Sunday, 17 June 2012

Women & Videogames

Gaming as an industry has not generally been perceived as threatening to women, with the term ‘gamer’ conjuring images of shy, somewhat socially awkward preteens who are intimidated by the opposite sex rather than wishing to dominate them. But recent reports have come to show that the group has a disturbingly extreme misogynistic minority.

Videogames have always pushed the envelope of the acceptable: with graphic depictions of war, murder and robbery, very few games have been lauded for their sterling moral character. There has always been a certain unspoken trade-off, therefore, when it comes to decency and virtual simulation. Boys will be boys, and we are willing to tolerate simulations of overly sexualized female characters and violent testosterone-pumped antics, as long as they are kept within the realm of the console.
The gaming community, however, has begun to take its ‘freedom of expression’ to extremes.

Recently, a player named Aris Bakhtanians drew attention to this issue when fiercely defending his right to verbally sexually harass another female player during gameplay, stating that sexual harassment was “part of the culture”. He also responded to the question of whether the casual use of the word ‘rape’ out of context was acceptable, stating, “There's nothing unacceptable about that…We're in America, man. This isn't North Korea, we can say what we want." His treatment of another player, Miranda Pakodzi, during an online broadcast of a game caused her to drop out of the competition. He later apologised for his comments, but divided the gaming world into those who believed he was out of line and those who defended a gamer’s inherent ‘right’ to debase his opponent on whatever grounds possible.

The attitude of the game creators seems alarmingly outdated as well. In Grand Theft Auto, one of the most successful videogame franchises to date, a player is able to solicit sex from a prostitute, which drains his money levels but restores energy. This in and of itself is a dubious addition, but passable in that no non-consensual activity is taking place and that there does indeed exist a section of the population that willingly sells sex for a living. Where the game goes too far, however, is that it then allows the player the option of beating up the prostitute after the transaction, killing her and stealing back his money, shouting ‘bitch’ while he does so.

This also pales in comparison to a Japanese videogame released in 2006 called RapeLay, in which the player takes the role of a man who stalks a mother and her two daughters and then molests, strips, rapes and tortures them until they ‘break’, with the additional options of gang rape for multiplayers. It was banned first in Argentina with other countries quickly following suit, and the distributor pulled it from its website over concerns of ‘impact on the industry’.

These three incidents alone are enough to beg the question of what kind of morals and what kind of attitude would foster an environment in which any of them are acceptable? The fact that RapeLay could even be conceived of, much less distributed or that Aris Bakhtanians has gone without official reprimand or that Grand Theft Auto has yet to repeal or suffer a drop in sales are all should be of concern to the female population. While the gaming industry largely consists of decent men, the completely indecent behaviour by a select few has been ignored for far too long. We have to ask ourselves, what level of disrespect are we willing to tolerate for the sake of entertainment? And what kind of message are we sending to children if we present rape, sexual harassment and misogyny as casual, consequence free fun?

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