On @femfreq and violence in games

I actually made this blog to write about purely technical stuff mostly, but all my twitter is so full of these hot debates, so I decided to declare my point of view, just in case.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, the short story is:
There is a girl called Anita Sarkeesian, who makes videos, pointing to the problems of female characters in games, specifically objectification of women, over-sexualization. violence towards them and often lack of character development. You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/user/feministfrequency
The videos made kind of huge response, both positive and negative, from both gamers, developers and random bystanders.

My opinion is that the problem is not limited to just female characters in games, but actually much more global.
What I agree with Anita is the problem of characters. I played quite many games, but I can remember only 3 types of women I’ve seen:

1. Damsel in distress.
2. Ridiculously strong warriors, usually without much armor and visible muscles, but with big tits, of course. Think of Tomb Raider, Remember Me and so on.
3. Third plan character, who you’ll immediately forget.
A bit boring, isn’t it?

But the violence problem is much deeper. It’s not just about female characters. The problem is that actually most games are made of violence. Violence is the main option of progressing through the game in most AAA titles. It was this way for many years, since first characters appeared on the screen. The enemies had to die, and the player had to win. And since female characters appeared in games, it didn’t change too much. You always have the attack button, and you can attack anyone. And while Anita complains about violence towards over-sexualized women, I complain about violence in general, victim’s gender doesn’t matter much. In most games you would kill much more men (usually armed) than women, and men just can’t be “sexualized”, I have no idea how it may ever look, but instead I see the problem in violence itself.

I definitely don’t want too look like some Jack Thompson and I won’t blame games like this. After all, I’m a gamer myself, and I like parts of experience games give to me. I love this industry and I hate censorship.

In the beginning of 2000s, game industry was making huge leaps forward. I was amazed at how fast graphics, physics, and at the same time, plots and characters were evolving. There were new revelations in this medium, new genres, and I felt like I was witnessing a revolution. A revolution of art, a revolution, which will give us a new, incredibly beautiful, realistic yet interesting, interactive experience. Games like Mafia, Morrowind and Half-Life 2 made me feel so.
Did it happen? Not really.

While the technical side of games was evolving, the core ideology stayed the same. There were rare exceptions, like Quantic Dream games or Pathologic, the games that tried to do something out of familiar bounds of expectations.

But most games are still bent on murder. On routine murder that doesn’t affect the story much, that doesn’t suppose to invoke any emotions. I feel like in many RPGs, the only thing that changes on different play sessions, with different characters and different stats and abilities – is the way how you kill. As simple as that. Kill is your primary action and many games seem to differ mostly in the ways you do it.

And even for an indie game developer, it’s actually quite tempting to repeat this pattern. It’s easier to make characters shoot and get killed than to invent something, that really touches you and try to implement it in a game. And when I add characters to the game, that’s actually the first thing I do: shooting and killing. Because it feels like a mechanic, you can play it, it gives challenge, and you’ve seen it so many times, you realize its implementation quite well. Decals, particles, ragdolls, familiar stuff!

But then I feel it’s not the thing I want to leave after myself. What do I love about games? I love to feel myself in a different life, a different place, being a different person and experience emotions of living this way which will then become a part of me. I want to feel my abilities and the consequences of using them. I felt something like this in the latest Deus Ex, Fahrenheit and Pathologic, but it wasn’t absolutely perfect. I don’t want it to feel like a Mario game, I don’t want infinitely kill some enemies. And at the same time I want it to be interactive. I want to do what I want and not the designer. I want to have the ability to kill, because this way, it becomes YOUR choice, it provokes drama and emotions, but I don’t want it to be the only way. I don’t want to play as superhuman, who decides everyone’s fate.

I don’t even fucking know what I want. And this is very sad, considering I already made a demo of my game, which in the end turned out to be the same crap I don’t like in games in some of its aspects. I know it should be different.

I think this medium is still very young and we’re capable of making something totally new.

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