Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bros Before... Well, You Know: A Rant

Does this dress match my controller?
Recently, I've gotten back into some gamer habits and have been spending much of my free time with a PS3 controller in my hand and some very bad language on my lips. I've always been fond of video games, I still have the original Nintendo system I got as a child (complete with Duck Hunt rifle!), and I spent much of my childhood hunched over a controller or a keyboard, tapping away to kill as many people as I could and solve some mad puzzles. I played the hell out of Mario, Zelda, Soul Calibur, Mist... even stuff like SimCity and Sim Ant (I loved being that giant spider, he was such an asshole). My father liked to play with my sister and I and he took pride in kicking our asses in everything from Tetris to MarioKart.

I never thought of myself as a "girl gamer". I'm a girl. I play video games. Whatever. I never had a problem with being a boy character. I liked being Mario or Dante or Kratos. Hell, even the little dude in Katamari Damacy is a boy. I just finished playing Bioshock and even without ever seeing the character's face, I still thought it was a boy. I didn't mind, it was just... comfortable. It was the default. Of course you were a boy, because that's how things go.

I recently acquired the Mass Effect trilogy and excited spoke to a friend about it. I was awed by the ability to customize basically everything about the main character, Shepard. I told my friend that I would be trading in shouting obscenities at an assassin and instead be shouting obscenities at some dude named Shepard.

"Wrong!" my friend said. "It'll be a lady named Shepard!"

Mind. Blown. For the first time in all my years, I could play a woman? That's... weird. My mind rebelled at the idea. I wasn't comfortable playing a girl. Being a boy character was easier. More fun. What the hell was my brain doing to me?

I had never before thought of gender in video games. The ability to be "FemShep" was a shock. "...Why can't I be a guy?" I asked my friend, confused as hell. Despite being a huge feminist, I couldn't get around the idea that I could chose to be a girl character. Why would I want to be? Sure, there are a few girl characters out there (Lara Croft, Samus, the girls in Final Fantasy), but they all seemed rather... I don't know, less fun? Lara Croft was basically a pair of boobs in shorts, Samus wasn't a girl into the very end of the game, and the girls in Final Fantasy were never as awesome as Cloud Strife or Vincent Valentine. Even in fighting games, I had always chosen to be a boy character, because the girls were scantily clad. Maybe bras hadn't been invented in the Soul Calibur universe, but the bouncing that Taki did in her little ninja outfit had to be PAINFUL! Don't even get me started about the Dead or Alive series.

Shepard and FemShep
I put Mass Effect aside, deciding to dedicate my life to being Shepard after I had completed the latest God of War and Bioshock: Infinite. I happily started plowing through God of War, using Kratos as an avatar of complete and utter destruction. With only a few jabs of a button, he was stabbing and disemboweling enemies left and right. Fun times were had by all.

Now, I'm not stupid. I know there's a lot of boobs in the God of War series. Some of this is explained by the time period. It's ancient Greece and ancient Sparta. There is some nakedness that goes along with that. Some of the female monsters, like harpies, are bare breasted just because of the type of creature they are. It would be kind of insane to put a toga on a harpy, right? Aphrodite shows up basically naked in one volume, but hey, she's the goddess of love. I'd be surprised if she even knew what panties were. This recent God of War, though, has been really (and awfully) in your face with just naked boobs all over the place. Whole scenes dedicated to them. I started to find myself getting slightly pissed off. It was gratuitous. Boobs for the sake of boobs. Whole harem scenes devoted to mewling women rolling around half naked.

"Well, that's bullshit." I thought to myself. Why isn't Kratos naked under his loincloth instead of wearing a pair of flesh colored hot pants? What's good enough for the goose should be good enough for the gander, right? Tons of basically naked women, yet no male junk. Weird. Why had I never noticed that before?

Then I heard about the now infamous "Bros Before Hos" scene. In it, Kratos stomps on a female Fury and you earn a Trophy (which are pointless, why do PS3 trophies exist?) called "Bros Before Hos".

Record scratch noise. What in the seven hells? Seriously? Wow, okay then... that's... a thing that happened.

A patch was quickly sent out to change the offensive trophy (it's now called "Bros Before Foes"), but the damage was done. Much internet vitriol was spilled, teeth were gnashed and flame wars started. You couldn't go near a gaming website without hearing about the offensive trophy and hearing people run to DEFEND IT! I didn't think it was very funny but it also didn't ruin my enjoyment of the game, but I'm also apparently a humorless feminist who should find a kitchen to go back to, as one charming individual told me. I'm also probably fat, ugly and single. Thanks, trolls on gaming websites! Awesome work. Yes, it was definitely women who ruined your game by having one insignificant trophy name changed. Despite Adam Sessler, noted MALE game journalist who pointed it out in a Youtube review, it was clearly the ugly men-hating women who did it. No wonder you don't want to give us rights or anything, imagine what we could do with that power!

