Women As Background Decoration

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Part one (and the recently released part two) of Anita Sarkeesian’s examination of the Women as Background Decoration video game trope – a thing she defines as:

…the subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds.

The 1970s. They never really went away.

Previously: Damsels In Distress

laughingsquid/feministfrequency

108 thoughts on “Women As Background Decoration

  1. Gers

    On the youtube videos ” Comments are disabled for this video.” That’s all I need to know, ill pass.

      1. Medium Sized C

        Exactly that.

        Anybody who knows the history ( I suspect Gers does) and still uses this argument as a way to attempt to de-legitimise any of the content is a fuppin fool.

    1. Mathias_James

      In fairness, she was on the end of a nasty campaign of abuse against her, including usual death/rape threats (of course from people who deny there’s a gender issue in videogames). I think she’s dead right to turn the comments off, there’s plenty of other places online where people can discuss her videos.

      1. munkifisht

        That’s a different issue. That’s like saying the film was to blame for that kid who killed his parents and said later it was to free them from the matrix, or childsplay was to blame for Jamie Bulger.

        1. Mathias_James

          Sorry, you’ve lost me. I was suggesting a reason as to why she might have the comments on her video turned off, not media violence and potential influences on a persons behaviour.

          1. munkifisht

            Sorry, thought you were saying here position was justified because the comments came from those “who deny there’s a gender issue in videogames”. Fair point

        1. Mathias_James

          munkificht: No, more that the comments would most likely be filled with threatening sexist bile. I was pointing out in my initial comment also how silly it is for people to be trying to silence/abuse somebody discussing gender with misogynistic death/rape threats – it sort of shows the need for a discussion about the issue.

    2. Nigel

      ‘That’s all I need to know’
      You base your judgement on things based on whether YouTube comments are enabled? Does this go for, say, the Gaza airstrikes? The ice bucket challenge? The Emmys? The abortion debate? This comment is so stupid they should carve it out of your monitor and mount it in a museum devoted to stupidity with your picture beside it so the ages can gape in wonder that a actual living thing made it and thought they were, of all things, being clever. And this is only the first comment on a relatively liberalish website. It’s going to get worse, isn’t it? There are going to be comments stupider than this one. Christ almighty.

        1. pedeyw

          The routine levels of violence against and sexual objectification of women in video games far outways that of film. Not saying Hollywood films are a paragon of gender equality but the levels of casual misogyny in your average AAA game is pretty terrifying.

          1. Medium Sized C

            Its more about the lack of there being games AAA or other where women aren’t abused, sexualised or lampooned.

            There might be two videogames which don’t.
            There are hundreds of movies.

            I mean if there were even a handful of games where women spend all their time trying to validate themselves with men, that would be an improvement. B
            They would actually improve by aiming to be as generally shitty towards women as movies are.

            Thats how bad games are.
            Speaking as a gamer.

          2. CousinJack

            I disagree, if you choice crime related AAA games, as if you choise crime based films, sexual violence is likely.
            But few FPS, COD series, Arma series, etc, etc, have sexual elements unlike equivalent films.
            Female background decoration is more prevalent in films such as Expendables series than in action games such as Just Cause 2, Fallout NV, Far Cry series
            What about the strong female NPC in RPGs, like Morrigan in Dragon Age series?

            This review is almost entirely focussed on the crime and horror genres, and excludes most the majority of games genres, FPS, staregy RPG, MMORPGs, etc. If we looked for worst depiction of women in films over the last 20 years it would look far worse than the clips from video games.

          3. Medium Sized C

            Just Cause 2 where women are basically wallpaper?
            Seriously, Jade tan is in the story twice, once to flirt with the leading man, once to be saved by him.
            Bolo Santosi can’t open her mouth with out make a sex reference, and the CIA woman contributes nothing to anything.
            Otherwise its country women and whores in baloons.

            Fallout NV, I’ll give you that I suppose. although you do get to have sex with someone for killing shit.

            Morrigan of the side-boob?
            Because if a woman is gonna act independent and strong they have to be a rude bitch and show the flesh to make up for it.

            You should watch her other videos.
            She gets the other stuff too.
            And RPG’s? Not too many of those where either a genderless or male lead isn’t required to rescue, avenge or be realised a female character.

  2. Ronan

    You can imagine the type of comments any kind of feminist post would elicit on YouTube, never mind one that criticises video games.

    Sarkeesian ain’t no eejit. Watched about half the first one. Liked it. Will return later to complete femdoctrination.

