Women in Video Games: women as background decoration



You left out “the muscle-bound dudes in video games are just as unrealistic as the half-naked women with huge breasts, so it’s not really sexist.”


Not all dudes!



The funniest thing about the argument of Anita being a con artist, is that she’d be more like the “Professor” from The Music Man.
I’m sure there’s going to be a happy ending for everyone after the whole shebang is over.

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No Cory it is not liberal. her sex-negative brand of fourth-wave feminism is just more rightwing traditionalist bullshit.


So she gives lots of good reasons why the status quo is bad. As a gamer, could she point me to some games that are more women friendly? Or how the culture goes about bettering the current environment?

I did a google search for women friendly video games. The first result included Fallout 3 and Bioshock, both games pointed out in the video as unfriendly towards women. It also included Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Both of which seem to me to hypersexualize women. Is it just that these are the best of a bad bunch?

Anyways, I just thought the video short on alternatives and potential solutions. And my (admittedly cursory) internet search wasn’t very helpful either.

If there’s a silver lining to the black cloud surrounding Sarkeesian’s treatment, it’s that it’s drawn a shitload of attention to their content. Moreso than any other resource, it’s given players, designers, developers and commentators a common language with which to discuss the problems with games.

I now regularly hear people use “damseling” as shorthand for the inevitable kidnapping of the female character. She may not have originated the term but she sure as hell popularised it.


Yes, move the goalposts, that will do sooo much good.


Best of a bad bunch for sure. If you’re specifically looking for AAA action games you’re not going to do much better than the equivalent action movies.

Those games are pretty good though–you can avoid most of the more problematic stuff by simply choosing to not do it. And they all let you pick a female character and be just as badass as if you’d picked a male character. I have female friends who absolutely loved Dragon Age and Mass Effect, for what that’s worth!

Edit to add: I’d love to see her make a video (maybe at the end of the series?) with just a ton of recommendations of games that get it right, but that’s not really the point of the series. It’s a critical examination through a particular lens, no more, no less.

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If you’re not stuck on a traditional action/FPS model I recommend the Portal games. The gameplay is innovative and fun, and the main characters are a human woman (as the silent protagonist) and a crazed A.I. based on another woman’s personality.


I just can’t stand the term ‘mansplaining’. It’s a hateful word which exists to serve as a tool of spite. It doesn’t exist to foster discussion. It exists as an expression of vaguely directed fury and frustration.

It’s sad that the fury and frustration that spawned that word exist. Treating people differently because of their biological sex is absurd, just as much as treating people differently because of their skin pigmentation. Women shouldn’t have cause for the anger they feel - they should just be treated properly from the very start.

But that doesn’t stop the anger from poisoning the efforts to change things. History has shown us time and again that anger and hatred don’t solve things. There are clear examples of how angry, confrontational, aggresive, accusatory calls for justice tend to muddy things and make issues worse, not better.

The anger itself cannot be discounted. It is very, very real, and it - and its root cause - needs to be dealt with. But giving in to that anger, letting it bleed into your efforts to change things, ultimately hurts any given cause.

There is a lot of anger floating around the current sex and gender rights issues. It’s actively hurting the cause of attaining a more just, fair society. The argument for “Not all men” isn’t wrong - we all admit that it’s technically true, but for some reason we view it as a sexist’s excuse to justify sexism, when in reality it is a non-sexist’s desperate distancing mechanism.

There are (obviously) a whole lot of men who aren’t sexist, but who are being exposed (many for the first time) to the collective vaguely-focused anger and frustration of women at large. The internet has given a voice to women who previously lacked it, and that voice is being used to express a lot of pent up (and highly justified) rage.

For most guys, this anger is startling. It simply wasn’t something they were exposed to previously. It’s also very, very intense. So now many men are finding themselves in the midst of a growing number of angry, unhappy voices calling for a rooting out of the societal ill of sexism. And that sexism is flatly and uncompromisingly attributed to men.

Essentially, a lot of guys have looked up from their own little corners of the world to notice an angry mob around them. The mob is riled up about “sexism” and “men”. So in a fit of startled self preservation, what do these guys do? They get defensive, and they try to distance themselves from the mob’s target. “Not all men are sexist! I’m not sexist! Please, just leave me alone to do my own thing! Go root out those sexist assholes, just leave me out of it!”

Sure, some of the braver, more confident, less insecure men are actively joining the fight. But the reality is that most men are an extremely insecure bunch. They’re intimidated by what’s going on around them, and they don’t want to be hurt by it. They neither want to be treated as enemies to be attacked, nor do they want to risk their comfort and personal security by joining the fight and supporting the cause.

And that’s where things could be so very, very different. There’s far too much anger, far too much condemnation and furious voicing of grievances. There’s not enough reassurance, not enough hope, not enough positivity, not even cooperation and welcoming and encouragement of potential male allies.

Scared neutral sideliners say “I don’t want to get involved, leave me out of this please, I just want to do my own thing!” and the response they receive is suspicion and condemnation and vitriol and abuse. They’re made to feel that they’re either with the movement, or against it. And it’s alienating huge swathes of highly valuable potential allies for the cause.

The Civil Rights movement and the end of racial segregation faced this exact same stumbling block. Some leaders, like Malcolm X, let their anger and their pain drive them to suspicion and condemnation of anyone who wasn’t immediately on their side.

Other leaders, like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., reached out to the uncertain and the insecure sideliners and welcomed them, asking them to join the cause, to find the courage within themselves to join with them side-by-side in a righteous fight for a just society - all the while reassuring them that they were not enemies, that they bore them no ill will and did not judge them blindly merely for being white, nor even for choosing not to join the struggle.

A just cause unjustly executed is not just. A peaceful cause violently attained is not peaceful. A struggle for equality arrived at through division and alienation is unequal.

