Let's get this out of the way right now: The only reason I don't have more game consoles hooked to my TV is because I'm out of ports on the back for cables to plug into, and I don't want to have to get off the sofa to switch over. I've been playing video games since the Carter administration. So do not compare me to Roger "I never play video games yet dismiss them as worthless" Ebert here. Just... don't. I would have taken my SNES as my date to senior prom if they had let me.
But the thing is, I grew up. Gaming didn't.
Why? Why is it that of all my many hobbies--reading, motocross, Gun Kata--only gaming lowers my sense of self worth? Maybe it's because...
5We Can't Shake the "Lonely, Anti-Social Virgin" Stereotype
Oh, look. Somebody has launched a goddamned service where you pay women to play video games with you. Eight bucks for 10 minutes.
Creepily ogling girls should be free, like air. Or porn.
For that amount, she'll chat with you, or even let you look at her on webcam while you play games and awkwardly flirt. Afterward you get to rate the girl on her, "hotness, gaming skill, and flirtiness."
On the scale of awkward social interactions, I'm going to guess these sessions rank right up there with a men's room conversation with a stranger at the very next urinal, while the stranger is pooping in it. There isn't an industrial disinfectant on the market that could make a woman feel clean again after a day of doing this. So, here's what I can't wrap my mind around:
Everybody plays video games now, right? My mom plays them. Yet, there is still a "if you have touched a video game controller, you have never touched a boob" stigma attached. It's so universally believed that somebody put up a whole lot of capital to start a business cashing in on it. And damn, do us gamers ever play the part. Get us on chat or an Xbox Live headset with a female and suddenly we're drunk on puberty juices.
Here's something I bet you didn't know: Two thirds of online gamers are women, according to one study. If you're thinking that doesn't match your experience at all, it's because they either avoid male-dominated games or they go undercover--70 percent of them intentionally choose male avatars so they don't have to put up with our "TITS OR GTFO" bullshit. That's just sad.
"But wait!" you say, "Everybody takes shit in online games! It's not just women!" Oh, I know. Our inability as a community to demonstrate any kind of human social skills extends in all directions.
Somehow that doesn't make me feel better.
I spent years putting up with the "gamers are pale loners crouched in the dark among Mountain Dew bottles and pizza boxes" stereotype--one that persists right up to the main character in Zombieland. Now that's transitioned to "gamers are all 17-year-old douchebags." That's not an improvement.
Of course, one problem is...
4The Industry Thinks We're All 17-Year-Old Douchebags
I'm no prude; I'm the guy who made my publisher use a font where all the T's look like uncircumcised dongs. But I'm also an adult, with a wife. A homeowner who works very hard to maintain something that looks like dignity to people who catch a glimpse of it from passing cars.
But it's hard for me to maintain my self-image as a mature, upstanding member of the community when I sit down to enjoy my favorite hobby and see stuff like this (WARNING: massively Not Safe for Work). That clip is from God of War 3, one of the best-reviewed titles of this generation. This "Rated 'M' for 'Mature'" title features a minigame where you, the God of War, come across Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and boning. You walk in on her in a giggling naked lesbian threesome:
She then casts aside her two female lovers to invite you to her bed. You crawl in and the camera pans away. We hear moans and ooh's and ah's as button prompts appear, walking you through the process of thrusting your gray and red erection in and out, bringing Aphrodite to orgasm. Meanwhile, the camera focuses on the two rejected topless females across the room, who are now watching and fondling each other's bodies while mewling admiring phrases like:
"If it's this good watching, just imagine!"
"Is he going to...."
"By the gods!"
Eventually they get so aroused from the spectacle that they turn their lust on each other, and start having lesbian sex on the floor.
Again, "Mature" is the rating, and I've come to learn that "Mature" in video game land means "teenage male." So here we are again with the stereotype, the games themselves selling the kind of sex fantasy that appeals to specifically to males who have never actually had a relationship with a female.
When you're in your mid-teens, hormones thundering through your system, popping wheelies and doing donuts in your brain, you tend to think of women as giggling titty support systems who exist only to give you something to masturbate to. Then we actually get to know some real women and grow out of it.
Gaming has never grown out of it. I pop in Street Fighter IV and my very first match is against a grown woman in a Japanese schoolgirl fetish costume.
But hey, what about games where the female is the hero? You know, like Bayonetta, the woman who seductively sucks on a lollipop during cut-scenes, whose special moves require her to get naked.
This would be the game where the modeler boasts about how lovingly they crafted the character's ass.
Then you have Resident Evil 5, where you can control Sheva Alomar, a strong, heroic, capable African woman...
...and your reward for beating the game is you get to make her dress like this:
Again, I have no problem with putting sex or sexuality in entertainment. Sex is part of life, so it should naturally be part of our movies and TV shows and games. But these are the digital equivalent of inflatable sex dolls. It's embarrassing and insulting, not because I'm a staunch feminist, but because I don't like the assumption it's making about me (that I'm an emotionally stunted, sexually frustrated teenage male). It's like even award-winning video games have the sensibility of made-for-Cinemax B movies. Maybe that's because...