a male-centric story without making all the female characters seductive black widows, damsels in distress or women in the refrigerator tropes is simply wrong.

                I still contend that a tale of two Sisters where every male they encountered was evil, in distress, or a mcguffin killed off for revenge purposes would have gathered instant attention as being “man hating”. Meanwhile Brothers gets a pass by all but the few who are really concerned about poor female representation in video games.

              • Todd Brakke June 13, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

                Ahh, now you hit on another angle that’s been in my head and keeps getting lost in the sea of everything else. (It’s a mess up here.) :) So a couple of counterpoints. Counterpoint the first: Are stereotypes always bad? Is duplicity as a character trait clearly stereotyping? People/beings are duplicitous. Not all people, but the character trait is not gender-specific. Is there a long list of duplicitous women in storytelling? Absolutely, and I realize I’m on slippery ground because the roots of the cliche of the deceitful/treacherous woman goes back a *long* way. I’m not endorsing that. But the list of duplicitous men is pretty long too. I’d argue it’s a common antagonist trait across the board. I don’t look at the presence of a single deceitful character, see Craig’s point about small sample sizes, being female as clear-cut discriminatory stereotyping. (Reminder: I have conceded the point on surface-level stereotyping/sexism and its existence in the game.)

                Counterpoint two: You know, you are right that the inclusion of a single, living, truly impactful female character in the game would have helped. That said, are we accurately reflecting the portrayal of women in Brothers? (I’m really asking.) We have spidergirl. Alluring. Deceitful. Absolutely. That’s one. Are the others being fairly characterized? The mother dies at the beginning. Does that make her a victim character? (See my argument above re: her importance. She gave her life for her child. She motivates the younger brother throughout. In my mind she’s tragic, but this game is a tragedy. The only person to come out of it standing is the younger brother.) The captured ogre. Yes, she is rescued. She also rescues the boys right back after they free her. She’s not without agency in the game, she just doesn’t have it at first glance. And her mate, that guy was completely hopeless without her. He played the card of the victim more than she does, taking no action until the brothers came along to help him. Then there are the townspeople. I can’t remember who had what roles there. I know the bully was male. There was a drunkard who was male. I think the brothers do modest favors for some female townspeople who are neutral only in that they don’t take any memorable action. I think (though am not positive) that’s the sum total. I’m not really not sure what is fair characterization here.

                Final point –because I think it’s getting lost and if we’re going to discuss this further I think this, not Brothers, should be the centerpoint– how do we want to define the charge of sexism? What does it say about the people making a game to refer to their work as sexist? Are we comfortable laying that charge anytime there is the slightest appearance of stereotyping versus more clear-cut discriminatory examples? Does doing the former dilute the word and its effectiveness and impair its ability to promote more and better inclusiveness? Because, ultimately, this should be about what approach is the most likely to effect positive change, right?

                And I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m in the tall grass. But in this I do think we should all be a little less sure of ourselves. I’m not comfortable outright dismissing the existence of sexist undertones in a game like Brothers, but to reduce it to that? To reduce the people who made it to that? I’m learning that kind of reduction isn’t always the intent when the label is applied, but it is what happens and I’m also *very* uncomfortable with that. In the case of Brothers, it’s obviously not what the story is about. It’s not intended subtext.

                I’m a fan of the phrasing, “failure of imagination.” A lot of awful things have happened not because of intent but because something simply wasn’t thought of. (There’s a great scene in the Apollo 1 episode of From the Earth to the Moon in this vein.) I already look at a couple lines in my original post and cringe because they could be interpreted as dismissive. That’s not intended. That was a careless failure on my part. A human one. I don’t think Brothers is sexist. I think the appearance of sexism in the game is the result of oversight, of failure of imagination. I think that’s what separates it from something like the Assassin’s Creed: Unity fiasco because it’s clear at Ubisoft there was a conscious choice made. I don’t think the people who made Brothers are guilty of that.

  2. SpectralThundr June 11, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    Perhaps the idea that Danielle is being “trolled” as you put it Todd, is because her argument is pretty ridiculous and basically boils down to expecting the games industry to be more diverse for the sake of diversity. Polygon seems to run at least one of these articles a week at this point, likely for clickbait purposes.

