Lunchtime Poll

Lunchtime Poll: Gaming Experiences and Harpies

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s my turn to drive the LTP bus. Today we’re going to talk about something dear to my heart, video games. 

I’m normally a PC gamer, although I do have a Wii I forget about most of the time. My go-to games on PC have usually been some sort of simulation, from the actual Sims franchise to Roller Coaster Tycoon (I miss that game so much) to Civilization. Recently, however, I’ve been playing a lot of apps on my phone and my Kindle.

One game I bought, Majesty, had me totally hooked until I discovered one of the enemies I was supposed to fight were the Harpy Feminists. (Pause for eyelid-straining eye roll.) I’m pretty aware of the sexism that exists in a lot of console and desktop platforms, but this was the first time I’d seen it up close. (The Sims and Civilization are many things, but they’re not sexist.) Where have you seen examples of women being made to feel less than welcome in your gaming experiences? Did you do anything about it?

I sent a strongly-worded email to the developer, but I didn’t hear anything back.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

56 replies on “Lunchtime Poll: Gaming Experiences and Harpies”

The really annoying thing about that stupid ‘plot’ in Majesty (strain from eyerolling was a problem for me too), is that I don’t remember anything like that in the original PC game at all! Or in the recent sequel (which was ok, but had a ridiculous difficulty curve. I mean, straight from ‘amazingly easy’ to ‘dragon of doom’ via ‘you might get lucky and not die on this map if you play it often enough’). So the whole stupid he-man woman-haters club bollocks that they inserted into the mobile version was even more pointless and unnecessary and stupid. It wasn’t like they would ‘betraying the game’ to change it to be un-sexist (Duke Nukem, I’m looking at you). Ugh. Grrrrrrr.

ETA: Edited to clarify point.

I’ve been a huge Elder Scrolls fan since Morrowind and both Morrowind and Oblivion have major issues relating to female gamers. Morrowind allows you to play as either gender, but the opening cinematic text assumes right off the bat that the PC is a guy. Because of course women would not be interested in playing an epic hero saving the world? Oblivion does a much better job of accomodating female players, but there’s still a very telling omission. At the end of the main quest, your character receives a unique suit of armor. And they didn’t make a female design for this armor. If your character is a girl and you put it on, your physique appears to be male. Because girls are such wimps that they would never actually finish the main quest? Argh.

OMG Roller Coaster Tycoon!!!  I use to play the shit out of that game.  One of my favorite things to do was make my little people puke.

Let’s see, what else?  I played a bunch of PC games growing up, the two I remember most are Monkey Island and Quest for Glory.  We also had a super Nintendo (and then a 64) so there was a lot of Mario, Kirby, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong. Good times. My brother got Ocarina of Time as a gift when I was about 12, but I’m the one that got into it and beat it.  I’ve liked Zelda ever since. Then there was my next door neighbor, she had a Playstation – so I got into a lot of different games with her including Final Fantasy…

Mr. Nonsense and I play a lot of platform games together – unfortunately our PlayStation 3 is dead so that has left us with our Wii.  We’ve tried playing other games together and it just doesn’t work. His skill level is far far above mine when it comes to anything in 3rd of 1st person view.  Hell, I don’t play 1st person games when I’m by myself, I’m TERRIBLE at them.  I’m really jumpy and it’s just not fun.  The one exception to this rule is Portal.

  Hell, I don’t play 1st person games when I’m by myself, I’m TERRIBLE at them.  I’m really jumpy and it’s just not fun.  The one exception to this rule is Portal.

I thought I was the only one! 1st person view is the one big reason I have a hard time getting into Oblivion. (Well, that and thinking that the game isn’t actually fun, but that’s beside the point)

I got the Orange Box thinking, “Oh, Half Life 2 is supposed to be really good, and I’ve heard great things about Portal. I want Portal, so why not get this and have other good games to play, too?”

For some reason, I didn’t mind it in Portal. But Half Life 2 scared the shit out of me. I was terrible at it. And I didn’t like that people were shooting at me.

