Ashley Judd Faces Backlash for calling out Gaming Industry for “Profiteering off Misogyny”

On January 18th, Ashley Judd’s TED Talk about “The Online Abuse of Women” was uploaded to youtube. The spirit of the talk was bold and to-the-point:  the online gender violence toward girls and women is not just offensive- it is horrific and disgusting. And needs to stop. At one point in her talk, she turned specifically to the world of video games, saying “our friends in tech profiteering off misogyny in video games must end. I’m so tired of hearing you talk to me…about how deplorable #gamergate was, when you’re still making billions of dollars off games that maim and dump women for sport.”

Immediately male gamers lashed out against Judd (wouldn’t you know it) online. HeatStreet published an article dismissing her remarks saying, “Outside a few Flash games and extremely niche titles from overseas markets, there isn’t a single mainstream game on Steam that does what Judd describes.” ReviewTechUSA posted a video to youtube entitled, “Ashley Judd, You Don’t Know Video Games. So Please Shut Up” in which the male reviewer asks, “What game have you played by a AAA developer or a reputable Indie Developer.. where your mission is to go out and rape and maim women? There is no game!”

Yes, excluding games such as the 80’s Custer’s Revenge (in which the player finds a naked Native American woman tied to a pole, and receives points for having sex with her),  RapeLay (a 2006 game where the player stalks, and eventually rapes a mother and her two underage daughters which was made purchasable on Amazon.com), and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (a 2015 game where the player’s character appears to rape a female antagonist) there are few games on the mainstream market where players MAIN GOAL is to kill and rape women.

However the larger context of Judd’s message is about decreasing online misogyny and virtual gender violence, which the video gaming industry has absolutely contributed to. So much so, that Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian was able to make a 30 minute video about women as “background characters,” which she defines as “The subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.”

Sarkeesian references 29 video games releases between 2007 and 2014 which included women as non-playable sex objects and/or perpetual victims of male violence. The list included:

  • A mission in Grand Theft Auto IV in which the player has to kidnap a woman while insulting her and beating her unconscious
  • A gun battle in Mafia II: Joe’s Adventure that takes place over the body of a dead stripper, clad in lingerie, who had been performing for the player moments earlier.
  • A mission in Bioshock 2  in The Pink Pearl where mutilated eroticized female bodies are hung and scattered around the area for the player to see
  • A mission in God of War II where the player pushes a bare breasted princess through the level, using her body to open a gate to the next area

Needless to say, there is indeed a problem here. Ashley Judd may not have extensive knowledge of the current video game scene, but she knows enough to know that today’s games are asking their players to engage in sexually and violently charged themes against women. Hopefully, more developers will hear Judd’s criticism and open their eyes to the bigger picture of what they are contributing to, and what ideas they are normalizing for players.

2 thoughts on “Ashley Judd Faces Backlash for calling out Gaming Industry for “Profiteering off Misogyny”

  1. Interesting, but this case also puts forth an interesting point. Speaking in hyperbole rarely conveys a message to a somewhat hostile audience and, worse, it leaves your argument more open to sweeping dismissals, since “X” was so wildly inaccurate that the whole alphabet must be wrong.

    I’m in favor of more realistic representations of women, and certainly in favor of less abuse hurtled at women gamers online (and everywhere else, for that matter), but I think we also need to study history a bit. We need to look at the large picture first – there are plenty of ways to show women have not been represented well in games *overall,* and I think that would be harder for nay-sayers to dismiss as “just one isolated incident.” I also think studying how women are treated online would be a good place to start, showing how even *real world* women are treated poorly when it comes to games. After people see that the “big picture” isn’t as pretty as they once thought, then we can focus on the details. Like the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation, we need the big brush strokes out of the way so we can (now) focus on the remaining details.

    I appreciate the work that Anita Sarkeesian and others like her have started, but the explosive beginning now needs a low simmer to continue the fight, not a continuation of sensational (and obviously angry) quotes and headlines that can be dismissed as one women over-exaggerating.

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  2. This is admittedly a trivial error, but the God of War game referenced is 3 not 2. Having just played it, I’m familiar with the scene. Also, BioShock 2 is one of my favorite games and I don’t recall anything about it being sexually evocative. It’s actually a rather heartwarming tale about a father and his very capable, though trapped, daughter. The main villain is also a female, non sexualized and extremely intellectual. I’m just surprised to see that game referenced as being misogynistic.

    The portrayal of women in video games in aggregate is certainly lopsided, but as videogames are taken more and more seriously as an art form and as a vehicle for serious storytelling, I think you’ll find the portrayal of women will continue to improve. Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us 2 I suspect will be good examples of the industry’s improvement.

    The objectification of women, or of any group for that matter, will never go away entirely. There has always been, and always will be, a demand for erotica of all types. That’s just life. As long we can get to a place with more diversity and balance in how women are portrayed, I’ll be happy.

    Another issue is the way female players are treated by male players in game lobbies. It’s deplorable to say the least. I don’t know what the solution is, but as it stands, anyone can pretty much talk as much shit as they want to anyone else with no repercussions.

    I’ve rambled, didn’t intend on this comment growing so large, lol. Anyway, nice article, here’s my male point of view respectfully submitted.

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