I didn’t mean to become an adult who plays video games but it happened. I think video games all have tremendous capacity to be art even if the vast majority of them are a commercial product first, art second (video games are, after all, a $67 billion industry).
I’ve played the first Dead Island and there’s plenty of fun scares in the all-out zombie mayhem. It’s also impossible to miss the digital “bikini babes” everywhere. Sure, 99% of them are grotesque walking corpses who want to give my character a masticated makeover but there they are, all the same. At any given moment a player is able to partake in the male gaze and at any angle. The digital female can’t stop the male player; she isn’t programmed to stop him, only stay there and be taken in.
A sequel is coming out. I can imagine a group of artists and designers, of company people and shareholder rememberers, sitting around a table and someone said, “That would be so cool!” There’s nodding and laughter because they’re thinking only about their intended audience and only in limited ways. Here’s a proposed “cool” limited edition packaging option:
This “bust” game case conjures up so many simultaneous anti-women messages at once. A women’s sexuality is mine for the taking. Violence against a woman is entertaining. Both should be on display in the home. Personally, I love displaying collection pieces in my home. I like when friends can peruse my film and game titles and see what’s in my library. Even if the game is phenomenal I cannot imagine paying extra money to display the above “collector’s edition” game case in my home.
This is not “so cool.”
I think both artists and companies, not just in video games but in any given outlet, have responsibility with their product. Both must ask themselves, “What’s the effect?” What’s the effect of portraying a character in a particular way? What is the effect of using this color palette? What’s the effect of this layout? What’s the effect of this turn in the story? What’s the effect of this pace of working? What’s the effect of customer / consumer outlets for feedback or the lack thereof? You get the idea.
Like asking, “What’s the effect?,” both artists and companies have to consider their intended audience and their real audience. The intended audience is who is in mind, the person or persons the artist thinks about in the midst of creativity and asks, “I wonder what this person will think of this choice.” When art is unleashed, the hope is the intended audience responds. But art goes out to a real world in which the artist doesn’t get to choose an exclusive audience. There is the real audience – those who would consume or at the very least be exposed to the art (or product).
It’s cliche-and-a-half to hear someone talk about how parents these days are okay letting their kids experience media with swearing and violence but not sex. “What kind of a message does that send kids about sex?” they ask. “Parents are telling kids that sex is something to be ashamed of and hidden away; it will make them want to do it more.” But this game case isn’t about kids. It’s about adults. If this edition of the game is released (at the time of this writing it’s unclear to me if this is a mock-up of a potential product or definitely coming out) it’s going to cost extra. The game will be $60. The game with this case? Probably an extra $20. How many parents are going to get this thing for their kids at that price? Oh, and the whole violent sexism, too. My point is, it’s adults (and teens with their own disposable income) who would buy it.
So why buy it?
What does it say about the gaming community? What does it say about gamers? What does it say about its relationship to women? In a way, the question really is: what does it say when artists mistake the intended audience for the real audience?
Cool is good. Free choice is good. Profit is good.
But satire is better. Responsible choice is better. Ethics are better.
If men want to be men and not boys they need to be more concerned with satire over cool, responsibility over autonomous freedom, and ethics over profit. They need to say “no” and change the world’s opinion of them. Especially if they’re gamers. There’s plenty of stereotypes about male gamers as it is. How does this case not perpetuate them? Especially when stereotypes, in this case, are steeped in reality.
Consider the heartbreaking experience of Anita Sarkeesan. Read here or watch below (both are worth your time):
Now think about that game case. This is not “so cool.”
There is no scientifically-proven data depicting correlation between video games depicting violence and violent tendencies and those who play them in a general sense. I wonder, though, about the sort of persons drawn to play video games and how the art there feeds developing or already-present attitudes toward women. As for disrespect of women? Dismissal of women? Violence against women? That is something that’s worth exploring. What scares me is that we might already know the answer.
VentureBeat has an interesting pair of creative editorials on the Dead Island: Riptide case that serve as point and counterpoint, if you care to read a little more. As for me, I’m left feeling self-conscious by how often the above torso appears on my laptop screen in the public space where I’m writing this.
Ms. Pac-Man has been my favorite video game for probably fifteen or twenty years. And it ain’t ’cause of them gams, sweetheart.