It sometimes amazes and saddens me that we’re still talking about the Hot Coffee incident.
If you’re not familiar with it, a gamer accidentally discovered a previously abandoned gameplay feature that allowed you to have sex with someone in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas. A good recent summary of the scandal that erupted can be found on Eurogamer.
When that game came out in 2004, I was twenty three years old. Had that feature existed, I would have found it hysterical and definitely tried it out a few times.
Eight years later, I’d like to think I’ve grown up since then. I’d also like to think the game industry has. But in many ways—it hasn’t.
A few weeks ago, #1ReasonWhy trended on Twitter. While started seemingly by accident, the hashtag became a call for stories of rampant sexism in the gaming industry—both in games and in the industry in general. (A good recap of that day’s stories can be found on Polygon.)
I read as much as I could that day. I even desperately wanted to weigh in with my own stories. I’ve worked in games PR off and on for four years and now I cover gaming as a freelance reporter. I have plenty of friends who are women involved in gaming from the PR side, on the reporter side and on games teams.
I’d seen up close and personal much of what had been told through #1ReasonWhy when I worked in games PR. But I couldn’t say anything for reasons I won’t get into here. I was, however, just glad someone else was saying something. Now that I’m a freelancer reporter covering videogames, I’ve got something I want to say.
On that same day, I happened to get a hands-off preview of the upcoming videogame, Metro: Last Light. As you can read in my article here, I quite enjoyed it. But I witnessed two things in that game that bothered me, especially on the very day #1ReasonWhy was trending.
During the demo, we happened to veer off the main mission path and found ourselves in a bar in the game. I happened to notice a very unattractive female sitting at the bar, but didn’t think anything of it.
As the demo-er had the character he was playing drink alcohol, she started to get better looking. “Beer goggles” took over. The music changed. And she was suddenly kind of hot.
I chuckled. I’m immature—I’m the first to admit it. But after I laughed, I thought to myself, “Wasn’t this kind of nonsense exactly what people were talking about today with #1ReasonWhy?”
Give me one reason why that scene was in the game. Other than to maybe appeal to the immature idiot I used to be.
Another scene involved visiting a brothel or sex shop in the game. Yes, you could get lap dances from the strippers if you chose. After you collected the mission objective from one of the strippers, you were offered the chance to perhaps go a little farther with her. We opted not to during the demo since, well, it was two guys playing the game in a hotel room.
If it’s not obvious, I’m writing about this separately because the rest of my preview of Metro: Last Light was fantastic. And it is certainly not the only game out there that has sex-related missions that could be offensive to women. Maybe I even only care because I had been thinking about #1ReasonWhy all day when I was experiencing the preview.
I’ve shared these stories with a few people—both men and women—some in the industry, some nowhere near it. Mostly I was seeking advice, thoughts on whether or not this warranted an article. Ultimately, I knew I was going to write something about it. What my mother told me, however, might have affected me the most.
My mother is in her sixties. Within the last few years, she’s played a few casual games like Rock Band and Angry Birds. I, however, convinced her to play the wonderful The Walking Dead game from Telltale Games. It’s easily the hardest game she’s ever played, but she’s enthralled by the characters and the relationship between main characters Lee and Clementine.
When she was a teacher in New York City in the seventies, she got picked on a lot because of her height. (She’s tiny.) Also simply for being a woman. Men would actually pat her on the head.
Hearing about the beer goggles in Metro: Last Light simply reaffirmed what she thought about games most of her life: they’re for boys.
She laughed at me when I told her I cried during The Walking Dead game. She didn’t believe a game could do that for someone, let alone her, the way a TV show or a movie could. But she was starting to change her mind when she herself started playing the game.
Hearing about the rampant sexism and heavily sexualized scenes like in Metro: Last Light and other games put women like her off to playing more games. She might miss a game like The Walking Dead or Journey because of nonsense like Duke Nukem Forever. (Which I played all the way through and was disgusted by.)
More importantly, I have two young nieces. One of them is four. She already plays a ton of games on my brother’s iPhone and iPad. I sincerely hope by the time she’s in her teens, we’re not still having these discussions, but I’m not sure if that will be the case.
You could have chosen not to have sex in that Grand Theft Auto game had the feature been unlocked. You could easily have missed the beer goggles scene in Metro: Last Light. And you definitely did not have to spend your hard-earned money on Duke Nukem Forever. (Seriously. I hope you didn’t.)
But I’m still waiting on one reason why that stuff exists in an industry still struggling to be taken seriously by other forms of media.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I can think of about ten times as many reasons for why developers should stop putting those scenes in those games in the first place.