Everything Isn’t Awesome: The First Step is Admitting There’s A Problem

Progress is often grating, but it's still progress.

It seems to have become a trend of late to bury one’s head in the sand. I love games, I’ve been playing them all my life, and I intend to continue for the rest of it. Games are both work and play to me and I enjoy both aspects equally, though in different ways. This love of gaming is why I think it is important to address its problems, of which there are many.

These problems are varied in nature. First up we have developers and publishers functionally lying about their games, from the disaster that was Aliens: Colonial Marines to the graphical downgrades of Watch Dogs compared to its E3 teaser. Things like this are verging on false advertising, but when it happens there is always a subset of the gaming community who will happily ignore it and pretend there was nothing wrong.

I’m not saying that everyone should boycott these games, of course. I pre-ordered Watch Dogs and spent four days playing through it. The inevitable sequel quickly jumped onto my most awaited list, especially if it follows the Assassin’s Creed method, where the first game lays the ground work and the second knocks it out of the park. This has no bearing on Ubisoft’s oddly common practice of misrepresenting their games when they first tease them. They may not know exactly how much they can pull off at that early stage but since they consistently over-promise they should really learn to be a little more careful.

On the subject of Watch Dogs, we come to PC ports. Games, especially the AAA titles, are often hamstrung during the port across to PC. Whether it’s little annoyances like Xbox 360 controller prompts when you’re using mouse and keyboard or bigger things, like locking the frame rate at 30fps or just plain bad optimisation, PC gamers often get the short end of the stick. Watch Dogs had performance issues on release, but worse than that all those filters that made the E3 demo look so pretty had just been disabled. Messing with a bit of code gives you nearly the graphical quality of the E3 demo.

Why did they do this? Hard to say, but the most likely reason is that they didn’t want the PC version to outshine the console versions too much. It’s parity across platforms, a situation where nobody really wins. Sure, the game is the same and it usually plays the same, but artificially limiting the game to the abilities of a weaker system isn’t really fair.

The differences between versions of games, whether it’s resolution, frame rate, or anything else relevant, are in the news a lot lately. It has understandably begun to grate on people’s nerves a little, but it’s still important to report. People who have both consoles, for example, would likely want to buy the superior version of the game. And while graphics may be secondary to gameplay, resolution and frame rate both affect how the game plays significantly. The latter in particular as many people experience motion sickness at lower frame rates. The really confusing part of all this is that people often think that if something doesn’t directly affect them then it is a waste of time. Then when something they feel strongly about crops up they are disgusted that others don’t care.

Those who are trying to make developers and publishers see that customers will not stand for shoddy work are slowly making ground – already PC ports are significantly better than even just a couple of years back. If a game is released on a platform, it should be fit for purpose, and with any luck publishers are realising this. This benefits everyone. We get better quality games, developers get to make better quality games, and publishers make plenty of cash because they released a good game rather than ticking off the usual boxes. 

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Now we come to a subject that is rarely off the front pages of gaming websites in recent months: sexism in video games. We’ve heard all of this before, over and over, but what many fail to realise is that we are hearing it over and over because it keeps happening. Over in real life, newspapers often stop reporting on conflicts abroad because it’s “nothing new” and everyone is disgusted that it’s being ignored, but if you keep it in the news this is what happens. People get sick of reading it and, when people get sick of something, they dislike seeing it. Now, sexism in games and conflicts abroad are worlds apart, but not reporting on that sexism is certainly a disservice. And it’s bad journalism, too.

I don’t think anyone could deny that sexism in games is an issue with a straight face, I don’t think the existence of this issue is controversial – it’s just a fact. I think people grow sick of hearing about it because they see it all the time, failing to realise that that is representative of the problem. Sexism is common, so reporting on it is too. If there is stuff on which to report, it should be reported on. It is up to readers to skip clicking that link if they don’t want to read about it.

It is understandable that people could be sick of reading about it, sometimes there really is an overreaction. The most recent example I can think of is once again Ubisoft, this time with Assassin’s Creed Unity. In case you were living under a rock in a vacuum sealed chamber in space, Unity has cooperative missions in which all the players play as a man. It later came out that this is due to everyone actually playing as the main character while the other players are more like place-holder models than actual, in-story characters on each player’s screen.

How Ubisoft tried to explain it before that reason came out is the problem. They said it cost more resources and time to add female characters due to being unable to just apply male animations to a female frame. There is a grain of truth to this, but the problem is the attitude this presented – one that women are an additional feature, one that should be considered against cost and pay-off, as opposed to men who are part of the basic make-up of the game. Instead of saying “well you’re all essentially playing the same character”, Ubisoft instead took its foot and rammed it knee-deep down its throat.

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Treating women as additional features rather than basic aspects is essentially the prevalent problem regarding sexism in games. It isn’t that companies are against women, but that they don’t really think of them as their audience. Men are always catered to while women are only catered to when it suits publishers. Then often when women are in games they show more skin than a burlesque festival. Men are usually big muscly body-builders in games, too, but it is a least plausible that a space marine is big and muscly, a female warrior wouldn’t wear an armoured bikini into battle against a dragon.

Think of it like sex scenes. People aren’t generally averse to sex scenes in games (or films, or books), but if every scene of Mass Effect had an orgy in the background I’d think all the sex was detracting from the game. It’s the same with showing skin – it’s not that it should be banned, just that it should be used sparingly, in well placed areas. A sex scene or a little nudity can add to a story in meaningful ways, but the excessive manner in which it is often used is the polar opposite of that.

