Warning: Images below the fold and any linked content will be NSFW, and some of the words used may trigger inappropriate content firewalls.
I have to back up and getting a running start for this one, and ask the question “why do we game?” Because our motivations for gaming and liking the games that we do like may tell us about ourselves. I could be a much different gamer than I am: I prefer games that engage me intellectually over games that merely stimulate me visually, I enjoy twitchy games that have a sense of construction to them, I enjoy games that offer multiplayer co-op or low-key competition over high-stakes, high-adrenaline vs. mode. I don’t really respond to violence in games unless it’s comical: I’ve never responded to a spectacular head-splatter with awe when I could kill a guy by throwing a dead guy at him, or right-clicking on a chicken to make it explode.
I don’t feel that games influence our behavior, but I do feel that games have an ability to reflect who we are. Our decision to buy Game A over Game B is a construction of our choices and preferences at several levels. Someone who enjoys 3-round fighters may want to purchase every 3-round fighter published, but when it comes down to a limited budget, they will have to exercise some preference over which fighter they pick up. It may be that they would rather pick up the fighter that is as realistic as possible, or they may prefer to spend their money on the fighter that has the cooler attacks or bloodier deaths. It’s hard to dissect the motivations for that choice with much granularity. The game is just as likely to be a reflection of a person’s actual violent tendencies as it is simple wish-fulfillment or harmless escapism. And people may like different games for different reasons. Guitar Hero is probably the epitome of a wish-fulfillment game — I don’t know if there’s a gamer alive who doesn’t secretly have a notion of them rocking out to crowds of screaming fans when they get a 100-note streak for the first time. But just because I secretly wish I were the bassist for the next Awesome Indie Rock Band whenever I back up a friend on “Reptilia” doesn’t mean that I secretly wish I were a sullen emo immortal when I play Lost Odyssey or a member of The Rank chasing after certain doom in Castle Crashers. Attempting an even finer fillet of motivations based the statement “I play Soul Calibur” to determine the player’s views of race and/or gender would be pointless without getting into more detail about what they like about the game.
This is what frequently brings us trolls — pointing out that a person’s motivations for playing a particular game like Resident Evil 5 or Grand Theft Auto may not be simple escapism, and may in fact be a reflection of actual wish-fulfillment tends to get gamer’s hackles up. Pointing out that games can in fact provide wish-fulfillment or reflect real predispositions or attitudes in a less-than-positive way usually results in a reaction not unfamiliar to this blog. Tricky waters to navigate, indeed… but then ugly will find an out, so that’s always an easy way to tell if someone is playing a game for escapist reasons or because they’ve been ejected from the playground that is intellectual and moral honesty. Do they find themselves on the ass-end of a banning at gaming sites that actually have standards? Chances are they’re not playing games for simple escapism.
But the sometimes drawing a simple Motivation A to Game B line really is that easy.
Regular commenter Dungeon Keeper alerts me to the Cunt videogame out from Newgrounds. These are the folks who gave us the awesome Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, so this one really hurt–it’s not just some random bedroom programmer who spent a few hours programming his own twisted view of women, this was something that got studio backing. The point of the game “Cunt” is that you are a penis trying to destroy an icky, bug-infested vagina by shooting it. Instructions include the helpful text “Shooting vaginal openings will cause cunt damage!”
The game developer’s loading screen exhorts us to not play the game if we can’t “deal” with graphic images of male and female genitalia. And indeed, if you can’t “deal” with graphic images of male and/or female genitalia then this game is certainly not for you — but the disclaimer immediately assumes that if a person is fine with images of male and female genitalia, then they’re automatically fine with depictions of female genitalia as a bunch of bug-infested badness that must be destroyed by male genitalia, which is another kettle of fish. Of course, anyone who clicks over to a game called “Cunt” thinking that it will be a fun, egalitarian sex-romp of a time is so completely deluded I’m surprised that the Concerned Women for America website allowed them off the ranch.
