How can I stop making sexist games?

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#31 Post by Caveat Lector » Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:31 pm

Eh, true dat. Though it reminds me of this one article I came across where the headline was "University teaches course on Twilight" and everyone in the comments flipped out and ranted about how this was the biggest sign Twilight had ruined everything...except in the article itself, it turned out the class was about deconstructing Twilight and its themes. So yeah.

Back on-topic...

I suppose something I'd like to see more of in regards to female characters is giving female characters a wide variety of experiences and emotions to react to, and more situations to place them in apart from being the obligatory love interest.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#32 Post by E-night » Mon Sep 22, 2014 6:35 pm

There isn't a proper way to write women beyond making them interesting characters (I am not even going to say well rounded because women can be side characters too).

Perhaps a genre idea or something more specific about what you want to write next would help. Or just want kind of character you want. Do you want a female villainess? An antagonist? A hero? a Sidekick? A love interest ? A child? A mother? a sister? a cousin? A friend?
What's the genre? romance game? a western? a sci-fi? slice of life? Fantasy?

If you ask for how do I write a female character properly - you are just going to get the answer 'to make her interesting' because your question is that broad. 7

For example while I think non violence is an admirable traits, I don't want to see them in the Bride from Kill Bill, because it's a revenge/slasher/action movie and that trait would not make sense, and I certainly don't want to seem them in Azula from avatar either, because she is a villain and being overlord jr. is pretty much her thing.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#33 Post by kitsubasa » Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:01 pm

I think the suggestion of 'just make lots of female characters' was brought up earlier without much detail... but a good way of making sure your fiction isn't coming off as sexist can be to try and keep a 1:1 ratio of male:female characters, unless your setting absolutely firmly decides that you have to have more of one or the other.

So hey, how does that help? Well, a major issue with lots of genres/stories doesn't just come in the quality of the writing for female characters, it comes in their quantity and variety. You see, having one great woman... is great! But if you're representing a world, you should probably have a few women in it, and to make the story functional, they should probably be acting as different characters.

While it might sound corny, and like it's a good route to cartoonish characters, one method that can be quite interesting is creating an equal amount of female characters to your male characters, and then polarising them completely. And I don't mean in the sense of 'this one is tsundere, this one is kuudere, they BOTH LOVE THE PROTAGONIST'. I mean, make a grumpy soldier, make a stoic housewife, make a lovesick poet, make a melodramatic businesswoman. Make them relate to the rest of your cast in different ways: make some of them interested in men, some of them career-driven, some of them in love with their art, some of them interested in other women. Make some elegant and feminine, some nerdy, some butch. Be prepared to make them ugly or argumentative or old.

Treat them all like they are people with stories and reasons. If you do have a boy-crazy character... why? Did someone tell her as a child she'd grow up alone, and now she tries to defy that? If you have an aggressive, man-hating old lady... why? Did she grow up when being an unmarried woman was seen as a failure, and take abuse for it for her whole life?

Give them all humanity and give them all something to do, even if it's as simple as 'helps protagonist with broken printer at work' or 'runs the bar the protagonist goes to each night'. If you have a lot of women and if they're women that have different positive traits/flaws/lifestyles, then they'll help assure that you as a writer aren't using one or two female characters as a mouthpiece to show what you love/loath in women. No one woman can stop sexist writing alone. A whole lot of them can help.

From there it's a matter of... don't abuse them all in gendered ways, or make them all girlfriends for your protagonist. : I But seriously just fill your works with female characters and a lot of the rest will flow from that. There will always be minor things that come off as sexist but most of the major stuff can be avoided just through sheer variety and quantity.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#34 Post by meiri » Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:31 pm

Here is the advice I can give you:
1. The Bechdel Test. Even if your game is about romance, it's obviously possibly.
2. Treat your characters equally. Make them human. Give the females the same amount of personality, desires, wishes, fears, and drives as all your male characters. This is VERY important. If you level them, and give them reason, it will help.
3.You see, when I first started teaching myself to write, I knew one thing: Avoid "Mary Sues." Now, the idea of a "Mary Sue" that I knew, was the perfect, gorgeous character that saved everyone, was always perfect and did EVERYTHING right. Nowadays, I see a lot of females that are too "timid" and "clumsy" to save anyone, and never do ANYTHING right unless it involves a boy. My point here is: I'm sick of clumsy being a "flaw" when it's something I see used as an endearing quality, often in sexual content. Make your character confident.
4. Make your character consistent. Do not have a character that's confident with her friends and shy around boys (or vice versa_ unless you have a reasonable backstory. It's a personality I've seen abused again and again and it's tiring.
5. Define them by a personality OTHER than being female. This is done a lot with characters that identify as LGBTQIA+. However, it's also done with females. Give them life.

