Feminism in Gaming
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11-09-2016, 09:24 AM (This post was last modified: 11-09-2016 09:40 AM by EvolutionKills.)
RE: Feminism in Gaming
Case Example - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Pretty good, but could use some work.

Bethesda's last foray into their seminal Elder Scrolls series was a great game, one of the best that year (in a year that saw the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Uncharted 3, Dark Souls, and Portal 2).

Be forewarned that I'm going to potentially spoil the shit out of some plot points in Skyrim for the purposes of this evaluation.

First off, Skyrim rarely objectifies female sexuality visually. There are almost none of typical tropes at play here; no needless strippers or sex workers, no chainmail bikinis, or suggestive poses for the express sake of titillation. Female combatants are as heavily armored as their male counterparts, and without the need to show off their cleavage. The light fur armors that show of a woman's midriff, also leave the men almost topless.

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Arguably the 'worst offenders' are the Vampire Armor and Nocturnal’s robes.

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This doesn't bother me. It's only worn by vampires, which are few and far between. Plus, they're vampires, which are almost intrinsically tied to human sexuality in popular mythos (and the Elder Scrolls does not buck that trend). In game, it's also a light armor, and it's stats reflect as much. So it's basically an armored corset, with about as much protection (comparable to the scraped together ad hoc Fur Armor sets) as you'd expect from such a flimsy piece of protection.

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Nocturnal is an Daedra, effectively a god, so it can wear whatever in the hell it wants. Also, my use of gender neutral pronouns is purposeful, because Daedra are genderless. While some may prefer a male avatar (Mehrunes Dagon, Molag Bal) or a female avatar (Azura, Nocturnal), others are more than happy to be either as needed or desired (Boethia, Mephala), while others eschew a humanoid avatar entirely (Peryite, Hermaeus Mora). Given the Daedra's penchant for toying with mortal affairs for their own enjoyment, if Nocturnal is choosing to manifest as a suggestively clad woman, it is for its own benefit. Nocturnal is operating from a position of power, and it sets the terms of the player's limited interaction with it.

There is also the fact that on the whole Bethesda showed a level of restraint, creating a standard for males and female faces where few could be described as ‘pretty’, and almost certainly not ‘glamorous’. A quick look at the Skyrim Nexus or any other repository of mods for the game will show you what the game is capable if, if you’d rather the women in your fantasy game look like they jumped out of a Boris Vallejo painting or a Victoria's Secret catalogue. The people Bethesda populated Skyrim with are lumpy, scarred, wrinkled, and dirty. Their faces help show that the world of Skyrim is a lived in one, with a hardship and adversity that leaves its marks on people.

[Image: ryana_by_vicki73-d6oz19z.jpg]

^ Bethesda could have done this, but didn’t. Good on them. ^

What about the place of women in the world? Near as I can tell, Skyrim is rather egalitarian as a whole. There are both male and female Jarls, the most powerful heads of state right below the crowned ruler of Skyrim, themselves right below the leader of the Empire. Currently the official head of state in Skyrim is the Imperially backed High Queen Elisif. There are also other women in positions of power, authority, and respect; such as Maven Black-Briar, Karliah the Nightingale, Aela the Huntress, and Serana.

So is everything fine a dandy then? Well, yes and no. Taking a look at specific examples can help illustrate what works, what doesn't, and how things could be improved in the future.

First off, let's look at Elisif, the High Queen of Skyrim.

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Well, how did she become queen? Her husband was killed in a duel with Ulfric Stormcloak, who arguably cheated by using a Thu'um (dragon shout, itself a mostly lost and forgotten art) to rip the late High King Torygg into pieces. So while she is queen, she earned it by marrying well and then becoming a widow. While she is in principle the most powerful figure in Skyrim, it's made clear that she's not the real power in control; rather it is Imperial General Tullius with his experience and the backing of his legions that truly holds power in court. Elisif knows this, as do the other Jarls and Ulfric himself. Indeed it's a point of contention for the Jarls who lean more in favor of the Stormcloaks or who open support them, that Elisif is a weak and ineffectual leader in comparison to Ulfric. Even if you do pursue the path of the Imperial Legion or the traitorous Stormcloaks, at the final battle, it’s not Elisif leading the charge or defending the battlements. Those roles are relegated to Ulfric and Tullius; a warrior queen Elisif is not. If you're looking for a genuinely powerful female character, you probably aren't going to find it in High Queen Elisif, unless you're looking for quiet and noble stoicism in the face of adversity. However, if this was the designer's intent all along, I fully support their decision to craft her as such.

