Over the past year I've noticed more and more women and girls getting better and more equal roles in video games. 2013 brought us the reboot Tomb Raider, Ellie in The Last of Us, a new game starring Lightning, the indie hit Contrast, and Esther in Ni no Kuni just to name a few. Not to mention that one of the hottest commodities in gaming right now is writer Rhianna Pratchett. You can't help but call that progress.
Unless you're a men's rights activist, in which case you decide to make a brave stand and pointedly not incorporate women into your game.
Vox Day is the developer of First Sword, a gladiator combat resource management game for mobile phones. In a recent post he had this to say.
I am designing and producing a game that does not, and will not, have a single female character in it. This is not because I am misogynistic. This is not because I do not women to play the game. This is because putting women in the game makes no sense, violates the principle of the suspension of disbelief, and will not make the game any better as a game.
Now, I won't be playing First Sword. I like to use the free space on my iPhone to store Doctor Who audio stories and don't play resource management games because the previous example shows that resource management is not my strong point. Even if it were available for consoles, though, I'm not sure I would bother with this drivel when Spartacus is still around. There are no women in that either, but that's because it was made by people who had an announcer record the exclamation "JUPITER'S COCK!" for use after an unusually spectacular display of fighting prowess. There's a fine line between misogyny and just being impossibly male.
Day, whose blog is full of venomous MRA talking points, falls firmly in the former category no matter what his claims to the contrary are. In a post about First Sword he mentions that women simply have no place in a gladiator game because women had no place in the actual gladiator pits of Rome.
Now, there is some debate on that. Day does acknowledge that there is pictorial evidence that women did indeed participate in the pits in some form, but he wanders off the level of firm historical knowledge when he asserts they were used only for satirical or novelty acts without any chance of being properly blooded. He alludes to Emperor Domitian's practice of having women fight dwarfs for his amusement as proof.
The truth is we don't know much about the role of women as gladiators. That they were not nearly as numerous as males is fairly certain, but the fact that laws forbade them in certain periods of history from fighting implies that the practice was at least known. Often images of female gladiators are bare-chested, possibly hinting that these exhibitions were more sexual in nature but just a possibly being artistic license to express the fighter's sex to the viewer of the art.
Not that this make any lick of difference because Day cares less about history than he does about seeing more women in positive video game roles. The game features elves, trolls, goblins, and orcs, but these do not threaten the... actually, I'll just let Day say it.
We could, of course, throw out historical verisimilitude. But we're not going to. Because we value that verisimilitude far more than we value the opinion of a few whiny women who don't play the sort of games we make anyhow. And when we design a game with a particular female market in mind, we don't worry about hurting the feelings of men who we know have no interest in that sort of game.
Gladiatrixes, which we have some evidence of existing, is laughably inaccurate, but orcs, a fantasy race, are just fine.
A note on orcs for Mr. Day that he should do well to remember. Orcs were invented by Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings. Unlike elves and dragons and trolls they are wholly his creation. The only other mention of them anywhere in the world is a passing reference in Beowulf, on which Tolkien was one of the world's most renowned scholars. For all intents and purposes, orcs belong to Tolkien.
And Tolkien said something quite clearly when it came to women being able to fight.
In the last battle of the lost kingdom of Arnor the Witch King of Angmar, the chief of Sauron's nazgul, was driven back by a desperate coalition of the races. Beaten, the Witch King retreated, and the hero of Rivendell Glorifindel stayed those who would pursue the foe with a famous prophecy; "He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."
The Witch King would indeed return at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, where he wielded a fearsome fear as well as a deadly mace atop his foul flying beast. Only one solider stood between him and his prey, King Theoden of Rohan. The Witch King laughed, knowing the prophecy that no living man would fell him.
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Then the soldier removed her helmet, and said, "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
And the Witch King was afraid. In the end he was struck from behind by Theoden's squire Meriadoc Brandybuck with an enchanted blade, and Eowyn ended the life of the nazgul with a sweep of her sword into the unseen head. Thus fell one of the greatest foes of Middle Earth.
At the hands of a woman and a little person. Apparently Day is as selective about the Tolkien he borrows as he is about his historical verisimilitude.