[personal profile] womanwarrior
I recently read this article on how video games perpetuate the "commodity model" of sex[*]. The article talks about how many games seem to treat women like vending machines: give the right input, and the reward is sex. This is sex as a commodity in its purest form. Now, really, most games are pretty simplistic in this precise way: Do X, and you are rewarded. When X = kill monsters, or solve logic puzzles, or roll up flowers, and the reward is "winning" or "experience", it doesn't really bother me because these are actions which aren't really very loaded in the real world. When X = "Buy her jewelry" and the "reward" is "sex", that bothers me because it starts implying some pretty loaded things about sexual dynamics, simply because the dominant paradigm in the real world is of sex as a commodity, and of women as confusing, mysterious creatures who semi-arbitrarily dispense this commodity based on whether the man is "worthy" [**]. (Not to mention, the implication that men are always seeking sex and thus sex is a "reward".)

I found the article very interesting, of course, being that I'm a gamer. If I think back to the games that I've played, though, none of them show the trend that the author is talking about. (I may be misremembering.) Some games I have played (not comprehensive at all): Scribblenauts, God of War 1 & 2, Braid, Beyond Good and Evil, World of Warcraft, Diablo 2, Torchlight, Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy 7 & 9, Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights.... Final Fantasy 7 has this sequence where if you choose the conversational responses correctly, you will go on a date with one of the other characters. One possibility is even Barret, another man (though the actual sequence is more played as a buddies thing than the other sequences). Many of these games don't put in sex (or women) at all.

I entirely believe that the games cited by the article (and many other games) have these problematic depictions of women, but I simply haven't played them. I got about 1 mission into Grand Theft Auto before my lack of motor coordination failed me. In general I'm not really a fan of first person shooters, and perhaps that's the sub-genre where women-as-vending-machines tend to show up. Mass Effect and Alpha Protocol are the two games cited by name in the article, and neither of them are games I'm likely to pick up.

Of course, just because the games I have played don't treat women as vending machines for sex doesn't mean that they're free from misogyny. Far from it. God of War may be the most misogynistic game I've ever played, hands down, but the one sexual interlude (in God of War II) involved you pushing the right buttons *during* sex (with a prostitute, I believe) to gain experience. So no, I can't really say that that's treating women as vending machines for *obtaining* sex, but maybe that's letting the game off on a technicality. And many of the RPGs suffer from the "fan service" problem, where the womens' armor are unbelievably scanty while the men wear more believable outfits. Because of this, enjoying video games for me often comes at the cost of working to ignore things that are severely problematic. Sometimes I just roll with a male avatar, so I can simply be a character and not just walking sexual energy. Other times it's easier to just ignore the sexism and focus on other aspects of the game.

When I play games which don't have this issue it's quite a relief. Beyond Good and Evil is one that stands out in my mind. The main character is a woman, but she is written to be a person first - a character who happens to be a woman as well as a journalist, fighter, etc. etc. Portal is another game which I could enjoy freely. It's a first-person perspective game, but the avatar is female (and you can see that if you set up the portals right). The enemy has a female voice (though computers don't really have genders, do they?). It's always refreshing when I can honestly be a female avatar without wincing.

So, have you played any games in which women are written as vending machines for sex? Do you find this a common trend in gaming? And secondly, are there other good games out there which does do a decent job in their portrayal of women?

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[*] The "commodity model" of sex, which is the dominant paradigm in American culture today, views sex as a commodity which women have, and men are constantly trying to get. I first encountered this description in an essay by Thomas Millar in the book Yes means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape. He writes:

Women may give it away or may trade it for something valuable, but either way it's a transaction. This puts women in the position of seller, but also guardian or gatekeeper … Women are guardians of the tickets, men apply for access to them. This model pervades casual conversation about sex: Women "give it up." men "get some."


[**] I think Figleaf talks about the "worthiness trap" and the "no-sex class" very nicely and clearly, so go there if you are curious to read more.

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womanwarrior

November 2009

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