Karliah. Betrayer, lover, savior, Nightingale.

[Image: SR-npc-Karliah.jpg]

Once one of the Nightingales (a trio of Nocturnal’s chosen), she was kicked out of the Thieves Guild and hunted after being accused of killing her lover and former Guildmaster, Gallus. While she does make a comeback with the help of the player, indeed even saving the player from an otherwise lethal betrayal, unfortunately her defining characteristic is still her victimhood. The loss of her lover and her betrayal at the hands of the current Guildmaster, Mercer Frey, are her driving motivations. She isn’t trying to rise up to take leadership because she desires it, or thinks she’s more capable, or otherwise wants to remove a corrupt figurehead. She is apparently motivated because of the loss of a man she loved, cause by a man they (Karliah and Gallus) had trusted who ultimately betrayed them both. Does she get her revenge? Yes. Does she clear her reputation and rightfully reassert her position as a Nightingale? Yes. Is this basically just a return to her pre-betrayal status quo? Yes.

Karliah doesn't take up the mantle of Guildmaster, even though she’s arguably the most qualified member left with the most experiences. Here I have to give Bethesda a pass of sorts, because it’s the player’s expectation to eventually become Guildmaster themselves; a precedent set by previous games in the series. So while Karliah’s inability to do more than break even is disappointing, it’s also mostly done in the service of player expectation. The power vacuum she creates cannot be filled by her, because it’s filled by the player instead. While I wish that Karliah had in some way gotten further ahead rather than just breaking even, and that her motivations maybe weren’t so reactionary (and that the entire Thieves Guild questline itself wasn’t a clutherfuck of nonsense), I get it. They tried, and made something serviceable, but it definitely needed more work all around. Even in this, a better take on Karliah should take a back seat to a better take on the Thieves Guild proper. She certainly could be better, but given how low the bar is set for the Thieves Guild as a whole, she doesn't come out badly; but conversely, she’s hardly an exemplar of a strong and independent female character.

Aela the Huntress. Taskmaster, shield-sister, werewolf, Companion.

[Image: 2106468-aela.png]

She is one of my favorite NPC’s in the game, with only a few minor things stopping her from being really great. Right off the bat, she is a member of the Companions, an ancient Fighter’s Guild analogue that can trace its lineage back thousands of years to the founding of Skyrim itself. While they certainly do appear to welcome any and all comers with sufficient determination, skill, and heart. She is one of three women out of the ten members (excluding the player), and the only female member out of the five elite members of The Circle (those companions ‘blessed’ with the beast blood and able to transform into werewolves).

Visually, she is very distinctive in her Ancient Nord Armor set and green war paint. Out of the entire game, she arguably comes the closest to tripping the classic ‘chainmail bikini’ trope, but I think the designers have shown a remarkable level of restraint. The armor is very rare, with Aela being the only NPC equipped with it outside of the risen Draguer (read: ancient nord zombies), adding to both her visual appeal and uniqueness. The armor itself, while somewhat impractical, shies away from typically overt cleavage by holding the top together with armor plates. Instead the most suggestive thing about it is the exposed lower back and sides, revealing just a hint of sideboob. Besides that, it’s sports hefty pauldrons, gauntlets, and sleeves covering most of the arms. While it does have a skirt, it is adorned with additional layers of chainmail and armor plates for protection. While I think it really stretches the line of a heavy armor set, it certainly could have been worse. Overall I think it’s a nice design, that if anything, could maybe use a little more covering around the sides and back of the torso, if we’re being really nitpicky. If you ask her, she’s there because the women of her family have always been Companions, and it’s a tradition she takes pride in continuing. This also helps rationalize the fact that she’s wearing what is, by most accounts, an incredibly outdated set of armor. She’s not wearing that armor because she’s showing off for our benefit, but rather because she takes pride in her ancestry and is honoring them by using the same tools they did to prove her worth. Whether or not her ancestors took pride in their sideboobs is another question. But for the purposes of a large open world RPG, it seems easy enough to connect those dots.

