Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 13, 2015
Pornography and the right to sexist games

I am a liberal in the Europeans sense of the word, that is I believe that society should strive towards maximum freedom, whilst taking into account that my freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. That is not an easy position, because more often than not two different freedoms clash on specific issues. I am for sexual freedom as well as religious freedom, but then you get into those questions where you can have only either one or the other, and not both. And one of these difficult issues where different freedoms clash is the question of sexism in games.

I totally agree with Anita Sarkeesian that sexism in games exists, albeit often at a relatively low level. But I don't agree that this means that we need to do something in order to guarantee that every single game is absolutely free of sexism. Using Zite I randomly stumbled about the story of a sexist Japanese game that people want to censor or ban. And would consider such a ban a greater imposition on freedom than the existence of that game.

The parallel that I am drawing is with pornography. Pornography is sexist. But it is also a multi-billion dollar industry that enjoys a legal or even constitutional protection in many countries. Lots of people consider 50 Shades of Grey to be sexist, and it is one of the highest grossing films of this year, having already earned $550 million since Valentine. One of the most successful TV shows there is, Game of Thrones, while having some strong female characters is also full of gratuitous sex scenes, and has also been accused of being both racist and sexist. For me all these examples establish that there is something like a right to consume sexist media content. And I don't see why games should be excluded from that right.

That is not to say that there shouldn't be games with strong female characters or feminist messages. I'm just saying that in the interest of liberty, all sorts of content should be on offer. People who are offended by either feminist games or sexist games have the right to choose a different game. But in a free market in a free society, both should exist. Of course with the appropriate ESRB rating and labeling. But telling an adult that he can consume porn, but he isn't allowed to play a game just because there is a busty anime character covered in chocolate in it doesn't make sense to me. Personally I think that the ultra-violence of games is a far bigger problem than their sexism, but an informed consumer should even have the right to play such an ultra-violent game. Unless in the process of content creation somebody is actually hurt (e.g. child pornography, snuff movies), nobody should have the right to tell somebody else what content he may consume.

"But I don't agree that this means that we need to do something in order to guarantee that every single game is absolutely free of sexism"

So you're in full agreement with Anita Sarkeesian on this point as well. As in contrast to what her detractors seem to believe, she champions a wider variety rather than censorship :-)
So you're in full agreement with Anita Sarkeesian on this point as well.

Let me go even further and say that it is clearly the people who sent death threats to her which are in the wrong. But in that big culture war there were a lot of people trying to censor the opinions of the other side, on both sides.
But Lani is correct in that Anita has stated repeatedly that she's not interested in taking away the games that already exist, but that she wants people to be more aware and inclusive when designing games in the future.

Regardless, Tobold, you're more what Americans would call Libertarian.
Regardless, Tobold, you're more what Americans would call Libertarian.

I don't like that label because it has been claimed by some seriously right-wing nut cases. On the other hand I don't agree either with the American point of view that a liberal is the same as a communist.
"the American point of view that a liberal is the same as a communist."

We don't all feel this way... mostly just those you reference in the previous sentence.
Speaking of political correctness, I saw Reddit complaining about a D&D homework assignment criticizing the game for being racist in its character creation. Do you have any thoughts on it? It starts from "Pick Your Race (Uh, Creepy)"
Paul, although D&D, and most RPGs talk of races, they really mean species.
"But I don't agree that this means that we need to do something in order to guarantee that every single game is absolutely free of sexism"

That is hardly a very strong statement in favour of creative freedom.

It could be interpreted as saying that she doesn't mind too much if one or two games are allowed to escape anti-"sexist" censorship to a small extent.

[I put "sexist" in inverted commas, because I don't know her exact definition of that.]

@ Paul and @Dacheng race is used in D&D because it's not entirely unclear that halflings, dwarves, humans, elves and so forth aren't all fantasy analogs drawn in broad fictional strokes. However, D&D still has conventional races as well, but I have to say....if someone is creeped out by choosing a race in D&D then that says some unfortunate and disturbing things about what they connote/conflate the word with.

