Deep Silver, Sexism and Women

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Deep Silver, you confuse me so much as a company. You publish in many cases some of the most forward thinking games there are when it comes to Gender Equality, but your marketing and PR often doesn’t match up with the tone of the games you’re trying to promote. Are you of the school that as long as we’re talking about you it’s helping the game, even if it’s complaining about sexism? Is your marketing and PR arm just highly detached from the teams of Developers working on the physical game that comes out? I just want to know what you’re thinking.

Female Sexualisation, PR and Marketing.

Catherine and the “Gentlemen’s Club”

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Right, first things first I’m going to outline some of the things that Deep Silver have done in the last console generation that stand out to me. Some of these made big headlines and you’ll have likely read about, some of these only ever really effected press and others only effected players that went looking for them. What they have in common is they all show an uncomfortable attitude toward women and their place in the world of video games, one that often doesn’t line up with the games they promote.

Let’s start in early 2012. Catherine had been out for almost a year in Japan and North America and was finally getting a European release. Understandably, press were very eager to get their hands on the game, it had been receiving critical acclaim for months in other regions for it’s mature handling of relationships and how men and women interact. Unfortunately that was somewhat overshadowed at the time by the nature of the games press only Launch Event. The event was held in a “Gentlemen’s Club” in central London, with scantily clad women in costumes loosely tied to the game’s art style, were present posing for pictures amongst a group of women providing pole dances or private lap dances for those in attendance.

An article which collected together journalist comments about the event paints a picture that I’m only too familiar with, most of the people in attendance were uncomfortable with the choice of venue and the common consensus was that the event encouraged sexist views within the industry and was in no way representative of attitudes in the game it was advertising.

Dead Island and the “Feminist Whore”

Many players of Dead Island will never have encountered mention of the “Feminist Whore” skill in the original game, but that didn’t stop PC gamers from digging into the games code and discovering this lovely signpost for sexist attitudes within the games industry.

By digging through the .src file of the PC game at launch, a line of code can be found referring to the character Purna learning a “Feminist Whore” skill. After some digging, it became apparent that this was the skill that would in the final game be referred to as “Gender Wars, awarding Purna a 15% increase in damage against Male enemies. Deep Silver’s response to the line of code’s inclusion was that “These unfortunate actions were of one individual at developer company Techland and do not in any way represent the views of publishing company Deep Silver”. No apology was made by publisher Deep Silver, but developer Techland did issue an apology for the code’s inclusion and promised to take action against the employee responsible.

Dead Island Riptide and the “Zombie Bait Edition” Torso

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Skipping forward to 2013 we now have a more recent and well known example of Deep Silver being aware of their attitudes being offensive, yet pushing forward with them regardless. It’s January, the release of Dead Island Riptide is fast approaching and Deep Silver have just announced the special edition of the game that will eventually make it to store shelves in Austrailia and the UK.

So, how offensive could a special edition be? Sure it comes with a statue of some sort, but what special edition doesn’t these days? Well, this statue was of a highly sexualised, limbless female torso, splattered with blood and with visible muscle tissue and general gore where each limb has been violently removed. So yeah, that offensive.

The day of the announcement social media channels exploded in uproar about the tasteless choice and to their credit they did apologise that same day for their actions, saying that “we sincerely regret this choice” and promising that “we are committed to making sure this will never happen again”. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean they wouldn’t let it happen this time.

Skip forward to April and it became apparent that despite their horrible choice, and their acknowledgement that this was the wrong move for them to make, they were still going to push forward and make the Zombie Bait Edition of the game available in AU and UK regions. They knew it was offensive, but they didn’t care enough to prevent the item hitting shelves.

Metro: Last Light and Topless Women

I previewed Metro: Last Light at an event run by Deep Silver. I was incredibly positive about the majority of my experience with the game, but a few moment playing through the game did make me feel rather uncomfortable in the setting provided. I’m sat at a screen, men to either side of me, as I walk slowly through an area of the game where I have no choice but to watch topless women dancing on a stage in front of me in a line, being encouraged my the room full of virtual men, while I played as a man who seemed unphased by the scenario that was unfolding.

I wish that had been the worst part, but later in that same demo I found myself in a topless lap dance I could not escape from, forcing me to point the camera at the ceiling and just wait the scene out. I’m not terribly comfortable with these scenes in general, but having to play through them as a woman surrounded on all sides by men was a situation that not only made me feel uncomfortable, but a little unsafe. I understand in this case that Deep Silver only published and did not develop the game, but those scenes were not comfortable scenes to play through for women at a primarily male event.

Saints Row IV and Pole Dancers

RightI found myself in a tough position back in July. I was invited by Deep Silver to come and play Saints Row IV around a month early, previewing the game and interviewing Associate Producer Kate Nelson in the run up to a convention where the game would be playable by the public. I walked into the event and was immediately uncomfortable as I was greeted by a number of women in sexualised, skin tight, shiny police outfits with cleavage on full display. I honestly didn’t know where to look, I didn’t feel comfortable either looking at any of the women or looking away and ignoring them when they tried to be polite to me. I went through the mock White House setup and proceeded to take a seat at a screen ready to play the game. Unfortunately I first had to get through something that made me even more uncomfortable than I already was.

As music begins to play, signalling that press should pay attention, one of the higher ups on the game comes out to talk about the game from a balcony, flanked by two men dressed like security or secret service agents. On the floor level however it’s a different story. The scantily clad women from earlier were pole dancing to the music. There were press getting out cameras to take pictures of these pole dancers, not the person who actually worked on the game. I later had to walk past the pole dancing podiums to get both to and from my interview slot.

I didn’t approach either of these subjects in my Preview or Interview as honestly they will never effect the end user playing Saints Row IV and as such in many ways are irrelevant to them. The game itself shouldn’t be viewed badly for what happened at a press only event, but it’s yet another example of women being sexualised at one of these events and making the whole atmosphere one that was entirely unwelcoming to women. You wonder why women dislike this industry? It’s because we are constantly bombarded with sexualised women while the men on show get to remain classy and fully dressed. If the event had taken some lessons from the game it was promoting and been a bit more gender equal with it’s sexualisation I doubt it would have been nearly such an issue.

Reality Vs Potential. Let's sexualise a man and have a woman in a Secret Service Suit please.
Reality Vs Potential. Let’s sexualise a man and have a woman in a Secret Service Suit please.

Interestingly, Kate Nelson did comment on sexualisation of women and how it related to Saints Row at the time. Speaking to Edge magazine she said criticised THQ’s move to market Saints Row 2 by putting a porn star in an executive producer role on the game.

Nelson said “Saying that someone who had no industry experience was in a role that is sexualised as a producer of our project, or saying the Penthouse girls are our QA staff… I can see the humour in that angle of promotion but for me that’s the line where it gets into reality”.

She continued by voicing her personal thoughts on women within the series and how their representation is empowering from her perspective. “I think it’s important in marketing games to make sure that the essence of the game is what’s being marketed, and I think the porn star angle didn’t really fit in with what Saints Row is at heart, which is a parody. We like to poke fun”.

“You can be an important female character – you don’t have to have a D cup either. You can be large woman, a small woman – you can be blue. You can be who you want to be in the game and you have powerful female characters written into the narrative. I think our game actually does represent women in a positive way, but the press will focus on, oh hey, there are strippers, or there’s a dildo bat – it’s unfortunate from my perspective that that doesn’t come through.”

My response to this is that yes, that does come through. I accept that your character creation tools are incredibly inclusive and that your game itself is equal opportunities when it comes to representation. The problem is your games are still not presented that way. If I come to a press event I should not have to be uncomfortable at the event. The balance of sexualised pole dancing women to well dressed men in suits shouldn’t be so stark. It really doesn’t match the equality of the game you’re trying to present. In fact, let’s talk in some detail about just how much of a contrast the inclusivity in the game itself is.

Is Saints Row IV the height of gender equality in gaming?

The weird thing about complaining about sexual equality and sexism at the Saints Row event in particular is that the finished game itself is such a brilliant example of how to do Gender Equality right within a game. There are some minor issues with representations of gender transition, but on the whole the game itself is a beacon of how to handle sexuality and gender well within a AAA game.

A brief look at sexuality first. Saints Row IV is completely neutral when it comes to sexuality, allowing you to romance exclusively characters of your own gender, the opposite gender or any mix of the two. It gives you a wife in one early mission regardless of whether you are male or female and never makes a big deal of that fact. You just date or romance whoever you do and that’s never a big deal that needs exploration.

The character creation tool in the game is pretty fantastic too, mainly because it doesn’t limit any of the creation options to either gender, allowing you to have a completely non gender conforming character. You can create a male character with long hair and a high pitched voice that wears dresses and talks with the voice of Nolan North, or a female character that has a shaved head and talks with that same stereotypical male voice. You can have a female character who changes to a male character mid game but doesn’t change their high pitched voice or sense of fashion, wearing a tank top or skirt when it suits them and you know what, nobody in the game cares. You can just be who you want to be and that’s cool with the people around you. Characters in the game can be sexualised, but there are just as many options to sexualise male characters in just the same way. Giving me the choice to have a male character run around naked with his unmentionables jiggling about is oddly amusing, just knowing that I could just as easily do so with a female character. The game doesn’t force this sexualisation on the player, it just makes it an equal opportunities option for players.

The slightly uncomfortable suggestion that was less than ideal was the games implication that gender transition is a case of spending a few seconds and a handful of money to flawlessly transition and go unnoticed in your new target gender. It’s not ideal, but it does open doors for the option to actually have a trans character in your game, which is a step I can’t think of many other games having taken so far.

Summary

For a company that publishes such forward thinking games when it comes to gender, the fact that so many of their recent releases have had some form of sexism or offensive material linked to them and their promotion is shocking. These are the kind of things that put people like me off of this industry, I just don’t like being subject to needless and gender targeted sexualisation as a side effect of trying to enjoy my favourite form of media. I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is, just that we need to send a clear message to Deep Silver going forward. Continued sexualisation and actions that make women uncomfortable for the sexual gratification of men are not okay. Having games that are progressive doesn’t stop your press events and marketting being offensive or upsetting.

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Guest Post: Jenn Stille – Gay’s Anatomy: A Look at LGBTQ Characters in Television

Hey, it’s Guest Post time again here on my general geeky thoughts blog. Today’s fascinating and informative guest writer is the wonderful Jenn Stille, triple-major in English, Psychology, and Women’s and Gender Studies.  

WGST quickly became her love and passion and she got accepted into Simmons College’s MA program for Gender and Cultural Studies. For her major at Augustana, she had to write a Senior Inquiry, which was essentially an undergraduate version of a dissertation, and what follows is her WGST paper.  All the research, paper-writing, etc. was completed in a single ten-week trimester including a 20-minute presentation her my research to the department, family, and whomever else came. So, without further ado, here we go.

Gay’s Anatomy: A Look at LGBTQ Characters in Television

When most people turn on their televisions to a typical program, they’re used to what they see there: a good-looking male paired up with a good-looking female for the lead characters, sexual tension, flirting, and, usually, the eventual relationship or one-night stand. Our Western society is engrained with the innate nature of heteronormativity (the notion that everyone is heterosexual until proven otherwise), and the view of a heterosexual couple on television does not cause us to think twice about the situation. There is no concern within heterosexuality about being seen or having other people know that your sexuality is valid. However, visibility and acceptance is not typical for all people; there are plenty of people who do not fit into the perfect bubble of the heterosexual couple. While there are heterosexual viewers who do not necessarily fit into the ideal heterosexual couple scenario depicted on the screen, they can at least picture themselves as being in the situation. For many individuals who do not identify as heterosexual, there are very few depictions with which they can relate.

