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Eat your crumbs, damnit 8 April 2006

Posted by Kat in Women Gamers, Male Privilege. trackback

Addendum: Since this bloody thing won’t die, let me make something clear–I love Oblivion. I agree it’s less sexist than most games, but like most games, it’s still sexist. I’m going to review the whole game and point out both the good and bad once I finish the main quest. However, the artwork was my only issue in this post, artwork which led me to surmise Bethesda didn’t consider women gamers. Though their response unfortunately removed all doubt, I’m not going to stop playing or call for a boycott. I’m just pointing out something that made me feel marginalised. Now I’m closing comments and going on holiday.

Apparently some gamers (men, of course) are up in arms because Guilded Lily and I don’t like certain aspects of Oblivion. Their defence of the game is rabid and inane. Some claim women are weaker than men in real life so a fantasy game should abide by that rule. Others admit we have a point but are quick to mention parts of the game that aren’t sexist, implying we should be grateful for our crumbs. The rest can’t even be bothered to form a coherent response and simply spout childish insults.

I find it interesting that these men dismiss our concerns when they’re directly benefitting from the sexism we described. Specifically, the game’s base attributes give male characters a power design edge and the male-only illustrations make it easier for men to decide which race and class to play. How would they react if the situation were reversed? If the subjects in the illustrations were all women, female was the gender to pick for powergaming, women were the default?

Probably the same way men reacted when the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out–ranting and raving about feminists and the PC police. Not that Wizards of the Coast made female the default. All they did was use equal numbers of male and female subjects for the illustrations and alternate between male and female pronouns. Yet to hear those men whinge, you’d think Andrea Dworkin wrote the Player’s Handbook.

Men feel so entitled to their privilege that even a slight decrease is seen as an assault on manhood. Women who threaten male hegemony by daring to bring their own marginalisation to light must be silenced at all costs. No, we can’t have equality! That would mean men wouldn’t always be the centre of attention. Men would have to get by on their skill and merit, rather than on not being a woman. Men would even have to acknowledge that women are human. But worst of all, there wouldn’t be Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball!

Sorry boys, I’m afraid I won’t be eating my crumbs. I’m going to continue speaking out on sexism wherever I see it–your privilege be damned.


1. Guilded Lily - 8 April 2006

Thanks for this Kat, you’ve summed it up well. Wow, they sure are pissed!

2. 100littledolls - 8 April 2006

So aggravating, and unfortunately so true. I hate that we are expected to settle. Thank you, however, for fighting the good fight.

I’m all too anxious for the feminist review site. Not only will it be a great place to read reviews and analysis about gender and games, it’ll be a place where I know I’ll feel a sense of solidarity, and that, I’m sure, will help me with my own frustration of being a woman gamer.

3. Kat - 8 April 2006

GL, they sure are. Thank god for comment moderation!

100littledolls, I’m going to work on the site today and hope to have a second draft of the ratings formula by Monday.

4. Lake Desire - 8 April 2006

Great post!

We hear cries of reverse sexism when gender is closer to equal. (For example, what is said to men who hyhphenate their wives’ names? When teachers call on girls and boys the same amount, who are they accused of favoring?) I imagine even more irate people when women happen to conveniently get their turn as the model gender.

I’m also looking forward to the upcoming review site. Any luck with names? I’ve been trying to come up with some catchy suggestions.

(Oh yeah… I am alternativeashmore on Yahoo. I was AFK when you IMed me.)

5. Brinstar - 8 April 2006

I’m reading stuff where guys are like, “Well there are only two genders, having male as a default is just fine”. Since female is the “default” gender in humans, biologically speaking, then why should male be the default gender in videogames?

6. Kaka Mak - 8 April 2006

Good for you, Kat! The hell with those crumbs–we deserve the whole cake!

7. Swegamer - 8 April 2006

Those men are giving the rest of us bad publicity it seems :)

I am personally annoyed that the genders weren’t balanced, especially in a game like Oblivion where “freedom” is the big word. Becuase suddenly one is not as free to choose as one thought to be.

Luckely one can always download “The Oblivion Equalizer”. Just get it up to the 360-version as well and I will be a happy little camper.

8. bookdrunk - 8 April 2006

Great post. It reminds me of the situation that was played out in World of Warcraft over sexuality, where some players argued that such things shouldn’t matter in a fantasy world - while managing to ignore how sexist and homophobic slurs regularly heard online were the same as those in the real world.