@Tobold the only issue really with the games industry is that it hasn't fully shed its image as being for kids or man-children. I think we're about to (or possibly are in the middle of) the first generation where games are ubiquitous as entertainment, and I predict that the medium will shift to representing a broader spectrum of interests as a result. It just takes time, but Anita and others are simply reflective of part of this process.
Well, I was going to say that I totally agree, this is exactly what I was thinking myself, but I don't want you to think that you and me both wasted our time. ;)
Yeah, expressing sexist and racist thoughts is covered by free speech but that doesn't mean you can do it without consequences. You'll get called out by Anita or thrown off campus by your university.

And that's what Anitas critics don't (want to?) understand: she is just pointing out sexism in games. Nothing more nothing less.

I love Duke Nukem. I know the games are sexist to the bone, but I also like to play them. Tell me I'm a pig but don't censor the game.
Neither race nor species have any well-defined boundaries imposed by Nature - the categories are, as we say, 'culturally constructed'. The same applies to continents, planets and stars. All science begins with taxonomy.

Humans are relatively well defined as a species, I suppose, in that we cannot interbreed with any other currently extant species (though there is evidence that some groups have interbred in the past with now extinct groups such as Neanderthal Man). Racial differences are visibly obvious, but the races interbreed freely, at least as far as biology is concerned, and the differences are small enough that a large contingent are happy to insist that none that matter exist.

In D&D you have groups that would not easily be categorised by our schemas. The phenotypical differences are so obvious that on our world they would certainly be categorised as different species, phyla, and in some cases even Kingdoms! Yet they can often interbreed and in many ways are a clear reflection of our world of different human races and ethnic groups. So I don't think there is any easy way to impose a current-world scientific concept of race and species. Not in general, anyway. A hard science-fiction oriented author writing about a D&D type world would probably try to work something out.

Anyway, the person who says "picking your race is creepy" is one of the contingent who insist that no non-cosmetic differences between human races exist, and that any apparent differences are merely the legacy of ancient prejudices They are right in that the races of D&D are in fact a greatly exaggerated reflection of real or purported human racial differences, containing both innate and cultural components. The suggestion of such differences, even in what is clearly a fantasy world other than Earth, is anathema to them.

"that we cannot interbreed with any other currently extant species"

Technically, this has not been conclusively proven and will not be since a human-monkey hybrid will open up legions of ethical and legal issues.
Pornography unto itself is not sexist. There exists sexist pornography, certainly, but unless you consider sex in general sexist, the recording and distribution of sex is not sexist by definition. Your parallel is flawed.

I must have overlooked the section marked "Non-sexist porn" in my local video rental store. If porn *isn't* sexist, then I would have even more right to ask for the same degree of naked flesh in games.
Gamers like their games, some people don't like the portrayal of women in video games, some gamers don't like the criticism uttered upon their games and take it too personal.

I am all for expressive freedom. I am also for the right of individuals to exercise their right of discernment in what they choose to consume. What Sarkeesian fails to demonstrate is an understanding of how cultural relativism affects demographics when a developer creates a design document. No one has the right to pick and choose what elements of expression a developer is allowed to use when designing their games. If someone wants to stand on a soapbox and yell very loudly to proclaim an injustice, they have every right to do so, but don't limit my freedom to chuckle and walk right on by.

If sexism in video games is viewed to promote and foster misogyny(or vice-versa), then why do the same people involved with social justice in video games gnash their teeth whenever a link to video games and violence is made?

Is there any difference between someone who steps on a soapbox in an attempt to decry sexism in video games, versus someone who stands outside a stripclub thumping on a Bible telling patrons that what they are doing is a sin?

If, upon my death, I am to be judged by the contents of my gaming library, then I would wish to be judged by those with whom I have gamed with.
I must have overlooked the section marked "Non-sexist porn" in my local video rental store. If porn *isn't* sexist, then I would have even more right to ask for the same degree of naked flesh in games.

Tobold, you may not be aware of it but there is a segment of pornography, frequently labeled Feminist or Feminist-Friendly, that seeks to push back against the sexist portions of the industry by treating the actors and actresses fairly and focusing on consenting, loving sexuality. It's sort of niche at the moment, but it certainly exists and is growing.

