Be the ball

So Anita Sarkeesian has released her first video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, which I’ve been looking forward to as a lifelong gamer. While boys and men still make up the majority of gamers (though not by nearly as much as they used to) there have always been girls and women interested in the medium, and I’ve touched in the past on how bad the offerings towards our segment of the market is, varying between non-existent and patronisingly stereotypical.

I do sometimes wonder if, when critiquing sexism in the media, there’s not some confirmation bias going on. That things are better than we think and we’re just focusing on the worst aspects of it. But it’s hard to argue with the multitude of examples for the damsel in distress alone, especially given how many of them underpin games that are part of a still-continuing series (Mario and Zelda), and/or being re-released via markets like Steam and the Wii shop. Many of them are undeniably great games, and I think that’s part of the problem. Issues like this tend to be taken more seriously by (some) indie developers than the mainstream producers, so the games with the most resources behind them are often don’t pay attention to these issues. When mainstream developers do try to break outside the bow, they often don’t put much support behind the project, so they wind up as paltry offerings to the Goddess of Stereotypes rather than comparable but more socially aware or diverse counterparts to their other titles. So whatever is out there that’s better on issues like this tends to be harder to find, and often not solid games to begin with.

The problem isn’t so much individual games. Yes the tropes are horribly sexist, but some of those examples have pretty poor story-telling to begin with so expecting much better may be expecting too much. Princess Peach isn’t a very deep character, but neither is Mario, and stereotypes do help fill in the rather large blanks, as horrible as they are. The problem is how ubiquitous the tropes are. Having one or two games where the male hero rescues the female damsel wouldn’t be too bad, but the trope dominates the genre and there are precious few examples where the reverse is true (assuming there’s any at all–I can’t think of any off-hand).

Finally, to continue the ‘ball’ metaphor, the only really difference between this trope and a game of football is that in football the ball doesn’t have an opinion on what team should be holding it.


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