Ha, no.  Definitely not the only one. Mr. Nonsense laughs his half off when he watches me play 1st person games.  I actually adamantly refused to play Portal at first.  I heard it was 1st person and I was like, “Uh-no, I don’t think so.”

Half Life 2. Ha – hahahaha.  I played that for all of a minute.  I don’t do shooting games. Actually, back when Mr. Nonsense and I were long distance we once played Half Life together and after he killed me about 5 times I spent the rest of the time finding spots to hide from him. He got so pissed.  It was awesome. He never asked me to play again. But yeah, we have Steam so I occasionally get roped into trying some random game per Mr. Nonsense’s request.

I had to play the Mass Effect demo to confirm it was a 3rd person shooter before I even considered trying it. Now I’m waiting until the end of the semester.

I do want to try Skyrim, but I don’t know if the 1st person view is going to be so hard to get used to again. I eventually got used to Oblivion…but most of what helped that was getting an invisibility spell so I never got surprised.


I know Oblivion didn’t scare me *too* often. It did the first time I played it, but I learned to recognize most signs. Also, I always played with the sound on, because when a monster spots you, the music changes. That way, I was never startled when I got attacked.

I bet Skyrim will be similar, but I don’t know for sure. I’ll let you know when I eventually get it!

Be warned: there are enemies in Skyrim that “wake up” when you get close. They scare me all the frakking time and it makes me mad because I am playing Elder Scrolls and not Silent Hill, damn it! However, there is a shout called Aura Whisper that will let you see ANY enemy for quite a long distance. I highly recommend acquiring that or any other Detect Life spell as soon as possible in an Elder Scrolls game.

I don’t game (used to play the Civ games back in undergrad, but don’t have the time for it now), but my SO does- generally RP games on online forums with friends from highschool and college that are in different parts of the country now. Generally, all these guys are good people, but one of his friends always plays women. But not just women- barely legal “girls” that are chesty, acrobatic types that do a lot of jumping around, giggling, and/or enjoy being in some state of undress. His characters generally alternate between the quirky sex kitten type and the dark hyper-agressive type. The SO and his other friends actually banned him from the last game because it was getting a little weird and incredibly unproductive. And really, it’s a good thing this particular guy lives on the other side of the country and I will never have to meet him. I refuse to hear about the game if he’s in on it anymore. His characters are insulting and more than a little creepy/disgusting.

I don’t think I ever would have played these games with the SO anyway, but now I definitely won’t.

The thing about gaming and gaming culture is, I don’t think it is necessarily worse in magnitude than, say, Hollywood, or a plethora of other male-dominated subcultures. But that doesn’t say much.

I keep gaming because I like it. I enjoy video games, table-tops, references to TV shows and trading card games I know about. For me, it is fun. I don’t think that all the negative things should necessarily keep you from trying it, because you might really like them. However, we all decide how to navigate the patriarchy in our own ways. If you ultimately decide that this isn’t something you want to take part in, there is no shame in that!

I guess the point I’m trying to get to is, don’t let this shit keep you from trying it, because you might like it. But if you don’t like it, or if you don’t want to have to deal with that part of the culture, by all means, don’t. We have to deal with enough sexism in our everyday lives anyway, why risk increasing that unless you are actually going to have fun?

It’s true. There are sexist asshats everywhere and in everything. There isn’t a summer I can remember that I haven’t gotten cat-called by a d00d in a moving car while I was out for a run [in fact that quota for this year has already been filled]. But that doesn’t stop me from running. But when I know the people with whom I’d most likely end up gaming with (SO and friends) and I know said unsavory guy might be part, and I know that any kind of direct interaction with unsavory guy would make me end up yelling at the computer/SO about his portrayal of women – I’m just not going to go there.

Plus: grad school. The day I have enough free time to dedicate to an extended game is a long long time from now.

