I'm loathe to fly a flag one way or another in this whole thing, but this is just so ridiculous, I can't stay silent. A couple of weeks ago, Anita Sarkeesian released the first video in a new series called "strong women in video games." here:
Then, on his Facebook page, American McGee, creator of the Alice games, posted this response:
Seriously, isn't Anita saying this character is acceptable because she's such a blank slate? I can't help but think the "woman" in this game might as well be wearing a burka for all the identity she has. If this is "positive" and we (as game writer/designers) are meant to emulate this model... then I imagine the characters in our future games getting some really odd looks as they walk down the streets of virtual Los Angeles, sneak through the corridors of Space Station 009, or try to blend into any world that isn't a magical fantasy world of pixel make-believe.
To me, real characters, positive characters, have flaws. They're broken. They have an identity constructed of past events - good and bad. Like real people, they might make poor "life choices" which result in them being shallow minded, skin revealing, homicidal maniacs, who wear women's lingerie under their space armor. Or, like the rest of us, they might be who they are, and wear what they wear, because society (the real world) hasn't left them many other options. If we're going to tell real stories, it's best we do that with characters who closely resemble real people.
Pixel burka woman is art. So are real people.
As American McGee prepares to dismiss what he calls the “SJW backlash” for his criticism, I don’t see anything about it that is sexist or demeaning to anyone, except maybe to McGee himself. The problem with his tirade has nothing to do with “social justice.” The problem is, it doesn’t make sense. So I guess I'm more of a Making Sense Warrior. Here's my MSW backlash:
Let’s break this down, shall we?
Seriously, isn't Anita saying this character is acceptable because she's such a blank slate?
Seriously. No she isn’t saying that. At all. Nowhere does Anita use the word “acceptable,” nor does she say she likes it simply because it’s a “blank slate.” Seriously, here’s the transcript. Where does she say that?
Anita points out that the Scythian is a “blank slate” in the same way that has been attributed to Mario, Chelle from Portal 2, Steve from Minecraft, and many others. The personality, as she says, “...does come through as her thoughts serve as a kind of narration for the story,“ but this isn’t, according to ANYTHING she said, the reason the Scythian is a “strong female character” let alone “acceptable.”
Having played the game, I have to add The Scythian isn't really much of a "blank slate" except maybe at first sort of visually. "Blank Slate" is an abstract concept that applies in varying ways to almost any video game player character. By only speaking in "wa" type sounds, Link is kind of a "blank slate" making the hero more you than the on screen character. The "Doom Guy" in Doom 1 and 2 are blank slates.
Anita barely mentions this as part of a general description of the game, so why people get so hung up on it is beyond me. She's not saying it's a strong female character because it's a "blank slate" any more than she's saying it's a strong female character because she "has dark hair."
I can't help but think the "woman" in this game might as well be wearing a burka for all the identity she has.
Really? You can’t help it? Because I look at that and don’t see a “burka” at all. I see basic armor. Probably studded leather armor.
|Oh look. Burka!|
|No… THAT’S a burka. Just for future reference|
Burkas generally don’t have shiny button parts on them, for one thing, also they don’t have, you know… pants. Like an ink blot in in a psychiatrists office, McGee’s interpretation tells us what’s on his mind, rather than the sprite in question.
What do you see, McGee? BURKAS! OMG BURKAS!
She’s wearing an appropriate outfit to go fight monsters and brave a hostile world. The character’s “identity” doesn’t have to hit you over the head with its appearance, it can come out in the action and game play.
I imagine, when you put so much effort into into highly detailed game characters, then have to raise money on Kickstarter to make a sequel, while seeing someone else selling millions of copies (S&S:EP has sold over 1.5 million worldwide) and getting praise for such low detail and minimal effort… that must be frustrating on some level.
|Needs Kickstarter Money to keep franchise going...|
|...Sold to Microsoft for 2.6 billion dollars|
Doesn't seem fair, does it?
But none of that is Anita’s fault, and it has nothing to do with her video.
Also, I can’t help but think he wouldn’t go to “burka” or have anything whatsoever to say about the “identity” or lack thereof, if the character were male, or if Anita Sarkeesian didn’t happen to, God forbid, like her. The truth is, The Scythian has plenty of identity, just not one shoved in your face or strictly enforced by the narrow authoritarian rules of “acceptable” gender stereotyped markings.
