Thursday, November 4, 2010

More musings on sexism that go nowhere.

(This is basically my sequel to women in gaming and like that one, I don't know if I have a point)

The funny thing is, for the better part of video gaming's existence, suggestively and scantily clad female characters have been the norm. I think that might be what separates Lara Croft from a lot of other similarly-clad female characters. Sure, she may run around in a tank top and daisy dukes, but she's a very capable woman in spite of that. And at least she has the sense to wear a jacket in snowy weather from the second game forward. The women of the Final Fantasy series are not so lucky, as cold-weather wear for women seems to be an alien concept in those worlds. For VII and VIII I could accept that as part of the graphics limitations. For X and becomes much more idiotic. They don't sell fleece hoodies anywhere?

Although to be fair to those two games, the male characters were just as inappropriately dressed to be galavanting around anyplace cooler than Hawaii in summer, and I'm sure there are some places where dressing like Tidus will have you declared mentally unstable. Seriously, why is one pants leg shorter than the other!

The thing is, sexism in games can be prevalent even where we don't think it is. More often than not, games are skewed toward the male demographic, and also with the thought that all men are perverts. Some games acknowledge the sexism and use it towards humorous ends- Duke Nukem and the old Leisure Suit Larry games are examples of this. In other cases, as in Silent Hill 2, a dark undertone of misogyny serves to disturb the player, to symbolize some of the things that are very wrong with the game's protagonist. The Silent Hill example leads to a particularly interesting dichotomy- if you pay attention, Pyramid Head is the only obviously male monster in the game. We first encounter Pyramid head forcing himself on a mannequin- the same (clearly female)mannequins James has been beating down in the streets. James' problems with women and his sexual frustration are thematically important to the game, and it creates an interesting broken-mirror parallel (especially once you've finished the game).

Have I mentioned Silent Hill 2 is brilliant lately?

To show you that I'm reading WAY too much into this, I'll go out on a limb and say that the classic fairy tale trope of "Rescue The Princess" which we see in Mario, Zelda, Splatterhouse, Resident Evil 4, and countless others- is by its very nature a sexist trope. On a funny note, the first Resident Evil game actually allows you to turn the trope on its head if you're playing as Jill and you rescue Chris from the cell.

But it might give the Zelda series some fresh life if, instead of playing as Link rushing in to save Zelda, let Zelda do some of the footwork. I'm sure some of that Sheik-Parkour would make for a fun game, Nintendo, and it certainly wouldn't be more of the same. Certainly a little forethought into sexism would have prevented the franchise killing Metroid: Other M ( I would be surprised if they can make a sequel without rebooting the series).

I guess to expand on the thoughts in my last post, there is a very strong undercurrent of sexism in the gaming industry. And yes, the lion's share of gamers are male and could give less of a damn. But gaming isn't an exclusive boys' club anymore. Gamers and marketers should be looking for new ways to play and new people to play with, rather than chasing off your potential market by slapping a bikini-clad bimbo on a game cover (of course I'm sexist for assuming that offends women- but then I can never win).

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