Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do developers have an ethical responsibility to accurately depict gender roles in games?

The folks over at recently posted a thoroughly thought-provoking editorial (authored by Mike Doolittle) about gender roles in video games.

Specifically, Doolittle attempts to answer the question: Do developers have an ethical responsibility to accurately depict gender roles in games?

Truth be told, I don't agree with much of what Doolittle has to say. For example, there's the following:

"Even if I fully agreed with [fellow writer] Alex Raymond's opinions on the allegedly sexist representation of women in games, the greater issue is whether game developers have any ethical responsibility to portray these issues to Alex's (or anyone else's) liking in their works of fiction. Homosexuality, for example, represents roughly 5% of the population (exact statistics vary, but this will suffice as a ballpark). Does that mean that in any game where there is sexual choice, that 5% of the characters should be gay?"

Then there's this nugget of wisdom:

"Games are, of course, artistic reflections of our cultural ideologies, and it's worthwhile to consider how our culture is reflected for better or worse in the arts. But when Alex starts suggesting that games ought to portray women this way or that, that having an insectoid queen bearing lots of children is patriarchal, that there should be more ugly females, that there should be more homosexual and transgendered characters, it's going too far.

"Artists in any medium have no ethical obligation to create works that are accurate representations of reality. These are works of fiction, and while I would certainly welcome and applaud more games that portrayed women in less traditional roles and/or explored more complex themes of sexuality (of which, as many readers have noted, Mass Effect is a fine example), I draw a line before saying that the creative minds behind video games are under any ethical obligation to do so."

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily think developers are obliged (ethically or otherwise) to create games that accurately depict gender roles and sexual orientations, but I *do* think they should want to create games that accomplish those things.

What do you think? Do developers have a responsibility to accurately depict gender roles (and sexual orientations) in games?

(BTW, if you're at all interested in this topic, click through to and read not only Doolittle's editorial but the comments that follow.)


Viewtiful_Justin said...

If you place games in the "art" category, then there is no obligation. But if they're in the "entertainment" category, then I feel there's a little more of a responsibility to express gender roles more correctly.

I'm having trouble describing in my own head why I feel that way, but I just feel like art as expression can be just that, and entertainment should be a little socially responsible...

Bryan Ochalla said...

I agree, Justin. I think the problem is that games tend to straddle that line between art and entertainment.

Another problem, in my mind: It's rare for a game to the brainchild of a single person anymore, which means it's rare for a game to represent the artistic vision of a single person.

I think if that happened more often we'd see more games that accurately address and depict gender roles and sexual orientations.