Because the fucking stupid “SEXY!” armor keeps coming up, allow me to recommend the “Chicks in Chainmail” anthologies, edited by the one and only Esther Friesner, bad-ass and humorist extraordinaire. (Bra-burning? Not practical. Bra-melting? Yep!)

I’ve usually felt like an outsider to ‘gaming communities,’ and it’s completely discouraged me from being more active in playing games. When I was a pre-teen/teen, boys didn’t want girls around to play D&D. Poker was for guys. Having an Atari (since I was 9) didn’t make me acceptable, it made me odd. Even though I loved playing games at the arcade, it was still seen as something that you must be doing to impress boys, not because you liked doing it. So I looked on at others playing on the Nintendos, and became more of a back-seat gamer. When I had kids, suddenly there were all these dang buttons on the N64, and I had to help the kids get over big jumps or beat tricky puzzles, but it was still ‘for them,’ not for me. I did a few computer games, but mostly I just felt that I was still just an outsider, that I did not belong. And then, the games started telling me I was right. There had always been an element of sexism in some games, but it started going to a new level. And then, the online games and MMOs and console live games were so hostile, I just had no interest in putting myself through that. Some of it was helpful in being able to teach my boys about misogyny and how sexist some games are. But some of it was also the disappointment in seeing that one of them collected sexy pics of Harley Quinn and other game/comic characters. And some of it is about figuring out where lines are. For instance, if you are married and have cybersex with a character in Second Life, and create a fantasy sex life with other people (sending them emails, purchasing fake vaginas and bedroom furniture with real-world money), is that cheating?

There are just so many examples I’ve encountered of characters being sexist, and of women being treated poorly for trying to just have fun that I’d never be able to stop if I started… not to mention how women play tons of games, but not ‘real’ (real = ‘manly’) games because they like casual games. I think women would like other games more as a whole if, well, other games liked them back.

I think women would like other games more as a whole if, well, other games liked them back.

I definitely agree with this. It annoys me to no end when male gamers cry about how there just aren’t any women in gaming! Where are all teh ladiez??

It annoys me because there are two main responses:

1) There are a hell of a lot of women in gaming, but you just wouldn’t know it because so many keep quiet about it so that they can actually have fun while playing

2) There are a hell of a lot of women who would have liked to get into gaming, but gaming made it clear that they weren’t welcome.

Usually, the guys who ask the “where are all teh ladiez?” question have participated, in some way, in making those two responses the reality for so many women.

I almost wonder if the “where are all teh ladiez?” question comes from a point of fantasy. There are a ton of lady gamers out there, going to cons, etc., but most of us aren’t the sex kitten/lolita types. We are grounded, down to earth, sometimes socially awkward, and our goal is not to seduce men and give them their fantasies. Our goal is to game, have fun, and keep our self respect.

Since we’ve already discussed PC, mobile, and video gaming, I’m going to throw out tabletop RPGs as well. I’ve played these with a bunch of friends, and it is wildly entertaining! For instance, Mr. Dormouse is currently DMing a game for some guys where every time one of the characters gets into a combat situation, a golden Hot Pocket appears in his hand. (Mr. Dormouse is trying to find a way to work the game so that every time said character enters combat, he will also hear the Hot Pockets jingle in his head.)

So tabletop RPGs are a ton of fun, depending on the other players and who the DM is. However, all the manuals and handbooks for these games portray women in horribly sexualized ways. They all look like Ranger Elf Barbies. I look at the scanty clothes and think, why wouldn’t a fighter want her breasts covered? I want to protect those puppies!

Also, even though I have great guy friends that I’ve played with, I’ve also played with some guys that are real misogynists. I even asked the DM once (privately) if he could address the sexism on the game play. Fortunately, he did, and it came across better to the guys I was playing with than if I’d said it myself.

Oh god yes. And I’ve always given the side-eye to male gamers who decide that they want to play a female table-top character that, when described, sounds like something out of a book of fetishes.

Oh, then there’s also the male table-top gamers who put in female characters and make them entirely weak. Ugggh.

