Sexism is not a nice word. It conjures images of a much more barbaric and hateful time, when women were treated as objects, unable to decide their futures. But sexism takes many different forms, and in media, some sexist archetypes can still be found.
You could fill libraries with examples from movies, literature, the list goes on. Many books have been written about that subject. This editorial is going to focus on a relatively recent type of media: video games.
Sexism in video games didn’t really become an issue until the 1990’s, when technology advanced enough to render 3-D environments and greater detail to the game. The two games hit with the most criticism were the Tomb Raider series and the Duke Nukem series. Tomb Raider follows an adventurous treasure hunter name Lara Croft as she descends into ruins, battling enemies ranging from other tomb raiders to the supernatural. Lara Croft might be empowered, but as the series went on her form and figure were objectified to the point where it couldn’t be taken seriously; at the height of this trend, she was a grotesque imitation of the female body. The recent games in the series have turned way from this trend, but the taint remains.
Duke Nukem is an unfamiliar name to most, but Duke Nukem 3-D invented the modern action-shooter. Duke Nukem, the title character,was a swaggering, ultra-masculine pastiche of the male action hero, one-liners and all. Women didn’t appear in the series until Duke Nukem 3-D, but when they did, the portrayal was not positive. The “babes” of Duke Nukem 3-D were over sexualized and over the top in every way. The developers of the game claimed it was all tongue-in-cheek, and there’s very little in the game that wasn’t; it also made irreverent reference to the OJ Simpson trial and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The series is satire and not meant to be taken seriously, but the trivializing of the issue is worrying. Satire doesn’t invoke positive societal change, it just points out the need for it at best, and is taken seriously at worst.
The long delayed Duke Nukem Forever, which has been in development for 14 years at this point, to be released early this June if not delayed again, and from what has been seen, it stylistically remains unaltered. Maybe Duke’s humour had a place in the 90’s, with its movie anti-heroes and its edginess, but the times have changed.