Sexism In Gaming: 5 Reasons It’s A Thing
1) A Troubled Recent History
Consider just the last 18 months. You’ll recall a controversy from the beginning of 2011, courtesy of controversial statement-generating robot David Jaffe. The Twisted Metal dev is of course notorious for his lack of a filter. If he opens his mouth, there’s a 50% chance the word ‘f*ck’ is going to spill out. That’s no big deal since it’s the 21st century and even 5-year-olds drop f bombs these days. But it is a problem when his tendency to speak sans-filter resulted in his dropping one of the most embarassing sexist outbursts in recent memory.
Talking on Twitter about excitement over the still-forthcoming Playstation Vita, Jaffe offered this charming assessment of developer interest:
“New hardware is like new pussy. It’s exciting at first but after you’ve experienced enough fresh vagina over the years — while there’s still always a bit of excitement when something new comes along — you learn that sooner than later, the new and exciting becomes the standard and dependable and so it’s best to just stay focused and grateful on what you’ve got at the moment and if you need to make a change, it’ll just happen organically.”
I don’t think his comments reveal a terrifying monster within, but it’s impossible to pretend they aren’t problematic. Never mind the number of women who play video games, focus instead on the fact that his go-to metaphor literally reduced them to their genitals. Here’s the thing: yes, people get distracted by shiny new objects all the time. We crave novelty as a species, and that craving overrides our best judgment quite often. It’s why people go for the sugar-fat-salt bombs served up by fast food restaurants instead of cooking for themselves every night. And oh look! I just came up with a better and less lazy metaphor than Jaffe did.
Jaffe’s good natured personality and his no-one-gets-a-pass style acquitted him in the wake of his comments. But any doubt that his comments indicated a general culture within the industry should have been erased the following June when, after a 10 year+ development period, the long awaited return of the Duke Nukem series landed like a dull, wet thud.
2) Duke Nukem ForGUYSONLY
The drubbing Duke Nukem Forever received from players and critics is partly due to the horribly dated pop culture references (evidence of the lengthy dev period), and to the clunky gameplay. But particular scorn was reserved for the way DNF positively revels in a palpable disgust for women. Yes, Duke was always a jerk – part of his appeal, though it also demonstrates reason #1000 that the 90s sucked – but DNF went so far as to feature a strip club that also mocks the menstrual cycle (because women are totally gross, amirite guys?). Another mission has a wise-cracking Duke murdering forcibly impregnated women while making crass jokes at their expense. DNF isn’t an unscripted yet highly revealing outburst, but it is evidence of a creative process that, over a far too long development period, became insular and fixated on increasingly mean-spirited bile masquerading as ‘jokes’.
Is Duke Nukem’s clueless, outmoded sexism a signifier of larger problems? For the answer to that, we should look in on February 2012, when Capcom devised a week long reality TV show, called Cross Assult, about competitive fighting game play. The effort was silly overall, but the thing that ultimately ruined it was the behavior of the Tekken team’s coach, an amusingly hateful troglodyte named Aris Bakhtanians. During the shoot, and very much on camera, Bakhtanians ‘motivated’ his team with a stream of offensive invective that, while having a smidgen of racism, was largely fixated on being as sexist as possible. This video from day one shows some of of what went down. Note that it becomes extremely hard to watch:
By day five, Bakhtanians had inflicted so much on his team that they began to argue back, prompting one of the most hilarious and disturbing defenses of terrible behavior ever imagined. At one point he interrupted a woman and told her to shut up until ‘the man’ is finished. Bakhtanians also said “The sexual harassment is part of the culture. If you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community… it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude. These things have been established for years.” He went on to insist that it’s unfair for anyone to tell fighting game fans they can’t viciously mock women. “That’s what you’re trying to do to the fighting game community,” he said, “and it’s not right. It’s ethically wrong.”
As Ben Kuchera noted at the time, it might be the first ever recorded instance of someone defending sexual harassment on ethical grounds. But while we might rightly mock Bakhtanians’ hostility and his failure to understand what ethics are, is he wrong? Morally, yes, but factually no. Watch what happened to Anita Sarkeesian just a few months later.