Geek culture has some tradition of objectifying women while empowering them: Strong, powerful, independent, and fighting evil with an entirely Western-idealized body in a string bikini. There have been some attempts to self-satirize, but it often feels like the work is pulling its punch.
I spend a lot of time pondering this while I watch the loading screen for League of Legends. You see, as each game loads up for each player, a screen displays a portrait of the champion selected by each player. In typical geek-culture fashion, the males are portrayed as physically powerful, muscular, and well-prepared for battle while most of the females are drawn with unrealistic, idealized body proportions and clothing suitable only for sleeping in a warm, tropical climate. What caught my attention is that, in a recent patch, Riot pulled back on this a little bit: Sona’s artwork is significantly less obnoxious now– and I mean that with all sincerity. I’ve talked to my friends who play the game, and they agree. I think this suggests a change in the wind.
Jim Sterling noted that the controversy over the Hitman: Absolution E3 trailer reflected a shift in gamer attitudes towards gender issues in recent years. Perhaps a trailer in which a woman is punched wouldn’t have caused an uproar 5 or 15 years ago, but it does now. Maybe Riot is feeling some of the same wave of change brought about as a generation raised on [sometimes overly-] saccharine notions of equality and tolerance and respect becomes a more dominant market force and consumer base. Whatever the specific reasons, I do wonder if the fashion of the “chainmail bikini” is on the way out- and if so, whether its replacement will come with genuine respect and equality for genders without centuries of entrenched power, or if it will just turn into a different flavor of oppression and inequality. I don’t know if video games (or other media) bring about such changes, but they certainly reflect them. Perhaps the media teaches the younger generation what our culture is, and so media does effect (and affect) cultural transformation. (See my earlier post on Cultural Transformation from Misunderstanding Irony.) Perhaps the video games we make this year won’t determine how we treat each other next year. But I think it likely that those games will be a representation of society to the younger generation who has yet to experience society. (And bear in mind that they won’t experience society except by creating it- and they must have a template to create.)