Mere decades ago, television programs would not have included Caucasians and African- American actors within the same show or time-slot, but the times have changed and our Western culture has made some progress towards depicting equality in media. There are programs that now include a wider range of ethnicities and races within the same show, although there are typically more Caucasians actors than minorities; women are able to be the main characters of a program without someone finding that to be strange. Currently, our society has become more focused on issues pertaining to the LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans* Queer/Questioning) community, and that focus is being reflected in our media and television programming.

For a few years now, LGBTQ individuals have become more and more visible within society and political issues and, thusly, that has started to become more prominent in television programming. Just over a decade ago, there were no LGBTQ characters depicted in television programs just as decades before there were no depictions of people of color within television. More characters are being identified as LGBTQ during the beginning of the program — in the pilot episode or the first few episodes of the season — while some characters are coming out during the progression of the show.

While there has started to be an emphasis on progression and LGBTQ visibility in our society, it has not been enough to break away from the
heteronormativity. For many television viewers, it’s okay if a character identifies as an LGBTQ individual as long as the viewers don’t have to see any displays of affection between same-sex characters. This type of visibility, however, will only wind up being detrimental to the LGBTQ community as a whole.

Over the last decade, there have been more depictions of LGBTQ characters in television programming but not all of those depictions are helpful. Visibility — bringing the notion of LGBTQ people and their lifestyles to the forefront of people’s minds in order to combat heteronormativity — can be done in a positive or a negative way. Good visibility for the LGBTQ community would depict television characters as accurate, diverse, and defined by more than just their homosexuality much as heterosexual characters are; LGBTQ individuals are not onedimensional or defined by only their sexuality, and that needs to be reflected in the character depiction. If these depictions continue treating LGBTQ characters as stagnant and onedimensional, then they only become viewed as commodities and comic relief for the television viewers; the LGBTQ characters will never be viewed as people that should be treated well or cared about at all. This lack of care for the characters could, subsequently, reflect back onto the way people treat LGBTQ individuals in real life.

Go onto any social networking website, and you will be able to find many instances of teenage girls wanting the “gay best friend” to go shopping with and to help them figure out the latest fashion trends; these stereotypes do not just come out of no where. Many television programs depict gay males as overly effeminate and well-versed in fashion, shopping, and all those other things that teenage girls enjoy which adds to the stereotypes. By wanting that gay best friend, there is no implication that, in this case, teenage girls are open to LGBTQ individuals as whole. In reality, the gay best friend just becomes a commodity and fetishized ideal that the teenage girls would like to have to boast about.

However, just as heterosexual people could be stigmatizing or Othering the LGBTQ community, the LGBTQ community is often gladly accepting their stance in the public eye. Visibility is important to help further LGBTQ individuals in society and in mainstream media. However, this must be good visibility not the stereotypical visibility that is so often depicted in some comedy shows. Through social networking sites, LGBTQ people have been pushing others like them into the spotlight through shipping of same-sex characters and creation of fanmade art, fiction, and show-related posts. LGBTQ viewers and allied heterosexual viewers are taking a stand and doing what they can in order to make themselves be heard and seen rather than just cast aside. In order to change our society’s view on LGBTQ individuals, the mainstream media must work on creating LGBTQ characters that represent actual people and not the fetishized ideal that will look best on the screen or comic relief for others to laugh at.

LGBTQ people in television must not be seen as a commodity or a toss away character but, rather, just as “normal” as the heterosexual characters depicted on the television screen in order to be seen as “normal” in everyday society.

Feminist Movement in History:

Feminism and the LGBTQ movements have worked in tandem with each other for decades; many women in the feminist movement wanted rights and equality for lesbians at the same time. To understand the development of LGBTQ visibility and civil rights in America, the feminist movement must be explained first. For nearly forty years after women were given the right to vote, feminism had fallen by the wayside. First-wave feminists had gotten their main goal of being able to vote, and the feminist movement seemed to break apart afterwards. However, the 1960s introduced a generation of rebellious feminists, known as second-wave feminists, who were more than willing to loudly proclaim their stances. They believed that “in order to be fully liberated, women need economic opportunities and sexual freedoms as well as civil liberties. Like their grandmothers, some of these young women pushed a reformist, liberal agenda, whereas others favored a more revolutionary, radical program of action” (Tong 24).

During the mid-1960s, liberal feminists had begun forming and joining women’s rights groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). On the other hand, most radical feminists had joined women’s liberation groups compared to just women’s rights groups. The differences, Tong explains, were that the radical women’s liberation groups were “much smaller and more personally focused than the liberal women’s rights groups” and they “aimed to increase women’s consciousness about women’s oppression. The groups’ spirit was that of the revolutionary new left, whose goal was not to reform what they regarded as an elitist, capitalistic, competitive, individualistic system, but to replace it with an egalitarian, socialistic, cooperative, communitarian, sisterhood-is-powerful system” (24; emphasis not mine). For the first time in a very long time, the feminist movement was no longer about sitting back and watching things happen; women were taking a loud, vocal stance about what they felt was right.

However, while women — more notably: white, middle-to-upper class, heterosexual, wealthier women — were gaining prominence and a voice from the feminist movement, there was a distinct minority that was being ignored during the movement: As in the case of other women’s liberation groups, lesbians were involved at every level in the NOW hierarchy but their lesbianism was either unknown to the organisation [sic] or was scrupulously managed as potential damage. [. . .] The
issue of lesbianism slowly became an irresolvable problem for NOW as calls for its recognition were blocked by influential figures in the organisation [sic]. (Jagose 46)

Lesbians were being ignored within the mainstream feminist movement just as women of color had been ignored years before. As much as they were personally contributing to the overall feminist movement, their individualized, special concerns regarding homosexuality were being ignored especially within NOW. In the 1967 Bill of Rights created by NOW, there was no mention of any “important women’s issues such as domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and pornography” as well as a failure to support women’s sexual rights including the right to choose between heterosexual, bisexual, or lesbian lifestyles (Tong 26). Betty Friedan, an important feminist with NOW, was among those who strongly opposed public support of lesbianism. Allegedly, Tong writes, she “termed NOW’s lesbian members a ‘lavender menace,’ since, as she saw it, they alienated mainstream society from feminists in general” (26). From this exclusion in the mainstream feminist movement, lesbians took their action elsewhere:

Dissatisfied with NOW, a number of women resigned and called a meeting to discuss discrimination against lesbians — what was then described as ‘sexism’ — in the women’s movement. That event ‘was historic in that it was the first meeting of radical young Lesbians without gay men, the first time Gay Liberation Front women had met with Lesbians from the women’s movement, and the first time Lesbians from the women’s movement had met with each other as Lesbians.’ (Jagose 46) This was the first time that LGBTQ individuals were being given the spotlight and the chance to voice their own concerns.

On September 19, 1964, the first “gay picket” occurred in America (Eaklor 120). Ten women and men picketed at the U.S. Army induction center in Manhattan in order to protest the rejection of LGBTQ individuals in the army and “the issuance of less-than-honorable discharges” (Eaklor 120). After that first picket, the 1960s became a time period for people to express themselves and their opinions — both feminist or otherwise — and that helped ramp up the movement towards equality for LGBTQ individuals. An especially important event occurred on July 4, 1965, where forty-four people picketed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia to “remind the public that a large group of citizens is denied the rights and equality promised by the Declaration of Independence, including ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Demonstration [was] show on late-night TV in Philadelphia and give a brief front-page mention in the next day’s Philadelphia Inquirer” (Eaklor 121). This protest was one of the first to be mentioned in mainstream media and the first to be given a — albeit small — front page article. It wouldn’t be until the Stonewall Riots in 1969 that the movement towards LGBTQ equality would truly be recognized.

On June 27, 1969 (into early morning of the 28th), police officers were conducting one of their typical raids on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. According to Eaklor, the Stonewall was “a popular gay bar with a mostly male clientele that included a cross-section of class, age, and gender (drag queens as well as ‘male’ men)” (122). The police anticipated a usual raid where they checked people’s identifications, kicked some others out of the bar, and made a few arrests. However, as they ushered people into the van that were being arrested, the crowd at the bar began growing more restless and angry. The crowd started throwing pennies, bottles, and bricks at the police which forced them to barricade themselves in the bar due to lack of back up.

Subsequently, the crowd “escalated its attacks, trapping the police inside. [. . .] Riot police arrived around then, and tried for hours to disperse the crowd. Rioters were able to block the street and halt traffic in front of the Inn, and go around the block to taunt police from behind” (Eaklor 123). Newspapers reported nearly a thousand rioters and several hundred police were at the scene; the police beat some of the rioters which incited further anger from the crowd. The story was reported on local press, television and radio stations the night that the Stonewall was mobbed giving LGBTQ individuals their first real moment of press.

The rebellion lasted for five days. Acts of resistance from the rioters included “not only throwing objects but also public displays of affection between same-sex people, and a chorus line of drag queens” (Eaklor 123). For some historians of LGBTQ movements, the notoriety of Stonewall may be just that: an event that is famous for being famous. However, the press that arose from the Stonewall Riots was enough to put LGBTQ people and same-sex equal rights in the forefront of people’s minds. It was no longer just about the movement for feminism; hidden behind the feminist movement, the developments that would later lead to queer theory and further visibility for the LGBTQ community were slowly on the rise.

Visibility Movement in History:

During the downtime between the first-wave and second-wave of the feminist movement, the homophile movement of the 1920s was moving towards education and political reforms regarding homosexuality. According to Jagose, it is “no accident that the homophile movements originate in the same period in which homosexuality crystallized as an identity, when for the first time it was possible to be a homosexual” (22). From this homophile movement, groups began to form in order to promote gay rights and visibility for LGBTQ individuals. The Mattachine Society was a “masculinist organization” that had a largely male membership “which tended to perpetuate its predominately male constituency through informal recruitment. It frequently focused on issues not directly relevant to lesbians, such as the police entrapment of gay men” (Jagose 26). Even within their own movement for visibility, lesbians were pushed aside by the gay men. D’Emilio, as cited in Jagose, states that “in numerous, often unconscious ways, male homosexuals defined gayness in terms that negated the experience of lesbians and conspired to keep them out of the Mattachine Society” (26). Whether intentional or not, the gay men were pushing the lesbian women out of visibility in order to focus on just their issues and not the issues of others.

In response to this exclusion by gay men, four lesbian couples initially created a social club that would be an alternative to lesbian bars in the 1950s. The Daughters of Bilitis, soon after, “changed its priorities and became a political group committed to transforming dominant concepts of lesbianism” (Jagose 26). Just because these women were being silenced by heterosexuals and gay men alike did not mean they were just going to accept that forced silence; they were taking matters into their own hands. They published a magazine known as Ladder that dealt with various issues “including maternity, lesbians in heterosexual marriages and employment” (Jagose 26). By the late 1950s, both groups within the homophile movement concentrated their efforts on circulating information about homosexuality in a variety of publications.

