For most of my life, I’ve been a woman and a consumer of popular culture. As a girl, I grew up around video games. With two brothers, it was inevitable to be ensconced in video games and it passed the time. A world of fantasy, royals, creepy zombies or just playful Italian guys bouncing around on mushrooms, was a welcome escape from the doldrums, homework and parents. Rounds of “Pitfall” on the dusty Colecovision system, Mario Brothers, and the ol’ Vectrex machine we gripped from a yard sale were a nice way to zone out. Vectrex, for those who don’t know, was a draconian video gaming system that relied on two apples and a string….no seriously, this thing was old as shit. The car racing game was literally a white triangle on a black, backdrop (see example below):
As soon as we were old enough to get a stoner ride to the local arcade, we moved on to Killer Instinct and Mortal combat. Yes, there were two girl characters at that time. I always picked Orchid because she had dark hair. She also had insanely out of proportion dimensions–the tiniest of waists, ginormous boobs and an an outlandish booty. I don’t consciously remember thinking: “Shit, I don’t look anything like her,” but I’m sure my little girl-brain made some note of it. How the hell could it not?
I fell off in later years when it came to games like Grand Theft Auto, or even before that, “Resident Evil”. The Resident Evil game had as much appeal for me as stale oatmeal; same for the series of dumb movies. Though I had enjoyed several seasons of “Buffy” and “Xena” and have typicall enjoyed DC and Marvel flicks, Lara Croft’s boob enhancements did nothing for my imagination. (yea, sorry guys–we ain’t into it).
My brother scared me when he told me the Resident Evil game was “giving him nightmares.” I could see why. I played it once and could hear the Zombies breathing as they came around the corner to attack my character. That summer, my brother lived, breathed and ate “Resident Evil”. I think he might have taken a shower once or twice. It was then that I realized that the gaming industry no longer required us to blow on the proverbial cartridge, take a break or run outside. This new world was on ultra acceleration mode. That’s not debateble; it’s reality. Games had become so hyper-realistic and fast-paced; the years of two-dimensional alligator-jumping were over. This change was roughly around the time when the web boom occurred (1997), and I started dabbling in coding.
I’ve always been a geek girl, in one way or another; can take a part a computer and put it back together, do a tune up, fix your phone..what ever. It’s been appreciated in some places, taken advantage in some. Some folks don’t like that type of learning curve. My brothers and I reveled in it. Call it lack of inhibition, curiosity, or lack of funds–I think it was mostly a lack of funds and depression-era grandparents who were incredibly handy. The stuff that my brothers and I fished out of the trash and fixed: airbeds, laptops, toy cars, fans–anything that had a motor that we could take apart and put back together was a welcome challenge for our budding, engineer-type brains. But there was always an end goal, usually financial. It wasn’t to get to level three or “beat the game.” It was hands-on and didn’t involve not being able to leave your couch for three days because you can’t quite quit the urge to watch the final season of Battlestar Galactica. The point is we weren’t trying to be cool, we were just poor.
So I became a web developer and have been one for 17 years (my neck cracking will bare testimony to that.) I taught Special Needs during the day and taught myself to code at night until I got a high highfalutin job in the IT industry, one which most had applied to with certification. I back-doored my way in, but I knew I was doing–often more than the head producers at the major publishing company I worked for. I buried my head in coding, day and night. It was and still is, the worst thing I could have done for my mind, body and spirit. But the money was good and I needed to pay off student loans.
That said, I didn’t really think about video games ever again. I didn’t have time. But when I did have a moment, I would watch mob movies. I loathe unnecessary violence in media, particularly towards women, but I love mob movies with a vengeance; probably because there’s a code of honor there, however fucked up. You signed up for it, you live or die by it. But pop culture, film, television and video games needs to know where the shut-off valve it. Sadly, it doesn’t and it’s getting progressively worse.
I’ve seen a steady decline in a lowered threshold for intense, graphic violence (you can stop reading if you’ve heard this before–I don’t really care). Yes, women are garnering more roles, but let’s look at the context of those roles: How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Hannibal, Game of Thrones, Blacklist, The Walking Dead, American Horror Story; these are shows that I often watch and enjoy, but TV is more violent than ever. Maybe art imitates life and we do live in incredibly violent times (Turn on CNN any given minute and it’s another brutal, police shooting or EBOLA outbreak), but violence has become so commonplace that smart comedy seems almost pedestrian at this point.
