The ladies of Crabcat Industries: Elizabeth, Hilary, and Jessica.
All right, kids! After a fall quarter from hell and surviving an over-booked-but-fun holiday adventure I am finally writing up my thoughts on the GeekGirlCon panel titled, “No, I am not a Booth Babe: Sexism in the Video Game Industry” featuring the ladies of CrabCat Industries–Elizabeth Heckmaier, Jessica Merizan, and Hilary Shapiro. The original plan for this post was to rave about how awesome Jessica Merizan is, but frankly, with over three months between now and the con, I can’t remember exactly why I wrote “I love this woman” in my notes from the panel. So, instead of a straight up review, I will liberally interpret what my notes say to weave my own narrative on the topics discussed during the panel.
Representations of Females in Games
It is apparent to anyone who has been exposed to gaming culture that ladies in games are often only eye candy or objects to be rescued and, even if they are plot-relevant characters, they tend to be overly-sexualized and scantily clad. As Merizan pointed out during the panel, the door does swing both ways in some respects.
“How often to the guys look like the characters they are playing?” she asked. While I agree with her on that point, I would add that just because both sexes are subjected to this sort of idealized representation in games it does not follow that it is therefore acceptable. Indeed, I would argue that females have it worse in many respects (the second result on google for “female video game characters” lists 25 of the hottest ones). The most obvious example is how females are clothed or, perhaps more accurately, how often they simply aren’t clothed.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the tendency for female characters to wear “armor” which often fails to cover fairly large portions of vital bits–particularly around the abdomen. In fact, in games such as World of Warcraft it is often joked that the less skin the armor covers the more protective it is–this is due to the plate and mail armor sets in the game often more closely resembling a chainmail bikini whereas the cloth armor tends take the form of more conservative robes (with some famous exceptions, of course). This isn’t to say that there is an objection to ladies wearing revealing outfits in general, but rather that women routinely going into battle wearing a chainmail bikini is insulting. Why is it that females simply aren’t dressed for the job?
Samus Aran pictures from the end of the Metroid games.
As Shapiro pointed out during the panel, we are thankfully seeing a trend of more appropriately dressed ladies in video games. Of note are Aveline from Dragon Age II and, my personal favorite, Shepard (or “FemShep”) from the Mass Effect series. I am hoping this trend continues and that other appropriately dressed characters such as Samus Aran from Metroid (who originally was considered a breakthrough with respect to women in games) will no longer be reduced to posing in pin-up style pictures of increasing states of undress offered as a reward to the player for higher percentage of game completion.
That being said, I have no problem with ladies posing as pin ups or with ladies wearing chainmail bikinis–it just shouldn’t be women’s only accepted role in the community.
Authenticity: There ARE Girls on the Internet, Assholes
“Authenticity shouldn’t be an issue anymore,” said Heckmaier. I believe she was referring to how women are often seen as somehow being posers or not “real” gamers unless proven otherwise. I believe this goes hand-in-hand with other stereotypes of girl gamers–they’re not good at games, if you admit to being a girl it is because you want free stuff from guys, you’re probably 800 pounds and ugly (attractive girls don’t play video games, of course), and the list goes on and on. I remember being very cautious and even ashamed about admitting my gender on MMORPGs because of encountering these exact stereotypes myself. While in a group, if I simply corrected someone for using the wrong pronoun I would either be accused of being an attention whore or I would be hit on. I once had a PVP group of mostly males and people made statements that the only reason I was allowed in the group was because I must have been sleeping with the person running it.
I’ve even been on receiving end of well-meaning sexist comments too–two friends of mine once commented on how girls were not any good at PVP. One of the friends countered with the fact that they knew ONE girl who was good at it–me. How flattering.
Rule 30: There are no girls on the internet. Recently, a friend joked that I put his manliness to shame while playing Guitar Hero because I can play guitar on expert and he can only play on medium. While more subtle, these comments are still troubling because they reflect the pervasive underlying assumption that girls are bad at games.
Hey, guess what? Girls are good at video games. In fact, there are girls who are better at video games than guys are. I used to be flattered every time someone reacted with, “Wow! You’re beating me at this game and you’re a GIRL!” Not anymore. I just find it insulting. I am not some sort of god damn anomaly just because I have a vagina.
This trend goes both ways, though. For every sexist comment from a male I’ve gotten (“I didn’t want to talk to you at first because you are pretty and therefore I assumed you were stupid”) I’ve gotten something just as awful from a female perpetuating the same nonsense. For example, I once went shopping for a hair dryer. I was then berated by a friend of mine because she “know[s] the types of girls who own hair dryers” and I clearly was wrong to venture into the “pretty girl” camp from her “smart girl” camp. As Merizan also pointed out, girls commonly get disapproving comments for wearing make-up as well–it seems to me that no matter what you do to your appearance, there is always something wrong with it.
This pretty girl vs. smart girl dichotomy has got to stop. We are human beings. We can be and often are both of these (and many more) things. We fall within a bell curve like most of the rest of the population. We shouldn’t be shunned by our nerd peers for wanting to wear make up, dresses, or do our hair. Women do not do these things for the attention of men. We do them because we want to do them. Also, just because a girl doesn’t somehow meet your standards of attractiveness doesn’t mean you can dismiss her, either.
It seems to me that the current state of gender issues in the video game industry, much like the current state of feminism in general, is a matter of personhood and a battle against pervasive, destructive stereotypes–for both genders. For goodness sake, do an image search for “girl gamers” and look at what comes up. I dare you to tell me this isn’t a huge problem.