The conservative turn of these organizations can be seen “in the fact that they now advertised themselves as organizations not for homosexuals but for those interested in homosexuality. [. . .] Moreover, they publicly dissociated themselves from anyone who transgressed received notions of gender propriety, such as drag queens or even butch women” (Jagose 27). At times, homophile organizations even went so far as to represent LGBTQ people as abnormal arguing that “homosexuality is a congenital condition” and that they “deserved pity rather than persecution” (Jagose 27). Clearly, the homophile movement was not without faults; there was plenty that these organizations were doing wrong and that harmed rather than helped the community. However, these groups were the first steps towards visibility and equality for the LGBTQ community.

As the homophile movement began to die away, a new movement started to take over. It was on June 27, 1969 that police raided a gay bar in New York known as the Stonewall Inn. According to Eaklor, it was supposed to be one of their usual raids where the patrons were either to “slink off guiltily in the night or come along in the paddy wagon,” but nothing followed previous circumstances (122). The patrons fought back against the raid, and the police tried for hours to calm the crowd; the rioting lasted for five days (Eaklor 123). While the Stonewall raid did not completely initiate the gay liberation movement, its “fortuitous and dramatic illustration of a break with homophile politics often causes it to stand in as the origin” (Jagose 31). Just as the feminist movement went from a laid back wave of feminism to a more in-your-face wave, the
same happened in the gay rights/visibility movement.

The gay liberation movement was the policy-changing, in-your-face, picketing wave for the movement. Consciousness-raising feminist groups, most commonly associated with the second-wave, were important in providing a forum for discussion and personal growth for LGBTQ individuals; these groups assumed that gay men and lesbian women would have many experiences of oppression in common with each other (Jagose 38-39). The gay liberation movement did not imagine “a future in which everyone would be homosexual. What it claimed is that homosexuality has the potential to liberate forms of sexuality unstructured by the constraints of sex and gender” (Jagose 40). It was not a movement that intended to force anyone into a lifestyle they did not want. After years of personal oppression, the gay liberationists could not stand to think to do that to another group: Gay liberationists supported other sexual minorities not just because heterosexual society regarded them as gay or even because of a certain undeniable overlapping of subcultures. Rather, gay liberation understood that the marginalization and devaluation of homosexuality was effected by that dominant and rigidly hierarchical conceptualization of sex and gender which constituted the social norm. In order to liberate homosexuality, gay liberation was committed to eradicating fixed notions of femininity and masculinity: that move would similarly liberate any other group oppressed by what it critiqued as normative sex and gender roles. (Jagose 40-41).

While gay liberation was more open to lesbian women working in their group, many lesbians still felt left out. The lesbian feminist movement developed after lesbian women felt excluded from both the general feminist movement as well as the gay liberation movement. The women decided to take their fate into their own hands and focus on the issues that pertained to them. A group known as the Radical Lesbians wrote an influential paper known as “The Woman-Identified Woman” that was critical for the lesbian feminist movement. According to Jagose, it “exemplifies the political position of lesbian feminism” and it also “deflects attention from lesbianism as a sexual orientation or practice in order to reconceptualise it as a way of being in the world that, potentially, includes all women” (Jagose 47).

The believed that lesbians aligned much better with heterosexual women than with gay men because of the hatred directed towards lesbians is due to male domination: Lesbian is the word, the label, the condition that holds women in line. When a woman hears the word tossed her way, she knows she is stepping out of line. She knows that she has crossed the terrible boundary of her sex role. She recoils, she protests, she reshapes her actions to gain approval. Lesbians is a label invented by the Men to throw at any woman who dares to be his equal, who dares to challenge his prerogatives (including that of all women as part of the exchange medium among men), who dares to assert the primacy of her own needs. [. . .]

For in this sexist society, for woman to be independent must mean she can’t be a woman — she must be a dyke. (198) Lesbianism, for the Radical Lesbians, is an extension of feminism and of women just relating to other women.

After the Radical Lesbians, Adrienne Rich helped progress the lesbian feminist movement. Her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” was controversial and led to much discussion; her goal was to bridge the gap between lesbian and feminist (Jagose 49). Rich wrote that lesbians “have historically been deprived of a political existence through ‘inclusion’ as female versions of male homosexuality. To equate lesbian existence with male homosexuality because each is stigmatized is to erase female reality once again” (292).

Lesbian women need their own visibility and not a copycatted, hidden version of the gay male visibility: Part of the history of lesbian existence is, obviously, to be found where lesbians, lack a coherent female community, have shared a kind of social life, and common cause with homosexual men. But there are differences: women’s lack of economic and cultural privilege relative to men; qualitative differences in female and male relationships — for example, the patterns of anonymous sex among male homosexuals, and the pronounced ageism in male homosexual standards of sexual attractiveness. I perceive the lesbian experience as being, like motherhood, a profoundly female experience, with particular oppressions, meanings, and potentialities we cannot comprehend as long as we simply bracket it with other sexually stigmatized existences. (Rich 292)  Visibility for both the lesbian feminists and gay liberation movements was vitally important. Though both groups went about achieving that visibility in a different way, their focus was clearly on becoming more visible to the public eye and entering into the mainstream — not as an Other, but as themselves.

Timeline of LGBTQ-related Television Programming:

Visibility, as for the political movements, is just as important in mainstream media as it is within society overall. An important part of the LGBTQ community — as well as for any other minority: sexual, racial, or otherwise — is the history of progression and advancements over time.

History is the key to understanding where things have been and how the community can continue to progress and get better. Fejes and Petrich (1993) looked at how lesbians and gay males were being portrayed in the mass media: In the late 1960 television began presenting a more explicit and serious, but still negative version of homosexuality. A 1967 hour-long report for CBS News on homosexuality was noteworthy for its compilation of all the negative stereotypes of gay men (it omitted mention of lesbians). Mike Wallace, in narrating the documentary, concluded, “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He’s not interested in, nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.” (400)

This was clearly not a good depiction of the gay community nor, likely, a very accurate one, but that was the one the media wanted to portray at the time. Homosexuality was a taboo, and, thusly, LGBTQ people had to be depicted as a foreign Other during the television documentary by including all of the worst stereotypes possible. However, as time progressed, depictions of LGBTQ characters started getting better. By the 1980s, positive presentations of LGBTQ individuals in television programming was no longer the exception but that would quickly change. The emergence of AIDS “and its implicit link with the gay male community, and development of conservative political religious movements changed the context for homosexual representation on television. AIDS brought to the forefront the issue of gay male sexual behavior, an aspect of homosexuality that previous televised presentations of gays tended to obscure as too controversial” (Fejes and Petrich 401).

They ended their article from 1993 by stating that a television program on a main network that featured a gay male or lesbian character was far out of reach; they were right: Ellen would air in 1994 but the character wouldn’t come out as lesbian until 1997. There was still a long way to go for visibility.

The emergence of quality LGBTQ television characters did not happen in one instant. It took a long time for LGBTQ individuals to gain visibility within society, and it took even longer for that visibility to be reflect within television programming and mainstream media. For the longest time in the United States, lesbian characters were shoved to the margins, but that was changed when the show Ellen first aired. The show began in 1994, but it was in the March of 1997 that the show changed the face of television. The storyline had been leaked ahead of time and ABC announced that Ellen’s lead character would be coming out as a lesbian during an upcoming episode (Streitmatter 105). DeGeneres, before the episode aired, denied any interviews about the upcoming story line. During “The Puppy Episode,” DeGeneres’ character – – the main character of the program — came out as a lesbian. The mainstream US lesbian and gay movement “heralded Ellen’s coming out as a significant breakthrough; however, academic and other criticism was less charitable. [. . .] Alexandra Chasin suggest that not so much a coming out as a selling out was achieved by Ellen and other similar lesbian and gay developments in popular culture” (Herman 9). No big move in television comes without criticism from others; for LGBTQ people, this was the turning point towards visibility.

Two weeks before the coming-out episode aired, DeGeneres finally spoke out about why she had been avoiding the press — she had her own news to tell. She used exclusive interviews to come out on her own terms; she was more than just someone who played a lesbian on television:

“Yep, I’m Gay” jumped off the cover of Time magazine, next to a large photo of DeGeneres, and ABC gave the actress free rein to say exactly what she wanted to say during a segment of 20/20. “This has been the most freeing experience of my professional life,” the star said, “I don’t have to worry anymore about some reporter trying to find out information. I don’t have anything to be scared of, which outweighs whatever else happens in my career.” (Streitmatter 105) Ellen was cancelled soon afterwards, but the show hadn’t been getting the greatest of ratings before DeGeneres came out — although sources say it likely didn’t help keep her show on the air either. But, just as she said in her interview, it wasn’t about what happened in her career. It was the notion that she could be free and not constantly forced into the closet.

After Ellen aired, many other television programs with LGBTQ characters stepped forward into the spotlight. On Roseanne, Sandra Bernhardt played a lesbian character and Martin Mull played Roseanne’s gay boss (Herman 9). In the fall of 1991, Nancy (played by Bernhardt) married Dan’s old army buddy; their marriage didn’t work out and, at the end of the season, Nancy announces in “Ladies’ Choice” that she has a new person in her life: Marla (Tropiano 208). While Nancy is not a constant main character, her often recurring status in the show keeps her and her sexual orientation in the forefront of the viewers’ minds; she is more than just a toss away character that people can forget about. The following season, Roseanne and Jackie venture into a gay bar to meet up with Nancy and her current girlfriend, who later kisses Roseanne. The episode “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” included the “now infamous kiss that ABC feared would result in a major loss of advertising revenue. But ABC went ahead with the kiss and the March 1, 1994 episode was the week’s highest rated programs” (Tropiano 208-209). Fortunately, the writers and staff at Roseanne were willing to push the envelope of what was common on television at the time because this was not the last LGBTQ character that they featured in the program.

Roseanne’s mother admits in an episode over Thanksgiving dinner that she hated having sex with men and would have to look at a Playboy magazine before she could make love to her late husband (Tropiano 209). Roseanne made television history by introducing viewers to television’s first lesbian grandmother. The show made it clear through comedy and the difference in lesbian characters that “Sapphic content didn’t have to be dour” (Streitmatter 113). For the first time on American television, Roseanne showed that lesbians come in different types and not everyone looks just the same or is the same age.

Unfortunately for American programming, other shows did not follow suit regarding the diversity of LGBTQ characters; most programs wound up focusing on the stereotypical, Caucasian, wealthy, gay male. ER and Chicago Hope did break out from the typical, however, by having a few doctors who were lesbian. Yet, when the AIDS epidemic hit the United States, medical dramas on television reacted quickly; they wanted the ratings and, due to the stigma surrounding the disease, the patients tended to be gay men. During ER’s first season’s finale episode, Dr. Benton treats a gay man, Thomas, who is in the final stages of AIDS. He would rather die than endure another operation, and the power of attorney was given to the patient’s mother rather than his partner (Tropiano 38). Despite all this, the fact that the patients depicted in these programs are gay is never seen as being an issue.

AIDS Epidemic and the Reflection on Television:

AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a deadly disease that was first discovered in the early 1980s. However, for over an entire year after the disease was discovered, it was not referred to as AIDS; instead, it was known as a “gay cancer.” According to Eaklor, The San Francisco Chronicle ran a column on June 6, 1981 entitled, “A Pneumonia That Strikes Gay Males” (174). The story reported that researchers and the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were “puzzled by cases arising in several large U.S. cities of a pneumonia usually seen in cancer patients or others with weak immune systems, not ‘generally healthy young men.’ ‘But,’ it continued, quoting the CDC report issued the day before, ‘the fact that those patients were all homosexuals suggests and association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and the pneumonia’” (Eaklor 174).

