Here’s the thing about having a three year old daughter. I write a lot about feminism, but even I wasn’t prepared for how goddamn early the cultural indoctrination happens. My daughter’s birthday was only three months ago, and yet she has already been infected with pink and with princesses. Her favorite toys are now princesses, her favorite movies are princess movies, and she insists that she herself is a princess (when she’s not insisting that she’s a fish). And every day she asks to wear dresses.
It wouldn’t be so bad if that’s as far as it went. I could handle having a pink-obsessed, princess-loving, dress-wearing daughter if she hadn’t also accepted all of the garbage that goes along with that. But more than once I have heard her observe, unprompted!, that “girls can’t” do… you name it. Mundane activities. Like “drive”. Even worse was when she said “a proper woman should…”
She never finished the sentence, so I don’t know what would have come next. But honestly, I don’t need to, because I know how that script reads and I know what it leads to – the same issues that I am still struggling with myself in my thirties surrounding my own internalized guilt about being generally pretty crappy at adhering to standard expectations of feminine behavior. Which breaks my fucking heart, because my daughter is three. She makes up stories about her toys, loves climbing things, and is so intensely curious and innocent. So the fact that she, AT THE AGE OF THREE has already internalized the idea that being female makes her LESS…
Well. It makes me want to punch the goddamn universe in the face.
Now, to be sure, as terrible as I feel about it, my spouse and I can’t be held entirely accountable. Since she’s in daycare, she spends more time with other people than she does with us. And even if she didn’t, it’s impossible to control for every exposure to possibly harmful media, because we have to leave the damn house on a daily basis.
Still, it doesn’t prevent me from putting a lot of thought into the sorts of media, games included, that I will allow her to consume while at home. Because while it may be impossible to prevent her from internalizing the core beliefs of our sexist culture, I certainly can do my best to expose her to alternative points of view during her formative years. The problem is that, when I try to come up with titles that I would be okay introducing her to, I don’t come up with a whole lot that she actually can play.
Things that are most definitely Not Allowed
1) Games with Damsels in Distress
First, my daughter will not be allowed to play any games that revolve around saving a damsel in distress. Period. It’s bad enough that at the age of three she’s already learning to think of herself as less capable than boys. But given that she’s obsessed with princesses, and well, a lot of damsels in video games are… fucking princesses…
Yeah. So right off the hop, that rules out any game in the Super Mario series, except for Super Mario Brothers 2, since Peach is actually playable in that one. If asked, I’ll refuse to acknowledge any other game in the series. (Just like how I think it’s really sad that they never made a sequel to X-Men 2, or how Spider Man 3 never happened. Wink wink, nudge nudge) Mario Kart is all right, of course, since the characters are just color in those, but even Super Princess Peach (the one game that Peach starred in as her own title) will be verboten, since her superpowers in that game are basically having emotions and crying. So, you know, fuck that noise.
Likewise, any Zelda game. Zelda gets damseled in EVERY SINGLE ONE, even the ones where she turns into Shiek. And yes, Hyrule Warriors is a game, and yes you can play Zelda, and no she doesn’t get damseled. But Zelda’s costume design is a cleavagey boobplate nightmare, and she actually attacks people by pulling glowing energy OUT OF HER DAMN BITS to attack people. NO I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP. Plus there’s also Shia, whose design is just a hot mess of pointless sexualization and that brings us back to nooooope. No Zelda.
Plus, you know, all those other games where women get damseled. You know, Donkey Kong, StarFox, Ico… (I could go on and on, but really it’s just easier to link to part 1 of the Feminist Frequency video on damsels, because really the list is just depressingly long.) That shit just isn’t going to exist in my house.
2) Any game with fridged female characters
Because Jesus Christ, do I really even need to explain why the trope of fridged women is a terrible idea to introduce as commonplace to a three year old girl?
So, you know, thankfully this spares me from having to prevent her from playing a lot of games that I’m personally attached to. Games like StarCraft (which fridges Kerrigan), Max Payne (fridges his wife and daughter), and God of War (fridges his wife and daughter) have never really been my cup of tea.
However, one of my all time favorite games, a game that I replay every few years because I absolutely adore the gameplay and will never get tired of it, is Final Fantasy Tactics. And FFTactics unfortunately manages to have not one, but two damsels in distress (Alma and Princess Ovelia – again with the princesses!). But you also have a fridged woman – Delita’s sister Teta. So as much as it breaks my heart to ban Tactics, because really it’s a flawless example of a tactical RPG, Tactics goes on the shit list too.
Along with, you know, every fucking game featured in part TWO of FemFreq’s Damsel series. So, just with our first two points, we’re already running out of games that can be considered.
3) Games with pointless fucking fanservice
I certainly don’t want my daughter to internalize the idea that being strong and competent requires being sexually pleasing to men. Nor do I want her to internalize unhealthy lessons about how she “should” look, because our culture is already saturated with toxic imagery that holds women to literally impossible standards of beauty. I don’t need to add to that bombardment by exposing her to that kind of bullshit in media that is meant to entertain.
