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Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze - are we men or boys?
Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze - are we men or boys? Exclusive
June 29, 2012 | By Brandon Sheffield




[Game Developer magazine EIC Brandon Sheffield makes the claim that the game industry at large still treats women primarily as a vehicle for the display of boobs and butts, not only in games, but within the culture at large, saying this is a natural extension of who we put in charge.]

I won't pretend to be above biology: I like boobs and butts as much as the next hot-blooded heterosexual male. They're just about the most aesthetically pleasing configurations of fat and muscle you can find on a person, and I am far from being immune to their charms. But women are a lot more than boobs and butts. That may seem obvious, but the game industry and its fans are demonstrating their ignorance of that fact time and time again.

Video games and Male Gaze

Recently I did an interview, an excerpt of which you can find here, with Hitman Absolution director Tore Blystad. If you haven't been keeping up with the franchise, a recent trailer for the game got the internet up in arms, as it depicted sexy dominatrix nuns being violently dispatched by the protagonist Agent 47. Blystad is a nice, well-meaning man that simply doesn't understand why anyone is mad about the trailer for his game. This is actually a very large part of the problem.

Blystad isn't sure why this trailer in particular upset people, when he feels this is the way the series has always presented itself. When I asked him why these ladies were in dominatrix gear, and why they had to remove their nun costumes before coming to kill Agent 47, he said the ladies are "dressing as something less conspicuous, getting up to their mark, and revealing their true colors."

He does not realize that giving these women dominatrix outfits as their "true colors" is the problem. Think about it logically for a moment -- if you were going to assassinate someone, would you wear the tightest thing possible? Would you expose your breasts to the world, essentially creating a target for a bullet? Probably not. Ryan Consell writes about this clothing phenomenon (and how to fix it) to excellent effect in his article Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits.



But I'm not stupid -- I know why we put ladies in these ridiculous costumes, and I know why Blystad doesn't get what the problem is. It's because we, the people making the decisions on these games, are largely men, largely heterosexual, and as such we like looking at boobs and butts, and we are making this game for others who feel the same way, which is inherently limiting. This is the very definition of the Male Gaze theory, which is at the heart of much of the discussion we're having about women in and around games these days.

I'll back up for a second -- Gaze, as an analytical term, refers to the relationship between the viewer and the viewed. The one who gazes, the viewer, is generally looking at the viewed object (or being) with some desire or fantasy projection -- why else would it be a gaze, not a glance? The theory goes that when one is gazed at, the person being viewed loses some sense of autonomy. You realize you are the subject of scrutiny, and it makes you self conscious, or at least more self-aware. This can even happen when we scrutinize ourselves in a mirror.

Male Gaze, then, has to do with the relationship between a heterosexual male viewer, and a female that is being viewed. The theory poses that in media like film, photography, and I would here add games, when a heterosexual male is in charge of the viewing of a female, the resulting media necessarily reflects that male's gaze. In the case of games, this may be more of a collective gaze.

In cinema, for example, if a camera follows the curve of a woman's body, or keeps her cleavage in primary screen real-estate, that is an example of Male Gaze. Or in games, consider the Golden Axe Beast Rider trailer in which the camera pans down from the protagonist's butt to reveal enemies in the distance. This was a conscious choice someone made when creating this trailer. Note also that the two top-rated comments are in reference to this scene, which altogether should give you a pretty good idea of what Male Gaze means, and the simplest forms it takes. [Note: the original version of the trailer linked is this one which has more views, and has the mentioned top-rated comments. It was not viewable in the U.S., so was replaced. -ed.]

Real ultimate power

Some folks argue that these women are strong, kill lots of men, and thus are positive characters. But take a look at these ladies from Tera Online. They may have crazy superpowers, sure. But they are nearly naked to the eye of the player, and the target player here is clearly male. All their power is stripped away; their primary function, the reason they were created, is to be sexy for a male gaze, to draw males to stare at them. When you look at that picture, do you see "powerful mage" or do you see "hot girl." Let's be honest here! I know what I see.

The "but she's powerful! She's a strong character!" argument has been the line of defense for Lara Croft fans for decades. And it's true that recent games have made an effort to decrease her bust size, and her overall sexualization in certain ways. But with the new Tomb Raider, the idea of Male Gaze takes a more complex form. Her grunts and groans throughout the game's ordeals have been dubbed "torture porn," and that's certainly one aspect. But then there are the threats of sexual assault, which the team hopes will inspire you to "protect" her. As producer Ron Rosenberg told Kotaku, "When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character, they're more like, 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of, 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"

Why don't people project themselves onto Lara? Because "people" means males. Nobody (well, almost nobody) wants to be Lara Croft, not even women, because Lara is very much the subject of Male Gaze in her games, and who wants to open themselves up to that sort of scrutiny? Getting a bit deeper, while many women do want to be attractive to males, which is part of why women's magazines often take a Male Gaze perspective as well, they don't want to be only that. They don't want to be stared at all the time, by everyone. Lara is at no point "just a person."

At some point in the new game Lara will have to survive an attempted rape [Crystal Dynamics has since attempted to back away from this description -- ed.]. It is possible that the team will attempt to address issues of gender and sexuality in games in a way that will push the medium forward. But allow me some skepticism, when the game is coming from a decidedly male perspective.



As an example, when the camera pans down and looks down her cleavage in a cutscene, what does that show? The developers and the game's viewers are being made to be complicit in Lara's sexualization. These shots are planned carefully -- there aren't a lot of accidents in a large-scale production like this. If the camera says "I want you to be able to see her cleavage" versus "I do not want you to be able to see her cleavage," this makes subtle, but undeniable statements to the player. And it is certain that this statement is being made by a male, generally for other males.

There's a lot going on here. Certainly, almost all heterosexual men like to look at sexy ladies. This is why advertisements ask us to associate access to boobs with Bud Light, or Nascar. May I submit that this is not a positive or progressive way to deal with women, and that this attitude is running rampant in the game industry as a whole, not just in middle America. Even the new Tomb Raider, which is trying its best to be different, seems to be taking a rather uncomplex look at female power. There are a lot of ways to make a strong woman without confronting her with sexual violence. Consider the power dynamics in the movie Labyrinth, for example. Back to the idea of loss of autonomy -- Lara can't choose whether people are looking at her cleavage, that choice is being made for her. Sure, she's digital, and maybe we shouldn't care so much about sexual fantasy. But we also do this with real-life women in our industry.

Booth babes and a fall of confidence

Walking around E3, I was rather embarrassed by the proliferation of booth babes that had been hired to shill product. The argument I made on Twitter was that if you need to rely on breasts to sell your game, you undervalue your product by essentially admitting it can't get attention on its own, and you make a statement that your game is directed primarily toward heterosexual men.

I recognize that sex sells, but E3 is meant to be a trade show, in larger part. It's billed as a gathering of professionals, and that includes female developers and executives. It's insulting that my fellow professionals, who hired these booth babes, think so low of me and my peers that they think they should attract us with boobs in push up bras. Are we all 14 years old over here? It's patronizing, even as a male. Imagine being a female game developer walking through that environment.

On Twitter, folks made the argument to me that these girls are getting paid, and thus there's nothing to complain about. Well, their choices aren't for me to judge. There's always someone willing to do something for money. That doesn't mean it's positive. (As an aside, I heard tell of one booth babe putting deodorant on top of her shoulder, given how many sweaty armpits people were putting around her.)

I got a little flack for speaking ill of the booth babes, especially from folks saying "well, it's everywhere." But I'll tell you who got it much worse than I -- game industry veteran Brenda Brathwaite (Garno), who made essentially the same arguments on Twitter that I did. The big difference between us, aside from her having more followers to rile up: She's female, I'm male.

This is where the concept of Male Gaze comes back in. The reactions boil down to, essentially, "I like this, and who are you to say otherwise?" People are offended at the idea that anything they're doing or enjoying could be wrong, and lash out as a result.

Then why do you wear makeup, slut?

The anger that is directed toward women who speak their mind about gender issues in the game industry is astounding. A few weeks ago I wrote an article about and subsequent interview with the creator of a card game called Tentacle Bento. This is a game where you play as a tentacle monster, and grab as many girls as possible for your own "nefarious purposes." I found the game extremely problematic, and that it trivialized the idea of rape from a cutesy male perspective. You can read those links for my full thoughts, but suffice it to say that others vehemently disagreed with me.

The amount of ire I got, which was a lot, was nothing compared to the anger directed against female friends of mine who discussed the article. One friend turned off her Twitter for a few days after too many threats of "well maybe you should be raped." Keep in mind, I was the one who started the discussion, and these ladies who merely took up the banner bore the brunt of the assault.

More recently, female blogger Anita Sarkeesian started a Kickstarter for a web series investigating female tropes in video games. The response she received was nothing short of disgusting. There was support, to be sure, but there was also a lot of this. Puerile, juvenile responses from men getting upset about a perceived threat to their world. Comments such as "Why do you put on makeup, if everything is sexism? Why don't you shave your head bald, stop wearing makeup and stop wearing huge slut earrings. You are a fucking hypocrite slut."

Now, I don't know what Sarkeesian plans for her web series, or whether she's even got the background to do it properly. I hope she does, because this subject deserves proper discussion. But I certainly know she doesn't deserve this sort of ignorant treatment.

Where does this knee-jerk anger come from? There is no anger quite like that of the privileged. Here we see it in the raw. In this instance; "We heterosexual males like boobs in our games, and we'll be damned if you're going to take them away." Because they feel threatened, they lash out without thinking about it, like a dog that thinks you want to take its bone away. The behavior seems nonsensical, but it's predictable.



I see it everywhere the gender status quo is challenged. Kotaku Australia's Katie Williams' experience at E3, in which a male PR person decided for himself that she probably couldn't play PC games, is another recent example. The assumptions people make about women in our industry are further examples of Male Gaze, in an industry that is only 10% female. Is it any wonder that the number is so low, with the way we depict women in games? With the way we treat women, professional and hired, at trade shows? With the fact we clearly pay them less than their male counterparts, as the Game Developer magazine salary survey shows?

Worse than the initial presumption that she wasn't able to play games were the reactions to her complaint. A thread began in Neogaf, ever a bastion of progressive thought, in which people posted images of her they'd found online, discussing whether (and how) they would have sex with her. This is a rather obvious negative example of Male Gaze. Or take the situation of a female player in Capcom's reality show Cross Assault, in which her breasts and thighs were filmed, along with commentary from the competitor who was manning the camera. She was essentially forced to quit the show to stop being harrassed.

Believe it or not, this sort of behavior happens constantly, albeit on a more subtle level, at industry events. I introduced Mariel Cartwright, lead animator of Skullgirls, to a male developer at a party at the last GDC, saying she worked on the game. He immediately responded, "oh cool, you mean like in PR?" instantly presuming she couldn't have possibly done any "real" work on the product. Indie game dev Mare Sheppard (N+) frequently has things she's said about code in games attributed to her male partner Raigan Burns instead, or is ignored in a technical conversation. Erin Robinson (Puzzle Bots, Gravity Ghost) told me when it comes time to meet people at parties, she's the only one who awkwardly doesn't get a handshake. Several other women noted that this had happened to them as well.

Everyone looks at opposing genders differently, but above all, we need to imbue our professional interactions with feelings of respect, and not make value judgments just because someone is female and understands how to dress themselves.

Nobody does this to men in the industry. Nobody says Cliff Bleszinski is wearing such a tight shirt today, and oooh I'd love to rub my hands all over him. At least not to the point where he's uncomfortable at tradeshows. Likewise nobody sexualizes male characters. Some may argue that Kratos represents an unrealistic image of a male, but there aren't massive forum threads dedicated to whether and how people would like to have sex with him. Kratos, Marcus Fenix, and their ilk, are the object of power fantasies, not sexual fantasies. There is a huge difference there. You want to be as cool and powerful as Kratos. Again, nobody wants to be Lara Croft all the time.

Defeating Male Gaze

If this is how we depict women in games, and this is how we represent them at tradeshows, and how we treat them in professional interview settings and on the internet at large, we not only make ourselves look like children, we keep women from wanting to enter the industry. If that doesn't strike you as a problem, then more fool you. A balanced industry has a balanced perspective.

Female sexuality isn't inherently negative in media, and I do want to stress that. Sexual dynamics can bring up a lot of interesting mature themes across the board, when treated with intelligence and purpose. But most of the time in games it's treated without any sort of thought, as was the Hitman: Absolution trailer. Most of the time the thought is simply, "well... we have to make the female character sexy, so let's show off her boobs and hips." It is an absolute given that female characters must be somehow sexy. We don't have this same rule for male characters.



Isn't that a little overly simplistic for an industry that can show the horrors of war, the sorrow of losing a child, and other complex scenarios? We can clearly do better. But our views of women are almost always coming from a single perspective; the Male Gaze. When you diminish the female perspective in sexy scenes, and guide the viewer's gaze, they wind up reinforcing stereotypes and tropes that appeal exclusive to heterosexual male sexuality.

There are deeper societal issues at root here, and we can't change all of society. But the fact is we are not all of society. We are an elite group of people that make games that show what we think and feel about the world. We can't change everyone, but we can change our industry, and we can change the depiction of women in our medium. If we do that, we may even influence public opinion.

By representing women in this mono-dimensional manner, both in games and at industry events, we show, subtly or overtly, that we think women are nothing more than boobs and butts. Simultaneously, we males represent ourselves as nothing more than a cock and balls. As males, through our depiction of women in media, and how we treat them in the industry and community, the message we're pushing hardest is the one Katie Williams unfortunately stumbled into; "I would or would not have sex with you."

Right now, any women who are standing up and talking about these issues are being attacked by game communities and the internet at large. Sarkeesian's kickstarter is up to almost $160,000 now, which is amazing. But it also shows that her supporters are largely silent, because how much have you really heard on her behalf? Her detractors on the other hand, are decidedly vocal. I encourage those who see issues like this not to back down in the face of overwhelming adversity. And I encourage game developers to think about this issue of Male Gaze, and how we can minimize it with the addition of female voices in positions of power. At the very least, we can be aware of our own gaze, and take it to task.

And that's just it. Above all: think. Think about the statements you make with your art, your stories, your characters. Publishers at E3 think we're all still 14 year old boys. But we're not ... are we?

Thanks to Tracey Lien, Mariel Cartwright, and Kris Graft for their feedback on this article.


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Comments


Ron Dippold
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To me, Miranda is just a walking ass. I know that's her in the pic at the top of the article, and I'm sorry for knowing that, but they just kept shoving it in my face. She's just a pneumatic doll.

I just re-watched that Hitman trailer. Was there anything gained by them taking off their habits other than pure titillation? No. There was no reason for it other than sex appeal, even if you left everything else exactly the same. (I'll just ignore what a travesty this all is in the context of what Hitman style play should be).

On the other side we seem to have this idea that games for females need to have lots of pink and be aggressively empowering. Also aminals.

The best handling of female role I've seen in a video game for years is #Sworcery. The Scythian is female, but other than necessary gender specific pronouns and the female 'voice', I don't think there's a single point in the entire game where gender is an issue. And there's certainly no eye candy - it takes quite some time before you even realize that your avatar is female at all.

I realize (royal) you need to sell games and that T&A is a cheap way to do it, but how about treating women like people? This is the fundamental issue, even if you won't admit it. Is Lara a person, or just this powerful, pretty doll you need to protect (because you don't want those baby bits damaged)? If you put an ugly dudebro in the same position, would you greenlight it? It's toxic and self-defeating in the long run - the comic book ghetto should always be a real concern.

Based on the earlier Tomb Raider articles here I expect that's a hard sell among devs.

Duvelle Jones
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As someone whom has watched the Competitive Fighting Game Community for years, the situation that Miranda Pakozdi was walking into was years in the making. Frankly, the Fighting Game Community... has had issues with progressive views of persons of gender and sexuality. The fire storm that Aris caused is one of many clashes that I have seen with female players in the FGC. It slowly getting better, but clearly it's not gone far enough.

The ONE thing that bugs me here was the context of what happened... Aris Bakhtanian was doing that to entertain the "stream monsters," (the best way that I can explain that term is if you are familiar with 4chan's Anon or Something Awful's Goons, the similarities are numinous) whom seemed to have this running meme going about the lady's thighs.
The simple fact that this didn't seem to raise any alarm bells is frankly... disturbing.

I think that the biggest issue isn't that we can't sell games to women, it's the matter that we don't try. And over the years, we have come up with some rather happy accidents of games that do extremely well with women/girls (The Sims, Mist, Pokemon, etc.). It makes me wonder what would happen if someone tried.

"This is the fundamental issue, even if you won't admit it. Is Lara a person, or just this powerful, pretty doll you need to protect (because you don't want those baby bits damaged)?"
An interesting question, one that we need to ask more often of any character in a power position. The one of the biggest things that would annoy me is, without much context, the need to remove a character from power without much doing whom has been established as difficult to remove from power (or independence for that matter).
Metroid: Other M comes to mind of a resent time of when this happened, to the point that effected the gameplay.

Randall Stevens
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@ Duvelle Jones

I think he was referring to a fictional character.

There is a huge difference between watching the community and being a part of it. The way people act on stream and the way we act to each other at a tournament or gathering or especially evo is very different. Stream monsters aren't a real part of the community, they are people who just watch streams and don't come out and play and act in a mostly disruptive manner. Everyone else is just a stream viewer who couldn't make it to that event. Aris is a creep, he always has been, we have always known that. I don't think he should have been allowed on the show, but I was also waiting for dr subzero to do something and get kicked off. He was way more professional than I expected, aside from his tumblr he was posting porn to.

My point is that if you went to events you would see the (too few) female players getting to play matches and ask questions and be accepted. It is a better community to be part of than to observe. Being at a tournament is incredibly positive, on the other hand reading the stream chat is incredibly depressing and completely indicative of everything you are saying. I am very saddened by that.

J G
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@Duvelle Jones
I think that simply saying the FGC has issues with views of gender and sexuality is rather unfair. While they do treat women overly sexually, in my experience and knowledge the community(not the stream monsters) are more accepting of homosexuals/transgender people than most of society.

Jimmy Russels
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@Ron

Miranda is a complex character with an intriguing personality. You're just biasing your opinion to make yourself look good in the discussion. Her character is still integral to the story, and she's probably the most independent and intelligent of the female ME characters. She also happens to have a well-designed body. You're no better than the folks who attacked Brenda Brathwaite on Twitter: blindly attacking a strong character just because of their outward appearances. You have obviously never played the Mass Effect games, and you should either do the appropriate research or rightly shut the fuck up.

