Rachael's Retro Report
Meet Rachael, A teacher from Sunny Australia and very close friend of RetroGameGeeks. Miss Rachael is in every single possible way an all round top person so when she raises a point we sit up and take notice, there may after all be an exam afterwards!
Today Rachael wants you all to think a little more and a little deeper about how 50% of the people who make up gamers think and feel about the stuff going on in games from the classic days into now. Oh and no talking at the back of the class... or you will be in trouble!
Before I begin... Looking into the Mirror
Graphics sure did change... Pity the message stayed the same eh?
The other day, we were sitting there and he asked me to play a game of Mortal Kombat with him. I agreed, as often I find fighting games cathartic and plus, I like to sometimes beat him using nothing but ‘button mashing’ as my repertoire. True to form, Chris plays as Scorpion or Liu Kang and I, also true to form, play as a girl. I have always played as Kitana or Sonia Blade because as a child, they were the only girls that were really available besides Mileena. I simply refused to play as Mileena because I would rather play a heroine than a villain. The fact that she had terrible teeth didn’t help her case either. It never crossed my mind as an impressionable 10 year old to question why there weren’t any more female options for me to consider.
There I was, a goofy kid with freckles and ears a bit too big for my head and I had two female character options while my pimply brother had triple that amount as a male counterpart. I guess that’s because the subliminal message was, and still is that a fighting game would and should be marketed for a male audience, and come on, what young teenage boy wants to fight as a girl? It seems logical then that there would need to be a larger proportion of male characters to meet the demands of their desired audience. Plus, it’s a known fact that women could never be as strong, as resourceful or as charismatic as a male protagonist could ever be. Right? Wrong.
Fast forward 17 years to 2014 and take a look at the new Mortal Kombat that was banned in some countries, including my own, Australia. The intense graphics and high levels of violence upset people enough that it was temporarily banned from Australian markets. Sure, the violence is bad. Backs breaking, skulls crushing and hearts literally being ripped out of bodies. But that’s not what offends me. What offends me is that nearly 20 years later and there is still a complete lack of representation of women available in this game. Sure, they’ve added a couple more. There’s Skarlet (what’s her story anyway) and Sindel. But there is still a massive discrepancy between males and females with numbers nearly triple that of females.
This does not coincide with the growing demographic of females who have now emerged and are putting on their head phones, picking up their controllers and saying “Let’s play!” According to recent research, nearly half of gamers are now comprised of girls and the demographic of people over 35 ,are now outnumbered by women. So how is this previous ‘logic’ still relevant? What place does it have in contemporary society where women are no longer passive audiences but instead, active participants in the gaming world?
Where are the rest of the Samus Army?
Another game my brother and I used to play was 'Mario Brothers'. Now, everybody has played Mario Brothers at some stage of their lives and knows that the premise of the game is to save Princess Peach. The silly girl in the hideous pink dress who always gets kidnapped by Bowser because she's too weak or too dumb to protect herself. Sigh. The ultimate 'Damsel in Distress' cliche. Cue the Italian men with the glorious moustaches who have to sweep in to save her while she prances around and then kisses Mario on the cheek to express her gratitude. Only to get kidnapped not long after, yet again.
Honestly Peach, if you can't fight, use some of your fortune to get some tighter security. Where's the tough female? The woman who storms in, well spoken, plenty of sass and armed, ready to fight the boss battle and save the world? Why was the stereotyped gender roles rarely reversed to have the main heroine kick ass rather than play the Femme Fatale? The message was clear: 'Ladies, know your role. A man will save you, don't even try to save yourself.'
The exception was Samus in Metroid when only at the very end was it revealed that the entire time you were actually playing as a female. Shock horror, surprise of the century. What an unprecedented twist! What if they had included that in their advertising, I wonder, would it have been a flop? A game that gets tossed in the 'Two Dollar Bargain Bin' in the Boxing Day sales?
Somebody needs to GET OVER HERE and FINISH this nonsense...
I had my little rant at Chris about how my options were far more limited than his and he gave me that sideward glance he gives me when he wants me to hurry up and pick a player and get the show on the road. I bite my tongue, temporarily and choose Sonia Blade. She has that whole tough chick look about her, so if I’m going to do it, I might as well do it properly.
