Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here? Feminism in Gaming

For all of my posts, for all of the “head desk" moments, for all of the discussions about sexism in gaming, we are reaching a pause. This past year has seen such a boost in discussing women, how they are treating in the industry and their portrayal in games themselves. Even cosplayers are jumping into this movement with their version, Cosplay is not Consent

We’re talking about it. That’s great. We need to bring these issues to the front because things will not get better if we bottle them up. Having these discussions is necessary, but it’s only a start. We need to address the issues and start pushing forward.

My hope was to see more involvement once Anita’s “Tropes vs. Women” videos were released. It was bumped up to a 12 part series after her Kickstarter fund boomed. However, since the initial video was published there have been no further comments. No notes. No updates. 2 months later (literally 2 months, the last post was March 7th) and we’re still waiting. It’s a bit disappointing. I know Anita has been very busy as of late with conferences and public speaking gigs, most recently at GDC. But we’re seeing the involvement and interest waning.  

So what can we do? Where do we go from this point to bring up the momentum?

Action.

What makes the Cosplay is not Consent movement different is that it is prompting people to start standing up and taking a position right then and there. Instead of letting the harassment happen, Cosplay is not Consent wants you to get involved and say “no.” This push for feminism in gaming and resolving the issues of sexism is not going to be an easy change. But we’re at a good starting point. We’ve gathered the people through social media and in game developer’s offices. Now we need to put people to use.

The “How” of it all is still a mystery. Now that we have all of this man-power, what do we do with it? Because sitting and talking about it online, in blogs, or through round tables, doesn’t really resolve the problems. It addresses them and brings them to light, but resolution is far away. But this is a tricky situation. Unfortunately there aren’t enough women, and supporters, in the business that simply up and quitting would be fruitless. We need them there to help make those decisions to get more “mature” about our games. (Note: This is mature in the grown-up adult sense, not in sexual/violent content.) Boycotting games and publishers might be an appropriate step…but as I sit here typing this out, I realize that we need to determine what we want out of this movement. What are our goals? What are we trying to achieve? That may help us figure out what action we need to take.

As gaming girls and women we want to see more female characters in video games portrayed as anything but sex objects, damsels in distress, and toys. We want females that are heroes, strong, and represent a little bit of everything. We can extend this beyond to include multiple cultures, religions, and races: we want more accurate portrayals of human in video games. We realize that games are fantasy and we expect some things to be exaggerated, but by belittling a woman to be “the hot princess,” reducing a man with dark skin to the “token black guy,” these do nothing but perpetuate unnecessary stereotypes that demean others and reduce video games into a lower form of art/entertainment. Video games can be much better than this, and they have been.

We also want the community to accept us as equals. Now granted, after my time at PAX East I found out that the majority of gamers are very accepting people. They don’t care what your gender, skin color, birthplace, religion is. You’re a gamer. That’s what matters. But it is a very vocal minority that make up a good chunk of the issues girls and women face on a daily basis. When you see websites like Fat, Ugly, or Slutty with mounds of submissions every day, we know it’s a bigger problem and the minority are probably more than a 1% share. More like 40%. But girls and women that play games want to feel welcomed into the community. We don’t want to be harassed because of our gender. We want to play our games, talk to others, and enjoy our hobby.

And for those who are in the industry they want to see the standards change both with how they are treated and how women are portrayed in games. Video games are not a “boy’s club” and women have equally as many ideas about product as a man. Gender doesn’t drive creativity. The mind does. To be constantly pushed aside for speaking out, presenting unique concepts and getting paid less along the way is something people in the industry should be opposing, not promoting.

Okay so now we have a baseline on what we want to achieve. Boycotting certain developers and games would be a start. I realize that a lot of it would be pitting ourselves against EA (and is that a bad thing, really?) but keep in mind that women make up a huge chunk of the purchasing power when it comes to games, casual and hardcore. We could make a big dent if we all came together, and some of our male counterparts that also support us, and stopped purchasing games until changes are made. EA would be super pissed. They own, what, 70% of the companies out there now? Huge profit margin dip! Okay I’m guessing about that 70% but they do own a lot of studios. So while that may affect studios and prompting them to start developing more games with female leads and less stereotypes, that doesn’t deter the gamers that harass others.

For too long the Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo system of dense against harassment online through their consoles have been limited. You can report a player but does it ever really come to fruition? I still see people on Xbox Live after sending in harassment notifications to Microsoft well over a year ago. The problem is that the systems are antiquated, too few people are being hired to monitor, and the solutions don’t resolve the problem. Take Halo for example where you can mute players online if they start to annoy you. Okay, great. That doesn’t really resolve the issue then now does it? That person realizes they have been muted. They’ll jump the mission and move into the next game to harass someone else. It just pushes the issue onto another person without a resolution. The same with “blocked” lists. Just because you personally block someone does not stop the person from continuing their actions. What happens when you do report a person? Usually a whole lot of nothing. They might get a warning, or a temporary ban, but very rarely do we see them get completely booted. And if they do? Make a new user name. Done.

There needs to be an accountability of actions from the company to follow-up with the report in a timely manner. And an upgraded system of course. A lot of what happens, from what I’ve been told by employees that I know who work at the Xbox home base, is that many of these reports are sent to a pile and left unresolved for months at a time. Honestly? They just don’t hire enough people to handle the overwhelming amount of complaints. Most are legit. Some are stupid. I got those a lot at GameStop. The majority of the complaints were real concerns. There were a handful that were really stupid. “Okay so sir. You’re saying that GameStop sucks because you can’t beat the Lego Star Wars game?” And you know what? The only way to get through it is to hire more people and wade through them all. But it’s also an issue of oversight and lack of accountability. Because it takes so many months to get back to a person about a complaint, why even bother filing it in the first place? That harasser has moved on and still doing what he/she/it is doing. Counter-productive system there.

The best way to have a quick improvement on the current system is to offer a 48-72 hour turn-around time for all harassment reports. Yes that means Microsoft will have to hire more employees. Yes it means that they need to get their act together. But we’re also paying money to play games online with Xbox Live. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to live up to expectations and provide good service, don’t you?

As for the in-game measures a complete overhaul is needed. Muting a person’s microphone is never enough. I realize that coming up with another alternative is tricky. Having a simple boot and ban option is never easy. People are, unfortunately, people and some will abuse the privilege for the hell of it. As technology has improved and we’re seeing a lot of upgrades with the PS4, this would be a good time to start implementing new systems.

One that comes to mind is to record behavior in gaming. Yes, that would mean that you, your game play, and your voice would be on record and sent back to Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo for review. But it would also weed out people that are generally harassing others. Very Big Brother, I understand. It’s much like the convenience store cameras. You put one up and place a sign that you’re being monitored while on the premises. In actuality very few stores actually have those cameras connected to anything. Or the cameras are completely faked. It costs too much money to maintain them. But the illusion of security is enough to make thieves think twice. Compare this to the “Beware of Dog” or home security signs on people’s front lawns. Just having the sign there is enough for people to think twice about messing with your home. If people are given notice that if they play their actions may be recorded and sent back to the home office, that can deter a lot of the harassment. If there’s concern about the amount of data, it would be easy to set it up to only record 30 second increments of a match. Check the data. If it’s clean, delete. If it’s not, keep on file and start the business of getting the harasser booted.

I realize that we still have a long way to go before we can achieve cohesion without our community. But we are at the point now where words will no longer work. Action is needed to move forward. I know I don’t hold the answers and I probably never will. But maybe this will spark something in all of us to drive the change forward.

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