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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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)