How can I stop making sexist games?

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How can I stop making sexist games?

#1 Post by Taleweaver » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:47 am


sometimes, strange coincidents happen. Only a few days ago, we had this other thread about women not feeling safe any more in gaming culture, and when I joined that discussion by saying that the threat level probably wasn't as high as the OP feared, I almost immediately received backlash in the form of a PM telling me that I had no idea what women were really going through, and that I made assumptions I couldn't make because, as a man, I had privileges women hadn't. The PM was very outspoken, very sincere and full of disappointment that I, as one of the admins of this site, had so little regard for these topics.

Apparently, though, there are a great many more things I should have considered, especially regarding my writing, because yesterday, I received an e-mail through my developer blog account. It's a little too long to quote in full here, but the gist of it was that in all my games - all of them! - I provided male power fantasies, showed women in a degrading way or a negative light and generally showed a lack of concern for gender-relevant issues. I don't know whether the e-mail came from the same person who wrote me the PM (I suspect it didn't; the language was different), but that didn't matter much. What mattered was how this person saw my games:

- Metropolitan Blues was "essentially a stalker fantasy": "An invisible protagonist with the power to spy on woman (sic) and watch her naked in the shower does exactly that, with no concern for her privacy...". He "later decides to invade her life", in turn "rescuing her from writer's block because - lo and behold - his sadness and emotions are so profound that by writing about them, the nameless woman writer finds more interesting material than in her own life". The conclusion is even more stunning: "I was hoping that the true resolution of the story was somehow revealing the fact that the protagonist had been a stalker in his real life whose punishment after death had been to be forced into remaining a powerless beholder for all eternity. Unfortunately, the true ending reveals that the narrator of the story had been a god all along, and a male god too, and the first thing this male god does as soon as he is able to procure a body for himself is to sleep with his female worshipper. And then leave her."

- The Loyal Kinsman was "a somewhat amusing murder mystery, accentuated by the fact that everybody of relevance in the story is male, the plot revolves around a man murdering another man to please a woman, and said woman is easily the character the protagonist of the story hates most - an old, ugly crone who has nothing but contempt for him, seemingly without reason." In conclusion: "If your only likable female character in the entire story is a porcelain-doll-type teenage girl whose entire motivation in life revolves around being an obedient daughter, what picture of femininity does this transport?"

- Daemonophilia apparently revolves around "the life of a loser who's probably supposed to act as a self-portrait of the average gamer" and who is "obsessed with having sex - of course, without ever doing ANYTHING that would give him a chance at that, such as meeting women. Instead, "fate provides a willing slut for him". The twist? "The loser protagonist actually doesn't want to sleep with her because he would go to hell for it. So apparently, women who take the initiative can only come from one place: Hell." - "Eventually, our hero has to rescue this girl too, by the power of his penis. Yeah, that's a healthy relationship if I've ever seen one."

- Adrift "has a protagonist whose task is to literally control everybody's lives" and includes "women...only in a single role: as hindrances to your task": "No matter if they're aggressive, manipulative, nerdy or just plain insane, you only win the game by abusing them and not allowing them to play you." And what's worse: "Even the computers of this virtual dollhouse follow the same formula: If they have a male personality, they are helpful, or at least useful workmachines. If they have a female persona, expect them to murder you, hinder you on your path or, at the very list, wildly misinterpret your intentions."

- Romance is Dead is a "story about a young black woman who is so backwards in her views on love and romance that her entire concept of both can only be fulfilled by men who represent the romantic ideals of the 1950s, the 1920s or the 1800s". "Maddie... is the antithesis of the modern, self-empowered woman; she does everything to help and further the ambitions of the men in this story", and the fact that these "men are depicted in such loving detail while Maddie... remains pretty much a blank slate" reveals that "once again, the only positive things about a woman are what she can do for a man."

While I agree that all of these above are perfectly valid interpretations of my VNs, well, to say that I feel a little misrepresented would be a gross understatement. Apparently, my works, at least to some, make me look at least subconsciously sexist.

And I want that to stop.

So for my next game, I want to do things right. I want to write positive women characters. I want to avoid tropes that degrade women and instead actively make a point FOR women, not against them.

