Home > Politics and Society > On Video Games, Sexism, and Damsels in Distress

On Video Games, Sexism, and Damsels in Distress

A forum I go to has recently been discussing sexism and video games, and the topic has been heating up a little bit. The latest round has been Feminist Frequency’s YouTube video on Damsels in Distress. A friend took a bit of time to poke me for an opinion, which I think neatly sums up my perspective on certain issues on the topic.

[5:11:45 PM] Double A: 1. if you took a male and “objectified” him in the exact same way that a female is typically “objectified”, then the reaction to it would be different (it would, perhaps, be lauded to some degree?), because of how differently each sex is viewed in society
2. there is a problem related to female objectification that doesn’t exist in male objectification, at least not in the same form
3. therefore, the problem isn’t directly related to the act of portraying a person in a certain way, but to how the two sexes are viewed differently in society
[5:13:29 PM] Double A: due to my shitty attention span, i don’t actually know if you were saying this (you probably weren’t). but it’s the idea that formed in my head after reading your post
[5:13:41 PM] Double A: any thoughts?
[5:15:04 PM] Ysionris: Yes to 1, a tentative yes to 2, and my argument has nothing to do with 3. At the moment, I’m not trying to suggest what the problem IS, at least not yet. ^_^;
[5:15:40 PM] Ysionris: Depending, of course, what you mean by “problem”. ^_^;
[5:16:24 PM] Ysionris: Rather, I am describing the lens by which two different groups of people view an issue, but I make no claim as to whether any of the lenses are skewed, problematic, or…well, anything. I’m just saying the lenses exist, and they view things differently. ^_^;
[5:17:00 PM] Double A: yeah i figured you weren’t saying #3. still, what do you think of it? the idea that portraying women in a particular way is linked to negative perceptions of women
[5:19:23 PM] Ysionris: I think, as with many problems nowadays, we need to view them from a reference of context, and the contention between deontological and utilitarian moralities. It simplifies the issue too much when we say there’s a simple, elegant solution to the entire thing, when – in fact – the issues are complex and not subject to a single convenient theory. ^_^;
[5:22:17 PM] Ysionris: I’m a bit of an oddity amongst people who try for gender equality, honestly, in that I’m honestly not opposed to sexual objectification per se, much in the same way I’m not opposed to pornography. We all have our guilty pleasures, so to speak, many of which revolve around sexual desires and the fantasy that sex is somehow easily available. So in as much as I’d like to roll my eyes at some portrayals of women as targets of desire, this single phenomenon is not something I’m opposed to. This being said, however, I am highly apprehensive of how PREVALENT this is.
[5:23:19 PM] Ysionris: Basically, this is a phenomenon that has become so widespread and so universal, it takes conscious effort to try and come up with something different. It offers little options in terms of other alternatives, so to speak.
[5:24:59 PM] Ysionris: Allow me to present an example: In the video John linked about Damsels in Distress, the narrator explains how although male protagonists are captured every now and then, the difference between him and a traditional damsel in distress is that the protagonist inevitably comes up with a way to escape his situation, whereas the damsel is helpless and unable to escape at all.
[5:25:16 PM] Ysionris: Although I understand the sentiment, I disagree with a detail.
[5:25:31 PM] Double A: which detial?
[5:28:59 PM] Ysionris: I do not believe the issue is that the subject in question cannot escape. Of course, it is true that protagonists are able to find some way out because this is a game, but I think – to a certain extent – we are misinterpreting the capacity to escape with the opportunity to do so. The argument can be easily construed as “women can never escape”, which seems to be targeting their capabilities, when in fact it could simply be that the opportunity never presents itself. I am reminded, in fact, of Assassin’s Creed 3, in which the protagonist is captured, imprisoned, and never manages to escape until his friends come to the rescue just as he is to be executed by hanging. But no one accuses the protagonist of being incapable or weak; the opportunity just never presents itself. I think that’s a consideration that should not be missing in such an argument.
[5:29:26 PM] Double A: indeed
[5:29:37 PM] Ysionris: Rather, I think the much larger problem is the universality in which female captives are seemingly never given the opportunity to escape, regardless of their capabilities, thereby dooming them to constant distress.
[5:30:16 PM] Double A: so, to you, attacking individual cases isn’t the right way to go about it, but to attack the prevalence of similar cases?