I'd like to say that I think the important step is acknowledging that your characters may have been formed from a sexist point of view.
Also, the only game of yours I have played is RiD, and here is what I'll say: Overall, I enjoyed it, but I did feel like Maddie was flat. She seemed to only have much personality when around male characters.

Either way, I wish you luck with this, as this can be a touchy topic, be definitely should be addressed.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#35 Post by Green Glasses Girl » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:04 pm

meiri wrote:4. Make your character consistent. Do not have a character that's confident with her friends and shy around boys (or vice versa, unless you have a reasonable backstory. It's a personality I've seen abused again and again and it's tiring.
...Except that is a perfectly valid thing. It's normal IRL for someone to be chill around their friends and embarrassed to talk to the object of their affections or same/opposite sex. You can be confident in some areas, and completely embarrassed in others. You can comfortably fit into a huge group of people who are your friends, but be completely horrified to stand in a group of people you hardly know. You can have some personality traits that are stronger than others, but no one is limited to one entirely. That's what makes people human.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#36 Post by PyTom » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:16 pm

A random thought, perhaps not terribly constructive:

The Bechdel test might be useful for television and movies, but it's not relevant to visual novels. That's due to the nature of the medium, and how we (at least usually) tell stories with it. Visual Novels are one of the few first-person visual mediums out there, and with a few exceptions, we take advantage of that. Being first person lets us get into the POV character's head, in a way that's possible in books, but rarely done in comics, movies, and television. That combination of visual and first-person storytelling is part of why I think VNs are engaging.

I suggest the Bechdel test doesn't make sense for first-person storytelling, like visual novels. When your POV follows a character, he or she is going to be part of the conversations he witnesses - at least for most characters. It's rare to have a conversation the main character is present at, and not a part of.

When the main character character is male, that means it's likely your game is going to fail the Bechdel test. I don't think this is necessarily a problem with the game - I think it's a problem with the test.

(Of course, when a test concludes Bladedance of Elementalers is more feminist than Pacific Rim, it may be flawed.)
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#37 Post by Gabylc » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:27 pm

There is a lot of good ideas in this topic, especially concerning the diversity of a female cast, so I will just add one trick if you have doubts about the quality of one of your female character: try to sum up her character / backstory without referencing to any men. If you have nothing to say, that means she's only defined my her relationship to men (it can be her father, brother, boss etc. not only boyfriend/husband) and it's kinda "problematic". For exemple, if she's enthousiast about fishing only because her father taught her, then she's career-driven only to prove her value to her (male) boss and finaly she grows as a more empathic person only thanks to her fiance influence, you got a pretty flat, cliche and "sexist" character. Makes sure some of her character is shaped by internal motivation (she loves fishing because she enjoys being outside for example) and balance male/female influence in her life (father / mother, romantic interest / friends etc.)

In term of plot, another test you can try: if you remove all of your female characters, does it change the outake of the story, exept for sexual rewards? Is the world still saved, the murder still solved, the competition still won? If the female cast have no impact on the core plot, try balancing things a bit more and give women key parts.

But of course, these are only advices, they don't guarantee your work will be 100% progressive about female representation and I can't be more specific as I didn't play your games. At least, being willing to talk about it shows that you can do it right ;) And remember: strong female character aren't the only good female trope!

(Also, I agree that the Bechdel test isn't the best tool regarding VN for reasons PyTom pointed out.)

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#38 Post by Obscura » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:47 pm

Having female beta readers will not 'protect' you, because women are different and they'll strongly disagree on things.
I just want to clarify I said nothing about having beta readers "protecting you", in case you were addressing my post. ;) Nothing will ever be a surefire means of protection from public criticism, and that's evidenced by the fact one can actually be writing about someone who shares one's exact background and STILL be criticized for misrepresentation.

