Minor Scandal vs. Systemic Sexism

Minor scandal is great for blog entries. It provides a nice easy topic to talk about at a moment when it seems relevant. One interesting scandal of the moment is with Dead Island. A mistakenly released build revealed the original name of a talent. The rename that went uncommented upon was called “Gender Wars.” The talent gives the player character Purna a damage increase against male zombies. The skill was originally called “Feminist Whore.” There was no change of how the skill worked, just the skill’s name. This means that somewhere along the production cycle it was changed to a linguistically more “appropriate” term, but the concept remained in the final build.

The minor scandal element of this is hardly unpredictable: Fan delves into code, finds something and posts it online; gamers generally laugh it off or get angry to not invade their somehow post gendered turf with pc crap; news sources picks it up and spreads it around; companies apologize and bad apples get blamed; more fan anger that their games must remain outside of the realm of politics as well as angry responses against the sexist act; and then two final things happen:

1) scholars jump on the band wagon and point it out again and again as to the state of games as sexist.
2) the rest of the world forgets about it.

This blog post is an attempt to follow Suzanne de Castell and Jen Jenson’s recent keynote at DiGRA 2011. In their keynote they mentioned the Dead Island issue as well as a number of other scandals, but they discussed that scholars have been simply pointing out sexism for the past 20 years without going further. The typical “feminist” response to the Dead Island scandal has been a reiteration of the same actions that have happened for the past 20 years. Instead, Jenson and Castells call for action. They call for people to get to the source, and change it.

The source here is not the game; the source is not the developer; the source is not the people who vociferously protest. Rather, the source is the system. The Dead Island scandal (“Feminist Whore”) is not the problem, it’s simply the crack that has mistakenly rendered the giant realm of sexism (of which sexism is equal to racism, homophobia, nationalism, and many others as a unacceptable alterity where the Other is rejected deeply and quietly within the system). The true scandal is that Gender Wars and 15% damage against men is unquestioned, and that people react by missing that it is the culture that allows the sexist event to happen.

It follows that the solution is not an apology, nor is it to only scream that games or the industry are sexist. There is no easy solution to a pervasive (systemic) element of a culture other than to work against it by changing general attitudes, by pushing women to STEM jobs and game jobs, by supporting alternate types of games, and by changing culture. The best way I can think of doing this is teaching against it, so that is what I will do. However, I will not use this to teach about how certain video games are sexist, nor how there is sexism within the industry. These are both true, obvious, and useless to simply point out. Rather, I will use this to teach how the real issues go unremarked upon even when they are rendered visible. How they are systemic.

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