Girls' Night With The Most Male Game Of 2009

It's Friday night and I'm gathering supplies for Girls Night over at my friend's house. Fashion magazines? Check. Nail polish? Check. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for the PlayStation 3? Check. As I chuck the box into my Tinker Bell shoulder bag, somewhere, a feminism fairy dies.

Modern Warfare 2 is a sexist game. On this fact, I think most people agree because it's a war game, a typical male fantasy. Beyond that, though, the game omits women from its experience almost entirely. If you skip the infamous No Russian level, the only female contact you have is an automated voice telling you all phone lines in America are down. There are no women in the bunkers, no women in the chain of command, and I'm 90 per cent sure that that poor astronaut also isn't a woman.

To be fair, the lack of women in Modern Warfare 2 doesn't seem as blatantly sexist as other video games where big-breasted bimbo women are shoehorned into the story for the main character to drool over. However, excluding women - who make up more than half of the world's population - from the entire cast of characters is still sexist. Like branding every copy of the game with a No Girls Allowed stamp.

Sexist or not, though, Modern Warfare 2 captured the hearts and minds of at least three feminists simply by being a good game. There may have been moments when my friends and I as women felt uncomfortable - like riding in the Humvee in the mounted gun position; there was something a little too butch about that. Overall, though, I had to conclude that we weren't shut out from enjoying this male fantasy. We just have to ask if there will ever be room for us to exist within it.

Originally my two friends and I weren't planning to spend our entire night in playing Modern Warfare 2. It was just an item of curiosity, like stealing my big brother's Playboy magazine to show off at a slumber party. The game had been out for about a week and everybody was talking about it, particularly the No Russian level. So after a gracing the first level with our presence, we decided to keep playing and see what all the fuss was about.

Two days later I still hadn't left my friends' house. Empty take-away containers littered their living room and the fashion magazines and nail polish had been abandoned in the kitchen. We were at the final level and we were screaming our heads off with all the high-octave fervour of pre-teen girls at a Jonas Brothers concert.

SPOILER WARNING: MODERN WARFARE 2

That moment went something like this:

"Ohmigod, you have to catch him! Don't let him get away!" This was from Felicity*, a girl in her early 20s who works in local government.

"Ooohhh... He killed Ghost!" This came from Tiffany*, a classmate of mine at Mills College - bastion of feminist principle in the West - and the owner of the PS3. She insists she bought it for the Blu-ray player but we've all seen the stack of PlayStation One games on her bookshelf.

"We know he killed Ghost, we were there! Oh! Oh! Quicktime event!" That was me, the games journalist who couldn't name a single feminist movement leader.

After negotiating who would perform the quicktime event (me, because Tiffany pointed out I play games for a living), we sat back and soaked up the final moments of Modern Warfare 2 almost in revered silence. After the credits sequence ended, my friends and I stayed up late into the night, gossiping, mooning and moaning over every little detail in the game. Sort of the same way we do for movies we like, starring people we'd like to sleep with.

"I heart Ghost," I declared. "He can carry me on his back to a helicopter any day."

"Oh come on," Tiffany replied. "You can't even see his face. MacTavish, now he's dreamy."

"The mohawk's not doing it for me," Felicity contributed. "He'd have to wear his snow cap and goggles to bed."

It struck me then to wonder about our behaviour. First of all, I thought it was weird that we were lusting after Ghost and Soap as if they were Brad Pitt and Jason Statham. Second, I noticed we had moments of masculinity when our typical female language ("Omigod! Eee!") was replaced by more aggressive language ("Kill that guy! Run and knife! Go loud, go loud!"). Finally, I thought maybe we failed at being feminists. Modern Warfare 2 is sexist but we played it - and not just played it, loved it.

That last point is important because it's part of a catch-22 in the video games industry: Developers don't make games for girls because they assume girls don't play games, and because developers don't make games for girls, girls don't play video games. In other words, if I accept Modern Warfare 2 as awesome despite being not having a single female character for me to identify with in it, will Modern Warfare 3 also lack female characters?

I brought the drama up with Tiffany first. "It is possible to enjoy something despite it being sexist, not because it's sexist," she said. "I think there needs to be a move away from the language that makes some things for boys and some things for girls so we can enjoy things without using gender language."

To me, that's typical "Millsbian" language - it sounds nice, but it doesn't offer any solutions. So I asked Tiffany if she thought the game would be better with a playable female character in it.