Beta-readers are actually helpful though, in eliminating some things you may miss if you're writing about someone from a different gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Things that are obvious to others but not to the writer. If one's goal is to make their work less sexist, I can't see how having input from several women can hurt. :mrgreen: It's obviously up to the creator to weigh each piece of feedback accordingly.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#39 Post by papillon » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:50 pm

PyTom wrote:A random thought, perhaps not terribly constructive:

The Bechdel test might be useful for television and movies, but it's not relevant to visual novels. That's due to the nature of the medium, and how we (at least usually) tell stories with it. Visual Novels are one of the few first-person visual mediums out there, and with a few exceptions, we take advantage of that. Being first person lets us get into the POV character's head, in a way that's possible in books, but rarely done in comics, movies, and television. That combination of visual and first-person storytelling is part of why I think VNs are engaging.
The 'bechdel' test was never meant to be a perfect rating system anyway, only a rough tool for identifying one of the most obvious problems in hollywood storytelling.

Now yes, it is different in VNs because of the stronger focus on a single protagonist's viewpoint. However, just because we don't see women talking to each other doesn't mean they shouldn't be doing it within the world that you, the writer, are envisioning. Interaction between characters can take place off-screen and still shape and inform their actions without the player seeing it directly.

If your characters have friendships and rivalries and goals and motivations that don't revolve solely around the PC, they may sometimes get up to things on their own. Maybe a girl was in trouble and called her best friend for help before (or instead of) you - you could hear about this later and react to it. This would reaffirm that they have a life outside of you.

(There are also a number of JVNs I've read that have small side scenes from different viewpoints, as well as the option of eavesdropping or walking into the tail end of a conversation.)
Obscura wrote: I just want to clarify I said nothing about having beta readers "protecting you", in case you were addressing my post. ;) Nothing will ever be a surefire means of protection from public criticism, and that's evidenced by the fact one can actually be writing about someone who shares one's exact background and STILL be criticized for misrepresentation.

Beta-readers are actually helpful though, in eliminating some things you may miss if you're writing about someone from a different gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Things that are obvious to others but not to the writer. If one's goal is to make their work less sexist, I can't see how having input from several women can hurt. :mrgreen: It's obviously up to the creator to weigh each piece of feedback accordingly.
Oh, I agree, I just wanted to bring it up because I have seen some people on both sides be a bit weird about it - either "You must NEVER have asked any woman ever about this! YOU HORRIBLE WRITER!" or "But my female friend said it's not sexist at all, YOU EVIL FEMINIST!" So I wanted to stress that just talking to some ladies about it is not going to mean that no one will ever call you sexist.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#40 Post by xiaomao » Mon Sep 22, 2014 9:14 pm

I'm really glad to see this thread. It's awesome that you want to improve!

Gabylc made two really great points. I whole-heartedly agree with both of those tests, and think everyone should take time use them, myself included. We were all raised in a sexist world and no matter how hard we fight, some misogyny will still cling to us.
Mad Harlequin wrote:Let's say there's a male antagonist who double-crosses his allies. He's usually depicted as brilliant and ruthless. But if a woman does the same, she's a psychotic bitch.

Do you see the main problem here?
I agree this is also a very common problem.

Another thing is, some guys write a story about something fanciful and entertaining, not meant to be taken seriously, for instance, stalking. Maybe it seems like something that only happens in movies, something most of your audience will not have had experience with. I see a lot of disconnect between female and male creators along these lines. The unfortunate truth is that many women have had experience with stalkers, and I'd say most women know another woman who was stalked. Myself, I know multiple women who have been stalked, one of whom was chased by a crazy, violent drug addict and another who was subjected to a completely random stranger showing up outside her window for months. The cops laughed at her when she told them.

Believe me, I would love to live in a world where the most I've ever had to think about stalking was because of a cute VN. I want that world. But it's not the world I live in, so I can't fully enjoy enjoy a light-hearted story about something like that, and it will be the same for a lot of subjects with a lot of people. It does make writing more challenging for us.

tl:dr, Some terrible things are way more widespread than you might think. You might want to try talking about the subject outside of the context of video games with your female friends first to get an idea of how it impacts their lives. That will give you a better sense of how a female audience will react to it in a game.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#41 Post by sasquatchii » Mon Sep 22, 2014 9:20 pm

Wait, wait, wait- Taleweaver is a man!? Romance is Dead is the only game of yours that I've played, (been meaning to get around to playing the others) but the main character was so easy to relate to that I just assumed you were a woman. Whoops. (Now I feel like a sexist jerk! :()

I completely disagree with the assessment of RID. I saw Maddie as strong, intelligent, funny, and even a bit skeptical (which is a good thing, especially considering her circumstances). I feel like whoever said these things might have had an axe to grind with you, as the reviews seem overly harsh, and should be taken with a grain of salt. I'm a woman & RID is one of my favorite visual novels.