A month later, The New York Times published the article that officially termed the disease as a gay cancer. A CDC spokesman was quoted as saying that “‘there was no apparent danger to the non-homosexuals from contagion. ‘The best evidence against contagion,’ he said, ‘is that no cases have been reported to date outside the homosexual community or in women’” (Eaklor 174). For many people, they hadn’t even heard of the disease because there was little-to-no media coverage because the sick people were gay; it wasn’t front page news.

Activists for the LGBTQ community quickly responded to change the perception that the disease was only related to a homosexual lifestyle. Even after the “gay cancer” was termed to be AIDS, the stigma still remained. As AIDS began to be diagnosed in heterosexual patients, there were still challenges to face. Those that were diagnosed had the “misfortune of being relative outsiders in American society: intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, and Haitians. The concept of group membership dominated public discussions of the epidemic and affected the way many Americans perceived both the disease and its victims” (Eaklor 175). AIDS was the disease of the lower, misfortunate side to society, and the heterosexual upper classes refused to believe the epidemic was an actual problem. Because of the downgrading media portrayal, many people lost their lives to the disease before anything was ever done about it:

The “gay plague” stigma was also the primary reason the Center for Disease Control and the federal government were slow in their response. To accuse the Reagan administration of negligence is an understatement. President Reagan waited until 1987 to give his first speech about AIDS. In that same year, 36,000 Americans were diagnosed with the disease, 21,000 had already died, and the numbers continued to grow. (Tropiano 33) The AIDS epidemic lent a brand new context to which television medical dramas could address homosexuality and the homophobia that was attached to it.

Unfortunately, there were not many primetime television programs in the 1980s that could address medical issues in any meaningful way. In 1983, the Christmas episode of St. Elsewhere was the first medical drama to tackle the topic of AIDS (Tropiano 33). During the episode, the character of Tony admits to having anonymous sex with men which is likely how he contracted the disease. His attending doctor, Dr. Westphall, gives a “stirring speech” that “directly challenges the labeling of AIDS as a ‘plague’ sent by God as punishment. At the same time, he emphasizes that the role of the medical community is to care for people who are sick, not to pass moral judgment” (Tropiano 34):

Who am I? Why should any of us be penalized fatally for choosing a certain lifestyle? Especially when you realize it all boils down to chance anyway. And I tell you something, I don’t give a damn for all this talk about morality and vengeful gods and all that. If you have AIDS, you’re sick, you need help. And that’s all that matters. And that’s why we’re here, right? (Tropiano 34) Thirty years later, Westphall’s speech is still relevant when we consider that people with AIDS as well as the LGBTQ community face discrimination when it comes to health care, housing, employment, and societal equality.

Despite how terrible the AIDS epidemic was in America, scholars and journalists believe that one positive aspect of the epidemic was that it moved gay men into the public spotlight. Visibility is important when it happens in the right way or for the right reasons. However, Suzanna Danuta stated that the attention the media gave to LGBTQ people in the final decades of the twentieth century was due, in most part, to the AIDS epidemic because “the crisis bears a large responsibility for this new visibility, forcing America to reckon publicly and explicitly with a population long kept under wraps” (as quoted in Streitmatter 63). However, it should be noted that the level of visibility did not extend across the gender line. Gay men were receiving national coverage on front pages of newspapers and headlines in newscasts, but lesbians were left behind. The American public knew very much about gay men but little to nothing about those strange women who happen to fall in love with other women.

After St. Elsewhere aired the Christmas episode involving a gay male patient with AIDS, other television programs — mostly medical dramas — tended to follow suit. ER aired quite a few episodes involving gay male patients with AIDS including one where the power of attorney went to the patient’s mother and not his life partner (Tropiano 38). In 1994, when ER and Chicago Hope first aired, heterosexual patients were beginning to emerge in hospitals as having contracted the AIDS virus. Despite the stigma still involved with the disease as being a “gay plague,” these two medical dramas reflected the change by having a few heterosexual patients on the programs contract AIDS. However, for the sake of LGBTQ visibility, the heterosexualizing of AIDS in programming was problematic. There were now few gay AIDS patients featured on the shows. AIDS was now being depicted with the “human side” including the “physical and psychological effects of the disease on patients and their loved ones” (Tropiano 39). While these programs started making AIDS seem less stigmatized, the question remains as to why they could only show the human side of AIDS when heterosexual patients were involved.

One AIDS storyline that stands out comes from Chicago Hope. Dr. Nyland, played by Thomas Gibson, is assigned to treat an AIDS patient. His attitude towards her endangers her life and nearly ends his own career (Tropiano 39). Dina Russel, the AIDS patient, arrives at the hospital with severe stab wounds and tells Dr. Nyland that she has AIDS. Rather than treating her, he moves on to a less-critical patient and nearly leaves Russel to bleed to death. He is reprimanded by a higher up doctor and admits that “because [Dina Russel] was a prostitute with AIDS and maybe even an IV drug user, another patient’s life seemed more worth saving” (Tropiano 39). As upsetting as this storyline may seem, it was not uncommon for this to happen in real hospitals. AIDS patients, especially those who identified as LGBTQ, were cast aside because they were simply just not worth saving.

LGBTQ characters held many small, recurring roles in many different television programs — from small time sitcom jokes to AIDS patients in medical dramas, but it took a long time for them to achieve the visibility necessary to be able to hold a program of their own. After Ellen was cancelled, there were no main gay characters in television programming until the year 1998 where the National Broadcasting Company introduced a brand new television show to their primetime comedy lineup.

Will & Grace:

Television programs are often characterized by our Western society’s notion of an ideal male and masculinity — Caucasian, sophisticated, middle-to-upper class, well-built, handsome, and married to a wonderful woman. On occasions, the lead role of a television show might be held by said ideal male’s wife, but, in general, shows have rarely strayed away from that in the past. More and more lately, however, mass media representation has been changing to accommodate the ever-changing demographic of viewers. In recent years, LGBTQ individuals have become more visible in politics and everyday life, and that has been reflected in the different depictions of characters in television programming. In 1998, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) began airing the show Will & Grace which tells the story of a gay man and what it was like living with a heterosexual female. This was the first television program to have a gay character in its main cast from the pilot episode of the program. After Ellen, it was the highest profile presence of LGBTQ characters in American television.

Will & Grace was a big step into visibility for LGBTQ individuals. For the first time, a main character in a television program identified as a gay man. In addition, one of the main secondary characters identified as a gay male as well; two characters within the main cast of four characters were gay men, and it was unprecedented for American television. According to Streitmatter, one of the show’s best elements was that it featured two gay men who were not alike at all which showed that gay people are not exactly the same (115). These two men were treated like normal, everyday human beings. They were not unlike the other main characters of the show excluding the fact that they were gay. The show’s “most far-reaching statement was a subtle one that emerged gradually over time: Gay people deserve equal rights” Streitmatter 115- 116). For the first time, the image of gay men was no longer seen as threatening for the television viewers. In May of 2012, Joe Biden cited the series during one of his speeches as an influence in American thinking regarding LGBTQ rights saying, “I think ‘Will & Grace’ did more to education the American public than almost anything anybody has ever done. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”

After the success of Will and Grace, other shows with LGBTQ characters began emerging. In 2003, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy emerged into the reality television scene which was quite different from all previous scripted programming. Hart (2004) writes that the show was groundbreaking because it “consistently makes trouble for the notion [. . .] that gay men are inherently inferior to heterosexuals by virtue of their sexual orientation, and it does so for a rapidly expanding viewing audience” (245). He further goes on to explain that the widespread stereotypes actually help contribute to the shows potential:

It appears to offer only images of gay men that are non-threatening to heterosexual viewers while at the same time it is bombarding those same viewers with representations implicitly suggesting that gay men are actually superior — rather than inferior — to heterosexuals, thereby inverting and undermining the cumulative message that has been disseminated about gay men in U.S. society through television offerings in recent decades. (Hart, 2004, p.246)

In ways that Will and Grace could not, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy brought a power to gay males that they had never before had; the gay men on the show were teaching the heterosexual males how to improve themselves and, thusly, had the control over the situation. For once, it was not the heterosexual males taking the lead. However, as useful as Will & Grace was for the LGBTQ community, the show was also a disservice to the community’s visibility. The character of Will does not depict an accurate representation of the average gay male. Will is a white, wealthy man with a steady job; the audience is rarely privileged to see him involved in a romantic relationship (Avila-Saavedra, 8-9; Mitchell 1):

Gay male characters are only welcomed in mainstream mass media as long as they do not infer any sexual desires and practices. In the past, gay men were consistently portrayed as effeminate in the media. In today’s mass media, a man can be at the same time openly gay and masculine. However, media’s gay masculinity is predominately ‘young, white, Caucasian, preferably with well muscles, smooth body, handsome face, good education, professional job, and a high income.’ (Avila-Saavedra 8)

The representation of gay men as presented by Will & Grace is high exclusive, and it does not accurately represent the general population. On the other hand, the character of Jack has “been consistently presented as the most highly stereotypical version of a self-centered, promiscuous, mean-spirited, flamboyant queen” (Hart 244). Will’s sexuality is given a backseat in the main point of the show, and Jack, as the other main gay character, is used for comic relief.

The question remains, then, if the show was meant to help visibility for the LGBTQ community, why were so many things presented as bad visibility for the show. Mitchell quotes Eric McCormack, the actor who plays will, in her article as saying, “Other than extremists, I don’t now how the show could offend.” She then elaborates on that statement by saying, “McCormack’s assertion about Will & Grace’s power, or lack thereof, to disturb audiences is telling: it suggests that the program’s representations tend to conform to social conceptions of acceptability, thereby remaining inoffensive” (Mitchell 1053). Will & Grace was a show designed to promote visibility of gay men in a way that was palate-able for heterosexual viewers. It promoted LGBTQ visibility, but only in a limited fashion. No viewer was forced to really think about what they were seeing or really analyze their automatic, gut-level reaction to the sight of a gay character:

Will & Grace is neither wholly subversive of nor entirely complicit in hegemonic relations of power. Rather, like the larger culture in which it is produced, the program is a site of contradiction, a site of ideological contest in which values, practices and social norms are enacted, challenged, and negotiated. The program challenges the industry’s tendency to construct heterosexuality as the primetime norm through its characters and storylines, for instance. But the program’s inclusion of gay identity does not perforce produce antiracist, antisexist, or antheterosexist counterknowledges that will alter inequitable social conditions. (Mitchell 1063-1064)

The show was a major step forward for the LGBTQ community in terms of visibility, but the visibility was incredibly limited. The depicted gay male characters were stereotypical and their sexuality was generally ignored, but the fact that they were on television at all was a major step towards visibility. However, once again, as the gay male was being represented in the mainstream media, the lesbian population was still hidden from view.

The L Word:

It wasn’t until 2004 that lesbians became the focus of a television program known as The L Word that aired on the extended cable channel, Showtime; it soon became one of Showtime’s most highly rated programs. It was the “first US television series to represent a lesbian community” and “the show necessarily presented its producers with some thorny questions about how to portray lesbian and bisexual women in ways that did not simply reproduce stereotypes and preconceptions shaped by a sexist and heterosexist dominant culture” (McFadden 421).

