Art, sexism, Shakespeare, and videogames
"Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature: for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2
This quote is incredibly important for the modern videogame industry. If you have any aspirations to be an entertainer, or even if you simply would like to understand entertainment better, you should first understand this quote.
Hamlet is addressing a troupe of actors in this scene. He is reminding them that their role in entertainment is to reflect nature, to not deny it or warp it or ignore it. Since the videogame industry is an entertainment industry, it must also be mindful of its duty to "hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature" if it ever wants to be taken seriously as a form of art. Shakespeare's own career is proof of this. Have you heard of Ben Jonson, Philip Massinger, or George Chapman? These people were Shakespeare's contemporaries, and 99% of people today have never heard of them or their contributions to the arts. What did Shakespeare do differently? Instead of focusing on politics or high-minded satire, he wrote about sex, murder, romance, greed, honor, and naivety. He followed his own advice and simply held up a mirror to nature (human nature, that is). And of course, Shakespeare is known today as the pinnacle of English literature.
But I don't simply want to talk about art. I want to talk about sexism and gender roles. I want to talk about Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker and his recent article (found here: http://www.rockpapershotgun... and his insistence that the videogame industry is sexist and oppressive and offensive. I propose that people like John Walker and his agenda are counterproductive for the game industry (destructive, even) if we ever want to see videogames taken seriously as art.
"Wait," you might be thinking. "This guy is trying to give women a fairer representation in videogames and the industry. Isn't he trying to pave the way for videogames being MORE like art?". No. He isn't, and I'll tell you why.
For starters, Mr. Walker contradicts himself time and time again while he preaches his opinion. While pointing out that men who try to side with women on this issue are called "white knights" and "just trying to get laid", he goes on to say "I like getting laid. I like people being attracted to me. I like helping people. Why is this used as an insult?" But then he complains that women pose in bikinis and wear sexy outfits at game conventions. Doesn't it stand to reason, Mr. Walker, that women also enjoy being attractive? Doesn't it stand to reason that they, also, would like to get laid? And isn't it a rather sexist thing, Mr. Walker, to imply that these women should NOT be allowed to show off their bodies? Isn't it a rather puritanical thing, Mr. Walker, to imply that videogame artists should NOT be allowed to create sexy women for their paying customers in an entertainment medium.
Early in the article, he says women really, really are oppressed in the industry. How does he know? "Oh, just ask them". Gee, that sounds empirical, Mr. Walker. Yet, later he argues against a strawman of "but I know a girl who doesn't think this is sexist". He claims that bringing up anecdotes only muddles the "real issue". Wait a second. You just told us your evidence for gender oppression is "just ask them", but when I ask a different woman and she tells me she isn't offended, somehow her opinion is only getting in the way of the "real issue"? I'm sorry, but I don't know a single woman in real life who has thought videogames are overtly sexist or oppressive. Most women don't even have an opinion on the matter. Maybe I'm not hanging out with the right crowd like Mr. Walker is.
Videogames have been called "sexist" many times in the past. People have tried to point out that men are also portrayed in a stereotypical way in some games. What people are missing is this: what do real women think? After all, 50% of the game industry fanbase is made up of women. Surely, if the videogame market was just so dang offensive, they wouldn't be around, would they? Keep in mind: videogames are ENTERTAINMENT. There are no restrictions (outside of a young age, in some countries) on who can play which videogames. It's not like we're talking about a woman's right to vote. We're talking about optional entertainment. If the videogame industry was just so dang OFFENSIVE to women as a whole, they wouldn't be around. And yet, they are. Peculiar. But I thought the videogame industry was offensive and sexist! Apparently, it isn't, or at least not to the degree that these crusaders would like us to believe.
It appears to me that the people who are accusing videogames and their portrayal of women as "sexist" do not actually understand women, sexism, or human nature. I'm talking about the women as well as the men who take a stand against this supposed sexism. As a part of human nature, physical attraction is a normal thing. It is normal for a person to be physically attracted to beautiful features, just like it is normal for a person to be repulsed by someone with a mouth full of rotten teeth. Why, then, is it so bizarre for beautiful women to be displayed IN A FREAKIN' ENTERTAINMENT MEDIUM? Let us not forget that beauty and attraction and even lust comprise the cornerstones of art, music, theater, and literature in every corner of the world. Was Solomon's lover described as an old hag, or were her breasts compared to shriveled prunes? No. "Shall I compare thee to a Summer's Day? Sweaty and annoying and swarming with flies?" No, I'm pretty sure that's not how that line went. Beauty is a normal part of human nature and a normal part of art. Portraying beauty is a normal part of art. Portraying sexuality is a normal part of art.