Tiffany said no, she didn't want to play as a woman, she just wanted to see women. The non-playable character women in No Russian don't count because they offended her (and me). Here's why: they all seemed to be wearing the exact same purple shirt whereas the male NPCs had a variety of outfits. It's like the developers had no idea what women wear and copy-pasted one character model into the level to save time.

Above: Spot the women. Now spot the women without purple shirts.

Felicity mentioned the purple shirt ladies as "not real women", too, but she didn't seem nearly as offended by them as Tiffany and I were. She's inclined to forgive Modern Warfare for not really having women in the cast because she prefers that to Japanese role-playing games where all the girls are cutesy, skinny and have huge tits.

"I would have been OK with some of your radio commands coming from women, though," she said. "But I'd be more worried about having a playable female character because it might seem more like they shoehorned a woman into the game."

That made me think of the first Modern Warfare. In that game, there is a female helicopter pilot in a combat situation. For the majority of the level, she's helping your male character out - then at the end, just as you're about to escape a nuclear blast, she gets shot down and your character goes back for her and dies trying to save her.

This triggers my feminist rage in two ways. First, it's inadvertently suggesting that men wouldn't go back for other men on the battlefield - only for women (and from there, it's not much of a stretch to conclude that women shouldn't be on the battlefield). Second, it's implying that women can't drive. Seriously, why couldn't some of the male pilots get shot down?

I give Modern Warfare 2 credit for not repeating the female pilot nonsense. But at the same time, I feel like they wasted an excellent opportunity to give me, Tiffany and Felicity a female character we could easily relate to without feeling like she'd been shoehorned in: the DC Invasion levels. You really think the US Army would care about the no-women-in-combat-zones rule when the enemy is in the White House? You would see every able-bodied adult on the battlefield at that point.

That's ultimately what I'm asking for from Modern Warfare 3: room to exist within the male fantasy. I don't just want to lust after Ghost and Soap - I want to imagine myself there with them. I don't just want to know that women are in the Army by hearing their voices on a radio - I want to see them fighting for their country the way I would if the enemy were at the gates and my country needed me. I want developers to know that I play video games too, so they should pander to me as well as men.

*Names have been changed.


Comments

    I want to reply to this, but I also have a feeling that it might be a troll post.

    Either way it's hilarious.

      This is whack
      you ladies need a man

    Much of the reluctance to place female characters in FPS games is that it seems unrealistic- generally women do not fight frontline- and somehow society views it as more callous to have a female or a child die onscreen. A murderer is automatically 'more evil' if targeting women /children. I guess developers of more realistic-looking/feeling games dont want to be seen as 'more evil'. Besides, can you imagine what our favourite Attorney Gen might've had to say about MW2 with playable or even non-playable female characters?

    I totally fell for Ghost, I'd push back for him any day.

    "First, it’s inadvertently suggesting that men wouldn’t go back for other men on the battlefield"

    How does it suggest that? Just because he goes back for a girl in that instance does not suggest that he wouldn't go back for a guy - you are the only one suggesting that.

    "Second, it’s implying that women can’t drive. Seriously, why couldn’t some of the male pilots get shot down?"

    It could happen to anyone. Again, it seems to me that you are the one suggesting that something is wrong with her, not the game.

    Seriously. Just because a woman pilot gets taken down does not mean there is anything wrong with her.

    If it was a man, does that suggest he wouldn't go back for a woman on the battlefield? No? Then it doesn't do that for a woman.

    If it was a man, does it imply that men can't drive? No. Then it doesn't do that for a woman.

    YOU are the one doing the implying, not the game.

    About the female in No Russia only having one outfit:

    It seems to me she only has one outfit because there are not many women in the scene. To me, it looks like they were just trying to create the look of a crowd, and have re-used the male and female outfits in however many times is necessary to create this effect. The reason the female outfit did not have to be re-used many times is because there are not many females. Did you consider that maybe in Russia more women stay at home and more men work (I'm not saying this is a good thing, please don't hurt me) and would therefore be in the subway? I don't know if it's true, but did you consider it?

      All in all, I think I just don't understand women, unless the answer is that they're all paranoid. I'm not trying to be offensive, I just don't get it.

      I think I made something bad happen - I didn't think about the game not needing to portray a sexist Russia, no matter how it actually is, they could have created it non-sexistly.

