Twitter has fired back against a Bloomberg columnist who not only argued that video games are still sexist, but that this ‘issue’ would be fixed by diverse executives.
On December 27th, Bloomberg published an article by Tae Kim in which he argued that the “Video Game Industry Struggles to Shake Sexist Attitudes” – an argument made popular during the hey-day of Anita Sarkeesian and GamerGate and often disingenuously cited as a detriment to games being considered ‘more mature’ and appealing to wider demographics.
On Twitter, Kim even proudly put his head above the trenches to promote his piece, tweeting, “Hey gaming industry, do you have a minute? It’s time to grow up.”
Kim begins his opinion piece with the claim that “the video-game business has a long and troubled history of sexism and gender stereotypes,” which he supports by pointing to an incident which occurred at Blizzcon 2010, when a female fan asked Activision Blizzard “if we can have some [World of Warcraft characters] that don’t look like they stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog?”
While initially cheered, she was was quickly drowned out by both the boos from the crowd and ridicule from the developers, who pushed back with such questions as “Which catalog would you like them to step out of?”
When the developers asked themselves if they could see high elf Sylvanas Windrunner looking any other way, there was a smattering of disagreement from the audience.
“We feel ya,” replied Alex Afrasiabi, “and we want to vary our female characters, absolutely, so, yeah, we’ll pick different catalogs.” The fan then clearly puts on a brave face as Alex is asked “what catalog is that Tauren female coming out of?”
Oh god, I'd not seen this before. It's heartbreaking.
Here's a 2010 Blizzcon panel in which a fan was brave enough to ask a panel full of men, including J. Allen Brack (left) & Alex Afrasiabi (right) whether there's scope for some of WoW's female characters to be less sexualised pic.twitter.com/Elaf3K7KVc
— Chris Bratt (@chrisbratt) July 23, 2021
Activision Blizzard would later be known for their reputation-obliterating and still ongoing sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuits.
Further, Afrasibabi himself was one of the defendants named in the case, accused of allegedly making inappropriate comments about female staff in a private chat and hosting the infamous “Cosby Suite.” As a result, Blizzard would later have all references to his name purged from World of Warcraft.
Kim argues that despite the Blizzcon question causing outcry at the time, “the industry continued to struggle with hostile attitudes toward women,” as evidenced by such subsequent events as a Microsoft party at the 2016 Games Developers Conference that featured “scantily clad female dancers on platforms” – the resulting outrage eventually forcing an apology from Xbox head Phil Spencer – and the filing of gender discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits against Riot Games and Ubisoft.
Yet, have no fear, as Kim argues that Horizon Zero Dawn serves as an oh-so-rare example that “there is a big market for games that portray women as smart and resourceful actors rather than as pawns, victims and objects of male desire.”
Developed by Guerilla Games and originally released in 2017, the action title was praised by critics and the majority of players alike for its open-world gameplay and expansive story.
However, there were also smattering of criticisms that other open-world games had done better the concept better. Others dared to call the entire package generic, with some even finding Aloy to be a bland “witty protagonist” who lacked personality and emotion.
Kim praises Horizon Zero Dawn as showing “that there is a huge market for games that don’t denigrate women,” thanks to Aloy not looking like a “supermodel.”
As noted by CNBC, in mid-2017, the game had already sold 3.4 million units. The only game on that list with “supermodel” women in it – in this case, the Gerudo Tribe – was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which sold only 2.76 million, albeit in a shorter time frame thanks to the series’ prestigious pedigree.
Yet, despite its initial success Horizon Zero Dawn would fail to stay in the top 10 selling games for 2017, dropping out in December and being replaced by such titles as Super Mario Odyssey, Super Mario Kart 8, and Star Wars: Battlefront II – again, all titles with large fan-bases behind them.
However, the title was the second best selling original IP in November 2017, falling only behind the historical combat game, For Honor.
Nonetheless, as announced by PlayStation in 2019, the game has sold “over 10 million copies sold worldwide.”
