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rants of a boy socialist: don’t hate the player, hate the game

March 24, 2011

Reading the article “Rants of a Gamer Girl: Duke Nukem – Smack My Chick Up,” my first thought was that this may also be an example of how capitalism, in its ability to profit off things like sexism and the objectification of women, actually helps to further perpetuate these things, especially when presenting them in such a way as to make them more ‘socially acceptable’ (e.g., by things like separating sexual violence into two categories: ‘it’s OK when it’s simulated/presented as entertainment’ and ‘it’s not OK when it’s done for real’).

From a capitalist point of view, Gearbox Software and CEO Randy Pitchford are doing things just right. They’re successfully engaging their target audience (which for this particular genre of game happens to be young-to-middle-aged men) with cheeky portrayals of sexual violence, getting a lot of publicity (read ‘free advertising’) and selling enough games and merchandise to make a profit. Capitalism doesn’t ask for much more than that, and arguably encourages it unless restricted in some way (e.g., outside by government regulations, inside by consumer spending, etc). If it’s profitable, how can it be wrong?

And I think that’s unfortunate since I agree that marketing these things does serve to “further promote and perpetuate a culture of violence against women.” Of course, that’s not to suggest that Duke Nukem or Gearbox Software are directly responsible for sexism or any sexual assaults in the US (correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation), only that I think there’s a plausible link between an economic system in which sexism and sexual violence are often promoted together in general, and the prevalence of sexism and sexual violence in that society, illustrated here by the statistic in the article that “there’s a woman sexually assaulted every two minutes in the U.S.” This is what, in economic terms, could be called a social externality, the cost of which isn’t borne by abstract market forces or private companies, but society.

That said, it’s entirely possible that the prevalence of these things in various media are simply a reflection of society and societal attitudes as a whole — neither promoting nor condemning them, just acknowledging their existence — but I think enough psychological studies have shown that our attitudes about these things are often heavily influenced by our surroundings, our family structure, the social conditions and norms we’re exposed to growing up, etc. In other words, it’s as much a symptom of the problem as it is a link in the complex causal chain causing it.

The way I see it, it’s just one big, social feed-back loop, and I think people need to consciously start looking at these things and asking themselves if there really are connections here, and if so, figuring out what to do about it. But even that’s difficult to do when genders are objectified and gender stereotypes commodified. This, of course, raises the issue of censorship, which is another tricky subject.

Even Plato realized the influence certain things can have on individuals in society, but his solution — the censorship and/or banishment of poets and the like who didn’t say what was for the good of his ‘ideal city’ — seems just as unacceptable to me as the seeming use of things like sexism and sexual violence against women (cheeky or otherwise) as marketing tools. At the same time, I’m not sure what to do about it without resorting to such drastic measures, especially when its use is often so successful. How do we change how women are viewed and portrayed in media without censoring or banishing the proverbial poets from our ‘ideal city’?


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One Comment
  1. The best answer so far has come from a friend of mine named Matt, who said, “Ultimately, sexist portrayals of women in the media are going to persist for as long as sexism exists. We have to abolish the cause before we can abolish the symptom. But I think that pointing out the most egregious examples, like this article does, or like demonstrators against guys like Tucker Max have done, can at least help to chip away at the acceptability of sexism in social life. Then, when the revolution comes, we'll have a little less muck to wash away.”

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