Online Abuse is the Hardest Battle for Female Gamers

Being a woman interested in games and on the internet is a frighteningly hostile place to be. It’s a toxic environment where sexual harassment is widespread and threats of rape and murder are commonplace. This attitude doesn’t stem from women being vastly outnumbered on the playing field – according to the latest statistics from Entertainment Software Association 41 percent of gamers in the U.S. are female – rather it’s the attitude of some who wish gaming to be a space where being openly misogynistic is accepted, normal even, and women aren’t welcome. But what these misguided individuals fail to understand is that the world has moved on; women have left the kitchen, found the living room, turned on a games console and liked it.

This attitude reflects pre-pubescent behaviour where boys don’t want to associate with girls – they have ‘cooties’. It may have been more accepted when video games were a pastime mainly engaged in by immature boys who didn’t yet grasp the concept of gender equality, but gaming has grown up and so should the attitudes of the men that now play them.

With the vast availability and popularity of online gaming, the situation is worse than ever.  If you’re a female gamer, verbal abuse, threats and sexual harassment are an unavoidable part of the experience whatever way you interact with the medium. From the developers and journalists working in the industry to those that play online or broadcast via game streaming services like Twitch, all face scrutiny and abuse simply for being female.

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image courtesy of flicker.com

The internet, it seems, is a free-for-all where people can say whatever threatening or lewd thing they like. A man wouldn’t walk up to a woman in the street and threaten to rape her without consequence and nor should he be free to do so online. These are real women, not verbal punch bags for spineless men who feel the need to convey their obvious contempt for women through the anonymity of an online persona. The problem is that very little is done to discourage such behaviour because the sheer scale of offences committed is too high for law enforcement to effectively police.

Even if they don’t actively participate in the abuse there are many that see it as no big deal. Abuse and sexual harassment of female players doesn’t affect the average male’s gaming experience and while some simply choose to ignore the issue, others see woman objecting to their treatment as an overreaction. They theorise that if you can’t take the insults then you shouldn’t be playing, or be on the internet at all for that matter. Forgoing what is supposed to be an enjoyable activity simply because people can’t help but be nasty is frankly ludicrous and not an effective solution to the problem.

Fortunately, there are those that would stand up against the abuse directed at women, both in the games industry and the internet as a whole, often at the risk of being exposed to even more criticism. Ashley Judd is one such woman. A few days before making the headlines for standing up for women’s rights at the women’s march against Trump in Washington D.C, Ashley made a speech at a TED conference calling for an end to sexual harassment and threats against women on the internet. “Online misogyny is a global gender rights tragedy, and it is imperative that it ends,” said an impassioned Judd.

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image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With regard to the games industry, she went further than berating it for the harassment directed at women online and openly accused it of “profiteering off misogyny”.

“I’m so tired of hearing you talk to me about how deplorable #GamerGate was when you’re still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport,” she said.

Judd’s comments are seemingly aimed at games like Grand Theft Auto, a series that allows players to utilise the services of prostitutes, kill them and reclaim their money, but has never had a female lead or any female character of particular note for that matter.

Judd is far from alone in her condemnation of the treatment of women. Prominent women like Brenda Romero, credited by the Game Developers Conference as “the longest continuously serving woman in the video game industry” has publicly spoken out on numerous occasions against the gender inequality that has infested the industry. Other women like Julia Hardy take on misogyny one vulgar message at a time. In her blog Misogyny Monday, Julia shares the obscene and abusive things said to her online, as well as her witty response to these trolls. It’s a fresh and entertaining approach to a very serious subject.

Prominent industry professionals can, of course, gain more attention for the issue, but it’s also up to each individual to help stamp out this horrible trend. Gaming is a fun, social and enjoyable activity and it should be so for everyone regardless of their gender. Women should not be afraid to speak out against the abuse they receive and should have the support of players who witness it. Those that get their kicks by hurling abuse at female gamers need to do some serious growing up and realise that this isn’t a game. They’re part of the real world – a world they’ll go a lot further in once they learn to have some respect for others

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)

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2017’s Games Featuring Female Protagonists

2016 was viewed as a bad year for a number of reasons, but thankfully not for its lack of notable female characters. Lara celebrated her 20th birthday in style with the long-awaited launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, a grown-up Emily Kaldwin more than proved she can hold her own in Dishonored 2 and Faith returned for more awe inducing  parkour in the unnaturally pristine world of Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, to name but a few.

