Now, it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere near the video games industry, but I still like to keep up with it in an armchair capacity. One of my favorite sites by which to do this is a blog called gamesetwatch, a collection of essays and links to articles by many industry leaders. One article they had recently was a retrospective on “Time Gal”, one of those old laser disc arcade games that had animated cutscenes that you control via pressing the correct button or moving the joystick in the right way. The author, Todd Ciolek, (who also writes X-button, a fine column at the Anime News Network) pointed out that Time Gal was the first game to have a non-licensed character that players could recognize as human. He goes on to praise the game for having a heroine that was so cute and chirpy, but then there was one line that just made my head spin.
“Misogyny creeps in, of course: Time Gal’s already skimpy clothes get ripped away by T-Rexes and Fist of the North Star mutants alike, and she’ll scream about being struck on the chest or getting bitten on her partially exposed rear. Pioneers are not always proud.”
It wasn’t just what he said, it’s how he said it. Misogyny. You know, creeping in like that. Here you are, pushing through the glass ceiling, but let one of those things on your chest slip out and BOOM! There’s misogyny. The word here is written with such complacency, such blasé, that it’s almost as if the author was describing the sky as blue. To use such a powerful word as misogyny in that way tells me that he doesn’t even believe in what he says. And why should he have to? He’s only preaching the gospel truth. You can see it repeated all over the ‘net. To show women as sexual in any capacity is misogynist. That’s it. Finito. End of discussion.
When there’s an idea that becomes sacrosanct and, dare I say, unexamined, it bothers me. Untested truth is what keeps us from moving forward, making connections and seeing the greater scheme of things. This is part of a pattern I keep seeing again and again in video game criticism. Why is a scantily clad girl in a video game defined as misogyny? “How is that not misogyny!?” is not a valid answer.
Despite being male, I think I can put my liberal arts hat back on and take a crack at this one. Misogyny is the hatred of women. If a woman getting her clothes torn suggestively in a fight is misogyny, then there are a couple of assumptions at work here. The first is that this is sexual objectification, where a woman is judged by her physical attributes independent of her personality and intelligence. This is demeaning to women, and that makes it misogyny.
I have a problem with this. This also assumes that the way a woman looks and how she presents herself has nothing to do with her personal taste, her habits or the culture she comes from. It would seem that this imagery is only defined by how I see it. Big, white male me. Now this tells me that if I look at something and get a rise out of it, it immediately becomes misogynist. I am indirectly dictating what can and cannot be depicted in regards to women. It doesn’t matter if anyone else finds the game cute or funny. Is that feminist? Hell, is that even humanist?
So now that we’ve found out what misogyny is, what’s feminism? What images do game companies produce if they want to be forward-thinking and catch that ever-elusive female audience? Many would point to a game called Portal. It’s about a battle between a sarcastic computer and Chell, a barely seen female protagonist in a formless jumpsuit with no dialog, no expression, and no personality. She is seen as the perfect feminist archetype, as opposed to blond-haired traitors like Super Mario’s Princess Peach. Of course, this can’t explain why Peach herself has female fans all over the world and why her own game, Super Princess Peach, has sold over a million copies.
That, my friends, is why we can’t have compelling video game characters. This is why we live in a video game world populated by bald space marines and sullen amazonian axe-murderers. When we intentionally wall off a part of human nature, we blind ourselves to potential avenues of creativity. A specific, easily recognizable character can make the difference between millions of dollars in revenue and billions.