When I told colleagues that I was going to do some writing about problematic enemies in games, one of the enemies that came up was the Desire Demon in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II.
While I don’t disagree – the Desire Demon is a pretty blatant example of 1. the expectation that all players are men (or that they desire women), and 2. sexualised. Come on. She’s stroking her boobs when she’s talking. She’s also got disproportionately large and perky breasts. And she’s barely dressed.
Pretty obvious what line of thinking she’s coming from, which means it is easy to point at her and unveil the issues with how she’s portrayed, clothed and animated.
In short, it doesn’t take much to see what the issues are. There’s no doubt to what the intentions were or who the intended audience is in this context.
To be entirely fair – we have to call these instances out as well. There’s no reason not to. Sexism is sexism, no matter how it is represented. However, what intrigues me are instances where this is not totally apparent, where it is subtle and subtext and hard to put a finger on. They’re much harder to counter and much easier to write off as “oh it’s just you”.
That’s why digging into the cultural and historical aspect of creatures like the Broodmother or the Banshee is so important to me. They’re icky, but the reason why is hidden under a layer and it takes a bit of peeling those layers away to lay bare the real reason why they’re making us uncomfortable.
The reason I want to do this is personal. For one, I don’t always know how to handle situations with subtle sexism, racism or transphobia, and I want to get better at it. For two, I’m interested in how we function, how we work as human beings and what cultural issues we carry with us.
We are who we are for a reason. I want to find out what that reason is. I think part of this is also a wish to find ways to process some of the things I’ve gone through myself. Subtle sexism in creatures and games are is the equivalent of getting crap assignments at work, it’s being kept out of information loops and then punished for it. It is getting the crap detail when assignments are handed out. It’s being ignored, held back from promotion, having to accomplish two, maybe three times as much as your male colleagues and still have the work valued as less. It is being the token woman and then being punished if you don’t want to play the part of that token woman. It’s being asked not just by colleagues but by HR, asking if you’re certain it’s “not just you”.
I’m not going to pretend that this hasn’t happened to me, or that it doesn’t happen even now to some extent. I’m not going to pretend it hasn’t lost me friends, opportunities, hell – I could argue it lost me my home country.
I’m going to continue peeling. Both at the content aspect of games and the subtle jabs women in male dominated industries goes through all the time.
I’m tired, I’m angry and I’m bitter. I never used to be. The industry made me that way.