I’ve noticed one interesting thing. Anita Sarkeesian, despite proclaiming herself as the all-knowing expert in gaming and games, doesn’t even understand the very basics of games. Something you absolutely have to understand before you can dissect games as she calls her “work” and proclaim clear cases of misogyny against women and women alone in computer games.
I have more than 2 decades of gaming history behind me, I’ve developed 3 games myself when I was a teenager (just uploaded 1 to my page few hours ago, other 2 were localized, sorry), have been learning, tweaking, modding and hacking game engines for more than a decade and I’m currently holding a position of a beta tester in a gaming company. I can safely say that I know a thing or two about games and I call majority of her claims a load of bull manure.
Every game is built upon game engine. The very foundation or “machinery” that creates visual and audible interactive content of games. And the game engines do not make any distinctions between male and female NPC’s (Non Player Character). For the game engine, one and/or another are the exact same thing. A moving set of skeletal animations covered with triangles, called polygons that are then covered with textures and affected by physics engine which for the most part mimics physics conditions found on our planet. If you don’t know what that is, Google for PhysX, Havok Physics and Isaac Newton…
What game sees is a collection of polygons, shaped in certain anatomical form and covered with distinctive textures which in our eyes represent female or male human being. The game however has no concept of genders applied to these entities by the developers. The genders do not exist for game engines. It’s us who see them as a human of one gender, but for the game, it’s all the same. A collection of polygons. The reason why I’m bringing this up is the way how Anita Sarkeesian wants to portray how violence and misogyny is exclusive to female characters in games. However, that statement is entirely false. Games don’t discriminate, they emulate.
And they emulate real world physics within a game. If one human body behaves in a certain way, every single human body in that game will behave EXACTLY the same. It can be portrayed as female, male, transgender, bisexual or even as alien in disguise as a human. That’s why games have independent physics engines these days. Because developers only have to make 1 character, give it human properties (limbs, joints, articulation limitations like the ones found on elbows and knees) and the rest is done by the physics engine in real-time. If game allows character manipulation when they are lets say dead or unconscious, you will be able to drag or carry those bodies around in the exact same way without exceptions.
If the above female exotic dancers from Hitman Absolution were replaced by models of male exotic dancers (just the wireframe model, no other changes), you could render them unconscious, kill them, drag them around, carry them into a nearby chest or simply avoid them altogether just the same as existing female characters. The way we see gender of the in-game models doesn’t affect any of it because game is incapable of distinctions between males and females on a gender level. For the game, they are all the same. This is something we gamers call “sandbox game”.
In the past, games had every single thing specifically tailored to perform a certain action and it was usually absolutely linear thing. You had to do specific things in order to progress. If you failed to do so, you were stuck until you completed them. However, today’s games mostly feature independent worlds with physics that affect every single item in that world in a predictive manner as they do in real world. Programmers just place characters and items in these worlds and they are pretty much on their own as far as actions towards them go. There are no specifically tailored events or outcomes for these objects. They are there, followed and affected by pretty much laws of “nature” that mimic reality.
Next example of in-game features that have no perception of gender are side Crime Detection (or often called Crime Prevention, because you get the most bonus for actual prevention) missions in WATCH_DOGS game. Anita yet again portrayed it like every single side mission involves male perpetrator and female victim, which always gets hurt or killed. The reality is, these missions are called crime prevention for a reason. Player is expected to prevent these crimes in order for those citizens to walk away unharmed. If player fails, you cannot expect colorful butterflies and unicorns to fill the screen and that would be it. A virtual character dies, because guess what, that’s what happens in real life as well. You don’t get rewarded for failing, instead you have to repeat the whole thing over and over again which is anything but rewarding and encouraging, because it will eventually frustrate the player. That’s why WE want these crimes to be PREVENTED so you do get rewarded for it. However, game engine doesn’t care of what gender involved NPC’s are, because it is all entirely randomized. Exact same mission will never have the same characters involved when you replay the game or when someone else does. Proof? Here are two Youtube videos from 2 entirely different players, happening at entirely different time of the (in-game) day, but they share the exact same location in this virtual city.
Do you notice how supposedly exactly the same mission has characters that have different names, different clothes and even different body sizes along with different spoken lines? It’s an example of game engine randomization feature that simply has a selection of NPC models available, set of names and personal backgrounds and the game mocks them up on-the fly. The characters aren’t predefined, meaning developers did not intentionally made it a scenario with female victim (as Anita portrays it). My examples contained only male characters, because I was unable to find video with exact same location containing female characters as well, but I do know they exist, because this is a well known feature of the game. So, game is not sexist, misogynistic or anything along those lines. It’s a set of randomized parameters that get combined into an end result of a mission for the player.
Grand Theft Auto 4
Anita made some more claims for GTA4 where lord no, you can run over a prostitute with a car. Oh my god, the misogyny…
And after you check pedestrians that are getting hit by a car, they consist of male and female characters. And guess what /drumroll/ they all behave EXACTLY the same when being hit by a car. The game doesn’t care if they are portrayed as men or woman. For the game, it’s just an object that performs collision with the car. And that’s it. There is no specific function that lets the game know a woman is being hit by a car. No one does that because that would be absolute waste of resources and programming time. And pedestrians are yet again randomized by the exact same randomization feature that automatically generates side missions in WATCH_DOGS. You’ll NEVER EVER meet or find exactly the same pedestrians on the same streets (by same I mean in identical arrangements, games do have limitations and as such certain combinations may eventually repeat).
Games don’t discriminate, they emulate
As described above, the games don’t even have the concept of genders. They just perform actions and reactions to virtual human beings that mimic our real world. There is no misogynistic conspiracy behind coding female in-game characters. They behave identically to their male counterparts. They just happen to mimic female humans. That’s all it is to it.
As for scenarios like portrayal of exotic dancers, prostitutes and so on, these aren’t some products of twisted developer’s minds. They just replicate things that we see in real life and they incorporate them into games to make them feel more like reality. The same reason we see immense increases in graphics detail, levels of interaction and physics that mimic reality compared to early games. In the past, physics interaction didn’t even exist. Everything had to be specifically predefined and designed to mimic real physics or realistically looking outcomes (like corpse ragdoll, collapsing of structures, fracture of fragile objects). Today, physics simply exist in games like they do in our world. We have no control over it in real world and same applies to games. The game physics use Newton’s principles and they do what physics do in real world. If they are being applied to a male or female character, it makes absolutely no difference to a game.
Now, I do apologize for repeating myself in certain segments of this post, but as English isn’t my primary language, it does impose certain limitations to my writing capabilities, especially when it comes to such complicated topics as this one. But hopefully I managed to write it down in an understandable enough form for it to make sense.