What I need is help, and this is why I'm now addressing women on this forum.

- What do you want to see more of in my stories?
- What would be traits that make a female protagonist likable to you?
- What would be traits that make female side characters likable to you?
- Can you give me existing examples of positive women role models in gaming?

Please, serious discussion only. I'm genuinely looking for advice here.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#2 Post by jack_norton » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:05 am

I haven't had time to play your other games but for Seasons Of The Wolf the women you wrote in the story were quite good IMHO :)
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#3 Post by zankizuna » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:13 am

I really liked Adrift, for you to say that Supervisor was abusing the girls was kind of... well... not nice.
but i agree to this post and there should be a change on the treatment on girls and also the image that girls project throughout the story.
maybe there should be some reference to the common shoujo girls' character, i dunno. i'm no girl.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#4 Post by Ezri » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:49 am

I haven't played any of your games yet so I can't say whether your works are inherently sexist or not, but I would advise taking such inflammatory criticisms with a grain of salt. :wink:
As for writing better female characters, I don't think you neccesarily have to write them any differently than male characters. I can't think of any traits that I would want in female characters that wouldn't also apply to male characters. They don't even have to be good role models (I assume you don't write all your male characters with the intention of them being role models) As long as the character is fleshed out and has independent thoughts/motivations, that's enough for me.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#5 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon Sep 22, 2014 11:54 am

zankizuna wrote:I really liked Adrift, for you to say that Supervisor was abusing the girls was kind of... well... not nice.
It wasn't Taleweaver who said that; it was the author of the e-mail he received.
Taleweaver wrote:What I need is help, and this is why I'm now addressing women on this forum.
I have played a few of your titles (Adrift, Romance is Dead, and Daemonophilia), and for what it's worth, I did enjoy at least the first two. But I can't help but feel that the women in Adrift were caricatures based on typical character tropes for females in games, or that RiD's Maddie was really only defined by her interactions with the male love interests.

I understand your concern about being misrepresented, but I think there's a little truth to what's been said here, even if you didn't have misogyny consciously in mind when you wrote your games. Therefore we should consider this not on an individual scale, but on a general one. Women in the game world are still often seen as trophies---sexual or otherwise---or damsels in distress, or the main character's token girlfriend. While male characters tend to be rewarded for angry outbursts (they're often painted as righteous in some way), fiery females are the butt of jokes about their monthly cycles. Female characters are also made out to be manipulative, with the connotation that they're inferior to submissive women and deserve scorn. I'll give you an example:

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?

Until we start writing female characters who are allowed to be more than the object of a sexual fantasy, or of the player's contempt, we can't expect to move beyond these antiquated ideas about what women should be.

Write a female protagonist whose stubbornness is seen as a positive trait. Write about a woman who says not one word about men in general to another woman (pass the Bechdel test!). I think you get the idea.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#6 Post by Coldreaver » Mon Sep 22, 2014 12:00 pm

I hope my English is not too bothersome.

I personally prefer female protagonists over male, and I'm male. When I write I first think about making them threedimensional. I don't think that much about their gender at all while defining their sociological and psychological aspects. The most wrong thing to do is to think in tropes at all. Rather try to find a setup, a past of a character. After that, define with your empathy and all the things you know from your own life the psychological aspects the character would have due to her circumstances, her culture, her childhood, her environment. We all are human beings with our traits due to our past and our memories. If we learn to understand that characters follow the same route, there is no chance that we will have a certain trope which will disregard a gender due to being onedimensional.

For checking your work, it's a nice idea to 'turn around the chessboard' and look what your opponent is thinking. Your opponent in this case is not the reader nor the protagonist. It's another character in your story. I try to see the character I created with another character's eye. I look at her actions, her beliefs, her words and let them flow in me and ask myself what kind of image of the protagonist I would get. Is she willstrong? Does she just rely on the help of a man? Is she a puppet doll? Asking questions yourself is important.

I could also cry out loud about those hoards of stupid male characters which fill anime and visual novels. Especially the protagonists are so dull and stupid I just wanna shoot 'em directly to the moon. There isn't just a problem with the representation of female but also with male characters. So we should try to make better characters at all. The gender doesn't matter, if there are tropes everywhere disregarding male and female.