Kim presents these sales numbers as evidence that the developers succeed in their mission of creating a “believable and inspirational hero for everyone.”
He also has high hopes for the upcoming sequel, Horizon Forbidden West, launching February 2022.
“If successful,” Kim salivates, “it should encourage other publishers to move beyond superficial female appearances and focus on better storytelling and game quality. The positive response to the title among female gamers on industry websites and social media suggests it might help bring more female gamers to console games as well.”
Further, Kim argues, characters like Aloy are too rare among mainstream games.
“As a video-game enthusiast,” Kim states, “I find it uncomfortable playing leading titles like Tomb Raider, Genshin Impact or Bayonetta, all of which feature female characters in skimpy outfits.”
Despite all three games featuring female characters with nuanced backstories, Kim also seems to forget some of these characters were designed by women. Bayonetta was designed by Mari Shimazaki, with her sexuality being used to emphasize her domination over foes (sometimes literally). In fact, her design in the upcoming Bayonetta 3 appears to be the most concealing yet, with her signature “hair magic” stripping mechanic seemingly dropped all together.
In a 2006 interview Toby Gard, the artist behind the original depiction of Lara Croft, stated that the eponymous Tomb Raider “had a real difference to the games characters of the time. Compared to the burly men shooting guns she had a real appeal.”
In fact, despite persistent but unproven claims that her chest was 150% larger than intended due to a programming error, the Lara of old was designed to not be another female character that was just sex appeal
“She was mysterious and had a danger about her,” Gard explained. “This gave her a real difference to other female game characters that were basically sex objects.”
Genshin Impact’s character artists are a little harder to track down, thanks in equal parts to miHoYo working with Chinese artists behind the Great Firewall and artists typically going uncredited.
Nonetheless, the female characters in the popular gacha game have unique personalities, as well as rich and detailed backstories. There’s even with one character who canonically “once choked a giant monster to death with ease after getting lodged in its throat when it tried to eat her, said monster having fatally underestimated quite how wide her waistline was.”
Kim laments that “for now, gamers are stuck either watching sexist depictions of women or avoiding many of the gaming world’s top franchises,” before partially relenting, “of course, plenty of best-selling video games don’t rely on cringe-inducing portrayals, but familiar gender tropes of the damsel in distress and the use of overly sexualized characters turn up far too often.”
These claims are rather surprising considering how the heavily proselytization of this Sarkeesian-inspired idea by the Western gaming industry – and media as a whole – has resulted in the levels of unmitigated scorn currently being directed towards sexually attractive depictions female characters.
On the other hand, Japanese developers have been trying their best to ignore these sentiments – though not always to the most successful of results.
In late December 2018, Sony Interactive Entertainment Japan Asia President Atsushi Morita stated the recent censorship of sexual content in games with anime art-styles on PlayStation 4 had been done “to meet global standards.” This censorship was seemingly forced upon Japanese developers.
Last year, Ace Research Institute analyst Hideki Yasuda claimed that not only was it “definitive” that the PlayStation brand would fall out of favor in Japan due to this censorship, but that PlayStation game sales had practically been “eradicated,” in essence giving Nintendo an “oligopoly” in the Japanese market.
“Strong female characters” have practically become a meme in western media, as such designs are regularly used to avoid female characters being considered”damsels in distress,” to the point where some have argued the characters are stripped of any weakness or realism.
There have also been claims that female characters are being designed to be less sexy or attractive in an attempt to avoid drawing the ire of critics.
Resident Evil 4 VR was discovered to be censored ahead of its launch. The changes included removal of any dialogue and text that could be considered flirtatious, sexist, sarcastic, or construed as sexual harassment. As put by The Happy Warrior’s Peter Pischke, “these changes were made to anything “that the gaming news media and social justice crowd may deem misogynistic.”
A Facebook spokesperson told Upload VR that these changes were made to “update Resident Evil 4 for a modern audience.”
