Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Mid-Term: Thinking Critically about Games and Media

This is my mid-term response to prompt three, "How does critically looking at video games highlight flaws in our current society?"

It is important to think critically about not only video games but popular media in general when trying to examine flaws in our current society. The popular media that we consume is created by people who live in our society, and who were raised around certain ideologies. These creators bring these ideas into the video games and other media that they create, and the media will often reflect ideas about society that creators carry with them. Especially in examining popular media, one can see where dominant ideology is reflected.

By examining the media, we can see which ideas are continuously legitimized through a staggering amount of representation. For instance, according to an analysis of 1990s television advertising (which is, admittedly, a bit outdated), researchers Scott Coltrane and Melinda Messineo found that there were four common images throughout the ads: powerful white men, white women sex objects, aggressive black men, and inconsequential black women. Unless one learns to question these representations, these stereotypes may find themselves being incorporated into other areas of the real world. Critically looking at video games highlights flaws in society, and allows others to do the same.

It is not only important that we critique our society and the media that is being created, it’s also important that we understand that media being consumed. There is a constant cycle of media consumption and output; when you are raised on ideology present in mass media, you inject that ideology into the media you create, and that cycle can perpetuate an ongoing cycle of creating and consuming media that conveys sexist, racist, transphobic, classist, etc., ideology.

Even the very act of examining games through a lens (feminist, racial, etc.) can reveal ways in which our culture is attached to certain ideologies. For example, Anita Sarkeesian made a few videos using a pretty basic – and I don’t mean that in a negative way – and academically accepted feminist lens in order to critique the representation of gender in video games, and she is continuously harassed for it. 

Her views are not even extreme, and yet she has received death threats, rape threats, and has had her personal information spread across the internet. If we talk about something sexist in a video game (for instance the lack of non-sexualized women represented in the Grand Theft Auto games), not only do we highlight sexist ideology being injected into the game, but the backlash to the criticism also serves to highlight how society perceives women and how normalized that kind of representation has become. Criticizing games allows us to think about the reasons why society ultimately outputs the kind of content that it does, and allows to see the flaws in the system that surrounds us. 

One example of these concepts is, once again, Grand Theft Auto V. In GTA V, there are virtually no female characters that are not sexualized, incredibly dumb, or incredibly weak. While some people have argued that GTA V is intended to be viewed as some sort of satire, and viewed as a depiction of society through the eyes of three, overly masculine criminals, the writing in the game not only reinforces stereotypes and imagery about women, it also says something about the writers and designers of the game. The player's only available interaction with women is to kill, to grope, or to have sex with these women. When interacting with men, players can still kill them (and the general interaction with city NPCs functions in the same way, regardless of gender), but men also play a larger role in story missions, side missions, and other content in ways that does not depict them as overtly stupid or sexualized.

While it would be incredibly interesting to view this game as a feminist critique of masculine power, the backlash to feminist critiques of the game highlight the amount of players who enjoy or do not question its representation of women and male power. The game ultimately reveals an injected representation of misogyny that may also serve to reinforce some ideas about masculinity, femininity, and sexuality. The only way to examine these flaws, in video games and in our current society, is to think critically about the video games we consume, and to have discussions about them in ways that highlights the flaws and questions their causes and effects.

Cameron Bryce

[Updated last paragraph to give an alternative perspective]

1 comment:

  1. I really appreciate your bringing in not just how games depict women in objectified ways but also how games depict men as violent and powerful over women and others in the game. There is a symbiotic relationship in how gender plays out some games. There is another back and forth you point out in saying that game creators draw on their experiences to construct violent games, and violent games and social expectations influence game creators. It doesn't seem to be a which came first, but rather creation and experience informing and reinforcing one another.

    I also appreciate your citing some literature about patterns in non-gaming media representations. This connection makes games and video games a branch of the larger field of media studies.