A while back an interview with one of the developers for Escape from Tarkov made excuses as to why there were no women in the game. It was attributed to the ever present “realism” and women not being able to handle the stress of battle. The developer later backtracked and said it was all because women fighters didn’t fit into the lore and that they were hard to animate.
Those are the same excuses that are ever present when it comes to gatekeeping, because that’s all it is. To state – in a work of fiction – that women can’t hack it or that the ethnicity most certainly wasn’t mixed in societies in that particular age or in that particular situation or that sexuality isn’t important or that a negative portrayal of sexuality isn’t important is all about gatekeeping. “If you want to get inside the gates, please conform to the accepted norms in our gatekept environment.”
Breaking down the walls is met with the same old arguments. Let’s break all this down to clarify what this really means.
The definition of canon according to the Oxford dictionary is:
- A general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged.
- A collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine.
In other words, canon is the official version of something. In literature as in other culture, the canon is a list of works deemed most influential and most valued.
Perhaps you’d think that the canon is a fair description of cultural highlights, impartially provided to us by a collective consciousness and therefore completely blameless and perfect? Well, not really. Someone has to provide the canon, and while it’s (probably) true that canon within any given area surfaces as a collaboration and a joint effort, the question you have to ask yourself is “who has the power and influence to create the canon in the first place?”
The people with power and influence are typically not the people who need to be represented. The people with power and influence most likely already are.
The reason I bring up canon is of course that this goes for all areas of life where there’s a supposed established truth. The question to keep asking is of course “established by who?” and what purposed that might possibly serve.
- The activity of controlling and usually limiting, general access to something.
- A function or system that controls access or operations to files, computers, networks, or the like.
Representation matters in that it defines the people, phenomenon or culture represented. If I’m constantly represented as the hero, I’ll feel welcome, powerful, accepted etc. On the other hand, if some aspect of me, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, functionality, isn’t represented at all or represented in a way that’s stereotypical or negative I will feel unwelcome, powerless, ignored, etc.
The majority (or as in gaming culture, vocal minority) determine what the norms of the group are. Again, the people with power determine who’s allowed into a group.
Women can’t handle the stress of battle
Neither can men. There’s a book written by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman called On Killing. It goes through all the preparatory dehumanisation of the enemy and desensitisation that a soldier must go through to be able to kill in the first place, and then it outlines the physical and psychological toll the act of killing takes on an individual. Every book on the subject that I’ve read, and I’ve read quite a few, starts with dehumanising the target, desensitising the person committing the killing and disassociation or psychological trauma of the person who killed. “Women can’t handle the stress” should be translated to “anyone who has a shred of empathy can’t handle the stress”. By the logic applied, games should only allow psychopaths to be player characters.
It’s not historically correct
Is history even correct? How do we know? The answer is of course that we don’t and that it most likely isn’t. Our past is curated by the power of knowledge. You need to be able to write or paint or communicate in other ways than the spoken word in order for your story to persist beyond a few generations. So who had the knowledge to communicate in writing? Our past is curated by the people in power. History is written by the victor, meaning that before history is even committed to paper, it goes through a process of selection, and the people in power will want to look their best.
Historians are biased. There’s no such thing as an objective truth in history. Let’s use a king from my country’s past as an example. Christian II of Denmark was king of Denmark, Norway and during a short period of time over Sweden. The Danish people knew him as Christian the Good. Swedes knew him as Christian the Tyrant.
History is a constant curation and negotiation. It’s fluid and something we constantly discover as we learn more and more about our past. To state that something is “historically correct” os to misunderstand how history is created, discovered and curated.
My point, if there is one, is that we’re constantly making choices. Those choices are what decide if marginalised groups are represented or not. Not any canon or supposed historical correctness. Both history and canon or lore go through a process of selection.
You can choose to open up or you can choose be a gatekeeper, but never try to give the impression that the choice was dictated by history or circumstances out of your control. Everything we do is a choice – own it.