Just helped my girlfriend’s little brother buy $1000 worth of sneakers to resell I did my patronage for the day
Earlier this year, I passed on buying Watch Dogs, a game I had been tentatively excited about for over a year. There were a lot of reasons for this, but one specific plot point clinched it: Aiden Pearce was yet another man motivated by villains killing a woman (or in this case, a girl) he cared about. Arthur Gies’ review in Polygonconfirmed my growing worries, writing that “female characters in Watch Dogs are victims, to be kidnapped or murdered in the interest of plot or character motivation, and are almost all overtly sexualized.”
The general concept (originally identified in comics) of female characters being killed in order to motivate a male hero is known as “women in refrigerators,” and it’s one of many similar narrative devices discussed by one of the internet’s most harassed women, Anita Sarkeesian. Since announcing a gaming-specific version of her “Tropes vs. Women” series on Kickstarter in 2012, she’s been the subject of constant vitriol and a level of conspiracy theorizing that most people reserve for assassinations and lizard people. Earlier this week, she temporarily left home in response to a particularly specific death threat. Sarkeesian’s individual examples are fair game for debate, but the overall feeling seems to be that by identifying tropes like the dead girlfriend or damsel in distress at all, she’s trying to destroy what makes video games enjoyable. Here, from our comments section, is a concise distillation: “Why is it video games need to be politically and societally correct? The whole point of video games is to escape reality and have fun.”
If that’s the goal, games like Watch Dogs are failing horribly.
You know what’s not escapism? Having to wonder if any given game (or movie, or book) you pick up is going to include women primarily as prostitutes, murdered girlfriends, vulnerable daughters, and rape victims. I would love to have been able to play BioShock Infinite as an actual power fantasy instead of a story about a naive woman who, despite having literally world-changing powers, spends the game throwing health potions to a man. When Grand Theft Auto V comes to PC, I’m going to have to decide whether I’ll enjoy playing something where the people who look like me are brutalizable eye candy, not the ones hijacking cars and pulling off heists.
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