Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Feminist Games" and Other Things that Tell Me Not to Play Your Games


This morning I was reading Kill Screen when I ran across an article, Let's All Save These Historic Works of Feminist Game Making from Obscurity, when I realized why describing games as Feminist or Racially Diverse or the use of any similar descriptor turns me completely off. You see, instead of talking about a great game that provides you with an exceptional play experience we're talking about the political or social message behind the game - which is another way of saying this game is complete shit but you should totally buy it because of its message. 

Fuck that. 

I'm not incredibly wealthy and I don't have time to waste on games that don't provide me with a great experience. So for me to buy a game it has to be fun. I don't care if the main protagonist is female or male; white, black, or any color in between; gay, straight, or transgendered. That noise is all secondary to the actual game and is meaningless background static when I'm trying to kill aliens, avenge the death of my best friend, or save the world.

6 comments:

  1. Sorta like Chitty-chitty Bang-bang.

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  2. In defense of the source blog you refer to, I would point out that it sounds like these games were well regarded by those who liked them, and the first one is mentioned as getting an Entertainment Weekly award (1995). I don't see anything wrong with people who like games like this trying to preserve them for future generations of other women who might enjoy these games....hell, I know I'm just as eager for Microsoft to provide a Gears of War Collection for the Xbox One, but I don't need the buy-in of people who hate SF military titles to support my desire for that title. And then there's GOG which does this on a regular basis.

    Gaming is big enough that it can have plenty of space for fun pro-women games and the it will still have a massive dominant section for awesome shooters; it's like books....the presence of all those mystery and romance novels my wife and mother read has no impact at all on my SF, horror and pulp crime novel enjoyment.

    And you're absolutely right about this: it will have to be fun and interesting regardless of its message, or no one will play it (regardless of message).

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    1. I should have made it clearer when I wrote the post, but the game mentioned isn't what triggered my realization. Reading the article just made me realize that I don't like games that use descriptors like "feminist," "ultra-violent," and the like.

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  3. Charles, you and I often have extremely similar opinions, but I could not disagree with you more in this case.

    Just becuase a game is identified as "feminist" in no way implies that it also sucks, and that's an unfair leap of logic to make. Yes, a game needs to have fun game play -- that goes without saying -- but your critique is unfair and biased because you equated the "feminist" label with "bad game play". You immediately jumped to the conclusion that a game sucked just because the game was identified as having a positive social message. You added your own bias, especially when the game in question in the article you cited was an award winner. You disregarded its critical acclaim simply because the word "feminist" was used in the headline of the article.

    "...meaningless background static when I'm trying to kill aliens, avenge the death of my best friend, or save the world."

    You don't care because 99% of games have a male role model. By default, you are the protagonist. Now imagine you are a young girl and *none* of the protagonists are like you. It's not at all meaningless background static. You need to take a moment to consider what it means to not be a white, male video gamer.

    I love games -- I lean more toward table top, but love video games too. I have two daughters and want them to love games as much as I do. I want them to look on the screen and see someone who is like them, so they can know that when it comes to killing aliens, slaying dragons and saving the world, girls can do that too.

    If there is a resource that will save these games from obscurity, or will help me identify other games to which I can introduce my daughters, that's a good thing. This is even more critical to me in a world where Barbie is presented as a completely inept computer programmer instead of a strong, smart game developer.

    Think back to the recent article about the father who hacked Donkey Kong so that Pauline could rescue Mario because his daughter asked to play as her, rather than a squat italian man. Girls want to play as an avatar in which they can see themselves. I don't necessarily have the talent to hack Donkey Kong... So if there is a resource on the net that points me to "good feminist games" as opposed to just "good games", that's hugely valuable to me, because that gives me a place to find strong female protagonists for my daughters, so that they will love games as much as I do and can see themselves as the hero.

    Up until recently, video games have been a tree house with "no girLz" scribbed on a piece of cardboard at the door (and based on recent events, this is still a problem in some circles). How much more awesome would Halo have been if it had asked a single question at the beginning -- "Are you a male or female space marine?" Bungie/Microsoft could have totally recorded both a male and a female voice over for the Master Chief character.

    So, before you immediately jump to a conclusion that identifying a game as socially diverse or feminist automatically means that it sucks, try to close the door on white male bias and think why these kinds of games might be important to people who don't look like you.

    A game can have a social message AND be a good game to play.

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    1. "Just becuase a game is identified as "feminist" in no way implies that it also sucks, and that's an unfair leap of logic to make. Yes, a game needs to have fun game play -- that goes without saying -- but your critique is unfair and biased because you equated the "feminist" label with "bad game play". You immediately jumped to the conclusion that a game sucked just because the game was identified as having a positive social message. You added your own bias, especially when the game in question in the article you cited was an award winner. You disregarded its critical acclaim simply because the word "feminist" was used in the headline of the article."

      Not at all.

      I was reading that article and it occurred to me that the problem I so often have with games that use descriptors of that sort is that they want me to buy and play the game because it is a "feminist" game. The term feminist isn't the problem, rather the problem is using such terms to describe a game rather than focusing on it being a great game. The game mentioned had little to do with that realization but the article was the trigger.

      "You don't care because 99% of games have a male role model. By default, you are the protagonist. Now imagine you are a young girl and *none* of the protagonists are like you. It's not at all meaningless background static. You need to take a moment to consider what it means to not be a white, male video gamer."

      Marty, I don't care because it doesn't matter if the protagonist is male, white, black, female, or an alien. The experience that I have playing the game has little to do with the sex and race of the protagonist and far more to do with the way that the story evolves and the game plays. A great game is far more enjoyable than one that asks me to forgive its failings because it espouses some greater social or political philosophy.

      "I want them to look on the screen and see someone who is like them, so they can know that when it comes to killing aliens, slaying dragons and saving the world, girls can do that too. "

      Amen!

      "How much more awesome would Halo have been if it had asked a single question at the beginning -- "Are you a male or female space marine?" Bungie/Microsoft could have totally recorded both a male and a female voice over for the Master Chief character."

      I realize that you're making an important point here but I just wanted to add that I always thought that the Master Chief was a robot with artificial intelligence like Cortana (sp?) only no where near as intelligent.

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