She is your elder in the Companions, and when you eventually get inducted in The Circle, it's her blood that serves as the catalyst for your lycanthropy. She acts as a quest giver, sending you out on jobs to go clear out monsters and dangerous fauna. However progress far enough, and she unfortunately falls into a recurring pattern; she is driven by the loss of a man. The activities of The Circle have not gone unnoticed, they have attracted the attention of a group of werewolf hunters by the name of The Silver Hand. On the night of your first transformation you lose control of yourself and eventually black out. Later you regain consciousness only to find yourself outside, far from the relative safety of Whiterun, almost naked, and with Aela watching over you. She informs you that the nearby fort is actually occupied by The Silver Hand, and that this would be a great opportunity to strike a blow against them; not only that, but Skjor (another member of the Circle, and Aela’s confidant) has already gone ahead. After clearing out the fort and killing all members of The Silver Hand, you find that Skjor is dead; overwhelmed by the sheer numbers arrayed against him. This now becomes the primary motivation for Aela going forward, as all of her quests for you now will be striking back at The Silver Hand in revenge. On the plus side however, these raids are undertaken unbeknownst to the Harbinger of the Companions, Kodlak. So her quest for retribution is tempered by the fact that she gets bonus bad girls points for keeping it a secret, which I did appreciate. These raids however also trigger a retaliation, which itself leads to the death of Kodlak; adding another death onto her current quest for revenge. When it is all said and done, after Kodlak has been both avenged and his spirit freed to enter the plains of Sovngarde, Aela too ends up right where she started. She acquiesces to the spirit of Kodlak naming you Harbinger in his stead. Again, the most qualified person to take up the role of leadership is passed over for the position. While this is done, once again, in service of player expectation (becoming de facto head of the Companions); is it again disappointing that Aela’s arc consists of returning to the status quo.

Interesting side note. While you can also cure yourself and the two remaining members of the Circle (Vilkas and Farkas) of their lycanthropy, Aela refuses to part with the beast blood. She prefers the life of the hunt over thoughts of Sovngarde, with you being entirely unable to persuade her otherwise. So, at least she has that going for her.

Serena. Prisoner, daughter, traitor, vampire lord.

[Image: SR-npc-Serana_04.jpg]

Serena was introduced with the Dawnguard DLC, as she’s not part of the base game. Which is a shame, because she’s probably the best damn female NPC in the series. Right off the bat, her Vampire Lord attire is arguably less sexually provocative than the more rank file Vampire Armor worn by lesser members. I’ve already said my peace on that, so let's move on. Your first encounter with Serena is after unknowingly freeing her from her stone prison, while you’re on a mission for the Dawnguard; themselves a group dedicated to hunting down and destroying Serena’s kinsmen, the vampires of Tamriel. This leads to a somewhat awkward conversation between her (a vampire) and the player (in the employ of vampire hunters), where she is surprised to hear of the Empire, dating the start of her magical stasis and confinement to over 4,200 years prior. A truce is agreed upon, and you help escort her to her father’s estate, a long forgotten castle on a small island of the north western coast of Skyrim. There she is reunited with her narcissistic father, Lord Harkon, who even after a 4000 year long hiatus cannot hide the fact that he’s happier to see the return of the Elder Scroll in Serena’s possession more so than the safe return of his own daughter.