However, as McFadden continues to explain, the creators of The L Word also had to balance the “profit-driven goal of attracting the broadest possible audience necessarily complicated presented explicit challenges to those stereotypes and preconceptions. The program’s attempts to navigate these representational, political and commercial contradictions have produced a wide variety of responses from audiences, from avid fandom to passionate critique” (421). The L Word is a difficult show to address. Unlike Will & Grace, it was not on a main, major network that would allow for countless amounts of viewership. The L Word had to balance what the Showtime viewers and advertisers would want; people pay for the channel, and that leads to a different type of viewership for the program:

And if there ever was a series that had to be packaged just right in order to succeed, it was The L Word: a show that featured characters to whom few Americans could easily relate engaging in sexual activity that had never been shown on television before and matter-of-factly discussing topics that are considered controversial at best, offensive and profane at worst. This might not have mattered if The L Word only needed to appeal to lesbians, but it needed to draw a broader audience outside the gay community in order to succeed. Given all the obstacles The L Word had to tackle on top of the ones that every new show faces, is it any wonder that the characters on the series were generally written to conform to traditional norms of femininity? (Warn)

The L Word went through many struggles to even just stay on the air, but was the effort worth it for the LGBTQ community and visibility? While gay males are often represented on television, at that time, in a stereotypical format, there had never been many lesbian women in television; they had to be appealing and acceptable to the overall audience who had never before seen a lesbian group on television beforehand. Because of this, the “typical” Hollywood actresses are used for the show which, as with Will in Will & Grace, does not accurately represent the average lesbian population. This “preference is sexist, limiting, and a denial of reality, of course, and it’s important that television begin to diversify how women and lesbians are portrayed; butch women and others who don’t conform to convention do not deserve to continue to languish in television obscurity” (Warn).

The L Word cannot change the world within a single television program; it raised visibility to the existence of lesbians and bisexual women on television, but no show can be perfect when up against such adversity. The L Word was a step forward for the lesbian community, but the trans* community was left behind. There were some aspects of the show that could have appeared to be transphobic (Lee and Meyer 234). While the program may have been making the lesbian community appear more welcoming for the “general public,” the show was, potentially, further dividing the LGBTQ community and widening the already existing gap between the LGB portions of the community and the trans* community.

In order to fit into the heteronormative family dynamics that exist within our patriarchal society, many portrayals of lesbian characters depict them as being more “masculine” so one of the pairing is the male compared to the female — a dichotomy that actually rarely exists in same sex relationships. There are many ways in which The L Word “perpetuates a heteronormative gaze” because of the ways that some of the couples are depicted (Lee & Meyer 247). However, there are certain aspects of the show that simply could not be changed just because it was the first show to ever depict lesbians on television. There needed to be some easing of the viewers into understanding that lesbians can be “normal” like they are before the show (or any subsequent show) could start breaking the mold.

The L Word was an important show for the lesbian community and the LGBTQ community overall. It made many lesbians feel comfortable within their own skin and realize that it was perfectly okay to have a non-heteronormative sexual orientation; they weren’t alone. Visibility is, as it has always been for the LGBTQ community, very important, and The L Word raised visibility for lesbian and bisexual women:

But The L Word’s biggest achievement is simply in improving the visibility of lesbian and bisexual women on television by leaps and bounds, which will make it that much easier to challenge tradition concepts of gender and appearance in the future — just as early television shows with women in non-traditional roles (like Mary Tyler Moore and Cagney and Lacey) that were stereotypical in many other ways have helped to pave the way for The L Word. (Warn)

The L Word was a big stepping stone for future television programs like Grey’s Anatomy to depict lesbian couples without fear of repercussion from viewers or cancellation.

Currently-Airing LGBTQ-related Television Programs:

After Will & Grace and The L Word paved the road for LGBTQ characters, many television programs have begun incorporating LGBTQ characters into their main and recurring cast of characters. Scripted programing like Grey’s Anatomy features a prominent lesbian couple who work as doctors at the hospital and raising a child together whereas Glee features both gay and lesbian teenage couples to help more teenagers feel comfortable within their skin; Modern Family features an adult gay couple who are raising a child. Non-scripted programming like The Rachel Maddow Show which is anchored by lesbian pundit Rachel Maddow or reality programs like Top Chef or Project Runway where many of the contestants identify as LGBTQ bring “real” LGBTQ individuals into the spotlight. LGBTQ characters have quickly entered the realm of television programming, but they are still hard to find; they certainly do not exist within every television show.

Sara Ramirez, who plays Callie (one of the lesbian doctors) on Grey’s Anatomy is proud of the character she plays and openly supports gay rights. In an interview with After Ellen, she said this about the visibility of lesbians on television programming:

I think it’s getting better. I hate to say it, but unfortunately in this day and age in Hollywood when things are fashionable, suddenly you start to see it pop up everywhere. I feel like it’s popping up everywhere more and more. We had The L Word, obviously; we had a lot of shows in Hollywood that were trying, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I remember back in the day when it was The Real World on MTV and there was a gay character. In terms of specifically lesbian characters, The L Word was really the first show that showcased that and since then Grey’s Anatomy and we’ve seen several primetime TV shows try to incorporate lesbian characters into their shows and even pilots, I feel like it’s become almost mandatory in a way. I’m hopeful and I’m grateful that people are starting to realize how important it is to have a well-represented show and a cast that really represents the world that we live in. (Bendix)

Progress has been made, and people can turn on the television now and see all types of people cast in a program: white or black, gay or straight, fat or thin. Slowly but surely, more and more different types of people are being depicted. Producers are no longer afraid to put LGBTQ people in the spotlight of television programs. They realize that homosexuality is not only a part of our culture, but it’s also not a death warrant for a television show. Visibility is key to help society see that LGBTQ people are “normal” people just like they are, but also to help LGBTQ people see that there are other people just like themselves:

So imagine being scared and alone and different and turning on your television to see Emily Fields on Pretty Little Liars and realizing that being gay doesn’t make you a kitten sacrificer after all. Or imagine thinking you’ll never find true love because you just can’t make it work with a man and opening up a comic book to see beautiful, normal couple Katchoo and Francine in Strangers in Paradise. Imagine knowing you’re gay and being afraid to come out and turning on your radio and hearing Chely Wright’s story. Imagine being afraid of losing your career because you’re gay and being reminded of what’s possible just by flipping the channel to Ellen. Imagine equating being g-a-y with burning in h-e-l-l and seeing Sophie and Sian being in love in church on Coronation Street and realizing that loving another girl doesn’t mean you have to stop loving God. If I’d had any of those things when I was growing up — just one of them, just one lesbian or bisexual character to relate to — it wouldn’t have taken me 25 years to stop trying to outrun what was inside me. (Hogan)

There are more and more LGBTQ characters being depicted on the television screen, but that does not mean there are enough of them. If you were to turn on the television to a random program, the likelihood that the program would have included an LGBTQ character is minimal, but the odds are better now than ever before. The odds are better now than ever before that an LGBTQ individual can turn on the television and see someone like themselves; they will no longer feel so alone.

I Dreamed a Dream:

After so many programs have portrayed LGBTQ characters, more and more television show viewers are hoping that more characters would be in a same-sex relationship. Through social networking websites like Fanfiction.net and Tumblr, the fans of the television programs are connecting with each other and discussing the ways that they would want to see the characters portrayed. Through something known on the social networking sites as “shipping,” they pair characters together into relationships they want the characters to enter into. Shows like Criminal Minds, Rizzoli and Isles, Supernatural, Warehouse 13, and Once Upon a Time to name a few, all have heterosexual characters that the fandom ships together in a same-sex relationship even though it is clearly not that way on the television show.

This can be both good and bad for the LGBTQ community. On one hand, it shows that television show viewers are more open to characters being in non-heteronormative relationships and integration into “normal” society. This lends to a stronger want for visibility for the LGBTQ community as well; the fans want LGBTQ characters who can be seen and heard in relationships with strong characters. Some television shows like Rizzoli and Isles have lesbian subtext seemingly written into them that makes it easier for the viewers to pair the characters together.

In the pilot episode, Jane Rizzoli is laying in bed when Maura Isles joins her and she says, “Are we having a sleepover or is this your way of telling me you’re attracted to me?” Subtext like this is what lends viewers to shipping couples in a same-sex relationship, but is that shipping just too much wishful thinking from the fans? Through shipping non-LGBTQ characters as being in a same-sex relationship, it could be seen as having turning LGBTQ individuals into a commodity.

On social networking sites, it’s not uncommon to find teenage girls often posting about wanting to have a “gay best friend” to go shopping with (Tumblr users). It could be seen that shipping characters in a same-sex relationship could be similar to wanting the gay best friend for shopping. However, from personal interviews, it seems more evident that shipping is being used as a means to raise visibility for LGBTQ characters and as personal support for the community as a whole.

Lesbian subtext is depicted often in television shows like Rizzoli and Isles or Once Upon a Time, and it lends itself to the character shipping from the fandom. Some people believe that the subtext can be bad because it could be a way for writers to give the LGBTQ community what they want without having to actually write the characters into the storyline. However, Heather Hogan, head writer for After Ellen, explains the notion of subtext in television shows in a brilliant way:

I often hear lesbians complain that subtext is a way for writers to string along their gay viewers. I’ve been writing about lesbian pop culture for a long time, and while I’ve seen writers do some deplorable things to their lesbian and bisexual fans, I’ve very rarely seen them use the ol’ carrot-and-stick to create a will they/ won’t they between two straight women. What actually happens most of the time is that lesbian viewers hone in on delicious female/female chemistry and project their own sexuality onto the characters. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that — as long as we’re clear that we’re the ones doing the projecting, rather than the ones being projected upon. Subtext matters because strong, wellrounded female characters are still woefully underrepresented on TV. Especially strong, well-rounded female characters who talk to one another about more than their boyfriends. Subtext matters because it creates a virtual playground for lesbian fans to interact with each other on fan forums and Twitter and Tumblr and in the comments sections of the greatest lesbian entertainment website in the world. It matters because lesbians can use that subtext, that chemistry between two female characters, to create their own versions of the story. And it matters because subtext is a gateway drug for main text. (“Subtext”; emphasis mine)

There is nothing wrong with shipping and subtext because it allows the LGBTQ community to own their identity and prove that there is nothing wrong with who they are and what their lives are like. Their versions of the story matter just as much as anyone else’s story.

Personal Interviews:

During personal interviews I conducted with a variety of people, it was evident that, while LGBTQ characters have grown in visibility, there is still a severe lack overall of the presence of non-heteronormative characters. On the one hand, there has been a dramatic lowering in the stereotypical gay characters (Anonymous; Wilson), but that does not mean that all is for the better. Visibility has grown, and more and more television writers are realizing that LGBTQ characters do not need to be depicted in stereotypical ways just to get a laugh (Anonymous). LGBTQ characters are no longer defined by just their sexual orientation and are, rather, multi-dimensional characters that can be written in many different ways.

Joe Wilson is the writer, creator, and producer of an online webseries. For the third season of his show, he was anticipating creating a gay character and initially thought of the role of the hairdresser that he needed for a few specific scenes (Wilson). However, as stated in his interview, he said that the more he thought about it he realized that he didn’t need nor want a gay character in the stereotypical role. Instead, he’s using the gay character he had planned for a much larger role in the webseries (Wilson). Even the small steps like these are important for the LGBTQ community and equality and visibility overall.

