Double Standards a Go Go

So Mass Effect 2, then. It's a very different game from the first one, and although I do not in any way regret the loss of the Mako - no one can tell me a tank that handles like a shopping cart on grease is a good thing - I think I prefer the gameplay in the first one. Specifically, I dislike this whole 'thermal ammo' bullshit. It doesn't make any sense from a technological point of view to go from being able to fire constantly until your weapon overheats (which won't happen if you're careful and keep a heatsink on it) to having to reload every goddamn minute and eventually run out of ammo. It's very, very obviously a gameplay mechanic that's been shoved in there to add an ammo conservation element to the combat, and frankly, if I wanted that, I'd play Gears of War. Anyway, I'm still going to finish it. I've played far worse games.

It's made me keep tabs on the thing with Jennifer Hepler, which I don't think I'd have noticed otherwise. See here for the longer version, but the short version is: female writer in Bioware has opinions, Reddit finds photoshopped version of opinions online five years after they're posted, Reddit decides it doesn't agree with said opinions and proceeds to launch a campaign of harassment against her. It's very obvious that it's because she's a woman working in the games industry and she has an opinion, and apparently that makes her the Anti-Christ that's ruining all Bioware games. Nothing I haven't seen a hundred times before, unfortunately. (Oh noes! A woman with an opinion on something geeky! BURN THE WITCH!)

Double standards abound in geekdom, and games are no different. Look, it's a female games writer who holds opinions that don't cater exclusively to white straight nerds! Roll out the horrific gendered insults, guys! We don't even need to form a counter argument! She's a woman on the internet, so all we have to do to dismiss her is call her fat, ugly and slutty or insinuate that she needs to be raped real good! Never mind that male games executives with far more power have said things over the years that range from insulting to downright nutty, and last I heard, they haven't been harassed by legions of angry gamers!

Apart from the rage I feel when faced with this crap, it's also interesting from the point of view of psychological analysis. We have one group that has historically been the only target market for video games, and largely still is the only target market for AAA titles. The AAA games studios notice, however, that another audience is growing at a staggering pace, and that audience largely likes the same things as the target market - in fact, all they have to do to pull in this new audience is to provide some additional content and tone down some other elements, i.e. provide a choice of female avatars, make female characters less inappropriately sexualized, and maybe add in some extra story sub-plots like romance. These are optional elements, which can be ignored by the target market, which have really only all been added to one developer's games (Bioware). 90% of AAA titles are still aimed squarely and exclusively at the target market.

But the reaction of the target market is nothing short of astounding; the mere existence of a couple of AAA games that don't cater exclusively to them is somehow an attack on their whole geekdom. And therein lies the giant double standard - it's okay for games to be sexist and racist and all kinds of inappropriate as long as they cater to the young straight white guys, but even the hint of something that isn't for them is somehow HORRIBLE and NASTY and HOW DARE YOU BRING THIS INTO OUR HOBBY.

...Which brings me to the debate on homosexuality in Mass Effect 3.

Do not think I haven't noticed that the whole debate is happening now, when gay relationships between male characters is possible, and not back when Mass Effect 1 was released with the option to have a female Shepard screw a female alien. (And no, you don't get an out because Liara isn't human and asari don't have gender. She's a busty blue woman with tentacles coming out of her head, and asari are CONSTANTLY represented as over-sexualized females. Remember the pole dancers? Yeah? Good.) There's our first double standard associated with this argument. It's only wrong when it's two men kissing. Lesbians are a-okay!

Some of the arguments against the gay option make no logical sense, again because of the double standard. Here's one from Kotaku: it alters the character canon. Okay then. Perhaps you missed the part where it says 'role-playing game'? And you can customize your character? And, in fact, only 18% of players use the default Shepard, and Bioware have said:

The beautiful thing about the Mass Effect series is the fact that the player gets to make choices that actually impact the game and make their entire game experience unique to them.

There. Is. No. Canon. The existence of the gay option does not make your Shepard gay. Players who've wanted male Shepard to be gay since Mass Effect 1 have tolerated the existence of the straight romance options with no ill effects. Double standard number two, wherein it's okay for those players to be told to tolerate stuff they don't like, but the reverse is somehow OMG CHARACTER-ALTERING AND NOT CANON. And the NPCs, good grief - why are you complaining that Garrus being gay doesn't make sense, for example? How do you know what goes on inside the head of a video game character? Is it really so unbelievable that he could be closeted, or bisexual, or - oh no, wait. I know where you're going with this. You've got an idea in your head of how the gays act, and because Garrus doesn't look or act like something out of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, he just can't be gay. Gotcha.

Another, from the commentary: spending resources on adding these romance options takes away from the 'real' game, which is blowing up various enemies with future tech guns. Shocking! Outrageous! It's not like there are a hundred other games out there where you can blow up various enemies with - oh, wait. Double standard number three: my preferred gameplay is the only right kind of gameplay, and even though I have umpteen other AAA options to enjoy that particular kind of gameplay, the option of a type of gameplay I don't like (romantic role-playing) in ONE role-playing action game is a 'waste of resources'. Oh, and all those people who don't like the combat so much, and would rather be able to skip it and enjoy the story? Those people who presumably think that spending so much time developing the combat is a 'waste of resources'? They're just stupid and wrong, and they need to be harassed on Twitter.

And now I've come full circle, back to Jennifer and her having the audacity to work in the games industry while being female and opinionated.

This stuff makes me tired. It makes me wish I wasn't a feminist, that I could just switch off that part of my brain and enjoy my favorite hobby. I can't, though. Fem-o-vision is irreversible without severe brain damage; all I can do is provide analyses and point fingers, mostly, and here I'm pointing straight back at the straight male contingent of gamer culture. All those articles raging about how you're still stereotyped as basement-dwelling virgins, all those questions on how to get your girlfriend into gaming or how to get a gamer girlfriend... No use getting angry, my dears. You keep making it clear that you don't want anyone but straight white men in your hobby.

I suppose there really is no use in my getting angry either. I'm certainly angry on Jennifer's behalf, but mostly because I empathize with a woman in her situation. The larger issue, of homophobia and sexism in the games community, is something that made me very angry at one stage, but now I have to view it with some level of amusement because it's ultimately futile. It's a relic of the past, one that's fading slowly. Bioware have proved that there are more gamers out there than the usual white male demographic, and they have plenty of money to throw around. It's all about the money, isn't it? The games industry may not be getting it right all the time, but they want that money, and they're more than willing to throw the homophobes and misogynists under a bus to get it.

I'm not ashamed to say that it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside.