Friday, November 30, 2007

Friday Airing of Grievances: Sex in Games

So I was busy today trying to not work and ended up reading The Escapist's review of The Witcher and the three pages of comments that followed before the comments thread was locked. The review isn't nearly as interesting as the "discussion" that follows, so it's well worth reading the comments, if for no other reason than to see multiple posters get banned in the span of two pages. Frankly, given my high regard for The Escapist, I was more than a little disappointed in the review, not so much because the reviewer (Corvus Elrod) didn't like it, but because of the reasons given for dumping on it.

There were a lot of aspects he focuses on as negative that I don't agree with, but that's how it goes with reviews and games. I've got no grudge with that. (FYI, I have a review of the game up at Gameshark that, if it errs, errs to the unabashed fanboy side, so it's a good contrast if you want to read opinions on both ends of the spectrum.) But the thing that I really didn't get was the amount of criticism both in the review and, later, in the comments, in which he lampoons the game for its treatment of women, referring to it specifically as sexist in the review and misogynistic in the comments thread.

Just to be sure of what I'm talking about, I double-checked the dictionary definition of "misogyny" and found pretty much what I expected: Hatred of women. How this definition pertains to The Witcher, I really just don't get. (Disclaimer: I've got a long way to go, so things could change, but I sure as hell have put more than the ten hours he says he put into the game.) Honestly, aside from the rather juvenile cards depicting the women Geralt (the player character) takes to bed, I don't even think the game qualifies as sexist. Yes, many of them flaunt their generous... proportions, but then any trip to the local shopping mall will get you much the same show. And to be certain, there are sexist, even misogynist, characters in the game. I think that's primarily what Elrod seems to object to, but it seems to me that if you're going to deal with sex in a game, having characters that fit that bill in this kind of game world is not only warranted, but necessary. Hell, there are a lot of racist characters in the game too and that doesn't make the game itself racist.

Besides that, there all kinds of women portrayed in this game. Tough, driven women. Damsels in distress. Working women (legitimate). Working women (illegitimate). Women who have no interest in Geralt. Women who are too easily impressed by Geralt. Women who seek to use Geralt for their own purposes. And women who admire and love Geralt. Where exactly is the misogyny or sexism in that? Sounds like life to me.

Here's what I really don't get, though: At what point did the male champions of female virtue decide that women don't like sex?

I mean that's really what it all comes down to in many of these arguments. Evidently, "casual sex" is somehow the same thing as objectifying women. How stupid do some men think women are that suddenly a woman -fictional or otherwise- who jumps into bed with a guy is automatically being taken advantage of? Last I checked, most women I've known (admittedly the list is not impressive in length) considered a healthy romp in the sack an important part of their lives. Like a lot of men, many want it as part of a committed relationship. But just like men, there are, in fact, women who view sex as a good way to spend an evening… or a morning… or a lunch hour. Or was the character of Samantha in Sex in the City popular just because women liked her fashion sense?

It's one thing to argue about the objectification of women when Lara Croft is hanging out in the arctic in a T-shirt and short shorts, but every time I see someone decry a game, movie, or television program as objectifying women because there's sex in it I just can't help but shake my head.

Is the sex in The Witcher necessary to the game? Probably not, but it does add to the game. And let's be clear. At the end of the day we're talking about a picture card and a heavily blurred image of two human shapes -from what I can tell- kissing. It's a miniscule part of the game. Seriously, if you're going to object to that, why not have the same argument about the amount of drinking you need to do in the game to get information. Unlike the sex, that is required. Yet I've not seen anyone complain about the game promoting alcohol abuse. (Something that would be equally silly.)

Honestly, I think what makes some people uncomfortable with how sex is handled in a game like The Witcher is that it's really not a totally unreasonable representation of reality. We are, as a society, pretty immature about sex. Especially in this country, where The Witcher's content has actually been toned down relative to the UK version because our ever-so-delicate eyes apparently can't handle the sight of digital boobies. What's ironic to me, however, is that it seems to me that the ones who have the most immature notions about sex are often the ones who devote the most time and energy to decrying it.