26 June 2012
You know those Japanese World War II soldiers who were stationed on small islands and never got the message that the war had ended? That's me.
Let me start at the beginning...
N64.com was the first Web site I ever read regularly. I was no more than ten-years-old at the time, and I liked Nintendo 64. That's all there was to it.
It wasn't too much later that N64.com became ign64.com, and shortly after that, Imagine Games Network dropped the N64 branding and consolidated all of its various video game pages into a single, console-agnostic mega-site called IGN.com. From humble origins, IGN quickly became one of the biggest entertainment sites on the Web, and sought to expand beyond video games.
At that time, video games were seen as a hobby for young, sexually-frustrated guys, and IGN continued to treat this stereotype as the primary audience. It was a successful tactic. New features like "Celeb of the Day," which profiled female celebrities, helped boost IGN's traffic, and ad revenue increased further once the editors got right to the point and renamed the feature. One day I was enjoying a site about Nintendo 64 games; the next, I was being bombarded at every turn with reminders to check out the "Babe of the Day."
Over the last decade, links to pictures of pretty ladies in tight clothing became a requirement for major video game sites. Whether it was IGN's "Babe of the Day" or GamesRadar's "Straight to the Sexy," galleries of girls were an obligatory part of game coverage, regardless of how little such content actually had to do with video games.
Like any huge trend, these features and links became so ubiquitous that they faded into the background. I spent enough time reading about games online that I developed a subconscious blind spot to the insulting sexploitation surrounding me. Reliance on "babes" to sell video game reviews bothered me, but sex is used to sell everything. I could mostly ignore this. Mostly.
It was when I started looking for job openings in professional video game coverage that I reached a breaking point. On the jobs listing page for one site - a site which employed straight women and gay men, and which frequently called for video game culture to be less juvenile and stupid - I was informed that an ideal employee must be into babes and all the stuff that guys like.
Now look, if you're a sexy girl, I'm very happy for you. Congratulations on your genetic good luck. If you want to take off some or all of your clothing and pose for pictures to be distributed on the Internet, that's your choice. It has nothing to do with me. I won't even get into my issues with media-defined hetero-normative standards of beauty and their potentially damaging effects on those who can't live up to them, because that's not what this is about.
This is about video games.
Video games appeal to young, sexually-frustrated heterosexual males. They also appeal to old, sexually-fulfilled men. And gay guys. And straight women. And gay women. And bisexuals, and transgendered people, and little girls who are years away from even thinking about their sexual orientation, and dudes like me who just don't need to ogle women when they're reading about the new Mario game. Video games aren't just for one demographic. Nearly half of game players - 47% at last count - are female, but you sure wouldn't get that impression from looking at the average video game Web site.
See, advertising pictures of "Hot Girls" - whether with a giant, flashing banner or a tiny, text-only link - reinforces the reigning Boys' Club mentality. It's exclusionary. It sends the message that if you don't want sexed-up girly pictures, you're not a part of video game culture. In fact, forget games - let's go straight to the sexy.
Okay, so that's the bad. Here's where it gets good.
It's late June as I write this. IGN's "Babe of the Day" hasn't been updated since early January. The "Straight to the Sexy" ads which used to be on every page of GamesRadar are nowhere to be found. I searched about 15-20 video game sites when researching this article, and all I managed to find was Destructoid's "Boobies" link - itself, a satire of exactly the nonsense this entire article has protested - and 1UP's tiny link to "Hot Girls."
It's unfortunate that 1UP is the one straggler, as the site actually devoted all of its content last week to articles and videos on gender equality. It was fantastic, progressive output, marred by an itty-bitty reminder at the bottom of each page of video game culture's embarrassing recent past.
But wait - it gets better, still.
I contacted/attacked 1UP editor-in-chief Jeremy Parish about this incongruity. Here's what he had to say:
"We’re working on a front page redesign and expunging all the UGO [1UP's former owner] cruft, so you can retire your sanctimoniousness."
So that's it. While I was firing shots at Parish, an ally in the defense of gender equality and intelligent video games, I'd failed to notice that this war had already run its course. Sorry, Jeremy.
Pictured: Video game journalists kiss sexy ladies goodbye.
The war is over!
(This one specific war, I mean. Video game culture is still frequently humiliating, of course, but the knowledge that meaningful progress is possible is invigorating. Next target: E3 "Booth Babes.")
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