Through anonymous interviews, it was evident that the television viewers were glad for the increased visibility for the LGBTQ community whether they identified as such or not. In society and politics, equality and gay rights have become a very important topic, and the viewers want to see that equality and passion reflected through the television programs (Anonymous).

Visibility is very important for the LGBTQ community and progress cannot be made if no one even realizes that LGBTQ people exist; it is about more than just seeing a lesbian or trans* individual on the television screen — it’s about opening the minds of others to realize that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is human and deserves to be treated decently and have equal rights.

Conclusion:

No one wants to be known as the outsider; no one wants to be treated as though they are different from everyone else around them. Everyone wants to feel like they are important and that they deserve to have equal rights. For most LGBTQ individuals, that is not the case, but it has slowly been getting better. Through television programs like Will & Grace or The L Word or Grey’s Anatomy, LGBTQ characters have been gaining visibility in the public eye and, thusly, some respect within the mainstream media and politics. There is a difference in good and bad visibility, however, and LGBTQ characters on television have endured both kinds. Bad visibility is the depiction of stereotypical characters like Will and Jack on Will & Grace or the generic, nondescript lesbians of The L Word, but these depictions were necessary to break the ice for LGBTQ characters to enter television programming at all. Just like women in the feminist movement had to quietly ease themselves into the movement, LGBTQ characters had to ease themselves into television programming to show heterosexual viewers that they are not so scary as the mainstream media had originally made them seem. Slowly but steadily, the visibility has changed from bad to much better.

Modern programming now includes lesbian couples raising children or gay men adopting a baby or adolescents discovering that their sexual identity is a little bit different than the norm. There are finally a variety of LGBTQ characters depicted that show LGBTQ individuals are not all the same and enables the community to personally relate to a range of different characters.

More and more, the characters are being defined by something other than just their sexuality or whom they may love. For once, LGBTQ characters are being shown as real people and not just a sexual deviant from our heteronormative society. This does not mean that equality has been achieved. While LGBTQ characters are being depicted more and more often in television programs, they are still a major minority and are not included in some television shows at all.

During the interviews, people were asked about what gay male characters they could name versus lesbian female characters (Anonymous). By a majority, there was always more gay male characters named than lesbian women. While visibility has grown, it has grown more for a gay male group than for the LGBTQ community overall.

Overall, visibility has been changed drastically for the decades that LGBTQ characters have finally been included in mainstream media and television programming, but equality is still not quite there. LGBTQ characters are becoming less and less of the toss-away comedic, stereotypical character and more of an important aspect of each television show that they are included in. Despite the heteronormativity in our society, LGBTQ individuals are slowly being given equality in both politics and through the media, but we haven’t yet achieved it — and we may not achieve it for quite a while, but the fact is that we’re making progress. Just as the civil rights movement and the feminist movement took small steps towards equality, the LGBTQ movement must do the same. As more television writers and creators add well-rounded LGBTQ characters to television programs, the better off we become and the bigger the steps we take as a society towards equality. Until then, knowing that there is a lack in characters or acknowledging the stereotypes is enough to help the community move more into visibility. Being open to seeing different sexual orientations on the television screen enables people to feel more comfortable to seeing those people on the streets. Little by little, step by step, it does get better.

Works Cited

Anonymous. “Fan Interviews.” Online interview. Jan.-Feb. 2013.
Avila-Saavedra, Guillermo. “Nothing Queer about Queer Television: Televized Construction of
Gay Masculinities.” Media Culture & Society 31.1 (2009): 5-21. Print.
Bendix, Trish. “Sara Ramirez Talks Lesbian Visibility, Calzona and “Broadway Takes the
Runway”” AfterEllen.com. N.p., 1 Oct. 2010. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.
Eaklor, Vicki Lynn. Queer America: A People’s GLBT History of the United States. New York:
New, 2011. Print.
Fejes, Fred, and K. Petrich. “Invisibility, Homophobia, Heterosexism: Lesbians, Gays and the
Media.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10.4 (1993): 396-422. Print.
Gross, Larry. Up From Visibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America. New York,
NY:
Columbia UPl, 2001. Print.
Hart, Kylo-Patrick R. “We’re Here, We’re Queer–and We’re Better than You: The
Representational Superiority of Gay Men to Heterosexuals on Queer Eye for the Straight
Guy.” Journal of Men’s Studies 12.3 (2004): 241-53. Print.
Herman, Didi. “‘I’m Gay’: Declarations, Desire, and Coming Out on Prime-Time Television.”
Sexualities 8.1 (2005): 7-29. Print.
Hogan, Heather. “Beyond Visibility: It Really Does Get Better (And TV Helps).”
AfterEllen.com. N.p., 3 Dec. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2013.
Hogan, Heather. “Does Lesbian Subtext Still Matter?” AfterEllen.com. N.p., 27 Dec. 2011. Web.
12 Feb. 2013.
Jagose, Annamarie. Queer Theory: An Introduction. New York, NY: New York UP, 1996. Print.
Johnson, Merri Lisa, ed. Third Wave Feminism and Television. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris,
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Lee, Pei-Wen, and Michaela Meyer. ““We all have Feelings for our Girlfriends:” Progressive (?)
Representations of Lesbian Lives on the the L Word.” Sexuality & Culture 14.3 (2010): 234-
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McFadden, Margaret. “‘L’ is for Looking again.” Feminist Media Studies 10.4 (2010): 421-39.
Print.
Mitchell, Danielle. “Producing Containment: The Rhetorical Construction of Difference in Will
& Grace.” Journal of Popular Culture 38.6 (2005): 1050-68. Print.
RadicalLesbians. “The Woman-Identified Woman.” Feminist Theory: A Reader. Comp.
Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Bartkowski. Third ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill,
2010. 197-200. Print.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” Feminist Theory:
A Reader. Comp. Wendy K. Kolmar and Frances Bartkowski. Third ed. New
York, NY: McGraw Hill, 2010. 290-97. Print.
Streitmatter, Rodger. From ‘Perverts’ to ‘Fab Five’: The Media’s Changing Depiction of Gay
Men and Lesbians. New York, NY: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Third ed. Boulder,
CO: Westview, 2009. Print.
Tropiano, Stephen. The Prime Time Closet: A History of Gays and Lesbians on TV. New York,
NY: Applause Theatre & Cinema, 2002. Print.
Tumblr Users. “Tumblr.” Gay Best Friend Tag. Tumblr, 2013. Web. 12 Feb. 2013. <http://
http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/gay best friend>.
Warn, Sarah. “Too Much Otherness: Femininity on “The L Word”” AfterEllen.com. N.p., 18 Apr.
2004. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.
Wilson, Joe. “Interview with Joe Wilson.” Telephone interview. 02 Feb. 2013.
Works Consulted
Chambers, Samuel A. The Queer Politics of Television. New York, NY: I.B. Tauris, 2009. Print.
Clarke, Victoria, and Celia Kitzinger. “‘We’re Not Living on Planet Lesbian’: Constructions of
Male Role Models in Debates about Lesbian Families.” Sexualities 8.2 (2005): 137-52.
Print.
Creekmur, Corey K., and Alexander Doty, eds. Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Essays
on Popular Culture. London: Duke UP, 1995. Print.
Gauntlett, David. Media, Gender, and Identity: An Introduction. Second ed. New York, NY:
Routledge, 2008. Print.
Gross, Larry, and James D. Woods, eds. The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gay Men in
Media, Society, & Politics. New York, NY: Columbia UP, 1999. Print.
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Routledge, 2010. Print.
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Aesthetic on Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and, 2006. Print.
“Queer Tv.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian & Gay Studies 11.1 (2005): 103-5. Print.
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Creating a Life Worth Living. New York, NY: Plume, 2012. Print.
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New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2004. Print.

Better Than Bechdel

Beyond: Two Souls

A few days ago I wrote an article about gaming’s equivalent of a Bechdel Test. Based on an adapted test from BechdelGamer.Wordpress.com and worked in to include interactivity as a base requirement, this is what I settled on as the best currently suggested Bechdel test for gaming.

In a game containing a recognizable narrative or characters:

1)     There are at least two female coded characters…

(a)   Of which both are either playable or a plot significant NPC (non-playable character)

2)     …who have at least one instances of sustained commutation (a conversation) with each other,

3)     About something other than a male coded character or characters.

4 )      A scene meeting these criteria is a unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene the passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.

It’s not perfect, but it serves its purpose and, most importantly, is achievable even for games without a female playable protagonist (Beyond Good and Evil passes even if you ignore the existence of it’s lead character Jade). The problem however is that The Bechdel Test sucks. We need to be aiming higher than that.

Let me explain that in a little more depth. The Bechdel Test is a test of Quantity of female representation, it cares not for Quality. You can have a game that has a great quality of female representation like Thomas Was Alone fail the Bechdel test because the women in the story never take part in actual Dialogue and terribly misogynist games pass the test just by sheer brute force. Throw enough sexist stereotypes of women together and they’ll likely have a conversation that passes through by the pure law of averages. The Bechdel Test is a way to highlight how woefully inadequate representation in a medium is, it does nothing to help us compare and rank quality of representation, to tell us if a game is actually helping women to get closer to equal representation.

That’s where I hope to change things a little with Better Than Bechdel. I want to create some form of scoring system over time that we can use to give a ballpark figure as to how well women are represented within a given video game. There’s no way to make something this subjective perfect and these numerical scores that are produced will be largely debatable, but I want a way for us to be able to point to what a given game does well and does badly when it comes to representing women. I want a way to get dialogue opening up about representation of women in a framework that men and women alike can find common ground on.

Step one of this process was going to Twitter and getting suggestions for thew things that bother women most about their representation in video games. I combined that list with several of my own pet peeves and many suggestions made when I was working on the above Bechdel variant that I deemed too subjective or too high a barrier to such a base level test. The resulting list appears below and I’ll add to it in future any time someone suggests something that seems a good fit. These are all complaints that people have made to me, we will get to implementing these in a  form that can be scored later in the piece.

“Gamers shouldn’t have to refer to the character as Miss X or Fem Y (Miss Pacman, Fem Shep Ect).”

“They should fill an integral role to the plot, not just be there as a token character or eye candy. Did they need to exist at all?”

“They Shouldn’t always be the victim to be rescued or the healer to nurture. Would like to see them on the offensive, men taking those roles from time to time.”

“Female Characters should look like they might have conceivably picked their own outfit.”

“No more “Boob Sculpt Armour”. It would crack your ribs open on the lightest impact. Take your cues from Pacific Rim Female Armour which has extra room to accommodate breasts but is not sculpted to them with a rib cracking dip in the centre.”

“A female character should be playable at some point in the narrative, even if just for a couple of mins.”

“A Female playable lead who is visible in game and fires a gun that kills people gruesomely would be a welcome change to the norm.”

“Female Characters shouldn’t have to be pristine. We should be able to have women in games that could be described as grizzled, battle scared, flawed, manipulative, evil. Women shouldn’t have to be paragons of virtue, we could do with some female horrible anti heroes. Let’s see some games where you get to play as a “Bad Girl”.”

“Please avoid gendered identifiers. Don’t just stick a pink bow on Pac Man or Splosion Man and tell us it’s a cool female character. It’s not, it’s your male character with a big label on its head that says Female.”

“I’d love to see more games about women where the female character is pictured solo on the box cover looking powerful rather than chasing after the man you’ll undoubtedly play as.”

