Assassin's Creed Odyssey trailer
Tag: opinion

The many shades of white feminism in video games

Contributed by
Jun 18, 2018

Ah, the smell of white feminism. We surround ourselves with it, inhale it, and hoorah off into the night as though we’ve accomplished something — until we realize that we’ve really been choking on carbon dioxide for hours and will most likely perish.

White feminism, for those of you who don’t know or for those of you who suddenly have vision issues (toast to the "I don’t see color" brigade), is feminism that caters only to the needs of the fragile, ever-coddled white women at its helm, with little regard for the women of color who face much more daunting day-to-day harassment given the added layer of race politics they endure. White feminism means that while white women are hailed and praised and seen as strong leaders, dark-skinned black girls are still seen as angry, Asian girls are still over-sexualized and meek, and brown girls are “exotic” (and, if she’s wearing a hijab, probably a terrorist).

This is why, as a woman of color, it’s really hard to celebrate the constant flow of "important women" popping up in video games when the majority of them are white. While Twitter is super excited about the new sexuality choice presented in Assassin’s Creed (you can choose a relationship with a man or woman, and can play as a man or woman) and Ellie’s new lesbian relationship in The Last Of Us Part 2, few mention that all these characters are white or white-passing. So when will the people of color in the LGBTQ+ community get to celebrate — and why, as usual, does it feel like white women are perfectly content to celebrate without raising the same question when they claim to be feminists?

Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 9.58.44 AM

Credit: Naughty Dog

Now, I have a few theories about this. For starters, the European beauty ideals enforced upon us have burned the idea of tiny nostrils and pale skin into the back of our brains as the standard for what’s deemed attractive. Perhaps, as shown through the absolutely f*cking ridiculous choice to give female characters waists small enough to instigate hypoxia and tits the size of bowling balls, game developers are hoping that more attractive female characters will open the door for more female characters, period. It’s a wack, tired take, because aren’t we, as feminists, trying to be seen as normal human beings instead of blow-up dolls? The idea that a woman has to be beautiful to be seen is bad enough, but to enforce the idea that only those with pale skin and European features are deemed beautiful at all is an abhorrent reinforcement of racism — and to suggest that only white, pretty women are worthy of having homosexual relationships not only caters to the cis white men playing the game, but white people in general.

But maybe the lack of gaming characters who are women of color is due to the whole show being run by white guys. 

As reported by Kellen Beck at Mashable, “In a survey published, the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) surveyed 963 people working in the games industry and data from respondents found that when it comes to diversity, 74% of workers are cis males, 61% are white/caucasian/European, and 81% are heterosexual, despite the majority of respondents claiming diversity in game development to be 'very important' or 'somewhat important' to them.”

To break it down for those who are quaking too fervently with rage to see properly: the majority of this industry is being run by cis, straight, white men. So it makes sense that they’d only tolerate cis white women kissing other women.

All in all, it’s safe to say the gaming community still has a huge phobia of dark skin, especially concerning females. In Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Bayek’s skin was a deep, dark brown. Aya’s was rather fair in comparison — and as the only playable female character in the game, it was pretty jarring. In a world that already praises light-skinned females as superior, reinforcing such a message is extremely harmful and completely alienates the dark-skinned women who enjoy these games and spend just as much money on them as their straight white counterparts. Does that mean you shouldn’t be excited about homosexual elements popping up in your favorite games? In my opinion, I don’t know why you would be, as an intersectional feminist.

Someone on Twitter suggested that it was much like voting: white women come first and then make room for people of color. I wanted to drag her across the timeline by her scalp, but took the high road and decided to let the biscuit-head ass hoe know that when white women did get the right to vote, none of them gave a damn about women of color, and Susan B. Anthony, usually hailed as the suffragette queen, was a staunch racist and didn’t do half the work people say she did. So no, this is not like voting, and it shouldn’t be. Why are we, in 2018, still expecting dark-skinned women to wait in line while the rest of us prosper and celebrate? Much like with makeup brands, dark-skinned people continue to be an afterthought and an add-on rather than the priority the rest of us are.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Credit: Square Enix

Think of it this way. You’re probably super excited that women are finally being featured as main characters in games like Battlefront, Uncharted: A Thief’s End, and even Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You, a cute, quirkly little gamer girl, finally get to see yourself as the hero! The queen! The killer! Hoorah for you! Yes to feminism! Let’s put another pussy hat on Harriet Tubman! (Seriously, whose idea was that?) Now remind yourself that women of color still feel the way you did years ago, because much like everything else, steps towards embracing women are being geared towards white women alone.

Some may blame this on a lack of diverse female characters to adapt to begin with, such as with most Marvel/DC games, comic book adaptations, and Tomb Raider. But if white men can be so salty about not having a male Tomb Raider that they created Uncharted, why couldn’t one of the Tomb Raiders be a black girl? Why couldn’t one of the Assassin’s Creed characters been an Asian girl? Common troglodytes (white men on Reddit) will often point to the backlash displayed when developers try to display any form of diversity. Bayek of Siwa in the latest Assassin’s Creed is a dark-skinned African man. Trolls quickly took to the internet to spew the "We Was Kangz" meme, a direct mockery of African Americans who claim ancestry out of Egypt, an African country that notably had dark-skinned occupants in the past. They may also reach back into the ridicule that emerged when it was revealed the last Uncharted game would feature two women of color.

But if a few ugly, invisible white men scare you so deeply that you tremble at the thought of losing game sales, how can you call yourself a creator? For every white man-baby who throws a tantrum and vows to never buy another one of your games, there’s a handful of brown boys and girls who absolutely will because the experience is becoming that much more immersive for them. And hopefully, as the cries of those demanding feminism and womanly portrayals grow louder, we can remember to hold these same white men creating the games responsible for their portrayal of people of color, or lack thereof. It’s not about who they deem attractive enough to be on screen, but who they’re creating these games for.