A warning before we start. Gamergate. Yes. I’m going there.
In 2014, a small but very vocal minority of misogynistic shit nuggets decided it would be a good idea to threaten to do horrible things to a number of prominent females in the video game industry, including Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkessian, and Brianna Wu. When I originally wrote about the issue when it was particularly hot-button, I would like to think I made many reasonable statements on the last pass around; I may not agree with people like Sarkessian and how they go about their business but I respect that they have the right to do it, distancing myself from the “gamer” term, and generally asking people to not be dicks. I made it a point that I was not a gender theorist, or a crusader of neo-feminist ideals. I am just a game critic. I like to think I still am, and would like people to be more informed about the stuff that they are consumer.
Yet in 2018 I feel like some have not quite gotten the memo. Battlefield V was the latest one to be stoned in the streets for having a discount Emily Blunt as their cover mascot. In a surprising term of good consumer practice, they politely told the people that believed that having a woman in World War 2 was “historically inaccurate” to fuck right off. The one-two punch followed with the announcement of Wolfenstein: Youngblood, a co-op shooter based in an alternative 1980s where the Nazis are still kicking around, and it falls to the next generation of Blazkowicz to take them to task once again. On paper, this sounds delightful. I would quite like a shark-jumping Wolfenstein to go balls out on a co-op Nazi-blasting extravaganza, more in tone with their earlier work than The New Order. Of course, then it was announced that they were both ladies, and lo the same aforementioned shit nuggets re-emerge.
I cannot believe I have to go around this again, but I am once again obliged to talk about the fact that women are, in fact, important to the video game industry. Now, I could pull from the 2017 Electronic Software Association figures from the last year that lend themselves to my defence. I could go on about the fact that, even with the vitriolic response from the loudest portion of our community, there are still 41% of game players that are female. I could also mention that there are more females over 18 playing video games that males under 18. I might even that a financial stance and point out that a third of the video game industry’s multi-billion dollar worth comes from female players. Hell, we could even go so far as to directly credit some of them for their contributions to the best games we have played this decade, including Uncharted 3’s director Amy Hennig, Journey’s producer Robin Hunicke, or King’s Quest creator Roberta Williams.
It all boils down to one single, irrefutable fact. As far as I’m concerned, as a video game critic, your gender does not matter to me.
This may seem reductionist to some. After all, these game developers are contributing to the industry in large ways, and they deserved to be recognised. Here’s the thing though: at the core of the issue is the fact that there are simply not enough of them in the video game industry, with only 22% of the industry’s workers being female. This is hugely disproportionate, for no good reason. The last time I checked, there was no difference between a male and a female’s coding ability, creative drive or passion to succeed. Of course, the moment we draw attention to it, the hatred that bubbles out of the internet community pushes them back into hiding again – a fair reaction to the horrible things that get thrown in their direction. The less we care about what gender they are and more about what they can do for our industry, we might get games that are outside the traditional mold of games that we are used to – games that we never thought we would ever get.
exhibit a: a good character, who just happens to be female
But let’s turn to the presentation of women in these video games. They don’t sell, or they only sell if they put in traditional, done-to-death positions, such as the damsel in distress or the over-sexualised love interest, or so say the publishers. It was the point of Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann during the marketing of The Last of Us, where countless publishers and magazines pressed the developers to push Ellie to the back of the frame in favour of a rugged, worn-down Joel. Her character forms the backbone of the game, and Druckmann, along with the rest of Naughty Dog, refused to budge – her gender was irrelevant. Moreover, the best characters in video games are the ones that are genuine, master-crafted characters irregardless of their gender – acting as role models to all genders not because of the gender of the character, but their connection to the audience.
Wolfenstein: Youngblood kicks the hornet’s nest by posting these two female protagonists as the next generation of Machine Game’s arc. This somehow riles up the vocal minority, but I honestly don’t understand the shock. All of the characters in The New Order and The New Colossus, male or female, were either hardened badasses, genuinely well made characters, or both. With BJ Blazkowicz and Ana as the parents, of course their offspring were going to be hard bastards. I can envision the twin’s story being one of struggle against this endless fight, their connection to their father, and the continuous kicking of Third Reich ass. The gameplay, story and setting will spearhead the game’s success or failure. That is not even getting to the point that their antagonists aren’t really discriminating either, and would shoot the twins on sight, male or female. Whatever way you slice it, their gender is secondary.
It may be a near inflammatory reaction for me to be ambivalent towards the genders of the protagonists of video games, spurred by those who care too much about females finding their places on their box art without having their shirts off. With that said, I cannot apologise for it. It is my humble opinion that a character in any work of fiction will stand on their own regardless of what gender they are, unless the character themselves exists in a work designed to make a pointed statement on gender politics. The participation of a female or non-binary character that is not my own gender is a non-issue for me, because I see no reason why they should be written any different, and therefore I do not analyse it. People are just people, and they will stand on their own merits. The issue here boils down to people being dicks to other people, and I refuse to give them the satisfaction any more.
come on guys for FUCKS sake
The path to making these characters accepted is by normalising them. If it is a regular occurrence to see a female character on the cover of a video game, the bleating of the minority will become just that. Three years ago, I said that I lived in a world where a media critic discussing gender flaws in video games gets death threats for challenging the roots of issues in order to increase understanding, where a person cannot speak about a medium they love because the people representing that medium actively want to destroy them. Thankfully, those people are still continuing their work, as the people who deny change fade into the background. Wolfenstein: Youngblood will go about its business and succeed or fail on its own terms, as it should. Those who cannot see past their own misogynistic leanings will find themselves screaming into the void – which is exactly where that type of inflammatory, uninformed and embarrassing way of thinking belongs.
Image credits go to Polygon, VG24/7 and Pinterest.