This is a guest post by Lucy Holdsworth. Lucy is a first year student of English currently working as 1st AD for Black Stump Films. In her spare time she writes music which can be found at youtube.com/lucindaholdsworth
Capcom recently announced that its upcoming game Deep Down would have no playable female characters for the sake of the story. It’s odd that they would have so little control over their own plot, but we’ll let this one slide. After all, it’s not like this happens often. Except Team Fortress 2. And the Halo games. And Assassin’s Creed. And Grand Theft Auto V. Strange, it’s almost as though women aren’t valued members of the gaming community.
The argument goes that the majority of gamers are men, who would find it too difficult to empathize with a female protagonist, so why bother? It just wouldn’t sell. This is all well and good until you remember that games like Octodad exist, which really raises the question, why is it more socially acceptable to emotionally connect to an octopus than a woman? Developers’ crippling fear of ostracizing their male audience has made them blind to the fact that 45% of their demographic is being told that they are defined by their cup size. Female characters seem to have trouble getting dressed and too little backbone to push themselves out of the seductive poses in which they wait to be saved. A friend recently pointed me in the direction of Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, a game providing everything the title promises. As a thinly veiled opportunity to watch scantily clad women bounce on a beach, this game was, of course, an enormous success. The only controversy surrounding its release was that the ‘topless mode’ patch hinted at by the developers turned out to be a joke. I am accustomed to my gender being reduced to morons in tight fitting underwear (see: every film with ‘fast’ or ‘speed’ in the title), but now it seems even the underwear is being taken away from us.
“But you’ve got Lara Croft!” comes the inevitable response. Let’s take a closer look at that example shall we? When Lara first appeared in 1996, she was an anatomically impossible sex symbol, and continued to be so for a long time. All the badassery in the world could not change the fact that she was universally known as that girl with the enormous breasts. As her outfits shrunk, so did the plot lines, until the franchise was sustained entirely by the memory of better times. However Rhianna Pratchett’s 2013 remake did something new. Lara is still beautiful, but not comically so. She has substance, character growth and an arc worthy of any of her male counterparts. Treating her as a character rather than a pinup has led to critics hailing it as the strongest installment since the original. With such a precedent, why are the majority of female characters still such misogynistic stereotypes?
The problem is that girl gamers simply aren’t taken seriously. Despite blinding evidence to the contrary, no one quite believes we exist. The “fake geek girl” phenomenon attests to this bizarre conviction that women will only pick up a controller to impress men. Believe me when I say that there is no man on this earth for whom I would re-live the disappointment that is attempting to burn down Borgia towers in Assassins Creed II: Brotherhood. Xbox One’s recent promotion offered a copy and paste email to send to your girlfriend, the first few lines of which read:
Not sure if you’ve heard, but Xbox One is now available. That means we can start playing games like Dead Rising 3. I know, I know. You’d rather knit than watch me slay zombies.
Excuse me while I drive these knitting needles into your heart. This is the kind of humour I’d expect from an advert in the 50s, not 2014. Needless to say, Xbox have taken this down and apologized profusely, but the fact remains that no one in the entire marketing department thought that there might be some kind of problem with this. I wish I could say that that’s as patronizing as it gets, but I’d be lying. Borderlands II contains a playable character called Gaige, a mechromancer. Massively over powered, developers and gamers alike dubbed her ‘the girlfriend class’. It’s so nice of them to consider us poor weak females, incapable of holding the heavy controller in our delicate hands. I understand what they were going for, and the idea of an easier player for non-gamers to join in with is a nice one, but implying that I need an easier option than my male counterparts, simply because I am a woman? Oh Eliza, put War and Peace down, that’s a man’s book. Why don’t you try The Very Hungry Caterpillar instead? I want to fight monsters and save kingdoms on quests as the chosen one in the forbidden realm of Gamia. Instead I am expected to play Candy Crush and be satisfied.
There is of course an obvious solution to this: more women working as game developers. It’s the dream job, so why are there so few of them? The twitter hashtag #1reasonwhy asked women in the industry to explain and the responses speak for themselves:
@davidahilljr: I’ve had prominent designers compliment my games, while complimenting my wife’s appearance, when we develop together.
@gabriellekent: Once heard an Art manager say ‘We don’t need any more women, they’re more trouble than they’re worth’ as he viewed applications
@Transform_Ent: After being told she was hired to “look pretty & make the guys happy”, my old boss got him to repeat this in an email to HR.
@redpill: Because once I’ve been told “we don’t need women in order to know what female players want from this industry”
Just think about that last one for a second. Contemplate the staggering arrogance in that statement. Consider that an entire industry, aimed primarily at impressionable teenagers, thinks that women don’t know what’s good for them.
To those of you unfamiliar to gaming, this might seem like a meaningless argument, but the way women are depicted in these games is telling men that women are no more than achievements to unlock. But I am not an achievement to unlock. I am not a stepping-stone in your level up and I am not a plot point in someone else’s life. I am the protagonist of my own life, and you will not tell me otherwise.