Sexist images, homophobic language – or are they?

by on April 24, 2012


There’s an interesting trend going on in the blogosphere today, as several well-known bloggers take an unusual stance on apparently sexist and homophobic depictions in MMORPGs. Tobold and Zubon are almost point-counterpoint in their two posts about sexist imagery in gaming, whilst Stubborn has a nuanced look at the use of the word “gay” in conversation.

First up, Tobold is taking a look at the sexualised fantasy art of games like TERA, linking them to the art of Boris Vallejo, and arguing that fantasy images are part and parcel of a fantasy environment

“Of course hunting demons in stiletto heels isn’t realistic, and a chainmal bikini has obvious flaws as a piece of armor. But while I am hurling fireballs at a dragon, should I really be worried about how realistic anything in these games is? The notion that something shown in a virtual world in any way is a representation of the real world is a dangerous one. You end up with people complaining about the “occult” elements of these games depicting devils and demons. Or the endless discussion on whether or not a game which depicts some form of romance should allow that to happen between members of the same sex.

Fact is that there is no reproduction in virtual worlds. Avatars never have sex, and female avatars never get pregnant and have babies. As it says somewhere on the label, the whole virtual world is a fantasy. People usually enter these virtual worlds because they want a temporary break from their real-world issues. Projecting those real-world issues onto the virtual world isn’t exactly helpful there. It ends up criticizing people for the fantasies they have, and that is an extreme form of attempted mind control. You can’t punish people for their dreams and fantasies not being politically correct.”

Whilst Zubon skewers part of Tobold’s argument below, he has some interesting points. Fantasies are by their very nature unrealistic, and many people would argue that sexualisation is far from the most disturbing fantasy aspect of games.

Meanwhile, over at Kill Ten Rats, Zubon is discussing exactly the same subject – sexualised figures in MMOs – but looking at whether the male and female fantasy figures in these games really are equivalent

“There is a false equivalence in the unrealistic depictions of men and women in gaming. Men designed by men for men will tend to look a bit different from men designed by women for women, and “men designed by men for women” is not the same thing. (It is amazing how many boys call something “gay” when it is perfectly heteronormative but for the other half of the population. The notion that sexualized depictions of men are “gay” is a barometer of how male-centric one’s perspective is.)

You have a vicious circle if you are reducing your female audience through marginalizing depictions and then using that skewed audience to justify the depictions.”

One interesting side point that comes out of this discussion is how bad men are at designing male characters for other men. True, I may well feel uncomfortable playing a yaoi-styled pretty boy, but I don’t exactly get a great sense of connection playing a neckless wonder a la Gears Of War, either.

Meanwhile, to round off discussions of uncomfortable subjects, Stubborn at Sheep The Diamond has been considering the use of the term “gay” in conversation to mean something bad. Whilst many of us would argue that’s just straight out homophobic, Stubborn makes an intelligent, considered case that actually, it’s more complicated than that

Jerk, for example, initially referred to small towns, where trains had to fill up on “jerk water,” or water from a trough, because there was no water tower. The people in such small towns eventually became known as “jerks,” but it simply meant “small town people who don’t know better,” like we might call “rubes” nowadays. Over years, the “small town” part vanished and we had “people who don’t know better,” which eventually drifted to “badly behaving people.”

Pimp is another word that’s drifted through hyperbole quite a bit. In the past, calling someone a pimp would warrant a fight, but it eventually became commonplace word that people used to describe themselves much in the way “a lady’s man” would have been used in the past.

Then, of course, is the infamous “N” word. Countless attempts by older generations of African Americans were made to inform younger generations of the strong and offensive meaning of that word, but none of them actually stopped the younger generation from causing semantic drift to reclaim the word for themselves, giving them power over it.”

“Gay” has been a problematic word for a while now, and ironically one where it’s quite possible to genuinely offend someone by misunderstanding their usage as homophobic. It’s interesting to see discussion starting on what the best route to take when talking about it is.

From a writer’s point, it’s also fascinating to see linguistic change actively in effect on such an emotive topic!

Let us know what you think of these posts – but please be polite, and discuss the argument, not the speaker!

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other posts from these categories: General MMO Interest

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