The New York Times doesn’t know when to quit. The paper recently published a long re-hash of a tired old video game-feminist argument: that there aren’t enough female characters in video games.
The article recycles a number of unsubstantiated feminist myths, including the idea that in the 80s and early 90s, female characters were either “damsels, princesses, or sex objects.” It also quotes a female games journalist who claims – again, without citing any data – that there are “more female-led titles than ever in games.”
The journalist, Sam Maggs, also claimed that women had been “largely ignored” by the market, despite playing as many games as men do.
The article mirrors a bizarre media narrative that emerged shortly after this year’s E3, the world’s foremost gaming expo which is often the site for major game announcements. Multiple media outlets claimed that the number of female protagonists announced heralded a “breakthrough year” for women in games, but when game developer Adrian Chmielarz compared the data from E3 2015 to previous years, he found very little difference in the number of female protagonists. The media narrative was wishful thinking.
The notion that the world of video games before 2015 was a dark place of sexism, misogyny, and unfairness towards women is a well-trodden argument, and one that has been thoroughly debunked. Early on in GamerGate, a movement that challenged precisely the sort of misinformation seen in the New York Times piece, a video was released that devastated arguments that there were too few female characters in video games. It received over 150,000 views on YouTube.
The New York Times also refers to “the online harassment of women” who “have spoken out about stereotypes in games,” with a link to a story about GamerGate. This simplistic smear of the movement for higher standards in games journalism is now so old, and so thoroughly debunked, that it’s a wonder that the New York Times saw fit to publish it.
While there was considerable online harassment on both sides of GamerGate, it fell across ideological rather than gendered lines, with both men and women on both sides of the controversy receiving a good deal of online abuse.
A number of other peculiar quotes and claims are littered throughout the piece. One games writer is quoted as saying “the male gender does not have a monopoly on heroism.” But given that the number of heroic female characters in Greek and Roman mythology, it’s difficult to imagine a time when this was ever deemed to be the case. Bizarre.