Dormouse, I wish we could hang out and play games. I’ve been trying to put together ideas for a campaign for my first time DMing (D&D 3.5!).

Yes, yes, yes! The worst is when a guy player “dominates” (the spell) a lady player. That happened to me once and I just about quit playing. It wasn’t even that the character who dominated mine was abusing that power, except to get loot and secrets, but being a woman and having my power taken away–even though it was just a game–made me want to scream. Being powerless in any way sucks.

Also, I would LOVE playing in your campaign! I’ve only played with guy DMs, so it would be a nice change of scene. :) You probably don’t live in Washington though… :S

PS. D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder are the way to go! :)

Freaking hell, I’d probably flip on that too. It might mostly depend on who the guy player was.

Nope, St. Louis is a far stretch from that. S’ok, we can still geek out about games and commiserate on how shitty the culture can be!

D&D 3.5 is by far my favorite out of any system I’ve played.

To make it worse, it was my husband. Boy did I give him hell for that! To be fair, I was playing a chaotic good oracle, and he was playing a chaotic evil necromancer, so it fit for the game play since I kept antagonizing his character in game, trying to get the rest of the party to turn on him. Then he made me carry his phylactery under the domination spell. Such a dick move. He finally understood why I was so pissed about it and worked out a way to remove the spell faster that would still work with the role playing, but man…I don’t think I’ll ever let him live that one down!

I think the only RP book I’ve come across where the women looked like they were more or less dressed appropriately is the Warhammer 40k Dark Heresy book.

It still has battle heels and breast cups guaranteed to drive any bladed weapon to the center of the chest where it will do the most damage, but at least that armor looks like it would protect you a bit.

I’ve seen Wrath of the Dragon God and it isn’t terrible, but the female costumes are still very WTF.

Nothing says barbarian like weird little chain-mail arm band thingies and lots of eyeliner.

Perhaps the best part is the commentary track with Lidda, Krusk, and Jozan.

I don’t play a lot of games, but I tend to like tactical role playing games, and so when I found out about The Banner Saga I was super stoked (see also, I majored in 2D animation).

In the forums people are geeking out and speculating about the games and there was a thread about the possibility of romance options. Someone brought up that they hoped the culture would treat romance in a way that emulated the Viking culture on which the game’s setting was based. I posted something to the effect of thanks, but no. Women in Viking culture got a shitty end of the stick. Insert several comments informing me of how women in Viking culture had it better then their contemporaries. To which I try and point out that their contemporaries did not set the bar high, and life still sucked for Viking women. Everyone keeps going on about how life was not so bad for the Norse ladies because they could get divorced and were entitled to an inheritance (never mind the exposing of infants led to a shortage of women, and they couldn’t refuse to marry someone in the first place if their father or brothers had given him the go ahead).

About this time the creators of the game (an all male team) chime in to say that they value “strong female characters,” and while they want to create a “believable viking culture without the female population being outright oppressed.” Friends, I don’t even know what the fuck that means. I have been trying to formulate a response to that which sounds intelligent and does not include multiple instances of the word fuck. I’m not there yet.

This is what I perpetually see in fantasy and/or historical games in general. They want the historicalness/fantasy setting historicalness to be believable, so they put in all the bits of patriarchal things…but then they don’t want to “show” outright oppression. So we’ve got this weird dual-system going where the culture is TOTALLY PATRIARCHAL AND SEXIST, but it doesn’t really “show” in the interactions as much as it really would.

This is my main problem with Dragon Age.

And this is also one of the reasons why I adore A Song of Ice and Fire, because it was one of the first fantasy settings I came across that embraced the reality of this being a very sexist environment, and it showed women being strong while negotiating that environment. (Hi, Catelyn, you’re awesome!) The Mists of Avalon also does an amazing job at this.


GRRM isn’t always the best writer when it comes to genuine portrayals of teenage girls, but I think he gets the portrayal of sexism spot-on. That’s why I end up adoring all the Stark women, because they’re all navigating the patriarchy in different ways. It feels very genuine to me.

