Feminists do things wrong

We are essentially a social commentary blog. We tend to grab relevant somethings that pass through our individual radar and put them up for discussion. As part of this, I noticed and wrote a quick hit critique of the character profiles listed for an indy game called “Puzzlebots” last Wednesday.

I’ve since had several personally addressed emails from people involved with Puzzlebots, including the game designer, assuring me that the game is not as bad as the product pages sounded to me. I still have not played the game nor spoken to anyone who has, but I hence publicly apologise to the team for analyzing the game without first playing it.

This apology does not, as much as I wish it could, negate the issues I had with the marketing of the game as they were on Wednesday. In my opinion, the marketing text is utterly irrelevant to how the game actually plays since it is supposed to convince me that I want to play it. The marketing is why I wrote the post.

Before I go further, I acknowledge that some of the text that this post now is discussing has changed, but it remains that the grievances I held with the text as it was last Wednesday are real issues that do genuinely deter me personally from choosing to play games.

As I described in an email later last week to Erin, the designer of the game, the primary issue I have with the marketing of the game is how the women characters are described. Women characters are 2 of the 6 humans in the game, which I really like; it is terrific that it is more than a token woman. My joy at this is however destroyed at reading that both women is either the recipient of or holds desire for “The Straight Man’s Gaze“, and that these are features of her character which take up half of her description.

This echos the expectation that an unfortunate number (and vocal minority) of men within the geek communities I frequent (or frequently hear tales of) hold. That expectation is that women partake in the geeky community either because they are looking for husbands” (desire the gaze) or to “make the community sexy” (are decoration to be gazed upon).

And that’s what hurts. We have this game that at a glance looks really awesome. Multiple woman roboteers! Sweet! That means it could really easily pass the bechdel test; it has two actual women who have actually made robots! And… they are given poor descriptions focussing on a man’s desires within a game which had (at the time of posting the quick hit, not any more) a story that posited the question: “Will Zander win the affections of the pretty new scientist?”, and the buzz was killed.

Here is the thing; all the bloggers here at Geek Feminism do actually understand that getting called out on shit really does suck. It is even suckier when you think you are already doing the right thing. The puzzlebots team have done the right thing by avoiding tokenism, and kudos to them for that. But in the same breath they have used typical stereotypedstrong female character” archetypes and scenarios that (unintentionally?) markets the game to heterosexual men.

See, that’s how easy it is to do or say sexist (or other *ist) things; Even a self-identified feminist game designer such as Erin is plenty capable of using tried and triumphed typical archetypes. It certainly does not make her a failure as a gamer or a feminist. However, at some point there really does need to be (at minimum) a recognition that just because the scenarios are common throughout various mediums, it doesn’t change how much repeating them impacts on the perceptions of women’s roles in geeklands and especially in STEM based fields.

The members of the Geek Feminism blog community call each other out all the time for anything ranging from classism to actual real genuine sexism itself. We call each other out because we fuck up too, and when we fuck up we accept it. We accept our fuck ups and learn from them because we realize that Feminism, it turns out, is really quite hard.

Feminism is so deity forsaken hard, and if it was not so hard, then it would be so over already. But no matter how easy it is for even us to fall for the trappings of the internalized sexism each and every single one of us has, letting something you notice pass by is still tacit support for that stance, and not calling that shit out because it is probably a genuine mistake sucks even more in the long run. For everyone.

Commenting note: We have a comment policy here which means we will delete comments which are anti-feminist, abusive, or otherwise inappropriate at our sole discretion. Now you know.

3 thoughts on “Feminists do things wrong

  1. Katherine

    It’s got so that I don’t even bother playing a game if the description bugs me. Every second short game out there has “go rescue teh princess” as it’s sole plot point, and I’m tired of it. It’s on games that don’t even need a plot! It’s in the description of games that have absolutely no plot in the game and only a vague relationship to what the description said anyway!

    Why not let the player think up the plot if you don’t need one? Or the relationships between the characters if they don’t affect the game?

    1. Melissa Post author

      Yeah, that’s pretty much where I’m at. The character descriptions for this game really shit me (you might have guessed). Here’s this woman character who is defined half by a stereotype about her race and the other half is about who she’s fawning for. Just… ugh.

      As a point of hilarity, when they changed the pages around the other day, they’ve gone and made Astrid’s description even worse by adding more information about Zander to it. The logic at play here boggles me.

  2. RedSonja

    Well, what other way is there to describe a woman except in terms of a man?

    /snark

    Excellent point about learning not to be defensive and to constantly re-examine our privilege. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a fundamental part of being a mature adult. And not being an asshole.

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