EVO Japan 2019 saw organizers cut the livestream of a demonstration of Dead or Alive 6 when director Yohei Shimbori demonstrated the game’s photo mode in a way that made it appear male characters were performing oral sex on female characters. The stream also drew criticism for having two real-life models demonstrating the game’s jiggle physics “in real life.”
Commentators stated upon returning that the footage “does not reflect the content or intention of EVO.” EVO was later cancelled in 2020 after co-founder and CEO Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar, as well as several prominent fighting game tournament players, were accused of sexual harassment and abuse, in some cases against minors.
These are just a few examples of the measures taken to appease Kim and those who share his outlook, but given their existence and the fact that major companies would rather avoid sexy female characters than suffer any bad PR or investor revolt – not to mention the cringe-worthy Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode Intimidation Game – it’s legitimately hard to imagine how Kim could apparently delude himself into believing the fight for puritanism in gaming lacks any champions.
Kim’s recommendation to fix the alleged torrent of sexy female characters is surprisingly in line with what companies accused of sexism and gender discrimination have done in order to try and regain public favor. “One obvious path toward reform would be to improve diversity among those who create games for deep-pocketed developers,” he writes.
Citing Activision’s recent report that only one-quarter of its employees were female (and claiming this was akin to other companies) and noting prior study found in 2020 which claimed women made up only 16% of executive roles in the top 14 gaming companies, Kim declares, “It’s hard to imagine that some of the worst game-design decisions wouldn’t have been avoided if there were more female voices participating in the process. The treatment of women in video games, both behind the scenes and as characters within them, is nothing short of scandalous.”
However, Kim’s apparent concern for ‘representation’ would later be undone after the writer made a telling tweet explaining his call for covering up female characters.
“I’d like to play top titles like Bayonetta and Genshin Impact in front of my family without the cringe and embarrassment,” he tweeted shortly after his article went live.
Kim seemed rather proud his article was trending on Twitter, but unfortunately for him, it was not for the reason’s he had hoped. Users were quick to pin Kim’s opinion piece as poorly researched, puritanical, and ultimately focused on an inconsequential matter compared to the industry’s other issues.
Some recommended Kim should enjoy other games and leave fans to enjoy what they like, while others asserted that he had betrayed his own fear of being seen as immature for liking games and that the core of his argument was actually to stop the industry making games he didn’t like for others to enjoy. Others still accused him of simply writing click-bait [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and over 700 quote retweets].
Boob Goddess Chacha said Kim was merely “regurgitating an argument that has been made for YEARS. Within the past decade, there have been MANY games that don’t feature attractive women.” He also highlighted how Kim should try other games if he was clearly not the target audience.
“The introduction of new ideas doesn’t need the drestruction of old ideas,” Chacha implored. “There’s room for both. Stop trying to ruin thngs for others.”
RinAldrin mocked Kim’s expertice. “He I just learned about video games yesterday but I want to lecture an industry on how it should do business.”
“It’s funny everything he wants actually ends up not selling well or not well recieved” YukitoOnline replied. “Using Zero Dawn as an example of what he wants, even though it’s the exact opposite of what he truly wants for the industry.”
“Yeah, it’s not like the gaming industry has other issues,” Bogdan lamented, listing cut content, over-saturated markets leading to lazy developers, excessive DLC, gacha, lootboxes, microstransactions, terrible PC ports, publishers and developers getting involved with politics, China entering the western market, online DRM, woke and cancel culture, and NFTs.
Bogdan even admitted that the industry had grown so bad that he was planning to “limit myself at 2 or maybe 3 purchased games per year and piracy and emulation for old games all the way”.
As Yayaossa Takes Over mocked Kim that “just because you are offended, doesn’t mean you are right,” Aethix stated that “before telling an industry to grow up, you should try doing so yourself.”