2017 brings with it another strong line-up of leading ladies ready to blast their way onto the gaming scene. It’s also worth mentioning that most of the characters on this list are making their gaming debut, a promising sign that developers are keen on creating intriguing new female characters to help balance the usual influx of testosterone-heavy titles.

Gravity Rush 2

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Image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: SIE Japan Studio and Project Siren
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 18 January (US) 20 January (UK)

Kat is back to turn your world upside down with the direct sequel to PS Vita’s Gravity Rush. While the original received positive reviews the decision to release it on a Sony’s handheld platform meant simplifying the graphics and AI and a rather hefty audience reduction. Thankfully, Gravity Rush 2 is getting the full console treatment with the vastly superior processing capabilities of the PS4 bringing the beautifully vibrant anime world to life.

In stark defiance of Newton and his laws, Kat manipulates gravity to traverse the world and rid it of the evil Nevi. Gravity Rush 2 won’t have one heroine, but two, as Kat joins forces with former rival Raven – who appears as an AI controlled ally in combat. Boasting a map two and a half times the size of the original offering 3 times the content as well as enhanced mechanics and new powers, it’s a no-brainer for those that enjoy an action adventure with a twist (pun fully intended). Not only does Gravity Rush get female representation right, its approach to DLC is also something that many developers could learn from. Releasing in March, the 5-hour long episode will star sidekick Raven and cost you the grand total of nothing – forget defying gravity, that’s true madness!

Tales of Berseria

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image courtesy of namcobandaigames-press.com

Developer: Bandai Namco
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 24 January (US) 27 January (UK)

Considering how much games nowadays struggle to get even one follow up title the Tales series should be commended for reaching an impressive sixteenth entry with Berseria. Despite enjoying regular releases since the mid-nineties, this latest entry marks the first time the franchise will feature a solo lead female. According to the game’s producer, this is due to a rise in demand for female protagonists, particularly in Western countries. This new direction for the series is also thanks to the popularity of Tales of Xillia’s female protagonist Milla Maxwell, who shared the spotlight with male hero Jude Mathis.

The lady leading the usual mix of offbeat characters is Velvet Crowe. Far from the colourful airy fairy type, some might expect, Velvet displays a distinctly icy demeanour. Imbued with the powers of a Deamon, she fights using a fierce werewolf claw. Her shredded attire – that makes it look like she’s just had a battle with said werewolf – leaves little to the imagination and has come under some scrutiny. Berseria’s producer Yasuhiro Fukaya explained that “players will see why she wears that costume during the course of the game”. Let’s just hope it’s a better excuse than she has to breathe through her skin à la Metal Gear V’s Quiet, sigh…

Horizon Zero Dawn

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image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: Guerrilla Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 28 February (US) 3 March (UK)

Horizon is an unexpected yet highly welcome change of pace for Guerrilla Games, a developer who’ve cut their gaming chops on FPS series Killzone. Although Killzone has always remained somewhat in the shadow of other shooters, Guerrilla has a real chance to shine here as it’s developed something that truly stands on its own. The team’s first foray into the action RPG genre, Horizon provides the perfect blend of past and present with a prehistoric world that’s teeming with deadly robotic enemies known as “Machines”.Like a female Tarzan, Aloy fearlessly sweeps into battle; bow in hand, ready to deal some serious damage to the mechanized invaders.

The likes of Far Cry and Tomb Raider have already proven the bow to be an extremely enjoyable and satisfying weapon to wield, but Horizon looks set to improve on this with an altogether smarter, more tactical and considered approach to combat. That brainless method of tapping a single button to unleash a fury of combos and bring an enemy to the ground with ease, that modern games love so much, just won’t work here. Aloy has a multitude of ways to get one over on her foes including electric arrows to stun and rope arrows to render them immobile, giving her the opportunity to destroy them and loot their frazzled remains for those all-important crafting resources.

Nier: Automata

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image courtesy of square-enix-press.com

Developer: Platinum Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 7 March (US) 10 March (UK)

Scalebound, Platinum’s DMC-like Dragon title may be dead in the water, but never fear as Nier: Automata promises to cure that itch for stupidly stylish, fast-paced action. Set after the events of 2010’s Nier, the surprising sequel puts you in the wickedly destructive boots of female protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B or, rather mercifully, ‘2B’ for short. Automata shares the grim atmosphere and branching narrative structure of its predecessor, but doesn’t directly expand upon any of its story elements.

