Friday, June 20, 2014

Female Background Decor

As mentioned earlier this week, Anita Sarkeesian has released a new episode of Tropes Vs. Women on Feminist Frequency. And I finally had enough time to sit down and watch the full episode in one sitting. I tried to view in small chunks during lunch breaks, but with the material it is difficult to digest it in small sections. You need to watch the episodes in full to get the full value of the message. Lesson learned.

This episode focused on Women as Background Decoration. What? Video games have that? Absolutely. From the earliest advertisements to Street Fighter scenery, scantily clad women litter the gaming landscape. Racing games using women in short shorts and low-cut tank tops to wave the checkered flag. Women in bikini's jumping up and down as audience members of a cage-fight while Guile and Blanka duke it out. Prostitutes and strippers in any Grand Theft Auto game. The trope is everywhere and anywhere. Sarkeesian proposes that these characters are there specifically for sexual exploitation and titillation. Because these NPC's have no backgrounds, no stories, and are designed to be objectified, sometimes required to be abused in order for players to progress forward in a game, they exist purely for sexual exploitation.

It's one of the few tropes that I can argue against, because it's incredibly true. Before the masses rise up and point out that there are male prostitutes in some Fable games, that is one product out of tens of thousands that exist with a male caller. He is also positioned to the character as more of a joke piece, with his dialogue and wardrobe, less of a visual allure like the female equivalents.

It was disturbing watching this episode to see just how frequent developers use this trope. It is almost anywhere and everywhere. You almost don't realize just how often it is used in games until it's pointed out to you. Hell, Final Fantasy 7 even does this with the Honey Bee Girls, and FF is one of the few female empowering series out there! Yes there are men too, but again like Fable, they are positioned to be characters of humor, not for arousal. But I say disturbing because I have become so complacent in seeing these characters on the screen that it does not phase me. Do I go out of my way to intentionally abuse the characters? Heck no. But I also don't bat an eyelash when I happen to run over a prostitute in GTA5 while on a game mission. There are little to no consequences for those actions, and most disappear within a few minutes and allow you to continue playing the game.

The behavior is one that we wouldn't condone in the real world, but it is glorified in games, television, and movies, and reinforced by the news media. Myths about sexual violence "she was asking for it" are further insinuated because it is used commonly in games. It's rather shocking to see it become this common of a feature...we really do have a long way to go in our culture before women are looked at as equals and not a different gender.

Now, I'm curious to see part 2 of this segment of episodes. 6 months from now.

Note, it's okay to enjoy these games. I'm a huge fan of the GTA series. But it's also important to take a critical eye and examine why we play what we play, as well as what messages the product is trying to tell us.

Also, STEAM SALE! The annual Steam Summer Sale is up with deals running through June 30th, including their flash sales that rotate every few hours. Grab them while you can.


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