    Fact of the matter is the majority of women are just not interested in video games, most actually scoff at the idea of said video games. So why would they even be interested presenting games they likely know nothing about and have very little interest in playing never mind pitching to a male dominated target audience, in a field that is dominated by men.

    It’s almost akin to affirmative action and having quotas of hiring people based on skin color or gender rather than qualifications, I would think the majority would find issue with that.

    Now before you reply with the usual “you’re racist or misogynistic” No I’m really not, I am all for women who are interested in this industry to pursue that interest. I am most definitely very much for the ability for gamers to have female gender choices in games as well, like a Lara Croft, or Fem Shep just as a couple examples.

    The reality of the industry however and it’s target audience is that it’s majority male driven and to be honest I would rather listen to a developer actively working on a product be the one to lead a press teaser on it, than someone put up on stage for the sake of trying to be “diverse and politically correct”

    • Todd Brakke June 12, 2014 at 12:00 am #

      I’m not going to presume to tell you what’s in your head or heart, but the notion that women aren’t interested in games in sufficient numbers to be better represented in the industry is nonsense.

      Far be it for me to put words in Danielle’s mouth, but I think it an incredible misinterpretation of her point to say she’s advocating for checking off diversity boxes at the expense of the better qualified.

      The point isn’t that people should be hired for their skin color or gender. The point is that many women and people of color aren’t getting positions for which they *are* eminently qualified. The point is having more diversity and inclusiveness of qualified creators as heads of design, as company leads, would be an incredible asset to the publication of better balanced, more inclusive games.

      It’s not that developers shouldn’t be the ones speaking at press conferences, but that when we see long chorus lines of developers taking the stage to speak about their games, it shouldn’t be the rare exception to the rule to see someone who’s not a white male up there.

      • SpectralThundr June 12, 2014 at 12:19 am #

        I’m not presuming that was Danielle’s intention, it was however how her article came off to me. Trust me Todd, I am right there with you, but at the end of the day does it really matter if it was Cliffy B up on stage pitching the next Gears of War for example or Tina from the marketing department? And what does the whole “white male” thing mean?

        E3 SHOULD be about the games on display, not about pushing forth a diversity progressive agenda, especially with how often Polygon and to almost the same extent RPS seems to try and do so on a regular basis, creating controversy for click thrus where there really isn’t controversy. That’s just the reality of the game industry, it’s male dominated because the target audience up until very recently when video games became HIP and TRENDY were and mostly still are males between the ages of 15-35.

        How many women do you know that actively want to play a Call of Duty , or a Watch_Dogs for example? I don’t doubt that the number of female core gamers is growing, but I highly doubt it’s at the levels where we need to start trying to force diversity just yet.

        • Todd Brakke June 12, 2014 at 9:41 am #

          Please make sure to note Craig’s reply below because he does better than I have illustrating why I think you’re way off the reservation on this point. (Thanks, Craig!)

          But also this: You said you don’t want to be judged over-harshly for your perspective on this, that you don’t believe you should be marked as sexist for it. Yet, you are, in the same breath, doing a monumental amount of judging of people and their motivations at places like Polygon and RPS.

          The people who care about this stuff and take the time and effort to write about it? They’re not engaging in click-bait. I’ve been in or on the periphery of game journalism for nearly 20 years. I’ve worked alongside some of these people, I’ve been at the dinner/lunch/podcast table with plenty more, even when I’ve not had the privilege to truly get to know them, and all of them who make it a point to have this discussion –all of us– *care* about these issues. We don’t all agree on every point all of the time, but it’s not faux, and you really do a disservice to them to boil down their motivations in this way.

    • CraigM June 12, 2014 at 9:16 am #

      To dismiss her argument as ridiculous, and claim it’s clickbait and that women don’t make up enough of the market, etc. is missing the point entirely.

      First off to the women aren’t a significant factor in the market, it’s [url=http://www.theesa.com/facts/gameplayer.asp]demonstrably not true[/url]. What we have is the [i]marketing department[/i] insisting that it’s true, and working to ensure that it is. Let’s be clear, this is not exclusive to games. Google for articles about how movies studios not making women leads because movies with women leads don’t sell. Same shit, different coat of paint. It is nothing more than a self perpetuating delusion. There is a very strong correlation between the marketing dollars spent, and the sales of a game (or movie, or any entertainment really). Marketing believes that women don’t sell, so they don’t get nearly the same budget as male leads, and lo and behold they don’t get the same sales.

