As a male gamer, I agree: gaming does have a problem with using women as rewards

Anita Sarkeesian is right. All too often, female characters are presented as little more than baubles and masturbation fodder

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The Independent Online

The hardest part of starting any conversation on the treatment of women in the world of video gaming is just picking an example. We could talk about the latest Metal Gear Solid and its embarrassing attempt to wave away the fact one of its central female characters wears next to nothing while the camera constantly languishes on her body. Or we could trace our history back to the earliest days of gaming with the Atari 2600 and the infamous General Custer’s Revenge where your aim is to rape a Native American woman tied to a pole.

In both cases - and numerous other examples - women are portrayed as objects to be desired or lusted over at best or violated and ‘owned’ at worst. The princess you quest to save must inevitably be yours to possess. It’s this idea of ‘woman as reward’ that Feminist Frequencies’ Anita Sarkeesian has chosen to discuss in her latest video.

Sarkeesian points out numerous examples of how women have been used as a reward for gamers across the ages and posits that this helps create the ‘male entitlement mindset’: the belief in men that they have the right to a woman’s body as though it were just another trophy. If you’ve played video games for any length of time, this shouldn’t come as a shock to you. Since the earliest days of gaming, women have been portrayed as mere damsels to save or simply another object to ogle over or fantasise about. Even female uber-heroes such as Samus Arran, the utterly kickass bounty hunter from Nintendo’s 1984 Metroid series and arguably the first great gaming heroine, is eventually reduced to stripping off as a reward to the player for completing the game in under an hour.

While some are happy to dismiss examples like this as the excesses of a medium in its infancy - you only need to cast a glance at the latest Witcher game to see that although progress is being made (you no longer collect sexy “romance” cards from women you sleep with, after all) – it’s fair to say that we still have some distance to go.

For the uninitiated, Sarkeesian is a feminist media critic who came to attention with her ‘Tropes vs Women’ series and its Kickstarter offshoot ‘Tropes vs Women in Video Games’. An ardent critic of the negative portrayal of women in media, you only need to search her name on Twitter to see the vitriol poured on her, ranging from requests for her to ‘get cancer’ to voiced hopes that she is raped and killed. Her professional integrity is constantly challenged and the common refrain that she isn’t a ‘real gamer’ isn’t often far behind. She receives all of this for the crime of being a woman with an opinion in male-dominated environment. But really, who can blame her for saying that gaming has a problem with women? Those who resist what she says are in denial – and they don’t have the medium’s best interests at heart.

What makes this worse is just how superfluous it really is. Most of these sexist game mechanics are almost entirely redundant to the games they exist in and could easily just be left out. When a game like Portal 2, with its female lead and female AI villain, can reach near perfection without relying on a single boob-ogling moment, you need to ask why other games can’t push for the same basic standards.

In short, those of us who think gaming can be more than just adolescent wish-fulfilment need to start taking a stand on this. The majority of gamers I know and speak to are aware of their responsibility to play a part in stamping it out, in order to change public perceptions of the media we care about. If we can start by treating women as something more than baubles to collect and masturbate over, then that would be grand.