Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sexism, Sexuality, and Games

Let me get one thing out there right away. Games aren't real. Sure, there are plenty of people (WoW players, perhaps) who might argue against this, tell me how visceral the experience of playing games can be, but the truth of the matter is that they are fake, contrived experiences. Very little depicted in games mirrors reality. Plain and simple. Yet, this doesn't stop people from arguing against them as if what they offered was, in fact, a real experience with effects in the real world.

This comes up often in the violence debate. There is constant talk of how animated violence translates into real world violence. Countless (or seemingly so) studies show how those who play violent videogames act more violently in real life. What I'd like to see is the list of violent criminals who NEVER played violent games. Kinda destroys the argument, doesn't it? Guy goes on a ten day killing spree and yet has never played a shooting game. Interesting.

Anyway, this isn't about violence. It's about sexism, sexuality and how they are depicted in videogames. I read an article which lamented the depiction of women in video games. Basically, this woman was angry every female in games had a big chest and unreal proportions. I won't argue this. I also will state I am perfectly aware of how such depictions can confuse both young males and females. It scares me when I realize how many male gamers lust after unattainable perfection because they see it in video games. The curves given to female characters in games could only be attained in real life through severe dieting and plenty of work under the knife. I could make Hollywood comparisons here but I'd like to think gamers and the game industry could be held to a higher standard than those bozos. Hope is a dangerous drug, I know.

Let's pause for a moment, however. Why do we see articles about the depiction of women but rarely do we see the same for men? Have you seen how men are drawn in video games? They are musclebound freaks of nature more times than not, with not an ounce of fat to boot. No guy who takes on the role of these characters could ever achieve such a level of physical fitness (especially if they play games so much) yet few lament this fact. It's the old double standard showing its ugly face again.

The concept that women are portrayed as fantasy to male gamers loses its punch when we realize the entire game is fantasy. The male characters suffer from the same effect, and what we have is a realistically unrealistic depiction of the human race in video games. Is this a big deal? I doubt it. Until we find girls in the hospital for eating disorders citing female video game characters as their inspiration or hear that vid gamer's use of steroids has increased for the same reason, we have little to worry about. People (except for those LOOKING for problems) can see the difference between fantasy and reality. And who wants the fantasy to look exactly like the reality? Right, no one.

What we do have to worry about, at least to a small extent, is sexual content in video games. Like movies, I find nothing wrong with appropriate sexual situations in games. However, just like violence, when frivolous, it can pose a threat. Sure, we age-rate games but this has proven a weak protection for minors. Take The Saboteur for instance. There is a special code within the game which allows for gratuitous nudity throughout the game. This adds nothing to the game at all. I didn't know what it was when I activated it, and was actually disappointed for the gaming industry and humanity when I saw what it was, the ability to see dancers nude and get lapdances. Ouch. We can do better. We should.

Keep an eye out for this sort of thing and let your opinion be heard. Hey, I remember when curse words weren't allowed on network TV and nudity was out of the question. Now we have bleeps (which hide nothing, really) and blurred lines everywhere. For what? Is it really necessary. I am far from prude and my main concern is that we are being fed this because the publishers and network execs think this is what we want. Then again, I never thought Jersey Shore was what the public wanted and look how well that is doing. Is this the end of civilization as we know it? Am I being paranoid? A combination of the two? Decide for yourself.