  3. munkifisht

    Tish pish and twoddle. Not going to waste my time watching all this, but did the first 5 and then flicked. First off, the advertising was nothing new. Computer games generally do appeal more to males so lazy advertisers are going to use sexy girls to associate their product with what most men desire most, sex (ironically however, it’s more a lack of sex you should expect if you’re a game nerd).

    Generally these games, if violent towards or women, treating women as background characters or using stereotypical lines or referencing famous movies do the exact same with their male counterparts.

    GTA which has been derided for it’s abuse of women has actually been more about abuse of male characters. It’s the shock that the male character might be violent towards both men and women that really garnered the attention. Is there much in the difference between that and the likes of Sin City or Clockwork Orange?

    Finally, women will, for the mean time continue to be treated as different to men in games because firstly, they are different, and secondly, games have more of an appeal to guys than girls, although that is changing.

    1. Starina

      “games have more of an appeal to guys than girls”
      Ahem. Just baaaarely enough to count as “more” – 48% of all gamers are women (cite: http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp).

      Fair f*cks to her for continuing this series after all the abuse she’s received from the very start – she was getting rape threats after she announced the project, before she even released the first video.

      1. Mikeyfex

        Wow, I find that very hard to believe. I used to play online a lot. For years. And can only remember a few times hearing a female voice in the lobby.

        Maybe they’re playing different games but if the figure is that high then I’d have expected them to play the best sellers more often than they did in my experience.

        Thanks for the link though.

        1. D

          I’ve seen stats like this a couple of times. Generally the reason the numbers seem off is because the so-called “triple A” games – the likes of the Call of Duty franchise, say – don’t attract nearly as many female as male gamers. Women tend to make up ground in the so-called “casual” gaming space.

          The other point to make is that games being made by men tend to attract more male players, thus allowing them to more explicitly target male gamers, thus attracting a higher percentage of male gamers, and the cycle continues. Saying that “women don’t like games” isn’t really accurate. Rather “women don’t always like the same games as men”, and most high budget games tend to be made by men for men. I’d say there’s a big opportunity for someone to pitch high budget games at women (not sure it’s been done much before, although I’m not as current as I once was and stand to be corrected).

          1. Mikeyfex

            I thought you just played traffic simulators?

            (i’m kidding, and assuming you’re same D as yesterday)

            Fair points above. It was only after I replied to Starina that I noticed point no.8 on the link. Changed my idea of gamers.

          2. D

            Yes indeed. I find that compared to other games I just find traffic simulators more… soothing? Yeah, soothing, or relaxing maybe.

            Until you find that one a*****e who doesn’t merge properly, that is…

            ;)

        2. Starina

          from feedback i’ve heard from various avid lady gamers, it seems like a lot of women don’t want other gamers to know they’re female so they don’t get the abuse.

          1. Mikeyfex

            Abuse in online gaming knows know age, race, or gender.

            Can’t say much though, I never opened my mouth online either.

          2. Jeremy Kyle

            Everybody gets abuse though, just hit the mute button or block. Reporting on Xbox Live seems to do pretty much nothing which.

            Best experience comes when you play with friends in my opinion.

        3. Anne

          Does Mario count? doo doo duu doo doo du dooo

          My all time favourite.
          And he never battered little princess.
          He just rescued her..when he won.

          1. Mikeyfex

            The fact that she was always in another castle speaks volumes about what it’s like to go shopping or get ready for a night out with a girl.

          2. Anne

            I think it’s indicative of a bygone era, where men had to make a little effort before winning the girl.
            Making you jump through a few hoops, kill a few badies, go through a few firey dungeons.

            A bottle of bud, a few chips and bobs your uncle these days.

          3. ABM's bloody underwear

            To hell with you all. I’m just going to eat these mushrooms and see what happens.

      2. Zaccone

        IIRC, from reading reports on this a while ago, most of the girl gamers are playing games such as The Sims offline. The more popular big budget online FPS or (to a slightly lesser extent) MMORPG games would still be heavily male dominated

      3. rotide

        Starina is of course bending the statistics to her agenda.

        Women do indeed make up a large proportion of the game playing public, but they play VERY different games. We’re talking mobile devices here, not games purchased through steam.

        1. Starina

          Actually, that “women play casual games” argument is fairly poor as well.

          From the same report – http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/esa_ef_2014.pdf

          Women are 50% of most frequent computer and video game purchasers.

          Yes, men are more into video games than mobile games, but that doesn’t mean no women play what’s considered a “non-casual” game.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            That study makes no differentiation between ‘buying for personal use’ and ‘buying for gifting’. I know in the Irish market the gifting of video games makes up a very good sized chunk of sales… just sayin’

      4. munkifisht

        Surprising stat, but even if true, games with a more female focus aren’t going to be the same as those with a male one, hence the vast majority of Rom-Coms are designed without men in mind at all, and the same can be said for Action movies regards women (course exceptions to every rule (and there’s nothing wrong with that))

      5. munkifisht

        Also disgusted to hear she came under abuse for her views. She does have a point, but this is more societal rather than game focused.

