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About the male gaze and other holy cows

The last few months the Internet has been up in arms with discussions about the controversial subjects of the male gaze, and the inclusion of religious and sexual content in video games. My purpose with this article is not to take sides, or to try and influence opinion, but simply to ask a few questions and to try and look at these matters from a different perspective. Please keep an open mind and don’t lose your sense of humour. Let’s first take a brief look at each of the incidents that caused some worldwide face-palming.   

On June 13, Jason Schreier from Kotaku wrote an article "Tomb Raider Creators Are No Longer Referring to Game’s Attempted ‘Rape’ Scene As an Attempted Rape Scene." He was referring to an earlier interview he did with Tomb Raider executive producer Ron Rosenberg about the changes Lara Croft has undergone for the upcoming video game. She is less curvy and plays the part of the victim to a degree that has not yet been seen in a video game. Rosenberg explains;  

“In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She'll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.”   

The knee-jerk from the international gaming community about the rape of Lara Croft caused such uproar that Rosenberg had to release another statement saying that he was “misunderstood” in the Kotaku interview. This is the video clip that caused the internet to go red in its e-face.   

One the one hand, gamers demand of developers to include more real life elements into games, and, on the other hand, we demand that games still be politically correct. 

On June 29, Brandon Sheffield published an article on Gamasutra about “Videogames and the Male Gaze – are we men or boys?” The unsuspecting culprits were Agent 47, some nuns, and those darn dominatrix suits. This is the video clip that had the internet up in arms.   

Sheffield squarely lays the blame for skimpy clad female characters at the door of a male dominated industry.

“I know why we put ladies in these ridiculous costumes, and I know why Blystad doesn't get what the problem is. It's because we, the people making the decisions on these games, are largely men, largely heterosexual, and as such we like looking at boobs and butts, and we are making this game for others who feel the same way, which is inherently limiting. This is the very definition of the Male Gaze theory, which is at the heart of much of the discussion we're having about women in and around games these days.”   

On July 2, Colin Campbell from IGN wrote the following article, “Should We Keep Religion Out of Games?” The article centres on the use of the Hindu deity, Kali, who is a playable character in the video game Smite. Nevada-based Rajan Zed describes himself as a “Hindu leader” and is head of an organization called the Universal Society of Hinduism, he slammed Smite, saying,

“[Hi-Rez] should be more understanding of the hurt feelings of Hindus worldwide over the mishandling of their revered deities like Kali. [The] purpose of online games is to entertain and not to offend a large chunk of world population.”   


He called for Kali and other Hindu deities to be removed from the game.

Let’s try and take a step back; look beyond the dominatrix suits, the panting of a helpless Lara and the holy wrath of the religious. With the internet culture and its opinionated masses, it’s so easy to get caught up in the latest rage fit that we fail to feel the pulse of what actually matters.   

The perception of gaming as just being a medium of private entertainment has shifted to games as a rightful art form; to challenge, communicate, question and express. The tricky bit is that both game developers and gamers alike find themselves in uncharted waters. On the one hand, society wants games to stay in the privacy of player’s screens, but, on the other hand, games have developed into a medium that are able to express the whole range of human emotions and behavior in a way more capable than any other art form. Games serve the biggest audience on the planet; no matter age, race, intellectual capacity, you name it, everyone plays a game.  

And now it has started to talk back. It’s not just images on a screen anymore; it speaks through the collective conscience of millions of players. It sparks ideas, it makes us question, and it challenges us.   

It’s the ultimate interactive experience; now where the hell do we draw the line, and should there even be a line? Should games always be politically correct? When has war become more acceptable than rape? Can a game actually empower a player who has been raped to work through that experience? Will a female developer make less skimpy armour than the male counterparts? Should games be allowed to illustrate religion?   

Tomb Raider, Hitman, and Smite have forced millions of people from around the globe to question their own perceptions about core issues, be it ethical, moral or social. These games have succeeded in pushing society out of its comfort zone on a scale and in a manner that has never been done before.  

We are just scratching the surface of what games as a medium are capable to deliver to an over saturated, preached up, fed up, over educated and intellectualized humanity. I don’t know where we should draw the lines, we are discovering that together. What I do know is that I am listening, and what I hear, is that games have become a catalyst for mass critical thinking. What are you hearing?

Han’s Twitter | Blog

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