I would like to see more violence against women in video games. Now I’ve got that controversial statement out of the way let me try and explain why.
I’ll apologise now for anyone who finds the title (or any of the content) of this article offensive. This article is not intended as an attack on women rather as satire, pointing out the contradictions that we make when discussing the portrayal of women in gaming and the violence against women in video games.
Whilst writing my last gaming article about hunting for achievements it was pointed out to me that the two achievements I was highlighting (accidentally) both involved violent acts towards women. This is why I made a small mention (in that article) of the recent rape controversy surrounding the new Tomb Raider game. However I think such a huge talking point deserves an article of it’s own.
Please Note: If you are suffering from or have suffered from domestic violence then the BBC have compiled this support page which provides help, advice and useful contacts.
For those that have not already heard it was revealed at E3 that in the latest Tomb Raider (a 2013 reboot of the gaming franchise) will feature a group of men holding Lara hostage and it was said that ‘those scavengers will attempt to rape her’. This single sentence from an interview has caused a huge backlash from the public and media alike. Crystal Dynamics have since tried to emphasize that there was no intention to use the word rape and that they don’t view the incident as a sexual assault.
If you wish to come to your own conclusions, then you can view the scene that sparked all of this controversy.
Impact of Controversy
I’m interested in exploring what impact this controversy has had on other games and if the backlash was even justified.
Since this controversy, it has been revealed that other games (such as the upcoming God of War game) will now be scaling back the violence against women in their own games. This is a rather worrying trend, the last thing we should want to see is creativity being prevented because of a single incident that didn’t even seem to be justified. If the violence in those games were simply added for shock value then I do agree with it’s removal as the use of shock value isn’t generally well received.
The airport scene on Call of Duty: MW2 is a good example of using shock value poorly, this scene involved pretending to be part of a terrorist team inside an airport whilst shooting innocent civilians. This provoked a huge amount of criticism, though in this case it was justified as there wasn’t anything in the scene that was productive towards the overall story. It was there to grab the headlines and cause controversy which it certainly managed to do. Though the level of backlash resulted in the developers having to provide a warning for the scene and allow for it to be skipped.
This is radically different to the Tomb Raider controversy as the ‘rape’ scene serves as a pivotal point in Lara Croft deciding to fight back for herself and in the process she ends up killing someone for the first time.
Contradictions in Entertainment
In other entertainment mediums such as films or books, there have been many instances over the years of rape being used to further the story or even as the focal point of the story such as The Lovely Bones film (based on the book of the same name). The film even received several nominations for best supporting actor and best actress (the rapist and the victim respectively). In The Lovely Bones the victim is only fourteen years old but this did not create the same level of backlash as the Lara rape incident.
More recently there has been an ongoing discussion of a potential movie based on the novel Fifty Shades of Grey and it’s followup books. This trilogy has been a huge success and has even managed to spark it’s own controversy recently when a Hotel (obviously as a publicity stunt) decided to replace the Gideon Bible with a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. The majority of the discussion about this potential movie has been about who should play the main characters and not whether the content would be suitable for a film.
If there were discussions about turning The Lovely Bones or Fifty of Shades of Grey (not sure how either of these would work) into video games then that would spark huge controversy. Yet I would have to assume that the game/s would be rated appropriately just as the film have/would be but unfairly we hold video games under a different light than the film and book mediums. Games in recent years have proven that they are capable of being a true story telling medium such as Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain or the fantastic BioShock. However we consider that games are for children and obviously we believe that this sort of content (rape, extreme violence etc) is unsuitable for children.
The ratings board/s would agree with that viewpoint and if they consider a game to be unsuitable for children (due to violence, or sexual content) then they will apply a suitable age rating to the game. These age ratings though are often ignored by parents buying their children the latest call of duty or battlefield, yet these same parents will likely be a large proportion of those making a noise about the tomb raider ‘rape’ scene.
Violence against Women
We hear about violence against women whilst watching the news or reading newspapers on a weekly basis. Books and films continually portray this behaviour as part of their plots, yet when this happens we barely bat an eyelid.
According to a news report on BBC One (from November 2007), there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to around 230 cases every day. In that same period the British Crime Survey reported that 1 in 200 women suffered from rape. Interestingly the BBC did an article in the lead-up to England’s Euro 2012 campaign exploring the impact that international football tournaments have on domestic abuse.
The majority of FPS games that we play today – such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Operation Flashpoint amongst many others – all involve battles between two opposing sides in a war. The mass majority of the characters taking part in these battles will be male. Where is the equality in that? I want to be able to shoot men and women equally.
There is a distinct lack of originality in these types of games and personally I would like to see much more variety, more BioShocks, Portals and Red Dead Redemptions. Using women in games shouldn’t be a taboo subject, violence against men and women should be equally accepted, as should treating them both as sexual objects. It goes without saying that Tomb Raider over the years has used it’s sexy female lead to attract male gamers. Likewise though I wouldn’t be surprised if a large number of female gamers picked up games such as Uncharted and the recent Prince of Persia’s because of the handsome male leads.
Likewise whilst speaking to a fellow gamer about equality to women in games he told me about his experiences on Skyrim where his wife must stay home and provides him money/food when he visits her:
Now the bitch sits at home and cooks for me
Obviously the quote that I provided is sexist in itself , but the more worrying trend for me is that this blatant use of stereotypical sexism in the game as far as I know hasn’t itself caused any controversy. If they had taken this further and had your character beat your wife if she did not provide enough money then this would have sparked a huge backlash.
Based on this and many other similar situations it appears that we will overlook sexism in video games as long as it doesn’t involve violence against women. This could be seen as a rather big contradiction.
The violent acts that I described earlier (rape, domestic violence, etc) all happen in real life (towards females and males alike) and are represented time and again in films and books, so why not represent them in games as well? If a video game can handle this content responsibly and maturely then I see no reason why this content shouldn’t be allowed in video games.
Having rape in video games isn’t going to train the next generation of rapists. If this recent Aurora shooting (at a Dark Knight Rises premiere) has proven anything it’s that people with violent dispositions will perform violent acts regardless of the films that they have watched or the games that they have played.
Ultimately we need to accept that video games are now in a position where they can provide a compelling story and that they should be allowed the freedom to express their story in any way they choose as long as they handle it responsibly and maturely.
Otherwise it means that we are allowing public pressure to drive the design of video games which will result in a compromised level of creativity. Instead of jumping to conclusions based on the words of a single interview we should have given the developers the chance to prove that they handled the subject matter appropriately (on reflection they did).
Would you like to disagree with something I’ve said in my article? Do you have any additional viewpoints? Then please post a comment below!