2B is an android tasked with ridding Earth of killer robots – a rather unwelcome gift courtesy of some anti-human extra-terrestrial beings. Luckily 2B can more than hold her own and makes quick work of legions of mechs using all manner of slick sword combos and gunplay. Developers nowadays have a tendency to want to develop characters, particularly female ones, that players can relate to, making 2B’s lack of emotional hang-ups, inhuman finesse and all-round badassery delightfully refreshing.  While action is the order of the day Platinum hasn’t forsaken the series’ RPG roots as Nier: Automata promises to fuse the developer’s unique action style with the familiar progression elements of the original.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

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image courtesy of scee-press.com

Developer: Ninja Theory
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Release Date: 2017

Ninja Theory not only develop great games, they develop great games with highly adept female characters. From the combat abilities of Heavenly Sword’s Nariko to the tech skills of Enslaved’s Trip and mystical abilities of DmC’s Kat, each female created by Ninja Theory has serious skills. These women don’t exist to be rescued by a male, nor are they created for titillation – they are interesting characters that happen to be female, not interesting because they are female. Thankfully Ninja Theory looks set to continue this admirable trend with protagonist Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.

Bridging the gap between indie and AAA, Ninja Theory has described their approach to creating Hellblade as independent AAA. This allows them to retain creative freedom without sacrificing the spectacle that comes with high budget titles. This freedom has led the team to explore something more hellish than all the shuffling zombies and sharp clawed creatures of other games – mental illness. A victim of psychosis, the demons that Celtic Warrior Senua faces are manifestations of her own troubled mind. It’s experimental development model and serious subject matter marks Hellblade as one of the most  important and progressive prospects to grace gaming in years.

This is in no way a complete list of all the female game characters we will see this year, nor does include titles such as Mass Effect Andromeda and Prey – which allow you choose the gender of your character. Rather, it’s a snapshot of the best taken from the most high profile releases that 2017 has to offer. If your favourite upcoming gaming heroine has been missed off the list feel free to add them in the comments below.

(featured image courtesy of scee-press.com)

Nier: Automata’s Director Encourages Objectification of Game’s Female Protagonist

Instead of having fans excited over its stylish action or fascinating premise, Nier: Automata is currently making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Gamers were recently sent into a tizzy over a screenshot of the game’s protagonist YoRHa No. 2 Model B (or 2B for short). The image in question is apparently an upskirt shot from the recently released PlayStation 4 demo that goes into far more anatomical detail than necessary – especially considering the character in question is an android.

To make things worse the game’s director, Yoko Taro has waded in and, instead of claiming the screenshot to be the result of some sad individual with too much time on their hands, has encouraged fans to come forth with their own lewd artwork of the character for his viewing pleasure.

According to Kotaku, this translates to:

“Because of the brouhaha over 2B’s butt, there are loads of rude drawings and whatnot being uploaded [online]. And since going around and collecting them is a pain, I’d like it if I could get them sent in a zip file every week.”

Naturally, fans indulged the request and have created a plethora of explicit artwork featuring 2B, to which Taro replied, “The internet is great.”

Disregarding the artwork that so unashamedly sexualises her, the character herself is, for the most part, very well designed. It’s disappointing then, to witness this intriguing new female character degraded like this and even more disheartening to see a creator have such little respect for his character that he encourages her objectification and even revels in it.

For anyone interested in more than what’s up 2B’s skirt, Nier: Automata is the follow-up to 2010’s Nier. Following on from the events of its predecessor, the game shares the same dark and atmospheric, post-apocalyptic setting where machines from another world wage war with humans.

The open-world game is being developed by action masters Platinum Games, so expect to see the developer’s unique brand of intense action blended with the RPG elements of the original.

Nier Automata will be released in Europe on March 10 for PS4. You can also download the demo here.

