Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Problematic Analysis

I'm normally a big fan of Feministing. And I'm a committed supporter of feminism.

But as someone who's also a committed supporter of interactive gaming as an art form, may I simply suggest that anybody not willing to even consider the thought of playing a game like GTA4 refrain from throwing out any and all attacks that might occur to them after watching one clip? Especially of a "free-form" game that specializes in extremely dark humor?

After all, someone who had ever played a game ever might know that games have, yes, had female protagonists. Sometimes, they're even violent. Someone who had played a GTA game might also know that the characters are deliberate comedic caricatures, whether male or female, and that the series has featured female characters who are just about as developed as their male counterparts. (Though, again, they are all caricatures played for comedic effect, as anybody would figure out after about, oh, five seconds of playing the game.)

The commentariat there are a bit more divided, though again between the "I've actually played one of these games" group and the "I'd never touch it, clearly it's sexist trash, though I'm not sure what they're about other than hookers." A few people started yelling about all the rape (which the game has never contained in any way, shape, or form) or killing children (there are no children or animals in any of the games, for obvious reasons.)

Again, as a committed supporter of feminism, it really bothers me that people would harm the movement by reinforce the most negative stereotypes about its supposed humorlessness, hypersensitivity, and unwillingness to engage with the subject of its critiques. And I know for damned sure that loud-mouthed, ignorant jeremiads against gaming isn't going to do anything to close the abyss between the feminist movement and the growing number of Americans who play electronic games.

(Though I will say one thing: We've definitely hit the point where a GTA-style open world game should have a female protagonist. It'd be a tough sell in a series focusing on the hyper-masculinized and -sexist world of organized crime, but it's certainly possible.)

It's not that I don't think that there might be troubling elements to modern gaming. But the feminist critique of GTA4 smacks right into the wall that I see all the time: substituting easy criticism of what doesn't exist, for a complex critique of what does.

Hat tip: the somewhat NWS "Reverse Cowgirl", who thought the whole thing was a hill of crap, though for far more complex reasons.

Edit: Here's a good example of what I'm talking about. From one of the commentators on Feministing:

As an aside, there's a new competitor to World of Warcraft coming out, Warhammer Online, that limits the classes that male and female players can be. This makes absolutely no sense, and is one of the reasons I won't be buying it.


Here's the response:

That stinks about Warhammer. I don't know why they can't try to make things at least a bit more neutral. I mean if I can't be a female character, at least try not to have all the female characters in the game be damsels in distress or prostitutes with no names.
Warhammer is a fantasy game, from an established fantasy setting. Said setting includes several species with no female gender (Orcs, specifically), others who are beings of pure destruction of no gender whatsoever ("Chaos" beings), and one where only females can join a certain group of murderous savages, and said group consists of one of the classes (the Dark Elves' "Witch Elves").

Now, there's something to be said for a critique of a setting like this, though Warhammer has been around for longer than the blog's author, and sexism in medieval societies is kind of a given. But the game designers actually had very good reasons to restrict genders for some of the classes. But instead of taking all of three minutes to google up this "Warhammer" thing and find out why these restrictions existed, there was this jump to "ooh, that's terrible" and unthinking agreement.

Yes, these are just two posters in a long thread, and a later poster set them straight. But they're just an easy example. There are lots of others.

Next Edit:

The best one? The person saying "It's not like this game has any structured plot with a complex resolution like a book or a movie. So let's cut the crap." Actually, that's exactly what it's like, why the game has received universal plaudits for its "surprising narrative richness", and why you don't have the choice of protagonists.

Tomb Raider and Metroid Prime don't give you the choice of being male, and GTA4 doesn't give you the choice of being female, precisely because they do have a "structured plot with a complex resolution."

(Shortly thereafter, somebody trotted out Craig Anderson.)

Honestly, the only useful thing that came out of the whole discussion, and almost any discussion of this, is that Rockstar needs to put a female protagonist in a future GTA game. I'm wholeheartedly in favor of that, and of said female protagonist being able to do all the nasty things the male protagonists can do in the current games. Fair's fair. Get to it.

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