Are you sexist? Probably.

October 2, 2010

So for several days now a discussion about sexism in video gaming has been going on. Specifically talking, people accuse Fumito Ueda, creator of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, of being sexist. For all that´s worth, the discussion is beyond being absurd and I´ll totally defend that game designer. And god knows, I am no fan of Ueda, I really dislike Shadow of the Colossus, and I´m not that hyped about the upcoming The Last Guardian, either. But there´s a limit to how stupidly accusing people can be, and that limit was reached.

Evil mastermind: Fumito Ueda

The quote that ignited the “controversy” stems from two interviews. One is new and about The Last Guardian, the other one is from 2004 where Ueda talks about SotC. This is what 1up published on their website: “Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn’t have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt.” And some years ago, Ueda told this to Gamasutra: “ICO’s composer was (female composer) Michiru Ohshima, and I didn’t want to create the same image for this game. Aside from that, ICO was a game that both male and female players could enjoy equally. But I think this is a game that male players will enjoy more. So I chose a male composer.

Going by the first quote, the first part of it shouldn´t be offending at all. Boys are stronger than girls. It´s absurd to call that sexist, since it´s a generally accepted view within society. And simply going by my personal past, it is true. It´s possible that the differences in strength at the age of 10 and around that are less pronounced than at an adult age, but differences exist nonetheless. Of course, maybe those people that get worked up over that part only knew big, ugly bully-girls. That´s hardly more than anecdotal evidence, though. Then there´s the second part of that quote, the one about skirts. It implies that in Fumito Ueda´s opinion, girls and skirts are inevitably connected with each other. Now, there are several points that could be made, but one simple one would be that if you make your ingame-character a girl, you have to show that in some way. If you don´t show off the gender in any way it is redundant for one, and sexist, too, for assuming that the appearance of a little boy is the “neutral image” of a person. With a kid of age 10 the options for making clear that it is a girl a limited. I doubt the people already complaining would go totally nuts if Ueda gave visually pronounced tits to a 10-year old girl. Such young girls also wouldn´t wear make-up or feature long eye slashes. Long hair also wouldn´t cut it. So the easiest way to show that your character was a girl would be to give her a skirt, a piece of clothing that is generally taken as female-exclusive clothing. And that´s a no-go according to Ueda. However, what´s also a reason against a female kid is that it would absolutely point some focus towards that single fact. Like it or not, but for video games that have no intention to involve some kind of gender importance, having a boy being the main character is more neutral than having girl. If it was a girl in The Last Guardian, people´s feeling would be all like “oh, that´s so sweet” and “come on, big bird rat, protect that cute little girl“. The way it is, however, people couldn´t care less about the character´s gender and instead simply care about the adventure in front of them. Full stop.

The second quote from 2004 actually is not sexist at all, and I´m having a hard time trying to imagine how one could be offended by that sentence. Actually, it just shows how much Ueda takes into consideration various things when creating a game. Some people might argue that there´s no difference between male and female artists, but it´s just as legit to argue the opposite. And if Ueda thinks that a game is more likely to be enjoyed by boys and he needs are more masculine soundtrack for that purpose, it´s his and only his right to choose a male composer for the job. You can disagree, sure, but calling it sexist only makes you look very stupid.

In the end, being sexist doesn´t necessarily make you a bad person, since there exist, at least, two different kinds of sexism. One would be the misogynistic kind, the kind men that dislike or hate women for one reason or another. They believe they´re better persons simply due to their “superior” gender. But then there´s the other kind of sexism, which is: romantic people. You know, the kind of men that open doors for girls, tell them “ladies first” or do silly, dangerous stuff because they like a girl. These men are kind of conservative in their world view, but they don´t harm women with that perspective. For what is worth, I think Ueda falls into that second group of sexists. To be honest, I´m like that myself. I prefer being romantic, not neutralizing all aspects of life. I´m also one of those guys that put the girl they like on a pedestal, which many “smart” guys believe is the wrong way to get a girl friend. But calling someone a bad person because he connects girls and skirts is silly. Just as silly as calling Metroid: Other M a sexist game. It´s funny how artificially outraged people become about sexism in video games at the moment.  Other M portrayed Samus Aran not as a woman, but a human being. It never connoted any weaknesses with her gender. The one moment where Samus Aran shows fear should be clear for any knowledgeable Metroid-fan. But I mean…I even read some people calling The Legend of Zelda-series sexist, so maybe we should just stop talking about it, because apparently everything is sexist today. Fumito Ueda, Metroid, Zelda, me, and most likely you, too.