(featured image courtesy of square-enix-press.com)

Final Fantasy XV’s Poor Female Representation

Square Enix’s latest is a boys only party

Having undergone various changes in terms of design, platform, and even name over the last decade, Final Fantasy XV is finally here. It’s clear from the off that Square Enix has crafted something that’s far removed from the painfully restrictive Final Fantasy XIII in a bid to propel the 29-year-old series into the current gen. The darkened colour palette, lack of cuddly creatures and reworked combat demonstrate a conscious effort to reform the series and produce something that feels entirely new. However, what most notably distinguishes this entry from the series norm is its unusually predominant masculine presence.

Final Fantasy has a long and commendable history of iconic female characters such as XIII’s leading lady Lightning, and let’s not forget the all-female line-up of Final Fantasy X-2 – you most likely couldn’t forget those zany pop performances even if you wanted to. It comes as something of a surprise then that FFXV boasts an exclusively male core party line-up.

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Explaining the omission of female main characters, director Hajime Tabata said:

“Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they’ll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way.”

While it’s a shame we don’t get any badass female warriors as playable characters this time around, the all-male road trip is entirely forgivable as it’s a creative decision that makes sense in the context of the narrative rather than a sexist statement on the part of the developer. Final Fantasy XV’s crime isn’t its lack of playable female characters rather it’s portrayal of those it does include.

Firstly there’s Lunafreya, an Oracle with the power to commune with Gods and heal the suffering and afflicted. Despite having powers comparable to Jesus, Lunafreya seems more concerned with her marriage to Noctis than aiding the troubled world of Eos. She is largely underused and has very little character of her own. Her presence seemingly serves to bolster the female character numbers rather than add anything meaningful to the story and even though her magical abilities are vastly more interesting and effective than Noctis’ she never features outside of cutscenes.

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Aside from Lunafreya, the game’s most notable female presence is Cindy. Thanks to a spot of car trouble, players are introduced to Cindy within minutes of the game’s opening. Granddaughter of Cid, a character who’s appeared in almost every instalment to date, she takes over car repair duties from her ‘Paw-paw’. This could be seen as a really progressive step and a middle finger to the stereotype that mechanics always have to be men, and it would be if it weren’t for the fact she looks like a stripper impersonating a mechanic rather than the real deal.

Tabata describes Cindy as “a very important part of the story because by keeping the car running she makes the entire journey possible.” However, her helpfulness and skills are completely undermined by her gratuitous sexualisation. Not once in all the years of playing Final Fantasy have we ever witnessed Cid servicing our car in his long johns, that would be ridiculous, and nor is it appropriate to have a female mechanic clad in denim hotpants, underwear fully on show and sporting unnecessary levels of cleavage.

After the original demo for the game was released, Tabata revealed that players, particularly those from Europe, complained that Cindy’s attire was “too sexy”. This didn’t propel the team to change the character design, but rather defend it by saying “she’s actually not meant to be an erotic character”. Instead Cindy is described as an outgoing character. Fellow party member Prompto is outgoing, but portrays his extrovert behaviour through his personality, why isn’t this the same for a female character?

Tabata also spoke of “moderating the way she is presented” to eliminate the sexual themes. So, judging by the final product, having scantily clad women bent over cars isn’t sexualizing them.

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Omitting females as playable characters was meant to make the game more approachable for players of both genders. But Square Enix obviously didn’t have this in mind with Cindy’s portrayal. She was designed for the benefit of men at the risk of offending and alienating female players. It’s a disappointing move for a series that has a strong female fanbase and sends out the message that despite a woman’s skills she is fundamentally an object for men to ogle – something that’s further reinforced by Prompto’s constantly voiced desire for Cindy.

The remaining female cast features only briefly in the game. There’s Lunafreya’s mysterious lady-in-waiting Gentiana, as well as Gladiolus’ little sister Iris – who’s most remarkable deeds amount to fawning over Noctis and offering a sidequest that involves planting carrots, compelling stuff. There’s also a lady with an unhealthy frog obsession and that’s pretty much every female in the game apart from mercenary Aranea. She’s the only female warrior in the entire game and, aside from Gentiana, the only one that doesn’t seem to base her value on her ability to win the affections of men… or frogs.

Final Fantasy XV was marketed as “a Fantasy based in reality” alas, the grim reality that FFXV drives home more than any other is the continued misogynistic nature of video games. Here’s hoping Final Fantasy XVI makes considerable strides back towards the equal representation of genders it’s commendably exhibited in previous efforts.

(images courtesy of square-enix-press.com)