        This said, someone did pose an interesting point the other day, that with the internet we have normalised the watching of vast amounts of highly diverse porn, and the vast majority of men at least do, not sure about women but this is more about what men watch anyway. The point was that we have all normalised this thing, but it is horrendously violent and misogynistic, and generally you are not looking at two people in a mutually equal and loving relationship but at a relationship where the enjoyment of the man seems to come (choice word) before that of the women.

        1. Medium Sized C

          I disagree in that it isn’t societal.
          Or rather it is seriously amplified in Games.
          Or better still, the problem isn’t depiction of abuse or misogyny, but rather that the depiction of abuse and misogyny is the ONLY depiction women get in games, most of the time.

          I have watched a few of her videos. All of them before the game series.
          I generally find a few humdingers of bad points. But usually the bulk is accurate and informative. And its worse in games.

          1. munkifisht

            Yea, valid point I guess, but in most games isn’t the main thing that everything is OTT anyway?

    2. Small Wonder

      Are you really making the point that men like women for sex, therefore it’s ok to make them sex objects?

      1. munkifisht

        Eh… no. I’m suggesting that what games companies were doing in the 1980s had nothing to do with the fact they were selling games, that it was nothing new and was being done by the car industry in the 1950s 1960s (eg this awesome Vespa advert http://www.pinterest.com/pin/558727897491171792/) and that advertisers have always used sex to sell. Do you think Matthew Mcconaughey being shirtless is to describe in some way the benefits of Dolce and Gabbana’s The One, or rather appeal to the partners of quite ugly men that if maybe they buy that product their hulk of meet might look something like Matty boy (or smell like him and you can close your eyes at least).

    3. pedeyw

      So you’re not wasting your time actually watching it but you’ll critique it anyway? Because one of the major themes in it isn’t that there is no violence against male NPCs but the way the violence occurs and is portrayed is vastly different. There’s a worrying sexualisation to much of the violence against female NPC’s (who happen to mostly be prostitutes or strippers because “gritty”).

      1. munkifisht

        No, I understand that and I’m not condoning the personification of female characters as cheep sex objects, and no, I didn’t watch the whole thing, but I understood the argument and where she’s coming from. My point is however that this is not an issue of computer games, that women may be portrayed in a negative stereotype and that the violence in these games may be sexualised, but this is not the fault of computer games but an illness of society. Movies like most of Tarentinos early canon, Sin City, or even Hot Fuzz where similar violence against women is depicted, and it is not a source of computer games. A Clockwork Orange, Texas Chainsaw Masacare, or even elements of Un Chien Andalou.

          1. munkifisht

            Not really. A Clockwork Orange was released in 1971and the original novel is from 1962. Pong wasn’t even released until 1972.

            Also, while we’re on the subject the egg predates the chicken by a few 100 billion years.

  4. Gers

    Just to elaborate a bit more on why I dismiss this type of videos, the author makes no mention to the fact that many of these games are depicting an era where women would have been mistreated in the exact manner they are shown to be in the games, what are the Devs suppose to do? re-visit history by fear of offending the female audience? And of course its all cherry picked, there is much more violence against male in Video Games than there is of women so the all thing is a non-event, to me at least.

    1. Mathias_James

      Honest question; when it comes to your point about ‘more violence against men’, do you not think there’s a distinction between a man beating up thugs (ala Final Fight), under his own agency, and a female character being abused in order to spur on a male protagonist. I would think that ,yes there is more male-on-male violence, but the context and portrayal is different to violence shown against females.

    2. Don Pidgeoni

      lol really? the games were just “depicting an era where women would have been mistreated in the exact manner they are shown to be in the games”

      Open your eyes there buddy

      1. Medium Sized C

        He is clearly referring to stone age epic Hitman or the Medieval hack-and-slash Duke Nukem.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            @Don

            Hitman is sharp suits and assassins, a bald Timothy Olyphant (in the movie) genetically engineered to kill

            Duke Nukem does the CIAs dirty work and kills aliens and who or what ever else is in his way!

            But it’s Duke’s character that is often not seen for what it is …..every foul mouthed 80s tough guy most young kids/teens grew up watching on the big screen all rolled into one hyper-satirical character of them all.

