‘Anita Sarkeesian did nothing wrong’, or ‘Violence against women in media, cont.’

Part One: ‘Where does the idea that “women have impossible standards for violence” come from?’

Human 4

I didn’t really want to get into this to be honest, but quickly since there’s a real contribution here, I think what’s being understated is hyperviolence against women in edgy videogames or other media generally isn’t just an incidental product of trying to titillate, it’s a natural result of the cultural ideas the work is reproducing.

Human 4, cont.

The sandbox violence genre is a power fantasy, violence being seen as primarily male, it tends to be a male power fantasy. The criminal setting readily lends itself as a veneer of ‘realism’, the popular imagination depicting it as the playground realm of strong men (The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire etc), allowing for some semblance of plot to be placed on top. The standard tropes come out, male gangsters, female prostitutes, though typically realism is suspended again to ensure they’re more attractive than women trafficked would ordinarily be. The women are sexy not just as a fantasy, but that from a primarily male perspective, female sexuality is threatening in a way that female violence isn’t. This is difficult to get across in a game setting, so we have this suspension of disbelief when you’re being killed by a sexy nun or whatever – but nevertheless the character is disarmed by the eroticism. You understand you are fighting against pure gameplay mechanics at this point. So we have a setting where genuine female agency is at best, poor.

The primary point is that the further we travel along this spectrum of violence and power the further we’re pulled into a setting where women at best use their sexuality as a weapon, but are primarily acted upon as erotic objects. The deeper the power fantasy goes, the more you are able to be wantonly violent, the more likely it is you’ll be able to satisfy this with some kind of literal sex doll. For example, while I haven’t played the Hitman series in a long time, at least in the early games, breaking the stealth or subtlety aspect in the ‘civilian’ areas is vastly more likely to end in a game over than after gaining access to whatever underworld setting the stage required, switching to a FPS solution.

Just the same that as in real life—that sex work is situated more frequently within criminal enterprise—is a reason they tend to suffer violence more frequently. by attempting to make the violent fantasy realistic, they’ve lead the player with the same environmental ‘incentives’ that drives real life sexual violence. As has been pointed out this pursuit of realism isn’t in any way a principled thing; what we’re establishing is in particular why realism is invoked in this way, and it’s because when we look for settings that validate a violent power fantasy, they tend to be settings that have resulted in violence against women.

Human 5

Human 4, lemme make sure I understand what you’re saying

I think what you’re saying is that we shouldn’t just consider whether or not women are being problematically represented within a game’s context, but that the setting of a game that defines what is “realistic” or “exaggerated” is itself worth considering.

Am I missing stuff, or is that the gist?

Human 4

I’m saying that it’s not merely a co-occurrence of ‘make everything sexy’ (and in particular you need to make the women sexy to validate their existence) and ragdoll violence simulator like has been suggested. The actual genre of the game lends itself to particular settings; those settings in turn inform the structure of the game mechanics and what incentives are presented as a result.

In contrast, in Dwarf Fortress you can do fucked up things because you can do literally everything (it’s going to be slightly informed by fantasy tropes but whatever). If someone decided to do messed up stuff to women that would be entirely on them. The criticism isn’t just that it exists within the potential of the game, but that the power fantasies by nature rely much more on shared cultural assumptions, and in doing so introduce violence against vulnerable women and the likelihood that you would engage in said violence as a result.

Human 6

It’s weird that you make this post about Dwarf Fortress with the defense that “Oh, well you can do anything in those games” when that’s not true, and that violent conflict is essentially necessary in DF, and that this is intentional game design, just like you complained about previously.

Dwarf Fortress is a “sandbox violence genre” game (among other things), but it seems that since you have a soft spot for it, you use it as a positive example instead of noticing that it adheres to the negative traits that you ostensibly dislike in game design.

Human 4

That’s not what I’m saying. DF might encourage you to do violent things, and that might lead you to do something messed up, but I’m talking about how by placing that sandbox in a particular setting encourages you to act out that violence in particular ways.

Power tripping in a particular setting leads you to indulge in that power in particular ways – I don’t think sexualised violence against women is something the setting of Dwarf Fortress really encourages you to do, maybe fucked up violence against animals or whatever.

Human 6

If anything DF gives more encouragement to commit horrendous acts (including sexualized violence) than Hitman does because, as a true sandbox, DF doesn’t penalize you for doing so, whereas Hitman does, as Human 3 pointed out.

Really the distinction between DF’s encouragement of horrendous levels of violence and Hitman’s, that I suspect you’re making internally, is largely due to graphical quality, which is pretty specious.

Human 4

You really don’t think graphical quality and representation might have an impact in the way eroticism and violence are interpreted by the player?

I agree that you can, in the abstract, do more messed up things in DF but that’s partly because it makes it in some sense banal. That’s an interesting idea in itself about how we interpret immediately emotional impactful events compared to those that are objectively worse in a sense, but that doesn’t really take away from my point.

Someone who can kill a million dwarves in lava and someone who wants to watch a hooker get shot in the face and throw her body around are acting from different impulses.