[5:31:25 PM] Ysionris: Yes. It is not possible to claim systematic discrimination unless it is, of course, systematic, in which there is a pattern. ^_^;
[5:31:32 PM] Ysionris: …Well, “validly” claim. ^_^;
[5:31:40 PM] Ysionris: Anyone can make claims~ ^_^;
[5:32:03 PM] Double A: yeah i think that’s a reasonable point of view
[5:32:36 PM] Ysionris: (Games are getting better about it. Male captives and rape victims are becoming more commonplace. But there are still…problems. Have you played Far Cry 3, and can I spoil you if you haven’t? ^_^; )
[5:34:03 PM] Double A: 1. no i haven’t and 2. feel free. i have the opinion that a game isn’t worth playing if spoiling it ruins it
[5:35:52 PM] Ysionris: Ah-hah. ^_^;’
[5:36:13 PM] Ysionris: Well, I want to bring up two cases in Far Cry 3.
[5:38:14 PM] Ysionris: First, in Far Cry 3, a female NPC rapes the male player character. In that she drugs him, and then he wakes up with her straddling him. I bring this up because two things happened here (although, as you may have come to expect from me now, I’m not going to comment on whether or not this is right or wrong). XD
[5:39:46 PM] Ysionris: First: Nothing happened. There was no moral outcry that you’d expect had the NPC been male and the protagonist female, even though the NPC had initiated sex while the player character was unconscious. Second, the scene wasn’t portrayed as immensely uncomfortable (although this may be helped by the fact that you spent the previous sequence in a bizarre drug trip hallucination sequence, so waking up with a girl on top of you is probably just the cherry on top of what was already fast becoming a surreal, uncomfortable experience), but just kind of…”it happened”.
[5:40:33 PM] Ysionris: Therefore, we could say that female-on-male rape is portrayed differently (possibly because the male ultimately didn’t object), that female-on-male rape is PERCEIVED differently, or both of the above. ^_^;
[5:42:30 PM] Ysionris: The second thing in Far Cry 3 worth mentioning is that it is unusual in that female rape is virtually never mentioned, but references towards male rape are made from time to time. One of your NPC friends, for example, is sold as a slave to a male mercenary, who is heavily insinuated to be raping him. Also, the leader of the criminal group doing the enslaving mentions to his new recruits that it is okay to rape the male slaves so long as they don’t break them, but make no mention of the female slaves.
[5:43:25 PM] Ysionris: The aversion – you might even call it a reversal – is interesting, but it also carries a somewhat unfortunate insinuation, because all of the game’s antagonists are men, and almost all the antagonists are portrayed as mentally deranged. In other words, we have another group of “deranged bisexuals” or “deranged homosexuals”.
[5:43:46 PM] Ysionris: Er, “depraved”, not “deranged”. ^_^;
[5:43:53 PM] Ysionris: …Although we could arguably use “deranged” anyways. ^_^;
[5:44:43 PM] Double A: you mean that, since all the rape sequences (explicit or otherwise) are between two males, and that all the males in question are seen as somewhat “unstable”, that this is a knock on homo/bisexuals?
[5:44:56 PM] Ysionris: So we’re headed in a more diverse direction, but we’re kind of not at a great spot yet. ^_^;
[5:46:25 PM] Ysionris: Basically, yes. It’s clearly meant to make the player uncomfortable. Whereas the one rape sequence (the only explicit one) that doesn’t happen to be portrayed/perceived as uncomfortable involves one man and one woman, although the woman is also portrayed as…somewhat unstable, so to speak. ^_^;
[5:46:47 PM] Double A: but like you said, this is more of a one-off, right?
[5:47:23 PM] Ysionris: Not really~ The media has a long history of making homosexuals and bisexuals look like sex-crazed evil people. ^_^;
[5:47:45 PM] Ysionris: We’re getting better, but it still exists. I’m reminded, for example, of Vamp from Metal Gear Solid 2 and 4. ^_^;
[5:49:11 PM] Ysionris: So rather than being totally against a particular instance in the media, I would rather aim for more diversity. I am opposed to women constantly being the “rescue fodder”, so to speak, but I am also opposed to an arbitrary measure that says women can never be captured, or if captured, they must always have a means to free themselves. ^_^;
[5:49:36 PM] Double A: ^
[5:50:05 PM] Ysionris: Which, I think, is actually becoming increasingly prevalent, and – in a way – makes a story’s antagonists look incompetent. I like competent antagonists. ^_^;
[5:51:46 PM] Ysionris: But, honestly, although I think issues awareness needs to exist, we’re also moving in a direction of instant outrage. It took one instance of Battlefield 3’s campaign having a character say “I’m having my shit shoved in” for Kotaku to accuse DICE of being homophobic. I heard rumors that developers for God of War say they’re no longer incorporate female enemies into the game because peoeple are complaining about how this is “violence on women”. I think some of it is really overblown. ^_^;

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