Men have every right to be entertained, just like women do. I'm pretty sure there's a portion of the male population that enjoys seeing a beautiful woman. Women have their own segments of entertainment, don't they? Last I checked, women aren't offended by beautiful women in entertainment, seeing how they are the main patrons of chick-flicks and romance movies. And last I checked, some of those women are HOT! My wife drags me to enough chick-flicks for me to know. Last I checked, women aren't offended by women being emotionally or physically vulnerable to men, seeing how there are countless movies and novels on the topic (including the recent Twilight, just as one example). I have no charts, percentages, or surveys to "prove" what I'm saying. I simply have the market itself, the strongest proof of all, because if half of the the videogame market's PAYING CUSTOMERS are women, then it is simply impossible for the market to be as anti-female as certain people are leading us to believe. Otherwise, those female customers wouldn't be customers at all.
The issue here isn't that videogames are sexist. The issue isn't that videogames portray women in an anti-feminist light. The issue is that these crusaders don't have any clue what an "appropriate" portrayal of women actually looks like. The most correct and most obvious portrayal of a woman in an entertainment medium would be a beautiful woman. I'm not saying EVERY woman has to be three-quarters naked with a massive chest. I'm just saying that, generally speaking, it makes sense for an attractive woman to take center stage, right? But these crusaders are offended by such an obvious truth. Therefore, they point their fingers and say "that's sexist" without telling us what is not sexist. "Oh, well if the girl was the hero...". Stop. It has been done. It has been done tons of times. "Well, if they weren't dressed so...". Stop. Conservatively-dressed women fill the ranks of countless videogames. Is it offensive to you, women, that a fictional videogame character looks sexier than you? Then step your game up, or simply stop being so sensitive. I don't protest whenever I see Marcus Fenix's impossible physique, because he is fictional and it would be silly (no, imbalanced, actually) for me to be offended or intimidated by a fictional character.
Mr. Walker is just one of many videogame journalists these days who are confused about their actual roles. See, the role of a journalists is to report the news. Their job is to inform their readers of actual events. But in videogame journalism, apparently it is their job to spin things, tell you what console you should (or shouldn't) buy, and stand up for women's rights when no one else seems to think there's a problem. Mr. Walker, you'd make a great politician, but perhaps you and your fellow journalists are in the wrong business. This isn't news. This isn't an "issue". It's a crusade, and it is - in every sense of the insult - white-knighting.
Hey, gamers. Yeah, you. Men and women. I'm talking to you, the customers of this fun and excitement-filled videogame industry. Are you listening? Let me ask you: would you like games to be taken seriously as art? If that is the case, then what is more artistic than the Venus de Milo, or Michelangelo's David? What is more artistic than "She Loves You?" by The Beatles? Perhaps the lyric should have been "she is an intelligent and independent woman, yeah, yeah, yeah!" I'm sure the girls would've SWOONED over that one. Face it. Men like to be considered sexy and attractive to others. Women also like to be considered sexy and attractive to others. And people like to see beautiful/handsome people. It's so simple, it shouldn't have to be explained, but apparently for some people, human nature is just way too...natural. No, we SHOULDN'T portray beautiful women in videogames. We SHOULDN'T entertain people with attractive images, because people obviously hate looking at attractive things. People enjoy working hard all day, dealing with irritating customers, dental cavities, dirty baby diapers, and bad-breathed patrons and then after all that, they love to come home and turn on a videogame full of ugly women and overweight men. YEAH! As if the gaming industry wasn't already heading towards a financial crisis...
If videogames are ever going to become art, they're going to become art the exact same way every other art form did: by holding up a mirror to nature. And if we aren't even allowed to use one of nature's most basic instincts - human attraction - we might as well pack it in and play Pong for the rest of our days.