Human 6

Those different impulses aren’t strictly “better” or “worse” than one another, unless you mean to qualify them as such, so I dont really get the distinction, to be honest, because as I said, you brought up Dwarf Fortress as a positive countermand to “sandbox violence genre” as a power fantasy, and since violence is seen as primarily male, then it is a male power fantasy, etc., etc., etc.

Which makes no fucking sense.

You can wrestle zombie goats to death limb by limb. C’mon dude, what’s this weird artifice you’re putting up?

Human 4

I’m not saying they’re better or worse than each other, just that if someone was to kill a bunch of women specifically in DF I would put that more on them than if they did so in Hitman.

I didn’t describe DF as a sandbox violence simulator though. It’s a sandbox game where you can be violent, true, but I wouldn’t say it’s the primarily thing it’s aiming to sandbox. I brought it up in the context of sandboxes and how much agency should be placed on the player for what they decide to do in it versus what the game encourages. It’s clearly of a different genre to GTA, Hitman and shitty spinoffs like Godfather or whatever where the emergent behaviour from the violence is a key and major design point. If that’s the confusion then hopefully that clears it up.

Human 7

‘I’m not saying they’re better or worse than each other, just that if someone was to kill a bunch of women specifically in DF I would put that more on them than if they did so in Hitman.’

This I don’t get.

In Dwarf Fortress I frequently kill a bunch of women, girls and babies and literally get rewarded with a more functional fortress.

In Hitman if I kill a woman who isn’t a target I literally get penalized.

Regarding Dwarf Fortress, I’ve never delved much into it, so I don’t know how killing women actually makes it a more functional fortress. That seems a separate topic from this one in the same way that violently torturing one person as the Punisher is a different visceral experience than wiping out a planet full of people in a galactic resource manager like Master of Orion. Even when you’re literally rewarded for it, things like graphics and scale matter.

So I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit hole of a different subject, but yes, people can still be critical of a game if the design involves other misogynistic assumptions. RimWorld has been criticized for attractive lesbians making the heterosexual male colonists unhappy. This is a good quick video that goes into that (skip to 5:05 if you want that discussion directly), and while Dwarf Fortress is far too complex for me understand all of the interactions, it seems like it’s trying to handle the same sort of gender and sexuality relationship issues more thoroughly, avoiding the buggy assumptions.

You’re right, Human 7. There could be problems with coding something in such a way that women are a burden to your society and ought to be liquidated to succeed (replace ‘women’ with ‘Jews’ if it isn’t obvious why that is a problem as an assumption), but even if the game design is literally rewarding you for it, that’s distinct and mostly unrelated to depictions of visceral violence toward women and other groups.

Hitman games would be closer to the Sniper Elite games, and warning: that video is quite gory.

The literal point tallies here are beside the point. It’s absolutely irrelevant to the playing experience whether you’re getting 200 points for a testicle shot or 1000 points for a headshot. The game designers bothered to devote a very detailed camera view to smashing testicles with a bullet, and your reward is some gloriously gory fucking ultraviolence.

But the reason this isn’t misandry is that it’s a male protagonist doing the shooting; he’s shooting at people who have weapons and are trying to kill him; and of course because it exists in a media landscape where gratuitous testicle gore is not already ubiquitous, in a society where men are not otherwise disadvantaged for their gender.

If you can imagine a game like Perfect Dark where the protagonist were female, almost all of the enemies were female, and the few men that showed up did so at a dominatrix club where they were gagged, forced to crawl around on all fours to serve drinks, with chains connecting their nipple piercings to their cocks, and you could murder them violently, including blowing their cocks off, throwing knives into their assholes, and ripping the chains out of their bodies—that Sniper Elite testicle destruction animation suddenly has a much different context and impact. In our world, it would be called ‘radical feminist bullshit’ by gamergaters who would not be likely to apply the same defenses to it as their own games.

Now, if you can place all of that in a sort of Themyscira / Wonder Woman society where the women do regularly beat and kill men in real life and do largely regard them as fit for nothing more than sex objects, and there are lots of other media depictions that find plot excuses to put scenes in places like dominatrix clubs and abuse the men there, then it all takes on an even more troubling layer, and one that possibly is actually harmful to real people. Not because of the specific media, solely, but because of how it is interacting with all of the other media and existing social assumptions.

If you’re trying to understand art and criticism of art, you can’t restrict it to only thinking about what you’re immediately seeing. Artistic works are part of an ongoing conversation, with the audience, yes, but also society outside of the immediate audience and with previous works of art.

The reason why people aren’t upset when Buffy or Beatrice Kiddo get a blackeye but are upset when the antihero protagonist drunkenly punches an unnamed prostitute is not the result of hypocrisy, or really that difficult to understand when placed in the surrounding landscape.

It’s sort of like the difference between watching a clip from the second season of Arrested Development and watching all the episodes leading up to it with all genre awareness and knowledge of real world events, too. The clip may still work as intended, but probably there are going to be other considerations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s