One afternoon a unique scenario played through my head. It was inspired by Anita Sarkeesian’s latest episode of Feminist-Frequency. I had to stop the show and focus on this scenario. I imagined I was playing a video game and during the game, the actions of the NPCs, or the side missions I encountered, were white people brutalizing black people. I considered one of the occurrences as a part of the game. It was a gimmick. Then, I imagined another game with the same occurrence. I thought of five games in which black people were beaten down and called demeaning words by an evil NPC, who could or couldn’t be stopped.
I was able to sympathize with the video I was watching about violence towards women in video games. The violence was less of a theme and more of a trope or cliché used as shock value to portray an adversary in the worse light possible, or to give the game a dark setting. The women are dehumanized into props used for this trope.
Sexism in video games isn’t new. It’s been in media for ages. Radio shows used a sultry voice to advertise products to men. Billboards brandished beautiful women as eye-candy. Women have been portrayed in movies the same way therefore, video games are following suit. Women are objectified as an eye-candy in the background of popular video games. But now the envelope has been pushed further and it’s becoming exploitative and featuring violence especially when it comes to the point of the player walking into an area and seeing a helpless woman getting punched, slapped or potentially being sexually violated.
Feminist-Frequency used several examples of this in games that spanned from period pieces to modern times. Some were jarring to watch but the fact still stands that this trope is a weak plot-device to show how monstrous the antagonist truly is in the narrative. Although, what it does is demean women by reducing them to punching-bags. This doesn’t push the story-dramatically forward. Usually these acts of degradation are employed in side-missions for us to enact retribution for the victim, or they are NPCs in the background interacting with each other. The main point of this trope is to remind us that the game being played has a dark theme. Even as side-missions, the story is barely covered. When it’s complete, we finish it up and everything goes on its merry-way. It’s simply an amplified damsel in distress scenario to keep us playing.
Some games tried to obstruct the degrading act by placing a settled figure in the foreground (think of the Bay of Pigs in Call of Duty: Black Ops) or by cutting away from the action so you don’t see anything on-screen. Over time, pushing the envelope became more frequent in showing the violence and taking it further. This has become a common use as it has certain rewards linked to them. Red Dead Redemption and God of War III rewards gamers to put a woman in a disastrous situation for an achievement. The former is dropping a tied-up woman onto railroad tracks. (Let’s perpetuate the tied-up defenseless woman stereotype from old westerns.) God of War III gives you a reward for looking at the mangled remains of a woman who was crushed by gears. Ergo, for women who may be playing to platinum, these games will have to take part in actions that might make them unconformable.
What if we become used to it? What would be next? Brutalization is a serious subject matter and constantly showing it with very little regard will make people immune to it. There is a fan montage of Deus Ex: Human Revolution on YouTube of Adam Jensen beating up female NPCs left and right to Ludacris’ “Move Bitch”. People are already looking at this from a joking point-of-view.
Artistic integrity is in full support here however, the main point of video games is to sell video games. Artistic standpoints are a secondary-directive. The prime-directive is making a profit from the product. The audiences aren’t young men anymore and if women are upset with their portrayal, then the companies should respond to that audience and generate more sales. Throughout the 20th century, minority people were portrayed as silly fools, savages and sex objects on TV and in movies. It was the status quo at the time and the majority couldn’t accept anything different. But that has changed for the best.
The addressing factor is that this trope isn’t in one or two games. It’s in a lot of mainstream titles. The crux of the complaints are that it’s in several games and it’s disgusting gamers by making them uncomfortable simply to set a gritty tone. There are other plot devices that can be used to show that the antagonist is reprehensible instead of using a quick-easy rhetorical device full of shock value. If this negative behavior is engaging then it should be covered in a mindful manner which considers the consequences and not something that will be unnoticed. The fact that games represent women this way is purely ignorant.
This isn’t bashing any of those games. I still love the God of War series but every game has its shortcomings. This isn’t about censoring the content of Grand Theft Auto and this isn’t about banishing these games from existence. This is about improving the quality of the content. As stated earlier, an occurrence of this trope is quite distressing.