Unfortunately, that means mostly no online roleplaying games. Certainly not League of Legends, or really any MOBA. Or… you know, really any MMO, except Dark Age of Camelot or Lord of the Rings Online. Except… wait. No, almost none of the major lore characters are women, and hell, almost none of the minor lore characters are women either. So… just Dark Age then. Yes I know that it’s unspeakably ancient and a second-gen MMO that hasn’t kept up with standard MMO UI innovations, but that’s just the price she’ll have to pay. Oh and she’ll have to play on a roleplaying server so doesn’t run into female toons with names like “Muffeater” or “Sweettits” – yes both actual honest to god names I have literally seen.
Well, as far as single player games go, no Mortal Kombat or Soul Calibur. Or, you know, really any fighting games at all, because fighting games are the goddamn reason why “jiggle physics” are even a thing in the first place. It does make me a bit sad, because I lost hundreds of hours to the original Soul Calibur and to Soul Calibur 2; also, Mortal Kombat 1 was one of the first games that my brother and I purchased for ourself and I have many fond memories of playing it. But … yeah. No.
Sadly, #3 means I’ll also have to outlaw a good portion of the Final Fantasy games. It will be hard, and sad, and I will struggle with temptation, but it has to be done. Frankly, anything past Final Fantasy X-2 just has to go. From the ridiculous, ass-exposing shorts Yuna wears in X-2, to Fran’s awful lingerie ninja outfit in XII, to Vanille’s outfit and porny battle noises in XIII… yeah. I did think about outlawing X, but really X is mostly equal opportunity with it’s objectification, so it can stay. Especially because Yuna is one of my favorite female protagonists in games. (Even if her outfit has a stupid amount of sideboob for someone who is traveling across the damn continent and fighting monsters.)
Most heartbreaking, however, is the fact that I will have to outlaw Mass Effect 2 and 3 because of the ridiculously sexualized female companions. Mass Effect 2 has Miranda of the Ass Cleavage, Samara the Space MILF, and Jack of the Ridiculous Nipple Straps, and given that they’re in your party they’re pretty inescapable. Mass Effect 3 is a bit better, but EDI still gets her fucking awful sex-droid body, not to mention that Jack and Miranda still make cameos, so… no Mass Effect 2 or 3, which kills Mass Effect altogether since ME1 is really not all that playable since the stupid Mako missions are required.
And can we just have a moment of silence, because honestly my N7 hoodie is one of my most treasured possessions, and I am still ridiculously excited about getting the reversible Paragon/Renegade hoodie for my birthday this year.
…shit. We’re down to a handful of games here, but there are more things I want to ban. Like…
4) Games with no female characters, or smurfettes, or female characters who are only important for their connection to male characters
Games with NO female characters? That should be fairly obvious, I’d think. Games with smurfettes, though, those have to go too. That particular brand of under-representation really contributes to the notion that women always have to compete with one another – because if half of the population are women, but only 20% or so are heroic, that means that other women who are competent must be the enemy. And while we’re at it we’ll also lump in games who feature female characters that are only important because of their connection to male characters, because that is deprotagonizing and heteronormative as fuck and seriously it’s almost 2016 and I want my daughter to learn that she has the power to make a difference in the world.
So, uh, let’s see. Well, much as I loved Sonic, none of the early Sonic games, because they only had Sonic, Tails, and Robotnik, all of whom are male. It also means pretty much nothing by Blizzard, especially anything based on WarCraft IP. (Except Blizzard already DQs themselves with their copious amounts of pointless sexualization of female characters, so I guess that’s really a non-issue.)
Sadly, this also catches up games that I’ve even been playing pretty recently. Bastion is totally guilty of this; Zia is “central”, but only in that the McGuffin is her father’s journal, and Zulf and the Kid wind up fighting over her. Sure she sorta has an opinion for what you should choose at the end, but you can totally ignore her if you want, because why would you listen to a girl?
Oh god, we’re really down to almost nothing here, but there’s just one more thing that I have to ban and that’s…
5) Games that are casually misogynist
There’s enough casual misogyny in the world without it being packaged as entertainment. Bad enough that she’s going to have to learn that casual misogyny is a thing without me having to introduce the concept of casual misogyny AS ENTERTAINMENT.
So, you know, Grand Theft Auto. The Arkham games. The entire Hitman series…
So. Uh. I guess that leaves… puzzle games? Which isn’t so bad because I love puzzle games! Like, Katamari is one of my favorite games ever! Except… wait. No. No Katamari, because it’s about The King and The Prince, and it takes a long time to unlock The Princess. And there is a Queen, but only in the intro, and she only seems to exist to be pretty and make pies and…
…you know what, maybe I’d better just stop there.