      Sorry, didn't think about that :(

        Also, I was wrong about the employment thing:

        "Women make 46.9% of the employed population in Russia", says Google.

        Perhaps ... f—k... i don't know.. just enjoy the game.. who cares.. i don't have time to talk about this shit. life's too precious to waste.

          Oh man... I got trolled so hard.

            Trolled. So. Hard.

            ;)

              WOW dude. shut up

                Why?

                Why, because you're an idiot? Okay.

                  AverageGuy is rambling like an AverageWOMAN
                  tits or gtfo ffs

      Recall the escape from Pripyat and one severly wounded dude being carried to the LZ under hostile pursuit. Same game.

    An interesting read, I can see how this would be quite frustrating for female gamers. When I think back on all the games I've played, there haven't been very many shooters where you tend to find women among the ranks of enemies you're mowing down. On the rare occasion there are, they're usually depicted as being insanely aggressive, insanely butch, or insanely proportioned.

    Modern Warfare 2 has no women fighting on the frontlines because it's set in the very near future. Women are a rarity on front line action, and, as far as I know, they're not currently admitted to elite forces like the Rangers or SAS, who are the primary focus of the game. The closest interaction you would be likely to have with a woman as a member of the Forces would be via radio command. That's just how it is; it's not sexist, it's Military policy, and it's accurate.
    Plenty of other games include women in the troops, however; take the Halo series. Anything set in the future is able to assume more gender equal combat roles without a problem, and often does.

    Very interesting article.

    I think maybe there's more to marketing of video games (and toys, and sports, and...) to a specific gender. I'm not sure that the MW2 marketing could be faulted here though. Unless they used booth babes to promote the game.

    A local "nature store" chain has a big poster up "Dinosaurs - the perfect present for boys!" What about my daughter and her interest in dinosaurs? I also despair when she tells me that "oh, I can't play football, that's only for boys". She's picked that up from society at large, not me.

    You call this nonsense journalism ?

    now tell all your other girly friends to buy the pc version and become my steam friend, yay!

    wow, what a poorly written, ridiculous piece this is. i don't even know where to begin with it's stupidity.

    This is either an epic piece of trolling or...

    Anyway, I'll bite. The only bit I read (the start, before the spoiler warning, since I haven't played it yet); about there being no women around. Women are not allowed to serve in front line combat roles (eg infantry and Special Forces) in the US military...

    I'm going to pretend all of the ridiculous strawman stuff that actually paints the author as someone labelling things divisively simply to be able to have a cause to rail against and focus on one single idea.

    Why do you need a female character to identify with? Now, I don't mean that we can simply say "We don't need women in games", but why do you require a character you identify with to share your particular genital configuration? When playing No-one Lives Forever, is the main character any more or less compelling for being female? I don't believe so. The reason for your disappointment should be more toward the industry as a whole, for making the female characters they DO create not very memorable.

    However, the fact that the vast majority of female video game characters are strong willed, educated, decisive, capable and independant women seems to be lost on you. It seems that having large breasts makes a person instantly "fake" and of low intelligence.

    I agree with this article entirely. The amount of times I get shit from guys playing MW2(PC) saying that I shouldn't 'lie' about being a girl on a game like Call of Duty. Of course, when they get killed by me, it almost always turns to being a 'hacker' because apparently girls can't play games.

    My clan is always discussing some of the more controversial things in games, and since I'm the only girl in my clan, I have a lot of conversations where they want my opinion on, especially when it comes to gaming and the lack of female roles in most popular games. Now, I preordered MW2 perhaps a month before, and purchased it on the release date, but it still bugs me to see how little I find other females ingame.

    It saddens me to see how many other gamers out there think that gaming is only for guys, and that as soon as they see a girl or female character in a game, they immediately think that the character isn't important, and that if she is, the game is going to go downhill and they should make a big fuss about it because it isn't 'manly' enough for their liking, just because it has a prominent female character.

    All in all, I think this is an excellent article explaining to the other people out there that more and more females are getting into the 'hardcore' gaming, and that they're not these fragile minds that think they don't want to play FPS games because they're too violent, therefore the game companies can make the more popular FPS games out there sexist, because even though there isn't as many females playing this games as males, it can't hurt to make more money from having prominent female characters.

    /end rant

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