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(No offense intended, and I only kindof mean it. On which more later.)
Other people have already written about the insanity surrounding Jade Raymond, and I’m not going to rehash it all here. Suffice to say, the whole thing is just a catastrophically depressing illustration of how ridiculously sexist gamer culture is—and will for continue to be, for the foreseeable future. It’s beyond sad to me that an attractive woman can’t be the public face of a product without everyone in the damn room assuming that she was put there to titillate a male audience, that she’s being “whored out” (just a great term, by the by), and, necessarily, that she’s being degraded. It’s downright heartbreaking that said (male) audience goes on to assume that she is somehow unqualified or brainless, or that she is in some way complicit in the deeply sexualized harassment that would follow. (Inevitably, of course. These things aren’t ever the product of worthless individuals making shitty decisions, they’re inevitable, like fucking earthquakes).
(On the plus side, as Miyuki Jane Pinckard has said, Jade is smarter than all these asshats, and her career is going to keep going without skipping a beat. So that’s nice.)
And of course, when I say “everyone in the damn room,” I don’t mean literally everyone. The bloggers above, for example, have a solid take on the situation. But, look—the comment threads at Feministe are stuffed full of, “man, this isn’t that big a deal,” “this is just the internet/geeks/gamers,” “who didn’t see this coming?” Great ways to normalize deeply sexist harassment, so you can get back to Not Worrying About It and keeping girls out of your play house.
This is depressing shit, if you happen to be (1) a woman, and (2) interested in games. It gets even more depressing because I think the sentiment is, basically, correct.
What I mean by this isn’t: women will never be accepted into “mainstream gaming” (defined, ironically, as the mildly to strongly obsessive niche market that consumes the low-ish volume, high-cost games produced by large publishers). What I mean by this is: gamer culture is built on a core of sexism. You can’t work on making gamer culture less sexist, anymore than you can work on making iron less ferrous. Just try to imagine, for a moment, a gamer culture without the testosterone hierarchy and everything it entails: homophobia, objectification of women, and outright misogyny. What do you have? The Iris Network. Feminist gamers. Maybe some isolated groups of friends playing Rock Band, and Penny Arcade sitting vaguely at the edges.
That’s not a change in the current gamer culture—that’s just saying fuckitall and building a new culture. It’s moving away from radical and towards revolutionary.
I have to say, I’m all kinds of down with that. And those communities I mentioned? They’re all kinds of awesome. But a relevant consequence is that when we say, “feminist gamers,” we’re not really speaking English. Even presuming the listener somehow has a compatible definition of “feminist” (ha!) their definition of what constitutes gamer culture is like to be so different as to make the whole phrase unparseable.
The unfortunate part of all this is that “gamer” is a part of a lot of people’s identities. We don’t want to give up the word as an element of our self-definition (because that’s what it means for something to be a part of our identity). This happens in the pen and paper RPG world, too, but for largely different reasons—there’s a pretty big culture gap in that community right now, and you tend to get a lot of traditionalists outright telling new designers that their games aren’t roleplaying games, and they aren’t gamers (and their work doesn’t look interesting and could they please go away now?). In that instance, I don’t really think the label is worth the fight. Really, trying to convince people we have all the prestige and value of Dungeons and Dragons? …great. In the venue of electronic entertainment (and comics, incidentally), there’s a much stronger case to be made for trying to reshape the core culture. After all, these are large industries with significant momentum and they’re showing few signs of becoming less consolidated. In that environment, it’s absolutely necessary that we shift the culture—in slow, faltering steps—to be more in line with our ideals. If we do it enough, maybe at some point in the future, the word “gamer” won’t be saddled with all its icky connotations. Would that it could be the case today—alas.