Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To dudes who think gaming is "sexist against men": YOU'RE WRONG.

[Edit: There have been some... interesting comments about this post both here and other places, mostly arguing that this post is heavily biased. To that, I can only say - go read my article. It's that link in the first sentence, and it has actual numbers. And if you still don't believe me, go examine some of my sources yourself.]

Response to my article about sexism in game imagery continues to trickle in over on See Page XX. Some of it has been really great, like a response by Morgue - the guy whose original study of Dragon Magazine covers I based my methods on. There's been a fair amount of backlash too - not as much as I expected, but certainly enough to prove a point. A fair amount of the backlash I've gotten has been along the lines of "but game art is sexist against men too!"

In fact, just yesterday I got a comment that managed to cram "I'm not a sexist gamer", "sex sells, get used to it", "gaming is sexist against men", and "your numbers/methods are flawed" all into one comment:

If I were a male gamer (which I am) and I would pretend demonstrating my theory that the gaming imagery is sexist AGAINST men, I could have done it with exactly the same set of data you are using. The basic male depiction is a Gym instructor Alpha male with a bare chest.


Despite my policy of trying not to feed trolls, I couldn't let that stand and started off my response with the following:

Clearly your knowledge of how statistics works is flawed if you think that these same numbers could be used to argue that gaming is sexist against men. Go back and read the section on how I engineered the criteria again. I engineered the criteria so that this study intentionally made it hard for women to qualify as suggestive and EASY for men to qualify as suggestive. I mean, come on. I counted a COW as suggestive, despite the fact that any sane person would not call a picture of a cow suggestive. And DESPITE ALL THAT, the numbers still clearly show that across all areas of gaming, suggestive figures are OVERWHELMINGLY women. So please explain to me in what universe this can be used to support your premise of “sexism against men”.

But after I posted, I really thought that this bullshit line of reasoning deserved a more in depth response. Because, really - there are two things going on here. First of all, the idealization of men is not, IS NOT, IS NOT AND NEVER WILL BE the same as the sexualization of women. There is absolutely nothing about the design of idealized male characters that says "fuckable" like the hordes of female characters designed for male viewers and players. So do not EVER try to tell me that men are treated with equal sexism as women in games.

(If you seriously believe this to be true, then you need to check your privilege and actually re-examine my sources if you don’t believe me. If you actually bother to keep count instead of ignoring all of the images that don’t support your bias, you’ll find that I’m right.)

Secondly, as to "all men in games are idealized", I call bullshit on that too. The diversity of depictions of men in gaming is staggering. You can find male characters of all body types and ages in video games. Sure there's a fair number of muscled meat-heads:

But for every Amarant that's out there, there are many more non-idealized depictions of men. I mean, hell - look at Team Fortress:

Check it out - every silhouette is different. You've got huge guys, short guys, fat guys, and skinny guys, and some just average guys. And that's just one game! Look at what happens when you look at existing video game characters! You've got gangly, half-developed teenagers:

LEFT: Hope from FFXIII, RIGHT: Sora from Kingdom Hearts 2

There's a fair amount of differences just between Hope and Sora even. Hope is a more passive, less fighty type of character while Sora is more aggressive and hits things with large keys a lot - even if both of them do fit certain JRPG design tropes.

You've also got older characters:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Ansem the Wise from KH2, Leisure Suit Larry from ?, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid (not sure which game)

Sure, Ansem looks pretty good for an old guy. But Snake looks pretty haggard here, and Larry is pretty tubby as well as balding. And again, you have a diversity of character concepts as well - from scientist to aging playboy to grizzled veteran, each of these characters is unique.

Most characters, of course, fall somewhere in between these two extremes in terms of age. You can find male characters in this set that represent every body type imagineable.You've got your super-skinny/gangly characters:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Guybrush Threepwood from the Monkey Island series, Luigi from many Super Mario games, Kiros from FFVIII, and Zidane from FFIX.

There's also a whole host of average dudes, like these guys:

LEFT TO RIGHT: Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Max Payne, Gordon Freeman from Half-Life 2, Link from the Zelda series, and Leon from Resident Evil

Say what you want about Link being sort of androgynous, but dude is definitely not a body builder. He looks like a pretty average guy who just happens to bash people with swords. Same goes for Gordon Freeman.

But really, I think the real nail in the coffin is the mind-boggling number of fat male characters out there:

TOP, LEFT TO RIGHT: King Hippo from Punch Out, Ward from FFVIII, Rufus from Street Fighter, Bowser from Super Mario games
BOTTOM, LEFT TO RIGHT: E. Honda from Street Fighter, Steiner from FFIX, Karnov from Karnov's Revenge, Mario, and Rodrigo Borgia from Assassin's Creed 2

So, yes, while there is some truth to the fact that mainstream game designers are not the most creative people out there, the fact still remains that the diversity of body types seen in male characters in gaming is enormous. Mario alone should be proof of that - he's one of the most beloved characters of all time and he's basically the cartoon version of Ron Jeremy! The fact is that female characters in video games just can't compete in terms of diversity.

Look at Faith from Mirror's Edge - the fact that a slim, flat-chested woman was the lead in her own game is a matter of controversy! And check out the response so far to the new design of Lara Croft that isn't ridiculously sexualized. The fact that these are both controversial says a lot about how women are depicted in video games. As for overweight women, the only characters I can think of off the top of my head are Queen Brahne from FFIX - not counting those awful princesses in Fat Princess.

Now, I will at the end, here, say that - yes. Male characters are disproportionately idealized. Is it ridiculous that Ryu's arms are as big as his thighs? Yes. Are the Gears of War men ridiculous? Yes. But let me tell you, having to look at enlarged biceps just won't ever compare with what women face when looking at ridiculous video game women like Taki.