For the time being, I’m not going to address the “Racist” accusation here. I haven’t played Watch Dogs and haven’t read enough about it to make any kind of an educated statement about that. That leaves the sexist accusations. The general consensus that I’ve seen is that all too often, players aren’t allowed to play as a female protagonist and are instead forced to play as a male, or choose from a selection of males (in multiplayer). I’ve sort of hit on this before in a Top 8 post, but it’s still going strong.
First of all, what I’ve never understood about this is why your avatar in a game matters. Yeah, it’s nice to be able to have a selection, but if you’re forced to pick from only one sex, I don’t see why that’s an issue. When I played through Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, I selected the female character because her attacks were magic based and that was my preferred method of attack. Despite choosing a female character when I was male, surprisingly, my penis didn’t fall off. I know, I was shocked by this lack of a development myself. I’m also amazed that my many hours with Metroid, my personal favorite franchise, haven’t left me a shell of a man. After all, Samus Aran is…female [shudder]. I feel confident in stating the reverse of this issue is true. If you are a female and you choose to play a game where you control a male, I think I would be correct in saying that you aren’t going to suddenly grow a beard or chest hair or a new appendage.
Now, let me be extremely clear before moving on. I’m speaking solely about in game, controllable characters. What I’m not condoning or excusing is player on player harassment via online gaming or in other environment. That’s a serious issue that crosses into both sexism (assuming it’s gender based) and bullying. This has happened recently and I feel it very important to be clear on this. I’m also not speaking about depiction or design (basically, skimpy clothing). That’s another blog post in and of itself.
Aside from my first point above, I’m really having trouble figuring out who is complaining about this. I’ve seen bloggers and journalists writing these stories, but what I haven’t seen is that many actual game playing women complaining. My suspicion is that the people screaming the loudest about this are those people who only view it from a distance. They have no love of games, but see something that they can use to make some noise and get attention. These people exist in all areas, and they tend to always annoy me when they crop up. I believe that the majority of women that play games probably care about this about as much as I do.
To me, all of this distracts from what games are supposed to be and represent. Video games are meant to be fun. Isn’t that why we play? Yeah, the competition of multiplayer is great and spending time honing skills in certain games happens, but ultimately, we go to them for fun. For me personally, they serve as a distraction from the seriousness of my everyday life. For a little while, I can distract myself from work and bills and marital issues (the minor ones, at least). What I hate to see are those issues cropping up in a medium I use to avoid those exact issues.
The kicker is, I don’t totally disagree with the point that video games feature mostly male protagonists. It’s kind of a fact. That said, the same is true of movies. The same is true of sports. Why does it seem that video games are singled out in this arena as having an issue? This is hardly the first time that video games have been held to a higher standard (do I even need to further explain the other instances?). Also, even if this is true, why is it an issue that must be addressed? Why is it immediately sexism? I think it’s much more likely that game developers are simply sticking with a formula that works and makes them money. Right now, that blue print is FPS with a gritty male character leading the way. Those games sell. I kind of with they didn’t as I don’t care for that genre, but they do. If you want this paradigm to change, then you don’t buy these games. Sink your money into a game that lets you play as a female. Many Nintendo games (including MK 8 and the upcoming Smash Brothers) and the Kinect games allow you to play as an Avatar you created yourself. It’s hard to get much closer to representing everyone than that. Select those games. If developers see that happening, the will shift accordingly.
The bottom line is, there may still be an abundance of male lead characters, but that’s because those are still the games that are selling, not because there’s a mass sexist attitude in the industry. Also, where is the harm being done by playing as a male character. This is where the argument loses me. It’s the same as being upset with Monopoly because there is no token that is an actual human and you feel that playing as a hat (personal favorite piece) robs you of something. This particular aspect of so called sexism in video games is astoundingly inconsequential or relevant. It holds no power or value beyond an onscreen animation. You should never let something such as a video game define your existence to that point. Realize that it’s only a game and exists to have fun with, not to make a statement about males and females. I miss the days of that being all video games were about.
[Note: This remains a touchy subject, and I know I’m coming at it from a certain perspective. Feel free to comment with either agreements or disagreements. I very much encourage that. If you feel I’m oversimplifying this situation or am otherwise misrepresenting it, I greatly encourage you to let me know. Nothing has ever been lost by an educated discussion.]
Brandon Nicholson is a blogger for TMRzoo.com and the founder of Just Another Video Game Blog and covers all gaming consoles and platforms including Sony Playstation 3 and PS4, Microsoft XBOX One and XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP and computer games designed for Mac OS, Microsoft Windows and Linux operating systems. Brandon provides his readers with reviews, previews, release dates and up to date gaming industry news, trailers and rumors.