Quick Hit: Sexism In Games Bingo

Tired of hearing the same arguments regarding sexism in games? Here’s a sexism in games bingo card by @fireholly99.

Trigger Warning: Includes mention of violence against women.

Additional Warning: This card has been copied verbatim and includes slurs and other derogatory language that we wouldn’t normally allow here because I felt it was more effective when allowed to parrot inappropriate comments than it would be if I reworded. This is not going to be extended to the comments, however, so please adhere to our comment policy there.

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But men are all super-buff, they’re sexually objectified too! But it’s not FOR women. If they can’t deal with it, they shouldn’t be here. She might play games, but she’s not a REAL gamer, she’s just attention whoring. Chainmail bikinis are unrealistic, but’s not realistic for a woman to be fighting anyway. YOU’RE the one who hates women – you’re saying they can’t be both sexy AND tough.

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But they call her a ‘bitch’ because they’re the bad guys. No-one gives a shit about this sexism stuff, I’m just here for the review scores. I am a feminist and love women because they are inherently too nurturing and responsible to play video games. The only reason a guy could have to care about sexism is so women will think he’s sensitive and want to fuck him. But we have equality, there are nonsexualised female characters, like… Samus except when she takes off her Suit…

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But there are sexualised male characters, like… uh, Marcus Fenix is sexy, right? I don’t know, I’m not a fag. Men want to WATCH desirable women and women want to BE desirable women, so no-one wants sexy male characters except gay guys. GET BACK IN THE KITCHEN AND MAKE ME A SANDWICH There are women who get their genitals ritually mutilated and you’re complaining about video game boobies? So you think all female characters should be ugly and dress in burqas.

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Girl who likes video games? You only have interests because you’re not thin enough to have a real boyfriend. Yeah, the story, dialogue and character design is all sexist, but everyone can enjoy the amazing gameplay. As a woman, it doesn’t bother me, so no-one else is allowed to be bothered. Why should I care about this so-called ‘unfair’ depiction of women when women have more rights than men nowadays and feminists are trying to destroy capitalism? But trash talk is normal on XBL. Women are just too sensitive to rape threats and feigned masturbation.

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How can it be sexist when women in REAL history were their husband’s property? How can it be sexist when women in REAL life are weaker and wear less clothing than men? If you didn’t want attention for being a girl you wouldn’t be using a female name in your tag or speak with a female voice. Everyone knows ‘sex sells’, and the developers are just making things they think will sell. But I’ve suffered oppression too, as a black/ poor/ gay/ nerdy/ girlfriendless MAN! What about my feelings? It’s just a game. No-one cares.

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30 thoughts on “Quick Hit: Sexism In Games Bingo

  1. Drew

    I’m not sure I’m comfortable with white/rich/hetero privilege being equated with “nerdiness” or the inability to get a girlfriend.

    1. Terri

      And you’re comfortable with the rest of the card? The whole point of it is to make people uncomfortable and thus make them think, you know.

    2. MadGastronomer

      But white, rich, and hetero privilege are endemic in geek culture, and so the privilege and privilege-denying attitudes are standard parts of all of these conversations, which is exactly what the card depicts.

    3. Holly

      My main goal in writing this bingo card was to show how stupid these arguments are, while at the same time only using ones I have actually seen being used in discussions. And I have seen internet commenters cry ‘but nerdy men with no girlfriends only see bad representation of themselves in popular culture, how is that form of oppression any worse than sexism?’ And I obviously don’t have to point out why that argument is so hilarious.

      I do realise that grouping it with appeals to forms of genuine kyriarchy might make it seem that I’m belittling those arguments – obviously, a commenter complaining about awful depictions of black people in games has a legitimate point in a way that a commenter complaining about awful depictions of nerdy men doesn’t. But the point that I’m trying to make is that, in discussions of sexism in gaming, it is semantically the same argument – it is a derail. There’s all sorts of terrible misrepresentation and clubhousing going on in video games and all of it – even the ‘harmless’ stuff like stereotyping of men who don’t have girlfriends – is worth analysis. It may expose a deeper cultural malaise. But a sexism discussion is about sexism, and saying ‘who cares about that issue, let’s talk about this!’ is not a welcome contribution and therefore a nice fat square on my bingo card.