My problem is that this is a fantasy setting. FANTASY. There are giants and centaurs running around. You cannot tell me that you so lack the creativity to readapt the society to show an more equal system for dealing with gender while still keeping the feel of the society you based it on. Warrior culture does not have to intrinsically favor men. Women on equal footing wouldn’t be any less ridiculous than having a centaur show up, surely?

This, a million times over. Shout it from the mountain tops. If you can write fire-breathing dragons into existence, do not try to tell me that you can’t write, say, sexual dimorphism out of existence. You can. You’ve just either chosen not to, or have enough privilege that it didn’t occur to you to do so.

I think this could be a craft project/group activity for the Perseph team! Everyone should send a letter to the Majesty developer (in various tones and glitters).

The only PC game I’ve ever played is Myst (let’s all get in the way-back machine!) and at the end I was PISSED that there was no resolution. Fuckers! I LOVED it though. Fucking Loved the layout and skills needed. Just that stupid ending. GIVE ME RESOLUTION!

Anyway. I’m not good with computers. That is all.


Oh, I could talk endlessly about how video game culture makes it clear that I’m not welcome in its midst. I’m mostly a PC gamer. (I have an Xbox, but I only play single-player on it) I’ve played MMOs for years, on-and-off. It first started when I began to use female characters as my avatars. Sometimes people would love to comment about how hot my character was, or to sexually harass me. I even had one jackass give me his phone number…after he had been stealing my kills for fifteen minutes straight. Between that and the plethora of lovely jokes about how women just don’t play video games (for example, the phrase: G.I.R.L. = guy in real life), the fetizisation of geeky women, and perpetual insistence that women cause trouble for simply being female and playing games…well, I could go on and on on how video gaming culture makes it clear I’m not welcome.

And then the games themselves. Oh, the games. In RPGs, I tend to go out of my way to play female characters when I can, because that’s probably the only way I’m going to get to see strong female characters. Not only do the games tend to have the Princess Lea syndrome of there only being one woman in the entire goddamn universe, if there are women, they don’t tend to be very strong characters. Oh, and if they are strong characters, they are either 1) incredibly sexualized, or 2) their strongness only serves to make them hotter. Or both. Usually both.

I have a lot of Feelings about this topic. I don’t think that gaming culture is necessarily any more sexist than overall culture. Movies aren’t any better. (I do think, though, that games are more whitewashed than movies, but that’s another whole rant…) But since gaming is so near and dear to my heart, I can go on about it for a long while.

Anyway, Civilization is crack. I’ve been playing that shit since I was a kid. Has anyone played Alpha Centauri? It’s an old game that used the Civ II engine. I have wasted hundreds of hours playing that game.

I know how you feel. Sometimes I think half the reason I’m not more involved in gaming is because I don’t have enough fire proof suits to wade through the flaming bullshit that comes along with trying to explain what is wrong with the way women are portrayed in games.

Yeah. I have a tendency to avoid fighting that battle in actual gaming-culture spaces. Gaming culture has a sort of inferiority complex when it comes to constructions of masculinity, since the version that is embraced is different than what is seen in overall culture. (Although I think it could be legitly argued that the portrayals of men IN video games tend to fit the constructions of masculinity. Sometimes in horribly horribly sexist ways. I’m lookin’ at you, Duke Nukem) So there ends up being even more resistance to acknowledging that the culture is shitty to women.

I fight the battle in more covert ways. For one, when I play MMOs I am upfront about being female, and I will correct people if they address me with a male pronoun. And for two, I try to call people on their bullshit as they say it, if I feel safe enough to do so.

I was reading about a new one, Terra, where the female character’s underwear is less revealing then the armor.  It’s like wtf?  Who would go into battle wearing metal pasties?  First you would freeze your butt off and then you would die at the first battle.  It is sad when developers totally pander to the male population in completely unrealistic ways.

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