There's no sexism in gaming

Why don’t you just enjoy the fantasy? Games are a special medium, completely separate from our wider culture and any attempt to put them in context is just insulting.

I am tired of all this "sexism in gaming" crap that has come up recently. Reasonable people know that fantasy has nothing to do with reality: believing otherwise infantilises us and treats us as if we cannot distinguish one from the other. People who are outraged about this latest ‘gaming drama’ need a severe reality check: those masculists simply seek out reasons to get upset all the time. The "disembodied bloody crotch in Speedos" outrage went too far, for a start.

A resin model of someone’s disembodied crotch isn’t hurting anyone. It’s simply something to put on one’s mantelpiece and enjoy. People sometimes ask me about mine when I am hosting dinner: and I say, ‘Oh yes, haha. I’m a gamer,’ and that’s the end of the conversation. One of my male friends left dinner early once because of it; his girlfriend apologised for him and said that he’d once been sexually assaulted and that he was just really sensitive about this sort of thing. We both shook our heads about it. “I’m so glad we have freedom of speech,” she said to me, ‘the Nazis wouldn’t have allowed this to be made. He’ll get over it - he’s just really emotional about that stuff."

The males who say they they are not represented by our videogame heroines are merely ignoring the fact that women have all the disposable income. Despite this, they whine and whine about how they would like to see Alex Vance actually do something in his scenes in the game, instead of fawn and flirt with our heroine Freewoman. Can’t they just enjoy the fantasy? It’s no reflection on real life: no women really shoot alien headcrabs in laboratory settings, and neither do males occupy secondary positions in most parts of our society and sit around to gratify our need to become pregnant. That would be absurd. Fantasy is not reality: we go to our games to get away from reality. Why don’t you just enjoy the fantasy? Games are a special medium, completely separate from our wider culture and any attempt to put them in context is just insulting.

Furthermore, reasonable people would see that asking to put male soldiers in the Call of Duty series is simply not do-able. Since the age of the Amazon, women have waged wars, because they have a higher pain threshold than males and have more stamina in every area of war. Who would take a male Battlefield seriously? Including men would simply cloud the matter; when crawling through tunnels, as is often necessary in war, our eyes would fall on the male backside - from then on women would be irreparably compromised.

 

I mean, who would take this guy seriously a soldier?

 

To anyone getting their boxers in a bunch over this, I say: buy the games with the male protagonists. There are at least four of them. They are attractive, virile boy characters with a lot going for them. Show us you mean business by buying those titles. Lawrence Croft is still an icon: that bulging crotch and tight ass, the washboard abs - what more could you want to identify with? He’s everything you aspire to. And those of you who complain we didn’t put any clothes on him - he became an icon because of that lack of clothes! And Lawrence Croft has trousers now, think about that. Women’s interest in a sexy, provocative young male is what gave Lawrence Croft his iconic status. Stop asking for special treatment by the games industry, we are making the best games in whatever way we see fit.

Anyway, you guys wouldn't even have videogames without women. Remember that. With Ada Lovelace at our head, we invented the technology that makes them possible. The majority of the games industry is populated by hardworking, talented women who have been producing the best interactive experiences for 20 years. Why shouldn’t we make videogames where we can look at sinewy, naked males who moan sexually when we toy with them? Why don’t you start your own games industry where you can make your male-led games about football and the colour blue? Perhaps then we will stop making jokes about how you can get back in the kitchen and take the bins out.

It's only men who can't get laid that complain about all this, let's face it. My boyfriend enjoys when I play games where the male character is sexy and capable. Do yourself a favour: stop being so uptight and humourless. Games are a special medium, don’t spoil them by trying to change the way they are made. Separate them from your masculist politics and sit back down on the couch. This ‘sexism’ in technology doesn’t exist.

Cara Ellison is a writer for Rock Paper Shotgun and other sites. She tweets: @carachan1

Lawrence Croft, as imagined by ulysses0302 on deviantart.
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Marc Maron: a conversation with the anxiety co-pilot

Now that the interview-based podcast WTF has had millions of downloads and featured guests from Iggy Pop and Barack Obama, what does its host Marc Maron want to say?

Richard Pryor decided to talk about race. Sam Kinison used his fame and his family history to talk about God. Bill Hicks asked why nothing produced in America seemed quite worthy of the people who consumed it. Now that the intimate, interview-based podcast WTF has had millions of downloads on iTunes and has featured guests from Mel Brooks to Iggy Pop and, this summer, Barack Obama, what does its host, the comedian Marc Maron – adopter of stray cats, recovered addict and vinyl hoarder – feel he has to say?

“I think the type of conversations that I have on the show are something that is missing in our lives,” Maron told me one recent Friday, down the line from the garage in the garden of his home in Highland Park, Los Angeles, where WTF has been recorded twice a week since 2009. “We’ve lost the knowledge that it’s not that hard to have an hour-long conversation with someone. You’re built to carry whatever problems they have. I think it’s good for the heart.”

