Welcome to the another edition of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames. This episode? In which our intrepid blogger explains his position.
I joked via Twitter last night that writing posts on gender feels like some hidden away taboo akin to a drug habit, once I start, my mind can keep the habit fed for hours and post after post. In my situation, I am a male writing about it: people will (and have, especially with–for Americans–an androgynous seeming name like Denis) assume I’m female. I just so happen to be queer: duh, that’s the only reason I care about it. There’s also the fact that I’m writing about things I generally don’t see being taken to task. We gleefully rip into depictions of sexy females, but how dare I be critical of the few outstanding female game characters we have?
My approach to gender might be a bit odd to some. Part of my degree is an area of concentration in the nebulously named Gender Studies–and this coming from an all-male institution. This wouldn’t really be noteworthy except for the fact that such institutions, on a collegiate level, don’t really exist anymore (depending on whom you ask, the U.S. has two or three). It was a fight to even get inclusion for the area of concentration before I ever attended (they would not accept it as a minor), and if I need to tell you how a classroom discussion at such a place differs when no females are around, I could spend days regaling you with examples and stories of wildly varying conversations. I don’t believe I ever had one female friend visit me on campus who didn’t at least feel some tinge of misogyny (more so than usually present on college campuses).
Explaining to my German family what gender studies encompasses is not exactly easy–it doesn’t even translate into a manageable phrase. Most people assume that this means women’s studies, and that I must be a dyed in the wool, pansy feminist (as opposed to the lesbian, man-hating type). The frequent question would be a simple, and damning:
The truth is, in the realm of media we consume and to which we have a response and engage in critical discussions and thought, my observations aren’t really all that odd. In films, we also have our tropes for the female character. If she isn’t in a ‘chick flick’ or romantic comedy, this means that a female protagonist is scantily clad, asked to jump around screen in tight latex, leather, or form fitting material of your choice. Why even bother pointing this out in games when it is so present in every single other medium?
Females aren’t very present in the videogame industry? Neither are they equally present in films (name more than five female directors and I call you an aficionado), the list of top-selling authors, the art world (see: Guerrilla Girls, whom I had the fantastic opportunity to meet at said all-male college), comic books, and I could go on. Here in the United States, a hotly contested issue is the fact that females still make less to the dollar than their male counterparts.
Given all this, why even bother pointing it out in videogames? Isn’t that a bit redundant? In almost every argument I make, I carefully select words and take a slight peek into different genres. What about female characters like Sylvanas Windrunner or Sarah Kerrigan? I plan on looking at such examples, actually, but I feel here is where I would likely pull out the ages-old adage my German professor would lovingly tote (in German), “The exception only proves the rule.”
This goes doubly true for the LGBT community in videogames, especially in regards to anything but gay males. While I can theorize over the sexuality of Link (this was a common conversation with my friends in college), we are woefully under- and misrepresented in games. Again, look at television, film, literature, and you’ll see much the same. If it isn’t niche targeted, we’re generally not there or presented as entirely sexual beings. I don’t want games to go there, much like when I gag whenever reading what constitutes most of contemporary gay literature (I’m sorry, Christopher Rice makes me cringe, and it just goes mostly downhill from there). There isn’t much progression in pursuing a niche community, unless you have nowhere else to turn. My large distaste for coming-of-age novels comes from reading the same coming-out tale over and over in various LGBT literature–you can only beat the horse so many times before its health depletes, and at that point it is like unto Aeris, where no phoenix down can save her.
Everything I just said? Say it again for class and race, and you’re getting the picture.
Where does that leave us? Why then do I question these things if the conversation is already happening in other places?
Voice. Adding conversation. Wishing to see a medium progress. Not believing that we should accept a trickle down cultural model that once it happens elsewhere games can then follow. Why should the gaming industry be a follower if it is an innovation by itself? Whenever I have to defend my decision to play videogames to someone, I point out that magical ingredient games have that most other mediums lack in any sufficient manner: interaction. It is common for us to want to interact with someone with whom we identify every so often. I don’t want the world to be entirely populated by gay people and women, but I would like to see them more than I presently do. Our world is rather rich because of its diversity, and if we are creating worlds in games, I see no reason for that world not to be rich in what it can present to its players. Unfortunately, it’s also a great source for strife and conflict (which can actually be utilized for game purposes).
The good news is that hope is on the horizon. Now that gaming is becoming something people recognize as a major industry, we are hurtling into the spotlight. I’d rather not see us without the proper cue cards.
Because I can. Because there is an audience. Because like with any medium, we should always be moving forward, and not just in our technical capacity. Because, only in conversations can I learn where I have myself overlooked things, and can we build a more comprehensive picture of what we do have.