TECH
08/31/2015 01:45 pm ET

Women Are Prizes In Video Games -- And That Should Bother You

You can't ignore the latest video from GamerGate's biggest enemy.
Feminist Frequency

Swelling breasts, revealing costumes, wet turtle smooches: These are the rewards you may be used to seeing in your favorite video games.

A new entry in Anita Sarkeesian's "Feminist Frequency" series released Monday explores the many ways women in video games have been treated like a gold star stuck onto a filled-out worksheet. 

None of it will come as a surprise to anyone who's remotely familiar with video games. For decades, players have been rewarded with flesh, sex and innuendo for progress in games spanning the original "Metroid" to the most recent "Grand Theft Auto." 

The video is worth watching in large part because seeing so many examples of women-as-reward in rapid succession is dizzying -- taken in isolation, especially as one component of games that take more than 20 hours to complete, these moments might be easy to ignore or diminish. But they are part of a massive trend, one that diminishes an entire half of the human race to little more than a husky voice emanating from heaving cleavage.

It practically goes without saying why this is a problem. Video games are supposed to be art -- or entertainment, at least -- for everyone, but some of the most popular, multimillion-dollar franchises on the planet communicate, full stop, that women are worth less than men. They are prizes to be claimed through feats of gameplay: Mario beats Bowser and Princess Peach kisses him. They're treated like power-ups: Watch a prostitute perform oral sex on your character in "Grand Theft Auto V" and your character's attributes improve.

It all reinforces the idea that men are supposed to -- even entitled to -- claim women after overcoming some challenge. Perhaps as a tangential concern, it also communicates a heteronormative status quo -- sex and relationships in video games are too often exclusively for a man and a women. They're quite frequently also just for white people.

To clarify, here's what this video is not saying: That sexuality in video games is inherently a problem, that women gamers can't enjoy a sexy portrayal of a female character, that every popular video game is masculine dreck and that games with problematic portrayals are automatically "bad." 

Responses to the video on KotakuInAction, the main GamerGate community on Reddit, have actually been pretty reasonable. While Sarkeesian has been targeted by GamerGate proponents over her views before-- with death threats and harassment -- the few people weighing in on Reddit Monday morning found little to complain about:

Reddit
Reddit

Of course, some were worried about how the media would portray the video. They wonder, does it makes sense for gaming to be called out for negative representations of women when, you know, movies and books and stuff can be awful, too?

Reddit

The answer is "yes." Video games are still a relatively nascent art form -- one that's recently become the subject of serious critical reflection. You may not be a gamer yourself, but you should care about the media that our young people are raised on and that our adult professionals spend so much time with. If we can challenge pop culture to be better, why wouldn't we?

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