I felt like in the previous thread you were one of the few voices of reason, and am honestly confused as to why you're receiving any type of backlash for it.

Obviously, you're not going to please everyone. I don't think you should compromise your vision or do something on here that people want to see just to please others. Although if you're doing this because you want to create stronger characters, then go for it!

Although who am I to tell you what to do?

Even if you wanted to write stories that objectify women, I'd be okay with that. I probably wouldn't like or play the game, but those types of games just aren't for me. No use crying about it.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#42 Post by Caveat Lector » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:33 pm

So if something isn't sexist to you, then it's not sexist? :? Really, I think a discussion like this is actually quite beneficial for a lot of gamers. I see no merit in belittling those who are bothered by sexism in games and just want to have an honest, open discussion. That's not "bitching and moaning and crying".
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#43 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:45 pm

meiri wrote:5. Define them by a personality OTHER than being female. This is done a lot with characters that identify as LGBTQIA+. However, it's also done with females. Give them life.
Everyone needs to take this statement, put it on sticky notes, and plaster them all over the place. I will also say that race, creed, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. are not personality traits.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#44 Post by trooper6 » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:01 pm

A number of people in the thread are telling you, "You aren't doing anything wrong." "The person who wrote the email is projecting, oversensitive, etc." "Feminists will find fault in things that are not there," etc. I would tell you to ignore all the people who are minimizing the complaints. I want to applaud you for asking the original question and wanting to take the critiques you received seriously. Because it is only by taking feedback seriously can we grow. Even if, in the end, we don't think the critique was 100% on.

First off, I want to say, I found a number of your dismissive comments in the thread about women feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in the gaming culture pretty offensive and distressing. I couldn't really respond because I was in the midst of course prep...but I don't think you (or any of us) have gotten through existing in a pretty sexist society without any of it rubbing off. And I saw some of that rub off in that thread.

That said, I haven't played your games, so I can't say how accurate the critique in the email was. But this is what I noticed about the critique. The critique isn't that you don't make STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS. But that the women you do make seem to be objectified. They seem to be defined almost entirely by their relationship to men and don't have a lot of autonomy outside of that. Further, the critique points to a prevalence of male gaze power fantasy that alternates between demonizing women or objectifying them. Now I don't know if this is true. But it sounds like a critique I've often seen about a number of Judd Apatow movies and this sort of thing is quite prevalent in media in general. So maybe you do have this issue. Maybe you don't. But thinking about it can't hurt.

My advice?
*Try to have some female characters who are not defined primarily by their relationship to men. If you have Male Detective! Male Doctor! Girlfriend! Then you have a bit of a problem.
*Try to make sure that the women in your works don't fall along a "bad woman who stops men from doing what they want" and the "good woman who is a girlfriend" binary. There should also be able to be "woman who is a pilot and also friend!" or whatever. This is related to the point above.
*Try to give women subjectivity and autonomy and not only have them be instruments or objects.

And as for the idea that first person narratives can't pass the Bechdel test...I don't think that is true. I mean, I don't dominate every conversation around me. There are conversations I observe...that can also happen in VNs. I'm pretty sure Christine Love's "Don't Take it Personally Babe" passes the Bechdel test even though the protagonist is male. I recall a number of conversations you observe between two women in Cinders...that passes. There are numerous ways this can happen. And also, the Bechdel test is only *one* test. One can make a film that doesn't pass that is still feminist. One can make a film that does pass and that is sexist. That test is just about pointing out the massive number of films that have no women, or only one woman in them. Or women who never interact with each other. My current game has only two people and none of them are women...so it won't pass the Bechdel test. But not everything you has to. Though...if nothing you ever do does...you might want to ask why.

Anyway. Women can have any number of characteristics. But they should be characters with some sort of agency and subjectivity.

That would be my advice.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#45 Post by Biomass » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:06 pm

I think genderwashing (is that a word?) is not really the solution either. You might as well replace all the characters with robots then, you won't offend anyone with that approach. Gender is part of the character and writing roles so that they can be filled by any gender removes some dimension from them. The more interchangeable a role is the more generic it feels, and it becomes less interesting to me.

As was said earlier, you have to write female characters with more than stereotypically negative traits, but I think cutting out female traits altogether is the wrong approach.



You know what I don't see a lot of? Old women. They're usually cast in small bit parts or as evil witches or something. Old women in reality come in all forms and most of the positive representations are ignored. I bet most women would find it offensive if they're told that they're not worth mentioning if they're not young.

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