I don't know if I follow your argument though. Most mainstream feminist theory I am familiar with doesn't see any inherent problem with nudity in video games any more than nudity in other mediums. You can absolutely represent it in a way that isn't problematic (or at least minimally problematic). That doesn't mean that all depictions are created equal though. Which is to say, you can absolutely ask for more naked flesh in games in a way that isn't at odds with feminism.
The problem with the idea of non-sexist nudity is that "sexism" is extremely subjective. Take one of those feminist porn videos and show a scene of it to a panel of judges without telling them that it is supposed to be non-sexist, and a large number of them will judge it to be sexist.

I've seen complaints about sexism in games for example about the fact that the demon hunter in Diablo 3 wears high heels, or about the fact that the group of evil villains in the latest WoW expansion, the "Warlords of Draenor", aren't "Warladies of Draenor". I don't see how today any developer can any bouncing tit in a game without being accused of sexism.
That's true to a certain extent, I'll grant you that. There is no set definition, and perhaps more importantly, there are large groups of people who self-identify as feminist that will provide you directly contradictory arguments about whether something is sexist or not as other groups. I get that it can feel like a "no-win" situation.

I think the answer ultimately is that you can try hard to leave room for discussion without committing yourself one way or another in broad sweeping manners and instead address each issue as it comes up. It's tempting, and I have seen enough people give in, to see claims you find ridiculous and just say "feh" to the whole thing.

But your goal shouldn't be to please a certain group, even "feminists"; That way lies madness. Rather, your goal should be to make a good X (in this case, game) and part of doing that is at least considering the objections people have. If they surprise you with something then stop, ask them to give a good argument, and try and judge it based on the merits.

You know what would be honestly refreshing to see? A developer come out and saying something like "You know, we did honestly think about this and talk it over. We certainly don't want to alienate or exclude any of our customers, and the fact that X offends you is certainly not something we intended. However, ultimately, we decided to go with it anyway. We felt it was an important and distinctive choice that was integral to our vision for the game. However, we also took your concerns seriously and did Y."

I think ridicule and derision is the biggest frustration, infinitely more than honest disagreement about the weights that should be placed on things. People being dismissive without even caring.
I think the problem that gamers have is that everything is offensive to somebody. On other issues, like the question of whether depicting a devil or demon in a game is a danger to your eternal soul, or whether playing GTA will turn you into a criminal we have long ago decided to just ignore the complaints. Why can't we do the same on this issue?

Why do we still see "developer X changed the cleavage in his game because feminists were complaining", but we don't see "Blizzard removed all devils and demons from Diablo, because fundamental Christians were complaining"?
They did remove skeletons from the Chinese version of WoW.
What about racist games? Should you have a right to those too?
Why do we still see "developer X changed the cleavage in his game because feminists were complaining", but we don't see "Blizzard removed all devils and demons from Diablo, because fundamental Christians were complaining"?

Simple. It's because feminism represents a non-monolithic representation as the main constituent of Relativism - in terms of inclusion. There are Catholic feminists, liberal feminists, fundamental feminists, lesbian feminists, ecofeminists..etc. Our society, in ever increasing numbers, has deemed that what we practice, and how we treat each other while alive is more important than any esoteric notion of where we go when we die.

It is much easier to address issues of equality in games than it is to address issues of divinity.
What about racist games? Should you have a right to those too?

As racist content in movies and books is often prohibited or censored in many countries, I can see how the same prohibition might be reasonably applied to games. My point was specifically that sexism is okay in other forms of media, with some extremely sexist media forms like pornography existing, so the same rules should apply to games.
"What about racist games? Should you have a right to those too?"

A significant number of popular games have been accused of being "racist", often merely for having one or two stereotypical characters. Yes, we should have a right to them.

People mean different things by "racism", just as with "sexism". A case can certainly be made for legal limits with regard to incitement to violence, or even extreme denigration. But that would obviously apply to extremes of "sexism" too.
Gerry Quinn - "They did remove skeletons from the Chinese version of WoW."

I think that is apples and oranges here. It was a business decision after all and not some thing to avoid tripping on someones toes or avoid a shitstorm. They did remove them voluntarily to not risk getting censored and lose more time (aka. money) through a second approval process after they made the changes. I guess it boils down to doing the best for the bottom-line without violating any laws.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

  Powered by Blogger   Free Page Rank Tool