I’m sure you’ve heard it at some point. That feminists are having a negative impact on the creativity of game developers. That whenever a game is seen as “politically correct” someone is there to point out that this isn’t the choice of the developers, but some form of hidden agenda, created to make games “woke”1 meaning that they lean into a left wing agenda of political correctness gone too far.
Too far in the context of games seems to be that they take representation of Black, Latin, Asian, mixed race, trans and non-binary people seriously. That they try not to be sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic.
For some, this is equal to holding up a big red flag in front of a bull. The constant complaint is that games should not be political, games should be “historically correct”2 and there should be no qualms about including stereotypes or hypersexualized women.
In short, nothing should stand between the not-so-young men who game and their fantasies.
A part of why a (lot of) players are sensitive to critique of the content in games is probably because games and the content of games came under fire by politicians in the 90’s and was considered a possible violent influence on the children who played them. I think even the lido-narrative schism that occurred in the early 2000’s where narrative was place opposite to gameplay and several game scholars argued around if game mechanics were more important than story and narrative.
I’ve been reading several books from that period and it’s obvious that the discussion around story is being sidelined and robbed of importance. “No, no, the fact that you play as a stereotypical, criminal, Black man is not important! The game mechanics are! You can do anything!”
While I’m convinced that the lack of caring for narrative in games come from this conflict, I’m equally convinced that players have been taught not to care or discuss story based on this, for the simple reason that content and narrative is the first thing that’s attached by opponents to video games.
Instead of acknowledging the cultural carrier that stories are, we wave them off by stating that what you do in game, the gameplay, is more important than the narrative.
Sometimes we go so far as to state that not even representation and the visuals of a game make any difference. It’s just the quality of images rendered – as in how high framerate, how many polygons, how efficient is the GPU usage – that matter.
To my mind this is an attempt to divert attention from the fact that games – as in digital games – still have som issues as culture carriers, and that they represent a way of looking at men and the role of masculinity as something powerful and uncomplicated.
There’s no room for emotion, it’s about violence as a method to solve all problems.
Even in lauded games such as God of War 4 or The Last of Us, expectations on the emotional development of men is so low. Kratos is so toxic towards his son at the start of the game that I feel that even if he does improve towards the end, what does this say about our expectations on men as fathers?
Men who talk about “babysitting” their own children have higher expectations on themselves than Kratos who is supposedly a power fantasy for men. In addition to this, when God of War 4 came out it was somewhat derided for the topic, and nicknamed Dad of Boy.
To be honest I kind of lost track of my original intention which this text, which was to talk about how us feminists are ruining games. Obviously, I’m of the opinion that we’re not. I believe that we need to shine a light not just on the content of games, the graphics, the narrative, the power fantasies fulfilled, but also on the mechanics.
As Brenda Romero has shown in her “Mechanics is the message” games, mechanics are also a powerful culture carrier, not because of pure math but of the context in which the mechanics are placed.
Loading yellow meeples into a toy train car wouldn’t mean anything without the horrific backdrop of the Holocaust.
Killing prostitutes after you had sex with them in order to get your money back in GTA might not have been an issue if women hadn’t had a long history of not even being viewed as people.
I know we don’t want to admit this in gaming culture, but the resistance to change and evolution is more often than not an artificial condition, placed on developers from outside sources. Yes there are problems in game development, but most of the time when a developers decides to change things up, it’s not because of “woke” outside forces. It’s driven by a desire to make games more accessible even to those of us not normally overly or positively represented.
- Woke was originally used as a way to warn people to stay alert against police brutality, and it began as a watch word for Black Americans, and even earlier as a call to global Black citizens to. Become more socially and politically aware. According to vox.coms article, Lead Belly used the phrase in 1931 to warn of the dangers Black people faced.
- Meaning for the most part that no women are allowed.