Recently, I experienced something that left a bad taste in my mouth…and no, I am not talking about that moment when you realize the milk in the fridge has gone sour only after you added it to your first cup of coffee in the morning. I was really hesitant to write about it, for a number of reasons that I will get into later.
How it went down like this. I was at a place where I was meeting up with a couple new friends. There was one man in the group that I didn’t know but was introduced to. At some point the subject of some feminist critiques of games came up, and this person happens to be involved with the company that develops that particular game. I am not talking a small indie company, I am talking a AAA game with a host of transmedia products as well.
I am not naming the person, because I do not want this to degrade to finger pointing I want this to focus on the issue of what happened.
So this man, for the sake of the post let’s call him B, was talking about how ridiculous the critique was because the issue that was brought up is only a tiny part of this particular franchise. It was only one story line in many, according to B. Not being one who keeps my mouth shut easily, I pointed out that while it might be one part of whole you could not deny that this particular trope does show up in the game in question. You should acknowledge it, really think about why you chose to put it in and then be mindful of it in the future. The critique in question was never saying it was a horrible game and you shouldn’t play it, it was simply talking about how common a certain trope was, but that we are so used to it we hardly ever notice.
B responded with the all too sadly typical line of “But it is a classic story line, it has been around forever.” (Thus my the use of the Greek myth picture with this post.) While he might have been correct that the storyline with the trope might have been around forever…does that mean you should keep using it? Personally I don’t think so, I think it is a bit of an easy out. It is an easy out answer that denies responsibility for a choice. It says “Don’t look at ME! I didn’t make it up, someone else did and I am just doing what has always been done.”
You know, in the military if there is one thing that I have learned to perk my ears up at is any time someone says: “But that is the way it has always been.” That is a cop-out, weak, and lazy argument that indicates to me that you really don’t have much to stand on. It usually means something needs to change.
So the conversation continued and at some point B said something about how he expected there would be plenty of panels on it at cons this summer. His voice indicated that he kind of wanted to be rolling his eyes at the very idea. This is when I pointed out that, in fact, I am working with someone to do a panel on women in the military (or uniform like the police), how we are represented in video games and other media.
He looked surprised, asked something along the lines “and how is that?” in a tone that made it clear he didn’t think there was anything wrong. He asked me for examples.
I started to list them off (foolishly thinking that it would be listened to or matter since I had already gotten the indication that he really thought women as a whole were being a bunch of whiners and needed to shut up because we don’t understand how the world works.) I finally settled on a recent movie that I knew most people in the group would have seen because that makes discussing it easiest. He said something like “there were so many things wrong with that movie and that is what you want to focus on?” Someone else in the conversation brought up examples of how men in uniforms are dressed in actual tactical gear and women are in cat suits that offer no protection.
It didn’t matter to B as he made very clear with what happened next.
This is when I had it explained to me that I just didn’t understand that it is a matter of marketing, that the reason we are depicted the way we are is because it is what sells. B made it very clear that I couldn’t possibly understand because I don’t work in the industry. He also then told me that I needed to understand that I was focusing on one detail and that women in the military don’t make up enough of the market to matter, that it alienates people to even talk about it.
That’s right, he told me that because women in the military are not a large enough demographic how we feel about how we are depicted in games, movies and comics does not matter. We do not matter. This from the mouth of someone who works in the industry, who isn’t some 80-year-old dinosaur (I am pretty sure he is younger than me. I am in my 30s.)
I wanted to rage, I wanted to say “Are you fucking kidding me?” but I looked at him blankly while my brain ran through responses. I pointed out that just because it was one example it was a part of an issue with the overall whole of how women are portrayed, to which his response pretty much the same. Not enough of the market to matter and that it was basically pointless to focus on women in the service because we don’t matter.
So instead of any of the responses that came to my mind, I shifted subjects. Afterwards the thing that upset me most was that I shifted the subject instead of calling him on the fact that he was repeating the exact kind of stuff that alienates women, that telling me I need to get over it because it is what sells? Not. Okay. I consider myself a strong feminist woman, but there I was changing the subject and moving away from the topic because I didn’t know this individual…I didn’t know how much worse B might respond. I knew how popular he seems to be with people. I knew he does work in the industry and while I don’t, people I deeply care about do and I didn’t want them to be alienated or punished for something I did. I knew he was connected. I? Am not “IN” the industry.
The rest of the day I found myself rather uncomfortable around this person and I will probably always associate him and that conversation with that franchise from now on. That day I found myself grateful that years of being in theatre as well as working in an environment where the ability to mask what you are really feeling is a valuable skill. I found myself wondering if I had misunderstood what he said and he didn’t mean it the way I took it. I looked at all the people who I thought I knew and wondered if they were such good friends with him, such fans of his, did they feel the same way since none of them spoke up? I wonder if he even realizes how he sounded? How what he was saying comes across?
You know? I have been pepper sprayed, had firearms training, I have been in 60 foot seas, seen first hand cities destroyed by natural disasters, faced down someone trying to assault me physically…yet faced with this situation I backed down. Even today as I write this, well after this encounter? I am angry at myself that even though I pushed the topic with B, there came a point when he told me that as a military woman my opinion of how I am represented in gaming, didn’t matter, I shut down. I changed the subject.
I wish I hadn’t.
ETA: Thank you for all the great comments, so far the hateful comments have been really limited. All this discussion is great. If you would like another forum to talk to me I am on twitter: @oceanbound