      Now as to the presentations, no there is nothing wrong with a developer presenting their own game. After all you should get someone who is passionate and knowledgeable to present. Sadly we don’t even get that for all of the presentations. Many of the people presenting are clueless empty suits with no passion for anything but money. I guarantee that many of those games have women, or people of different races, working on them. Especially the AAA games with multi hundred crews. You’re telling me that not one of the qualified people was anything but a white male? What of the Tomb Raider games? Why not have Rhianna Pratchett, the writer, present? Perhaps having her present before the last E3 would have prevented the whole ‘rape of Lara Croft’ controversy (which happened to be nothing more than clueless speaker saying dumb things).

      Here’s the thing, I used to ascribe to much the same notion as you regarding forced diversity, quotas, etc. Logically it made sense, let people do what they want and are good at. If that self sorts into some highly imbalanced gender/ race distribution then don’t just force diversity to be PC. I’m a white male, working in a STEM field no less, who went to an engineering school even. In other words I know what a lack of diversity looks like.

      But I’ve been exposed behind the veil, the one most people don’t acknowledge or see, that shapes how this goes. See history and culture put the lie to notion women aren’t good at/ aren’t interested in such things. Really it’s more like [i]our culture tells them that they aren’t good at, and shouldn’t be interested in these things[/i]. Look at who did most computer programming in the early days of computers.
      [url=http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/researcher-reveals-how-%E2%80%9Ccomputer-geeks%E2%80%9D-replaced-%E2%80%9Ccomputergirls%E2%80%9D]Like this article[/url].

      The reality is we all benefit when we acknowledge the imbalance in our culture. An article like this isn’t ‘white knighting’ it’s a necessary corrective, lest we become too comfortable with the status quo. The reason articles like this are becoming so common is that, finally, we are starting to acknowledge there is a problem. Once you see the problem it becomes impossible to ignore. The article isn’t demonizing any one choice of presenter, that would be problematic, it’s really just questioning the assumed default. That’s what we should work harder to change.

  3. SpectralThundr June 14, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    I think for me, in that I lean more conservative/libertarian to begin with, I find things like affirmative action actually do more harm than good in the first place. I believe people should be judged on their actions and contributions rather than giving special treatment based on gender or skin color.

    • Autistic Angel June 14, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      Believing that’s the world in which we *could* live is aspirational.

      Believing that’s the world in which we *do* live would require the commensurate belief that white males in America enjoy greater economic success because their actions and contributions are naturally better than any other demographic.

      Until a person’s gender or skin color no longer functions as a statistical predictor of the quality of education, nutrition, healthcare, financial support, and personal safety they will receive throughout childhood, I’d be very reluctant to suggest society is functioning as intended.

      • SpectralThundr June 14, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

        Affirmative action is just that though. You’re rewarding people based on being born a women, or born black. If nothing else the left has done a pretty bang on job of keeping minorities right where they are with promises of handouts, rather than promoting family values, common sense, and personal responsibility.

        While claiming “tolerance” the whole time. It’s such beyond a farce.

        • Autistic Angel June 15, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

          There really needed to be at least a paragraph break between the sentence where you argue that affirmative action is an unfair advantage granted to undeserving women and ethnic groups at the expense of hardworking white men, and the line where it’s a placebo to keep lazy minorities placated beneath the heel of their oppressors.

          American women at every level of society, of every ethnicity and socio-economic background, earn less than their male counterparts. In which of your three areas do you believe women are inherently most deficient: family values, common sense, or personal responsibility?

        • Todd Brakke June 16, 2014 at 9:56 am #

          In invoking AA you’re implying an argument that’s not being made here (at this site or in any of the articles linked). Nobody in any of this has said, “We need a law to enforce gender/racial balance in game development.” That’s a different debate and not one I’m interested in having take place here (although I personally am okay with the law forcing regulation on the market and I think, in moderation, such action can be necessary). What you have here, right now, is a bunch of people looking at where gender/racial balance are in this this industry, speaking out, and saying, “We don’t like this. It’s not okay with us.” As a Libertarian, it seems to me that people voicing dissatisfaction to the market (even if it’s dissatisfaction you don’t agree with) and the law allowing the market to decide how to react to it is exactly the sort of thing you should celebrate. Nobody is asking for a qualified white guy to lose his job in favor of a less qualified woman or person of color just to fill a quota and nobody his drafting legislation. People are arguing, rightly in my opinion, that there already *are* plenty of women and people of color that are hugely qualified for those positions and not enough are in them – the visual evidence of which is plain as day. The industry is deservedly being poked with a stick and the hope is that there is some self-examination and that the needle moves in a more inclusive direction, both in terms of representation in the industry and within the games themselves.

