I’ve been playing video games my entire life. I’ve been a fan of many games beginning with the original Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and the like. Many of these games bring back early 90’s nostalgia, but beginning in college (the early 2000’s, that is), I started to notice a more misogynistic tone in video games. While the early games are certainly not innocent when it comes to reinforcing gender stereotypes (e.g. the common “rescuing the Princess” story line), games have become increasingly more sexist and violent - particularly against women. After a bit of research it became clear that too many video games today either sexualize female characters or involve overt acts of violence against women; video games are a popular media that is being used to vindicate the sexualization and abuse of women.
The widely popular Grand Theft Auto is known for its violent themes, but it made headlines when Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas simulated violence against women. In this game, a player can make a character have sex with a prostitute, beat her up, kill her, and take his money back. Having sex with a prostitute replenishes the character’s life but drains his money, thus encouraging both the solicitation of sex and the beating/killing of the prostitute afterwards. Further, the character calls the prostitute a "bitch" repeatedly after sex and while killing her.
Other games are not as overtly violent against women as they are sexist and exploitative of female sexuality. In Killer Instinct, the scantily clad female character “B. Orchid” has a move where she can kill her opponent by unzipping her top and flashing her breasts at them (though away from the camera). Further, the popular game Dead or Alive is best known for its young, sexy female characters. In Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball the entire cast is wearing extremely revealing string bikinis while playing beach volleyball. What’s more, the characters can be controlled to move into sexually suggestive positions and a zoom feature allows players to zoom in on the characters’ bodies. The female characters in all of these games have Barbi-esque figures with young girlish faces, tiny waists, and impossibly large breasts.
The most egregious example of violence against women in video gaming is the Japanese game RapeLay. Though it may be hard to believe, this game is actually based on the rape, sexual torture, and stalking of young girls. RapeLay begins with a subway scene in which the character’s objective is to grope and molest a young girl on the subway platform. From there, the player is enabled to stalk the girl and her sister, rape them repeatedly, capture them, torture them, and ultimately make them his sex slaves. Players can select which girl they wish to rape and choose from a number of scenes as to where the rape will take place. As play continues, “friends” can join in on the sexual abuse. The game even allows the character to impregnate a girl and encourage her to have an abortion. Though RapeLay never made it into stores in the United States, illegal copies still remain available on the internet.
In June of this year the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass'n, holding that a California law prohibiting the sale of "violent video games" to minors violated the First Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia contended that video games are a form of expression protected by the First Amendment, and that minors have their own First Amendment rights to access these games just like their adult counterparts. Justice Scalia then concluded that the state had failed to demonstrate a causal relationship between violent video games and violent behavior by children. While I am an advocate of free speech, I find it hard to believe that exposing children to these interactive games won’t affect how they will grow up to treat women. Indeed, violence against women is a pandemic and it doesn’t take much to find the manifestations of this problem. I can’t help but ask the perennial question: Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?
The images of sexualized women and sexual violence that are provided to young people and adults alike via gaming serve to endorse a sort of interactive misogyny that, I believe, only normalizes this behavior. While adults may be at liberty to chose from an array of violent, sexist, and generally distasteful material (and there is plenty to choose from), misogyny does not need yet another audience in today’s youth.