      1. Angel H.

        But the point that I’m trying to make is that, in discussions of sexism in gaming, it is semantically the same argument – it is a derail.

        It’s only a derail if you assume that no black/poor/gay/nerdy women exist. And as a woman who is also black, poor, *and* nerdy it hurts that my existence isn’t considered relevant to the discussion.

        1. Holly

          The key word isn’t ‘black’ or ‘poor’ or ‘gay’ or ‘nerdy’ or ‘girlfriendless’ – it’s ‘man’. My bingo square strawman (and the real people he is based on) was insisting that because he has experienced some other form of oppression, discussion about poor treatment of women is therefore not as important as the issues that personally affect him, or, more specifically in the cases of ‘nerdy’ and ‘girlfriendless’, the way the issue personally affects him (sexism that forces him to aspire to a ridiculous category of what a Real Man is).

          The square isn’t about saying ‘yeah, and as a black/poor/gay/nerdy person, this feminist issue we are discussing affects me in this particular way’, which is what you would be saying if we were having a discussion about bad treatment of women in gaming culture. It’s about saying ‘why are you getting wound up about bad treatment of women when I am personally offended by this bad treatment of nerdy men?’

        2. Angel H.

          But by grouping them the way you did, you’re equating the very real oppression of Black/poor/gay men with that of the “oppression” of men without a girlfriend. Of course men have male privilege as a whole, but the Black/poor/gay men of your example share the same oppressions as some of us women.

  2. Char

    I may not get a full house, but I could certainly get a line. I’m pretty sure most of my female friends could too.

  3. Jamie

    Yup, I have heard literally EVERY one of those, more than once, in discussions about sexism and games. Online and off. So sad how little these boys actually know about sexism. The only thing worse is when these arguments come from the mouths of other women. Internalized sexism FTL.

  4. Spittle Gauze

    I am cis-male, but I played a female gnome in EQ1 for 7 years. I found her extremely cute in a non-sexual way and I was interested to see what it was like to be female. Until my guild got vent, everyone thought I was rl female. I can attest that basically all these things get said and worse. The crap some guys said to me in an attempt to flirt was so pathetic it made me hate men at times. I learned an awful lot during that time and gained a lot of empathy to the crap women must have to suffer through every day. I sincerely hope “real life” interactions with men are not that consistently painful for women!

    1. Terri

      Let me tell you, sometimes it only gets worse when they can hear your voice. Since they can’t compliment any other meaningless physical part of you, you get a bazillion “you got a purty voice” variations as well as everything else. And all the people who weren’t *sure* you were female start coming out of the woodwork and wanting to talk. That’s not just the “hey baby, wanna cyber?” types, but the shier sweeter ones who just don’t have any female friends and really want to know what they can do to fix that. How many times have you had to listen to the “I don’t understand why girls don’t like me; you’re a girl, you must understand!” speech? I mean, I get it, but sometimes I just want to play a game and not play therapist, you know?

      But on the other hand, at least I no longer have to listen the the “GIRL = Guy In Real Life” crap when they can’t deny what I sound like on voice chat, and they tone down a lot of the other overt sexism when they *know* I’m female, so I still generally try to game while obviously female at least some of the time.

  5. Rafi

    Hey guys, really like the site, but I felt like I had to chime in on this one.

    “But men are all super-buff, they’re sexually objectified too!”

    Men are sexually objectified in games too. Take a look at Dante, Snake, or Final Fantasy (As a whole) if you’d like examples. Unrealistic images of men are not uncommon in media, and while it isn’t nearly as big a problem as the objectification of women in games, it is annoying for both genders. I like this card, I think it’s funny, but I feel like if you want to make a point and help the cause, it’s probably best not to poke fun at people who are actually attempting to help you cause.
    Aside from that, this list was hilarious.