          • SpectralThundr June 16, 2014 at 10:35 am #

            Todd, with all due respect, this is where it starts, and then it tends to steam roll when people start advocating for more and more government intrusion into every day lives. Soon we’ll have the authoritarian Utopia that is every liberal/socialists’ dream.

            I still believe that if women want to work in the games industry, there’s plenty of room for them to do so. And I looked at your poll btw, stating 49% of gamers are women. Sure when you lump facebook and casual games on phones with core gamers, you can come up with any percentage you want. It doesn’t however make it true that 49% of women are hardcore gamers that would even be interested in 98% of the games at E3 to begin with. It’s spin and why? Oh to try and force more diversity in a field that generally doesn’t interests women to begin with, for the sake of equality.

            Tomb Raider, strong female lead, Mass Effect and the Dragon Age series, strong female characters. Starcraft with Kerrigan, The Final Fantasy series with characters like Lightning, Elena Fisher in Uncharted. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. Faith in Mirror’s Edge. That’s just a handful of either strong female leads or supporting characters in video games. This idea that there’s so little is just flat out not true.

            • OnePompousPenguin June 16, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

              “Todd, with all due respect, this is where it starts, and then it tends to steam roll when people start advocating for more and more government intrusion into every day lives. Soon we’ll have the authoritarian Utopia that is every liberal/socialists’ dream. ”

              Slippery slope arguments are….slippery :-P

              In all seriousness though, your argument about the percentage of male “hardcore” gamers to female might make a better argument for more female/minority presenters. No need to appeal to an audience whose attention you already have.

              Plus, we are not necessarily talking about those who are playing the games, but rather those making them. Most studios are made up of a good percentage of female developers/artists/whatever. All of whom could likely present the game with passion equal to that of their male co-workers, so why is it that it’s always the white male presenting? Is that not a question worth asking? That maybe there exists something engrained deep within the culture that causes this to occur, even if it’s not meant maliciously?

              Todd is not claiming that it is even a conscious choice being made by those in charge (though maybe he did, it’s been a few days since I’ve read the article). Just that, as a industry, they could do better of showing off the diversity that already exists. That maybe this would inspire other young minorities (be it female or otherwise) to pursue a career in the field. Which would in turn strengthen the industry and maybe cause a more diverse offering of games as a result.

            • CraigM June 16, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

              49% of gamers are women. Full Stop.

              It is irrelevant if the types of games they play are not ‘teh harcorez’, games are games. By the way, that is a claim that merits evidence, because the sales data doesn’t justify it. Throwing around ‘casual games’ as a way to imply that they are less of a gamer, who are you to judge? Look at the market, the so called casual sphere has exploded. It’s not just women playing them, kids, and men too. Hell I’ve put an embarrassingly large amount of time into games like Angry Birds, I’ve also got hundreds of hours in Europa Universalis. ‘Casual’ and ‘core’ gamers are often the same thing. I play both, as do most people I know. Men play casual games, women play core games, in significant numbers on each side.

              But even were that not the case it still shouldn’t matter. Look, EA and other traditional ‘core’ game companies have bought full into mobile and social gaming. Whatever you think of the merits of those games, and let’s not get into that tangent here, they are big business.

              Oh, and by the way my wife, who you would so easily peg, and not incorrectly, as a casual gamer had bought her own Wii, Mario Kart, Super Mario, The Sims, and many other games before we got married. Yet she’s just as likely to play Candy Crush as any of those. Sure you may label her a casual gamer, but she also will forever remain alienated from the bulk of AAA games as long as they insist in their infantile male power fantasies that ignore the existence of women. Is she, now, likely to be interested in most of what was shown at E3 from the major developers? No, but do not think for a second that games made an attempt to acknowledge her existence in the market. There are millions of women already playing core games. There are millions more who potentially would if the industry were not so exclusionary.