While after this point, the plot splits as you either side with the vampires of Castle Volkihar or return to Fort Dawnguard. Either way you will eventually be confronted by Serena, where she confides in you her distrust of her father and her desire to stop his maniacal schemes. Not only that, but she also spirited away with her Elder Scroll (if you’re with the Dawnguard). Now this either takes place within her father’s center of power, Castle Volkihar, where such treasonous thought are dangerous to voice within potential earshot; or else at Castel Dawnguard, where Serena has had to brave the dangers of daylight and your own armed to the teeth compatriots, in order to get her message across. From here on out, she is effectively a traitor, rebelling against her father and his plans for her and The Elder Scrolls. From there you’re on the lookout for a few Macguffins, and the tools needed to use said Macguffins; and throughout Serena remains an integral companion. Fast forward a bit, and in the search for one such Macguffin (in this case, yet another Elder Scroll), she comes forward with a possible solution. The plan is to find her mother, Valerica, the one who had placed her in stasis to begin with, and learn the location of the Elder Scroll they seek; and hopefully, it’s already in her possession. The two of you quickly deduce that the best place to start looking might actually be in Castle Volkihar itself, in the abandoned garden Valerica used to tend. This is indeed the case, with the two of you discovering a portal to a plane of Oblivion known as the Soul Cairn. Here you are offered the chance to be turned into a vampire by Serena, as a means of ensuring your protection; as beings with souls cannot enter the plane. Vampires have none, but she can also trap part of your soul inside a Soul Gem, greatly weakening you but otherwise allowing you to pass through unturned.

You do eventually work your way through the Soul Cairn to Valerica, discovering that not only is she alive and in possession of the missing Elder Scroll, but that she’s almost as fanatical as Lord Harkon is in her pursuit of her goals (namely, countering her husband’s mad schemes). This has, of course, done wonders for tearing apart Serena’s family, and she lets her mother know it. Serena does ultimately stay the course and even mends their relationship a bit, after having some time to talk to one another. She accompanies you while out to gather another important Macguffin, Auriel’s Bow. Here Serena learns that the supposed prophecy that her father is obsessed over is ultimately the mad scheme of a former high priest to a sun god. This priest is himself one of only two remaining members of a race of snow elves, long thought dead for over millennia. This priest, Vyrthur, had contracted vampirism after being attacked by an underling; after which instead of protecting him, the god of the sun turned his back on him. So set the stage for Vyrthur plan for revenge on a god. Being unable to attack such a being directly, he decided instead to destroy his symbol of power, the sun itself. Thus the prophecy about how to destroy the power of the sun, which would allow vampires to walk freely upon the surface of Tamriel at all time; and thus the origination of the source of obsession for Serena’s father. She comes face to face with the architect of this petty plan for revenge, that has engulfed and so consumed the lives of both of her parents, and destroyed any semblance of family they might have had.

With Vyrthur dead and the last Macguffin in hand, it is time to confront Serena’s father. Once again, she stays the course; even if it means siding with the Dawnguard and aiding in the destruction of all of her kinsman inside Castle Volkihar. Inside the castle’s cathedral, the two of you, side by side, finally confront Lord Harkon directly. Here too Serena plays a critical role, helping you defeat her own father, and finally putting an end to any plans to blot out the sun permanently. Once her father is defeated, Serena’s mother is free to come out of hiding inside the plane of Soul Cairn; allowing the two of them to have a chance at a life free of Harkon’s influence. Serena has gone from a prisoner and a pawn, a piece in the machinations of others who would seek to use her for their own ends; to being her own person, ready and able to make hard decisions and see them through to the end. This does include the possibility of her seeking out a cure for her own vampirism, no small feat in her case. Serena wasn’t just a typical vampire, one who acquired the affliction from another vampire. Rather her and her mother are ‘Daughters of Coldharbour’, named so after the Oblivion plane of the Daedric prince Molag Bal, the originator of vampirism on Tamriel (much in the same way the Daedric prince Hircine, Lord of the Hunt, is responsible for lycanthropy). So she’s not just a vampire, she’s a pureblood vampire, turned by Molag Bal itself. She can do all this with some help from the player and the right words of encouragement at the proper times. Still, she has a very satisfying character arc to partake in, one where you can see her as she attempts to take back control of her life and ultimately succeeds in freeing herself of the fate her father attempted to shackle her with.

Overall, my only real criticism as that Serena is such an exceptional standout, it serves to further highlight how much lacking almost everyone else is (male and female) by comparison. Still, one of the single best NPC’s in the entire Elder Scrolls series is an assertive and determined woman, and that’s a win.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of things.