And there she is, the video game heroine of my child hood. In short shorts and a skimpy singlet! Every curve of her body is exposed and her outfit does not leave much to the imagination. I stare at the screen, mouth open, eyes wide in shock.
“Is that…Sonia Blade?” I ask, my voice barely above a whisper. “Yeah.” Chris responds nonchalantly. “….WHERE ARE HER CLOTHES?!” I shriek, no longer able to hide my growing frustration. I quit the game, refusing to play as her any longer.
“Back in my day, Sonia wore army pants.” I reminded Chris, internally cringing at how old I sounded. Great, I’m 27 years old and have skipped turning out like my mother and gone straight to turning out like hers. “You probably don’t want to play as Mileena then.” Chris laughed.
He goes to the main menu and chooses her. And out she comes. In bandages. Strategically placed bandages I should add but bandages nonetheless. I flick to Jade, bikini. To Skarlet, bikini. Is this a joke? Don’t get me wrong, I have worn skirts that were too short and heels that were too high. But I was going to a night club, not going into battle. The outfits are not only impractical to wear in combat, but are utterly degrading. Most male characters are dressed appropriately. Sure they have their own personal flair, but most of the males are in practical attire. So what is wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong is that women, instead of being treated as equals in the Mortal Kombat verse, are not meant to be taken seriously. Instead, their numbers are reduced in comparison to males and they are then sexualized and designed to be viewed as unthreatening sex objects. Even the biggest and butchiest character out of the lot (Sheeva) is scantily clad. And that woman is nasty. It’s easy to dismiss this as a feminist rant but if you look a little closer, the issues this presents have wider consequences.
Firstly, from a superficial but valid perspective, the marketing is all wrong. If the demographic statistics are accurate, wouldn’t it make sense to create more female characters? Not saying that all girls like to play as females, but shouldn’t they have equal representation and opportunity? Video game companies need to reconsider that times are changing and maybe it’s a good idea to start changing their ideas with it. This isn’t just limited to Mortal Kombat. Even iconic video game heroines like Lara Croft are victims of the proverbial perverted eye. Making those big jumps and fighting in those little shorts and tiny tank top? I can barely jog without my cans flailing about and I wear a sports bra to keep those babies in check. The more privy audience member might be turned off, instead opting for a video game that is more fair to their gender. They are losing what might have been a valuable and loyal customer.
Time for change, for a positive Mass Effect...
Another issue, and in my humble opinion, a larger one, is that this might be accepted as the norm. As time goes on, the demographic might shift slightly and young girls could be a major component of the market. By presenting this as normality, we are teaching today's youth that women are still inferior and should only be looked at as sexual beings, rather than genuine fighters, warriors or role models. We are inadvertently contributing to the raunch culture that is saturating our lives. It promotes the idea that in order to receive attention, a girl must wear next to nothing and even then, the attention they receive is both negative and socially destructive.
There are of course, strong female characters in games, such as Catherine from Halo and Bonnie McFarlane from Red Dead Redemption and these should be exalted and celebrated. They do exist but there needs to be more. Move away from the hyper-sexualised women or the damsel in distress and create more capable, independent and intelligent heroines that both men and women can play as and enjoy. The modern gaming industry needs to accommodate not just for their market but also for the savvy audience members they have that like me, just want to play as a regular woman who doesn’t need a man to save her and for the love of God, wears practical clothing.
- Miss Rachael Leigh
I would like to preface this article with a slight disclaimer. I am not, nor do I claim to be an avid ‘gamer girl’. Don’t get me wrong, as a child and teenager, my Super Nintendo and I were the best of friends but as of late, I consider myself to be more of a casual gamer, a ‘dabbler’ if you will. I do however, analyse and critique the media for a living so don’t worry, I am not a complete novice.
My boyfriend however, is one of the biggest gaming fanatics you could ever meet and often, I’ll play video games with him ranging from ‘Sonic All Stars ‘to ‘Street Fighter’. Basically, a game that doesn’t require too much skill because I want to occasionally challenge him, and I have a strong dislike for losing. The term ‘Rage Quit’ has been thrown around from time to time in my presence.