This Week in Video Game Criticism: The Speed Racer of Games
This week, our partnership with game criticism site Critical Distance brings us picks from Kris Ligman on topics including Adam Saltsman on how Shinji Mikami's Vanquish is the Wachowskis' Speed Racer of games.
[T]hat is precisely what troubles me about the sexualization of certain races in BioWare fantasy worlds. Sexual and racial discrimination is written into these games in a way that shows awareness of and sensitivity to real-world social inequality [...] But the games want to have it both ways: characters like Liara may exhibit agency and self-determination, but like most romanceable NPCs, her ultimate purpose is to give in. For that reason and because her entire species is designed for the galaxy’s pleasure, her resistance is largely ornamental. This picturesque struggle with systemic oppression is the best case scenario for the sex class: even if you play the game for purity points, your playable character and yourself are made complicit in the fantasy world's objectification of its sexualized demographic.
Why was it that when Volgin beat the life out of Naked Snake in MGS3, I was ready to murder him? Why was it that when Solid Snake crawled through the microwave corridor in MGS4, my heart was in my throat? It was because these felt like natural agents and circumstances colliding together, so I was enrapt in the narrative. MGS has used the brutalization of beloved characters to fantastic effect in years past. In the here and now, [a woman]’s torment in GZ feels like the hand of Kojima moving pieces around a board to be edgy and, in a twisted way, cool. It left me a little frightened, but mostly cold and distant.
This is not a story with a happy ending. The message is chilling for women in software development: you can be destroyed at any moment. No one is coming to help you. Your harassers will say what they have to say, but the only person suffering fallout will be you.
I want to emphasize that this list is not meant to suggest that everything is always a cakewalk for male gamers. Male critics, developers, and gamers are also at times bullied or subjected to online nastiness, but it is not based on or because of our gender. This is a critical distinction. The pattern of unearned advantage also does not mean that all men are powerful as individuals or that all women are powerless as individuals. It simply means that men in gamer culture can, on average, count on these advantages, whereas women can not.