And yes, the Hitman trailer was playing up the titillation so that they could sell more games. But guess what? All game companies do that. It's called "business," and a "business" that makes video games that don't sell is generally considered to be "bad business." And since the majority of gamers are male, the game companies are going to advertise in ways that appeal to those gamers. And I also guarantee you that it will work and absolutely no progress will be made in this debate. Gamers are still going to "rape" each other in online matches while spewing racial epithets at each other. People on the internet don't have morals, and it's about time people just got over that fact.

"Is Lara a person, or just this powerful, pretty doll you need to protect?"

I'm pretty darn sure that Lara is comprised of images pasted onto many digital three-dimensional polygons. I'm also pretty darn sure that that means that Lara isn't real. So we can then conclude that: A) Lara isn't a person, and B) your "deep" hypothetical questions don't really add to the discourse or to your point. It's self-satisfactory masturbation. Even answering that question in regards to the character's personality and background, no, Lara is not a person. Lara Croft is only famous because of her breast size and because she was in a fun game once. She was never meant to be a deeper character than that, and anyone that argues otherwise is just making stuff up. So again, your hypothetical question still just goes to show how pretentiously stuck up your own ass you are.

Jimmy Russels
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@Ron

Miranda is a complex character with an intriguing personality. You're just biasing your opinion to make yourself look good in the discussion. Her character is still integral to the story, and she's probably the most independent and intelligent of the female ME characters. She also happens to have a well-designed body. You're no better than the folks who attacked Brenda Brathwaite on Twitter: blindly attacking a strong character just because of their outward appearances. You have obviously never played the Mass Effect games, and you should either do the appropriate research or rightly shut the fuck up.

And yes, the Hitman trailer was playing up the titillation so that they could sell more games. But guess what? All game companies do that. It's called "business," and a "business" that makes video games that don't sell is generally considered to be "bad business." And since the majority of gamers are male, the game companies are going to advertise in ways that appeal to those gamers. And I also guarantee you that it will work and absolutely no progress will be made in this debate. Gamers are still going to "rape" each other in online matches while spewing racial epithets at each other. People on the internet don't have morals, and it's about time people just got over that fact.

"Is Lara a person, or just this powerful, pretty doll you need to protect?"

I'm pretty darn sure that Lara is comprised of images pasted onto many digital three-dimensional polygons. I'm also pretty darn sure that that means that Lara isn't real. So we can then conclude that: A) Lara isn't a person, and B) your "deep" hypothetical questions don't really add to the discourse or to your point. It's self-satisfactory masturbation. Even answering that question in regards to the character's personality and background, no, Lara is not a person. Lara Croft is only famous because of her breast size and because she was in a fun game once. She was never meant to be a deeper character than that, and anyone that argues otherwise is just making stuff up. So again, your hypothetical question still just goes to show how pretentiously stuck up your own ass you are.

Noah Porter
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Duvelle, I believe he's talking about Miranda from the Mass Effect series. You definitely seem to be very upset about the Fighting Game Community though.

Jesse Crafts-Finch
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@Jimmy

Miranda is still heavily steeped in the male gaze. She was raised by a domineering father who treated her like an object (DNA manipulation, authoritarian upbringing), and was raising her to be the perfect woman - perfect obviously being defined by his own viewpoint/male gaze. She herself struggles with this, both physically (fighting to escape her father) and emotionally.

Putting aside perfectly form fitting clothing, I would say that Miranda is actually stands out from the crowed as being much more stereotypical male gaze, though not as much as we might like. Perhaps someone clever was trying to make a point? Or maybe it was someone who thought the game needed SOME eye candy. Who knows.

Anna Rangel
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I am very glad you wrote this article. I recently read the Career Guide myself for the first time ever, and was just stunned by the 3-8% population of women across the board for video game type jobs. I know it had to be a small percentage.. but that small?? It's understandable, considering how we are treated as you have so well written out here. I am a little scared of getting into the industry because of how things are, and how I myself have been treated just *playing* games. It's good to see some men out there have some "awareness" of the situation, and not just ragging on women that complain or calling us feminists. I don't consider myself a feminist in the least, I just want to play games and not feel uncomfortable staring at another woman's butt! Thank you again for writing this, it is a very good article.

Nou Phabmixay
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Feminism is not a bad word.

A feminist is "an advocate or supporter of the rights and equality of women."

Which doesn't mean to belittle men. If you belittle men, then there's no equality and you are not a feminist.

Darcy Nelson
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The Career Guide also showed an average wage gap of $3k a year across all different disciplines. Yikes.

Steve Markgraf
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@Darcy you cite that women make on average $3k a year less than men across all disciplines but isn't that at least partially due to the fact that women *on average* have shorter careers than men? I don't have a fact to cite on this but I would assume that more women than men make the choice (or are forced to) abandon their career to raise children thus ending or delaying career advancement and higher wages. If only 10% more women than men make that decision it could easily explain a wage gap.

I've worked with several female engineers and artists. I assumed that they were good at what they did and I was proven right. My limited experience hasn't shown examples of sexism in the workplace, though gaming culture at large is a different matter.

Thanks for the great article!

Harley Queen
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Please don't be afraid to join the industry despite the predominance of Male-Gaze in the final products, the industry is very welcoming of women. At all the studios I have worked at the best artists and producers have been women. And we need the invaluable contribution in order to change the content and reach a new level of game sophistication that gamers truly crave. Remember "Great artist/creator don't give the audience what it wants, it gives it what it needs".

Hope you join the ranks and help change this industry fro the best!! :)

Bob Stevens
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Gender wage gap exists in tons of industries. I'm not sure why it doesn't get more attention. $3k doesn't seem like very much though. For comparison:

http://www.drdobbs.com/architecture-and-design/dr-dobbs-2012-sala
ry-survey/240002742?pgno=11

Jimmy Russels
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"It's understandable, considering how we are treated..."

Because every female gamer that walks into a LAN party is to be instantly de-robed and vigorously groped by every Cheetoh dust-covered hand there. This whole issue is generally being blown out of proportion, and gamer girls are treating it like they're rape victims.

"It's good to see some men out there have some 'awareness' of the situation..."

The only reason those men had any real "awareness" was because they were trying to get on your good side. Mostly so that they could hopefully get into your pants someday. Friendzone them quick, girl.

"I just want to play games and not feel uncomfortable staring at another woman's butt!"

Have you ever considered the fact that you might just be a lesbian?

Danielle C
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I would tell you to not hesitate ... playing and working in it is just not the same.

I don't think it's the same for a guy or a girl tho, but it's not as bad, if I can say.

In years, I have never had any harassment at work, there is tho, a little bit of sexism, but not intentional I think.

A teacher of mine (a women) has been telling me all the time: "in the video game industry, when you are a man, you have credibility until you lose it, as a woman, you don't have credibility until you win it". And it's just true.

You will have to prove yourself, but once you succeed, I think you will have more credibility than a man, at least that's how I feel. I don't know if that helps!

Jamison Lockard
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@Anna
Throughout college, there was exactly one female in all of my programming courses combined. This is at a university with more female students enrolled than males.

It's not like there is some law stating that women can't major in Computer Science. The blame for low female employment lies with women themselves.

If you look at the women who do have jobs in the industry, they are almost entirely either writers, artists, or something entirely unrelated to game development like PR. If women want to make a change in the industry, then they need to start getting relevant degrees.

Alan Saud
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I don't know i think this article shouldn't belong to site like Gamasutra, I mean we are better than that. :/

Kim Simmons
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You mean, it's preaching to the choir? Probably a good idea to elaborate your statement.

Nou Phabmixay
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I wish this was the choir.

Take this for example: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/127875/Do_Arkham_Citys_Languag
e_Critics_Have_A_Right_To_Bitch.php

People were defending a reckless use of the word "bitch". And as far as I can tell, none of it was resolved.

Frank Cifaldi
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Given the extreme proliferation of this crap in our industry, I have the opposite opinion of yours: I think this article is exactly what Gamasutra should be publishing right now, and my hope is that we'll be doing a whole lot more of this.

Kim Pittman
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Given I am one of those 10% female game developers, I think this is *exactly* what we need more of.

Mikael Saker
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Alan: I sincerely wish you were right. Unfortunately this is a *huge* problem that shows very little sign of going away.

Thank you Brandon for writing this and speaking up. This is important!

Neko Otome
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Id say this is the perfect place for it.

Elizabeth Wyand
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We SHOULD be better than that. But are we? If we were, this article wouldn't have to be written at all.

Kim Simmons
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Just speaking up as another heterosexual male agreeing with you. Great article that puts some real issues in the light in a well formulated way.

Joe Zachery
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There is a reason why Sony and Microsoft copied Nintendo when it came to motion controls this generation. There is a reason why every new game is a FPS right now. There is a reason why women are designed to be sexy in video games. Money! People make video games to make it, and will do any and everything to get it. The people who are buying these games are young white males 14 to 26. Who for the most time in their lives will play games more than doing anything else. If you want change to happen it's not going to be by a male. You need women in places to make decisions on the type of games being made. That's the only way any kind of change is going to happen. As long as their is money that needs to be made. Developers will follow every trend, and do whatever it takes to make it. The audience is not going to change so don't expect their taste to change. Still that can be said about every group that seems to be mistreated in video games. From women to minorities you need them to create the games the way they want too.

Neko Otome
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Sony had motion controls before Nintendo/Wii.

Jacob Germany
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Following trends and assumptions != maximizing profit

I always hear that video games (and other media) star straight white males with mindless cleavage-y blonde white females by their sides because that's what those who consume said media want. But I've yet to see any data supporting this assumption, despite this assumptions being very, very prevalent.

From a purely anecdotal standpoint, I see consumers devouring quality over demographic trickery.

Camille Petain
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Games like you described will always work because there are a lot of people asking for it. Still, the audience of video games grow bigger, the audience is changing and "white males 14 to 26" are no longer the only people worth targetting. Besides female players, I hear more and more male players complaining about the way woman are depicted in video games. As a matter of fact, I recently read many threads about the upcoming Guild Wars 2 where people actually complained about revealing armors and praised the fact that there are a lot of practical, covering, and no-less epic armors.

Hypersexualised women in video games won't disappear. It makes money. It pleases a lot of people. But there should be games that treat women differently, for there are also people asking for it. Enough people to make money too.

Rhyesa Jackson
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"The people who are buying these games are young white males 14 to 26."

As a female gamer my response is and always will be - Why? I love gaming. I have since I was a kid. And I can tell you, the main reason my friends don't play games is that our choices are typically testosterone driven killing sprees, racing/sports, over sexualized females, or (drum roll please) something with tons of pink and animals. Out of these options what games are appealing to most females? None. Not all of us like cute cuddly pink things. In fact, a good number of us find that generalization to be offensive. We are expected to buy these game because it is "adorable" even though it has no real content.

Females are basically forced into this tiny little niche full of farmville-esque games that the rest of the gaming community looks down on. And if we try to play a "real game" we get the usual two reactions; either we are grossly overweight and ugly OR we're just a trolling dude looking for attention. Especially if we are good at at the game.

There are tons of marketing opportunities to be had, IF people can stop hiding behind that statistic and broaden the marketing focus. The female gaming community is growing by leaps and bounds. It's time to realize that and stop marketing everything to historically correct statistics.

John Paul Bichard
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Decent article, but games do sexualise the male, just in a more favourable way. mainstream AAA violence orientated video games are not a social aberration, they simply and effectively mirror the normative and conservative values that are predominant in Western contemporary society: pervasive militarism, institutional racism and gender inequality. They are a form of escapism that allows the player to adopt a fantastical stance in relating to these power hierarchies at one step removed. They are also highly skewed sexual spaces. Violent video games have settled upon the sexual and power desires of the white western pubescent male: they are a form of arrested development gratification allowing players way beyond puberty to adopt a naive, simple, childlike lack of responsibility and consequence. Games allow the player to behave in a sociopathic manner: to accept no responsibility beyond the immediate gang, avoid building emotional bonds or empathise with anyone outside of the group. Destruction is the predominant means of resolution and gratification, violence is eroticised and male power fetishised. The sexualised male and female forms are subjectified: controlled to appeal to simplistic, emotion free, shallow desires of the player: to conquer rather than reason. This is not brain science, it is populist, shallow entertainment. The challenge is not only to analyse these tropes but in doing so, to understand how to enable players in-game to either grow up or give them more emotionally engaging scenarios.

Eric Geer
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On the flipside of this, can we get some more fat unattractive male protaganists in games--

I think there was an article on gamasutra about this at some point or another. But only two I can think of are Pigsy from Enslaved and Kane/Lynch. Everyone else seems to be of super human/supernatural proportion and attractiveness---real life greek gods or something.

As for the male gaze and women as objects..yeah..but it's not just video games...
Just look to TV and Magazines to see this in all of it's glory. Hell, America's Next Top model is a show about turning women into the perfect Male Gaze object.

I understand the point and reasoning..but it's going to be a crawl upward on this steep slope.

brandon sheffield
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Mario, chuck rock, the father in nier, heavy in team fortress 2, rufus from street fighter IV, boogerman, wario, voldo (soul calibur), leisure suit larry, karnov, heavy rain detective........... etc!

Eric Geer
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@Brandon---Thanks!

Mario is not unattractive. :P

And I still think there should be more!

Adam Romney
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Regarding your first comment about unattractive v. 'greek god' male protagonists, Bob Chipman from the Escapist Magazine does a decent job of suggesting that this is still appealing to male fantasies, thus still serving a male audience.:
http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/the-big-picture/5950-
Tropes-vs-MovieBob
That and Brandon Sheffield's reply... ditto.

Joe Wreschnig
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@Eric,

There's plenty of fat, unattractive men in games. (There's also plenty of steroidaly muscular unattractive men in games.)

What we need (among many other things) is more sexualized men in games. Part of the male gaze is an aversion to male sexuality unless it's also a power fantasy (grabbing a woman and kissing her, the aforementioned bulging muscles - usually with minimal skin though). When we do show non-power-fantasy male sexuality it's played for laughs (Cho Aniki) or to show weakness.

(Edit: See also Mattie Brice's excellent article about this here on Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattieBrice/20111129/90711/On_Mens
_Sexualization_in_Video_Games.php. But don't read the comments, I guess, unless you want to see Mauricio Gomes try his hand at being a "scientist" again.)

El Shaddai is the only "big game" I can think of that did anything in this area recently.

Joerg Reisig
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I looked over the last 50 games i played and yes there where a couple of very attractive men in this games. But hardly their primary characteristic was hot and sexy, which seems to be default on i don't know 50% of the female characters. I mean why don't we encounter female main characters who are not sexy or cute. Somebody like Cole Phelps, Gomez, Isaac Clarke or Max Payne?

And even when there are sexy men around, suddenly the camera handles those characters completely different. Nobody shows us a close up of James Vegas six pack, Leon Kenndy's butt or Ezio Auditore's crotch.

Aaron Karp
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As I read the other comments discussing the objectification of men in games, I kept returning to Nico Bellic. Obviously, he's physically strong, but the game doesn't go out of its way to show that. The player can choose clothes for him that accentuate it, but not at the outset, and even when they do, it's their choice, not the developers. I don't know that I'd say he's genuinely ugly, but he does seem pretty average in the looks department. He's just some guy, admittedly some guy well suited to his situation, but he's a far cry from a Greek god. I'm sure this was a conscious choice - it fits his story of starting out as a miniscule fish in a giant pond too well to be otherwise, and it's one that seems to permeate the GTA series. San Andreas does give the player the ability to exercise CJ until he looks like a steroid posterboy, but it also allows the player to force-feed him and let him get extremely out of shape, and it's the player's choice either way. This isn't to say that all of GTA's treatments of sexuality are smart and nuanced, but they do get some things right.

Maurício Gomes
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Hey Joe thanks for remembering me of that post =D It was a good post :)

Too bad I forgot to mention that I was not talking that we are exclusively instinctual creatures (we CAN behave otherwise for the most part, based on culture, but we CANNOT stop being human or stop being a animal, at least for now... When we get the tech to upload brain to a machine, then it is other thing).

Oh, and the things I mentioned there came from real scientists, not me ;) (Psychology Today for example is a good place to start understanding this stuff)

Joe Wreschnig
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@Mauricio,

Satoshi Kanazawa is not a scientist, he was dismissed from Psychology Today, and he is currently on probation from his employer (LSE, not exactly known for easily censuring its members) for being a complete fuckup. You might as well recommend the National Inquirer.

Furthermore, Psychology Today is a mass-market magazine and not a scientific journal. Its publishing standards are fairly low (and note that Kanazawa failed to meet even those). "Evo psych" remains a pile of sexist horseshit.

Fredrik Vestin
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Thanks for the article, I really believe this topic is important, not the least for the industrys reputation. Countless times I have gotten an eyeroll when explaining I'm into game development, both from males and females. They think we're just a bunch of immature mommas boys.
We create our own image, and a significant amount of people are attracted to the industry (any industry) because of it's image. These are probably the ones being most conservative about its culture as well. I guess the only thing to do is to become the old and wise guru within the field and when people litsen to you tell them they behave like assholes. In the mean time, lets create games more imersive even without boobs and write articles like this.

Alex Boccia
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Personally, I don't care for this back and forth over sexism in games, it seems like a big drain on energy, especially since their can be arguments made for heavy male and female gender stereotypes - part of that is because most "realistic" videogame stories are like typical Hollywood B-Movie as far as characters are concerned. I think it would be healthy for us if we focused our energies on a more lovable cause, like saving the Orks, http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1764187945/344999384?token=7b
ccb8c6.

But since we're on the topic of sexism and gender roles in games, what did you all think of the portrayal of women, particularly Triss in The Witcher 2? Was it inherently bad since there were exposed breasts and womanly curves NOW, when that seems to be a big problem on people's minds, or did the writers/developers address it in a mature manner that made it a non-issue?

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James Coote
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It's a circular thing. Game developers are making games that appeal to game developers. If they didn't make games they were passionate about, the games would suck. Everyone else slowly gets pushed out because the games they are making and playing just aren't compelling

So, how do we get out of that? Positive discrimination when recruiting? All-female studios? Industry awards specifically aimed at women? Investment funds specifically for developing games aimed at women?

Is the answer in education? There were only two women out of one hundred students on my university Computer Science course.

If society is the problem, we absolutely must try to change it. We're not artists if we can't challenge people and change perceptions through our work.

