Got your attention, didn’t it? Of course it did. Maybe what I really meant to say is “gender in gaming”. In every artistic medium there is a certain exploitative element to approaching the female. Males lend themselves to the hero archetypes because to stretch the imagination to reach that conclusion isn’t exactly a huge leap. Thousands of years of source material exist to back up that tidy plot. Just as there are in film and fiction, so to in gaming do the tropes of the female submissive rear their weary heads on willowy necks . The damsel with her dewy eyes pleading for rescue, the temptress’s heaving bosom in tight bodice, and the princess with all of her nobility of spirit, a madonna in a crown. As a rule, the boys get the playground and the girls who love games are just living in a man’s world, playing a man’s game.
When Anita Sarkeesian addressed this in a Tweet linked to her provocative blog, Feminist Frequency, which analyzes “representations, myths, and messages in our media”, she felt the full wrath of the worst of the paternalistic gaming community. Oh, woman in the refrigerator, will she get out? (see Green Lantern issue #44 or Women In Refrigerators)
One of Anita’s commentaries is an examination of the recent resurgence in game developers reliance on the “damsel in distress” trope as a model of desirable male/female power fantasy. Her commentary on “token empowerment” with eventual victimization to trigger the male power interaction as a desirable element in the gaming experience is particularly intriguing. Kill a woman off, go on a quest to avenge her. There are so many examples of this plot it isn’t even necessary to name one.
There is a new trope that has been specifically geared toward the gaming community. The “damsel in the refrigerator”. The spirit/soul/body/whatever has been stolen by a malevolent force and the male protagonist must go on a quest to avenge her.
Some men in the gaming community would, shall we say, like the little women to “shut up and take the scraps we give you”. This is not a representation of the larger portion of the community and, indeed, I think most men would like to see less transparent pandering in their gaming experience. The girls in tight pants are always going to be a selling point, that much is certain. Sex sells. Women like that sort of thing too. A lady gamer doesn’t want to identify her hero as some poor lout who gets sucked into a revenge quest and who looks more like the guy sitting next to her with a controller in his hand, and less like her favorite movie star. It ain’t going to happen. So it goes. Let’s cut the crap, shall we? We girls like sex as much as the next fella. You are welcome to thank whatever God you acknowledge that we live in a society where it’s possible for a woman to admit that, out loud. We also enjoy power, status, and prominence in our communities. We have the privilege and the money to afford our guilty little pleasures.
The problem, not just in the gaming community, but in comic books, film, and fiction as well, is presuming to think that women of (almost) equal privilege and ability do not desire market recognition. Everyone wants a slice of the cake they buy into. Games that acknowledge woman as formidable heroes or antiheroes are no exception. In the twenty-first century, when women make up 40% of primary earners in the U.S. and hold the highest offices in the land, still we see “sandwich tweets“, it’s time for game developers, writers, and producers to start assessing the buying power of an ever increasing market presence. The glass ceilings are cracking and it’s just a matter of time before that damsel in the refrigerator pries her way out.
With the prominence of recent legislation and as the ongoing effort to establish income equality for women in the workforce continues, the number of women enrolled in higher education, receiving advanced degrees, and holding high power jobs in the upper echelons of Silicon Valley and beyond continue the trend of upward mobility for women in the workplace. It may be time to buy into the premise across the board. The landscape has altered. The Baby Boomers are retiring. Is Generation X prepared to perpetuate the tropes and stereotypes into a new generation of economics and technology in this global marketplace?
The preoccupation with subjective gender roles will indeed live on in one form or another. It is, after all, not a subjective reality but a physical one. But real, living women with ideas and voices that are as capable as any man’s drive buying trends. To dismiss these voices stagnates innovation. Game designers could easily tap the dark core of femininity and all of her tempestous impulses if it wants to “go dark”. After all, Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and empowerment is one of the oldest of female archetypes. It is not unheard of to cast women in these roles. The stretch is not so far as we imagine. Real women are not the “angel in the house” as Virginia Woolf once described the condition of female subjectivity. They trudge diligently into the future alongside their male counterparts, working to effect the world they live in.
To see more of Anita at Feminist Frequency visit her website by clicking here.