    1. Terri

      I wasn’t going to let this through because it’s *really* 101, but I’m feeling generous and you may not be the only one who genuinely doesn’t understand why this isn’t an appropriate response.

      This is a case of derailing: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Derailment

      (Or more sarcastically: http://derailingfordummies.com/ or something like http://www.stfuparentsblog.com/ shows derailment in a completely different context.)

      It is definitely true that men can be sexually objectified in games. But this is the equivalent of going to a talk on better funding for food banks and yelling out “BUT I’M HUNGRY RIGHT NOW” — it may be true, and it may be a real, long-term problem for you, but it’s derailing the discussion from something else that is also relevant and important. But once would be fine; it gets really awkward when you have several people stepping into every food bank meeting and yelling this repeatedly. That’s basically why it made the bingo card: it’s brought up so often that it makes it difficult to discuss the issue of women in games.

      So if you really want to make a point and help the cause, bringing up related-but-not-entirely-relevant facts… really isn’t helping.

      It’s actually such a general problem in feminism that there’s an entire feminism101 article about the “What about the mens?!” phenomenon:

      http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/phmt-argument/

      Incidentally, there’s a whole series of posts about how the objectification of men in games is different due to very different cultural contexts. Not necessarily less harmful, but very differently harmful and not nearly as equivalent as they may seem. I highly recommend doing some searches for these — I imagine you’ll find it very interesting if you care about the issue.

    2. Michelle Miller

      For the record, objectification of women usually replaces basic character development. Thus, as long as it has boobies that shake when she runs, we don’t need to develop a complex character for players to care about.

      Objectification of men does not usually replace basic character development. This is why most movies, television shows, video games and oh my goodness everything else is written with a male protagonist or with a male perspective.

      Women can’t be sexy and interesting, or rather, women don’t NEED to be sexy and interesting in video games.

      Men must be at least interesting, with sexiness optional, or the video game franchises won’t make more than a dime or two–if they’re lucky.

      All of this is not to detract from Terri’s apt discussion of derailing. Yes, men are objectified, too, but we’re talking about the objectification of women, which deserves its time in the spotlight. Just because we’re taking a break from talking about men all the time (see: Bechdel Test) to talk about women doesn’t mean we won’t ever talk about men again.

      1. Liz

        I’d like to add that just because a character is meant to be physically attractive, doesn’t mean that it’s “objectified”. I don’t think there are any cases where male characters are objectified in video games. (They are never presented just as a sex object.)

    3. MadGastronomer

      In addition to everything they said, objectified male characters are not generally designed for the female gaze in the way that objectified female characters are designed for the male gaze. Instead, the male characters are also designed for the male gaze, making them something male players want to be instead of something female players want to have sex with. There’s a very real distinction here, one that can be very hard to see because basically everything in our culture is designed to appeal to the male gaze instead of the female gaze, to the point where it can be difficult even for women to envision what the female gaze wants to see.

    4. Amanda6

      A big difference, for me, between the sexualization of women vs. men in games is the idea of agency, and whose fantasy is being actually being portrayed.

      I could write a quite extensive essay on this, as this phenomenon isn’t really limited to games — it’s eternally present in film and TV as well.

      Basically, the idea is that the male hero, despite being super buff and possibly oversexualized, still has agency — a purpose, a goal — he drives the story forward. Because he has a characterization and purpose beyond looking hot, he actually isn’t simply an object of (female) fantasy. Men may not identify with him physically, but they can still identify with his character.

      The female characters in many games and films, by contrast, don’t have much of a role beyond being a sexual interest for the men on the screen and for the men watching. Generally, they don’t drive the story forward, and they’re not even given substantial characterization; in fact it really seems that the amount of time developing their characters pales in comparison to the amount of time spent developing their mammary tissues. Now in contrast with the male characters, there isn’t much there for the women to relate to. We certainly don’t look like those women in games, and we aren’t given much of a personality to relate to or identify with either. She’s not a real, fleshed-out person, merely an object of male fantasy. And that’s why it’s a much greater problem when women are hypersexualized; that’s simply all she is — sexy.

