Culture Challenge of the Week: Misogynist Video Games

Rebecca Hagelin

4/5/2011 12:01:00 AM - Rebecca Hagelin

Karen's nine-year-old son came home from a birthday party at a locally owned "family fun" center with plenty to tell. The party was great, especially the laser tag and the pizza. But he didn't like the arcade games, one in particular.

"It had, like, men hitting girls. Beating them up and killing them. I didn't like it."

Karen was appalled, first that a facility that depends on family patronage would even have such a game, and second, that this violent, misogynist game was being used by young children.

While she was proud of her little boy's good instincts, who had been so disturbed to tell her, she was devastated at the on-screen violence that he witnessed-and recalled with exacting detail.

Karen, for her part, felt powerless to protect her son. It had never occurred to her that such a "game" could have been part of a family restaurant at a supervised birthday party. Is there any place truly safe for children?

When Karen complained to store employees, they displayed a disturbing lack of concern, replying that parents should supervise their children better if they did not want them playing the games. Karen resolved that, absent some changes, her son would no longer attend parties in that facility.

Was she over-reacting? I don't think so.

Real-world violence brutalizes women and girls here and in other cultures. It's tragic. And sensationalizing it, or worse, making a game about it, only guarantees that it will grow. And America seems headed in that direction.

The Parents Television Council produced an excellent report in 2009 on the spike in TV shows that depict violence against women and teenage girls. Indeed, the overall increase in violence against young girls and women far outstripped the increase in general TV violence. Worse, the violence towards women was more graphic than ever, showing beatings, rapes, torture, and worse.

Research shows that repeated images of violence towards women-even virtual images-normalize the violence and desensitize viewers to it. Worse, gaming allows the viewer to "try out" those behaviors on the screen, to experience the rush of adrenaline while they simultaneously overcome their natural inhibitions against hurting women and girls.

Last month, the video game company Gearbox Software held a press conference touting its new, much-anticipated release, Duke Nukem Forever. That the press conference was held in a rented-out strip club should tell you something. The pre-release game segments are raunchy-no surprise-but the game also features a multiplayer segment called "Capture the Babe," which was not pre-released. Reviewers, however, have described the segment as a take-off on the children's game Capture the Flag.

But instead of a flag, the player kidnap a woman and slaps her around a bit if she resists in fear.

How to Save Your Family: Speak Up

Many parents pay no attention to the content of video games they allow in their homes. It's way past time to smarten up and protect our children from the adults who seek to manipulate them and their world views through "innocent" games.

And unless we speak out, our children may be exposed to such trash when we least expect it-in stores, arcades, and in the homes of their friends.

Karen took the right steps to defend her son's innocence-and to insist on respect for women. She asked that the game be removed from the open area, and when employees refused, she vowed to take her business elsewhere.

She also opened a conversation with the parents who hosted the birthday party-who had been completely unaware of the situation. Like Karen and the vast majority of other parents, they never thought to check on the video games' content because they assumed that a "family fun" arcade would be safe for, well, families.

Even though the particular employees that Karen contacted proved unresponsive, Karen isn't stopping there. She has a conversation scheduled with the manager. She's going to let him know that the restaurant's family-friendly reputation is on the line and that she plans to notify other parents of the problem.

Finally, within our own families, let's celebrate the dignity of women and uphold a standard that insists on respect for all women---even characters in a virtual world.