The so-called "gamergate" saga is shedding some new light on an old problem: the misogynistic portrayal and treatment of women in video games. Even while gaming increases in popularity among women (and more women work inside the game studios) those portrayals persist, and as we've seen in the abuse heaped on Brianna Wu, those attitudes are echoed by players and fans on Twitter and message boards like 4chan.
Even though some developers are placing strong female characters in games -- BioWare's "Dragon Age: Inquisition" and Square Enix's "Tomb Raider" reboot come to mind -- women are more often used as props, rewards, objects or "bitches" to be punched, raped or run over by a car.
Here are some of the most misogynistic video games:
5. Custer’s Revenge, 1982 – Atari 2600
“Custer’s Revenge,” also known as “Westward Ho” and “The White Man Came” was created for the Atari 2600 by Mystique, a video game company that created a number of pornographic games, such as 1982’s “Bachelor Party.” (Guess what that’s about?)
The game’s main character is General George Armstrong Custer, depicted as a naked man wearing nothing but a hat, boots and bandana. Custer must survive arrow attacks to reach a naked Native American woman tied to a pole and have sex with her. When the game launched in the early 1980s, it was sold in a sealed package labeled “NOT FOR SALE TO MINORS.” A number of groups criticized the game for being both sexist and racist, but the title still went on to sell 80,000 copies.
4. Grand Theft Auto V, 2013 – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, coming to Xbox One, PS4, PC
“Grand Theft Auto” games are fun. Sure it’s about cars, sure it’s about vicariously living a criminal lifestyle, sure, it’s about owning an awesome, luxury apartment. And while some may argue that the game’s main characters, Michael, Trevor and Franklin treat pretty much everyone in the game like crap, there’s still something disturbing about a playable character’s ability to punch a prostitute and then run her over with a car.
There’s also the issue of the way that all women behave in “GTA 5.” They’re portrayed as stupid, vapid, whiny, desperate beings. None show any sign of intelligence, personality or independence.
“But is their argument that in a game about gangsters and thugs and street life, there are prostitutes and strippers -- that that is inappropriate?” Dan Houser, co-founder of “GTA 5” developer Rockstar Games said to the New York Times in 2012, one year before the game hit shelves. “I don’t think we revel in the mistreatment of women at all. I just think in the world we’re representing, in ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ that it’s appropriate.”
We understand this argument, but then why are all of “GTA 5’s” female characters shown this way? Why haven’t there been any female leads? Characters in the game also are often referred to as “bitches,” which seems excessively spiteful.
3. God Of War II, 2007 – PlayStation 3, PlayStation 3, PS Vita
Well, any game from the action-adventure game series, which began in 2005. The franchise follows main character Kratos, a Spartan warrior deceived into murdering his wife and child by Greek god of war Ares. The game is set in the world of Greek mythology, which is awesome. The enemies are cool, the settings are creative -- which is why the mini-games in which Kratos has sex with one or two women at a time are unnecessary to improve the gameplay.
In “God of War III,” Kratos comes across goddess of love Aphrodite, and has sex with her while two of her maidens watch. It’s not essential to the game’s plot or progress, and is another example of women being used as objects, or prizes, in a well-known gaming franchise.
2. Dead or Alive Paradise, 2010 – PlayStation Portable
This game earns points for being completely forthright in what players are getting, which is semi-nude women doing nothing of value. The title was developed by Project Venus and published by Tecmo Koei in 2010 for the PSP. “Dead or Alive Paradise” takes place at a getaway resort, New Zack Island, a location inhabited by swimsuit-clad girls from the “DOA” series.
Upon its release, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, classified the game as “creepy voyeurism” and “bizarre, misguided notions of what women really want.” But it doesn’t stop there. Again, “DOA Paradise” depicts women as one-dimensional, and players can win credits to go shopping and purchase bathing suits, clothing and sunglasses. You can also gift these items to other women to earn their friendship. Once a friendship is earned, it gets even creepier. Players have the ability to zoom in on their friends’ scantily clad bodies and view them in their hotel rooms later that night.
In a 2010 interview, the game’s art director said that if players chose to masturbate to the series, developers would consider the game “a success.”
1. Catherine, 2011 – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
The puzzle platformer game reached Japan in February 2011 and in North America five months later. The game focuses on Vincent Brooks, whose current girlfriend Katherine is looking for a serious commitment and tells him she is pregnant. Vincent then meets Catherine, who (spoiler alert) seduces him and ends up being an evil succubus who takes the form of a different man’s fantasy each night. She also attempts to kill Katherine, who also reveals that she faked her pregnancy.
It’s not the explicit sex scenes that make this game so offensive; it’s the way each woman is depicted. Vince can choose a life with Katherine, who represents a boring, matrimonial trap that will last forever, or he can choose Catherine, an evil, crazy, real life succubus that kills men in their sleep. Again, it’s the one-dimensional way that females are shown in some games that can be harmful. Good or bad. Innocent or trashy. Boring or exciting. When most women, most humans fall somewhere in between.
It’s not that any of these games are terrible, some of them are really fun and entertaining. However, it can be harmful to teach impressionable, young males (which many players are) that it’s okay to punch a prostitute, or that all women care about is shopping. These stereotypes can leave lasting impressions on gamers, which can in turn shape their attitudes toward real women.