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

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.

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23 Comments

  1. Diversity isn’t always better. The market will correct itself in time.

  2. The fact that bioware allow you to select whether you play as male or female via their Dragon Age and their Mass Effect series should be the norm when appropriate. Not only that though but also the strong female npc’s both titles have makes me think there is hope.

    • Mass effect is an odd one, although it’s extremely impressive that the heavily voiced game is available to play as both genders the sexual encounters would encourage some to play as a woman just to perve over a lesbian love scene. Having said that, I think it was possible to start a romance between two men too which is another impressively inclusive feature.
      Great article with good points throughout, it’s tough to get over the fact that tits sell games but it’s an admirable goal to want to get past it.

      • Well I’m not some perv or sexual deviant in reality but I joke about things along these lines a lot & I’d quite happily play as a for a woman to perv over a lesbian sex scene. It’s just a bit of fun, games are supposed to be fun.

      • I probably would too, as shallow as it sounds it’s just fun right? I guess my badly made point would be that honourable efforts at inclusiveness can often still fail the Daily Mail Sexual Deviance test.

  3. About these sexism issues…

    Has there been research into what percentage of male & female people play what type of games on what platform or devices?
    Now I don’t want to come across as sexist or anything but I’m aware there are now more female gamers and I’m guessing a lot of this is due to mobile gaming & tablets etc. (Yes, I am aware there are female console gamers as my ex was obsessed with FIFA & COD on her PS3 and regularly kicked my arse!)

    Now I could be wrong here but I’m guessing a high percentage of gamers who play AC games mostly play on consoles or PCs and are predominantly male.

    Therefore, depending on these figures doesn’t it make sense for the characters to all be male?
    Is it in a companies best interest to include female characters if it’s going to result in longer time frames and more costs building up to the games release?

    At the end of the day you can’t cater for everybody & still make things viable. I don’t think it’s a matter of being sexist.

    • Gender equality in gaming is THE hot topic at the moment and I think people are expecting things to change over night. Instead of encouraging positive (gradual) change, we want these changes implemented yesterday. And when our demands aren’t met, we throw accusations of sexism/racism around like a spoilt child who’s parent’s refuse to give them whatever they want. We’re all entitled to voice our opinions and if these opinions aren’t considered, don’t buy the game. The fact is, most people who are ‘outraged’ by this issue would still by the game regardless. Which just goes to show how blown out of proportion this issue actually is. Could women be better represented in videogames, yes, but things aren’t as bad as people like to make out either.

      Now sexism/gender discrimination in the real world IS a serious issue. Not getting a job you are fully qualified for, based on gender is wrong. By the same token, getting a job because of your gender whether you are sufficiently qualified for the job or not (in order to meet some bs quota) is also wrong – very wrong. And we’re seeing this practice more and more, where companies are forced to employ a percentage of so many men/women/various races or risk being labelled sexist/racist. Is that not a discriminatory act in itself? ‘Hey, you women and people of various race just can’t compete with the white men so we’re going to allow so many special places to give you a chance…’!?! How about we just give everyone the same opportunity and award the job to the person who is most qualified – irrespective of sex/race. If there are no black people/no women/no men at the company, so be it.

      There are genuine cases of sexism/discrimination out there but there are also people who cry ‘discrimination’ because they simply refuse to accept that they just aren’t good enough.

      • I think all these people moaning about equality etc in games are at risk of ruining games.
        Soon developers will be too scared of creating a protagonist in fear of upsetting some hermaphrodite, 1 armed, 3 legged kid called Gerald who thinks he’s being discriminated against not being able to play a game as himself.
        Stories will be ruined as the character will have no real background as you’ll be able to choose the sex, race, weight, height and god knows what.
        Then you’ll have some nut jobs claiming they love cats and they’re being discriminated against because you can’t play as a cat, then start online petitions.

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