Video games have often been called sexist - well, duh, of course a lot of games contain references to sex. But are games guilty of sexism, that indefinable point where a pair of double-D breasts attached to a vampire prostitute you just decapitated with a chainsaw suddenly becomes offensive? A brief survey of gaming history returns an emphatic "Yes." Video games may not be as sexismic as non-feminist-approved porn or setting an abortion clinic on fire, but they've definitely had their share of misogynistic moments.
Early arcade ads openly mocked women's short stature and poor marksmanship.1981: Midway releases the unauthorized Pac-Man sequel, "Ms. Pac-Man." Uncomfortable that the game's anthropomorphic pie chart is now an empowered single female, many arcades threaten to boycott the game unless the title is changed to "Mrs. Pac-Man."
1982:A leaked design bible for Texas Instruments’ “Hunt the Wumpus” contains an early sketch of the game's titular monster that resembles a fanged vagina and describes the blood stains left by the monster as menstrual. Other pages consist simply of handwritten rants against lead designer Kenneth Knight’s ex-wife. Following feminist protests against the game, Knight resigns, saying in a press conference “Feminists are a bunch of prattling nincompoops, just like my ex-wife. I’ll fix their wagons if it’s the last thing I do.”
1990: FunCorp Games unveils "Super Polytechnique Massacre," a top-down shooter based on the École Polytechnique shooting of the previous year. (The gunman killed fourteen female college students, claiming he was "fighting feminism.") The game is poorly received, both for its controversial content and a showstopping bug where pressing left causes the screen to freeze. In response to critics, FunCorp's president, former Texas Instruments designer Kenneth Knight, says, "I expected as much. Feminists are a gaggle of bickering biddies who'll stop at nothing to drag my name through the muck. Mark my words, their incessant nagging will come home to roost, just like my revolting ex-wife hounding me for child support."
1991: The Terminator 2 arcade game is heavily criticized for not having any male enemies in the Cyberdyne headquarters level, showing an obvious glass ceiling in the Cyberdyne Corporation.
1993: Guns N' Roses frontman Axl Rose announces he's collaborating with Sega on a video game based on his band's music. A month later the project is scrapped, following a dispute between Sega and Rose over the use of the word 'bitch' in the game's title, subtitle, intro and menu screens. In a 2001 interview, Rose admitted that the game was "literally just eleven levels of me punching groupies" and in hindsight "a bad idea."
Gaming's primary target before women: the Japanese.1996: The Afghanistani version of Tomb Raider sparks controversy over a "nude code" that allows players to see Lara Croft's face and several inches of her left arm.
1997: In the original Final Fantasy VII storyline, Aeris drowns. Her death is changed in the final version, after it comes to Squaresoft's attention that women can in fact swim.
1998: The popularity of virtual prostitutes in Ultima Online - most of whom are actually men - leads male gamers to claim that men are better at being female prostitutes than women. An independent study eventually refutes this claim, but the misconception persists to this day.
2007: Bioware announces a Nintendo Wii game based on John Norman's Gor universe where the player uses the controller to whip female slaves. The game is eventually cancelled following a poor E3 showing and an incendiary comment by Squaresoft producer Hironobu Sakaguchi calling it "the most racist game ever made." (When asked to clarify his comment, Sakaguchi explained that women are a separate, less rational race.)
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