As far I can tell, there was no distribution of attributes on the basis of gender in Morrowind and my (x-box GOTY version) manual for that game shows a mix of male and female examples for the different species - why the change?

9. AnarchoAl - 8 April 2006

I didn’t realise that attributes were different based on sex- that’s absolutely shocking! It’s an RPG, if someone wants to create a huge female barbarian warrior then why should the character be any different from a huge male barbarian warrior, stats-wise?

10. Kat - 8 April 2006

LD, we’re probably going to go with The Female Analysis.

Brinstar, interesting how men see no problem with the status quo when it benefits them, isn’t it?

Kaka, damn straight! :)

Swegamer, yep, I downloaded the Equalizer myself.

bookdrunk, the base attributes were like this in Morrowind as well but they don’t draw attention to it. I didn’t know my female warrior was disadvantaged from the start (just like in real life!) until I was halfway through the main quest. You’re right about the race examples, though–two out of the ten were female in Morrowind’s manual. Why the change? Well, you can read Bethesda’s explanation here and my response here.

AnarchoAI, good question!

11. Acid for Blood » Blog Archive » The Debate About Gender in Oblivion - 10 April 2006

[…] Guilded Lily, Lake Desire, The Geeky Feminist, and Sredni Vashtar have commentary on the debate. […]

12. Holmwood - 11 April 2006


Interesting blog; also some interesting posts on Oblivion. I respectfully disagree with you on most (though not all) grounds.

One thing that puzzles me — you say that male characters are better for powergaming, that your female warrior was “disadvantaged from the start”.

I couldn’t disagree more. AnarchoAl (and Kat): The attribute and skill limits for both genders are the same. Nothing stops you from having a female barbarian warrior stronger (or at least as strong) as any male in the land.

The only difference is what you start with. True, with several races, the female warrior starts with lower strength but guess what? This is a mid-to long term advantage. In The Elder Scrolls (TES) games, your level cap is determined by the number of times you can increment your primary stats. By starting your warrior off with a lower strength, you’ve increased her level cap over the male who starts with a slight advantage but rapidly ends up behind you.

The hardcore powergamer is actually going to view (correctly) the female warrior as an advantage for serious gaming.

I half agree with your comments on the manual; I guess my view is — who reads those? But, when my girlfriend was selecting a character I did indeed notice that none of the class pictures were female. Mea culpa, I was blind to it before.

I’d tend to the view that it’s perfectly reasonable to (say) make all the racial art male, but then why not make all the class-specific art female? (or vice versa).

I was all set to come back at you with examples from the strategy guide, until I looked at it more closely. 4 out of the five custom classes they design are male. (They also do a fairly dimwitted short-term advantage set of designs in the strategy guide).

Despite that, women are in many leadership roles in the game, including rulership of the cities and in charge of many of the mages guild halls, and about half the senior thieves are female. (Don’t know about the fighters, only completed a bit of that quest line).

The armor isn’t remotely “chain mail bikini”. Some female gamers have even complained on the official forums their characters are too “handsome”. Go figure.

There are some definite digs at sexism — a ridiculous genealogy you obtain midway through the thieves’ guild quest is certainly one good example.

You’ve certainly got some legitimate points. There should be much more female art. I’ve no idea why there isn’t. It’s not as though men down through the ages have shown a lack of affinity for viewing the female form, even quite properly clothed.

The default selection? I don’t know. What’s the majority of their customer base? Probably that’s why it’s male. I guess I’d suggest random default to begin, then default to the last gender selected to create a character.

But on the powergaming female warrior thing, I think you’ve got it exactly backwards (for the serious gamer at least; I agree for the kids who want to play for 10 minutes then switch to another game, sure, the male character gives a small initial advantage).


13. Kat - 11 April 2006

I see your point but Bethesda’s intentions were to perpetuate gender stereotypes and give male warriors an edge.

We wanted to have it play slightly different if you wanted it to. Male Redguards are, I think, stronger than their female counterparts, while females have a higher personality. So if you want to play a warrior Redguard, you might go male, but if you were playing a class that focused on persuasion and getting people to like you, you might go for a female…

Perhaps it played out differently, with female warriors gaining the long-term advantage, but the original intentions remain.