As was hinted in the article, I suspect actually the solution starts with having more normal/realistic male characters in games. Ones that aren't just power trips and caricatures. Ones that are internally conflicted, that make mistakes and don't get the girl. Once we can be honest with ourselves as men, then maybe we can start to think about how to create realistic female characters

John Paul Bichard
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It would be ghastly if games were Disneyfied, by which I mean the way that dark, disturbing, often morally questionable fairy tales have been sanitised to a point where the initial impact and tension has been pretty much lost.
Games are a shallow populist medium, that is not a problem, what could and perhaps should change is the emotional engagement, and subsequently, in-game consequence. You can still have a superhero but they should as you say, have vulnerabilities and shortfalls. There have been great precedents for this: Gordon Freeman in HL who was a lowly scientist, not a space marine. His journey was difficult and hit a fabulous turning poiont half way through where he found was was cornered, trapped from both sides and betrayed. This is intelligent game design.
The Hitman trailer is disturbing: it uses strong sexual and gender symbolism to deliver a blunt simplistic message: machismo will always prevail (yawn). These are the same mechanisms that pornography and warfare use. Interesting that the stakes have been raised: the fetish nuns, one could argue are set up as a symbol of strong sexually aware women in society (Lady Gaga?), only to be destroyed by the archetypal male monolith. The slow motion bullet-time or nose-crunch-time sequences are pure porn: glistening, luscious, eroticised. I would say it sums up the crisis with masculinity but that is getting to be a worn out excuse in a world where US republicans are trying to re-introduce repressive laws to domesticise women and groups of 'inspired' revolutionaries sexually assault women protesters in public in Egypt. We live in violent times and games could be a medium for exploring our relationship to this violence from a more emotional and intelligent perspective just as literature has for centuries.

Joe Wreschnig
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"I suspect actually the solution starts with having more normal/realistic male characters in games. Ones that aren't just power trips and caricatures. Ones that are internally conflicted, that make mistakes and don't get the girl."

First, I feel the need to preface this by saying: I don't disagree we should do this. More characters that are not power fantasies, or that are power fantasies in entirely mundane (SimCity) or surreal (Katamari) ways, are needed.

We also have a responsibility to police our own community - men need to solve the problems with men in games, and the best way to start doing this is to start reanalyzing our maleness.

But I think it's not an approach for this problem. The way to make games less sexist is not to make their protagonists less cool. This belies an assumption that "cool" somehow can only exist in a sexist context, or worse as part of a sexist actor. That's exactly the idea we need to challenge.

In other words, that I am playing a flawless superhumanly awesome entity has no bearing on whether or not the game treats women as objects.

It's also pretty close to the approach that comics tried to take, and it failed miserably there. Instead of another generation of sexist superhumans, it was just a generation of whiny sexist superhumans.

Jack Everitt
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"Game developers are making games that appeal to game developers." - Unless you glance at Facebook games.

But you are generally right; game designers make games that appeal to themselves. Male game designers don't read Romance novels (99% don't) - so there are no Romantic games, just SF, Fantasy and Horror games. If even 15% of the game designers out there were female, the Romance category would be a huge thing, and I'd think there'd be a lot less discrimination.

But at 3% (or whatever), it's like critical mass hasn't been reached; reach it and things will change fast.

It is a societal problem: Women are discouraged in school at an early age from going into tech - teachers in math classes call on males more often for answers in class, for example. This (obviously) needs to change in the coming education revolution. Even now, high schools could simply require all students to learn programming for three years (yeah, it should be even longer).

Kim Pittman
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It takes a shift in attitude. Just aiming at making games for women will likely fail, because you will still have a largely male game dev team stabbing in the dark, or a female dev team who makes a game that is so focused on being a female game it forgets to be a good game.

Instead we need more women in creative director, lead design positions to make these games. Women who are already proven in the industry and already know what makes a good game, then let them lead the way to a good game that doesn't alienate women.

It's that simple, and that hard. Don't alienate women. Make a good game, but don't do things that make women uncomfortable or kill their fun.

This isn't going to happen though until we get more women in the industry, which isn't going to happen until we stop treating them like the women we put in our games. When the industry is only 13% women, across all disciplines, it's very hard to find women designers to lead projects.

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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"Game developers are making games that appeal to game developers."

NOPE. Game developers make games appealing to publishers who like ideas that sounds like it will sell to a large demographic.

Beatrice Margarita Lapa
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Actually, I would have to agree with Rasmus Gunnarsson regarding the kind of games that developers come up with. It's usually the call of the publisher, or the client (if you're a 3rd party developer). If it's the latter, the atmosphere is comparable with advertising, where design changes get really crazy. Personally, I prefer working with a publisher. I actually have more say in the direction of the game than if I were working on a client-based project.

I wouldn't want industry awards specifically aimed at women either. It's almost the same as marginalizing us further.

But I like the idea of realistic male characters that don't get the girl and realistic female characters that get permanently damaged physically.

Constantin Bacioiu
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@Beatrice Margarita Lapa
One thing comes to my mind from your last statement(actually two, but I'll take the second one as a personal -frustration-):
"[...]and realistic female characters that get permanently damaged physically.[...] ".
Honestly, if this occurred in a game that contained a female character (no "realistic" males as player controlled characters) the first thing I'd read about it would be "DISCRIMINATION and SEXISM" in bold letters, where allot of people would imply that the MC is weak because she is a female.

Lincoln Thurber
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The interesting thing about Miranda from Mass Effect is that she literally genetically engineered (designed) by her father to - among many things - entice and enforce the male gaze. She was genetically engineered to be beautiful. And, to her that intellect, drive, and superiors physical powess is a burden because it feels ‘un-earned'.

Joe Wreschnig
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Why is this interesting? All it tells us is "yep, BioWare definitely wanted to spend a lot of time looking at that ass."

(You're also confusing "a gaze from a male" and "the male gaze". A woman using her sexuality to attract or distract a man is *not* "the male gaze". A man using a camera to portray a woman for a tacitly-assumed male audience is the male gaze.)

Lincoln Thurber
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It is interesting because that use it, the developers admit that males...in the game, in the design process, and even the players WILL BE looking at her in a certain way...then they provide her dialogues that pretty much says "My dad was a jerk for making me this way and most of the men around me were jerks for falling for it.

Julian Kantor
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@Joe I don't think that's all there is in relation to Miranda and Mass Effect. The idea is not that Miranda is able to use her sexuality as an empowered woman, but rather that she was genetically engineered with that intention. As it turns out, she has strong feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy due to the that the gaze she attracts.

The developers are using formal techniques (the "ass shots") to mirror the game's themes -- the player has no choice but to see her in this context due to the cinematic framing. Obviously there is also some pure fetishism to the shot, but it's a mistake to assume that it is the beginning and end of Bioware's intent.

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Sean Maples
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At once I don't like the use of a decently written character like Miranda for this piece and yet at the same time I see the truth of this article in the camera angle that was so often used on her.

Luis Guimaraes
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Old news, the industry has already moved on to gore-gaze. Rated M for mature, bro!

Call me when the problem is solved, I'll be busy playing my awesome hardcore punishing hopeless restless high-barrier challenging non-accessible perma-death Survival Horror for grown up men.

Oh wait! What did you do to Survival Horror? Turning it into Power Fantasy gore fest? How dare you?! I'm not the majority of gaming audience it seems... well let's make that game and be the effing difference we want in the world. Coming soon!

Vince Dickinson
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Games have not gotten more mature over the years, they've devolved into Hollywood Summer Blockbusters. Fun stuff, but let's not pretend it's War and Peace. In the 80s we had games like 688 Attack Sub and Battle of Antietum. Those were actually mature titles. A modern game labelled "mature" is about blood and boobs. While there are a few exceptions, the "moral" choices of modern games are as deep as a puddle compared to other mediums.

Kelly Strouse
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As a middle-aged male gamer, I appreciate this article and have always felt that this is an issue that will continue to hold the gaming industry back from more widespread acceptance, and you are correct that these decisions come from the leadership of the industry. It's no accident, and it needs to be reined in. It's a crying shame that there are games with legitimately good gameplay, but for which I would feel embarrassed to play it in front of my girlfriend, other friends, or family. Bigotry and sexism will never be "solved" in our industry any more than they can be in any arena; they'll be around as long as there are bigots and sexists on the earth, and that's simply the grim reality. But that's no excuse for the majority of the gaming industry to pander to it.

On a side note, it's important to understand that the leadership of the industry makes decisions to portray women this way because, by and large, that portrayal sells. So there is a certain defense to be made that they are simply providing the product that the market desires. I just hope that the market will desire more realistic portrayals of women at some point. I believe that as the average age of gamers increases, these discussions will have more and more prominence. This article is evidence of that to me.

Vincent Hyne
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There's a very easy way to counteract any sexist overtones in the gaming industry, and snuff them out.

Have the responsible press with its high standards and unwavering insight penalize the reviews and scores for games which feature sexi------pfffffffffffffffffffffffffffft.

Yeah.

It would solve the problem, but unfortunately it's a fantasy. The press functions largely as an advertising outlet for games, and it has no standards, universal or otherwise.

Have that metacritic score severely impacted by the press calling you out on your insensitive, backwards, uneducated, exploitative shit? The games industry would wise up in a heartbeat.

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Matt Fleming
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So, when are we going to stop with the self-flaggelation and see results? All I see here are articles telling male gamers/video game workers are bad, and they should feel bad, but haven't really offered any insight as to how to solve the problem. Concrete steps. Solid, good examples of what the people we apparently want to appease want to see.

When is it going to be okay for us to like games again?

Joe Wreschnig
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"When is it going to be okay for us to like games again?"

For anyone who makes this kind of strawman response, hopefully never.

Matt Fleming
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Joe, thank you for your indepth, analytical response to my question.

No wait, the opposite of that.

From what I'm seeing here, it's okay to care about the feelings of others, if and only if it's "acceptable". From these articles, it sounds like I've been wrong to enjoy getting Mario to save the Princess, or for Link to wake up Zelda. It's a "male power fantasy", and some of my fondest early memories were formed from this kind of heroism. When I was a kid, I played these games because they were fun. According to these statements, I am responsible, directly or indirectly, for holding back the other gender. The innocence of just being a kid, playing a game, is now kind of shattered. Maybe you're too young to remember this - I have no idea, and it's not like we're face to face here - but back then, that's what we had. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how we should reconcile these childhood memories with the fact that they contributed to a sexist culture. This is what I meant by "it going to be okay for us to like games again".

I'll agree, wholeheartedly, that one-note, oversexualized characters aren't helpful at all for a long list of reasons that have been brought up before. I don't think they should be outlawed, any more than I think any of the '____sploitation' films of the past and present should be outlawed. I bring this up because, at least in the film industry, there are more than just exploitation films being made - there are art films, and 'chick flicks', and action films and a horde of other kinds of cinema.

All of this comes back to a very basic question I haven't seen answered yet, and I'd love to see some concrete answers on this: what do we do now?

Matt Fleming
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From reading a few of your responses, I saw a few good ideas (making males 'sexy' which would hopefully cater to other demographics) that partially answer my question, but I'd like to hear more.

Just wasn't a fan of your dickish tone. Maybe it's due to my hiatus from message boards and such the last few years, but I didn't think that was particularly called for. It's a stark reminder of why I stopped posting to these things...

Chris By
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You say, "nobody sexualizes male characters" which is obviously wrong and can be ascribed to your (heterosexual) "male gaze" (because it's mostly written by women for women). A quick search reveals plenty of slash fiction about the most popular male video game characters (yes, even Kratos - though God of War is probably less popular than AC or Uncharted) and a visit to sites like deviantArt or its more lewd siblings will support this with plenty of complementing visual art. (Just no heterosexual male notices, like no one did notice the billion dollar market for erotic novels targeted at women before "50 shades" made it into mainstream.)

Also, I don't think one should confuse the feminist stance, which is albeit vocal, a minority among women, largely confined to academic circles, with the "female view". Games which please feminists would maybe gain some academic praise and even a thesis dedicated to them, but they wouldn't only put off male gamers but many female gamers as well.

I couldn't care less about boobs and if I look at the sales numbers of 2011, the most successful games didn't have to rely on boobs and butts, guns did suffice.

Joe Wreschnig
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The context of that quote is within the games industry. Male characters in games are not sexualized by game developers. "Nobody" is obviously hyperbole, but a fair approximation.

The slash comparison is very apt but you draw the opposite conclusion most literary theorists do. Slash is part of the process a group uses to carve out space for itself in the margins of a larger community that is not accepting of it. If women (or queer men) are writing erotic stories about Kratos, it's usually because they're *not* getting it from the games or gaming culture. In contrast, when men write sexual wish fulfillment about women characters in a game, we call that "a sequel."

Kate Craig
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@Joe

Every time there's a Gamasutra article about gender issues and I see a comment from you, I feel a tremendous sense of relief. Very grateful to see the issues not only understood, but discussed in a clear way.

Karen Langer
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The "male gaze" thing is kind of problematic ("The theory goes that when one is gazed at, the person being viewed loses some sense of autonomy." has sour implications for media and art), but that aside-

Where do we go from here?

No tits in games? This is the obvious answer, but that coincides uncomfortably with a certain strain of moralism that has historically been at odds with artistic achievement. This is the answer I foresee us choosing. Times are hard, and when times are hard, Eros tends to take a back seat to Thanos, if you're picking up what I'm laying down. Nor has this moralist strain been particularly beneficial for women or men in the past.

Equal time to 'male tits'? Is this a possibility? What would it even mean, or is it possible within the context of the "gaze"?

Writing that will somehow make the tits okay? That seems unlikely and probably not actually possible.

I don't know if this has any solution.

Jacob Germany
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I wholeheartedly agree that the puritanical undertones of "No more cleavage/whatever" makes me uncomfortable. I would much prefer sexuality to be handled in a mature, sex-positive, and gender-equitable way.

If anything, I think the problem is that there isn't *enough* nudity and sex in games, so where it does appear, it is given the same treatment as children getting their hands on their first porn magazine/website.

I know many voices aren't necessarily explicitly saying "Stop showing cleavage", but the undertone is there, nonetheless. And that is also part of the reason any article discussing gender equality in games becomes the target of such vitriol.

Martin Petersen
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"By representing women in this mono-dimensional manner, both in games and at industry events, we show, subtly or overtly, that we think women are nothing more than boobs and butts."

For this statement to hold merit, we also have to assume that men care about little other than blowing things up and killing hordes of enemies in the goriest fashion. I certainly believe that while these activities can be joyful within the playful context of the game, the vast majority of the audience go on to live "normal", trivial lives with modest stereotypical alpha-male behavior. Just as well as the players can make the distinction between an average American, European or whatever man and the overly stereotyped male protagonists that are often featured in AAA games, they can also comprehend that female characters are not the complex, fascinating creatures they are in the real world. Game worlds are rarely the developer's perception of the world she's living in, which is a good thing!
For me, the real issue have more to do with the game industry generally being too infantile. Personally, I've grown too old to get off on most of the clichés that are beaten to death in AAA games. Hopefully, the Indie movement will transcend into more middlesized studios, that'll be able to target the smaller, more mature audiences who grew "old" with the medium.

Christopher Brand
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I agree that the article is one-sided. Female-gaze occurs just as much it's just more hidden as it isn't considered "lady-like" or as accepted socially as male-gaze. A good example is the latest iteration of Deus Ex. The primary character is very much the subject of female-gaze. Most males won't notice this unless the watch a female play through the game because when they play themselves they are to busy being Deus. If you talk with a female who has played the game and who isn't as repressed by the expectations society puts on her she will go on and one about how hot the main character is.

To me this really is just the latest itteration of the morality police. If the fem's want booth dude that's perfectly acceptable and they should determine the form that should take but it isn't someone else's place to bash what other enjoy since the entire point of the industry is enjoyment is it not?

What the author should be writting about is how to promote what he thinks females want in a game instead of trying to take away from games that others enjoy. I fail to see why it's necessary to bash some in the game industry inorder to promote others.

Camille Petain
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Your point about Deus Ex is interesting. I didn't play it but, according to you, here is a game that male players enjoy with a heroic hero and female players enjoy with a hot hero. Men are happy, women are happy, everything's ok.

However, you pointed out that men are not even aware that the guy is supposedly hot and subject of female-gaze. Their experience is not altered by that. So why male-gaze has to be so disturbing for female players ? To take a drastic example, as a female player, when I tried Tera for a beta, I was disturbed by my own character, her sexy inexistant outfits and the way she ran bend over shaking her butt in front of me. That definitly altered my experience, to the point I stopped playing within a few hours.

I think subtlety is involved here.

In many games, sexy footages and characters are absurd and do not add anything to it. In that sense, I really like the example of Mass Effect and the female Commander Shepard. I enjoyed being able to play a female hero in a game where her gender is never an issue. I actually enjoyed that more than I should, for it should be the way female characters are in more games.

Ben Maher
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I agree with Camille. Jenson (the protagonist) may be the object of female gaze, but clearly that wasn't the only goal the developers had in mind when they created him. Jenson is played entirely as a first person character, wears sensible clothes and has decent depth to his character. He's sexy, but that's not his only redeeming quality.

It's difficult to find female characters like that in games. Probably one of the best examples I can think of is Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. She's sexy, but she has depth to her character. She's smart, fearless and a born leader. More importantly, she's not marketed to the audience as another pretty face, the game treats her with respect.

I think that's where the author is arguing from. It's about respect.

Elisabeth Beinke-Schwartz
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Just as a clarification, when the terms "male gaze" and "female gaze" are used, it doesn't refer to the attractiveness/sexyness of a character. Instead, it refers to the way the character is represented, mostly by the camera.

As such, I'm a female who's currently playing Deus Ex and I wouldn't say that the game has the "female gaze" in it.

JB Vorderkunz
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When will the comics industry stop drawing men with unrealistic muscles and women with ridiculous body proportions: never. What y'all are mad about is humanity itself - grow up it's not going to change. We're animals - very clever, very stupid, very noble, very base - that's Life, folks. Make an awesome game that depicts humans as complex and frail and generally unattractive - GO FOR IT! But just don't expect sex and violence to ever go away in the name of 'Enlightenment'.

just sayin' =)

Joe Wreschnig
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"When will the comics industry stop drawing men with unrealistic muscles and women with ridiculous body proportions: never."

The "comics industry" - meaning DC and Marvel, which together are most of the industry and even more of the segment you're talking about - has been deflating for years now, saved mostly by buyouts from Disney and WB, tons of non-comics licensing deals, and periodic large spikes when they dare to do something that isn't muscles-and-breasts.

It's not a model we should be mirroring, commercially or creatively.

Frank Cifaldi
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Yeah, and look how well that's going for them.

The idea of writing a game developer-focused article on how and when comics went wrong and what we should learn from them is something I've been brewing in the back of my head for a long time now, maybe we should get moving on that soon.

JB Vorderkunz
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generations of pubescent boys loved comics for all of the maligned 'power-fantasy' motivations discussed above. with the rise of tablets I believe comics will experience a resurgence - maybe i'm wrong but either way my point remains valid, you'll never make sex and violence go away. Just make the art you want and accept that it's never going to make the sort of ridiculous money of The Avengers movie - be happy with the merely wild success of The English Patient.

Nou Phabmixay
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I don't need it to go away. Did the author of the article want it to go away?

I personally like all this sex but at a certain point, I'm not that dumb to just want something just for the sexy nuns.

Life hopefully isn't just taking what's given to you and liking it.

"just saying' =)"

JB Vorderkunz
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Nou,
You didn't actually read my posts did you? I said nothing about "taking what's given to you and liking it." Let me boil it down for easy comprehension:

You CAN'T do anything about it. Instead of fretting and complaining, do your own thing.

Never said you had to like sexism or aggression. Just don't see the point in wasting time on a Sisyphean task is all.

Aaron Karp
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@JB - The expectation is not that sex and violence will go away in the name of enlightment. I don't think there's even a hope of that. Trying to eliminate those things would be sisyphean (not to mention stupid, as they're a part of life and are worthy of exploration). What's not sisyphean is looking at what is available and seeing how it can be done differently. That's the only way to move forward.

JB Vorderkunz
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Aaron - I thought that's what i've been saying: you can't beat 'em and don't want to join 'em so do something different. But everyone keeps responding to me as though I'm saying "you've gotta love it".

For what it's worth, sexism is defined as "discriminatory on the basis of sex", and I don't see ME3 as thus being sexist. But whatever, I'm not trying to pick a fight with anyone and that's apparently what keeps happening, so i'll just retire from the field =)

Joshua Darlington
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Exaggerated anatomy is driven by the use of supernormal stimuli in marketplace competition.

"A supernormal stimulus or superstimulus is an exaggerated version of a stimulus to which there is an existing response tendency, or any stimulus that elicits a response more strongly than the stimulus for which it evolved."

"A major body of Tinbergen's research focused on what he termed Supernormal Stimuli. This was the concept that one could build an artificial object which was a stronger stimulus or releaser for an instinct than the object for which the instinct originally evolved. He constructed plaster eggs to see which a bird preferred to sit on, finding that they would select those that were larger, had more defined markings, or more saturated color—and a dayglo-bright one with black polka dots would be selected over the bird's own pale, dappled eggs.

Tinbergen found that territorial male stickleback fish would attack a wooden fish model more vigorously than a real male if its underside was redder. He constructed cardboard dummy butterflies with more defined markings that male butterflies would try to mate with in preference to real females. The superstimulus, by its exaggerations, clearly delineated what characteristics were eliciting the instinctual response.

Among the modern works calling attention to Tinbergen's classic work in the field of Supernormal Stimuli has been the Deirdre Barrett book of 2010, "Supernormal Stimuli"."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernormal_stimulus

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The study of anomia in stroke victims shows that human brains have separate resources for encoding living and inanimate objects. The use (criss cross function) of these parallel resources could explain why humans objectify living creatures and see faces in clouds.

Ryan Duffin
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"Sarkeesian's kickstarter is up to almost $160,000 now, which is amazing. But it also shows that her supporters are largely silent, because how much have you really heard on her behalf"

I take issue with this statement. Any "silence" (and that's not what I'd call the Twitter conversation) from her supporters are largely silent only shows they're probably smart enough not to try to argue an anonymous internet bigot out of bigotry. Instead, over-funded her kickstarter 25 times over. Actions speak louder than words and her supporters spoke pretty freaking loud.

Aaron Karp
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While the reaction to discussion like this is generally horrifying and leaves me pessimistic about the general decency of humanity for a while, I'm hoping the facts that we're seeing more discussion and the reaction is getting louder are signs of growth, that the reactions are the increasingly desperate acts of a mentality that is being backed into a corner and knows it. All of this is about power, and the existing, comfortable power structure is threatened by any kind of change, so they're reflexively trying to crush any calls for discussion. In the long run, I don't think they can possibly win. Games have become too mainstream - everyone has some interest in it, and that means more voices will inevitably get into the production process. It's slow going, but it IS happening, and that's a very good thing.

Jason Pineo
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Many thanks! Brandon et al for the original article, Joe W. for speaking my thoughts more intelligently than I could likely manage.

Speaking as an indie dev with plenty of opportunities to include negative sterotypes in my characters, thank you. Thank you for having the patience to elaborate and enumerate your position and feeling. I admit, I've been the one responding defensively on occasion. It *is* hard to have assumptions challenged, especially when you didn't realize you were making assumptions (rather like being woken up with a dash of cold water). But you break through and on the other side is truer depth of experience, which you can put in your work.

Robert Boyd
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Could you please change the lead-in image so that Gamasutra isn't taking advantage of the male gaze effect itself?

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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Do what they say not what they do :P

brandon sheffield
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I think that would diminish the effect. That initial interaction gives you something upon which to reflect once you finish the article.

Robert Boyd
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No, I'm fine with it being at the top of this page. It's just annoying to see it on the front page of Gamasutra every time I check to see if there are any new articles to read.

Frank Cifaldi
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I'm not going to apologize for reminding you about this issue every time you come to my home page, that's kind of the point.

Michael Rooney
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Generally I agree with the article, but I think it jumps to the opposite extreme rather than finding a favorable middle ground.

The example for Tomb Raider is ridiculous. There aren't really any scenes in the entire trailer where her relatively modest cleavage is shown that aren't at least showing her entire upper body. It speaks to a relevant point, but it reads like a feminist who won't be satisfied with any portrayal of women in games for one reason or another (too sexualized, too ugly, too useless, unrealistically useful, too much focus, not enough focus, etc. etc.).

brandon sheffield
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oh, I didn't clarify this, but the cleavage look is in a cutscene in the gameplay demos that happened at E3, not in the public trailers. people will see it eventually when it's out though.

Michael Rooney
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Then why embed a video that doesn't show an example of what you're talking about? o.O

Aaron Fowler
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Male Gaze - are we men or boys?

For the most part, the market is comprised of boys, and young adult men. And of those young adult "men", most of them are just as mature as boys, with a few exceptions.

I want games to standout from one another because of their game play, not by showing the most cleavage.

I'd love to see a change in the pattern. But sadly, I think it will only get worse.

Johnathon Tieman
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Can I ask what you actually want from this? You claim you want people to think, but that's a generic cop-out that sounds impressive and doesn't mean anything. What is the end goal? You want game developers to think about how women are going to be viewed in a game that is largely, and intentionally, marketed to a largely male, heterosexual audience? You use games like Hitman and Tomb Raider as justification for your claims, while ignoring games like Mario, Pikmin, Wii Sports, and more. You are essentially cherry-picking the data to push a viewpoint without any real scientific data to back it up. How about feminists perform a real study that can be peer-reviewed to show if video games truly have some sort of bias?

I'm all for feminine equality, and regardless of my personal feelings towards the group, if feminists want good, triple A games that don't contain the "male gaze", then go for it. Heck, if the story is really good, I'll even buy them! But they need to go through the same effort as the current crop of triple A games. Make a business plan, come up with a game concept, find a team of developers willing to make it and a company willing to market and publish it. Perhaps make a few indie games first to provide good examples of what they want (which has the beneficial effect of proving there is a customer base to the suits). I'll be quite happy to entertain their complaints about the industry being against them if they run into issues after they have put in the hard work, but all I hear are complaints that those who do the heavy lifting don't care about a special interest group.

Also, as a quick aside, you claims that "no one wants to be Lara Croft" is simply bullshit. Do you really think people don't want to be her, but do want to be someone like, say, Nathan Drake? The fact is no one truly wants to be a video game/movie character, but we all like to imagine ourselves as such a person. To me, Lara Croft is simply Indiana Jones in female form, and I would certainly enjoy being either character in my head, and there are certainly aspects to both characters I would love to be in real life.

Kate Craig
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With all due respect, are you referring to women as a special interest group?

Johnathon Tieman
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No, I'm referring to feminists as a special interest group. Feminists do not equate to women.

Jason Pineo
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Who are you again? Where have I heard your name before? We're waiting on you to "entertain their complaints" so you must be a big name... no no, don't tell me... almost got it...

Nou Phabmixay
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Ah! We need science! Sorry ladies, things are going to need to stay the way they are. We don't have science to back us up.

Besides, video games are just for men, am I right?

"You want game developers to think about how women are going to be viewed in a game that is largely, and intentionally, marketed to a largely male, heterosexual audience?"

Kate Craig
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@Johnathon I can assure you, feminists absolutely equate to quite a few women. Also men, and people that are interested in seeing things represented a little more evenly.

Joe Wreschnig
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"How about feminists perform a real study that can be peer-reviewed to show if video games truly have some sort of bias?"

Feminists have spent decades doing studies that show bias across virtually all aspects of (American, western European) society (and other places too but those usually aren't in English and probably aren't as relevant here). Particularly in mass media.

If you think games are exceptional - the one bastion of western art and business unsullied by gender bias despite women being less than 10% of industry developers - the burden of proof is on you.

But you don't want someone to do the studies. You want someone to do them, summarize them for you, to give them to you on a silver platter with a plan, at which point you'll give your big important male "okay! let's do that!" thumbs up. Because you think it's not your own responsibility to examine your bias and unpack your privilege and to solve the problem *your own attitudes* are creating.

No, instead you trot out another line of "well, just make the games! come on girls, bootstraps!" which only serves as another example of the bias you're blind to.

Joe Wreschnig
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"you claims that "no one wants to be Lara Croft" is simply bullshit."

Incidentally, there are not Brandon's claims. These are a Tomb Raider developer's claims. And yes, it is bullshit but it's not the big bad feminists saying it. We're the ones pointing to it and going "look, here, fucking right here, this is it, this is the sexism in the industry PLEASE OPEN YOUR EYES AND SEE IT, IT IS RIGHT THERE."

Johnathon Tieman
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@Jason: I am a video gamer, a computer software developer, and someone who can be convinced to help or hinder an agenda placed before me, just like you and everyone else who visits this blog. What's your point? Your own profile claims you are out of work. Does that mean your viewpoint shouldn't matter?

@Nou: You are seriously arguing *against* applying scientific reasoning to something?

@Kate: Yes, some feminists are women, but not all women are feminists. You accused me of calling women a special interest group, which I never did. You even pointed out that some men are feminists, which just goes to justify my claim that the group feminists do *not* equate to the group women.

@Joe: No, the burden of proof is on those that claim it exists. It is impossible to prove a negative, this is science 101. If there are "tons of studies" that have been successfully peer-reviewed and still stand, then please point me to them. I am quite willing to read them myself and be proven completely wrong. It has happened before. Of course, the alternative has happened as well. Some of the studies feminists (among other special interest groups) have pointed me to have been disproven after the fact, yet still used to promote a specific viewpoint. So I am wary of such claims. Also, you need to re-read the article, as Brandon, not the Tomb Raider developer, says (almost) no one wants to be Lara Croft.

Kate Craig
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@Johnathon Not accusing, clarifying. I've seen some pretty intense things said in threads such as these, and I wouldn't at all be surprised if that had been the case.

Jason Pineo
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Drat. All out of troll kibble.

Johnathon Tieman
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@Kate: Yes, you are correct and I was wrong. You did not accuse me, and I shouldn't have been so quick to assume I knew your intent.

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Johnathon Tieman
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@Joshua: You are *really* going to visit a web site for game development and say game developers do not put in an honest day's work while creating video games?

Second, no where in your post do you show video games to equate to pornography, and numerous studies have attempted to show a link between video games and increasing violence, and none have survived peer review.

Third, if you are going to try to link to something, you should make sure your link works, and you should make sure it supports your argument. The article you cite shows crime decreasing during the nineties, when video games were making a resurgence. Based on studies I've seen recently, that trend has continued until today. Other than that, nothing in the paper you cite even *mentions* video games.

Finally, you talk about families "regulating, limiting, surveillance, controlling, and commanding their children." What does that have to do with the article? This article is discussing games that are specifically made and marketed towards adults. You may dislike how parents are raising their children today, but unless you are going to borrow Jack Thompson's argument about how nothing should be made for an adult market since children may encounter it, none of that matters to this discussion.

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Johnathon Tieman
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@Joshua: Media is not the problem, your complaints are again with bad parenting, and have nothing to do with content in video games *or* this article. If all children are exposed to is *any* media exclusively without the context of understanding what it encompasses, there is the potential for problems. Video game developers are not in the job of raising your, or anyone else's, children. It is incumbent on the parent to help present the context of video games children encounter, and society as a whole to provide context to children without parents.

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Johnathon Tieman
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@Joshua: You said, "So what you are saying then is parents are responsible to protect their families from all the possible influences in the world."

The answer is, absolutely. You are making the false assumption that everyone agrees on what is "harmful cultural influence". You are trying to force your morality on everyone else, using dubious, unproven claims.

The United States was specifically set up to allow conflicting cultures to coexist (generally peacefully, although perhaps with much animosity) within its borders, by promoting individual freedom over society. Video games is just one instance of this - you are making claims they create problems, but have no proof to back up your claims. Since the country has very specific laws preventing the government from censoring almost anything, opinion pieces are written to sway (shame, in this case) the industry into acting a certain way. That's when it becomes incumbent on people like me to call out the false, illogical, or unfounded claims as rhetoric.

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Kristian Roberts
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[First, let me point out that I am limiting my argument to how sexuality is portayed in games. I recognize that there is more going on than sex in games, but it is evidently a point for discussion...so here goes]

When I think long on this issue, I keep coming back to the notion of balance.

While I have to agree that (hyper-)sexualized women abound in the mainstream gaming culture -- for many of the reasons that the article and subsequent comments point out -- I would hate for the recourse to be the absense of sexy females (and males) in videogames. I don't so much think that the Male Gaze, is itself a negative thing (there is nothing particularly wrong with men having fantasies), but that it has tended to dominate many (though by no means all) major relases. As a result of this dominance, many (but not all) women, gay men and non-stereotypical hetero-men are left out -- if not somewhat alienated.

However, I don't think fair treatment of women (or rather of 'not-stereo-hetero-men') should lead to some world where the desires of a stereotypical hetero-male sexuality is ignored. Rather, these fantasies needs to be situated in a more balanced discourse..where everyone gets a turn to be turned on. As such, the answer to me is more concurrent fantasies, not fewer.

And again, sex doesn't have to be (and shouldn't be) in every game. But it has to be in some games, and where it is present it could be a lot more effective.

Bring on the Gazes.

Nou Phabmixay
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Ah yes. I usually think the male gaze needs to be turned down and the other varieties should be turned up. But there's no reason to just bump all of them up to the same volume.

Kristian Roberts
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@ Nou

I suppose that the direction we go depends to some extent on whether we think that sexual fantasy is (in general) a positve or negative...err...activity(?). In my view, fantasies are part of a heathly libido...but that is by no means a pervasive view.

Lewis Pulsipher
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The only thing more common in AAA video games than "boobs and butts" is the depiction of violent death. Unfortunately, both appeal strongly to male adolescents, and that's where the money is for AAA games.

In 2007 I was teaching a class of high school students (taking a college course) a little about Flash animation. When I let them make their own stuff, the large amount of blood and gore they incorporated was very surprising. I don't know where this comes from, but it's certainly quite marked. Few of them, if any, used boobs and butts, but blood is easier to depict . . .

Eric Geer
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"Few of them, if any, used boobs and butts, but blood is easier to depict . . . "

Probably because they thought they would get in trouble for including boobs/butts....as sexually oriented as pop culture is....most of our root culture is very prude.

Lots of my art includes male/female nude images...and most people accept the female nudity, but when they see a penis, everyone turns into 10 year old school girls.

http://ebgeer.webs.com/apps/photos/album?albumid=7294056

Joshua Darlington
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The sex and violence comes from deep human instincts like mating and hunting. The over use in the entertainment marketplace is supernormal stimuli. Its like salt and sugar in the food industry.

Eric Geer
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Rather than avoiding the "Male Gaze" Why don't we add the "Female Gaze" as well.

Rather than ruin the party for one group, why not make it a party for both groups, a la objectify and sexualize everyone and everything!

Edit:
Maybe we could go as far as to say you can get both gazes in a game, you just have to choose which one you want at the start of the game.

Daniel Gooding
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Works well in the Music industry.

Girls buy the hell out of objectified men with no talent.

Jason Pineo
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My first reaction was "Ugh", but I think I like this idea. Like the stereotype of making someone chainsmoke a pack when you catch them smoking. Let the "Everything is fine here" crowd wallow in oversexualized malesness for a while and see how they feel. And if they think Kratos with his shirt off is sexualized, they haven't seen anything yet.

Nathaniel Marlow
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OR we could listen when women decide to talk about the issues they have with games instead of trying to solve the problem without their input.

Eric Geer
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"OR we could listen when women decide to talk about the issues they have with games instead of trying to solve the problem without their input"

Listen to women...pff :P

Luis Guimaraes
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Soon as games get to have full speech recognition, women won't be a minority in gaming anymore...

Eric Geer
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@Jason Pineo:
"And if they think Kratos with his shirt off is sexualized, they haven't seen anything yet."

Sexualized men and Sexualized women I think are quite different. I don't imagine that it would be all that terrible--unless you are leaning in the direction of having men sexualized the same way that women are---ie men in women poses etc...then it might be a bit awkward.

William Johnson
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I don't think the male gaze is necessarily a bad thing. It can be a very awkward thing when used out of context...which is often, because its used all the time.

But take for example, Bayonetta. I'd actually argue that its a great example of feminism in games. Bayonetta is so over the top, with extremely exaggerated features that a lot of men are in fact put off by it. And that is in spite of the fact that the game plays really well.

Bayonetta is a female version of Dante (from Devil May Cry). Which makes sense, the game is made by Hideki Kamiya. Bayonetta has a very similar devil may care attitude, like Dante. She even has a larger arsenal of weapons and move sets compared to Dante. And both characters are stylized and sexualized.

So what's the difference between them? Not really that much. And that's great. That's what we should be aiming for. Equality of the genders.

So I don't necessarily think the male gaze is a bad thing, per se. I think it has more to do with roles. I think the problem with the male gaze is that it emphasizes too much one mechanic women can do. Which is to breed. Women (people in general really) are more then just a condition to have sex and reproduce. There is a reason why Freudian theory is now relegated to the fiction section of book stores. As a society, I'd like to think, we've moved beyond the mechanics of growing our populations. And judging by the slower population growth of most industrialized nations, it would help support this theory.

Something that I think might give people some degree of perspective might be to play Analogue: A Hate Story. A game made by Christine Love, and explores the role of women in society when they are reduced down to nothing more then their bodily functions of reproduction. It is very compelling, and really shows that games can be used to tell a story, and offer an emotional response in the player. Dare I call that art? I do.

Also, Analogue does take a degree of male gaze in to account. Its a visual novel game, so I assume this was intentional, taking in to account the narrative and the genre. It maybe done on purpose. Or its also possible, because I am a male, I am just projecting. But I still don't think the male gaze is necessarily a bad thing. So while I think these are examples of where its used well, I would have to say normally, its not. Its not used very well. But that's to not say, you can't use it. Just use it with some degree of thought.

Merc Hoffner
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Gah. Have come into this article late and it's growing too fast to keep up. All I can say is that the picture of the 'Male Gaze' under the title "Defeating Male Gaze" is both creepy and hilarious. Well done!

Dave McNeal
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I think this issue is more complex than recent articles touch upon. I think this is because people are way more complex than they are given credit for. Don't get me wrong, I get and agree with the argument in this article, however I think the underlying issue is multifaceted, encompassing: free-choice, freedom of speech, artistic expression, personal taste, art direction, metrics driven aesthetic, upbringing, the list goes on and on.

I am an artist in the game industry, I had a father who taught me to respect women. I also love cheesecake art and own many volumes of books from various artist which prominently display and glorify the female form. I love women. BUT, and this is very important, I DO NOT TREAT WOMEN THAT WAY. I treat women, real women with the utmost respect. I don't leer at them on the street I don't say puerile crass things like, "show me your tits", If I am walking on a deserted street and there is a woman walking alone, I usually cross over to make her feel more comfortable. I am consciously aware of what my actions do to real women and I act accordingly. But that said I still like looking as boobs and asses as well as drawing them. I think I had a good role model for how to treat women and that is probably a huge part of this issue. I can tell reality from fantasy.

Professionally, sometimes I have been art directed to draw a character a certain way based on demographics or some such. But as the artist I have quite a bit of say as to how a design will look. I think there are ways to make a female character alluring without making her naked. Anyone who says differently isn't trying hard enough, or isn't a good designer. That said, I still love Adam Hughes and Bruce Timm and Doug Sneyd's art work and will continue to collect it. So there is a dichotomy.

I think the best way we can level the playing field, is to really level it. Equal pay for women and more women in our industry. Which brings us to another major factor to this issue. Our whole society in America devalues the feminine. We hate women really. Just look around. Just hang out in a football locker room and hear the coach call the players a 'bunch of girls' when they aren't performing well. At the risk of sounding like Billy Joel, we didn't really start this fire, and the devaluation of women in the video game industry is a symptom of a much larger and more pervasive disease.

Eric Geer
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"Our whole society in America devalues the feminine. We hate women really. Just look around. Just hang out in a football locker room and hear the coach call the players a 'bunch of girls' when they aren't performing well"

I don't think this usage is so much a knock on females, as it is a knock on males. "We" don't like males that act like females I think is the purpose of this degradation.

Nathaniel Marlow
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Eric, the issue with the "bunch of girls" thing is that it implies femininity is undesirable, that women are so inherently inferior that it's insulting to be compared to them. It's unambiguously misogynistic.

Eric Geer
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We must agree to disagree

My belief is that it implies that femininity is undesirable in men.

Similar to, "Don't act like a baby", "Crying is for babies"

It's not that we find babies undesirable, or that we don't like babies, it's that the traits are undesireable in older kids/teenagers.

Kristian Roberts
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I'd have to say that (strictly from a logical perspective) Eric is correct.

If group A is derided because they are acting like group B, it is because the traits of group B are undesireable...IN GROUP A. There is no necessary inference that the traits of group B are (on an a priori basis) undesirable. For example, if a hockey player is "playing like a sumo wrestler," there is no necessary inference that sumo wrestlers are bad -- only that they do not posess the qualities needed to play hockey.

Now, that's not to say that femininity isn't devalued/ridiculed in America (or anywhere else), only that Dave used an awkward example to illustrate his point.

Dave McNeal
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Semantics are one thing, reality is something completely different. 'You throw like a girl', 'you big pussy', 'don't be such a girl', 'put a tampon in'... I could go on and on. yes in a testosterone fueled environment like a football locker room, the feminine is undesirable in males, but this kind of hate speech always spreads to other facets of our society. And what does it do if not reinforce that femininity is bad? In all things, not just the masculine.

Joe Wreschnig
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The basic idea that there's a "way men should act" and a "way women should act" is what's sexist. Sex and gender determine little to nothing of our personalities, especially compared to how people tell us sex and gender should determine our personalities.

So yeah, describing a group of failures who happen to be men as "a bunch of girls" is totally sexist. Dave's example is fine. Eric, you're outrageously sexist.

Eric Geer
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@Joe "Eric, you're outrageously sexist."

I hardly believe so. I just think it is a poor example. And was just trying to provide reasoning on why I believe so.

But thanks for the accusation---I'm just glad I didn't get this venomous response:

"This article shames sexism. You, not this article, are what's shaming my gender.
Get the fuck out of my profession and my hobby. "

Rebecca Simpson
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"Play like a bunch of girls" isn't only pointing to female traits being undesirable[in men that is], but it also implies that females can't play sports and there are very impressive and talented female atheletes out there. That's the biggest problem with that saying.

Also men need to get over "If a man is remotely feminine, it's a bad thing." No it's not.

Austin Ivansmith
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I really like the piece overall, although I am not sure I've read anything I haven't seen in other articles on the same subject from the past 12 months. I like a call to action, but I think it can feel very insulting at times when the industry is broadly painted as no one doing anything about it except for a few women writing about it.

First of all, most developers are powerless to make a difference on anything being published by a big time publisher. Anything we self publish, sure we can put a strong female character in without completely objectifying her, but these games don't get the kind of marketing that shows off this consideration. Whereas a publisher with butt-loads of cash who absolutely want tits and ass in their game is going to splatter it everywhere and make the industry seem one-sided.

Second, I have worked with so many people who do not like the male gaze and have tried very hard to make a difference on big publisher projects, but it is such an uphill battle that you end up losing in the process and creating a rift with the publisher to the point that the rest of the project, or the chance of future projects, suffer. This might not sound bad when you are trying to make a stand, but when you have families depending on you for their livelihood you side with protecting the people close to you.

Third is the idea that this is being made for males by males. I know that for myself, and most everyone else I have worked with have made characters that they hope everyone will like. I have known a handful of people who have wanted a character to look sexy and that it isn't for girls, but that was in college or high school, and I actually knew a girl who thought this way (she is probably the exception that proves the rule, because she is a product of this mindset being passed down to her.)

And I think there are a good number of strong female characters being developed, and we are climbing out of the hole slowly. (What's that Dolly Parton quote from the Office? Life is a series of hills and valleys: you dont know youre in a valley till youre making your way up the hill, and you dont know youre at the top of the hill until youre on your way down.)

There are only a couple things about this article I don't like. The first one being that we are a very, very diverse industry, but the article has a voice like we all are a pluralistic group. Are we entertainers or philanthropists? Irks me a bit, but whatever. I know I've never wanted to isolate or demean a single group of people in anything I make, but making it an assumed common goal bugs me a little I guess.

The other thing is this common argument: "It is an absolute given that female characters must be somehow sexy. We don't have this same rule for male characters." But we actually do for males, even though it doesn't involve their being naked. There is a fine line for designing interesting LOOKING characters. Some people don't understand this fine line and go to the overt sex for women, but sometimes developers are attacked for making female characters which are actually doing a good job of looking interesting and not relying only on "gaze" objects. And male characters are always sexy when they are not meant to be a joke or a goofball. There is a particular body type, face structure, and hairstyle (why does every hero look like Nathan Drake?) which makes a "sexy" male character and most all protagonists and heroes follow it. It is the easily identifiable interesting looking characters, and it incorporates a healthy body and very apparent anatomy. Being a male doesn't make me predisposed to not being able to make an interesting female character which also doesn't infuriate and alienate women, and having women oversee the development of these characters won't necessarily help either if the individual doesn't know where that fine line is when trying to make an interesting looking character.

Mikael Saker
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"First of all, most developers are powerless to make a difference on anything being published by a big time publisher."

I don't think this is true. Integrity, serious discussion and a will to do something when you face a problem goes a long way, even if you are at the receiving end of the money-stream. I've been in a situation where a publisher wanted heavily sexualized women and we at the developer side unitedly refused and made a case why we did so. In the end this particular game was released with no sexualized women and it did not affect the business relationship.

Amanda Lange
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"And male characters are always sexy when they are not meant to be a joke or a goofball."

This is not true; male characters come in all shapes and sizes and in a bigger variety than female characters most of the time, comedy relief or not. But I do agree that the default, white-male regular-joe "everyman" character design that is frequently the protagonist is pretty dull, and I'd love to see more protagonist variety both male and female.

David Wagg
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I agree with the article. But sexualisation is only half the problem in female appeal, shallow gameplay mechanics must take equal blame. Mass Effect might be one of the more progressive games out there in terms of character presentation, but there is still a vast disparity in development effort between things that appeal to men (shooting) and things that appeal to women (talking). Yes, I know that's a generalisation, let's move on.

The shooting part is supported by character stats, special abilities, squad commands, looting, a variety of tradeable weapons and armour, research... you get the idea. Talking to people is pretty simplistic, choose from a limited set of conversation options with unlockable good/bad choices based on character history. You can romance some NPCs by choosing the 'I like you' options over a period of time. And this feels like a luxury!

It's fine to have shooters, I don't need or want all games to have a complex relationship simulator. But it would be nice to see a bit more focus shift to non-violent game mechanics, some more emotional depth in the story-telling and player engagement.

I don't think making Miranda more plain would increase the game's appeal to anyone. What might make a difference is having NPCs who can reference shared history ("Remember when we..."), or volunteer opinions; shout for help, thank the PC; brag about their recent accomplishments or bicker amongst themselves (I loved the elevator conversations, or the bridge banter in Dragon Age). So good for Bioware for being on the right track, but there's still a long way to go in my opinion!

Wylie Garvin
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Actually, the Mass Effect series features a lot more "talking" than most other shooter-ish games (and the developers invested a lot of effort in things like facial animation to make it worthwhile).

If anyone had them, I'd be curious to see some statistics on male vs. female players of the Mass Effect series, compared to male vs. female players of games in general (or games in the FPS genre, or ...) Microsoft might actually have the info to compute such stats (via tracking what players play on Xbox live), but even if they do, I doubt it will ever be published.

Brett Williams
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I'm trying to figure out why people don't make games how they want to make games. Are people claiming they have absolutely no power to make the games they want to make? That's what game development is. You make a game for yourself. If you're in a corporate environment and don't get the game you want to make and you're complaining that the corporation is making you make a game you don't want to make, then it sounds like a professional issue of your ethics versus your career.

If this is such a huge issue plaguing the majority of products released then that would mean we need to produce more products on the other side to show them how it's done.

Judging from the amount of discussion that occurs around these topics on a regular basis there are more than enough capable people that can make games with this common view. Is the issue that there are not enough people with this view? are not enough of them working together?

The issue seems to stem from people being upset over what someone else is making. I think people need to focus their energy on making the products they want to see in the industry. Instead of blaming others for the lack of products they want to see.

That's how I feel anyway.

warren blyth
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You seem to be saying "if you don't like all these games that objectify women, then go make your own game that objectifies men. Balance it out."
but if there is a bunch of entertainment that perpetuates the objectification of women, the solution is not to go make games that objectify men. one won't affect the other. (in fact, both together would just drag the industry down further).

The problem is that people ARE making games they want to make, with a blind eye to the objectification they're perpetuating. They don't want to hear they're affecting women outside of their game. (or even worse, they may not believe that objectifying women is a problem).

This article seeks to establish a new term for the discussion (male gaze), some examples of undeniable offenses, and some examples of real world ramifications. Ultimately the article is saying "think about what YOU are doing."

Brent Gulanowski
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This article is essentially a chastisement: a shaming of men for having simplistic, immature attitudes towards women. But let's go deeper.

People create art that reflects their understanding of the world: their attitudes, beliefs and values. If you want to change attitudes and help people achieve a more complex and nuanced understanding of life and other human beings, you need a different strategy, because this is just posturing. Shame and condescension do not work. Being made to feel that your point of view is simplistic just creates resentment (which is the main motivator behind the backlash against efforts to call out negative depictions of women or any other identifiable group). Resentful people are not open to change!

You can't just accuse people of immaturity and expect that their core understanding of the world will suddenly change, that they will gain insight, empathy, or a subtlety of awareness of issues and human experience. It takes more work. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous, and looks suspiciously like an attempt to claim to be helping, when nothing useful is actually being accomplished.

You have to make a decision here: do you want to change attitudes, or do you merely want to police behaviour? The latter would be a lot easier. You can use ratings, or reprimands, or put people on lists, or use many other questionable techniques, but it's just another form of ostracism. It doesn't solve anything. It just pushes the problem underground.

Personally, I think this is mostly a waste of time. Shaming is not educating. Criticizing might be a way to provide insight, but it has to be done carefully and diplomatically.

The only way to change people's behaviour long term is to change their attitude, and the only way to change attitudes is to show people an alternative and let them choose for themselves. Growing up is a choice. If you want people to make the choice you prefer, you have to give them motivation to do so. That choice has to be more attractive. Isn't this the oldest lesson in how to influence human behaviour?

warren blyth
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This article not about shaming men.

The point of "male gaze" is to shame those creators of entertainment who have forced their audience into a heterosexual male perspective. (It is not about shaming the audience).

I dig your thoughts. but I believe you set up a straw man over there and knocked it down. Veered away from the point of the article.

Travis Flynn
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I question whether this is really always "the male gaze." There's a lot of attribution to the sexualization and objectification of women as a consequence of male dominated industry (games, sports, whatever) but I'm honestly not convinced it's all there to get guys to feel better about stuff.

Women are just constantly sexualized and objectified. Not just by men and for men but also by women and for women. Look at things like Vogue, or any "Women's" magazine really targeted at the 18-30+ range. There are tons of "hot women in skimpy outfits" even on the covers and in the advertisements in women's magazines. While the covers aren't as explicit as say, Maxim or GQ or men's magazines, these are still arenas unlikely to be dominated by the interests of men and contain a large amount of sexualization and objectification.

I am not sure exactly what to make of this other than the fact that just because it's easiest to say "women are objectified in video games because men like looking at boobs and buts and make games for other men" doesn't mean that's necessarily true. That's just an attribution people make because it's the most "obvious" solution. It could easily be that there's something much larger going on, culturally, that reinforces this culture that is beyond merely the fact that men think it's hot. It could very well be just because it's what is culturally normal.

I mean, if I'm a developer (I'm not) and I'm constantly bombarded by images of half naked shapely women, on everything from network TV to the Women's magazine covers staring at me at the grocer, is it any surprise that my interpretation and presentation of Women would be in the same vein? And without getting into a chicken or the egg argument, the difference matters because one has a subversive motive (to objectify women) and the other has a neutral motive (to present women as they are presented in all other media/mediums).

It's something worth talking about, but like much of the entire feminist 'narrative' everything quickly goes from promoting equality to pinning the blame on men, or "male culture." Perhaps I'm wrong, in the end, but people really need to take a step back first and think about alternatives rather than jumping at the easiest answer... in pretty much everything.

Jeremy Reaban
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Yeah, it's not men that have made Kim Kardashian (and Paris Hilton before her) a star for basically being nothing more than appearing in a sex tape...

warren blyth
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the point of this article is to spread awareness of the Male Gaze concept.

"The male gaze occurs when the camera puts the audience into the perspective of a heterosexual man. "
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaze#The_.22male_gaze.22_in_feminist
_theory )

So, the gender of the viewer is irrelevant. The onus is on the creator - to consider whether they are forcing the audience into a specific perspective.

Travis Flynn
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While it's titled about the male gaze, it goes far beyond merely discussing putting the player / viewer into the role of a heterosexual male.

But realistically, I don't think "the male gaze" is even that much of an issue in games the same way it is in magazines. The point of my post applies just as equally to the idea of male gaze as gender issues in general.

'Sexiness' - skin, ass, breasts, etc. - is focused on not only in games and other "male" media but in all media, even media that is not driven by the male gaze (such as the previously mentioned women's magazines). Taking about gaming like it needs to get away from this to have more broad appeal could backfire. It would be like making games in opposition to how our culture actually is, rather than as a reflection of it.

If we want to have a realistic talk about games portrayal of women, we should do so in a way that isn't about shaming men, or the male creators of games for being too gratuitous. We should be talking about it from the perspective of simply writing better female characters for the sake of better games. Making it a male v. female (or the world) issue like this article and so many other do, simply end up being divisive and unproductive.

Aaron Karp
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This may be a stupid thing to say, but my brain is screaming at me to say it anyway... Can we please agree on a couple of baseline facts in this instance? 1> Nothing in the article is calling for censorship. I'd wager that you could ask pretty much anyone, even people who agree with Sheffield's take 100% (like me), if they think games that include scantily clad women and/or damsels in distress should be outlawed and they'd all reply "No" without a moment's thought. 2> The game industry is becoming more and more mainstream all the time. By definition, the mainstream includes a lot more people than the non-mainstream. More people means more opinions and more viewpoints to engage with. Can we stipulate to those, please? Doing so might lower the temperature a bit and allow us to actually figure out what's next.

Mike Henry
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You mean the over-sexualization of women hasn't been solved since the last time an article like this was written? I'm shocked.

Achilles de Flandres
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Over-sexualization of women in video games? This is outrageous. Thank god GamaSutra is spreading awareness by using MIRANDA'S BIG BOOTY AS IT'S IMAGE!

Leonardo Ferreira
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Ouch. I just read this earlier when it had like 15 comments and didn't even remebered to grab the popcorn.

Allright. I think that.. huh... well... maybe if...

Okay. I give up. Internet killed dialetics. It is impossible for people to simply disagree with stuff anymore; they must attack and belittle the opposite front. Humanity, I guess. Stupidity, I'm certain.

As a matter of fact, is there any woman here is these 150+ comments who actually disagree with the point of the article, please do voice your opinion; we straight white males just can't argue it seriously.

Except if you're a dirty, dumb, feminist. Then shoo! We don't want your biased opinions!

Bekah Saltsman
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Let me introduce myself- I am Rebekah Saltsman, wife of Adam Saltsman (Semi Secret Software, Canabalt, Flixel, etc). I am not a programmer, artist, game creator- but I am as much a part of this industry as Adam. I attend the tradeshows and summits. I participate in the local Austin Indie Collective, Juegos Rancheros. You want to know how often someone speaks to me if Adam walks away? 9/10 times it is when someone comes up to hit on me. GDC is the worst. I've been followed, harassed, blockaded by drunks at industry parties, asked out repeatedly (because GDC is exactly where you will hook up with some random girl). I've listened to running commentary on a collection of guys rating women's looks outside of the GDC bathrooms during the summits!

I am MOM for heaven's sake. I am a really smart woman. I run a company. I work with men- and have for years. I also happen to be marginally pretty and usually in decent physical shape- but that doesn't mean I have to put up with that at an industry event. People ask me why I stick close to Adam, well, it's because I have really bad luck with creeps otherwise.

This isn't a boys will be boys situation. This industry can make a woman very uncomfortable and you have to have a tough outer shell to just let it all slough off you. Shake my hand, expect me to say something other than "Press" or "Marketing". Or better yet, expect press and marketing women to KNOW SOMETHING about games! Stop staring at my boobs before making eye contact. I'm a real person and might even be interesting- but at this point, 4 years into this industry you get to the point where you wonder why you even bother trying at these events when the reaction is always, always, always the same.

And you want to know why I stick it out? Because someday I might help exact some little change. And, hopefully, I might have a daughter who wants to make games, or be an engineer, or a scientist- and she will have to battle through the same sexism that I've worked in for the last decade in the software and gaming industries. And maybe my path will make hers a bit easier.

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Austin Ivansmith
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Your first paragraph just sounds like you are dealing with creeps in general. There are way too many sleazy guys out there who only ever focus on one thing, and believe it or not they go into game development as much as any other industry. Creeps are creeps.

What most women may not realize is that single men are always looking at women as prospective girlfriends, or more! Doesn't always mean we are only out for dirty, nasty monkey sex. Going to something like GDC as a single male probably feels like the intro to some divine romantic comedy, where you meet the woman of your dreams because she has similar interests to you, why else would she be there? You see a pretty woman and why wouldn't you ask her out, she may be the one!

Totally just playing devil's advocate on the first two paragraphs. There are a lot of sleazy guys out there and I don't expect the games industry to be devoid of them, sadly.

As for the bottom two paragraphs, I agree 100%.

james sadler
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I went to E3 last year and was expecting to see a sea of scantily clad booth babes, but was actually surprised at how few I saw in relation to the size of everything. There was only one I saw that I thought might have been nudging a line of indecency, but it didn't. As much as we would like to say that E3 is for developers and whatnot, it is for the press in reality. So much so that the developers will do what they can to get their product in front of those developers. This was the reason for all of the violence and booth babes. Its a marketing thing. I'm not saying that it is right or anything, but that it has its place in the event as it is. We've all read and talked about the aging scheme that E3 is showing in comparison to conventions like PAX, and the booth babe aspect is just a lingering carry over from that era.

I do agree that in a lot of actual games women have been objectified (even without warrant sometimes) a bit too much for what current players might really want. Miranda from ME2/ME3 was hot. She was based off of the model/actress that did her voice, but the clothing was too much and actually detracted from me wanting to deal with her as a character. It is really that the modelers and their bosses believing that big boobs and nice rears is what the audience wants, and it should be shown as much as possible. The truth though is that I really doubt the audience cares that much. The pure amount of it happening has numbed the audience (like zombies really).

I should end with this though. My wife went with me last year to E3. She is a pretty prudish woman when it comes to sexual displays, but even she only had a problem with that one booth babe. Even then it was a mere comment of "someone's going to get a cold." There have also been a few female characters in games that she's had problems with, but never to the point of pure hatred of the game. I just look at it as if the people don't want it eventually the developers will stop doing it.

Amanda Lange
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Your wife not being uncomfortable doesn't invalidate women who were there, who were uncomfortable. Or women who don't enter the industry events at all because they anticipate feeling uncomfortable.

The only ones that made me uncomfortable, honestly, were the Nintendo ones. They were dressed to match the devices they were physically strapped to. This weirded me out. They were nice! But it was weird.

Oh, and the furry bouncy house. That was weird.

james sadler
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Someone will almost always be offended by anything, so we can't seriously go around censoring everything. I used my wife as the example because she gets offended by a lot of things, but wasn't really offended when we went.

warren blyth
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The question in my mind boils down to this :

Should the Golden Axe Beast Rider trailer be modified to:
a) also gaze at a man's butt (sexualizing both genders)?
b) just remove any gazing at girl butts?

Seriously, pick one.

I can get behind the "if you're going sell with sex, then you should sexualize both genders equally." But I'm disturbed by the suggestion that games are somehow such pure a medium that they must eschew sexualization. That just isn't based in the reality of "human entertainment."

(the other part of this article, which focuses on "we need to imbue our professional interactions with feelings of respect" strikes me as too obvious to comment on).

brandon sheffield
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the article is long, so there are parts that are easy to miss - I did mention that eschewing sex/sexuality is the wrong approach for a mature medium - it just needs to be treated with thought and consideration, rather than just "she's a girl, so she should have big boobs and a nice butt."

If you want sexuality in a game, make it mean something and give it purpose - don't just make base commentary with your camera. (not accusing, speaking in the global sense here)

this comment applies to the below one as well.

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John Trauger
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OK, I'm going to play devil's advocate here.

What's wrong with a little pure sexual fantasy? It's clearly a forumla that sells (more likely a formula element). Short of letting Government dictate game content, I don't see how Male Gaze content is going away. We all know what a winner involving government would be.

So instead of trying to de-sexualize games (Hint: you're going to fail), consider equal opportunity slab of meat. If you aren't going to entirely remove the Male Gaze from games, why not add a little catering to Female Gaze? Surely they have one.

Darcy Nelson
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It's not the color that's the issue, it's the saturation level.

Joe Wreschnig
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In e.g. Tomb Raider it's quickly becoming both...

John Trauger
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Then maybe we want to come up with some idea of what's generally acceptable, what's rolleye worthy and what's "pushing it" and what's outright crass exploitation..

John Flush
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I'm pretty sure this is an industry catering to people with disposable income... so yep, teenagers, early 20's, the few 30+ people that still haven't found out that the internet has more efficient means to satisfy 'Male Gaze', and then the rest of the 30+ demographics who buy games for their kids or games we can play in front of them. Male Gaze definitely hits 3 of the categories full speed ahead. Remember the goal of this business is like any other business: making money. At the same time we get to keep our families alive with the meager salaries we make. But just remember we do it by making something someone makes more money off of it by publishing.

To the indies, small shops, and such out there that have class, I'm more than happy to see you avoid the topic and just give us great games to play. I'm hoping we can get to a more defined way to delivering it though so customers know they don't have to lower themselves to the dross that is AAA development these days.

Rebecca Richards
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I like your implication that women apparently don't have disposable income...

Luis Guimaraes
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Depends on your definition of "disposable", on where you live, on what your priorities are...

Jeremy Reaban
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Why do games have to appeal to everyone? If there is a market for games that appeal to women and men who doesn't like looking at attractive women, then find it and make products for it.

For instance, pretty much the whole casual game industry is aimed at women. Almost every title made has a female protagonist that isn't scantily clad.

Why does one person's point of view have to limit the freedom of another person's? It's bad enough we have the ESRB that makes a lot of games not viable.

It's funny how that science fiction written in the 50s and 60s somehow thought that in the future we would be less uptight and less prude about the human body. Instead, we're even more so, only not in the name of religion or "the children", but political correctness...

And let's be honest - if women are more than just their physical attributes, then instead of playing a video game, why not go and talk to one? You're never going to replicate that in a video game. But people play games to escape from reality

Kate Craig
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Much of the casual game industry is targeting women, but I know of many women who have only a passing interest in casual games - who prefer games with more depth - and for people like us the pickings can be fairly slim at times.

Any sensible discussion of women's representation in games isn't an attempt to shut out sexy characters or content. I've seen it mentioned several times in this thread that this discussion is about blocking or removing portrayals that might offend, but it's not the case. Not remotely. Many of the women having this conversation right now would prefer more women characters, not less. The difference is that I'd like to see games that don't pander to the fact that I'm a woman, that have interesting characters, that don't rely on limiting tropes and that include sexual content that isn't one sided.

Basically? More thoughtful games.

Nou Phabmixay
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Nobody is saying you can't have your tits and ass and fantasies.

All I'm saying is that maybe some of those tits and ass can be less shallow and maybe even have better tits and ass. So that maybe the other half of the population that are considered fringe groups and female can maybe enjoy it too.

You can still have your tits and ass and shallowness without feeling guilty. I know I will.

Jamie Watts
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Who ever said women have not or do not still enjoy games that contain sexually attractive women? Speak for yourself.

Sean Maples
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Is the idea that games that include sexuality for the amusement of male players must be censored to support a female audience and/or make the industry more tolerable to women?

Or is the idea that the industry should expand to develop more games that have female voices and/or are more open to female players?

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Harlan Sumgui
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I think a more effective example of 'male gaze' in me3 would have been some of the shots that clearly showed Miranda's labia, as if her clothing had been sprayed on.

Bruno Xavier
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Well, I like boobs... But I have always thought that trying to explore sexuality using virtual bodies is pathetic.

Albert Meranda
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Friday night on Gamasutra, it must be time for navel-gazing and Kotaku-ization! Well, at least your click-driven article will be up for the weekend. That was just a coincidence, right?

brandon sheffield
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all articles are click-driven. there is no other way to get into them, other than clicking. but what you're implying is that this was written purely for controversy, which is, I'm afraid, idiotic. this is an article with a message, which apparently, unfortunately, has been lost on you. if you can find us some articles based on critical theory on kotaku I would be very happy to read them.

It's not a coincidence it's going to be up over the weekend, we want people to read it because we believe it's important. you are welcome to not read it (it is apparent you have gone ahead and made that choice already).

James Coote
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Would be nice if gamasutra published articles on weekends. Maybe I need to get a life, but I seem to find myself reading gamasutra on Sunday evenings and finding nothing new from when I last checked on Friday afternoon

Joey Gibbs
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+1

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Emily Knox
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It took a long time to read all these comments. I'll try not to re-iterate anything else that's already been said (actually, only one person has mentioned what I'm about to say).

For the most part I completely agree with your article, I've not actually come across or had someone explain in detail what the 'male gaze' really is. It can be draining to revisit the gender discussion so often, but male gaze is a more dominant aspect than I had realised. I absolutely understand the calls for real action from game developers ("make something different", "if you don't like it, don't buy it", are perfectly valid points). I have to admit I'm glad I do not wrestle with gender issues at work on racing games. Anyway, this was my only issue:

"Why don't people project themselves onto Lara? Because "people" means males. Nobody (well, almost nobody) wants to be Lara Croft, not even women, because Lara is very much the subject of Male Gaze in her games, and who wants to open themselves up to that sort of scrutiny?"

To the best of my knowledge, if Tomb Raider genuinely panders to the male gaze, I have been entirely unaware of it, the only 'pandering' to this is her beauty, which is very straightforward and has never alienated me; I enjoy looking at her. I like unlocking costumes. Perhaps I'm ignorant, but I don't see the ass-central shots, over the top breast physics or helplessness that I might now associate women under the male gaze with. I see a series of incredibly well made adventure games, with a marriage between exploration, puzzle-solving and combat, starring an attractive female protagonist.

Throughout the Tomb Raider franchise I have never felt as though the developers are trying to make me view her from the angle of a male gaze. For that reason, she has been very easy to project onto. Do I want to be the attractive, knowledgeable, independent woman who travels to tropical locations around the world and lives in a mansion with a swimming pool and a climbing wall? Yes I do. Particularly as a teenager going through puberty, she represented a highly desirable form of a woman that I would like to have grown into, and she had attained an aspirational lifestyle. Has she ever been forced to use her feminine wiles or had to seduce anyone? Is she afraid? Does she need to be rescued? As far as I've played, the answer is no, just like a male protagonist, she only shoots people.

Back in 2006, my physics teacher alerted me that Lara Croft had been shortlisted as one of the top ten British Designs, between The Culture Show, The Design Museum, and a list of knowledgeable advocates – she was listed alongside the Mini, the “Catseye” road light, Concorde, and even the World Wide Web, as it was then referred to.

As simplistic as the character is, in the past she has still been a positive inspiration, and an enormously successful one at that, that was once held in esteem next to a present-day behemoth: The Internet. Either the game developers in Britain were highly influential, or their creations reached far outside their assumed demographic, and in a positive light. I will just add I'm not sure if you really believe most women who play Tomb Raider don't project onto Lara, or if this is just an angle of Rosenberg's that you're trying to approach for the sake of discussion.

For me, this is why the new Tomb Raider really hit a nerve. Rather than the actual content, which none of us have experienced in it's entirety, being told by the producer that people *do not* project onto Lara, and that instead we want to protect her, is a far cry from what the previous iterations of Tomb Raider have invoked in me, and other women and men. Going to E3 and telling all the fans about how people will try to rape her in the latest title was quite surreal. I could suppose with far more certainty that almost nobody wants to be *this* Lara Croft. It's Crystal Dynamics creative license, and I want them to exercise creative freedom, although they have taken the series in a direction that has lost all appeal to me, and I can only truly express that with my wallet (I could also massively digress on one point made in an article on the internet! I agree so readily with everything else said, but I couldn't resist elaborating on the one point that didn't.)

Philip Kerr
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Great piece, Brandon. I've been really encouraged by the huge amount of discussion about sexism and objectification that seems to have sprung up lately. I'm also encouraged by the fact that those who would deny the problematic use of sexuality in culture seem to have nothing to offer but strawmanning and obfuscation to divert attention away from it.
For the longest time, the videogame industry has needed to have a long, hard look at itself, so I think this entire controversy was inevitable. I also think its inevitable that the industry will eventually end up a little bit more mature, and a little bit less exclusionary.

Jacob Pederson
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I'm a bit late to the discussion here . . . but on the subject of the objectification of women in general, as apposed to just in games. Name ONE normal looking woman who has made it in ANY popular culture medium in the United States. Personally I can think of one, Roseanne Barr, and she subsequently was run off her own show. One-offs like Aretha Franklin in Blues Brothers 2000 don't count and neither do women who made it based on looks and then became normal looking like Sigourney Weaver.

Folks like to pick on games, but lets broaden the scope a bit. It isn't just some conspiratorial male-subconscious that causes media to look like it does, although that certainly is part of it. America's Next Top Model's audience is majority female. Female's judge each other based somewhat on external appearances as well . . . combine this with the obvious male obsessions and we have a culture massively biased towards physical attributes.

So what do we do about it? Denial isn't the answer folks. If we start by admitting that the default behavior tends toward female objectification then we know what we're up against! There will need to be significant pressure exerted to overcome that, just like we do to overcome racism. There will never be a point were sexism is magically "fixed." That pressure will be needed forever. We will always need to be asking the questions, "why did I cast her?" "why are we rendering her that way?" "does my protagonist need to 19?"

Edit: I do think that we should leave some intellectual room in our culture for malesploitation flics like Twilight and femalesploitation flics like Piranha 3dd. Teen girls and boys aren't going anywhere :) However, it would be nice to have something for us grown-ups to watch and play as well.

Edit 2: I think the UK does much better at de-objectifying women than we do. Check out a show called Midsomer Murders for some of the most normal looking supporting cast members ever!

Randall Stevens
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(Note: I am not arguing against the spirit of the article. I think we can always advance video games as an art form. A better appreciation of women is a proper goal.) Also this is a general railing against everything I've seen in the last month regarding this topic.

You can't expect proper discourse from the world when you go out of your way to demean a large group of your audience. You paint everyone who disagrees with you as petulant children throwing a tantrum because someone took away their favorite toy. Is it inconceivable that there might be some validity to their disagreement, even if it's not well expressed? Can you not understand why people are upset about being told over and over again that they are part of a rape culture? We all rallied when people said that video games are turning the youth into murderous psychopaths. We were upset and we made a lot of noise, because we knew it was nonsense. People who self identify as gamers are a less likely group to grow up and become murders. Now people are telling us over and over again that we are part of a rape culture, but nobody is rallying against the idea, because to argue against it would be to be viewed as condoning rape, which is too reprehensible a stance for anyone to risk getting attached to.

Gamers aren't growing up to become rapists. We are not a culture that produces rapists anymore than we are a culture that produces killers. Yes the entertainment is sometimes stupid, but we are enjoying it, and when someone takes our personal time and tries to ruin it we get upset. Stupid entertainment is a wonderful guilty pleasure, and we just want to enjoy it. Would you go around telling wrestling fans that it's fake, or telling nascar fans that it's just turning left? Well maybe you would, but it would mean you are a jerk. You can argue that the new hitman game will be garbage based on the new trailer, but if you start talking down to people who enjoyed it, and implying that they support rape, they are going to get mad at you. Just like you would get mad if someone called you a rapist for laughing at a joke or a murderer for playing a FPS.

The other thing that doesn't help is this sense of righteous indignation that everyone seems to have about this issue. You aren't fighting a great injustice. You could be working at a soup kitchen, or helping at an orphanage, or volunteering at a womens shelter, a place that actually has women who have actually been raped. You aren't though, you are writing about boobs in video games. The desire to progress the artistic integrity of a medium is not a crusade. You are not combating a great evil. It's something to do because you believe in the medium, and if you do think that it is a great evil then you are exceedingly sheltered.

Also you made mention of the cross assault incident, which was a huge issue of the week in the gaming community. The thing that got overlooked was that Aris was treating everyone that way. He was grabbing Mike Ross and tried unbuttoning his shirt. Aris acted terribly, I won't argue against that, but he wasn't just going after her. It was just the only thing the media latched onto because she's a woman and women can be victims of sexual abuse and men can't. (note: that isn't actually true, but the popular perception is that it might as well be) Then the gaming community at large handled the situation by proclaiming that everyone in the fighting game community is a rapist and the worst people ever.

