Saturday, February 16, 2013

Bringing Parents Up to Date

In 2008 Fox News aired this segment entitled “‘SE’XBOX? New Video Game Shows Full Digital Nudity and Sex”.  Newscaster Martha MacCallum, states that a new game enables players to engage in graphic sex. Cooper Lawrence, a good intentioned psychology specialist, discusses the damaging effects sexual content in games can have on their players. Lawrence states, ““Here is how they’re seeing women. They’re seeing them as these objects of desire, as these hot bodies. They don’t show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality and it’s a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.”

It’s true that many games depict women in an overtly sexualized manner. After seeing this occur repeatedly in games, it does give the impression that a woman’s most important attribute is her sexuality. But out of all the games that are guilty of treating female characters like sex objects (and there are a lot), the one they decided to grab their torches and pitchforks for was Mass Effect, one of the few games that provide not just one but multiple examples of strong, competent female characters.
"Mass Effect? Is that what kids are calling it these days?"
The folks over at Fox News assumed that the game is a sex simulator in which sex is an active mechanic. Brenda Brathwaite explained in Sex in Video Games (2007), that “an active sex mechanic allows the players to directly control the action” (2007:3). In Mass Effect, players have no control over the “action”, making the situation passive for the player. The scene is brief, only shows partial nudity, and implies sex rather than graphically depicts it. It’s nothing more than what one would see on an evening television drama. For those interested, one of the scenes and the lead up to it can be found here.

But enough about that. Many people online have already addressed how ill-informed the people in the segment were. What I’d like to talk about today is the context in which the discussion of the game took place. The people in the news segment make two assumptions in the video. The first assumption is that video games are for children.

The entire discussion about Mass Effect revolved around a “think of the children” mentality used to instill moral panic in parents at home. It focused on the negative repercussions sexuality and violence can have on kids. Sure, the game is rated for mature audiences but the assumption is that children will ultimately be the ones who get their hands on it. This is an assumption widely held by people who have not played games since the original Pac-Man (at least one panelist in the segment admits to this). Games have evolved far past winning and losing. They have branched off into complex narratives with set plots and characters. Arcade-style games still exist but that is in addition to a huge variety of other game types.
Super Mario is enjoyed by fans of all ages.
Video games are seen as toys for children and I can see how the mistake would be made. Many parents are probably familiar with getting their child a Game Boy as a gift. They might also be familiar with child friendly game titles such as Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. But historically video games were not created with the explicit intention of being toys for children. As a new artistic medium, one cannot expect every video game title to be child friendly just as one would not expect every film to be for children.

The second assumption being made is that only males play video games. They were not concerned with children in general but impressionable adolescent boys. They cite studies that only take males into consideration and discuss them as the only group “at risk." According to this article by Jamie Frevele over at The Mary Sue, the Entertainment Software Association reported that as of 2010, 42% of gamers are female. Despite this, the assumption that only males play video games still pervades.

In the Fox News segment, the speakers operate under these two assumptions while readily citing examples to the contrary. As one woman states only adolescent males play video games, another admits (perhaps with a hint of judgement) that “there’s a lot of grown men that love video games, lets be honest here.” As Lawrence rhetorically asks, “Who is playing video games but adolescent males?”, one of the men in the panel discussion talks about playing a princess video game with his daughter. The contradictions are readily apparent but go unacknowledged.

Why does this matter? This matters because when the mass media discusses games it is almost always in a negative context. They are written off as being too violent or being too sexual without many people even taking the time to play them. This matters because news segments like this shape how games are perceived by those who don’t play them. They inform legal decisions about censoring or banning video games. This matters because it reduces the issue of sexism in games to “all sex is bad and therefore should not exist in games” (a blog post for another day). The way the conversation is currently framed within the mass media makes it impossible for a truly critical and informed discussion about video games to occur.

So to bring everyone up to speed...
1) Video games were not explicitly created as children’s toys. To think of them only as such ignored their depth and limits the medium.
2) Contrary to popular belief, females play video games. As a matter of fact, “women 18 and older make up more of the gaming audience than boys 17 and younger” (Frevele 2011).
3) There are many types of video games today. Not all games are like Pac-Man nor are all games bloody and violent like Mortal Kombat.
4) Playing video games is a valid form of entertainment. View it as watching a favorite movie or tv show instead of treating unproductive, waste of time for nerds, slackers, and shut-ins. 72 percent of the American population plays video games and that number will only increase as time goes by (Frevele 2011).

- J.

Brathwaite, Brenda. 2007. “Chapter 1.” In Sex in Video Games. Class River Media.
Frevele, Jamie. 2011. “New Round of Gaming Statistics: Gaming Audience Getting Older, Slightly More Female.” The Mary Sue.

No comments:

Post a Comment