Once again however, the strangest issue here is that people think this isn’t worth coverage. Do we not want better games? More gamers? Friendlier communities? The normalisation of this attitude towards women is a bad thing and while, yes, I am sick of reading it, I’m not sick of reading it because it keeps getting reported on, I’m sick of reading it because it keeps happening. For a community that so desperately wants (and needs) to be taken seriously by the wider population of non-gamers it is counter-intuitive to not try and fix the issues that make the industry worse.

Other than sometimes skipping a news article because you’ve seen similar before, there are no downsides to addressing and working to fix issues. Bringing attention to them is not only important, but absolutely integral to working on problems, and once they are fixed the industry will be a better place for everyone.

23 Comments

  1. +1 to everything you’ve said. Great article!

  2. Well said, whether it be discrimination in gaming or devs lying about their games, we should keep challenging this bad behaviour every time to show we aren’t going to accept it.

    Ignore it or laugh it off and you give others the green flag to do the same bad behaviour or worse.

  3. Great article, I am disappointed that Ubisoft haven’t included female characters in the co-op especially as I thought Aveline was such an interesting character and with the female character in Unity.

  4. “It’s the same with showing skin – it’s not that it should be banned, just that it should be used sparingly, in well placed areas.”

    Like tits and arse? :-P

    Seriously, though. Good article, fella. Something my SO mentions frequently is the hilarious armour (or lack thereof). The industry (and the community) has to realise that we’re really not helping until we all grow up a bit. Sure, there’ll be games with titillation, adult themes and nudity but that needs context and handling in a suitably decent manner. Don’t just strip off the female NPCs because you’re trying to appeal to the male audience more.

    • Especially not when a sizeable chunk of the male audience isn’t going to be interested.

      Strip off the male characters too. Apply some of that processing power to making assorted man parts flap about in a realistic way. Or at the very least have some men running about in inappropriately tiny pants.

      • That’s just it, fella. Fairness where appropriate.

        However, I remember reading an article about the resources required to get a female character into Assassin’s Creed (with which they’re already a long way through development) and it was no easy task. Something like 4,500 lines of dialogue for starters. Thing is, what I want to see is more female protagonists so there’s more balance. They don’t actually have to be available in every game. Just more games with them in.

  5. Yes let’s admit there are numerous issues we can’t ran away from in Games media such as sexism, online abuse and bull-shots of games that only get downgraded on release.

    But if we are ALL to look at issues with ourselves and the medium, the journalistic side of video game coverage needs a hard look at itself too. From excessive hype generation to industry nepotism and tight clique’s that control various gaming sectors and award bodies, these must be fully examined for there to be any trust between all involved.

    Better standards are not only expected of the game developers or we the community, but as well the game journalists who we expect to have high ethical standards themselves on all coverage they provide.

    Just wanted to put this out there! Not a dig at TSA or anything you guys are my favourite games website bar none :)

    • Oh good god this.
      It’s quite bad how the article doesn’t even mention these points that you bring up when they’re the opposite side of the coin to the point the writer is making.

  6. I agree with a lot of the article but at the same time there are different ways of viewing the sexism issue.
    At the end of the day, sex sells so I don’t blame some of the developers ‘sometimes’ dressing female warriors in armoured bikinis.
    Nariko in Heavenly Sword looked great in her outfit, she was pleasant & attractive to look at, but on the other hand if someone like Elena was dressed like that in Uncharted it would be stupid.
    In all honesty, Tomb Raider would have been a complete flop if Lara was fat and ugly. I wouldn’t of bought a copy of the last game if that was the case. If I’m going to play a game with a female lead character I want something nice to look at and developers know this.

    Whilst we’re on the subject… Anyone know whether they’re gonna bring out a Dead or Alive Volleyball for the PS4? ;)

  7. Great article indeed, great read. Thank you.

    On the subject of parity amongst sexes in games I would generally agree. Though I would not want to see a replication applied to games as of the stock business photos where there’s a blonde white female, black female, brunette white man, Chinese man, etc. In those cynically PC stock photos I always ask myself “Why haven’t they represented a Tibetan female amputee?” (being cynical myself). So, a little proportionality is fine, but not for the sake of being PC and ‘making up the numbers’.

  8. I’m not opposed to having more female leads in videogames. Especially now that my favourite female videogame character of all time has been sold to the highest bidder, like a piece of meat. I guess that makes Microsoft and Square Enix super sexist. Their shameful exclusivity deal has limited the exposure of THE most popular female videogame icon in history… and all for personal gain. Talk about women being treated as objects.

    Paid for exclusivity… another industry trend I’d like to see the end of.

    • Are you being sarcastic or actually serious?

      • I’ll let you decide. It’s more fun that way :D

  9. Anything that’s primarily aimed at males will always feature females in less than appropriate attire. Though Ax Battler wasn’t exactly armoured well in the original Golden Axe!

  10. Well said, every part, I for one am sick of articles about sexism in games, for many a reason. Not because I want male characters in games or some other real sexist bs like that, its just the way they are written, like the authors preaching their moral superiority, only offering one side of the story or downright fear pedalling like it’s ‘killing the industry’.

    And I wouldn’t be suprised if there was a trend of less PC ports, due to piracy rates, hacking/modding and lower profit margins releasing games for PC. I do think that the new consoles being x86 based and similiar in pc spec has cancelled this out fortunately though.

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