“If your game gives us the option to play as male or female, don’t automatically make Male the Default. I’m sick of seeing Male pop up and having to change it to Female. I’m sick of seeing only the male character in the adverts. I’m sick of Male being the default cover art and Female being the optional reverse art for those who want it. Don’t be afraid to make Women the ones you advertise and Men the option that isn’t immediately obvious but does exist for those who want it.”

“I’d love to see a woman in games who enjoys traditionally male pursuits, like Sam in Gone Home. However, please don’t feel they need to be gay to get to be into angry music and video games ect.”

“I want to see more women as enemies in video games. Not sexualised women, not trans women, just women that do horrible things and need to be stopped”.

“It’s all well and good having good women in games, but usually there stories are deeply intertwined with that of a male hero of some sort. Let’s see some women with stories of their own that are not about proving a man is strong enough to protect his new surrogate daughter or something like that”.

“I enjoy seeing games like Remember Me where the game is actually its own Female Lead IP, not a spin off or universe tie in from some existing male centric game universe or story”.

That’s the 15 complaints I got sent most frequently about the Quality of female representation in video games. From here I formed a list of points that will work as negatives for scoring the quality of a game. I’m also going to wrap some quantity of representation points into the list at this stage. Every game has a base score of 35 and the score drops accordingly.

In a game containing a recognizable narrative or characters:

Gamers commonly refer to a female character in a way that highlights they are a female variant of a male character. If there is no named female character, these points are still lost.(-2)

The most prominent Female Character in the game wasn’t important to the plot. The plot could have happened without them. (-1)

Prominent Female Characters in the game are primarily there as kidnap victims, general victims, prizes to be won or healers/ non combatants in combat games. (-2)

Female Characters don’t feel like they might have believably picked out their own outfit. To clarify, skimpy outfits are still okay as long as it fits in a narrative context and seems easily justifiable. (Example: a woman going undercover as a prostitute would likely choose a revealing outfit of her own accord). (-2)

Women Wearing “Boob Sclupted Armour”. These points are lost in a non Armour game if women are wearing needlessly sexualised outfits without narrative purpose. (-3)

A) Female is a never selectable playable character option. (-3)

or

B) Female is a secondary playable character option (-1)

or

C) Every playthrough requires you to play as a female character at some point, but the vast majority of the game you play as a male character. (-1)

The game fails the above Bechdel Test. (-2)

A female playable lead is restricted to traditionally non lethal weapons if they take part in combat. If men take part in combat but women do not, these points are also lost. (-2)

No female character can be described using words that are antonyms to Pristine. (grizzled, battle scared, flawed, manipulative, evil ect). Basically this requires them to be a flawed character, without relying on stereotypical female flaws (Vulnerable, emotional ect). (-3)

Uses Gendered Identifiers prominently to denote Female Character(s) (-2)

A Female Protagonist is not prominently featured on the game box art (specifically the front cover). (-2)

In a game where you choose your protagonist gender, Male is the Default. Side note, you also loose these three points if you have no choice but to play the whole game male.(-3)

No Female character, portrayed as straight and Cisgender, enjoys a stereotypically Male pursuit or, if they do, it’s made into a big deal. (-2)

A Cisgender Woman does not at any point appear as an enemy/ villain . If they are an enemy or villain, it’s for reasons related to their gender or the actions of a man. (-2)

The most prominent female character’s story is highly dependent on that of the most prominent male character. (-2)

The game is a spin off from a series that features primarily Male protagonists. (-2)

Each of the above ideas I have tried to weigh against each other. I initially had some points phrased as positive points but this meant that games that didn’t have Armour in them were automatically loosing out on points irrelevantly and other similar cases. I got around this by starting all games at a max score and punishing negative representation rather than trying to reward specifics.  A game could score anything between a high of 35 and a low of 0 on this scale.

Let’s take a look at some games and see how they would comparatively score on this scale. First up, Tomb Raider 2013 would get a score of around 30 out of 35. The points it lost were due to Lara as a protagonist not having any negative flawed traits that were not gendered stereotypes and there not being any female villains or enemies to face.

While I mentioned earlier that Thomas Was Alone would fail the above Bechdel Test due to it’s monologue nature, it would still get a score of 29 out of 35. It lost points for using gender markers (the pink character being female), failing the Bechdel test and not featuring any female villains.

My go to example for female representation in games, Beyond Good and Evil, would score 31 out of 35. Points were lost because she is limited largely to melee attacks with a staff in combat and there are no identifiable female enemies or villains in the game.

This is not a final test, but rather something of a work in progress. I highly encourage feedback either in the comments or on Twitter at @LauraKBuzz. I want advice on how to improve this, how to refine it. What should I add, what should I remove? What do you think? Are these good criteria to judge positive female representation on? Is it possible to create a mark scheme that works for all games? Let me know your thoughts and I will continue to work on this.

The Gaming Bechdel Test

beyond-good-and-evil-hd-6

So, I made news on the internet again by Tweeting my casual thoughts about gaming feminism. Wooo, Got to love when this happens.

This morning I tweeted asking something that has been discussed by other people at various points on Twitter. What would need to be tweaked or included to create a Bechdel Test equivalent for Video Games. I’ll preface this by describing a little of how I view the Bechdel Test as working for films. The purpose of the Bechdel Test is not to ascertain any level of quality of female representation films, it is purely a frequency test. You set a deliberately low barrier, something that the majority of films should be able to easily hit, and then get people to see how hilariously few games hit that barrier to entry. It’s not a checklist of the things we want to aim for, it’s a minimum entry point, something we shouldn’t accept people failing to hit.

So, a Bechdel Test for Video Games. When I asked about this on Twitter I got lots of examples of things women wanted to see in female characters in games. I got recommendations like “outfits should look like the character dressed themselves” and “There should be at least one playable female playable character”. I love those as ideas. I Want to see them in Video games. I don’t think these suggestions have a place in Gaming’s Bechdel Test.

The Bechdel Tests simplicity lies in that it’s both objective and purely about amount of Representation. You can’t argue if something passes or not, it either definitively passes or does not. It’s a test of basic existance, something we can use to highlight how games fail to even get the basics right, let alone the big picture.

While discussing this today I saw a great example of a Bechdel Test adaptation pop up from BechdelGamer.Wordpress.com. It goes like this:

In a game containing a recognizable narrative:

1)     There are at least two female coded characters…

(a)   Of which both are either playable or a significant NPC (non-playable character)

2)     …who have at least one instances of sustained commutation (a conversation) with each other,

3)     About something other than a male coded character or characters.

The example given on the website then goes further by grading these representations. It ranks them by how likely the player is to actually experience these particular interactions:

The Four Bechdel Subtypes for games.

Type 1: A scene meeting these criteria is a unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene the passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.

Type 2: A scene meting the above criteria is an unavoidable part of the game if you play as a female character in a game where you can select your characters gender.

Type 3: A scene meeting these is an optional part of the game regardless of your characters gender; this includes side quests, optional scenes and dialogue, DLCs etc. (Games with fixed characters with optional scenes meeting the test would fall here)

Type 4: A scene meeting these is an optional part of the game if your character is female in a game where you can select your characters gender; this includes side quest, optional scenes, dialogue, DLCs etc.

What I do really like about this idea of graded representation bands is that it does take into account the multiple choice nature of video games as a medium. What I dislike it that it complicates the test. The beauty of the BT is that it’s simple and a pass or fail, not a graded pass or fail. I’d argue that Type 1 should be rolled in as a base requirement to pass a Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test for films assumes that for the film to pass it must pass for all players. To take the element of argument out of if a game does or does not pass, we would have to require it to occur for all players.

Jumping back a bit to the initial suggestion , we start the above Bechdel Test with the line “In a game containing a recognizable narrative:” . I think it’s important to highlight specifically that this is a Gaming NARRATIVE Bechdel Test. If a game doesn’t feature any narrative OR any characters then it doesn’t fail this Bechdel Test, this test just doesn’t apply to that game. It’s a test of dissernable intent to portray narrative and frequency or representation within that.

Right, to go back and edit that base Bechdel Test I’d suggest this as gaming’s baseline:

In a game containing a recognizable narrative OR CHARACTERS:

1)     There are at least two female coded characters…

(a)   Of which both are either playable or a PLOT significant NPC (non-playable character)

2)     …who have at least one instances of sustained commutation (a conversation) with each other,

3)     About something other than a male coded character or characters.

4 )      A scene meeting these criteria is a unavoidable part of the game. It is impossible to beat the game without having a scene the passes the test, regardless of any choice you make as a gamer.

It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the closest I can get and one that I think is achievable even without a female protagonist. Take Beyond: Good and Evil for example. Even ignoring the existence of the female protagonist Jade that game would still pass the Bechdel Test. The Governor of Hillys and Mei (A Feline Humanoid spy for Iris) have an extended conversation about the mission at hand and government coverup plots that is an integral and unavoidable part of the plot. This game also has one of my favourite ever female protagonists, but even if this game had been made with a male lead it would still have passed this Gaming Bechdel Test. It’s entierly possible to pass, but hilariously few games do.

I don’t profess for this to be a definitive list and I fully expect it to have flaws. It’s built onto a foundation of someone elses work and doesn’t guarantee if representation in these games will be any good. Still, from now on all games I play will be subject in my mind to this. Let’s find out how many games will pass compared to if we reversed this test.

Laura’s 2013 in HTML Links

With 2013 now over and done with, I thought I would do something rather pointless as a motivational tool for myself. I’m posting a huge sprawling wall of HTML links to the internet of every article written by me, contributed to by me or written about me on the internet this year.

I’m going to spend the next 24 hours or so digging through this list and seeing how far I have come over the past year, what I have achieved and how far I have come. This is probably of no interest to the rest of the world, but if you want to have a look through you may well find something interesting I wrote that you haven’t yet seen.

The Potential of Wii U JRPGs

2012’s Best Interactive Video Game Stories

The Average Gamer – Our 2013 Picks

New Pokemon X and Y Images and Info

World of Tanks – Chinese Tanks Preview

Ni No Kuni Review

N7 Armour in Dead Space 3

Area 11 – All The Lights in the Sky Exclusive Early Album Review

Thomas was NOT Alone

The Cave Review

FDP Nova Vandorwolf Interview

Strike Suit Zero Review

Andy Esser Interview

FDP Valdrien Interview

Scribblenauts Unlimited Wii U Delayed AGAIN 

Orgarhythm Review

MCM Expo Booklet (Online Version)

Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken Review

Killzone: Shadowfall Revealed

Infamous: Second Son Revealed

Quantic Dream show off PS4 Tech

PS4 Reveal Event Summary

Ps4 – All you need to know

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Hands On

PS4 – MCM Buzz Impressions

Ragnarok Oddessy Review

What the PS4 Reveal learnt from Nintendo

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Review

Aww Flip Review

Dead Space 3 Review

World of Warplanes Preview

I Fight Dragons Interview

MCM Expo Booklet (Online Version)

Dead Island Riptide and Sacred Citadel Previews

Project Jikoku Chapter 2 Review

Nintendo Lifts 18+ Download Restrictions in Europe

Loading Bar Preview Event

Saints Row IV Preview

Mardock Scramble: The First Compression Review

Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion Review

Pac Man Tournaments Review

Metal Gear Rising: Revengence Review

Gears of War: Judgement Review

Let’s Talk About Birdo

Megami33 Interview

Britain’s Got Talent Nerd Acts Expose

Surgeon Sim 2013 Review

XTheDarkOne Interview

Area 11 Interview – Post release ATLITS discussion

Strike Suit Infinity Review

Star Trek: The Video Game Review

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep Announced 

Antichamber Review

Andy Esser Dev Blog – What is Indie?

