Nick Nelson – Alexandria, VA
A week ago, I read an article that made me angry. This happens a lot. I try to remain pretty aware of the world around me, but when you care, you often can’t remain aware without becoming angry. But this one was different. This wasn’t politics, the latest Kardashian “news” or a bad review of a favorite band’s album. This was video gaming – a big passion of mine – acting a sexist, misogynist fool, and advertising it as gospel on Facebook.
Allow me to explain. One of the most-anticipated games of the year was released last month – “Halo 5: Guardians.” One of the game’s most important characters is an artificial intelligence (think HAL-9000 from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) who is formatted as an hourglass-shaped, seductive – and essentially naked – woman. There has been plenty of conjecture as to why the Cortana character is naked, and what purpose this could possibly serve from a storytelling standpoint.
As reported by the noted (and usually respected) gaming blog “GamesRadar,” the director of the Halo saga, Kevin O’Connor, gave us the answer , though we wish he never had: “She’s not really nude … but that’s what it makes you think of,” O’Connor explained. “So one of the reasons she [chooses to appear without clothes] is to attract and demand attention. And she does it to put people off so that they’re on their guard when talking to her, and she has the upper hand in those conversations.”
I’m sorry, but what? Am I reading this correctly? Basically, women have to be nude for men to pay attention to them, and men won’t take them seriously unless they’re hot and scantily clad? At a time when the “Tomb Raider” reboot has become notable for painting series-hero Lara Croft as less of a big-chested acrobat and more of a tough, feminist icon, we’re supposed to take this and like it?
Unfortunately, this level of sexism is rampant in gaming. Wonderful figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Felicia Day have endured death threats for speaking out against prostitute murder in the “Grand Theft Auto” series; the unshaven-female-antagonist in “Metal Gear Solid 2;” or the fact that Nintendo’s most famous game franchises, Mario and Zelda, involve rescuing a princess that can’t seem to keep herself from getting kidnapped.
Gender in video games has always been problematic, and it’s a long way from being able to say it has achieved any real progress. Female gamers are still assumed to either be obese women with no social life (much like the stereotype of their male counterpart) or porny, hypersexualized male fantasies. I have friends who have been subjected to name calling, rape threats and question-after-question about what games they play, as if they have to pass some sort of test.
Why are Samus Aran and Lara Croft the only famous female video game protagonists? Why is the one “Assassin’s Creed” entry with a female character also the series’ worst reviewed game? Finally, why is Cortana naked, and why is the answer to the question even more sexist than her nudity in the first place?
Gaming is a great release from the frustrations of the world around me, so long as I’m smart about the games – and gamers – I expose myself to. But the rampant sexism in video games makes it hard for women gamers to escape the real world. Men need to be allies in the effort to make video games a safe space for everyone to enjoy. If we stop speaking out, or walk away or give up on trying to change the narrative, the female experience in gaming is going to become worse than ever.
This article isn’t written as an idle set of frustrations, meant to be tossed off as soon as something angers me more. It’s a call to arms. The narrative CAN change. Women CAN be empowered in gaming. It CAN become normal for girls and women to have positive characters to play as, look up to and maybe even learn from in the gaming world. After all, the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men – and women – to do nothing.