WOMAN UNLOCKED. Wait, what?
Sometimes it feels as though the game industry is stuck in the 1980s. The market is packed with Call of Duty clones – action games with little story, big set piece scenes and a swarm of enemies to kill, much like the Die Hard clones that littered the movie industry a few decades ago. Story in games in general is limited, albeit with some notable exceptions. The biggest way in which games are stuck in the 80s, however, is in their attitude toward women.
Sexism in games isn’t a new topic. Duke Nukem and Tomb Rader are both games that have come in for heavy criticism recently. One big problem, however, is the quiet prevalence of casual sexism in games.
I recently bought Asphalt 5, a mobile racing game that’s great fun. To steer you turn the phone. You can powerslide around corners, crash carelessly – it’s brilliant. I earned ‘money’, I raced and I won. Then I unlocked a woman.
Welcome to the world where women are a special achievement, an unlockable object. I unlocked Kate. Kate is tall and thin with brown hair. Kate is very pretty and can get me 15% more money. Kate sounds nice. There are even four other women I can unlock, like Carla and Liz.
When you unlock a woman, or ‘girl’ as the game prefers, you can watch a video of them, standing in front of a CGI background and car, flirting with the viewer and telling you to start making money. It’s like a parody of straight male masculinity.
Except this is no joke. What’s stunning is the casual way this is implemented in the game as though it’s something completely acceptable. Gameloft, who published the game, see no problem in approaching women in this stereotyped way and let’s be clear; this approach is harmful. This approach emboldens sexist views in the world, enforces gender stereotypes and holds back progress.
And why is it that it is only women you can unlock? Is the suggestion that only men can race? I know vividly that isn’t the case. In the premise alone, women are held up as being unequal to men. The argument would be that this is targeted toward men, so why not cater to them? It’s only a fantasy after all.
Well, the argument around why British TV show Midsommer Murders only had white characters was the same. “We’re the last bastion of Englishness and I want to keep it that way.” Does that mean the perfect England is white, and that anyone who isn’t white is an imperfection? The executive producer responsible promptly left. Likewise, the notion that women are subservient to men is not a utopian fantasy, but an offensive affront to a civilised society.
Yet this kind of stereotyping, which would be rightly unacceptable in race and sexuality, is accepted by the publisher and the individual mobile platforms belonging to Apple with iOS, Google with Android and Microsoft with Windows Phone, which include them in their app stores. Why is it that when looking at progress, feminism always seems pushed into the slow lane?