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.