At Last, Women! - The past seven days have done a lot for women in games
You should have seen House of the Dead when my mum was finished with it. Most of us would pick up the lightgun, pop a few rounds into the zombies and move on, but not mumsy, no no no. When we were in the arcades in Devon, she'd take it on herself to not just kill the zombies but totally destroy them, blowing off their arms, legs, head and then putting a hole through their chest in quick succession before they had a chance to hit the ground.
She was a better shot than Hawkeye; one time she blew an undead apart so totally that a bloke walking past the machine turned his head and muttered "bloody hell."
And then there's sister, one of the best Horde mages on her World of Warcraft server. It's not just the hours - sorry, months - she's spent in front of the PC - it's her reflexes, her intelligence; her mathematical approach to arranging spells and items on the hotkeys. She's a consummate gamer by anyone's standards and routinely kicks the arse of any of WoW's toughest bosses.
The incredibly patronising point I'm trying to labour here is that computer games are for women, too, whether it's to play them or work on them or write about them or whatever. But despite how glaringly obvious that will be to most people, there's still plenty out there, particularly in comment sections and on forums who can't seem to get their frankly reptilian brains around the INCREDIBLY BASIC concept that women and men are equal.
So, thank God that over the last week in the game industry we've seen a proliferation of feminist dialogue.
"Women's Week" as nobody is calling it except me was spearheaded by Tomb Raider, a superb game by Crystal Dynamics which does precisely the right thing by emphasising Lara Croft's human qualities over her feminine ones. Gone are the big eyes; the round boobs; the waist that looks like it's slowly being sucked in by a black hole, and in their place are fear, intellect and compassion.
She's still attractive, but now that comes just as much from her resourcefulness and wit as it does from her face. Playing it start to finish, you can't help but shout out a loud "oh my bloody God, yes!" when the end credits rolls, as you realise you've just played an entire computer game with a woman in it, and not once did she flash her cleavage, wink at the camera, or look over a pack of attacking guards and say "come on boys" in a sultry voice.
More of this please, computer games.
But even Tomb Raider was outclassed by a warm news story about a coding fanatic dad who had swapped the character skins in Donkey Kong so that now, Pauline was rescusing Jump Man. He had done it for his young daughter - like him, an avid gamer - telling The Verge that "she's not an NPC, and Dad's favorite pastime shouldn't treat girls like second-class citizens."
It struck me as a simplified version of Dynamics' work on Tomb Raider. That game takes pleasure in beating Lara up as much as any male character from Gears of War or Uncharted or Killzone, as if to say that, like in real-life, women and men are equal. The hacked version of Donkey Kong is doing the same thing, merely replacing the character skins so that Pauline runs, jumps and moves exactly the same as Jump Man.
There's no dialogue, there's no feminist discourse, but just in that little mechanical loop there's an essay's worth of feminist discourse. On the outside, Pauline is a woman; on the inside, beneath the skin and in the game's line of code, she's the same as Jump Man.
And that's a dichotomy that women-objectifying tossers can't seem to wrap their brain cell around. They seem to view women as something other, something different; something that you need to trick and conquer with chat-up lines and psychology. These are the boys that wouldn't be able to mention IGN correspondent Jessica Chobot without going "woah she's a female game journalist hey, hey" and they're the ones keeping women out of conversations around videogames.
I'm relieved that, in their ways, Tomb Raider and Donkey Queen (dreadful pun, doesn't even work) are fighting the prejudice that women are innately different, because that's the first barrier to smash when it comes to equal representation.
Women vs. Tropes
Last up was Anita Sarkeesian's brilliant Women vs. Tropes series. Because there's no God, when Sarkeesian tried to raise money for the show on Kickstarter she was met with abusive emails, rape and death threats. That's somewhat forgotten about now and what we have is an insightful, informed series on how videogames have routinely treated women like bog brushes, relegating them to supporting roles in their own games and leering at their jubblies like a pissed, teenage version of Sid James.
Sarkeesian's a welcoming presenter who knows games back to front, who's also taken the applaudable decision to disable comments on her YouTube videos. Un-democratic some might say, but why should you tolerate a herd of braying animals in the audience when you're trying to be articulate?
Imagine a university lecture hall where someone was presenting a talk on Laura Mulvey's seminal work The Male Gaze, only for dozens of 18 year-olds wearing Monster energy drink hoodies to stand up and yell "lol what this chick needs a good f*****g if you ask me!" You wouldn't stand for it; neither should Anita Sarkeesian.
So, it seems like things are moving forward at last. I look forward to living in a world where things like this don't happen anymore. In the meantime, let me be unequivocal, so any divs reading this will understand.
Divs, women have precisely the same right to equal, honest and intelligent representation in the videogame industry as men. They have the right to be paid the same wages and to be given the exact same opportunities in every facet of society as blokes do. And if you see a woman wearing a short skirt or a low cut top, it's not your perogative to go over there and start a-flirting and a-grabbing and a-what not.
Women don't belong to you. As for anyone who thinks differently, well, you know how we look back at history and laugh at how racist and homophobic people were back then? In a hundred years, it's people like you that everyone will be laughing at. Get it together guys. Jesus.