December 9, 2008

Subtle sexism: analyzing The Witcher

Posted in entertainment, entitlement, gaming, gender, heteronormative, objectification, phallocentrism, representation, sexism, sexual politics at 8:00 pm by LB

This post is about the PC game The Witcher, which someone I know has just started playing. But this post is less about the game and more about cultural representations and assumptions about gender and sexuality. He and I had a conversation around it today, which got me thinking a lot about female sexuality, male entitlement, and homophobia in our culture. So please bear through my discussion of the game to get the “big picture” analysis.

In browsing around the internets and reading people’s discussions around gender and sexuality in the game, I very often read these reasons for why the game isn’t “that bad” vis-a-vis women and (women’s) sexuality: the sex scenes are well done (they are in fact pretty tasteful) and the women aren’t represented as all dumb bimbos (as if commodifying women’s sexuality is only sexist if the women are represented as idiots.) My friend mentioned that in reading reviews, many women said the sex in the game wasn’t “that bad.” But in the game, it’s not really the sex that’s the problem.

At first, I thought that gender and sexuality in the game wasn’t so bad, but the more I was told the more troubled I became. Originally, I thought the sex in the game was just optional, with no reward attached, and the sex scenes aren’t gratuitous or very objectifying. Point one for the game?

Well, that’s not exactly it. Read the rest of this entry »


November 25, 2008

Commercial Critique: Guitar Hero World Tour

Posted in advertising, body politics, Commercial Critique, double standards, gaming, gender, objectification, representation, sexism, television at 10:00 am by LB

I was originally pretty pleased at the Guitar Hero World Tour commercials. I liked that the first one, at least, showed a group of guys hanging out in comfy, even kinda sexy, clothing, rocking out like dorks. Typically representations of masculinity perform “boundary maintenance” (see “Fraternal Bonding”, which interestingly enough specifically talks about athletes), which is about displaying masculinity through sexism and homophobia; so often in commercials, the “cool guys” are the womanizing-objectifying type (not that the first GH didn’t have at least one of those in there), not the male bonding through semi-sexy fun type. So the initial commercial, at least, thwarted my expectation by not giving into the the sexist-homophobic construction of masculinity typically seen. The first one featured several male athletes (Plelps, A-Rod, Tony Hawk, Kobe Bryant) rocking it out in someone’s living room a la Risky Business, and several more have followed including American Idol stars David Archuleta and David Cook, High School Musical actor/singer Corbin Blue, and most recently model Heidi Klum. Except they’re not really a la Risky Business.

In Risky Business, Cruise dances around the living room in a long-sleeved button-down t-shirt, barely long enough to cover his ass, and nothing else is visible until the end when you see he has skimpy tighty whities on. In the GH commercials, the guys are dancing around in replica dress shirts and long, white boxers. Not 100% authentic, but I didn’t think anything of it because it’s a daytime commercial, and I figured they probably didn’t want it too seductive. That logic only held until I saw the Klum ad, where she wears (big surprise!) only the barely long enough dress shirt–no white shorts.

Why the discrepancy? Does this go back to the idea that sexualizing women’s bodies is acceptable for general consumption, but men’s bodies are (generally) off limits? What’s especially interesting to me here is that the original context of the parody was the sexual one–it’s not like they changed the commercial to make the one with the woman more sexual; rather they specifically desexualized the men’s commercials, and in doing so, deviated from its original context. It doesn’t bother me that they deviated; it’s that they deviated from, and desexualized, only the ones with the men.

But wait–it gets better. Because they actually did make the women’s one more sexual. The version of Klum’s commercial aired during Monday Night Football featured Klum with the button-down shirt unbuttoned, displaying black lingerie underneath. During her GH “performance”, she strips her shirt off, gyrating around, shakes her boobs while leaning back–all very stripper-like moves; again, this version is way off from the original they are supposed to be parodying. Celebrity Smack has this characterization of the commercial:

Close-ups of her ass and her boobs come next, followed by Heidi jumping down on the couch and holding the guitar between her legs as though it were a 2-foot long sex toy.

It is indeed a very sexualized commercial, Klum is turned into a quasi-porn star and the guitar seems more like a phallus than a fake guitar. This still is particularly telling:

Before anyone points out that “it’s not that bad”, the point is that for a series of commercials that are supposed to be citing a famous film scene, the ad makers go out of their way to increase the sexualization of the one commercial featuring a woman, and decrease the sexualization of the many commercials featuring a man or men. The only ad they made that is an accurate representation of the film is the “family-friendly” Klum ad. And until now, I haven’t even pointed out the 3:1 male:female ratio of the ads, nor the vocations of the genders represented (athletes and musicians: supermodel, how original!).