Dev Roundtable – What is Indie?

Thomas Was Alone PSN Review

Mike Bithell Talks Future Occulus Rift Support

Is Piracy The Mark of a Sucessful Indie Game?

The Review Review – Thomas Was Alone

Fist of Awesome Preview

Dev Roundtable – When is an Indie Game Successful?

Dev Blog – Ryan Brolley – Our Journey

Borderlands 2 Psycho Bandit Class Preview

Alone in the Park Trailer and Release Date

Dev Blog – Ryan Brolley – Early Playtesting

Dev Roundtable – Biggest Problems in the Indie Scene

Music of the Spheres Review

Dev Roundtable – Best Indie Games Nobody Knows About

1000 Increidible Costume and Cosplay Ideas Review

Why no 360 backwards Compatability may save Indie on XB1

MCM Expo Booklet (Online Version)

XB1 Specs Revealed

Symphony of the Godess London 2013 Review

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D Preview

Cloudberry Kingdom Wii U Preview

Remember Me Preview

Game and Wario Preview

The Review Review – Music of the Spheres

Bravoman – Episode 1 Review

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep Preview

Mark Meer Interview

To The Moon – Women and Aspergers

The Dead Lay Waiting Interview

Rapheal Sbarge Interview

Dev Rouindtable – Is Kickstarter The Saviour of Indie?

Full Metal Alchemist – The Conquerer of Shambala Review

Full Metal Alchemist – Part 3 DVD Review

KAOS UK Debut Concert Announced

Mitu Khandaker Interview

King of Thorn Review

Ashley Ross Game Jam Interview

Stacey Smith Game Jam Interview

Meowmories – Life as a Conventional Cat (Interview with MCM Expo Cat Cosplayers)

Strike Suit Zero Code Giveaway

Callahan Porter Game Jam Interview

Tiger and Bunny – Part 2 DVD Review

Anodyne Review (This was fun when the Dev sent their followers to attack my personal Twitter :P)

We’re Heading to EToo

Dev Roundtable – Can Piracy make an Indie Game a Success?

EToo Previews – Dot

EToo Day One Livestream

Below Reveal Trailer

XB1 Minecraft Revealed

EToo Previews – Foul Play

EToo Day Two Livestream

Summer of Arcade 2013 Titles Revealed

EToo Previews – Still Time

EToo Previews – Tengami

EToo Previews – Redshirt

EToo Previews – The Nightjar

EToo Previews – Frank’N’John

EToo Previews – Deep Loot

EToo Previews – Chompy Chomp Chomp

Pokemon X and Y Friends and First Gym Revealed

Dev Rounbdtable – Most Important Indie Game of the Decade

Alone in the Park Review

Could you Write for Indie Haven?

Indi-E-Mail: Is Hugging a Feminist Issue? (That article me and Jordan Webber about Hugatron making us uncomfortable)

Jordan’s Mirror of that last piece

The Triboloos 2 Review

Company of Heroes 2 Review

Ling Tosite Sigure – Imperfect Album Review

Itunes listing for The Triboloos 2 citing my review 😀

Dev Roundtable – What Game would you Make With a AAA Budget?

Electronic Super Joy Preview

Fist Puncher Review

Dev Roundtable – Comments From Devs to Reviewers

That Time the Gamasutra EIC highlighted me and Jordan’s Hugatron Article on his weekly roundup on the site 😀

The time I was discussed by a Destructoid Moderator RE: my views on their comment system

My response to his post that mentioned me

Team2Bit Interview

Dev Roundtable – Are Devs Obligated to tackle Issues?

Dev Roundtable – The Effect of the Minecraft Rags to Riches Narrative

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 1 – Mike Bithell

Dev Roundtable – Dev Thoughts on E3 2013

Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep Review

Dev Roundtable – Dev thoughts on EToo 2013

Mike Bithell Project 2 First Details Emerge

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 2 – Mitu Khandaker

Dev Roundtable – Will Android Microconsoles be Sustainable?

Tiger and Bunny Part 3 DVD Review

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 3 – Spilt Milk Studios and Jordan Erica Webber

Gun Monkeys Review

Starwhal: Just The Tip Preview

Joust Develop Preview 

From Up on Poppy Hill Review

Persona 4: The Animation – Part 3 DVD Review

Saints Row IV Hands On Preview

Dev Roundtable – The Biggest Mistake Indies Make

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 4 – Starwhal Devs

Executive Producer Kate Nelson Interview (Saints Row IV)

Ibb and Obb Preview

Epic Eric Preview

Ethan: Meteor Hunter Preview

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 5 – Katherine Neild and Matt Conn

Dev Roundtable – State of the UK Indie Scene

Indie Haven on BBC Radio 5 Live

Dev Roundtable – Personal Politics and Gaming

Indie Haven 24 Hour Charity Indie Game Livestream

Redshirt Extended Hands On

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 6 – Nicoll Hunt

Dev Roundtable – The XB1 Indie Turn Around

Tales of Xillia Review

Mike Bithell Announces Volume

Mike Bithell Volume Announcement Interview

Extra Creditz – So You Want to be an Indie

Leetstreet Boys new Video – Imaginary Boys

Dev Roundtable – Are Game Jams the Ultimate Creative Tool?

Space Battleship Yamato Review

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 8 – Luke Burtis, Yulia Vakrhusheva and Mike Bithell

Ibb and Obb Review

Gone Home Review

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

Dev Roundtable – Reading Reviews of Your Games

Alcon Brentalfloss Interview

A Personal Slice of Gone Home – Just Take Me Seriously

FDP Nova Interview Alcon

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 9 – Gone Home Spoilercast – Danielle Riendeau, Steve Gaynor and Leigh Alexander.

Saints Row IV Review

Mysterious Cities of Gold Kickstarter Announced

2DS Announced

I’m Not a Journalist

Someone picked up my Not a Journalist article and highlighted it to their readers

Alcon Convention Booklet

Gender Bias in the Gaming Industry

Doug Walker Alcon Interview

That Time I got a shoutout on IGN’s Up At Noon

The same, but on Youtube

Why I Can’t Support Penny Arcade

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 10 – Cara Ellison

A Geek Girls site highlighted my article about Penny Arcade 🙂

The Highs and Lows of Alcon 2013

Dev Blog – Being Married to an Indie Dev

Vanishing XBLA and XBLIG games

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 12 – Adam Ward

Jasper Byrne Talks Lone Survivor on Sony Platforms

Token Tapper Review

Cross Stitch Casper and Alcoholic Parents

Indie Haven Host Event at Loading

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 13 – Jasper Byrne and Alex Preston

Lone Survivor: The Directors Cut Review

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 14 – Greg Miller

Dev Roundtable – Steam Consoles and Steam OS

That Kotaku Article about me that triggered the week long wave of Transphobes attacking me

Me writing a thing for The Huffington Post about the hate I was getting and my reluctance to speak up in future. (Side Note, why is Trans stuff under “Gay Voices” header? Assumption all Trans People are Gay?)

Gameranx writing a thing about the harm it can do to cover someone who was harassed on a large scale.

Indie Haven’s New Content Schedule

Indie of the Week – Alan Zucconi

Volume Hand On Preview

Trigger Warning – Devi Ever Interview – The Game of Suicide

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 15 – Adam Ward, Dan Pearce, Utopian World of Sandwich, Mitu Khandaker, Nicoll Hunt, Mike Bithell

Free Indie Space at Insomnia 50

Dev Roundtable – Is Indie a AAA Proving Ground?

Lone Survivor Comp

10 Reasons I’m Ignoring Your Indie Game

Indies of the week – Jack De Quidt and Dan Pearce

I wrote an article much earlier in the year titles Let’s Talk about Birdo. The site got nominated for a GMA (Games Media Award) and here’s where the site owner cites my work in the list of articles she feels exemplify why the site should win. 

Wooo, it won. Clearly all down to my article 😛

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 16 – Jason Della Rocca

Dev Roundtable – What Failed Indie Game do you wish had Succeeded?

Me guest hosting an episode of the fantastic Girls and Greatswords Podcast

Indie of the Week – Incus Games

The Stanley Parable Review

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 17 – Phil Tibitoski and J J Williams

Press and Indies – Why Can’t We Be Friends?

Volume Plot and Casting Revealed

Here I get cited in an in depth article about Aspergers Representation in gaming

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 18 – Shahid Kamal and Mike Bithell

Attack on Titan Comp

Dev Roundtable  – What would you make with a AAA budget.

Guest Film Critique – Beyond Two Souls

Yuri Lowenthall and Tara Platt – Con Artists Interview

My first, Ultra Depressing, Twine Game

Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z – Producer Kunio Hashimoto Interview

Indie of the Week – Shahid Kamal

Nicoll Hunt Talks the Fist of Awesome Release Scenario

Indie Haven gets name dropped alongside quotes from some insanely big names

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 19 – Georg Backer

The Spoiler Free Review Problem

Me streaming the first hour of my Game Dev Journey

Streaming the second hour of You are the Reason development

Dual Destinies is really really Trans Progressive

People won Lone Survivor Stuff

Simply Steam – Vol 7

Indie of the Week – Sherida Halatoe

Dev Blog – Going Critic to Indie

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 20 – Incus Games

Redshirt Review

Indie of the Week – Zoe Quinn

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 21 – Mattie Brice

Dev Blog – Character Gender in You are the Reason

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 22 – Jennifer Schneidereit and Pete Morrish

Heaven Piercing Giga Drill Single Review

My hilarious appearance on the Not a Game Podcast where I cause someone to shout AREOLA and send us all into a spiral of hilarity.

I say some words about my feelings on Paid for Reviews

Clash of Clans Guide for Pocket Gamer

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 23 – Paid for Reviews

Indie of the Week – Subset Games

My early review of Brian Altano’s Misanthrope. Very proud of this one.

My Bradford Uni PR and Press Talk with Natalie Griffith

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 24 – Natalie Griffith

Indie Dev and Cover bands

Chris Charla Questioned on Release Date Pairity

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 25 – Chris Charla

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 26 – Alan Zucconi

Shooter of the Year Nominees

Puzzle Game of the Year Nominees

An Article about my Livestreams with Jose

A Panel I hosted alongside many awesome people was highlighted in this article about 2013

RPG of the Year Nominees

Indie Dev of the Year Nominees

Game of the Year Nominees

The Indie Haven Podcast Episode 27 – Game of the Year Nominees

The winners of GOTY are revealed

Bam. That’s actually more writing that I thought it would be.

Above are links to over 270 articles I published online this year or that were published about me. Broken down and including print media I wrote 102 Features, 30 News Posts, 70 Reviews, 32 Previews, 31 Hours of Podcasts and 27 Interviews. On top of that I did talks on getting paid to review Anime and Video Games at Nine Worlds and Alcon, did a panel on Feminism and LGBT Issues in Games at Nine Worlds, did a panel at Loading in London on 2013 in Video Games and even did a talk for Bradford Uni’s Game Design and Dev students about Press and PR for Indies. I got brought onto BBC Radio 5 Live at about 2am to talk about Indie games, got to podcast with some of my favourite people and even got to chat with some of my idols.

 

My god, this had been a Bloody Busy year. Bring on 2014.