On occasion, I’m sort of worried that my voice is no longer needed, or perhaps that it is too shrill, too aggressive and perhaps too persistent*. But then I see stuff like this article, where it is reported that the first game on a next gen engine won’t even feature playable women, and if you read this editorial by Brenna Hillier, you’ll get the idea that there won’t even be women in the game.
The excuse for this omission of more than half of the human population (reports say that women make up 51% of the population) is story. The story won’t permit using women as playable characters. I might agree if the game was using an already existing IP where women are completely excluded from the world, but this is a case of a new IP for a spanking new generation of consoles. To me, this invalidates BOTH arguments that are usually made around this point:
1. The story won’t allow women
2. Women are too expensive to model and include in our game
“The story won’t allow women”. This argument is about as valid as the related “it’s not historically correct to include women” or “the setting won’t allow women”. First of all – this is a game. It’s not a history book. This is a game. It’s not an actual depiction of a battlefield. This is a game. That means that you can do whatever you please when it comes to the inclusion or exclusion of women. I get that some stories work better with a male protagonist**. I also get that some stories work better with a female protagonist, but those stories are almost never made, are they?***
Usually, the historically correct argument is used in connection to fantasy games build on some bastardised version of actual history. Now, women may not have been abundant on say the battlefield, but they were by no means completely not there as some would have it. A Swedish blog called Kvinnliga krigare (Women warriors) is investigating this “historical truth”, and among other things, has this to say about it (translation by me after the Swedish text):
Under första delen av medeltiden verkar stridande kvinnor ha varit ovanligt, men inte onormalt. Högmedeltiden såg dock en skärpning av samhällets normer, och 1200-talets lärde blir ibland förfärade över vad tidigare generationers kvinnor har haft för sig. Ett exempel är Richilde av Hainaut, som stred och togs tillfånga under slaget vid Cassel 1071. Samtida skribenter rapporterade detta utan omsvep, men en krönikör från Egidios och Bartolomeus tid tvåhundra år senare tycks ha känt ett behov att förklara varför Richilde befann sig på slagfältet. Han skriver att hon var där för att utöva svartkonst, att kasta magiskt pulver på fienden.
During the first part of the Middle Ages it seems women combatants were unusual, but not abnormal. High Middle Ages, however, saw a tightening of the norms of society, and scholars during the 13th century were sometimes horrified at what previous generations of women were up to. One example is Richilde of Hainaut, who fought and was taken prisoner during the Battle of Cassel 1071. Contemporary writers reported this bluntly, but a columnist from the time of Egidio and Bartholomew two centuries later seems to have felt the need to explain why Richilde found herself on the battlefield. He writes that she was there to practice sorcery, to throw magic powder on the enemy.
Regardless of this text, which is by the way researched by an actual historian, and – for the sake of this not turning into “oh but that was discovered by a woman and therefore not valid” thing – a man. Regardless of this, in my humble opinion, saying that a game wherein men wield swords bigger than their bodies, fighting dragons with magic, can not have women due to some idea that this was not historically correct should give it a rest. Nobody with half a brain believes that anyway. The reason that game with the big swords, dragons and magic doesn’t have any women in it (or the women are the enemies or the dragons, or wenches that you can ogle) is because the game developers or publishers:
1. Didn’t even think to include women. You’d be surprised at the amount of surprise going around on occasions where I, or colleagues of mine, have pointed out that yes, this is an interesting story, but all the named characters except this damsel in distress seem to be male. This because not one of the men who wrote the story thought to include a woman in it. For real.
2. Don’t want to include women due to flimsy moral, ethical or other reasons that won’t hold up to scrutiny. (Apparently it’s immoral to hit women. Personally I think it’s pretty immoral to hit men as well, but apparently women are too special to give a good beating. Except for, you know, when it’s domestic violence or violence against prostitutes and they can’t defend themselves.**** This is just othering women. Wrote about that here. Please read that before going all ballistic on me. I also want to point out that I mean no disrespect to victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. I was trying to make a (flippant) point. If you take offence, let me know and I’ll reword the sentence.).
3. Can’t “afford” to put women in the game due to animation budgets. Also, imho, a bullshit argument, because if you include women at the start, the animation budget will allow for women. If you want women in the game, something else will have to not get made. So it’s not about being able to afford something, it’s about priorities, and some people simply aren’t prioritised.
The same thing can be said for the setting argument. Usually, the setting means that there’s warfare of some kind going on, and that the battlefield is no place for women. Perhaps not. So let’s disregard all the women who cross dressed as men to be able to join the military, and look at all the women who served as intelligence officers, nurses, manning anti-aircraft guns, breaking codes etc. Oh, and contemporary armies? Contemporary armies are seeing the value that women can bring to the battlefield. Also it is a game, so it shouldn’t really matter with the realism, should it? Battlefields aside, there are apparently many settings that won’t allow for women, such as, oh I don’t know. Everything.
All of the above are decisions the game developers make or the publishers make. There is nothing random about it. There are several people who have cited creative freedom as a good enough reason to exclude women from the games made. My counter argument is that that same “creative freedom” should include the opportunity to create games with women as protagonists, but there is a huge resistance to women protagonists in games. This in my mind makes that highly valued creative freedom not so free. If we saw the same amount of time, care, money and marketing laid on games with women protagonists, I wouldn’t think that this was a problem. Considering that the gaming industry, in 2014, still finds reasons to exclude women and with that exclusion continues to propagate a male dominated developer and industry environment, I do think it’s a problem. Creative freedom is only freedom if there are no constraints. Currently there are constraints to what is deemed appropriate, selling and marketable.*****
The continued exclusion of women from the games industry and games content is a sexist decision. There are no mitigating circumstances******, only lazy decision making based on an outmoded idea that women/ people of color/ non-heterosexuals aren’t a part of the audience. To me, there are very few stories or settings that can justify the lack of women in a game. To the games industry, anything in a story seems to justify it.
Unless Deep Down comes up with a whooper of a story to explain this, I will remain unconvinced.
* Because, you know, we’re like, all equal now. And btw, why don’t you try to change the world somewhere else, where it’s actually needed and you know, if you shout too much, people will think you’re a rabid feminazi, and you know you have to talk to us so that we understand and please explain feminism again to us (even if we won’t ever listen to anything you say, because you were wrong on the internet some time during 2006 and that invalidates everything you say), and besides the argument is stupid ‘cos you know, we’re like, all equal now. Really.
** Although I’ll be hard pressed to figure out what those stories are. Yes. I will. Perhaps male coming of age stories would be one. Oh, shit. How many young man coming of age stories are there in games? None? Darn it!
*** Remember Me had a hard time finding a publisher that would accept the concept of a female protagonist. This is not uncommon. The entire fucking developer/ publisher world has an enormous resistance to women in games.
***** By this I do not mean that everything should be allowed in games without any kind of scrutiny. We should all be responsible for the choices we make, and those choices should be criticised, analysed and put through the wringer. To me it is imperative that you are responsible and accountable for the choices you make. It’s not “just a game”. It’s a piece of our culture.
****** There might be, but I’ve never seen any.