Last night, I was watching Season Five, Episode Two (spoiler alert) of the Walking Dead and experiencing a raw, emotional connection with Bob as he finally let out a burst of tears next to a tree. He’s suddenly abducted by a member of Terminus, and in the next scene, he’s being cannibalized by a bunch of the the crew who are joking about how good he tastes. It was the end of the episode, so I didn’t bother shutting it off, but I decided I’m done with the series (I’ve been on the fence for a while now). It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen on television, almost to the point of being campy. I suppose Hollywood has to keep ’em coming for the next episode. I know the industry gets more money for more violence, but really? Bob’s feeling his feelings and then they’re eating his foot over a damn campfire and joking about it? Let’s not even get started on the entirely ridiculous half-life of Black folks on The Walking Dead. Kirkman gives them and then takes them away quickly–for Bob, of course, it’s right on the precipice of true love. We get it. But do we have to get it THAT much?
“There are not two sides to this. This is a war on the women, critics, and feminists who care about making gaming more diverse and inclusive.”- Feminist Frequency
By now, most of us probably (hopefully) know about #gamergate. Maybe you heard the name Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is a feminist critic and video-maker. Her work examines sexism in video games and the media, but recently the news reported about harassment she’s received from geeks enraged that she had the audacity to point out the problems in the industry. This kind of harassment reached a level low this week, when Sarkeesian had to leave her California home due to Twitter death threats she received. You can google the threats for yourself. They are no less than horrifying.
This type of harassment in the gaming/tech industry is nothing new. It comes on the heels of a long line of women in tech being harassed. Death and rape threats have become par for the course. Depression Quest developer Zoe Quinn was also harassed and so many others have been threatened with brutality, that some have gone rogue. Brianna Wu is the head of development at gaming company Giant Spacekat. This month, Wu and her family received death threats on Twitter and were forced to flee her house in Arlington. Wu spoke with BetaBoston about the issue, and said she “still fears for her life, but she refuses to back down.” Sydney-based independent video game developer and critic ‘Sarah’ said she had received threats as a part of the movement after she voiced her opinion on an online gaming forum. Last month, Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton’s nude photos were hacked and leaked online, much to the click-bait joy of websites like TMZ (I bristle to even mention their name). As best as I can see, there’s a definitive argument that a solid segment of the geek population that hates women, and I say this as a feminist and a geek.
I would be lying if I said I’m not deeply disturbed and disappointed by geeks right now. Yes, I know it’s not ALL geeks, but this isn’t a singular, isolated event. These women are reporting waves of threats. Sarkeesian says she’s been dealing with these types of threats for TWO YEARS on her youtube channel, violating her personal life, smearing her reputation, receiving a bomb threat while at a speaking engagement in San Francisco and, of course, the latest threat about a school shooting at her talk at Utah State, which she canceled based on law enforcement’s refusal to offer any protection (Utah has an Open Carry Weapon Law).
The bottom line is that folks of different colors and genders have been standing up and saying they want more diversity in the media; not just in games–they want to see less sexism in other mediums such as television, film and music. Why is this so much to ask? Why do so many geeks see women in active roles (not background noise) as such a threat to their geek culture to the point that they’re resorting to graphic rape and death threats? I’m not going to say I’m surprised. If you’ve ever entered into a debate with a geek (especially as a woman), you’ve sure to experienced the type of spit-fire voraciousness that comes with being obsessed with one particular topic. Cocktail that with a lack of social acumen, and either having women up on a sword-wielding-virgin pedestal or way down on lowly wench-bench and you’re in for the fight of your life. Plainly stated, you need to cut it this shit out, geeks or your the days are numbered.
In the wake of #gamergate and the waves of women who have bravely come forward describing the same horrors that Sarkeesian is going through, it seems as though the identity of geeks everywhere is being thrown into question. I don’t code like I used to and my brother gave up Resident Evil after that long, hot summer. You can only do something so obsessively for so long before life becomes unbalanced and unhealthy.
As to the plea of Sarkeesian and her colleaegues. Yes, we need less Orchids and more Xenas My nephews and nieces are being inundated with images of super-heroins that physically resemble plastic surgery experiments gone awry. Let us put our suspension of disbelief into more strong, powerful women with realistic attributes. I know it’s an absurd proposition; but what’s maybe even more absurd, is that we need to take our hands off our joysticks and mouses for a hot minute.
We need to go outside and breathe in the fresh air.
Let your gear cool off, power down for a day.
Go release some of that tension elsewhere
Put down your swords, geeks.
The battle is over.