By Morgan Fisher
I played video games all the time as a kid. I was an avid Backyard Baseball fan, I loved to play Crash games, and I have countless memories of my cousin and I battling at Street Basketball or Dragonball Z games.
I loved playing games with other people. It was fun to develop my skills while also building relationships with the people I played. However, I have since lost interest in most games. Nowadays, I’m pretty much strictly a Mario Kart/Guitar Hero social video gamer. And I think a lot of it has to do with the way video games, especially the most popular ones, have evolved to fit into this “manly” stereotype, where women aren’t taken seriously within the community, and where women are often utilized as pawns in the games.
The whole “damsel in distress” stereotype can be traced all the way back to the creation of the Mario games, with the kidnapping of Princess Peach and the repetitive plot where Mario has to go and rescue her in nearly all of the Super Mario games. This stereotype has continued on in copious numbers of other games, such as Princess Zelda and even Grand Theft Auto.
The Grand Theft Auto games are an entirely different animal. Varying somewhat in plot, the main objective of most of the games is to kill as many people as possible, blow up as much stuff as possible, and have sex with as many women as possible. I once rented Grand Theft Auto IV just to see what the hype was about, and I lost interest shortly after the level where the main character’s objective is, more or less, to have sex with a woman he had met earlier that day. The newest edition, Grant Theft Auto V, allows you to have sex with prostitutes whenever you see fit. And not that the general violence of the game, regardless of gender, isn’t bad, but there’s something incredibly unsettling about watching people running around and punching women in the face for no reason other than that they can. That’s essentially what that game is, and it’s one of the most popular video games in the world. That is not something that sits well with me. Frankly, it’s not something that should sit well with anyone.
Another issue that has arisen for me regarding women in the video game industry is the “Gamergate” scandal, an issue that came about as a result of an issue involving game developer Zoe Quinn. Quinn was viciously cyber-attacked because her ex-boyfriend claimed that she had been cheating on him with five other men, some of whom were involved in the gaming industry. She began receiving death threats, and had to move out of her home when her address was made public, all because people within the gaming community believed that she had had sex with these men as a way of making herself look good in the industry. The term “gamergate” was developed when the supposed image of the “gamer” was being threatened as a result of the corruption in game journalism. The people involved in this issue called for a new way of looking at journalism ethics within the gaming community, because shaming a woman for having sex with men was making them look bad. To turn this issue around, they began discussing it as a matter of ethics, as opposed to what it really is: blatant sexism. They just want to play their games and pretend to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that women are severely misrepresented in video games, as well as in the industry that creates them.
However, there has definitely been some progress for women in the gamer world over the years. Video games such as Tomb Raider and Nancy Drew involve strong female characters who serve as the protagonists and don’t always end up needing the help of a man in the process of playing through the game. These games divert away from the “damsel in distress” stereotype, which something that would behoove a lot of game designers to get on board with.
Because of these games, and because of the overall acceptance (Gamergate and other instances aside) of women in the gaming community, statistics now show that more women play video games than men. In the U.S., roughly half of the country’s gamers are women. This is a remarkable development, and it’s great to see that the misogyny that can stem from the gaming community is slowly withering away.
However, 70 percent of gaming women will play online as male characters in hopes of avoiding sexual harassment. This is a huge issue. If the gaming community hopes to continue to thrive, sexual cyber-harassment cannot continue. Women are becoming an epic force in the industry, and if they are unwelcome in the community, things will become hostile and the number of gamers in the world could start to dwindle.
I’m not very good at video games, but I have an immense amount of respect for people who are. A large amount of video games are strategic and require lots of thinking and brainstorming, which are very valuable skills. However, the fact that we continue to live in a world where the best-selling games are the ones with the most violence and the most abuse of women is absolutely appalling. Even if half of the U.S.’s gamers are women, true progress will not be made until games that glorify abuse and demean women are deemed obsolete.