            Or …from Wikipedia with the details…

            “He is apparently sexually adept and irresistible to women, and circumstances frequently find him surrounded by many buxom women. However, he frequently mentions an estranged love named “Lani” in numerous games, although he never elaborates on her. On the contrary, she becomes the butt of many of his jokes. (In Duke Nukem 3D, he has a tattoo of her name on one of his buttocks.) This is widely believed to be a reference to Lani Minella, a voice actress who has done several voices for Duke Nukem 3D.

            Duke Nukem’s character is a pastiche of a number of Hollywood action heroes, such as those played by John Wayne, Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando, Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard, Kurt Russell as Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China, Roddy Piper’s character Nada from They Live, and Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams from The Evil Dead series. In fact, Duke’s most famous line (“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of gum”) came from the movie “They Live” with Roddy Piper saying, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” Duke’s appearance resembles characters played by Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme.[3] Voiced by Jon St. John in all incarnations in which the character speaks (with the exception of Duke Nukem II), Duke’s voice is based on that of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry.[4] “

          2. munkifisht

            @Clampers, good review on DN’em3D, but the original concept came from the very popular Apogee 2D platformer Duke Nukem, and was very similar to it’s sister game Crystal Caves. Quite a standard platformer although it did pull influence from Schwarzenegger in the style of DN and movies like Die Hard and Robocop in terms of the enemies. That said there were no female characters in the game and the character was mute.

    3. Nigel

      That doesn’t even work as an argument excusing misogyny in historical, crime or contemporary fiction, let alone fantasy or science fiction for God’s sake. Yes, this is even MORE stupid than the first comment. Complaining that your hands are tied because of a stunted set of character archetypes and astonishing historical ignorance is something most people involved in a creative endeavour would be thoroughly ashamed to admit.

    1. pedeyw

      Nope. That guy is an idiot. She doesn’t say anywhere that games should be made to satisfy feminists or that they are made to subjugate women.
      Double Dragon is a damsel in distress scenario, You can play as Billy or Jimmy and you have to rescue a kidnapped girl. His point about couples being in love or whatever would be sort of okay if you could choose to be the Marian and rescue the guys.The joke ending doesn’t change the fact that in DD Neon Marian is an NPC.

    1. CousinJack

      You can run over everyone in GTA, being runover is equal
      Vast amjority of violence in GTA is towards male NPC, further more characters in GTA are physchopaths so not surprising that their characters behaviour would be violent.

      1. Nigel

        Well, no-one’s going to send you rape or death-threats for making that argument. Or for being a woman and playing that game. Or any game. (How many female player characters are there in GTA?)

  5. Odis

    “whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds.” – Well durr.
    Why oh why, can’t someone try to design an action video game that isn’t edgy, gritty or racy?
    You have to wonder.

    1. Starina

      why can’t someone design an action video game that’s edgy, gritty or racy that doesn’t use the lazy route of exploiting women as “sexy” or “victims”? or my favourite….sexy victim.

  6. Clampers Outside!

    It really pisses me off when some spanner ruins a bit of Second Life Sim mayhen by opening a frickin’ Nail Bar beside my Tattoo Shop !

    I mean… really!

    *removes apron*

    1. Don Pidgeoni

      Oh my God jack! No one had ever pointed this out before! You have really blown society open with that one pithy summary of all the evils we women perpetuate on ourselves! Consider me astounded!!

    1. pedeyw

      It was rebooted. It actually caused a bit of controversy cos of a bit of a rapey bit in the trailer. The game was okay but I didn’t finish it myself.

  7. Eric Cartman

    Jaysus not this radfem battleaxe again. Everything thats wrong with feminism is embodied in anita.

    1. pedeyw

      Nothing Rad about her. I think most angry gamers don’t understand the difference between critiquing and deconstructing some of the iffy bits of their hobby and personally insulting them. It’s weird.

  8. Mr. T.

    You should read Independent Woman on the Indo website to see how vacuous they reckon women are.

  9. Custo

    Portal is the best game series ever though, and that has a female protagonist so that more than makes up for everything else.

          1. Stewart Curry

            Samus Aran is from Metroid, nothing to do with Space Marine.

            “This is 2nd Lieutenant Mira, and she’s the leader of an Imperial Guard force, mainly because all of her leaders and commanding officers? Dead. All her Commissars, 1st Lieutenants, so on and so on? Massacred. She’s the one person keeping the army of men on this world besieged by an alien force functioning and fighting, and she isn’t oversexualized, treated as weak, nor needing a man, fupp no good readers. Mira doesn’t have time for this motherfupping conventional treatment of motherfupping women in motherfupping videogames.”

            Red the article, it;s pretty interesting.

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