Wednesday, July 11, 2012

So I Lied

So my friend Pat linked me this post.

I found myself terribly unsurprised, a little sad, and feeling like I don't want to go out and talk to people, because people suck.

So I linked it to another friend, one who plays video games and is not the same kind of social justice activist. I spend a lot of time with people who are, so the comments are alien to me. It felt a lot like the comments were coming from some strange 'other' that is aggressive and anonymous and hates women. I don't have any kind of mental bridge between the kinds of people who make those comments and the kinds of people I actually have conversations with.

An interesting conversation ensued. I don't play a lot of video games: I've played Trauma Center, and some Mario Party, and Wii Fit. I've played online MMOs like Rift and World of Warcraft. I've played flash games on the site Kongregate (mostly puzzle games and tower defenses). But he is coming from a world where he owns gaming consoles that are not the Wii, and actually plays games on them.

See, I have been reading a variety of articles about rape culture in video games. In Rift, despite being in a guild with people I quite liked, I knew a woman who never spoke in Ventrilo (a voice chat client), because she didn't want people to know she was female. Another woman, though, used the fact that she had the kind of mezzo-soprano voice that can sound really cute to get first pick at loot. There were also the kind of casually sexist jokes that I don't care about most of the time. I don't care about those jokes because I'm pretty awesome, and people who don't recognize that can't keep up very long: they get burned up like so much ablative plating on my colonizing spaceship as it enters atmosphere on Planet Awesome.

But I've been doing that thing where I try to expand my horizons and better understand subtext in media, which means reading a lot of material about social justice and media. I'm more aware of what subtext connotes, and why it's not something we should perpetuate. I have more of a vocabulary about the whole issue. I'm more aware of the taken-as-given connection between trailers like the one for Hitman and casually insulting conversation in Vent that suggests (jokingly, of course) that I should either go make someone a sandwich or post topless photos.

Still, the overuse of tropes about both sexes in video games and tits in place of storytelling are separate issues from the prevalence of rape culture in cooperative video games and multiplayer online games and internet culture. They are often conflated, to everyone's detriment.

Rape culture is tautologically bad, and should be discouraged.

Lazy sexualized storytelling is bad in a completely different way. Some romance novels share the same attributes. Many romance novels that I happily read share the same attributes. If I can read about sexy immortal shape-changing warriors with guns, I am pretty much okay with a straight male friend admiring Bayonetta's attributes.

Wish-fulfillment media being conflated whole-hog with rape culture is not a positive thing for anyone. If the entirety of a genre you imbibe is supposed to be disempowering to women and misogynist and hateful, how are you supposed to be able to tell when something actually heinous pops up?

You'll note that most of the linked articles are a bit out of date. This is because the issue is something that I've been mentally prodding with a stick for a while. I had a really hard time figuring out what I thought about it. Video games are not the media I consume the most of, so it was difficult to get a broad sense of context.

On one hand, I am all for napalming the bejeezus out of anything that supports rape culture.

But at the same time, specifics matter, and context matters.

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