Subotron-Vortrag zum Thema Gender Diversity und sexuelle Identität in Spielen

[Posting in German since the talk, which was recorded and is available below, was held in German.]

Rene Schallegger beim subotron Vortrag zum Thema sexuelle Identität. Credit: Verena Riedl, http://www.in-ga.me/subotron-arcademy-nicht-sexy-betrachtungen-zu-geschlechterrollen-sexualitaet-und-sexueller-diversitaet-im-videospiel/

Rene Schallegger beim subotron Vortrag. Credit: Verena Riedl, in-ga.me

Am 25. Oktober fand im Raum D des MQ Wien ein Subotron Vortrag mit dem Titel “Nicht sexy! – Betrachtungen zu Geschlechterrollen, Sexualität und sexueller Diversität im Videospiel” statt. Natürlich musste ich hin. Ich bin seit Jahren Stammgast bei der Vortragsreihe zu Theorie und Praxis von Computerspielen und war lange Zeit auch die einzige Frau, die sich regelmäßig dorthin “verirrte”, was mir seitens Veranstalter Jogi Neufeld auch den scherzhaften Ehrentitel “Quotenfrau” eintrug. Ich muss auch gestehen, dass ich damals manchmal Sorge hatte, man würde mich nicht ernst nehmen. Aber mit der Zeit haben sich einige Freundschaften und viele Online-Kontakte ergeben, und mit Freude stelle ich fest, wieviele Frauen inzwischen regelmäßig im Publikum sitzen.

Und bei meinem Thema war ich gleichermaßen begeistert und skeptisch, was und wie da vorgetragen und vor allem diskutiert werden würde. Der Vortrag wurde gehalten von René Schallegger von der Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt und befasste sich mal mit der Geschichte von Sex in Computerspielen. Diese Abhandlung kann man nur als rudimentär bezeichnen, aber da würde man einen eigenen Vortragsabend brauchen. Man kann ja sogar Bücher drüber schreiben wie Brenda Brathwaite (“Sex in Video Games” – ich hab’s allerdings noch nicht gelesen).

Insgesamt fand ich den Vortrag super spannend, aber eigentlich ging es in erster Linie um sexuelle Orientierung, nicht Geschlechterrollen oder sexuelle Identität. Ich hätte mir ein bisschen mehr dazu erwartet, weil es im Titel ja vorkam – andererseits ist das ja mein Steckenpferd, also wäre ich eher gespannt auf die Methodik gewesen, als die Inhalte. Und vielleicht … kann man da ja mal … ein bisschen mehr in die Tiefe gehen? ;-)

Sexuelle Identität in Mass Effect – das Best Practice Beispiel

Als Best Practice wurde mehrfach Mass Effect genannt, und das mag in Bezug auf Homosexualität zum Teil stimmen, aber viel davon ist in erster Linie für den männlichen Betrachter (“male gaze”) gemacht, das zeigt auch der starke Überhang von lesbischen Beziehungsoptionen gegenüber schwulen. So sehr ich die Reihe liebe, ich kritisiere auch nach wie vor die übersexualisierten Charaktere, die manchmal geradezu voyeuristische Kameraführung und die zum Teil lächerlichen Erklärungen, warum man auf jedem zweiten Planeten Asari-Femmes fatales antrifft aber z.B. nirgendwo Turianerinnen. (Der Character Designer meinte, er wüsste nicht, wie er weibliche erstellen sollte, ob Lippenstift passend wäre.)

Hier ist der Mitschnitt von “Nicht Sexy” (nur Audio!)

 

Und zu Verenas Review geht’s hier: In-ga.me Review von subotron arcademy: “Nicht Sexy”

Big, Bad… Boobs!

Yes, this is a shameless attempt to catch your attention! Did it work?

[Spoiler warning for the entire Mass Effect and Dragon Age series]

[Trigger warning for mentions of rape and mutilation.]

Recently, I’ve seen more and more people discuss oversexualization of female characters in games in articles, on Twitter, and real life. And it’s not just us girl gamers who are annoyed, but also the guys who are tired of being treated like teenage boys. And, as Brenna Hillier (whose Twitter is @draqul and you should insta-follow her) put it so nicely in an article on vg24/7:

“The industry’s reliance on over-sexualised, impossible female design is somewhat insulting to those who’ve grown past the point of getting erections from passing bra stores.”

I also remember that the Liara collectible for ME3 was subjected to breast size reduction surgery before going into production. Unfortunately for Liara, this means that she won’t ever become a leader of Asari society (regardless of any ME3-related galactic travel problems), because Asari leaders are recognizeable by their enormous melon-sized breasts (says deviantartist Epantiras in her funny-as-hell parody cartoon “Mess Perfect”).

In general, this discussion is a step in the right direction, I hope it will gain momentum and find its way into the brains of the game developers! [Yes I'm an optimist. I couldn't bear blogging about gender & games if I weren't.] I could go on about this and try to retrieve all the other links on character designs, armors and whatnot. (There are AWESOME blogs about this springing up like mushrooms after the rain.) But right now, I have something more insidious and immensely literal in mind: Big, bad, boobs.

