[Feminist Frequency] Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Background Decoration

PenguinZero

Wark!
RPGnet Member
Validated User
The new Tropes vs. Women in Videogames video is up -- 'Women as Background Decoration, Part 1.' Just as a warning, it's definitely a rough one to watch -- it warns at the beginning about nudity and explicit violence, and if anything I think it understates it. I'm not all that easy a person to shock, and I still found this hard to watch.

Frankly, I'll admit I wasn't entirely aware of how extreme the sorts of things she talks about can get -- I'd vaguely heard things about things like the railroad tracks in Red Dead Redemption, but seeing it in action was another thing entirely. A lot of the games in the video, I'd never played or even heard of, and the ones I have I never played that way, but taken as an aggregate, it was kind of nauseating. (Probably my biggest squick, aside from the aforementioned railroad tracks, was a game called Sleeping Dogs, where the character was actually able to punch out an NPC woman and stuff her in the trunk of his car. That just hit all sorts of disturbing notes...)
 

The Scribbler

A Flash of Hope
Validated User
I think the "in aggregate" bit is a big problem. It's like a writer once said about comic book women (to paraphrase), "When every female character is drawn as overtly sexual and vamping it up as a matter of course, how do you portray a character who is actually attempting to be sexual or vamp it up without engaging in absurdity?"

With all the poor treatment of women in games, in the context of all that, a stupid nod to ridiculous silent film villain cliches (or the modern idea of them for people who grew up watching certain cartoons) or a game that's basically a Hong Kong crime/action movie with people acting like scum instead become notable examples of a bigger problem.

EDIT: Sorry, for some reason I start to think I'm wise when it gets this late. I won't delete this but it feels like I went on a bit.
 
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Rainfall

Registered User
Validated User
Excellent "episode" I must say. Even though it's hard to watch at times. Brrr.

Although I must admit I laughed out loud when she pointed out how the first videogame ever sold was marketted. A laugh muffled by the palm on my face, but a honest laugh none the less.
 

LeumasWhite

Skeptical
Validated User
You can railroad/car trunk anyone in those games. It's not gender-specific. There's an achievement called Dastardly for the thing in RDR, but Sleeping Dogs only has you use it now and then to bring uncooperative enemies to locations.

Spoiler: Show
What happens to those enemies is worse than any kidnapping. Dang, Mrs. Chu.
 

chiasaur11

Registered User
Validated User
The new Tropes vs. Women in Videogames video is up -- 'Women as Background Decoration, Part 1.' Just as a warning, it's definitely a rough one to watch -- it warns at the beginning about nudity and explicit violence, and if anything I think it understates it. I'm not all that easy a person to shock, and I still found this hard to watch.

Frankly, I'll admit I wasn't entirely aware of how extreme the sorts of things she talks about can get -- I'd vaguely heard things about things like the railroad tracks in Red Dead Redemption, but seeing it in action was another thing entirely. A lot of the games in the video, I'd never played or even heard of, and the ones I have I never played that way, but taken as an aggregate, it was kind of nauseating. (Probably my biggest squick, aside from the aforementioned railroad tracks, was a game called Sleeping Dogs, where the character was actually able to punch out an NPC woman and stuff her in the trunk of his car. That just hit all sorts of disturbing notes...)
Oh, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Sleeping Dogs is a game where Officer Wei Shen is capable of all manner of carnage. There's a mechanic where you commit violence so brutal hardened triad gangsters back off wincing. Dudes get shoved into amplifiers, shredded by industrial fans, drowned in urinals...

Shit. It's quicker to say ways Wei Shen can't ruin someone's day. The game doesn't encourage you to beat up women and stuff them in the trunk. The default for that scene is that Wei gets creepy stalker on rumors of a karaoke hostess cheating on him, she calls him out on being a hypocritical dick since he was dating two or three girls at once, she tells him it's over. It's just the game has systems so you can fucking destroy anyone not currently essential to the plot, and, well... yeah.

It isn't perfect, but Sleeping Dogs does have several female characters who aren't there to die or have sex with Wei Shen.
Spoiler: Show

Hell, the leader of the triads in the end is a middle aged woman. And there's Mrs. Chu... geeze. Even Wei Shen respects Mrs. Chu.


It's still not good, but it says more about the player than about the game in this case.
 
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Whitewings

New member
Banned
I ran into a problem almost immediately in her discussion of NPCs. She says that sexualized NPCs have only simple scripts and loops, little or no personality or identity, and exist entirely to support someone else's narrative. Um... aren't most NPCs like that? Collections of simple scripts and loops with a usually very thin veneer of pseudo-personality which exist entirely to support the min character's narrative?
 

Calliope

Super Moderator
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I ran into a problem almost immediately in her discussion of NPCs. She says that sexualized NPCs have only simple scripts and loops, little or no personality or identity, and exist entirely to support someone else's narrative. Um... aren't most NPCs like that? Collections of simple scripts and loops with a usually very thin veneer of pseudo-personality which exist entirely to support the min character's narrative?
Yes, but that doesn't undermine the central point, particularly when the "simple scripts and loops" are so often used with female characters to reinforce their status as sexual object.

That said, I do think there are some minor problems with the video. I'm only 20 minutes in so far, so it's possible she'll address this issue before the end.

Right now, though, I think she does her argument a disservice by not preemptively addressing certain criticisms. For instance, when she's talking about the treatment of NPCs in video games, she talks specifically about how the player can murder sexually objectified women and mess with their bodies, and how in games like GTA, they even reward that behavior by having the women drop cash.

Of course, the easy (and inevitable) criticism there is: "But that's true of all NPCs, not women specifically."

And that criticism could easily be, if not shut down entirely, at least minimized with just one or two lines, saying something like "Granted, while most NPCs, male and female alike, are potentially subject to this kind of violence, the sexual objectification and lack of agency displayed by the female characters adds an especially problematic element." (except it would likely be phrased more eloquently).

Not that any amount of that would deter a lot of her critics, who would say she was lying if she told them that the Earth rotates around the sun.

EDIT: Ah, now we're getting into the part about engagement, so maybe she does address it?

EDIT the Second: Ah, here we go, at the 26 minute mark. My bad. I do think the argument might have been better served by replacing that rebuttal earlier, but she does get into that, so I withdraw my criticism.
 
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St.Just

Lacking all conviction
Validated User
I ran into a problem almost immediately in her discussion of NPCs. She says that sexualized NPCs have only simple scripts and loops, little or no personality or identity, and exist entirely to support someone else's narrative. Um... aren't most NPCs like that? Collections of simple scripts and loops with a usually very thin veneer of pseudo-personality which exist entirely to support the min character's narrative?
It's the distinction, as far as I understand it, between supporting characters and background flavour. The characters being discussed in this video are the ones with a couple of lines of looping dialogue, minimal to non-existent plot relevance, who exist more as props to spice up area design then as characters, or even as instruments to drive the plot.
 

LordofArcana

Registered User
Validated User
I was surprised that she didn't bring up kids as a potential counterpoint. Have you ever seen a kid die in a open world game? Even just having kids in them is rare. This is because developers have decided that murdering kids is off-limits, which in turn implies that murdering sexually objectified women isn't.
 
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Adama

New member
Validated User
I was surprised that she didn't bring up kids as a potential counterpoint. Have you ever seen a kid die in a open world game? Even just having kids in them is rare. This is because developers have decided that murdering kids is off-limits, which in turn implies that murdering sexually objectified women isn't.
I had the exact same thought.
 
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