Probably the single worst example in Skyrim concerns Haelga’s Bunkhouse, and the associated quests therein. In the southeastern region of Skyrim resides the hold of Riften, and within the walls of this hold is the aforementioned Haelga’s Bunkhouse. The place is a flophouse of sorts for the local laborers, owned and operated by the aptly named Haelga. She doesn't run the place alone however, she relies upon the efforts of Svana Far-Shield, a girl she took in after both her parents died. Svana says the days are long and hard, more akin to slavery than a job; plus the patrons grope her and say the nastiest things. Not only that, but she also thinks Haelga takes her worship of Dibella a little too seriously. Turns out that Haelga is an ardent follower of Dibella, the goddess of love, art, and passion. One of the ways she expresses this is by enjoying many sexual partners, and by Svana’s count, at least three in the last month alone. If you agree to help Svana get back at Haelga for the terrible conditions Haelga has placed her in, her bright idea is to threaten to slut shame Haelga in an effort to knock her down a peg or two. As it turns out whenever Haelga shares her bed with a man, she bestows a particular Dibellan token upon them. From here you can pick-pocket the tokens, or confront the men directly. Speaking them leads to potential dialogue like this.

“Look, it was one night, okay? I think she slipped something in my drink. I haven't even been back to the Bunkhouse since. Just take this damn thing. I never want to see it again.”

“If word gets around that I bedded her, they'll lose all respect for me at the meadery. Take the mark if you want it. It's not worth all this hassle anyway.”

“I don't want a bad reputation in Riften, but Haelga's out of control. She wanted to try it in the stables so I said yes. If you want the mark that badly then go ahead and take it.”

Upon returning to Haelga with the three tokens in hand, you proceed to blackmail her. To which she responds "What? How... where did you get these?" Obviously, she doesn't want anyone else to know about it, especially Svana. She will give you a magic scroll to keep you quiet.

"If word got out that I'm practicing my Dibellan Arts in Riften, they'll run me out of town."

Now I don’t know if this is representative of Skyrim (or just Riften) being more conservative of sex in general, or whether it’s indicative of a double standard being applied to women who enjoy multiple partners. With a sample size of one, it hard to tell. That being said, there is a temple to Dibella in another hold in Skyrim, complete with an entire priesthood. In their case, they are a well respected and integral part of the community and it’s power structure, their counsel is sought by and held in esteem by their respective Jarl.

[Image: tumblr_n5y1giI0wX1r6qglpo1_500.jpg]

Of course, what an even better question is, was this quest even intentionally designed to be a deliberate commentary on sexual politics in Skyrim? Or is the quest itself the result of an assumption of the designers, a case where none of them second guessed their creative decisions? That this quest line had managed to get into the game without anybody on staff or in play testing stopping to ask “Really guys? You are going to get what you need out of her by shaming her sexual habits? Really?” I don’t know, nor am I going to go pointing fingers like I have an answer. While it might be nice to have one, I think the questions that this quest raises are important in and of themselves. I support the creative freedom of the team to take the game in whatever direction they chose, even if it’s to show how regressive some aspects of culture in Skyrim can be (see also: racism against the elves by the Stormcloaks). Still, the whole ordeal comes off as very skeevy, especially in light of how egalitarian Skyrim mostly appears to be (no female guards aside). And if this was unintentional, then by raising awareness and asking such questions we can help bring it to the attention of Bethesda; who hopefully can take such criticisms constructively moving forward, and be more thoughtful in their future projects, resulting is a better game for everybody.

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11-09-2016, 12:00 PM
RE: Feminism in Gaming
EvolutionKills: I have a question. Are you a gamer? I mean like are you playing computer games a lot and many of them? That is a very important thing.
I am not saying that your opinions are invalid if you are not but so far you are stating opinions that are from the outside and you have not made any good points that feminism actually has a place in gaming.
No one is being treated unfairly. Quite the contrary, everybody is equal in games. Truly equal because you do have strong and weak and sexy and ugly from every perspective: Be it the sex, the physical trates, intelligence, balance between monster and human, skin colours, importance inside the game, etc...
You can't go and pick three games and be like "but here they do x and they say y". In the end, it all evens out and the problem is actually in-existent.

I understand, from what you have discussed in this thread so far, that you do feel strongly for feminism. But see, there are places where it is needed and places where it is definitely not needed. Help oppressed women in Muslim countries, help get rid of female circumcision Africa, stop the killing of female babies after birth in India, help to give a voice to those who need one if you want to help justice. Remember the big things that feminists used to do for women > a right to vote, a right to divorce, a right to work, etc... There are still places in this world, where all this hasn't been accomplished. So before picking on things that really don't need picking on, pick on those that do.