              See I do not expect you to honestly engage with any of my counter arguments, you’ve made up your mind, and ignore or belittle any contradictory evidence. Whatever. If you really do want to honestly adhere to your libertarian beliefs you need to acknowledge that the central premise is based on the notion of equality of opportunity. For merit, or the market, to work unimpeded then that is the central truth. This is a fantasy though, our world simply does not work in this manner. It is an ideal to aspire towards, but not one to pretend exists. To act like pure merit is the decider in our society as it exists today is to merely blind yourself to reality. The reason that there is so few women or minorities present in games (presentation at E3, making them, or as protagonists) isn’t that the market has decided that’s the best, but rather the marketing department never gave them a shot.

              You brought up a list of female protagonists as a counter point, but what you don’t realize is how weak that list is. The thing is that when people mention female leads, it’s almost always the exact same list. Jade, Kerrigan, Faith, Bioware. It’s the same list because the number of options is so vanishingly small. Compared to the Squareface McWhitebread protagonists it’s trivial. If I were to have everyone here name 5 brown haired, stubble faced, white, all american male leads from AAA games released JUST THIS YEAR, it is entirely possible for our lists to only contain minimal overlap. If I asked everyone to do the same for AAA female protagonists of any type (excluding games where you create a generic character of any sex/ race like Mass Effect) but allowed that list to be any game in the last 10 years, I doubt that our lists would contain more than 1 unique entry.

              So don’t pretend the market has spoken, or that the balance is dictated by some nebulous notion of merit or interest. It is not. Our world does not currently work that way. And until you can accept that you are forever doomed to an infantile understanding of libertarianism that ignores your built in privilege that allows you to ignore the difficulty and suffering of others.

              This will be the last I have to say on the subject. I’m sorry to come across as harsh, and I don’t expect you to agree. I just hope one day you realize that merit and ability are only tangentially related to success in many layers of society.

            • Todd Brakke June 16, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

              A) I talk about people using their voice to call for change and you talk about government intrusion. Nobody has brought up government intervention other than you. Everyone else is simply saying the industry should do better of its own accord.
              B) The notion that any movement in one direction must end with an inevitable slide into extremes is nonsense. We draw lines between extremes all the time in our society and in our laws.
              C) Authoritarian Utopia. You got me. That’s my dream. That is the dream of all liberals. We had a meeting and agreed on it.

              Reply if you must, but I really am done discussing this point as it’s just going in circles now.

            • Autistic Angel June 16, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

              I would be really interested to see the historical precedents SpectralThundr is using to claim that the inexorable march towards an authoritarian state begins with the forced inclusion of disadvantaged members of society.

              The most prominent example I can think of in American history is that time the president issued an executive order to overturn the property laws in ten states and remove the duly purchased possessions of thousands of hardworking farmers. That was 151 years ago and, so far, the Emancipation Proclamation has not yet resulted in an Orwellian dystopia.

              Then, after the Invisble Hand of the Free Market failed to provide economic equality for millions of African-American citizens over the course of a FULL CENTURY, liberals struck again with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Suddenly voter registrars, public schools, universities, and even private business owners were banned from discriminating against people on the basis of race. Another example of forced inclusivity, but once again, the omni-politik government overthrow all personal liberties is running behind schedule.

              These days, one federal appeals court after another is throwing out state laws banning gay marriage. Our culture has progressed to the point where we are no longer willing to deny couples the right to make medical decisions, share healthcare benefits, own mutual property, and assert parental custody just because they’re the same gender. It’s too early to know if this will be the progressive initiative that finally brings down civilization, but if it does, I’ll buy you a can of ObamaCoke(TM).

  4. SpectralThundr June 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    When you’re marketing game demographics like any PR firm or publisher PR department does you have it all broken down into subcatagories. They don’t just lump everyone into one mass and determine marketing that way. It makes no sense to market a title like Watch_Dogs towards a female demographic, because their core audience isn’t made up of 49% females who would even play Watch_Dogs, just as one example.

    I never suggested they’re “less of a gamer” But if the majority of “woman gamers” are actually playing Farmville or Candy Crush including them as being interested in AAA big budget titles serves what purpose exactly? When in reality if those women have zero interest in playing AAA big budget titles, what makes one automatically assume they’re interested in developing those same AAA big budget titles?

