X versus Y

Tesh wrote a post here about how monogender workplaces breed a “boy’s club atmosphere” which leads to more childish games. I’m commenting here because I disagree with him, and he deserves more of a thought out response than commenting will lead me to.

My disagreement is not in that we need more women in game production fields, but that the phrasing of it shows a bias. I commented and called it (tongue in cheek-sorry Tesh! I’ve been more of a misanthrope than usual lately) “the icky boys” problem. A type of behavior or game is seen as childish and immature mostly because it is masculine. C.S. Lewis in “That Hideous Strength” had Ransom say this:

“…you are offended by the Masculine itself: the loud irruptive, possesive thing-the gold lion, the bearded bull-which breaks through hedges and scatters the little kingdom of your primness like the dwarves scattered the carefully made bed.”

I’m not saying Tesh or  others who think such feel exactly that way, but a lot of the boys club is just how men act. We like big breasted women, we trash talk even with our friends, and we like people who blow stuff up and break things. That doesn’t mean its appropriate to always do so, especially among people who might take offense or women, but it’s not bad. It’s very subtle, but it’s a rebranding of male values as something that need fixing entirely.

I’m reminded of this post at Massively which started off as a Blade and Soul trailer and ended up into having to defend why sexualized women are in videogames. That it’s something wrong to be fixed. But I could go into my local Borders and get about 8 yaoi and 150 romance novels that are exactly the same. Guys don’t complain because we know fantasy is needed, and good luck hating on the fangirls if you try. But the same behavior in men is something dangerous to be fixed or broken up.

I think it can be very dangerous to believe that way because it can wind up turning guys off from games. A good example of the line of thought taken to the extreme is in children’s books. Some quotes from an article here:

“I think we feel like boys just aren’t good readers because they aren’t curling up with ‘Little Women,’ ” LaBorde added.

“The real requirement is that there is a male protagonist. Boys will not read books that have a girl protagonist,” said John Martin, a Ballard novelist who writes for young adults, and started BoysRead.orgthis year to address the reading gap.

To engage male readers, books need to tackle their issues: what it means to be a man, walk away from a fight, play sports and even go to war, Myers said.

“I’ve never had a male editor,” the New Jersey-based author said. “When you see the books that win the awards, you see books that are much more suitable for girls.”

It’s the logical end of the “boys are icky” line.

To sum up. It’s not bad to be a woman in game design, multigendered workplaces are fine, and women deserve to make games as much as men. But what is not fine is treating masculine fantasy as something dangerous that needs to be fixed, and masculine fantasy games as something we have to solve by introducing more women designers. The danger is that you can go too far and alienate the very audience you want to “fix.”

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5 Responses to X versus Y

  1. Tesh says:

    For the record, “The Hero and the Crown” and “The Blue Sword” were two of my favorite books growing up as a book-loving boy. I guess I’m weird… but that should be obvious by now.

    Is it worth defending the worst parts of human or gender nature, glossing over things that just happen to come easily to one or the other? Do we have to accept the notion that women are waspy, gossipy drama queens and say “it’s OK, they are just women, they can’t help it”? The “boys will be boys” line doesn’t wash. Bad behavior is bad behavior.

    That said, I’m not really out to play Big Brother and get rid of dumb games. I don’t like them, and will continue to call dumb decisions out, but I’m not calling for some sort of statist hammer to ban them. I’m more interested in providing alternatives, and more women in the industry can help that.

    It’s also worth noting that I’m not really seeking to emasculate masculinity. I’m looking for more maturity and couth in the industry. Unless it’s impossible to be male and mature, which I don’t posit, things can be better in the industry. We need not embrace our breast and blood fixations, shrugging and saying “we’re just wired that way”. To me, that’s the essence of immaturity, accepting that we’re stuck and can’t aspire to better behavior.

    And yes, absolutely, the “romance” novel is a great example of the flipside. Those are trashy, dangerous pieces of work that undermine healthy relationships. Even the beloved “Twilight” series is awful. These things are literary porn for women. I will defend the freedom of speech that makes them possible, but I do not think they are something that we should wallow in when we’re looking for entertainment.