I haven't read a single story from you so I don't know how correct those terms against you are. It's bad to ask for certain tropes. It's important to design a backstory for the protagonist and then define her traits from that like explained before. So it won't help you at all if we start saying "She has to be clumsy and a bit dull." or whatever shit people like.
Don't think in adjectives at all. I hate those summaries where people are defined with some single words like "loves to battle, righteous, ..." blabla. Try just to think in actions the character will take. You also can try it for yourself: Try to explain a person you like with nothing else than words like that. You will soon see that the image you're creating is incomplete. But! If you try to use a story of her past to explain the person you like to someone else, you'll have a much easier time. :)

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#7 Post by ThisIsNoName » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:11 pm

Mad Harlequin wrote:Write about a woman who says not one word about men in general to another woman (pass the Bechdel test!). I think you get the idea.
I just wanted to point out that the Bechdel test is just having one conversation between two women without any mention of a man, instead of going the whole story without talking about men in general. The way that you worded it would be almost impossible to pass unless there weren't any male characters. :shock:

Even with such simple requirements, it's kind of funny (and sad) to see conversations about people scrounging through every last second of Hollywood movies to check if it passes.

"She said 'hi' briefly to another woman before turning back to her husband at 1:24:31.2 in the film. Wait, is she named in the credits? YES, IT PASSES!"

Anyways, I can't say I write much, but I just try to go by "you are what you eat." If you constantly watch sexist anime, for example, it's going to be much harder to write something that isn't sexist than if you don't.

If you notice you enjoy using a particular trope that people consistently say is sexist, another idea (I loathe to advise this out of respect for your free time) is to search for it in TVTropes. Usually they are very good at dissecting popular tropes, including how it might be sexist, and how you can avoid that. Like Harlequin said, sometimes it's just as simple as framing a character or moment in a different way.

EDIT: As for writing female characters in general, this is an article that inspires me the most.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#8 Post by Green Glasses Girl » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:18 pm

I haven't played your games (yet!), so I have no authority to cast judgement on them. Although I do find it strange that someone would send you an email with criticism and no suggestions on improvement.

On writing women, there is an amazing blog entry written by a female writer, which ended up getting a lot of tumblr press. Actually, I've seen people take quotes from the entry and apply it to tons of anime gifs/images, specially this excerpt:
Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.
The next paragraph goes on to address a few things already stated by a few here:
The only bad female character, if you ask me (and you did), is one who’s flat. One who isn’t realistic. One who has no agency of her own, who only exists to define other characters (usually men). Write each woman you write as if she has her own life story, her own motivations, her own fears and strengths, and even if she’s only in the story for one page, she will be a real person, and THAT is what we need. Not a phalanx of women who can karate-chop your head off, but REAL women, who are people, with all the complexity and strong and not-strong that goes with it.
She also addresses the "damsel in distress" trope, which can be played as a good character, that is, if that's not the character's only role/trait. I can actually think of plenty of characters who I love who do fill the damsel-in-distress description, but still have their own propensity and character development. Anyway, it's a short essay, but worth the read.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#9 Post by noeinan » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:36 pm

I haven't played those games, although a few were on my "to play" list. I will try to play them and let you know what I think!

Personally, the way I see it everyone raised in a sexist society has those views hidden in their subconscious, from the dedicated feminist, to the everyday person (men, and women, and other genders), to the folks who outwardly claim them. Not participating in sexism includes A) awareness and B) a willingness to act on that awareness. So a post like this is great!

On the subject of criticism and misrepresentation, I can't really speak for the person who messaged you or their tone-- but thinking critically about sexism/racism/etc. is well... A critical process. Sadly, pretty much anything can be ripped a part and shown to have very problematic elements. They're just so common, it's like air and most people don't even notice them. (Thus why awareness is the first key to not doing it.) Because these elements can be hard to notice, when they get pointed out it can seem a lot harsher than it is intended. (Meaning, folks probably don't *mean* to rip it a part, but thinking in that critical framework there were multiple things that stood out.)

