So the Anita Sarkeesian debate is a thing that's been going on. If you somehow missed it then Jim Sterling did a summary of the exchange in his Jimquisition show a couple of weeks back: Anita Sarkeesian - The Monster Gamers Created. And just because I'm trying to be super-careful about tone here; I'm not actually endorsing the idea that she's a monster. Jim does a lot of exaggerated bombast in his show, my column doesn't, and I don't want anyone getting confused that I'm calling her a monster.
Okay? Cool. Moving on...
I've wanted to write this since she did her Kickstarter back in June, but the backlash was so stupid and vile that I didn't want anything to do with it. I have a few minor objections to the video series she's proposed, but I didn't want my talking points to get picked up and recycled by the crazed ankle-biting murlocs that have been screaming insults and threats at her since day one. Behaving like civilized human beings is way more important than the gender of any particular videogame character. To put it another way: I don't care what your views are, once you're throwing around threats of violence and rape, I am never on your side. Not even if you're just "joking," you wacky internet rapist funnyman.
The idea of Sarkeesian's web series is to look at the various tropes of how women are portrayed in games. The splash image on the Kickstarter page says it all - a bunch of female characters who are half-naked, ditzy, helpless, and weak. This is how the hobby looks to a lot of women. It would be like if all male characters were rip-offs of Fabio, Justin Bieber, or Edward Cullen. It's not that I think those guys shouldn't exist, but they're obviously here to entertain women. If all male characters were like them, I'd spend a lot of my gaming time rolling my eyes and sighing. Can't I play as a badass once in a while? What, ANOTHER spineless boy-toy? Come on! Why do all the characters exist for women?
My wife and my two daughters are gamers, and they run into this a lot. They get excited when they find out a game has a female character, and then disappointed when she turns out to be nothing more than a stepping stone for THE MAN to showcase his badassery.
And that's what this all comes down to. Your typical AAA action game is a power fantasy designed to allow the player to feel strong, smart, clever, or noble. They can save the girl, get revenge, help the people, enforce justice, or blow things up. Whatever. It's usually aimed at guys and you're usually doing stuff that guys fantasize about doing. And that's fine. I love those games as much as any guy. I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with the fantasy itself, or that games should stop trying to please the male audience. I'm just saying there are a lot of women who also enjoy a good power fantasy, and they want to play too. There's room for everyone in this hobby, and we can do better than we're doing now.