#3. Sexualized Violence
"Rape culture" is the normalization of sexual violence against women, treating it like something that just happens and blaming or shaming the victims. You see it in the news: If you can replace "rape" with "rain" and the story still works, that's rape culture. Was the woman wearing too little? Out too late? Would she have been fine if she'd stayed at home reading a nice book on etiquette for ladies? When a story focuses on anything the victim was doing (look for words like "party girl") instead of how the rapist was raping, that's rape culture. If victims truly justified crimes against them based on where they were, what they were wearing, and what they were showing off, the entire country would descend on Wall Street to mug anyone with a BMW.
"Three stars!?! Bullshit! If he didn't want it, he shouldn't have left his house in an M-Class."
In video games, this normalization reduces rape to a special effect to shock the player, motivate the hero, establish the villain, or even make a joke, with no more thought given to the victim than to an empty bullet casing. It's something that only happens to women, a subtle punishment just for daring to be women. When games mirror this mode of violence, it's proble-fucked-up-matic and serves to further encourage this type of mentality and attitude toward rape.
In Heavy Rain, Madison Paige is the journalist sidekick whose story is introduced after a nude shower scene with her running around in her apartment in her underwear trying to hide from two masked men who want to kill her for reasons. She is thrown around, spread eagled, panty shotted, punched, pinned, and murdered. But it was all a dream! Which is never mentioned again! A dream within a video game, two levels of freedom to do whatever they want, and the game decided, "Well, what I'd really use Inception for is terrifying and killing near-naked women."
Your mind is the scene of the sex crime.
In the recent demo Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, Pig Butcher approaches the only woman in the demo with the screen ordering "FINISH HER" and drops his pants. Then the director screams "Cut!" Of course they wouldn't rape a woman! They'd just threaten to rape a woman, which makes it hilarious! Because the most horrifying thing that can happen to a woman isn't a real issue, it's just a game, it was a joke, don't take it so serious, and now you understand rape culture.
We expected more from you, "Pig Butcher."
#2. Girls Are a Class
Most games fill out their cast with stereotypes: the intelligent tech geek, the heavy gunner, the explosives expert, and the girl. Because sticks of C4 are less specialist equipment than ovaries are. The girl's gender is her entire character design, personality, and motivation, and she always wears less clothing than everyone else, even when they're part of the exact same uniformed military unit.
She'll show off flesh if they have to give her some just to do so.
She's often stuck with communications, the combat equivalent of being a secretary, or as a medic there to nurse the big brave boys better when they have boo-boos. She also often has great big boo-boos. Men get on with saving the world, women get on with telling you what to do, nursing your wounds, and basically being mother figures you're allowed to ogle.
Don't worry, she's rewarded with a spinoff game where she wears even less clothes.
The worst effect is how it turns female characters into a box to be ticked instead of half the human race. Once you have a girl, singular, you can get back to making the real characters. Because everyone in the game is male by default. They're guys unless they have a specific reason not to be, and that reason is usually banging a guy. It's such backward sexism that you half expect your stubbly Y chromosome to start the game by getting his guns out of difficult-to-open jars on a high shelf behind some spiders.
#1. The Real World
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images News/Getty Images
We all know that the threats in video games are imaginary. The real world is far less flammable and isn't being invaded by aliens, and the deadly ninja is almost extinct.
Tragically, the way they're impossible to find in the dark makes mating hopeless in the real world.
The only exception is sexism. Which is far worse in the real world, especially in the video game industry. Real women face death threats for saying that virtual women shouldn't be abused so much. Anita Sarkeesian, author of Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs. Women, received more online hatred than President Mbasogo for just wanting to talk about these issues. The idea of the "fake gamer girl" is based on the assumption that video games are only for men, that girls are only doing it to impress men, and such silly darlings must now prove themselves to men. Which turns video games into a more childishly phallocentric game than "Pull out your pant pockets and pretend to be an elephant." Cosplayers are blamed for the sexual harassment they receive at gaming conventions. It's like conventions looked at the rape culture of victim-blaming and decided to create a tutorial level.
If you don't believe this is a problem, spend five minutes reading Fat, Ugly or Slutty? or #1reasonwhy to learn about the shit women put up with every day. #1reasonwhy panels at gaming expos are quickly becoming women-friendly spaces where sexism and gender can be discussed without fear of harassment or protest.
So where do you go from being bombarded with all of this frightening and uncomfortable information? For starters, you share it! Spread it around like wildfire to anyone who claims to care about games as a medium of artistic expression and fun.
Next, you listen! Anytime you find yourself wanting to argue against a woman's narrative of sexism in the industry, or how she reads another character, listen. Chances are she knows what she's talking about! If someone is telling you about what it's like to be them, and not you, they know more than you about that. Real people are not cutscenes: You can't just mash the controller to skip them and get back to being the undisputed male center of the universe.
Finally, you allow people to criticize games and gender in narratives and allow the discussion to continue within game spaces without derailing the conversation. This is the best way we can learn from each other and improve the future of gaming. If someone is trying to prevent a discussion of a problem, they are that problem.