Recently the video game community and industry have been in turmoil so large it’s surprising how little it’s bled over to mainstream media. For those not in the know (without going too deep into well-treaded territory) a game developer and games journalist had a relationship, and many called out that journalistic integrity might have been compromised. Then the ever-burning fire of those who lobby that the entire videogame industry is sexist stepped in and everything devolved into a shouting match. The hashtag #Gamergate has become so done to death that many have become jaded to the whole issue. That’s a shame, because much like leaving the room during an argument when things become too heated, eventually these issues will still have to be dealt with.
Make no mistake these are multiple, separate issues. Many websites including The Escapist have posted their code of conduct in order to define journalistic integrity in gaming going forward, but the issue of sexism in gaming is not as easily fixed. Anita Sarkeesian tries (to varying degrees of success), but sexism is a personal world view. People are slow and stubborn to change their world views, especially when told they’re wrong. With Generation Z being the first generation raised by the generation that created the video game industry, we can either correct our mistakes, or reinforce them. Personally, I’d rather fix things, but that’s just me.
One of the modern attempts to curb sexism is to dissuade any inequality in gender roles. If both sexes are seen as identical, there’s nothing to make fun of. I see that as fundamentally flawed, as it’s the differences that make us stronger and richer as a species. Men and women should be different, and our strengths and weaknesses should be celebrated, not shamed. Studies have shown that women multitask better than men, which I’m sure would give them a gaming advantage. Studies have also shown that men are more visually oriented, which makes them more attracted to video games. There’s no reason both sexes can’t coexist in the gaming community, and no reason gender roles are universally bad things.
I’ve seen the phrase “boys will be boys” come under attack by people who think that the gender role of young males being overly destructive, messy and violent gets a free ride. The idea that if a boy pushes a girl, it’s OK because it’s just what boys do. I happen to have a degree in Journalism, and in regards to journalistic integrity we learn that you can’t make a point without considering the counter-point. Are young girls ever allowed to act less-than-proper, hiding behind the shield of gender roles? Of course they are. “She’s just bullying you because she likes you” comes to mind immediately as something I was told as a child. Girls may not tease in a physical sense, but they are just as aggressive as males. In some cases, being physically roughed up can be less jarring than verbal abuse that might shape emotional scars that last long into adulthood.
Without rambling, I’m trying to paint a big picture here. If women who voice opinions on sexism in gaming get aggressively attacked, that’s wrong. First of all, they’re right. The gaming industry can be sexist, though every time a weak and cherry-picked example is used it hurts their argument. Second of all, you can debate their points much like I did above without threatening to murder their families. Why we live in a world where I have to make that distinction is beyond me. Eliminating or watering down gender roles in children, however, is not going to help this issue.
I submit that “boys will be boys” and the female equivalent is the best possible solution to the issue of sexism that we see today. Gender roles aren’t the enemy any more than a gender could be the enemy. The problem is attaching negative baggage to them, or getting caught up when pure happenstance may reinforce them. A concrete example: if my son happens to dig trains, trucks, and big machinery, is it anyone’s solemn duty to remind him and me that if he were into traditionally female aesthetics like playing dress-up and picking daisies, that it would be OK? No. And his enjoyment perpetuating a gender role is not going to threaten anyone. It should be encouraged that sometimes confrontations can be avoided if we just brush things off as no big deal.
It’s clear that some female characters in gaming were not created to be sexist. Princess Peach is not only never shown as sexualized, but frequently in recent years is a powerful “Save myself” character. If one were to make an argument that women are only there to be rescued by men, Peach would seem a ripe example. However, if we look at her and realize the spirit of her character was not a damsel in distress, but rather a female character that has evolved over the years into a favorite amongst gamers due to her speed (Mario Kart), power (Smash Bros.) and beauty (Cosplay), there’s no reason for anyone to be offended.
I’m not here to say there aren’t sexist characters in gaming. For every Lara Croft and Duke Nukem that gets thrown out there, we should all come together and explain to young kids the pros and cons of these approaches to men and women. Perhaps, if we can raise them to not fear gender roles, but find strength from them, a game journalist and game developer having a relationship won’t even make the headlines. Did he review her game afterwards? If so, was the review unfairly positive/negative? Those are the only questions that should matter. Perhaps if this type of situation occurs in the future, Generation Z will handle it far better than us. They will know that the fact that the game journalist was female doesn’t matter at all, and the fact that she had a relationship with a journalist only matters if his review showed favoritism.
You know, actual journalistic integrity questions.
Also read: Video Games: When are Kids Ready to Kill?