Women in Games: Violent Contradictions

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!

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  • Gaming101

    lol it is becoming increasingly clear that this author doesn’t have a flying clue about women, or what equality really means. Violence against women is an issue because women are not equal to men – they are by far more at risk, fragile and requiring of protection. You need to realize when two things aren’t equal that they not be treated equally – that’s just common sense.
    Also, women are not visual creatures – they aren’t stiumlated visually the way men are. I don’t know how this dumb author is an adult and hasn’t realized this obvious fact yet, but women aren’t interested in looking at men the same way men are at looking at women. No, not a single woman bought Uncharted because they wanted to check out Nathan Drake. How dumb is this guy? lmao seriously.

  • Poster

    “Violence against women is an issue because women are not equal to men –
    they are by far more at risk, fragile and requiring of protection.”

    While I can partially agree with the part of this statement that stresses that women tend to be at more risk of attack, I find it ridiculous to generalize women as “more fragile” or “requiring of protection.” For there can be strong women and fragile women and strong me and fragile men. It seems sexist in itself to assume that women women require protection. If I would have to guess from parts Gaming101′s comment, I’d say that they are a woman, but the amount of sexism in the comment contradicts that. Women may be treated differently but that is no justification for anything, that fact is something that can be changed. Furthermore I find it ridiculous to mention Uncharted and Nathan Drake, as this article is a discussion about violence in videogames and the overall spoken reaction to it and trying to bring to focus equality, not about stimuli in men and women and if I would have to respond to that, I doubt any man bought Uncharted to stare at Chloe or Elena. I sure didn’t spend so much money to look at a bunch of polygons, I bought it because its a great game with a great story.

  • http://robertsettle.com/ Robert Settle

    Thank you @01f6d75d4143a51b77682c24863cb3ec:disqus for at least providing a constructive post rather than just a few words flaming the whole piece.

    However I have to agree with @e5ce3a803b3625d64bed950bbca3897a:disqus that what you said is a sexist generalisation to say that women are more fragile.
    As he said there are fragile men and women. Yet having fragile men
    doesn’t stop games from including violence against men so why should it prevent games from including violence against women?

    Games also shouldn’t be afraid to have weak and fragile characters or at least showing weaknesses. Obviously without playing the game I can’t know how this latest Tomb Raider will turn out but a huge part of their marketing has been about her transition from a young innocent girl towards the grown up experienced lara croft that we know from her previous games. It will be interesting to see how they handle that innocence.

    I’d disagree with your latter objection concerning treating men and women as sexual objects. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s the norm for males to buy tomb raider because of lara croft’s design but it did have an impact over the years and it sparked several discussions throughout the games that she has been in. Likewise I wouldn’t say that it would be the norm for all women picking up the game to be getting Uncharted just because of Nathan Drake. But undoubtedly for a small proportion Nathan Drake will be seen as eye candy.

    e.g. I just googled “nathan drake eye candy” and found several instances of women referring to nathan drake as eye candy.

    As you said though Poster, that wasn’t my primary focus of the article and I shouldn’t have gone so far off skew. I was trying to mainly focusing on violence in games and the sexist contradictions that are often made with that. Sexism in games can be such a huge minefield so trying to touch upon another part of the argument so briefly was wrong.

  • effandtee

    I understand your point about compelling storylines and being realistic, and I agree with you on some of that. However, I think that we have to be really careful about gratuitious violence. For instance, Peter Jackson has been quoted as saying he edited out the rape scene from the Lovely Bones because he wanted his daughter to be able to watch the film. We can acknowledge and deal with sexual violence respectfully without showing it happen. As a woman I am faced daily with sexual harassment, and violence is often a threat. So, when I play a game, I don’t really want to be facing that same threat. Obviously, the matter can be dealt with maturely, and we can’t pretend that violence doesn’t happen in real life, but games are also about escape — we don’t get to be heroes in real life, we don’t get to exert superhuman strength, we don’t get to kill dragons. So, if my character is going to be threatened with sexual violence, then the escape component of why I love gaming isn’t really there anymore because that’s something I have to deal with in my actual life. I don’t watch movies that have rape scenes in them, and I wouldn’t play a game with a rape scene in it either. I also think you’re right to talk about stereotypes, which a lot of women gamers(and men) have written about at length.

    • http://robertsettle.com/ Robert Settle

      It’s good to get a female’s perspective on the article. Thanks @effandtee for your input. I think your example of how Peter Jackson handled Lovely bones is a great example of how games could sensitively handle that type of content as well.

      There’ll always be games that act as a way for us to escape, where we can save the world time and again, where we can explore a world of mystical creatures etc. I just think that as the gaming medium continues to evolve and mature that there should also be room for games that have elements from real life realistically implemented.

      I certainly wouldn’t like to see this in all, or even in the majority of games, just in a select few. Otherwise we’d end up with the cod situation all over again (so many games that play exactly the same – and they would be alienating a huge number of gamers).

      Gaming as a medium has traditionally been treated as a medium for children but the demographics show that the average age of gamers is continually rising and a huge proportion of gamers are now female (even though a big percentage of that will be the casual gaming sector) so I think game developers need to continually assess whether the games they’re making are suited to their gaming audience.

    • tongfer

      If women play such games as an escape component, and also from the reality of real-world sexual harassment and sexual violence against them, why can’t men have the same wish for an escape component for the real-world violence that is happening to us all over the world too?

      Yes, women face such sexual violence daily, all around the world, and it is indeed abhorrent that such atrocities are committed against them. But similarly, you can’t possibly think that men always enjoy and don’t mind being the ones who are constantly involved in this world’s wars and the ones who are constantly being killed in violence worldwide. If we had a similar requirement that games be an escape from such a situation, majority of the world’s games would no longer be in publication.

      It is completely acceptable for men to be slaughtered at will in games – people don’t even bat an eyelid or find anything disturbing about men being brutally and gorily savaged in many games. But place any female in any form of violent, even lightly violent situation and it is very likely that people will be hunting for the game producers’ heads.

      If it is not acceptable or deemed wrong that violence against women be depicted in games, then in the same light, it should not be globally acceptable that violence against men be considered completely normal and nothing at all of concern. Likewise, if no one finds it disturbing at all that men are killed in almost every game involving violence out there, then we should not have a double standard for games involving women.

      I do not support violence against women. But that is because I do not support violence against EVERYONE. But if we are to apply that standard to our games, we would have almost no games to play. And if we don’t, then it should go both ways.

      • http://robertsettle.com/ Robert Settle

        Very good comment @tongfer It does seem that the majority of games include violence in one form or another. Even going back to the days of Space Invaders.

        But now that games are much more life like they are creating friction when anything controversial is represented. For example the reaction when GTA 3 was first released was pretty overwhelming yet now it is seen as the norm.

        There’s also been a lot on twitter recently ( using the hashtag #1ReasonWhy ) about the sexism found in the game development industry and also lack of representation of women in the industry and as a result in games. Some of the stories being posted are absolutely horrendous.