Sexism in my Favourite Games

For those who follow the videogaming world, you’ve probably heard of GamerGate. Short version for those who don’t: a lot of straight, white men get angry whenever people point out the industry is terribly slanted toward them while at best failing to represent and at worst actively harming other groups (particularly women, but also LGBTQ and minorities). There have been months of coordinated death threats, doxxing (discovering someone’s address and releasing it online), swatting (calling SWAT teams to that house in hopes that there is enough chaos for somebody to get shot), and more.

I’ve really gotten into videogames again in the past year and a half since getting an Xbox One. It is a great way to relax for me. GamerGate has caused me to consider what I play a little more critically, though. Here’s the big games I’ve played meaningful hours in over that time and how they generally seem to represent women:

NBA 2K14

Honest question: why doesn’t this game have WNBA? They have European club teams. They have historic teams. But they don’t have the current best-in-the-world women’s basketball league (or any other women’s league). It took me a while to realize that, but then I saw my wife Emily setting up her myPlayer where she had to become a man. It’s a pretty glaring omission in my opinion. I heard recently that WNBA was the fourth or fifth most popular major league in the U.S., after NFL, MLB, NBA and I honestly can’t remember if NHL was ahead of it or not. To the best of my knowledge, there are no WNBA videogames.

My Grade: F

Tomb Raider

I didn’t get into the multiplayer, but I loved the single player story mode. Lara’s character has so much depth. She kicks ass, but she’s not the typical action hero (e.g. American Sniper) who is sociopathic in not caring about the lives she takes. She doesn’t really want to kill, but in the traumatic turning point of the story, realizes she has to in order to survive. I really felt connected to her by the end, and to some degree connected to the non-playable Samantha as well.

It’s also worth noting that she looks realistic in this game. In the old ones, her boobs got bigger and her waist got smaller with each game. In this one, she’s attractive and fit, which is necessary to make sense of what she is able to do in the game – unlike the old ones where it would have to be hard to scale rock walls while dodging arrows with half of your weight in your chest.

My Grade: A

Dragon Age: Inquisition

This is my current addiction. I’m happy to say it picked up Isometric’s award for best diversity as well as an award from GLAAD for its representation of LGBTQ characters. Sera may be my favourite, but Vivienne and Cassandra are also great as playable characters, plus non-playable characters like Josephine, Leliana, and Harding. I find it great that whenever I summon my War Council, 4 out of 5 at the table are women (I’m playing with my main character as a woman). In general, the amount of personality they have put in each character – male and female – is impressive, where they all have their own political views, their own sense of humour, and their own complicated histories.

My Grade: A+

Dragon Age Inquisition

Shadow of Mordor

It isn’t surprising that a game based on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe doesn’t do so well with representation. The only female characters originally in the game were there as motivation for the men to rescue and/or avenge. They do score some points for listening to this criticism and releasing a female skin for the main character for free. You still get a man’s voice and storyline, but at least you’re still running around for all the main action appearing as a woman.

My Grade: D+

Child of Light

The central character is a teenage girl who is dragged into a magical world. She’s realistic even in this fantasy world: not really believing what’s going on, having trouble picking up her giant sword, and generally responding to events the way a brave but normal teenager would. All of the main characters, good and evil, are women. My only complaint was the evil stepmother/stepsister trope.

My Grade: B+

LEGO Marvel and LEGO Batman

I’m going to lump these together because the general thought is the same. The problem here is that the creator of the game only has so much creative license. They have to use the characters from Marvel and DC, who are predominately male. There are a few good female characters in each, but they’re mostly sidekicks/minor heroes as they are in the original stories.

My Grade: C

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

None of the zombies appear to be female, although being zombies, it’s not like their maleness is obvious. It’s debatable whether it really counts. It doesn’t really stand out either way to me.

My Grade: C

Forza Motorsports 5

You never see your driver, male or female. There’s the male voices of the Top Gear hosts, but that’s it. Car games could easily cater to men – the stereotypical group to love cars – but there isn’t anything like the women in bikinis waving checkered flags that some games throw in.

My Grade: B, more gender-neutral than actively representing women well

Conclusion

NBA is the only miserable failure in my favourite games. Shadow of Mordor saved itself from becoming another. A couple are more or less gender-neutral. A couple are headed in the right direction but could use some more work. And a couple of them clearly made a deliberate effort to represent women (and in Dragon Age, other groups) well. It’s interesting that the two games I’ve spent the most time in have been the two extremes of my ratings.

If you’re a gamer, how do your favourites stack up?

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.