If you want to avoid that kind of overtone in future games, I'd recommend having someone who is educated on those kinds of issues listen to your concept and provide feedback. Most people who are not very involved in social justice don't notice those things right off the bat, but folks who are have trained themselves to notice those things. Once something is pointed out, it's surprisingly easy to make changes-- especially earlier in development.

I think it's super cool that you made this post, and I'll try to play through some of those games and give more personalized feedback. :D


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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#10 Post by Mothball » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:54 pm

i don't know any of your games but honestly i think it won't matter so much if your female characters are better written, if somebody wants to be bothered by them there really isn't much you can do, don't take it too much to heart :/

as somebody mentioned i think it would be best to not think too much about writing a female character opposed to a male character, maybe just write the character first and then decide their gender? if that makes sense, im no writer so im probably not much help oTL

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#11 Post by maricon » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:14 pm

It seems like this person was looking for something to be offended about. I hope you don't treat it too seriously.
As long as you write woman as any other character there shouldn't be any problem.

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#12 Post by Obscura » Mon Sep 22, 2014 2:51 pm

Get a group of female beta readers to give you critical feedback. (It's essential to have more than one or two!)

Not being male and given the nature of my game, I have never stopped asking men to let me know if anything seems off or problematic.

Do this before the game is released. And as many times as you possibly can, over the course of your entire project, so you can catch any potential issues early on.
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#13 Post by E-night » Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:01 pm

Sigh - I had a whole long text and then I accidentially deleted it. :(

The first thing to remember is that the following is ONLY ADVISE. As other has said the best to do is to write interesting characters first, but we are all biased, and I will be the first to admit that writing interesting characters is easy to say, but hard to do - espically if you are focused on gender, which you seem to be right now.

1. Perform the Bechdel test on you former works and think about why it fail/pass
- if it fails, why does it do so? Because there are not enough women in the work for them to be actually talking togeter or because they have nothing interesting to talk about besides the men. The first is a sign of maybe have more women in your work in general, the second is a sign of flesing people out in your head so they have hobbies, works, interest beyound their men. The second could also be a sign of a male being in every plot important role an thus being the only thing relevant to talk about.

- if the test passes. Does it pass more than once (Ideally yes) and when it does so are the conversation relevant to the plot or the charactersation?

2. Try gender reversing the characters? Does scene/character still hold up? If no and the plot does not focus on gender or wants to say something about gender in general then you might want to consider a rewrite, not a total rewrite maybe just frame the situation differently.

This is espically important in humourous writing where nowadays there is a lot of female on male abuse and/or rape which is suppossed to be funny, but just isn't. Really it is not funny.

3. Remember women are not a hive mind and you are not going to write a female character that speaks to us all. We have different values and different things we wants to see in our heroines.
Somebody wants to see compassion, somebody wants to see badassness, somebody wants both, somebody want neither, someone wants cleverness or snark, another wants creativity and well...
I think the one thing all women could get behind is more diversity so we generally have more woment characters to reflect on, reject, project ourself into, identify with and just enjoy..

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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#14 Post by Caveat Lector » Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:05 pm

Might as well come out and say the angry PM'er was me; however, you have my assurance that I didn't send the angry e-mail about the other games (I've only played one, The Dreaming, which I enjoyed). I do think you're taking the first right step in that you're acknowledging "okay, I might have problems in how I portray women, how can I fix this?".

Positive women in gaming...I didn't expect thinking this one up to be harder than it is. Off the top of my head? Probably anything by Hanako Games. The female characters within their games tend to be well-rounded and are defined by their character and whom they are as people, rather than by their relationships with other male characters.

And while we're on the topic of strong female characters, it's also important to try to avoid this. It's not mocking the concept of having a strong female character, it's mocking how Hollywood portrays "Strong female characters".

Also, somewhat related is Lindsay Ellis' two cents on the topic of social responsibility and writing fiction (mostly done in response to guys protesting the idea of analyzing gender roles): ... g-and-you/
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Re: How can I stop making sexist games?

#15 Post by R.O.D » Mon Sep 22, 2014 3:39 pm

Don't be pressured to fit everyone needs and make whoever you want to make?
Not every female has too be a 'STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN' if you don't want them to.

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