Ivy from Soul Calibur fights in this! WTF?!
What it really meant was that women still aren't exactly encouraged to be in video games, as characters OR players. They're eye candy even if they're heroes, they're dressed in barely anything even if they're the main characters... it's insane. Yet, my brain couldn't even comprehend being a female character! I had bought into the message being fed to me.

Where does this rant bring me? Right back at square one. I still like the God of War series, it's still fun to dismember rampaging Greek monsters, but it made me truly understand that gamers and game designers really don't think women play their games or even care. FemShep is a huge step forward and I'm still probably going to fall back on being regular guy Shep. I'm concerned about what that says about me, to be honest.

It's all depressingly the same though. Comic books, TV shows, video games... guy characters get to be awesome, girl characters get to be half-dressed and proportioned like a Barbie. Why would I want to play a character like that?

Dammit, I'm a girl and I like video games, why do I have to deal with this shit?

For more of Meghan B's ranting about girls in geek culture, check out her article about girls not being considered "real geeks": Geek Girls: A Rant.
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  1. We could use a lot fewer Bros in gaming.

  2. I just started playing video games recently and got myself the first 2 Mass Effect games & Oblivion so I haven't really noticed that trend (I can play female characters in the 3 games, and it's pretty awesome). I think at this point the video game industry should realize that women like to play too ,and quite honestly, I'm more likely to buy a game if I can play as a female character.

    It's kind of ridiculous that the few female characters you can play are almost naked. I mean, imagine that you're in a battle situation and only have a trikini protecting you. Crazy!

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    1. Let me try this again...

      I would pretty highly recommend playing as FemShep. She actually has ARMOR that's not BOOBSBOOBSBOOBS! And her voice actress is amazing.

      Although, once I have time, I DO want to make the manliest ManShep there is and play through the trilogy singing "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan the whole time.

  4. Ever heard about the whole Anita Sarkeesian's story? It's not my intention to get to the "do you agree with her or not" discuss, but to point out all the harassment she suffered just for talking about the female role in video games. People can disagree with her arguments, that's not the problem. I do believe having different opinions enriches our culture. But, to be disrespectful, rude, and even violent with someone, just because you don't agree with him/her, that just shows how ignorant a person can be.

    Anyway, I played all the Mas Effect games, and I loved it. I also got surprised when I found out I could play as female. I played the 3 games twice, once as FemShep, and the other as ManShep. Gotta agree with Sharon, female voice acting (made by Jennifer Hale) is awesome.

    I'm with you again on why do PS3 trophies exist! They're completely pointless. Assassins Creed II has one, Birth of an Assassin, for just starting to play the game! You don't need to do anything.

  5. I'm also a girl who loves videogames! I don't mind playing as male characters either, but I love a strong female lead! (Alice: Madness Returns is in my PS3 as we speak... or as I ..type... anyway!)
    I also have a problem with the image of femaleness in a lot of games, or just in the industry itself. A lot of games still objectify women as just T&A with no smarts or strength! You're right, a lot of male characters are cool and heroic, but a lot of female characters are either bitchy, butch, sexy, or helpless. Even in real life, a lot of people are surprised to hear that I love videogames, and I've noticed from working in a field dominated by males (firefighters) that while men are respected, women are ignored or mocked.
    I do think that a lot of women have been speaking up more recently about their love of gaming and their dislike of female characterization, so maybe game creators will pay attention and start gearing games and advertising towards their new audience.

  6. It's really weird for me when I see a cutscene with male Shephard. I'm always like "Who IS that guy, that's not Shephard" It makes me kind of sad that you're at a point where playing as a female character felt like a lesser choice,it really makes me frown at current gaming culture. All the controversy and media explosion over Anita Sarkeesian's videos aside, I really like the first video because it showed how common just one trope was in games, it made me appreciate more the games that decide to stop being lazy and do something different.

    We have a gender and gaming thread on one of the forums I regularly visit and when discussion turned to Sarkeesian's first video one guy got exasperated and said to me - The damsel in distress isn't bad, he's rescuing her because they're in love. What's he supposed to do, just shrug and say "well I don't want her to think I think she's not self sufficient, I'm sure she'll escape on her own." and then go home and wait?

    I replied to him and asked why it has to be a case of the man goes off to do the saving or no one gets rescued. Why not have a game where they both fight to be reunited, why does the guy get to be the only one acting? The whole point is that tropes are lazy but they're not the only way. It's a little scary how easily we can forget that there are other choices.