Sony’s Continued Failure (now with Heroines)

As I’m in the middle of finishing a chapter that links gender hacks to localization (using the term Feminist Localization) I’ve been interested in, but completely not desiring to post about, GamerGate. It’s completely related, and it’s a part of the chapter, but there has been no reason to add to the whole kerfluffle that is the current discourse around GamerGate. That ended when I checked out the recently ended Sony Flash Sale.

Heroine Sale
Playstation Networks’s Flash Sale for games with “heroines”

While Sony’s blog named the sale “October Flash Sale: More than 20 Games, 30 Movies Discounted,” its graphic advertisement called it a Heroine Sale. While most sites didn’t pick up a connection – unsurprising given the 3 day length of the sale – some did. The site PlayerAttack posts that “PlayStation flash sale celebrates women (quietly),” then goes on to explain that “the company’s not drawing attention to it, but every single game and movie included on the seemingly-random list features strong female characters.” However, it’s not quite that simple.

Leaving off the films, the games read as a haphazard list of recent games with semi-problematic gender issues. Yes, they all feature at least one female character, but that’s about all they do: they don’t pass the Bechdel test and several of the games have been vigorously protested as sexist!

To be clear, yes, some of the games are great as both games and cultural narratives: Portal 2, Beyond Good and Evil, Knytt Underground, Remember Me, and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (if you take Ramona as the hero) are all decent inclusions. Not perfect, some better than others, but definitely inclusions that demonstrate that women can be heroines, protagonists, and role models for players of games.

As for Bayonetta, it has been called both ludicrously sexist, but also empowering, so I’ll settle for saying that it’s complicated and has spawned quite a bit of discussion, which, ultimately, is a good thing. Sadly, I don’t think Sony really understands the complication though. I think somebody got an email saying, “hey, there’s this GamerGate thing going on and we need to show that we care: go through the playstation network digital games and pick out some games with female protagonists for us to include in a sale.”I mean, how else could Fat Princess have possibly been included otherwise?

Fat Princess. Take a Damsel in Distress, feed her to imprison her, then try to steal the other team (of men)’s imprisoned obese woman. Proving that gameplay is not equal to narrative, and that sometimes narrative is actually really important, Fat Princess has been lauded for its gameplay, but to do so the reviewer had to work really hard to not look at what was happening on the screen, thereby missing the violence imbued in his own words “it’s in your best interests to force feed that lady as much cake as you can.” On the other hand, by most looking at the narrative beyond the gameplay the game has been panned for both its sexist core as well as its anti-fat elements. Yes, some support it, but said really simply, it would be hard to pick a worse game for representing Sony’s support for strong female heroines.

Sony, like much of the game industry, is struggling right now. They showed both failure and ignorance when there were no women on stage in last year’s 2013 PS4 presentation, and they’re showing they don’t quite get it now. Yes, it’s a step, but the problem is that it’s not necessarily in the right direction. It’s probably not a step backward, but it’s a shaky half hobble forward at best.