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Sexism In Gaming: How Are Women Portrayed?
Oh my. That’s all I can really say in response to both the character design reveal of and reaction to Quiet, a female sniper that will feature in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Her, shall we say, gratuitous attire quickly became a topic of heated discussion, not to mention criticism from other industry figures, and once again, we are faced with an undying issue: are women victims of sexism in gaming?
Many people I’ve spoken with or heard from, most notably women in the industry, seem to take this topic to heart. In fact, this very issue was a hot topic about a year ago when news about the Tomb Raider reboot started leaking left and right. The series’ lead character, Lara Croft, is notorious for being the archetype for female sex symbols in video games. However, looking at Hideo Kojima’s newest sniper delight, Lara Croft looks like child’s play.
At first glance (and second, and third, and…) Kojima’s newest creation definitely looks like your stereotypical overly-sexualized female character. I won’t even argue that it’s not, though how much depth the character possesses is obviously a mystery yet. That being said, I personally find it distasteful that others in the industry are already pointing fingers and running their mouths (or rather, social media feeds) about how disgusting and ridiculous Quiet’s design is.
First up, let’s look at David Ellis’s comments. Ellis, an employee at 343 Industries (the current developer of the Halo franchise), was quick to take to Twitter and share his opinions about Kojima’s portrayal of women, no doubt expecting a series of “hurrahs” and virtual back-pats for his aspersions. Then there’s Alan Kertz, a designer for Battlefield 4. He also took to Twitter, informing us all what female soldiers do and do not look like (the latter being a pic of Quiet, obviously).
Not to discredit either, but Ellis in particular has little room to talk. After all, 343 came under fire for sexualizing a beloved Halo character, Cortana, to a superfluous degree. As far as Kertz’s comments go, I seriously doubt Kojima ever once thought, “Hmmm, is this realistic?” While from the outside the Metal Gear series may appear a real-world story of soldiers and spies, anyone who’s played a single title in this convoluted franchise knows the games are anything but realistic. Considering elements like Psycho Mantis, the Beauty and Beast Corps, and virtually everything contained in MGS3, I don’t think it’s fair to even criticize Quiet’s choice of clothing for its lack of realism. In any case, Kojima has specific reasons for choosing that outfit, according to the character’s model/voice actress, Stefanie Joosten.
Whether the character is an example of sexism in gaming, or even of how females are portrayed in video games, I won’t argue for or against. More than anything else, it seems to be a matter of personal opinion. Some people are clearly offended by Kojima’s choice, while others are going so far as to defend him for his artistic decision. The question I would pose to anyone who cares isn’t whether this is a statement of women’s position in gaming, but of women’s position in society. Seriously, why are we talking about this as if it’s a problem exclusive to gaming? We might live in the 21st century, but sexism, like all forms of discrimination, is not dead.
It seems this topic keeps popping up because gaming is still largely dominated by men. Yes, there are plenty of female gamers, but all statistics show that most gamers are male. And even though film, television, and even music place women in sexualized positions, gaming seems to be the only medium that still starts fires. I’m not attempting to dumb it down or say we don’t have a problem, because we do, but it’s exasperating to see people behave as though all other entertainment mediums have evolved beyond sexism while gaming is stuck in some antiquated stone age of morals and human progression.
And then there’s the issue that, let’s face it, this isn’t even close to the worst we’ve seen. That doesn’t mean this particular character design should escape scrutiny, but you’d swear Kojima turned Metal Gear Solid into a porn and released a model of a greased naked woman with a rifle in her hands. What about Dead or Alive or the ridiculous armor choices for females in MMORPGs? Sure, they’ve all had their share of ridicule, but comparatively speaking, Kojima’s model for Quiet isn’t all that lewd.
Honestly, I’m not sure why people weren’t expecting this anyway. Metal Gear isn’t exactly known for its subtlety toward female sexuality (remember all those alternate camera angles in cut-scenes during 3 and 4?), and Kojima himself had already stated he was looking to make characters more erotic/sexy. I’m not about to tell anyone not to be upset or even express their disappointment, but the level the reactions have already reached seems to be a bit exaggerated. And besides, David Hayter was booted out of the game. What else matters now?