    Did you read Profesor Beej’s article on this sort of thing? Not specifically the gender bias, but entertainment that embraces the seedy side?

    http://www.professorbeej.com/2009/07/subversion-in-mindless-silly-fun-why.html

    Anyway, good article, D.

  2. Dblade says:

    Yeah, but the attitude that men should grow up is driving them into deeper immaturity. It’s better we realize we tend to be that way and can laugh at it rather than condemn it and fall into worse.

    You see GTA as a danger, but the real danger is that guys suppress it, and turn to 4chan instead. Even romance novels are nothing compared to some of the tastes women I have known had. You are lucky in a sense that you can embrace religion, which is one of the last remaining frameworks that can counteract that.

    I guess its rather “embrace the immature side” or ” suppress it and fall into a deeper pit.”

  3. Tesh says:

    To be sure, games can be cathartic, and better than acting on things in “real life”. That’s one of the strengths of fiction and games.

    Still, I believe that life is about mastering those impulses, rather than letting them master us. It’s not about giving up and saying that we can’t do anything about it. It’s also not a binary choice, to give in or grow up; there’s a range that we work through as we mature.

    It’s true that religion can help, but I’ve known people who master themselves without religion, too. It’s more a matter of self-control and willpower than anything else. Religion is a good framework, but not the only one. Look at Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. There are religious aspects of that program, but in the end, it’s about exerting your own will to choose and stop the destructive behavior.

  4. Daniel says:

    I have to say… when you say “a lot of the boys club is just how men act. We like big breasted women, we trash talk even with our friends, and we like people who blow stuff up and break thing” – you’re kind of speaking for all men there, and I think that’s part of the problem.

    (This is one of those attempts to suggest that sexism doesn’t help men or women, just as a warning.)

    Say I’m a gay man working in gaming – or a straight man who doesn’t necessarily enjoy seeing giant digitised breasts, for that matter. If the response to the idea that maybe the breasts are alienating a section of the audience is not just that from a design point of view the other devs disagree, but that by suggesting it you’re not doing what men do, and aren’t really a man… well, that probably has a pretty solid chilling effect, especially if you spent high school and maybe college being told exactly the same thing.

    Result? Fewer viewpoints in the mix, less gaming diversity, less interesting gaming experiences, in my humble. This might be partly because I’ve recently finished Mass Effect 2 (I know, a little late) and can see a lot of things which were altered from Mass Effect – some of them are taking away things I miss (grinding, questing, collector quests, more typical MMO behaviours), but I can absolutely see why the decisions were made, and in the closest thing you can get to objective terms it’s a better game as a result – the characters are stronger, the plots make more sense, you care more about the universe you’re in. I’m not suggesting that the Mass effect games are targeting women more than, say, Dead Space but I think they are offering a wider appeal proposition – that you can have a game with strong character development _and_ alien pole dancers, and the fans of either can get something out of it.

  5. Dblade says:

    To be fair I’m using too much hyperbole. You are right in that not every guy is into that. You are also right in that if you want the game to appeal to more people, you have to change it.

    The problem though to me is that guys are starting to internalize the opposite: that masculinity, liking women with big breasts, and loud explosions is bad. That you have to break up groups of straight men by inserting people in order to prevent this, and that this should be encouraged to make better games. That it’s sexism to acknowledge this.

    I worry that the danger is that we internalize this and wind up with something worse by ignoring basic male nature. I don’t mean to say you aren’t a man if you don’t like the DOA girls: what I do mean to say though is that guys really do like attractive semi-clothed women if they are straight, and that most guys are straight. It’s not bad to do so. It may be inappropriate for many games if they do want to reach a wider audience, but we knew that already even at the height of the boys club.

    I think we as a culture are starting to try and internalize that beyond a basic level, and it’s starting to hurt more than help. Some balance is needed, but it’s swinging too far. If it keeps swinging you’ll start to see an overreaction which is worse that what the “problem” that is seen and is trying to be fixed. I might write more on that later.

    Thanks for your comment.

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