Let me point out, that there have been more “successful” replications of the Risky Business scene. Exhibit A: one of my favorite shows, Scrubs, had a JD fantasy sequence with the guys imitating Cruise. Now they don’t go through and dance–the fantasy is cut short–and the scene is much more goofy than sexy, but there we had 4 guys on non-cable TV early prime-time (and syndicated now during the day) with the same shirt some Cruise-like much skimpier undies. No reason GH couldn’t follow suit.

But maybe our only women’s-bodies-should-be-objectified/men-looking-at-men’s-bodies-makes-you-gay society can’t handle the swooning that would ensue if we were able to see as much of A-Rod, Phelps, and Kobe’s athletic physiques as we see of JD, Turk, Dr. Cox, and The Todd. For a game that appeals quite equally to female as well as male players, GH sure didn’t aim to give men and women equal ad time and representation.

(For other posts in this series, click here)

July 23, 2008

Guest post: A feminist gamer looks at gender issues in the gaming industry

Posted in entertainment, gaming, gender, gender stereotypes, guest posts, objectification at 12:00 pm by LB

I have asked Cassandra from No Little Lolita to do some occasional guest blogging about gender and gaming. It is an area I’m very interested in, but not being a gamer myself, can’t give it the treatment it deserves. So I’ve asked Cassandra to fill in that gap here at Don’t you wish your girlfriend was smart like me? Please engage her ideas in the comments with respect.


Hi, my name is Cassandra – I post on No Little Lolita, a blog about popular culture, teenage years and feminism, gaming, and the pursuits and hobbies of a young Canadian feminist. I’m guestblogging to talk a little about the huge problems in the gaming industry, and why they affect women – even those who aren’t gamers.

We’ve recently entered a ‘new generation’ of gaming, and it’s only show how persuasive the siren song of gaming is. The Nintendo Wii broke records when it was launched – it was the first console that appealed to people beyond gamers, and the inventive remote with add-ons seemed more welcoming and approachable than the controllers of their competitors – the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360. In contrast, the Xbox 360 and the PS3 seem to be in a market of their own – both of them are powerhouses that appeal to the ‘hardcore’ gamer and boast libraries of games that’ll last you tens upon tens of hours full of deep storylines and complex gameplay.

With this new interactive art form taking center stage, it would be great if we could shed the tired tropes and disgusting stereotypes that show up constantly in movies and on TV. Gaming is a medium that boasts large amounts of interactivity and choice – wouldn’t it be great if the writing was excellent without leaning on racist or sexist stereotypes, the action was tight without being pandering or offensive, and the characters were engrossing and sympathetic and yet realistic and enjoyable to play?

Unfortunately, it seems that most studios either don’t have the capacity or the willpower to create games that fulfill these expectations. Most games have either a shallow story, with the main objective being ‘blow this up’, or rely on stereotypes and tropes when they bother to develop the characters or the storyline at all. Female characters are reduced to simpering, slender sexpots relying on the main character while being just feisty enough to rile him up more often than not – that is, when they even exist. Even when a female is the main character of a game, she is usually designed to be attractive, available and open to possible advances – she’s tough, but not so tough that your average gamer would be threatened! The main character of a game is more often than not white, male, and straight. Often he’s taking down terrorists or criminals or some unsavory group while some female sighs over his hunkiness, and his POC sidekick serves as comic relief. The art form, so far, is heteronormative, overwhelmingly white, and sexist.

The gaming market has produced some feminist-friendly games for sure – the Mario games are a safe bet, the Metal Gear Solid games have a large cast with both genders, and even though the games are set around the American – Russian – Chinese conflict, the third game had a black support member who helped the protagonist on his solo mission talk about his experiences facing racism from the private corporations in America in the 60s; not something you would hear discussed in most media forms of any sort. But for the large part, games are like a gigantic soggy sandwich: you watch the preparation as you starve and drool, you rationalize “It’s still good! It’s still good!” even after the waitress dumps a glass of water over it, but you give up after having a few bites and mourn over what could have been.

There has to be reasons for this: it’s not like a game is somehow functionally incapable of being feminist. Let’s examine some of the prominent reasons as to why we have these complaints: Read the rest of this entry »