Write Like No One is Reading certainly read Kim’s article, throwing back at the author his own statement on how plenty of video games don’t rely on “cringe-inducing portrayals, but familiar gender tropes of the damsel in distress and the use of overly sexualized characters turn up far too often.”
“Plenty of Video Games weren’t made for you” Write retorted.
SplishSplsh stated they would take the issue head on. “As a woman, reading this meakes me wanna get back into drawing so that I can continue making women, usually the badass/super-type, as sexualized as possible.”
“Sorry, not sorry, but I like when my female characters have big breasts and little-to-no-clothes. Get over it.”
Gabriel Pescado quoted C.S. Lewis’ quote on maturity, in which the celebrated author observed, “Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.”
“In childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development,” Lewis continued. “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”
MarK dismissed Kim’s citation of older games such as Tomb Raider and Bayonetta – along with his praise of Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn – as nothing more than an attempt to get his article noticed.
“The Tomb Raider and Bayonetta mentions reveals that this isn’t actually an issue for you (otherwise you’d cite something recent) and your only goal was to bait people,” the user wrote.
The MCSmaster dismissed Kim’s opinion piece as “a you problem buddy.”
“Just because a character is designed to be sexual [sic] attractive doesn’t make them bad/a bad character,” he added.
AquaPrimal highlighted an older game that disproved Kim’s argument.
“No One Lives Forever literally was about a woman in a 60’s spy setting fighting to prove her worth as a spy while saving the world,” they pointed out. “It dealt with misogyny as an obstacle for her character. Do your research next time buddy.”
Darren Blair was one of the few who seemed to offer well-meaning advice rather than scorn. “Instead of fixating on what you don’t like, promote what you do.”
“Saying ‘see this game? I like it. Can we have more?’ will get more done than you seem to think,” he explained.
Kriztuhfuh took a far more bleak view of Kim’s motives, writing, “They don’t want stuff made to please them. They want the stuff you enjoy yo stop being made.”
Nue took a similarly grim view of not just Kim’s proposal, but the industry as a whole, simply stating “Gaming going mainstream was a mistake.”
TwibberRosso went for the jugular, highlighting how Bloomberg “should start first with changes in your company!” in light of sexists comments comments made by and allegations of sexual harassment made against the outlet’s majority owner and co-founder of Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg [1, 2].
In particular, Kim’s comments about wanting to play video games in front of his family was thrown back at him as a sign of his embarrassment over enjoying video games overall, with many speculating that his wish for games to be more high-brow and “legitimate” were simply being made so he could earn praise for his interests and work [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and over 2,000 quote retweets].
RinAldrin once again took the fight to Kim, citing main female characters from Half Life, Alien Isolation, the Resident Evil 2 and 3 remakes, and Metroid as examples of non-sexualized female characters.
“Claiming to be a ‘video game enthusiast’ doesn’t give you legitimacy,” Rin retorted. “It simply tells us that you are just attacking games for clout.”
Yeetbread hurled a far more direct insult to Kim, telling him, “That’s more of a problem of your own insecurities than the game itself.
Elvick took umbrage with Kim’s argument as being flawed and outdated.
“Get out of the 1800s then?” he suggested. “What is skimpy about modern Lara? Puritanical nonsense.”
Edazer called upon an old meme to give a visual portrayal of how Japanese game developers’ use of sexy female video game characters is often loathed and lambasted by western game journalists.
Image170 took Kim’s argument to its logical conclusion.
“Would you also like to watch films like terminator or whiplash in front of your kids?” they asked. “Some games you’re comfortable playing in front of your family, and some you’re not. That’s the nature of diffeent genres catering to different audiences. Find a genre your [sic] comfortable with.”
Cozy Gamer Gimp outright accused Kim of having “never played any of these games. You only cry about them.”
Ironcaster also took issue with Kim’s title of “video game enthusiast” due to the writer’s coming across as someone who “likes the idea of playing games but cant [sic] enjoy them on their own merit.”
He also claimed that Kim and enthuasiasts like him have to “enjoy them through 4 filters of analysys [sic].”