We need more men involved in this matter on the side of equality, and we’re never going to get that by driving away those who would prefer to remain uninvolved because they’re personally innocent of wrongdoing.

Getting people to join a cause which they view themselves as separate from requires open acceptance and kind persuasion, not outraged censure and moralistic shaming.


Some of these games are over the top, definitely. How far do we go though? Is there any discussion about a grey area or does this particular lady call for a total end to prostitutes in games and objectified females? It’s not a reflection of reality to have gangs of slim, fit and large breasted women hanging out and speaking seductively, nor is it reality to not have some women doing that. Strip clubs exist too, and shady things go on there. I’ve lived in a neighborhood with street walkers, that is real too. Not everyone lives in white suburban America, and I feel like that is what is being called for here. I understand and acknowledge the need for deeper and more developed female characters in games. I vehemently disagree that video games are somehow more dangerous then television or movies in perpetuating negative female stereotypes or objectifying them. That seems like a fallacious argument backed by negligible facts. I also see games in the video in which scenes with objectified women are cherry picked. In the end I would say lets tone down the over the top objectification for sure, but lets try to focus on developing better female characters and mature storylines to attract more female gamers, so developers don’t feel compelled to market games at 15 year old Mt. Dew goth rockers. If you build it they will come.

I would add on contrast to your MLK analogy, that MLK had a very top down leadership style that included very few women in top leadership posts. I would replace MLK with Ella Baker, for that style of leadership.

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As far as Brainspore’s comment goes, it’s a strawman, because I’ve usually seen it argued as “dudes are objectified, too.” But, y’know, have fun with your strawman.

As far as Cory’s comment goes…my feeble ol’ brain isn’t telling me the name of that, but I remember back in some good ol’ undergrad class, being told what this logical fallacy is. Maybe it’s just an offshoot of a strawman; you’ve come up with a list of common things said about Sarkeesian, and you’ve preemptively attributed motivations to them to prime people’s emotional response to those inevitable comments.

See, here’s the thing. I tried to talk my wife into going into CS back when we were in high school and dating, because she was a whiz at math. And of course, she didn’t because she’s a girl (where does that come from?) My girls love playing games. I want to see a safe environment for them.

And yet, I have objections to Sarkeesian’s videos. But I get shut down for bringing them up, because obviously it’s misogyny. And obviously, since I have a penis and I try to have my rebuttal, I’m “mansplaining”. Well, guess what, Cory? You’re a man, too. So, since we’re on a level playing field here, let’s get down to it.

First, let me say that she brings up a number of valid, positive points, and ones that people should pay attention to. Rovio could really learn from the one about pink == girls, right? And yes, I’ve seen a lot of reprehensible, disgusting, vile comments and other things leveled at Anita Sarkeesian, things that make me sick.

Having said that, and taking a moment to note that I’ve been preemptively dismissed for “mansplaining” (ugh)…here we go.

The “con artist” bit may have been driven by misogyny–I won’t dismiss that aspect–but that’s not it in its entirety. It’s not just angry dudebros who have a problem with it. No, it started when it took nearly 10 months for the first installment to come out.

It was further fueled when, after she managed to raise over $158,000 USD. For perspective, median household income in the U.S. is $50,000 USD, so enough to keep an American household afloat for three years, or enough to keep a Chinese household afloat for nearly 16 years(!) And this money was used for purchasing games and production costs. I’m sure some could be used for living expenses. Fair enough; the money comes with no strings, and people willingly donated, and it’s a fraction of the cost of production of an AAA game; on the other hand, Frozen Synapse was apparently made for $150k.

Now, then, with her buying games and production assets, you’d expect the in-game shots to be captured by her or by someone working for her, but several of her clips are pulled from other people’s Youtube videos. Maybe they had trouble capturing proper footage, I don’t know; but it seems damned peculiar, and helped fuel the fire on the “she’s a scam artist” argument.

And really, my main peeve is that it seems like her series, while bringing up some good points, seems to beg the question quite often. Hey, you know, if you’re looking for sexism in video games, you’re definitely going to find it in 30-year-old Japanese games. Duh.

Personally, I’m not really interested in the comments from the peanut gallery, because I know pretty much all the non sequiturs that’ll be hurled my way. Whatevs. Come up with some legit rebuttals. “4chan users sent her death threats” is not a rebuttal to “she didn’t use her own video footage” (see, I can use strawman arguments, too!)

To be honest, though, I suppose my argument is that the best way to handle this would be for someone to put out addictively good games with a positive message. Anita Sarkeesian put out a video with a game concept; if one went retro, keeping it in, say, the style of classic Sierra On-Line games (Roberta Williams would be a great resource here!) you could probably do it as an adventure game for less than $150k, especially if you found people who were passionate enough about the message to do it for peanuts. You bring up the positive feminist message in the press interviews, imho.

I’m just throwing this out there because, to be honest, I was annoyed by the setup. Carry on.



I’m not citing MLK as a model of gender equality - I’m citing his ability to not alienate valuable fringe populations that could be made into allies rather than enemies based entirely on how they were treated.

Not sure if agreeing, or displaying sarcasm.

Sorry, that was agreeing. I don’t remember if Picard was being sarcastic there or not.


hint: play minecraft.

nerd cred plus make your own character skin.

tropes, pwned.


Men and women are both objectified in games, but they’re usually both objectified to meet male power and sex fantasies. Whenever some of us point this out, there’s almost always some oh-so-offended gamer who rushes in to argue a false equivalency.

If you really think that’s a just a strawman then I direct you to the last time this topic came up on the blog. There were people who couldn’t even accept the proposition that StarCraft depicts female characters in a more sexualized way than male characters.