      What you end up with, basically, is men and women in stories that are both created for men.

      1. Terri

        And not to say that these aren’t valuable posts and all, but see how it partially hijacked the discussion to be about that one point that includes men? Just saying.

      2. oldfeminist

        Men being “super buff” is not actually a turn on for many women. It’s more of a signifier for being strong and capable. Big boobs don’t in and of themselves have any special powers.

  6. kdanger

    Dang, where was this thing during the last argument I had about character representation in games? I’m pretty sure I got bingo at least twice during that one.

  7. seta

    What exactly is the end game for the feminist gamer? In your mind what does a perfect game look like? I mean how do the characters look and act? I’m not making fun of you or anything, I just genuinely want to know.

    1. Terri

      There isn’t just one answer to this. But a good place to start would be avoiding overdone tropes such as there only being one main female character, that the female character always needs saving, making sure “boobs” aren’t used in place of character development and not pulling stunts like using rape as a shorthand for “something bad happened to this character.”

      So in a lot of ways, it’s not really that different from what makes a really interesting game in general: avoiding tropes and cliches or turning them on their heads tends to be a goal in all sorts of storytelling. (And many people would like to see fewer of these tropes in movies, TV, books, etc. too.) Go through something like TV Tropes and try avoiding every one you can find related to gender and see where that puts you to start.

      For example of where a game can succeed in turning tropes regarding gender upside down, try reading this article about how Mass Effect can be a very interesting game from that viewpoint: http://blog.twowholecakes.com/2011/06/shepard-aint-white-playing-with-race-and-gender-in-mass-effect/

  8. exhipigeonist

    The responses on the bingo card very strongly resemble those mentioned by Karen Healey regarding women in comics. (If anyone’s interested, you can hear Karen’s keynote address from the Tights and Tiaras conference here – hosted as a podcast on the Women on the Line national community radio website.)

    Around the 21:30 mark, Karen shares some real-life responses to concerns over the portrayal of females in comics. My favourite* of these was was, “sexism is a convention of the genre”. It’s simply astounding to think that some of these justifications go unquestioned.

    Anyway, just thought I’d share and recommend the talk for anyone interested in the clear parallels between the portrayals of people in games and other fictional forms.

    (Just did a quick search of the site and it appears this was linkspammed here on September 17. Oh well, I guess it doesn’t hurt to remind people about the podcast.)

    * Actually, no, ‘favourite’ is entirely the wrong word here.

  9. Alexa

    “Girl who likes video games? You only have interests because you’re not thin enough to have a real boyfriend.”

    Um… I don’t think I could be much angrier than that makes me.

    1. Terri

      Seriously. And if, as a woman, you respond that you already have a boyfriend, half the time the follow-up is “Oh, well, he must have been the one who got you into gaming” (hell no; I’m the one who drags my boyfriend into games more often than not. And more to the point, I was gaming years before I even met him. I am an adult after all who’s had plenty of time to define her own interests.)

  10. Jayn

    To be entirely fair to Samus, I believe the suit coming off is a fairly recent event. I don’t recall seeing it until SSBB. In the Metroid games not only is her gender a non-issue, that was the reveal at the end of the original. Her character design is deliberately asexual. Though, that kind of proves the point–even the most non-sexualised females get this treatment.

    The square left of center could easily have its genders reversed. Besides, you also run into the issue of giving women unrealistic expectations. Last time I got into this discussion with a guy he had to point out that he had active female friends with big racks. Okay, some women can have that, but most need silicon.

    The part that frustrates me most, though, is that even games with very free character creation are still designed with the straight male audience in mind. Your character can look however you want, but ze’ll still be hanging out at the strip joint watching a girl pole dance.

  11. wundergeek

    A little late to the party, but OMG YES. I saw every one of these many, many times in my time of writing my blog. I wish I’d had one of these earlier!

  12. Jessica Marie

    Very late to the party.
    All I can really reply with is, ‘Ugh. Yes’. Followed with intense frustration.

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