Bioshock: Infinite was one of last year’s stand out titles in which you take on the role of a man named Booker Dewitt. He’s a depressed gambler in an alcoholic haze who is dragged into a deal that will eliminate a serious debt. What’s the deal you ask? It’s simple really; Go to a city in the sky, rescue one girl, and bring her back to solid ground. The damsel in distress, Elizabeth, is a sweet, innocent but also intelligent young lady trying to figure out who she really is as she journeys with Booker, leaving her life-long prison in the process.
Not that you would get that impression from the front cover of course. What you DO see is a guy standing in frame with a gun over his shoulder. Something that’s been done a lot. One would think that a game which went through so much trouble to have a strong and memorable female protagonist wouldn’t have stuck her on the back of the cover.
It was explained by the head of the now closed Irrational Games, Ken Levine, that the box art was focus tested and most people seemed to like the image of Booker standing alone with a gun. Being that he worked on the game with a team of more than a hundred people over a period of five years, he decided to go with that image, for the best chance at success.
Turns out – according to this test – that the best way to appeal to most male gamers is to not acknowledge the strong female lead character and make an ambitious and thought provoking game look like just another dude bro shooter.
Naughty Dog also released a game in 2013 called The Last of Us. It too features a strong, multi-dimensional female character named Ellie. Like Infinite, she plays a significant role in the game and The Last of Us is as much her story as it is the male lead character Joel. Yet, when coming up with the box art, the developer was repeatedly told to not include Ellie in the art or, failing that, put her on the back like with Elizabeth in Bioshock.
Creative Director, Neil Druckmann said in an interview with VG247 “I believe there’s a misconception that if you put a girl or a woman on the cover, the game will sell less. I know I’ve been in discussions where we’ve been asked to push Ellie to the back and everyone at Naughty Dog just flat-out refused.”
Around this same time, Capcom released Remember Me. It was an action adventure game, taking place in a cyberpunk Paris with hand to hand combat, platforming and action set-pieces. Months before launch however, creative director Jean-Max Morris said in an interview with Penny Arcade that they knew their game had to have a female protagonist.
However, publishers didn’t agree, stating that “We don’t want to publish it because that’s not going to succeed. You can’t have a female character in games. It has to be a male character, simple as that.” When it was said that the game was going to have a scene where the female lead would kiss a man, things only got worse. “You can’t make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that’s going to feel awkward.”
Zoe Quinn is one of the developers of the much discussed game Depression Quest. It’s an interactive text based game wherein you make decisions as a character suffering from depression. As someone that dealt with depression during my early teenage years, I found it to be a brilliantly compelling and relatable experience.
However, since it’s a text based game available on browsers for free, there was some reluctance from the gaming community when it was submitted to Steam Greenlight. Reluctance for some became bitter hatred for others. On Twitter she got an onslaught of comments using every derogatory term in the book. Not only that she also had to change phone numbers after a bunch of jackasses managed to find it and post it on the Internet. This resulted in one of these trolls calling her up and masturbating on the phone.
Jennifer Hepler was a writer for Bioware and worked on projects such as Dragon Age Origins, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Dragon Age 2. One time she said some things about video games and people didn’t like it very much. As a result, when she created an account on Twitter, assholes on the Internet jumped on the hate train and went into overdrive. Is it just me or do other people (males) in the community say derogatory things all the time with little to no repercussions?
Labeled as “the cancer that is killing Bioware,” Jennifer kept talking instead of remaining silent like the trolls wanted. Once she said “I just figure they’re jealous that I get to have both a vagina AND a games industry job, and they can’t get either.” That really got the bastards upset.
Comments like “fat bitch” escalated to graphic forum posts about killing her children after leaving school to “show them that they should have been aborted at birth rather than have to have her as a mother.”
You can go ahead and say that you don’t think this harassment is such a big deal, you can say that these people should have a thicker skin, you can say that all of this should just be ignored. What you cannot say is that sexism doesn’t exist. Men, whether they develop or play video games are never subjected to this degree of scrutiny, EVER. If you’re the kind of person that just hides away and acts like this ugliness never happens, or that people have no right to get upset, you are part of the problem.
If Shawn’s ‘Gamer Girls Magazine’ story from a few weeks ago said anything, it’s that this is a big issue. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been a story to begin with, let alone, one that received over 200x more shares than the previous article. Sexism is a human issue, prevalent in all industries and sadly, video games are no exception.
The question that remains is this; What are we going to do about it?