    You’re asking for an honest debate, while being about dishonest about the entire thing merely to push some social justice agenda. I too have known women personally who WILL play something like Neverwinter Nights, or Guild Wars. But reality? Those women are few and far between. Is that changing compared to the dawn of the industry in the 80′s and 90′s? Yes! Is gaming now more socially acceptable rather than being relegated to just the “nerds” Yep! Sure as hell is! Gee I wonder if there’s a connection there! Now that the stereotype that gaming is only for nerdy white guys is being put by the wayside we’re seeing more women interested in gaming. Fancy that.

    But we’re still not quite there yet. Back to Danielle’s article for a moment, perhaps she should start asking for equality at Polygon itself, since it has 22 male writers to a whopping 7 female writers. But that’s a whole other can of worms.

    • Autistic Angel June 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

      Yes, maybe the secret to convincing everyone that gender disparity is No Big Deal is to point out more examples where that disparity exists.

      But here’s the thing: if Polygon did launch a new initiative to bring more female writers onto their staff, I only know one person here who would complain. Can you guess who that is?

      • SpectralThundr June 16, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

        It wouldn’t be me that’s for sure. Just like I wouldn’t complain to see more female presenters at E3, as long as they knew the product they were pitching well enough to be informative.

        • Autistic Angel June 17, 2014 at 6:50 am #

          Oh, my mistake. I thought you objected to promoting a diverse workforce or highlighting the contributions that a broad spectrum of voices bring to a project. Perhaps I misunderstood your intent when you dismissed Danielle’s article on that specific point as “pretty ridiculous” and “clickbait.”

          Anyway, now that we agree on everything, I can officially welcome you into the Extremist Left. Meetings are every sixth Sunday while the norms are in church. Be sure to bring an Ayn Rand to burn, and something vegan to be redistributed to the group.

          Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve received word that someone else on the internet is being wrong. AWWAAAAAAAAY!

          • SpectralThundr June 17, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

            You’re twisting words here, what I’m not for is forcing diversity for the sake of it, over looking qualifications to meet some imaginary quota. That doesn’t equate racism or misogyny however. I know folks like you like to equate the two to try and invalidate things.

            However the reality of the industry is we’re still not there in that it’s truly 50/50 in regards to core games. So forcing diversity for the sake of it with presenters at E3 serves little actual purpose.

  5. outbreak June 26, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    I had to throw my 2 cents in here, because I’m tired of articles like this trying to lump Bayonetta in with “proof that games are sexist” group. The character Boynetta are designed by Mari Shimazaki. She has worked on both Bayonetta 1&2. Now, before any one screams that those ebil mens demanded that she make Bayonetta all sexy like you might wanna do some research…

    While we’re on the topic, when was the last time a TV sitcom feature a smart, loving father? Most, nowadays feature the bumbling idiot dad who screws up everything, until his spouse comes along and saves the day. That really sets a great role model for the young ones out there… It’s hard to take these folks seriously who willingly ignore that sometimes sexism truly does go both ways..

    • Todd Brakke June 27, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

      I appreciate the post, but on the first point I think you’re over-stating my Bayonetta reference. I don’t know the character, her history, or the story as it appears in the game. You’re absolutely right and I didn’t say that I did. I spoke specifically to the E3 presentation in which the guy giving the demo said she turned nude because here clothes are her magic hair. No further context. Like that’s the most natural notion in the world. What I said was that’s a notion that’s hard for me to get past. And you know, the rest of the game and the character could be aces and I’m not opposed to playing it and appreciating it on all of those other levels, but the creator of that concept could be male or female and I’d still think the notion of hair=clothes is stupid.

      As to point two, see PinkWarrior’s point on false equivalencies. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a father of two. My kids are my world and I know exactly what you’re talking about. It’s not just TV. Parenting magazines and services virtually all cater to the mom and it is, at points, irritating. There is room for better balance in those circles. But until the sheer volume of that stuff reaches the sheer volume of cultural cliche/discrimination that works against women, it’s simply not going to be the same thing because the harmful effect of that is more irritating to men than actively harmful. The existence of those things doesn’t prevent me from being a good father or the women in my life from thinking me a good and capable father. You can’t really say the same for the lack of inclusiveness in the gaming industry.

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