I was a little discomfited – and not in a “good, challenging” way by two things at the end of a review wondering why there were no women in the world of Plants vs. Zombies. (It’s a bit long to quote here, so I’m talking about bullet point SEXISM and below.)
First, I would have liked to see the two parts of SEXISM split. As it stands, it’s buried in a huge chunk of text.
I think intention matters – a lot – in the most effective way to react. A first draft of a story I took to my writer’s group, while not exactly having the “Women in Refrigerators” angle, comes uncomfortably close. I’m at a point now where not only did I recognize the potential of falling in that trope, but took their critique and am rewriting that whole section. Years ago – basically before reading Privilege, Power, and Difference – I would have been insulted at the suggestion that I’d written anything sexist. The way to get the most impact changes dramatically.
Somehow, I think it’s less likely the creators of PvZ are as intentionally sexist as Gearbox’s plans for Duke Nukem Forever (and I say this as someone who liked the original and was horrified (for these reasons) when I decided to reinstall and play the original again). For that reason, I like that it was explicitly stated:
And keep in mind that sexist results do not require conscious, sexist intentions to happen.
I think that phrase defuses obstructing denial and lets most of us get on with actually fixing our unconscious biases.
Which brings us to the second problem: The paragraph right after the one saying that sexist intentions aren’t necessary.
Every single thing in a game has to be put there by designers. Everything. A decision has to be made about every single little detail. Every blade of grass. Every pixel. And yes–a decision has to be made about characters’ presented gender.
Yes, I understand that this doesn’t actually contradict the “does not require sexist intention” line. But as I was reading this article, it felt like it did.
I can sum up like this: Knowing where I’m at in my journey away from being a “typical” (read sexist) USAian male, I still felt defensive about these two paragraphs. Hell, it’s not my game, and I still felt defensive. (I’m still debating whether my one big question about the content of the post is real or just a reflection of that defensiveness.)
If I had a defensive reaction, I think it’s a good guess that the game designers whose behavior they wish to change are going to have a similar reaction as well.
While the Border House says it is “a blog for those who are feminist, queer, disabled, people of color, transgender, poor, gay, lesbian, and others who belong to marginalized groups, as well as allies”, it first says that it’s a blog for gamers.
Maybe I’m confused about the target audience, or desired impact of the posts. If we’re just looking to say “Ayup, there it is again,” then the PvZ post is a great example of pointing out sexism in places that it’s often overlooked.
If the intent was to actually change minds and behaviors, though, I’m not so sure it met those goals.
I reserve the right to be wrong here, so I’d be interested in hearing your point of view. Let me know in the comments.