Why does McGee write woman in quotes? Because you’re not a “woman” for real unless you have a big pink bow or dress and high heels? Here… is this better?
|*Gamergate Approved* “Miss Scythianette” and her pink heart shield!|
(sorry I couldn’t resist)
If this is "positive" and we (as game writer/designers) are meant to emulate this model…
Um, no. Watching the video, it’s pretty clear she’s not saying you literally have to use THAT exact model for every game… or anything really like that exact model. Honestly I can’t believe I have to tell a "grown man" this.
She’s NOT saying: All female characters in video games have to be just like the Scythian.
She’s NOT saying: All female characters in games have to be blank slates, or retro-pixelated.
She’s NOT saying: All female game characters have to be anything in particular.
I imagine the characters in our future games getting some really odd looks as they walk down the streets of virtual Los Angeles, sneak through the corridors of Space Station 009, or try to blend into any world that isn't a magical fantasy world of pixel make-believe.
Well he does have some imagination, clearly, but I have to wonder: What looking-glass did McGee trip through to get from what Anita’s saying about the Scythian, to some ridiculous expectation that denizens in Los Angeles, or Space Station 9 need to look like subdued pixelated medieval fantasy characters? It’s so far from what she’s saying, I just can’t make any sense of it.
What she IS saying is:
- the Scythian character is female without making a big deal out of her “femaleness.”
- She’s not marked with a bunch of limiting stereotypical gender markings.
- She’s an adventurer and a hero FIRST, and a female somewhere down the list.
McGee or any other game designer could easily emulate these principles without their characters getting any “odd looks” in LA, in space stations or anywhere else. In fact, I’d say she’d get a hell of a lot fewer “odd looks” dressed in an appropriate normal outfit for what she’s doing than some bikini-armor game heroines now.
|So..she wouldn't get any "odd looks" downtown?|
To me, real characters, positive characters, have flaws. They're broken. They have an identity constructed of past events - good and bad. Like real people, they might make poor "life choices" which result in them being shallow minded, skin revealing, homicidal maniacs, who wear women's lingerie under their space armor.
So Minecraft would be a better game if Steve had a garter belt peeking out from his plain pants, track marks from the ravages of drug addiction and maybe some razor blade scars from where he cut himself “just to feel something,” or what?
A character’s identity doesn’t have to be ostentatiously flashing on his or her costume. Not resorting to obvious visual clues might force the artist to dig deeper and let the identity develop and be discovered and created by the player experience, rather than shoving it down the player’s throat visually with an outfit that says, “Look at me! I have layers!”
But, let’s say, the character has a unique quirky inner monologue that the player is privy to, and instead of the stock cliche “leveling up” in most adventure games, THIS character actually gets worn down by all the strain of the quest, so that by the time the quest is nearly over, she’s actually having to stop and vomit once in a while? Is that “flawed” or “broken” enough for you? Wish granted! The Scythian is exactly such a character.
|Yep! Definitely a burka!|
The idea that a human being or character in a game “has no identity” depending on what she’s wearing says more about McGee than it says about the Scythian or about Anita’s review of her.
Or, like the rest of us, they might be who they are, and wear what they wear, because society (the real world) hasn't left them many other options. If we're going to tell real stories, it's best we do that with characters who closely resemble real people.
So no minimalist games, no pixelated retro games, no games with animal or non-real-human characters for that matter. Only realistic human characters are “best?” That’s about as limiting as it gets.
It’s McGee, not Anita, telling us what’s “acceptable." So shut up anybody who likes retro style games, cause American McGee “knows what’s best” for you!
And finally he ends with this nonsensical gem…
Pixel burka woman is art. So are real people.
Um.. no. I’m pretty sure that’s “Pixel leather armor woman,” and no, real people are not “art.” I think Martin Gore said it best: People are PEOPLE. And people are more than just their outfits.
Real people make art. Sometimes some aspects of that art are subtle and abstract and that’s OK, even if heaven help us, Anita Sarkeesian happens to like it.