There are only two days left until Mass Effect Andromeda drops in Australia and the mass sexism in gaming has reared its ugly head yet again.
It’s currently two days (in Australia) until Mass Effect Andromeda, the long awaited follow-up to one of the greatest sci-fi game series of all-time hits and the reviews of the pre-release demo are not good. “Sacrifices polish for ambition”, “egregiously bad dialogue”, “blocky animations” and more are have been the loudest voices, even if it has scored just under 80% on Metacritic. In an age of RPGs like The Witcher and Elder Scrolls, though, this is not a good score.
This is not what has been most concerning about Andromeda reviews as loyal followers will be playing this regardless. I cannot wait to turn Sara Ryder into the most badass pathfinder the other side of the universe has ever seen (it’s boring playing as a dude). What has been of issue is the vitriolic response to female members of the development team. Women and feminism ruined Mass Effect. The Bioware mandate of hiring a development team based on gender (and race) sacrificed quality for diversity.
At least that’s what a still heavily misogynistic gaming community would have you believe.
A recent article on Kotaku covered some of the hate mail and sexist messages Allie Rose-Marie Leost, an EA developer who did not even work on Andromeda, received via Twitter, instigated by right-wing, men’s rights advocating blog TheRalphRetort.
That the cretinous tweets even gained traction on social media and weren’t deleted immediately is bad enough, let alone blaming a woman for an issue without any kind of corroboration is indicative of a major problem in gaming. This is a surprising trend as a study conducted by Bond University, Digital Australia 2016 showed that women account for 47% of the gaming population and of the female population in Australia, 65% are gamers. What the hell.
So why is sexism still an issue in the gaming community? Is it simply because video gaming was traditionally the realm of boys and its only in recent times we’ve realised, hey, chicks dig games just as much as dudes. Women still only account for 22% of the video gaming developer industry, as late as 2014. Figures for 2016-17 have not yet been compiled though the number cannot have changed substantially.
That half of the gaming population is female has meant game developers are starting to push for fair and equal representation of female characters in video games. The heavily lauded re-imagining of Tomb Raider saw Lara Croft become a real person, with real vulnerabilities and realistic chest proportions, and she still is one of the most kick-ass characters in gaming history. Both female and male characters embraced the new Lara and the follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, scored near perfect reviews across the board. Bioware have always been at the forefront of equal representation in their games. Mass Effect has LGBTQ characters of both genders (and inter-species, because who doesn’t want to see what gay/lesbian alien sex looks like?) which has possibly put them into the spotlight for regressive gaming communities like Gamergate. A few days ago Bioware responded to the sexist Gamergate community (can you even call the movement a community?) with this:
You go, Bioware. It is encouraging to see the general manager of the developer put out a statement addressing the problem directly.
This isn’t the only sexist commentary directed at Bioware. A recent article, which doesn’t deserve to be linked, has accused the Canadian developer of making it’s female character “ugly” to appease feminists, another ridiculous assertion with no grounding in fact.
My counter argument to this would be again, new Lara Croft. She’s both drop-dead gorgeous and a three dimensional character, and the reviews don’t lie about how great a game both Tomb Raider reboots were. I don’t see it all, the characters look like an animated variant of their real life counterparts.
It is a complex problem that has existed since the inception of gaming. Up until the late 90s female characters were still scantily clad, with buxom proportions and faces that could melt the toughest Tekken master. Its not a secret video games were initially designed for boys. Why would a straight male gamer want to see a realistic female character in his escape from reality? Female-friendly armour has only just become a thing in games (because God forbid a female Dovahkiin fight dragons without looking hot!) so Bioware taking a step forward with true-to-life character models (and armour) should be looked upon as encouraging.
There is no immediate solution to the prevalence of sexism within the video game development industry, and the gaming community as a whole. While forward steps have been taken, groups like Gamergate are still finding a voice. The best thing we can do is refuse to allow them any kind legitimacy and call them out for their bullshit. A united gaming community is a strong one. Stay safe out in Andromeda, pathfinders.