It's very easy to be inflammatory when you know that all of your audience will agree with you, but you aren't going to create change by attacking groups of people and placing yourself as morally superior to them, especially over what amounts to a non-issue in the scope of human morality.

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Joe Wreschnig
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"We are not a culture that produces rapists anymore than we are a culture that produces killers."

But we are. In the United States, one in four women are are victims of nonconsensual sexual contact before age 18; 15% of women attending college have been raped by the time they graduate. (The largest peer-reviewed numbers for boys and men are about half that, and most of the perpetrators of male rape are men.) Mary Koss's research in the late 80's had 4.5% of interviewed young men openly admit to attempting rape at some point. In Germany 8.2% of women reported being a victim of "forced sex", and 25% were victims of criminal sexual assault, in 1999. Sweden in 2002 reported 34% of women were victims of criminal sexual assault.

It doesn't even matter if these numbers are off by an order of magnitude; even with 1/10th of these, there's an obvious culture of rape and rape acceptance that does *not* exist for murder. Can you imagine if one in every 250 people you met had committed homicide? But one in every 25 men you meet has raped someone.

The rest of your post is a mixture of derailing and a tone argument. There's nothing of substance in it.

Jacek Wesolowski
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You know, when I read Sheffield's piece, I thought it's a good example of how this kind of article should be written, precisely because it does not appear emotional, condescending, or driven by ideology. While there are some emotions in the article, they are used to convey author's stance by means of metaphor, hyperbole and mental shortcut, rather than replacing verifiable argumentation.

That said, I kind of agree and disagree with you at the same time. I don't think this is a non-issue. There were times when gender stereotypes in my workplace made me feel threatened, opressed or rejected, even though I'm male and heterosexual, I look just like everybody else, I play first person shooters proficiently, etc. etc.

I actually think boiling things down to sexuality and/or male-to-female relations distorts the issue, because it's really about the social roles we tend to assume for ourselves and everybody around us. I would go as far as to say that the core problem with gender sterotypes in gamedev is not the boobs and butts. That's merely a symptom. The core problem is that there is really not much else on the menu. As a player, I have increasing trouble finding characters in mainstream games that I can relate to at least a bit.

This is not to say that every game has an objectified woman in it. For starters, there are no women at all in many games, mostly due to technical and budgetary considerations. Then there are games like Mirror's Edge, where the protagonist happens to be female, but it doesn't really matter much. That's a good thing, I believe, because it means the character works as a human being, rather than a human being of specific gender. But games like these are few and far between. My personal rule of thumb that I've been using for years now is this: if there's a woman in a computer game, the story is most likely going to make me cringe at some point. The emotional spectrum of mainstream computer games does not overlap with my own. To put it in terms of "stupid entertainment" - I'm not getting my share.

Where I agree with you is that the way this issue is usually being discussed is not helping. This is where I find Sheffield's contribution remarkable: he's actually concerned about the problem itself, and not his own outrage. Sadly, this is seemingly uncommon on all sides of this issue.

I think that, regardless of one's own opinion, it is important to remember a few things:
- those other people are not your enemies
- they see things differently because they're using different criteria, and not because they refuse to acknowledge the reality
- you can't ask someone to stop being themselves; if you want them to change their opinion, you need to show them how it fits into their own definition of self
- everybody needs a place in the world; if you don't like where they're now, show them an alternative that appeals to them (because it's their place, not yours)

Randall Stevens
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@Joe Wreschnig

I was referring to gamer culture with all my statements I made, including that one. People who self identify as gamers are not a group that is more likely to commit rape than the average population. The world as a whole is an entirely different concern and not in the realm of this conversation.

The whole point was a tone argument. I don't disagree with improving our medium. I disagree with calling gamers rapists as a means of doing that. You misinterpreted a statement I made, but I choose not to insult you over it, because that won't solve anything. Explaining things works so much better. The issue is, I do want change, which is why I am against the manner in which these articles are being written. Insulting or marginalizing people doesn't prompt a change in their behavior. People just become bitter and angry and further resistant to the change you want.

What I wrote was not just directed at this article, but at all the nonsense that has been written in the last couple months about how terrible gamers are. I also think we are all smart enough to know when you are using stats to make a point that isn't there. That doesn't help discourse either.

@ Jacek Wesolowski

You are right, this piece was a better contribution than I made it seem. I have to admit that I actually liked a good deal of this article. It did make good points in a good manner about the issue of how gaze works and what it means. It just fell apart after that when it ventured into social issues and it became the same as all those other articles that have been upsetting me. This was probably just the last straw for me on this issue.

Joe Wreschnig
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Those statistics are a broad cross-section of men and women in western Europe and the US, often in a trajectory involving higher education. That *is* gamer culture. 4.5% or more is of the average population. THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

Yeah Iran's got bigger problems but Iran's not buying or making these video games and you and I aren't from Iran so let's deal with our fucking problems, okay?

"The whole point was a tone argument."

At least you admit to being an asshole.

"Insulting or marginalizing people doesn't prompt a change in their behavior. People just become bitter and angry and further resistant to the change you want."

Oh god the irony. "Yeah I know we're marginalizing you and marginalization produces bitterness and anger, can you please be nicer when you tell us that because otherwise we're just going to get bitter?" No! It is not the marginalized group's responsibility to be fucking nice to you!

Randall Stevens
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@ Joe Wreschnig

Who am I marginalizing? I don't act like that, and I don't include things in the games I've made and worked on. If we aren't acting polite then both sides just gets mad and go home and nothing gets done. Any level of rape is unacceptable, but are you really saying that those stats indicate that playing video games leads to rape? Those don't even indicate that those people are identified as gamers. Rape is less frequent as you progress into higher education, so if you are linking higher education to gaming then how exactly is gaming responsible for an increase in rape?

And tone is crucial in any discussion. I won't get a point across if I start a conversation by telling someone to fuck off. We are asking people to act in a mature manner, and we do that by acting like a bunch of children and calling them names? Well it won't work, but you will get to act angry and everyone will pat you on the back for really being against rape without actually helping anyone. Just because you are on the internet and not held responsible for your words, doesn't mean you should stop being polite.

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Jonathan Osment
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Might as well toss in a response as well, even though this well is already overflowing with a cent or two.

The girls from the movie Sin City came to mind when reading this article. The question is, are they empowered or are they just there for the theoretical male gaze? I would argue that they are empowered and aware of their sexuality. Since when is sexuality something to be frowned upon?

It seems today that the females most uncomfortable with their own sexuality are the ones with the biggest problems regarding it. Like in any High School setting, females often compete with other said females. There is a whole social structure and reaction based perception when it comes to females and this, from my own observation, is not something that goes away after High School. We see it in the work place, we see it between moms or in any social place.

One has to wonder what can help encourage female sexuality? Their sexuality is often not what we as men define it as, but often what females push themselves, though we are often lead to believe its all us.

The last time I was at E3, the few female companions I had with me were more obsessed with the booth babes than I was. Rather, from their perspective, the FEMALE GAZE, they were intrigued by the visual appearance of the booth babes, the outfits, the style, the whole visual medium. Is then that I would argue that females are generally more visually stimulated than men. The emotional response is greater when it come to certain visual choices, including but not limited to female sexuality and style.

The female gaze and the male gaze are then not so different, though perhaps best described as two sides of the same coin.

Now I can also agree that ridiculous amounts of nudity and silly combat outfits could be over the top, unrealistic and ultimately alienating...but it applies to both male and female players in that regard.

Jason Wilson
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There are so many double standards in the world, but we tend to only complain about those that are not to our benefit.

As for your colleague being verbally attacked, the internet can be a cesspool -- the comments sections, particularly. Regarding the girl who quit the tournament because of sexual jabbing, well, someone or someones would have to be threatening me with a firearm to get me to quit.

Go over to gamefaqs forums and learn how many male players play as a female character in Skyrim because "they look better". It's astonishing, to say the least. And to say that no one, not even girls wants to be like Lara Croft...well, somebody wants to be like the Kardashians or this one or that one -- explain that phenomena.

Men like to look at attractive women -- that is the truth. Why not? There's nothing prepubescent about it. Puberty is the first time it shines through, as they haven't learned to repress it in public. If a game dev, comic illustrator or movie director is looking for a hero, he'll look for someone who looks the part. If he needs a heroine, he finds someone fit and attractive.

Men assess women with a look -- also true. It cannot be changed; it happens instantaneously, whether we admit it or not. A man could turn 100 corners, bump into a woman 100 times and that man would assess her sexually every time. Bump into another man and each would assess the threat level posed by the other man. It's more feeling that thought.

What is the point of female characters is they are just "man-ified"? I'm sure that the uncomfortable feeling (guilt) that was mentioned when playing some of these games is influenced by America's double standard on sex vs. violence. Murder all the digital characters you want, but god forbid Taki has bouncy boobs.

Games are not exactly striving for realism, but I'm fairly sure reasonable people agree that Chung Li vs. Zangief is absurd. Chung Li vs. any male character in that series is preposterous, I don't care if it's just a game or how big they make her thighs. Don't get me started on the 15 year old girls in DOA...

Sure there are some...gratuitous shots of Miranda and the Chobot character in Mass Effect. The Hitman trailer is over the top (an RPG and assault rifles used in an urban fight fight?), but the habit is in line with the disguise element of the series and the dominatrix outfits...well, does it really matter? Both outfits display some type of team allegiance, one being good, and the reality being bad or evil.

Philip Kerr
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"There are so many double standards in the world"

And here you are, trying to undermine the fight against double standards.

"someone or someones would have to be threatening me with a firearm to get me to quit."

It's not up to you to tell that woman whether she had a right to be frightened/intimidated/uneasy or not.

"Men assess women with a look -- also true. It cannot be changed; it happens instantaneously, whether we admit it or not."

I think someone is projecting. No, not everyone is as superficial as that. Not everyone is as phoney as that.

"Games are not exactly striving for realism, but I'm fairly sure reasonable people agree that Chung Li vs. Zangief is absurd."

Why should women be prohibited from the realm of ridiculous superhero theatrics?
There is nothing absurd about Chun Li versus Zangief. What's absurd is that since the days of Schwarzennegger and Stallone, men have been looking at these utterly improbable characters on screen and flattering themselves that: 'yeah, men are capable of that in the real world'.

Joshua Hawkins
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Video games are a complex industry so trying to rope in the entire industry into a single area is ridiculous. Since most of this argument has sparked from E3 I'll start there. E3 really has nothing to do with the development side of the industry. It's an expo for consumers, and marketing the developers you see there are really nothing more than booth babes in a sense. They are coached, primped, corralled, and displayed for show. If you want an inside look at sexism in game development look at GDC. Overall I think E3 is much better about sexism than most media/marketing trade shows.

Jody Sol
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I agree with the author, as a straight man I find these depictions of women to not only be disrespectful to women, but disrespectful to ME. I HATE being pandered to, I hate the insult to my intelligence that comes when some marketing twerp thinks that I'm going to be titillated or manipulated by this use of the female form.

I am a man, I am frankly, BETTER than that.

More over, narrowing your sense of aesthetic to these severely distorted body types is probably unhealthy, sexually speaking. I would like to see a greater variety of body types and personalities in general, and if the point is to be sexy, at least emphasize aspects of people that are healthier to sexualize.

Luis Guimaraes
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Does the article somehow assumes that male characters are any less bland?

Paula Wright
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I really think gaming could do well to avoid psychoanalytic feminist theory, which is fringe even in feminism. It has no basis in fact, produces no testable hypotheses, and offers little insight into human psychology.

It's worth remembering that these are digital sprites, not real "ladies" and there is zero evidence that games negatively affect gender relations.

Re the Tomb Raider fiasco: what I found in many of the orthodox feminist critiques was the authors completely ignoring the gact that a vast majority of male characters have brutalising and tragic back stories and their vulnerabilities are all over the place. Most commonly they have their families and partners killed/taken from them. Is that sexist? Is the argument that it’s sexist to use psychology to target underlying biological vulnerabilities for drama?

Rape quite simply IS much more of the threat to women than to men (except in prison and still even there, a man won't have an unwanted pregnancy to deal with too), and so is an obvious dramatic device to signal unique female peril. The game is describing the real world, not prescribing it.

Male characters are highly sexialised just as much as female characters in games. Sexy is not sexist.

Gil Salvado
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Well, I guess, I was wrong with my thoughts about the hitman trailer. Although I'm still convinced that it doesn't wants to point out the dominance of men over women in a patriarchic system.

When we did the mood picture for our future project, I estimated the double amount of time for one the two characters in the artwork. Simply because she was female.
I even had to argue with our Marketing to not redo the character, because she was to tough and "therefore" not sexy enough. The male on the other hand was done in even half of the time estimated. And both were done by the same female artist.

So, now I got to work on shaking hands.

Christian Kulenkampff
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There is no problem with one-sided exploitative depiction. It is problematic when this kind of depiction becomes the norm and a whole industry clings to it. Violence and mild yet exploitative eroticism is the norm for a big part of the video game industry.

Cultural products in general are problematic in regard to stereotypical sexualized content since they shape our perception. In this aspect, video games as cultural products are at the level of dime novels and cheap reality soaps, even with a similar narrow scope, when it comes to target groups.

Social and mobile games may become helpful here. New target groups bring new depiction standards and stereotypes along. This provides cultural workers in the video game industry with a bigger palette to draw from.

I believe and hope sexualization and violence as dominant ingredients of modern hardcore video games are only a temporal occurrence. I suspect the cause of this lies in a relatively non-regulated independent start of the medium (in comparison to other media) in combination with its consumer-oriented commercial nature.

When video games were born the industry was a small club of capables, in my opinion due to commercialization the industry slowly became a band of professional copycats relying not on innovation nor artistic diversity but on consumerism and simple stimuli. This has to change (and imo it does so already).

Thank you for the article. I am afraid these kind of articles never get old, but they might change the discussed medium. They are necessary to inspire and galvanize cultural workers.

Chris Hellerberg
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The thing is it is NOT a 'norm' the 'whole industry clings to' nor even 'a big part of' it. It is a minority of which only a minority is even remotely succesful and an even smaller part mainstream. What you claim is kind of like saying that nearly all books are about elves.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Women in video games and other mass-market media are rarely presented in diverse manners.

The problem is, that there is no real commercially viable "intellectual" counterpart when it comes to video games. Books, movies, music etc. deliver a healthy diversity to various target groups. Some people even think video games are not art, because of their consumer-oriented output and lack of diversity.

Stories about people who cry because of touching video games are rare, while acts of violence by young adults are often associated with violent media especially video games. In my opinion this is the direct result of this lack of artistic diversity and complexity.

I believe video games can present complex situations of human interaction. But the way to do this is hard to find and maybe is not found yet. The use of cutscenes is no solution.

Chris Hellerberg
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'There is no Sex in video games today'
There's tons of 'hentai' video games out there. Considering the massive popularity of hentai (and pornography in general) I daresay A LOT more hentai games have been created than video games for any one video game console have been developed.

'What is a distinctive feature in games is it's constantly rising level of violence that is taken out of any moral context.'
That's a claim without merit. FPS have always been about shooting things (be they humans, aliens, dinosaurs..). Beat 'Em Ups about... beating things up. Platformers about getting from A to B and destroying whatever is in the way. Pong is still Pong, er.. I mean tennis. RPGs about saving the world, while cutting down everything and everyone that wasn't lucky enough to get to town in time, and raiding those that did get to town in time etc. etc. All for the sole purpose of entertainment.

'This kind of senseless and meaningless violence is the norm in video games today'
No, it's not. It's part of the industry, just like sports games, adventures, platformers, tetris clones, flight simulation, hentai, sims, farmville.....

Chris Hellerberg
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'Women in video games and other mass-market media are rarely presented in diverse manners.'
Another claim without merit on this site. I'm absolutely certain you have no means whatsoever to back this statement up.

'The problem is, that there is no real commercially viable "intellectual" counterpart when it comes to video games. Books, movies, music etc. deliver a healthy diversity to various target groups.'
Please elaborate for whom and why this is supposedly a problem. Also, please back your claim up with something other than 'It is so.' And as I've already pointed out in my previous comment the diversity in video games is quite huge.

'Some people even think video games are not art, because of their consumer-oriented output and lack of diversity.'
Now you're claiming to know what some people think and even why they do so. Please refrain from reading my mind. You will only find I think of women all the time. ;)

'Stories about people who cry because of touching video games are rare, while acts of violence by young adults are often associated with violent media especially video games.'
Since when does the amount of press coverage equal quantity of actually happening events? Or am I misinterpreting your statement here?

Christian Kulenkampff
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'Women in video games and other mass-market media are rarely presented in diverse manners.'
http://bit.ly/eN2SYy
The article shows that girl characters in children's cartoons are generally more stylized in a sexualized way than their male counterparts.
More links to potential references can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrayal_of_women_in_video_games and here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_representation_in_video_games
I am sure I can find many articles in the field of gender studies that confirm my thesis.

'The problem is, that there is no real commercially viable "intellectual" counterpart when it comes to video games. Books, movies, music etc. deliver a healthy diversity to various target groups.'
Nice article posted yesterday: http://bit.ly/MLMcDH
I can find more sources on the topic of establishing media in society etc. if you want to. It's not that hard to find stuff that backs me up, but it is work nevertheless.

'Some people even think video games are not art, because of their consumer-oriented output and lack of diversity.'
A German article about video games as cultural products:
http://bit.ly/MmonUl
Just Google "Are video games art" to find 'some people'
http://bit.ly/dqMP32
http://usat.ly/AaoeDS
http://wapo.st/LDUeti

'Stories about people who cry because of touching video games are rare, while acts of violence by young adults are often associated with violent media especially video games.'
>>Since when does the amount of press coverage equal quantity of actually happening
>>events? Or am I misinterpreting your statement here?
Well, it is not about real facts, but what video games are famous for. Books and movies are famous for many things while video games are especially infamous for triggering violence and other bad behavior. I personally doubt these claims, but they are present, you can't doubt that.

>>And as I've already pointed out in my previous comment the diversity in video games is quite huge
In my opinion there is very little diversity in what video games communicate. There might be many genres, but each genre bears the same message and games within the genre are very similar - too similar in my opinion. I think I am not the only one who complains about some lack of creativity in the video game industry. Of course there are exceptional games.

Chris Hellerberg
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@Christian Keichel
The article is about supposedly problems in the current video game industry while clearly ignoring most of the industry. That is ignorant. Your statement that 'Hentai games belong to the japanese gaming culture' is just as ignorant. You apparently fail to realize the amount of hentai games created in "the west". You also seem to not realize the amount of hentai games freely available online. That aside, I've merely pointed out there is sex in video games when you said there isn't. What country that content originated from is irrelevant. How you concluded that anyone tried 'to apply western film theories to japanese only games' is beyond me.

As for the second point in your comment.. narrowing the number of suspects down to only 20 is not going to prove your argument. It only showcases how taking the rest of the video game industry into account completely disproves it. Whether the types of games I've mentioned are succesful or "important" or not (by what standard anyway?) is entirely irrelevant. What is relevant is that the existence of these game types PROVE that diversity of content in video games is clearly there and therefore not lacking. It also DISPROVES your statement that "this kind of senseless and meaningless violence is the norm in video games today."

Luis Guimaraes
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I agree with Christian.

Chris Hellerberg
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@Luis
That just made my day lol.

@Christian Keichel
I apologize for apparently not being clear enough in my previous comments. Let me try again.

1) You say there's no sex in video games today. I say there's hentai games. You acknowledge that fact yet you keep arguing.

2) You say hentai games belong to the japanese gaming culture. I say they are created in 'the west' too. You more or less acknowledge that fact yet you keep arguing.

3) You say hentai games are almost never released in the west. I say there's hentai games available online. You acknowledge that but you keep arguing.

4) You say trying to apply western film theory to japanese only games is ignorant. I say I didn't even do that. You keep arguing about.... something.

5) (This one is good..) I list a very few types of games, yet very different ones, to show you that there clearly is diversity in games. Even ending that list with ...... to showcase that the list goes on and on and on. You pick TWO of these examples and say they are not important today because they are not succesful, thereby not only completely missing the point but in the case of Tetris ENTIRELY wrong.
http://www.mobile-ent.biz/news/read/100m-tetris-sales-for-ea-mobi
le/08556
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/128650/Tetris_Bejeweled_Boast_
Fast_Sales_On_iPhone_Game_App_Charts.php

6) You say senseless and meaningless violence is the norm in video games today. I point out how many different video games there are today on the market of which a whole lot don't contain violence at all. You say..... Call of Duty sold 50-60 million copies, completely missing the point.

7) I *point out* that WHAT MATTERS as for what is the norm in video games today is WHAT video games are being produced today, and that how many copies they sell is IRRELEVANT to this arguement. ...........You keep talking about how many copies game X or game Y sold, and you *keep arguing*.

I'm sorry but I'm not interested in arguing for arguement's sake.

Chris Hellerberg
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@Christian Kulenkampff
Thanks for the links. I will take a look into these. However, the first link 404's.

Christian Kulenkampff
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hmm Gamasutra put a space in it. The commenting system is very limited :( I will edit the links...

Chris Hellerberg
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Thanks. I just noticed the space myself actually lol. ;)

Jacob Germany
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I think the presence of hentai games is completely irrelevant to mass-produced, mass-consumed commercial products. Sex is nearly unheard of in the game industry, which is I think Kulenkampff's point.

So, because sex is taboo, we find cleavage and g-strings and the occasional topless woman or humor-laden-black-out-with-woman-moaning. Puerile stuff. And ample, ample violence. Kulenkampff said this is the industry norm. That is, as far as I can tell, pretty indisputable. Plenty of games where you can see cleavage, slaughter, and such, with very few that speaks to moral ramifications of violent conflict resolution, or fully characterized female protagonists.

And, just as a point, how many hentai games portray sex in a mature, gender-equivalent fashion?

Robert Walker
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While this is a very well-written article, I am sad to see the comments on this topic always, without exception, break down into only men fighting about how this issue is or isn't okay. When is the last time a female voiced their opinion in this long comment dialog? And is there a single one here who has taken a defensive position for over-sexualization of women in games, whether or not anyone believes it to be an issue?

The general vibe I get from every one of these threads starts out with women going "yes, I do not like to be depicted this way" followed by a barrage of comments that either equate to "You don't know what you like, it's fine how it is and we'll do what we want" or banter back and forth about how sex and sexuality is or isn't appropriate in games.

There has to be a more effective way to address this topic. I would much rather see future comments turn toward figuring out how the issue can be addressed more effectively, be it for or against the given subject matter, rather than pointless and alienating banter about whether or not it is or is not an issue.

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Travis Flynn
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There are some female comments here. But realistically how many do you expect? This is currently a male dominated industry. Care to wager the ratio of male to female gamasutra registrations? My bet is that it mirrors this article's comments fairly faithfully.

The problems of the industry though aren't solved by things like this. The narrative of this (and every other article about sexism in gaming) is that games need better female characters so as to not be sexist / degrading or to appeal more to women. This turns the parity of the conversation into a male v. female dynamic, which is essentially a struggle / fight.

If gaming is to move on as an industry, the conversation should be about how games need better female characters etc. because it makes the games better and more believable, and it would lend the medium more popular credibility to have a larger body of quality works.

As long as the discussion is perceived as an attack on men or male interests, there will always be some men who feel the need to defend themselves / their gender.

Felipe Budinich
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The reason I moved away from the contemporary art market and became a game developer, was to get away from high horse banality like this (besides the non-factual non-estatistical non-evidential theory of the dominant gaze, requires that the reciever is a person, you can't "gaze" a 3d model).

We make products that target (or "land") on demographics. Period.

Christian Kulenkampff
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>> requires that the reciever is a person
I doubt that.
"The male gaze occurs when the audience, or viewer, is put into the perspective of a heterosexual male."

>> We make products that target (or "land") on demographics. Period.
This is true, but when other audiences get systematically ignored there is something wrong. And this is what people complain about.

Philip Kerr
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"High horse"? You think people rail against sexism because they want to feel superiority over others? Never occurred to you that perhaps we're just concerned about the fact that a horrifyingly high proportion of women in the western world will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes? Never occurred to you that some of us are not happy that women are made to feel excluded from segments of modern culture? Or that some of us men don't like being treated like infantile, drooling idiots? Is it so hard to accept that some people are capable of empathy for their fellow human beings?

Felipe Budinich
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Complain all you want and change nothing. Why not prove that you can develop a game that sells to a new demographic? go ahead, do that, take all the money. Just stop spewing regulator-bait.

>>>I doubt that.

Ok, I'm wrong. I got confused with the "getting triggered" minority talk. But I still doubt the dominant gaze theory. (I'm not forcing anyone to consume my products, they choose to.)

>>>This is true, but when other audiences get systematically ignored there is something wrong. And this is what people complain about.

No, my audience does not complain about my products. People that do not buy them do. And if you are a developer and see a market oportunity, why complain? go grab it, what's stopping you?

Christian Kulenkampff
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There are many problems in the world. I should be allowed to complain about them without doing anything but pointing out my sorrows. The probability of problems getting solved is much higher when talking to people who could solve them too.

Arthur De Martino
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My only problem of this whole thing is the cancelation of Tentacle Bento. The game clearly was a parody of a genre of animation/games. Say what you will about that genre. Demonize it. Hate it. Censor it.

But don't do it to the one game that is playing the genre for laughs. In fact, said genre is all about male fantasy. The girls getting raped quickly enjoy it. Is it disgusting? Yes. Some people get off to it. Some people get off seeing girls being mutilated. Others to men. Others get off to furry costumed people.

Where do we start taking the fantasy and fun of groups? Do we do a "Fetish black list" in which games catering to it are instant banned and shunned? What about games that have said fetish in it, but actually have a interesting gameplay mechanic? Even if it's not connect to it?

The problem of shutting down Tentacle Bento before it ever getting up the floor is the kind of censorship we need to steer clear. After all, I feel offended and disgusted by many stuff I stumble upon female sexual fantasies yet not only I respect it, I encourage it. I feel people should write whatever they want, and if there is an audience for it, more power for them.

Which brings me to the crux of the question: The male gaze exists. It's a (Cheap) tool to drawn the player in. As video games expand, games either start catering to the female gaze as well (Otome Games, wiki it) or do something that won't outright offend the other gender and inclue both of them in your experience deveçoptment process. It's that easy.

Now the -real- issue, the thing that needs to change, the thing that needs to be the focus it's miosoginy inside the industry itself as pointed in the article. THIS is a problem that is hard to fix and needs to be fixed asap. The other stuff is just some people choosing to rain on other people parade, this thing here? Serious matter that needs to change somehow.

Yamil Chaar
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This^ is exactly along the lines of what came into my mind after reading the article and some of the comments here. Some forget that it is not the portrayal but in the situation they are portrayed in that makes it sexist or not.

Said weirdo Nuns are quite out of place, I can agree with that. Lets say a spy trying to seduce a mark (a la Angelina Jolie's character in Mr & Mrs Smith) then it fits perfectly. Well, except the nun-thing, that still creeps me out.

Lack of clothing and even nudity in games is NOT wrong. Using it for the sake of eye-candy alone, well, that's when we start rolling our eyes. Unless the game is focused on that, then it is just meant to carter to a specific crowd.

My point is, yes please lets fix sexism but lets realize the problem goes deeper than trying to shame guys into it ("are we men or boys" obvious bait title, you are better than that Gamasutra). We need to make people aware because respect for everyone is something that starts at home. Finally, that the fix is not limiting how some characters are portrayed but rather that the portrayal has meaning and direction behind it, not just titillation (even if we are also titillated as a result).

Hopefully this makes sense, given that english is not my first language. :)

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Miles Adams
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I am not a video game player nor am I involved in this industry. I was linked to this article by a friend on Facebook, and after reading it felt compelled to register so I could comment. There is so much nonsense in this article it just buggers the imagination. Let's start with the title of the article. "Are we men or boys?" You make video games. Let me repeat that: YOU MAKE VIDEO GAMES. You're people who make fancy, sophisticated time-wasters and toys. I think, just maybe, you come down on the "boys" side of that question.

I can't even begin to express how utterly ridiculous things get once one reads past the entirely unselfaware title question. Are you really complaining about over-sexualized dominatrix nuns in a game called "Hitman Absolution"? Is this for real? You actually wrote this: "Think about it logically for a moment -- if you were going to assassinate someone, would you wear the tightest thing possible? Would you expose your breasts to the world, essentially creating a target for a bullet? Probably not."

Think about it logically for a moment? Sir, if I thought about it logically for a moment, I'm pretty sure the way these women are dressed would be very low on my list of concerns. I'll admit I have never played any of the Hitman games, but unless the game involves meeting housewives in seedy motels and taking a few grand for a contract kill on their cheating husbands so they can collect the life insurance, then the realism of these killer nun dominatrix's outfits is a pretty minor quibble. I just went and watched the trailer for some context, and sir, there isn't a single thing about this game that has any basis in anything resembling "reality." The term for the sort of criticisms you're leveling at this game is "vapid inanity."

You then bring up the issue of "Male Gaze," and the "b-b-but she's powerful!" defense. And I agree with you that as a defense, that is pretty weaksauce. But the real question is: why is a defense necessary? So many video games present a Male Gaze. What of it? Who cares? Is this actually a matter of any importance?

I don't think it is. I think it's just a bunch of guilt-mongering nonsense. I don't think anyone is hurt by this, I don't think it matters one whit in the grand scheme of things. I'm also not surprised that the people who "stand up against this" are attacked. You, in writing this article, are being a judgmental, accusatory and guilt-mongering prick. I don't even play video games and I find the things you're saying insulting and ridiculous. Complaining about free expression in a medium that doesn't require your participation is tantamount to calling for censorship. And that is going to generate backlash.

I don't buy video games because I think they're overpriced, that the stories are hackneyed and cliche, and that they take far too much time and energy to complete. But you know what I don't do? Complain endlessly that video games aren't being designed to cater to me. I just don't buy them.

And anyone who has an issue with Male Gaze in video games should just NOT BUY THEM. And if they feel that games should be designed to cater to them, then they should do what the guys who make all these dumb video games full of tits and violence do: Start a company and make a game.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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"You're people who make fancy, sophisticated time-wasters and toys. I think, just maybe, you come down on the "boys" side of that question."

And yet they're important enough for you to bother registering for a trade site and commenting on despite neither working in the industry _or even playing them_. Funny that.

What do _you_ do for a living, big man? What does an activity need to entail to not be a "time-waster" in your egotistical opinion? Eating, drinking, sleeping, sex for child-bearing -- only the basics for survival and reproduction? Is insulting an entire industry to their face on a trade site not a waste of time? What about living, since we're all going to die some day anyway?

I could get on board with some of what you're saying, but that spectacularly ignorant yet insulting introductory paragraph mars the whole post. You have a long, long way to go before you can talk intelligently enough about the issues in our medium to walk into a field of experts and call their art a waste of time.

But no, I'm serious. What _do_ you do for a living?

Christian Kulenkampff
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@Miles Adams
As a cultural worker you influence culture in a special focussed way. This is part of your job. This shouldn't lead to games full of socially responsible content drenched in morale and goodness, but to some kind of awareness. This article and the discussion are results of this awareness. It is healthy and good that video games as products of culture are discussed in this way.

When you discuss products of culture, you also discuss culture. Reflection is essential to modern society. Of course your reaction is part of this discussion and as helpful as all other comments to draw a picture, how this half-naked-weaponized-nun-creating culture works.

Since we normally exchange views to have an effect on each other: I just want you to consider, if cultural products really are just about buying or not buying. Is the influence really that small, that you can block it by not consuming it, when millions of other people consume it?

Gern Blanston
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This is on par with the most important articles I've read on this website. Please continue delving into subjects that deserve such attention. Cheers!

Chris Charla
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Everyone should go play Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Great female lead character. She's attractive, like almost every character of every size in all visual media (even "ugly" characters are usually a lot better looking than actual real ugly people), but there is zero sexualization of her character in animations, art, or, crucially, her interactions with the burly, buff, male lead character.

Just one of the reasons Enslaved still resonates for me as one of the best and most under-rated games of this generation.

(And for the record, I don't mind sexy when it has a purpose, and even sometimes when it doesn't, but don't insult my intelligence by pretending that something that's gratuitous isn't!)

Arthur De Martino
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I actually love the game, but I do feel it's worry some if we start judging characters up to if they are offending someone or not instead if they are good overall characters or not.

The lead on that game is amazing, I enjoy her as a character a lot. But not because she portrays women in a balanced way. This shouldn't be a factor. Characters are tools for the author, in this case they decided to use this particular character to be a compelling one, a relatable one and they succeed

Andrew Lance
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Since I think the intent of this post may get lost in translation, I would like to state first and foremost that I would be overjoyed with less objectification of women/men in games. Any progress we can make, regardless of the medium, is praiseworthy.

With that out of the way, let me share a statistic with you. A quick google search shows that a few years back, on average 70% of men view pornography with some regularity. This number has no doubt risen since then.

Pornography, in my mind, is the ultimate objectification of an individual. Pornography literally reduces a person to nothing more than something to gratify our most base (if natural) urges. I won't go into great details on my views of pornography (as this is not the avenue for that,) but suffice it to say I think it is not good for helping overcome the challenges presented in the article.

While perhaps not a perfect, Kant's Categorical Imperative is a very useful thought exercise. Kant's premise is that we should only act in such a way that our actions can be applied globally.

That was a long winding path to get to the following assertion: as long as we accept the objectification of women (or men) in any format, our ability to solve these issues will be extremely limited, and will be more posturing than actual progress.

Video games are a medium- nothing more. A medium that I think is very important and relevant, but just a medium none the less. Movies, tv shows, and yes, pornography (as a subset) are mediums too. We cannot in good conscience accept objectification of women in any of these without being hypocrites. To put it bluntly- it cannot be OK to depict a woman as nothing more than a sex object in a pornographic film, but then say that it is beneath us to portray a woman that way in a videogame. The medium never excuses or justifies the portrayal. If it were so, one could simply say that videogames, like pornography, are a medium where it is ok to objectify and there can be no further argument.

"Equal potrayal" of male and female "gaze" as a way to balance things is absurd to me. Either the objectification is wrong, or it is not. If it is not, then there is nothing more to discuss- this conversation becomes nothing more than a debate on what the ideal allocation between male and female objectification is. And if that is the topic of discussion, I respectfully bow out.

The long and short of the post is to simply say this: we cannot be hyprocritical and denounce sexualization of women in videogames if we are personally objectifying them even worse in other mediums. We cannot reduce a woman to a pair of breasts in private, and then lament how women are wrongly portrayed in public. If we wish to have women treated as people, we have to do so universally.

We have to think on a larger scale than just videogames for this issue. "Sexy dominatrix nuns" have no doubt been displayed with far more sexualization than what we saw in the Hitman trailer with far less outcry. Do we think that somehow videogames are a "holier" format than other mediums-, or are we being inconsistent in where we choose to take issue?

(Apologies for any grammatical errors and spelling, no access to word processing at the moment.)

Luis de-Leon
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Ok, Im sorry but I have to respectfully disagree with you in a couple of points. First of all, the problems that you are discussing are part of the US. Dont drag the rest of the world with you. Second, don't complain about wanting change, make things change. You want for games to be more conscious about how real women are, then make does games. Get involve. Industries don't change because people complaining. They change because things get done. You can see a good example with the manga industry in Japan. As sexist as it is, there's still a healthy amount of material whose main target are woman. A group of young woman in the 80's decided they could do good comics and got in the industry and help change it. Thats want needs to change in the video game industry. A group of developers that want to make good games that depict women in a realistic way. Don't expect for guys that don't get women to get them through the power of good will. Help the correct people so that they can show us how its done. Dont complain and ask for charity, make things happen.

James Cooley
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The issue with Miranda in ME2 is that the camera kept finding ways to focus on her butt and she wore painted-on outfits. She may have been genetically modified to be attractive, but was her DNA hardwired as well to wear skintight outfits?

Now ponder Alyx Vance in the HL2 games. She is attractive, but not beautiful. This is a face that has seen hardship and known pain. Alyx can carry her own in a fight, but also is just fun to be around in the game. She cares deeply about her father, has both friends and rivals, and dresses in clothing that makes some sense in an urban warfare situation.

Gordan Freeman, the tall and skinny geek, and Alyx Vance, the geek girl are two of the most endearing non-stereotype characters in games.

I also found Skyrim to be fair in how it depicts women. They work, get dirty at it, wear clothes that generally reflect the climate, and typically look more like women than pinups.

So, it can be done.