Back to the gaming itself. Let me try to sum it up:

1. Everything in a game is a plot device
2. Women and men in games are sometimes too sexy or too naked
3. Women and men in games have sometimes too many mucles or look too trained
4. Women and men in games often have very dumb dialogues and stupid story lines
5. Women and men in games are sometimes really horrible people and sometimes really nice
6. Women and men in games often need rescuing from either the opposite sex or a group.
7. Women and men in games are often very smart characters that find solutions and save the day.
8. Gaming is a business and caters towards gamers (who happen to like all those things for the most part)
9. Generally female gamers have not complained so far (if we exclude THAT woman person)

Did I forget anything?

"Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4" - George Orwell (in 1984)
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11-09-2016, 12:58 PM
RE: Feminism in Gaming
(11-09-2016 12:00 PM)Leela Wrote:  I understand, from what you have discussed in this thread so far, that you do feel strongly for feminism. But see, there are places where it is needed and places where it is definitely not needed. Help oppressed women in Muslim countries, help get rid of female circumcision Africa, stop the killing of female babies after birth in India, help to give a voice to those who need one if you want to help justice. Remember the big things that feminists used to do for women > a right to vote, a right to divorce, a right to work, etc... There are still places in this world, where all this hasn't been accomplished. So before picking on things that really don't need picking on, pick on those that do.
That's the problem with third-wave feminists like Anita and EK. The aim of their cause was fulfilled when men and women achieved overall equality in Western societies so they have to invent new feminist issues to stay relevant. Among those non-issues are the wage gap myth, the made-up college campus rape statistics, so-called "manspreading" and female representation in XYZ. Meanwhile women in other countries are still suffering under actual oppressive patriarchies like the Saudi Arabian government. They've really got their priorities straight.

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11-09-2016, 04:52 PM
RE: Feminism in Gaming
Oh I want to add another point.
So let's take League of Legends, just because I happen to play that a lot and am most familiar with that one.
There is pretty much an equal amount of male and females there. I am currently working on an actual list in a google doc. In the doc I list name, and certain characterstics (eg. Sex, skin colour, character, body type, race, etc)
It will take a while because I am very busy with work and my youtube, but I am gonna link it somehwere once I am done with it.

Anyway just to make a few points too:
So a point that has been made was the thing that every female looks the same and only in male characters the body types vary. An example was Gragas.

Here is a picture of Gragas:
[Image: Gragas_OriginalSkin_Ch.jpg]
No one, literally no one is sitting on their computer with the thought of "Oh today I want to play someone who is fat, so I am going to pick Gragas" No fucking way. People pick Gragas because of the abilities he has and for strategic reasons in the game. I personally never every pick Gragas because he is not my play style whatsoever.
The fact that he is fat is just a gimmick. And people in-game will not even address him by his name. They are going like "Fat guy no ult" instead of "Gragas no ult". If someone dared to do that about a female character, all the feminists would jump on it like "how dare you reduce her to her looks". It's ridiculous, come on...

Now to make a point of the slender sexy female body type. Here are the two probably hottest female characters in LoL.

Here is a picture of Rek'Sai.
[Image: RS_WP.jpg]

And here is a picture of Illaoi
[Image: maxresdefault.jpg]

And just because it is so fun. Here is one of the male characters who is completely normally portrayed too, because all we want from video games are normal situations with normal people who do normal things. Phantasy and fun are overrated anyway.

This is a picture of Taric.
[Image: Taric_FifthAge_Splash_Wallpaper.jpg]

(I feel accomplished now because I have posted some pictures of video game characters too)

"Freedom is the freedom to say that 2+2=4" - George Orwell (in 1984)
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11-09-2016, 05:42 PM
RE: Feminism in Gaming
Let's not forget that sex sells. Certain games cater to a certain audience.
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11-09-2016, 05:47 PM
RE: Feminism in Gaming
Personally, i can't play any game with a female protagonist. I play games to escape reality and immerse myself as the character (if its that kind of game, obviously a strategy game wouldn't apply). i However, i don't mind having an attractive companion hanging around.
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