The posting of a GIF of Bayonetta from her upcoming third game by MrBERSERKENDINGMan prompted user pastel to note “I’ve literally never understood how people think she’s sexualized. To me she’s just kick ass and fabulous.”
Godot didn’t wait to go for the jugular, saying that Kim should “Try controlling your emotions then.”
To point out just how ridiculous his claims were, Gammas–tlord applied Kim’s argument to film, writing “I can’t believe my kids saw so much inappropriate stuff when I took them to see that R-rate movie! Clearly it’s the industry’s fault for allowing people to make stuff like that.”
Pador-e noted that the above scenario was “Literally what happened with deadpool.”
GideonOnGaming also added to voices saying that Kim’s issues were his own, and that not everything was made for him. “Sounds like a you problem Tae. Many people, men and women, can play these games without being embarrassed.”
“Maybe, just like every single other form of media, simply accept that everything isn’t made for you and don’t play anything which makes you feel uncomfortable.”
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Drink also denounced Kim’s desire to play more games in front of loved ones, including mature rated titles, contending, “That’s like saying ‘I’d like to watch movies like 50 Shades of Grey without the cringe and embarrassment.'”
In addition, Drink defended how “Lara Croft has had one of the most grounded re-writes since her 2013 reboot. And even then she has been more grounded than promiscuous since then,” and emphasized that Bayonetta is “a game that specifically has a M Rating for a reason SHOULDN’T be played in front of your family.”
BuffyDaddySmoove shared a screencap of a rather succinct made in rebuttal to The Daily Telegraph’s similar article “Why are video games now filled with soft-porn heroines with ridiculously large breasts?”, in which a user replied to the publication, “Because n—-s like big titty b—–s” Master Miller retorted “next article, write some real f—–g news.”
In reply, RyuYagami pointed out how both The Daily Telegraph and Kim evidently “didn’t notice all of the half-naked, extremely muscular men too.”
Seriously bored was motivated enough to list numerous titles with non-sexualized gemale characters, including the entire Tomb Raider series, Slime Rancher, “most oldscool RPGs that lets you pick sex,” and Resident Evil 3.
“Oh no! My electronic toys have attractive women in them!” Punished Snack mocked. “It’s not video games’ problem that you’re embarrassed about your own job writing about them. Rodrigo Ybanez also championed a similar sentiment with a screenshot of Waylon Smithers from The Simpsons recoiling in horror from female strippers.
“This is Katt Chuan. She is from Breath of Fire 2,” put forth Zucca Xerfantes. “It came out in 1994. She is the strongest AND fastest fighter in the whole game. Including the main character. These people know nothing.”
Kim later revealed his Twitter thread had gained 1 million impressions, though he felt there was “A lot of conflation and straw man arguments out there.”
“Dead or Alive and Tekken are other examples of what I mean,” Kim explained before sharing a “message below from a reader who explains it well” with which he was in agreement.
“‘I don’t want to play as ugly people’ seems like such a bad faith strawman,” wrote the fan. “I think any person with a) an ounce of critical thinking skills, or b) who isn’t cloaking an agenda behind their ‘arguments,’ surely understands that there is a massive spectrum between ‘ugly’ characters and overly sexualized female characters are designed first and foremost for lustful dudes.
Prior to his take on video games, Kim previously offered up ways Twitter could improve its services when new CEO Parag Agrawal stepped up, argued against Apple’s child-abuse scanning, privacy-violating tech in iPhones, and reported on former Facebook product manager and whistleblower Frances Haugen’s (deemed suspicious to some [1, 2]) thoughts on how to fix Facebook’s “addictive algorithms.”
Kim has also speculated on how China’s increasingly hostile attitude to video games could present an opportunity for the US and discussed how Netflix can “go big” in their efforts to enter the video game industry.
Do you agree with Kim’s argument? Do you agree with how female characters are portrayed in video games? Let us know on social media and in the comments below!