If the Maron family crest bore a motto, it might be that timeless adage: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Born in 1963, Maron was raised by a real-estate broker mother and an orthopaedic surgeon father, first in New Jersey, then in Alaska, then in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “My father is and was both an overactive hypochondriac and a physician,” he wrote in his 2013 memoir, Attempting Normal, “which is a bad combination.” After studying English at Boston University, he began performing stand-up comedy at the age of 24.

“I don’t think of myself as a joke guy,” he told me. “Most of what I do is creating a dialogue around my own problems. Some people call it ‘navel-gazing’ but I’d prefer to call it ‘compulsive self-awareness’.”

And there have been many problems. Maron, now 51, began his 2013 comedy special Thinky Pain by telling the audience in the basement of the Village Gate nightclub in New York that he didn’t “have a lot of respect for people that don’t have the courage to lose complete control of their life for a few years”.

When Maron was 35, unhappily married, hoovering up booze, weed and cocaine most evenings, he met a beautiful aspiring comedian 12 years his junior, who told him he looked dreadful and offered to help him get sober. And she did, more or less. He divorced his first wife and pinned his hopes on his second. By 2009, he was living on the US west coast, divorced for a second time, barely able to work and newly dismissed from the morning talk show he’d co-hosted on the left-leaning Air America radio network.

“It was a period where I needed to talk a lot,” he said, “but also to sort of re-engage with something I think I had practised as a child: being part of somebody else.” With the former Air America producer Brendan McDonald, Maron began recording conversations with comedian friends, seeking advice, delving into their lives. He asked stock questions, such as “What did your old man do?” and “Who were your guys?”, as if they might provide some clue to where he had gone wrong. Then people started to listen.

“I started getting emails saying somehow or other the dialogue with my guests, or my monologues, were making people feel better or getting them through dark times,” he said. “I never anticipated people would get that type of help from the show.”

In a recent episode with Ian McKellen, Maron explained to the British actor that his listeners were “sensitive, slightly aggravated, usually intelligent people”, not so much “a demographic, more of a disposition”. By 2010, WTF had attracted a cult following. Robin Williams came to the garage and talked about his depression. Maron’s fellow stand-up Todd Glass came out as gay on the show after a string of suicides among young LGBT people. Friends whom Maron had known throughout his career, including David Cross, Sarah Silverman and Bob Odenkirk, joined him to reminisce. His 2010 interview with Louis CK, arguably the best-known US comedian of recent years, was voted the greatest podcast episode ever by the online magazine Slate.

“Comedians in their infancy are generally selfish, irresponsible, emotionally retarded, morally dubious, substance-addicted animals who live out of boxes and milk crates,” Maron wrote in his memoir. Yet, as they mature, they can become “some of the most thoughtful, philosophical, open-minded . . . creative people in the world”.

“The best comics are people that have taken the chance to live a life independent of mainstream culture and expectations,” he told me. “They’re constantly looking for an angle on the information coming in. They write things down. It’s the life of a thinker, or a philosopher, or poet – however you want to put it.”

I suggested that poetry was an ideal analogy for comedy, not only because poets reframe reality in a truthful way but also because they can be savage and resentful, particularly to fellow poets. It’s a fact Maron openly concedes about himself.

“I’m the clown that thought Louis CK’s show Louie should be called F*** You, Marc Maron,” he said at the 2011 Just for Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal. The episode of WTF with Louis CK, a friend since the late 1980s, is remarkable not only for the moment when CK becomes audibly emotional as he discusses the birth of his first child, but for the way in which he unflinchingly airs his grievances with Maron, who confesses to envying CK’s success so much that they lost contact for a time. “You were being a shitty friend by being jealous,” CK says. “I could’ve used you . . . I got divorced. I got a show cancelled. I could’ve used a friend.”

So, in 2015, with a TV series about his life on the IFC cable network concluding its third series, the widely discussed interview in which Obama opened up about parenting, gun control and racism in the US and a series of high-profile appearances in Dublin, London and Sydney booked to showcase new material, surely the glass at last looks half full? “Maybe,” he said. “There are some people whose ego is able to accept the love and adoration of an audience. I’ve always been one to question that.”

Yet the improvements to his life – recognition, financial security, reconciliation with old friends – are undeniable. “Most creative people move through a tremendous amount of insecurity, which can turn to hostility. But the podcast became socially relevant and some of the insecurities dissipated. I could accept myself, for the most part, and realise that all the hard work I’d done for half my life had manifested into something that connects with people.”

Maron’s biggest anxiety today, he explained at the end of our talk, before opening the garage door to face the day, is that he’s “swamped with work all the f***ing time”.

“I beat myself up feeling like I should be out in the world, seeing a play or some art or something. Often, when I do monologues, I think, ‘I’ve got nothing to talk about.’ But then I go on and talk about nothing.”

The truth is that Marc Maron isn’t Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks – but that’s OK. We live in a different time. Perhaps what listeners need most is not more opinions, but a little help getting out of their own way: a co-pilot to navigate the anxieties of living day to day. “That’s exactly right,” he said. “The little things.”

Marc Maron performs at the Southbank Centre, London SE1, on 3 and 4 September

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses