A couple weeks ago, Dr. Flanagan was interviewed for a feature in Salon.com’s Broadsheet section, which deals with “Women, politics, culture.” The interview’s focus was on feminist game design and making games for girls, and while I don’t think the article reflected the full scope of Mary’s ideas on technology or the full range of Tiltfactor’s activities, I think the author did a fine job highlighting some of the gender issues that are preventing the game industry from reaching its full potential. From the readers’ comments, however, you’d think Mary had declared an infantada against the male sex and was determined to destroy any game that doesn’t feature castration as the core mechanic.
The reactions I read were vicious, paranoid, and willfully ignorant. I have no idea why misogynist gamers were trolling the women’s section of Salon.com waiting to be incensed, but it seems they were. The criticism (or baseless insults) seemed to rest on a few key misconceptions that need to be cleared up.
1. Progress is not perfection. While we have made great strides towards creating a more just society, the work is not over. Despite the fact that the US has elected an African American president, we still have a shameful amount of racism to root out, and despite the fact that we’re likely to soon have our third female Secretary of State, women continue to be underpaid, occupy a fraction of elected offices, and be treated as sex objects in pop culture. There are now more women and more people of color in the game industry than ever before. There is a more diverse range of games and play styles available than ever before. We can applaud this progress while still questioning the status quo and working for more change.
2. Thoughtful critique is not an expression of hatred. Criticism often comes from a place of appreciation and a desire to see improvement or growth. Pointing out that the technology industry (and engineering in general) is dominated by males is not the same as saying male designers are the source of all the world’s problems. Most games are designed by males for males. This is a simple fact that does not imply no women would ever want to play a game made by males, the sexes have no overlapping interests, or games made by men are bad and women could do it better because women are better than men. All Dr. Flanagan expressed was a desire for greater diversity and greater equality.
3. Wanting equality does not mean wanting inequality with an inverted power dynamic. “We Shall Overcome,” is not secret code for “We Shall Dominate” and feminism does not imply superiority. Men need to realize feminism is not threatening to them. Sexism is an ugly crutch for insecure fools who need to find a new source for their masculinity. Feminists don’t want to be men or kill men. They just want equal rights.
Some of the commenters proclaimed that we don’t need to games for girls we just need good games. Why not both? Or why not some good games that appeal primarily to girls, but also to some boys who aren’t ashamed of liking games that girls like? This is a continuous problem: women are expected to conform to typically male behaviors or desires, but men aren’t expected to do the same. One woman commented that her daughter doesn’t play video games because the family only has one computer and “for some reason” she doesn’t want to fight her brother for it. Why should she have to? What does that means of decision making teach either child? Nothing positive, I think.
I saw similar shortsightedness in the comments about representation. People said that games are fantasy and women shouldn’t be threatened by heaving cleavage any more than guys are shamed by bulging biceps. But to believe this is to ignore context. There’s no debate that more girls than boys grow up with image problems. Fewer boys have eating disorders or beg their parents for plastic surgery. There is no “Flavor of Love” starring a woman, no prime time Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show starring men.
There is simply no debate than idealized female bodies are incomparably more prevalent than male bodies in entertainment and advertising. For these reasons, the ubiquity of female flesh in games means something different to both male and female players. Feminism does not strive for a desexualized world or a world without fantasy, simply a world with more balanced portrayals of the sexes and more diverse fantasies.
Tiltfactor strives to help game designers produce more interesting, more varied, and more thoughtful games. Diversity will only benefit the game industry, just as it’s benefited film and literature, and no game designed for an underserved audience will threaten existing titles. Feminism is not an attack on masculinity. Games for girls are not an insult to games for boys. No one is arguing for undue privileges or censorship, just space for everyone to share. There is room in this field and in our living rooms for men and women and games that present a wide range of values and ideas.
For the record here, I am a guy and my views do not necessarily reflect the official stance of Tiltfactor. Also, I’ve never taken a Women’s Studies class and my sweeping statements about feminism and feminists may be inaccurate, but I don’t think so. Feel free to correct me if I’ve said anything wrong here.