Of the numerous things that are wrong with this game — It’s not so much the objectification of the vulva — after all, the penis is just as detached as the floating Death Star of Pussy, but rather the very message that the vag is a disgusting, bug-strewn organ that’s out to destroy the penis. The inevitable “oh it’s just a harmless joke” defenses will blithely ignore that there is a very real subtext to the game. Men have traditionally feared the vagina, going back centuries. There are some tribes that do actually believe that when a man has vaginal intercourse with a woman that she will actually “steal” his manliness through her vagina, and that he must go out and replenish himself afterwards. In our society, the “fear” of the vagina is no more sophisticated: the very object that the male could not wait to penetrate and ejaculate into will become a source of entrapment when the woman attached to it declares that she is pregnant.
But as easy as it would be to point to a game like Cunt and say “golly gosh, anyone who plays this game certainly does have more than a few bound-for-your-personal-library issues with female sexuality,” (and holy shit, is it ever), we have to take a step back and survey the landscape, so to speak. Because this game is not unique, it’s not a one-off… it represents a very real and tangible culture of hatred of women that exists within the gaming community. After all, if the developers thought no-one would play the game, they wouldn’t have made it in the first place.
A few months back, I had occasion to review what was intended as a joke post for a gamer site for the game Vagina Hero, which was supposed to be like guitar hero in that you would manipulate a specialized controller to push a series of buttons in pre-set and esoteric order in order to bring the woman on the screen to orgasm. The proposed controller was about as classy as you’d expect:
Now, I’m all for establishing the idea that a woman’s pleasure should be a priority for her sexual partner. But this “game” is less about women’s sexual pleasure than it is about establishing the idea that ladyparts are icky and confusing and “other.”
The original post’s author, Dan Landis, was obviously trying to riff on the tired old joke that women are nearly impossible to bring to climax (The unwritten aftermath of the joke being “why bother?”). The vulva is little more than a moist game of Simon: touch here, touch there, don’t touch there or you’ll have to start all over. Men, it would seem, do not have the same sensitivities. All a woman has to do to bring a man to climax is to simply grab and rub his penis — there will never be irritation or chafing, so attempting to describe how a woman’s clitoris might require a slightly different approach then just “grip firmly and rub the shit out of it until she orgasms” will naturally cause some confusion. (Anyone who didn’t detect the sarcasm in those last two sentences, please avoid commenting on this thread and save yourself the embarassment of looking like an absolute fool).
While Vagina Hero doesn’t offer the same tenor of misogyny as Cunt or the vagina punching game does, its worth pointing out that there isn’t much of a joke here if you try to turn things around. The reason this article is “funny” is because of the base assumptions that a) all gamers are heterosexual men, b) all gamers are frustrated sexually and would buy a porny game, c) getting a woman to climax is so complicated and difficult it’s less likely than beating Contra without the Konami code.
The thing is, none of those premises are true, and gamers, especially heterosexual male gamers, might want to think about what this joke says about them before they laugh at it. Not only that they’re sexually frustrated and the only way they’d be able to have one or more sexual partners is through a video game with downloadable content, but that they’re so completely ignorant about female anatomy that they would never be able to bring a woman to climax without a high score to tell them when they were doing something right.
But again, mostly, what these games reinforce is how the gaming culture views women, and the vagina in particular. It is something to be conquered, of no inherent worth of its own other than through the male player’s domination of it (whether that domination is the destruction offered via the real game Cunt or the orgasm offered via the joke game Vagina Hero). The fact that the game is… well, a game, which is ostensibly for pleasure, is married to the fact that the vagina itself is seen as an obstacle, something that must be overcome in order to achieve that pleasure, and certainly not attached to something that the male character is supposed to have respect for, much less any meaningful relationship. These two “games” ultimately exist not as intelligent and original concepts and mechanisms in their own right which offer the gamer an opportunity to explore the erotic boundaries of gaming, but as cheap knock-offs to successful, existing titles or venues that exist solely as a means to exercise the player’s hatred and othering of the female body.