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The (Rise and) Rape of Lara Croft

[Trigger Warning: Rape, sexual violence]

[Spoiler Alert for Mass Effect 2; only hinting at spoilers for Tomb Raider]

 Is it too late to chime in on the “Tomb Raider rape controversy”?  I’ll readily admit that I haven’t played a single minute of any game in the series, but as a feminist gamer interested in gender roles, of course I’ve followed Lara’s story from a distance. I’ve watched a good amount of gameplay videos of the reboot (until the cremation of ********, not to spoil anything vital) and read a fair share of articles and blog posts and interviews and whatnot about it. But anyway … it is never too late to talk about rape and rape culture. I agree with many commenters that the “suggested rape attempt scene” has been a publicity stunt. I think that, apart from that scene, Lara has to endure pain and violent acts that IMO are over the top. Also: The constant moaning and groaning, COME ON! You’d NEVER subject a male character to all this! As explained by the game’s executive producer Ron Rosenberg, this all happens for a very specific reason:

“When people play Lara, they don’t really project themselves into the character. They’re more like ‘I want to protect her.’ There’s this sort of dynamic of ‘I’m going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.’”

(That would also never happen to a male character.) I also agree with Mary Hamilton in her Guardian article that

the use of rape “is a lazy shorthand that allows a writer to paint a bad guy as particularly bad, and a woman as particularly vulnerable (the genders are rarely reversed), without dealing with the consequences or meaning of such an act for any of the parties involved.”

There are just so many aspects of this affair that make me so angry I don’t even care whether it’s actually a good game. Let’s assume games are an art form and we want to discuss all sorts of topics from our daily lives in this medium. So let’s face it: rape, sexual assault and molestation are part of the daily lives of countless women and girls on this planet. And I do think that we have got to try to deal with this topic in video games. If it’s supposed to be a mature medium for grown-ups, we gotta figure out how.

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Saving Pirate Patty

Over a year ago, I finally finished Risen and started writing this blog post. Soooo much has happened since then, and I’ve neglected this blog. But hey, I’m back. :)

While the game has a lot of rare strong suits, like the continuous, interactive world with beautiful day & night cycles and some clever level design choices, it also has a few annoying aspects. I won’t go into details about most of them; let me just say that the quest log was particularly frustrating because I picked up the game again after several months and the log didn’t help at all. But overall, I liked the game a lot. Risen stands in the tradition of the German cult RPG series Gothic and was developed by the same studio, Piranha Bytes, after the rights to the series were temporarily unavailable due to legal problems with the publisher JoWood. It is very similar to the Gothic games, but not frustrating as hell. ;)

The people on the island of Faranga have daily routines and roam their camps and go to the tavern, go to sleep and back to their workplaces in the morning. That part was quite well done – but, it was also very revealing of the society depicted in the game. I am often confronted with the argument of “historical realism” when discussing gender issues in games but I won’t accept that for a fantasy setting. If you make up undead creatures, magic spells and whatnot, there is no claiming realism to justify why women aren’t treated or represented equally in a game. ( The “representation” vs. “treatment” is an important point, because I wouldn’t mind if the treatment of women in the game served the plot and could be protested against or changed, but it usually can’t be.) There are lots of unnamed NPCs in Risen, bearing markers like “Townswoman” or “Farmer”, etc. There seem to be roughly equal numbers of men and women, but none of the women work in the fields, smithies or in any other craft. Neither are there female guards, warriors, mages or bandits. The women also never go to the tavern. Ever. C’mon!?

Of course, there’s a brothel in the island’s only town. (My fingers are itching to write a whole post about courtesans/prostitutes in games.) The brothel is the only place outside their house in which women actually do work; and I really dislike the message that sends. The more important NPCs, like merchants and quest givers, all have names. That’s why it sticks out that there are very few female ones, and their portrayals are rife with clichés. A few examples:

Rachel – the wife of the bandits’ leader, Don Esteban. You will mostly see her work in her fancy open-air kitchen in the bandit camp. She does play a role in your getting to speak to the Don, but overall, she’s the camp’s cook, and that’s that.
Kayleigh – a rather annoying woman who wants a pearl necklace in exchange for a stolen ring that you need to bring back to his owner.
Sonya, Olga, Lilly, Gwen, Anika – prostitutes, some of which you can actually have sex with. You can save Gwen from physical abuse by a guy called Erikson. You can distract a guard called Marek by paying for Anika’s services.
Jasmin – a hunter and merchant, lives in a remote cottage, protected by a tame wolf and her partner Hendrik
Tilda – a mother of three sons who is worried about them and sends you on a quest to see if they are okay
Patty – the only female skill trainer in the entire game. Guess for what skills? Acrobatics, a largely useless skill that you can also get temporarily by wearing a ring. And lockpicking, okay, that’s useful. ;-)

But there’s more to Patty. She is the only woman in the entire game that has more than a negligible role. Patty is the daughter of a famous pirate, and owns the tavern in Harbor City. You will be sent on a quest to retrieve some documents for her then enable her to leave the town through the secret tunnel. In a later chapter you will help her find her father’s treasure and spring her from the cell where the infamous Pirate Romanov locks her up. Here’s what she looks like – yes, it’s your typical cropped, cleavage-exposing nothing with hot pants and overknees. SIgh.

Pirate Patty, wearing hotpants and a kind of vest that bares her belly and much of her cleavage

Pirate Patty

For the longest time, the quests involving her didn’t portray her as a woman who could hold her own in a fight, but at least she had a background and some really good lines. Here’s a short video captured from the later part of the game, where you rescue her and she then helps you, until after the final bossfight.

Patty is an interesting character because for quite some time, I had no idea that she would turn out to be a companion rather than eye candy; and strong woman who was cheeky and flirtatious without appearing easy or needy of the hero.

Since I started writing this post, Risen 2 was published, but I haven’t yet played it. So I might soon continue telling Patty’s story from my feminist gamer’s perspective. As of now, I am quite hopeful – but it wouldn’t be the first time that a strong female character was twisted into a mere shadow of her former self in a sequel. Yes, I’m looking at you Isabela.

Gender Swaps Revisited (Links)

Here are some links in addition to those in my original post on gender swaps:

Hope you enjoy!