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.
Show Hide image

Bohemian rhapsody: Jeanette Winterson’s “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale

 Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time is full of metaphorical riches.

Shakespeare – that magpie plunderer of other people’s plots and characters – would undoubtedly have approved. The Hogarth Shakespeare project invites prominent contemporary writers to rework his plays in novelistic form and this is Jeanette Winterson’s reimagining of The Winter’s Tale. Like the original, it shuttles disturbingly between worlds, cultures and emotional registers. It has never been an easy play, for all its apparent focus on reconciliation, and Winterson handles the gear-changes with skill, moving between the offices of Sicilia, a London-based asset-stripping company, and New Bohemia, a New Orleans-like American urban landscape (with interludes in both a virtual and a real Paris).

Her Leontes is a hedge-fund speculator, Polixenes a visionary designer of screen games (the presence of this world echoes the unsettling semi-magic of Shakespeare’s plot). They have a brief and uncomfortable history as teenage lovers at school and Polixenes – Xeno – has also slept with MiMi (Hermione), the French-American singer who eventually marries Leo.

The story unfolds very much as in the play (though Winterson cannot quite reproduce the effect of Shakespeare’s best-known deadpan stage direction), with Leo using advanced surveillance technology to spy on Xeno and MiMi, and Perdita being spirited away across the Atlantic to the US, where her guardian, Tony, is mugged and killed and she is left in the “baby hatch” of a local hospital – to be found by Shep and his son and brought up in their affectionate, chaotic African-American household. Perdita falls in love with Zel, the estranged son of Xeno, discovers her parentage, returns to London and meets Leo; Leo’s PA, Pauline, has kept in contact across the years with MiMi, a recluse in Paris, and persuades her to return secretly to give a surprise performance at the Roundhouse, when Leo is in the audience, and – well, as in the play, the ending is both definitive and enormously unsettling. “So we leave them now, in the theatre, with the music. I was sitting at the back, waiting to see what would happen.”

That last touch, bringing the author into the narrative in the same apparently arbitrary way we find in a text such as Dostoevsky’s Demons – as a “real” but imperfect witness – gently underlines the personal importance of the play to this particular author. Winterson is explicit about the resonance of this drama for an adopted child and one of the finest passages in the book is a two-page meditation on losing and finding: a process she speculates began with the primordial moment of the moon’s separation from the earth, a lost partner, “pale, lonely, watchful, present, unsocial, inspired. Earth’s autistic twin.”

It is the deep foundation of all the stories of lost paradises and voyages away from home. As the moon controls the tides, balances the earth’s motion by its gravitational pull, so the sense of what is lost pervades every serious, every heart-involving moment of our lives. It is a beautifully worked conceit, a fertile metaphor. The story of a child lost and found is a way of sounding the depths of human imagination, as if all our longing and emotional pain were a consequence of some buried sense of being separated from a home that we can’t ever ­remember. If tragedy is the attempt to tell the story of loss without collapse, all story­telling has some dimension of the tragic, reaching for what is for ever separated by the “gap of time”.

Winterson’s text is full of metaphorical riches. She writes with acute visual sensibility (from the first pages, with their description of a hailstorm in a city street) and this is one of the book’s best things. There are also plenty of incidental felicities: Xeno is designing a game in which time can be arrested, put on hold, accelerated, and so on, and the narrative exhibits something of this shuttling and mixing – most effectively in the 130-page pause between the moment when Milo (Shakespeare’s Mamilius, Leo’s and MiMi’s son) slips away from his father at an airport and the fatal accident that follows. In the play, Mamilius’s death is a disturbing silence behind the rest of the drama, never alluded to, never healed or reconciled; here, Milo’s absence in this long “gap of time” sustains a pedal of unease that has rather the same effect and the revelation of his death, picking up the narrative exactly where it had broken off, is both unsurprising and shocking.

Recurrent motifs are handled with subtlety, especially the theme of “falling”; a song of MiMi’s alludes to Gérard de Nerval’s image of an angel falling into the gap between houses in Paris, not being able to fly away without destroying the street and withering into death. The convergence and crucial difference between falling and failing, falling in love and the “fall” of the human race – all these are woven together hauntingly, reflecting, perhaps, Shakespeare’s exploration in the play of Leontes’s terror of the physical, of the final fall into time and flesh that unreserved love represents.

A book of considerable beauty, then, if not without its problems. MiMi somehow lacks the full angry dignity of Hermione and Leo is a bit too much of a caricature of the heartless, hyper-masculine City trader. His psychoanalyst is a cartoon figure and Pauline’s Yiddish folksiness – although flagged in the text as consciously exaggerated – is a bit overdone.

How a contemporary version can fully handle the pitch of the uncanny in Shakespeare’s final scene, with the “reanimation” of Hermione, is anyone’s guess (the Bible is not wrong to associate the earliest story of the resurrection with terror as much as joy). Winterson does a valiant job and passes seamlessly into a moving and intensely suggestive ending but I was not quite convinced on first reading that her reanimation had done justice to the original.

However, weigh against this the real success of the New Bohemia scenes as a thoroughly convincing modern “pastoral” and the equally successful use of Xeno’s creation of virtual worlds in his games as a way of underlining Shakespeare’s strong hints in the play that art, with its aura of transgression, excess, forbidden magic, and so on, may be our only route to nature. Dream, surprise and new creation are what tell us what is actually there, if only we could see. Winterson’s fiction is a fine invitation into this deeply Shakespearean vision of imagination as the best kind of truth-telling.

Rowan Williams is a New Statesman contributing writer. His most recent book is “The Edge of Words: God and the Habits of Language” (Bloomsbury). The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson is published by Vintage (320pp, £16.99)

Rowan Williams is an Anglican prelate, theologian and poet, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012. He writes on books for the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide