by Kerlen Rae Tuitt
Boobs. Images of computerized breasts projecting at the front of the classroom led seated students to perk up their heads and yell out names. The space contained over two-dozen guys and a handful of girls, most of whom were effortlessly able to identify the female game icons with only a cropped picture of the character’s clothed chest.
This was just one of the methods used to provoke dialogue at the Stony Brook Gamers Guild meeting on Thursday, November 17. Instead of handling controllers, attendees were invited to the third floor of the Student Activities Center to partake in a discussion about sexuality and gender roles in video games.
“We wanted to bring more awareness to how very unbalanced genders are portrayed in video games,” said Danielle Lewandowski, the club’s treasurer and a journalism and information systems double-major.
One student described the breast naming activity as a weird, but interesting exercise. “I didn’t think it was offensive because I knew why they were doing it,” said Jesse Smith, an applied math and statistics major. “Women in video games often have very little agency, least of all, sexual agency. And even when they do appear to, it’s most always in service to another male fantasy of a sexually dominant woman who still only exists for male pleasure.”
The meeting also allowed attendees to demo the 1982 game titled Custer’s Revenge. The main character, a white guy wearing only a cowboy hat, a bandanna and boots, possesses a noticeable erection, and the only woman exhibited is a naked Native American with large breasts who is tied to a pole. The game’s sole objective is to dodge arrows so the man can have sex with the bound woman.
“This game was a very big element in us wanting to have this discussion,” said Brandon Supak, the club’s vice-president and a history major. “We thought it was a very shocking fact that the very first female figure in a game was a naked Native American that you rape. That set a very bad precedent for the rest of female roles in video games.”
The response to the game was mixed, with some students laughing and others cringing. Smith called the game “disgusting,” saying it was “absolutely morally repugnant.”
“As a girl, I wasn’t too offended,” said Nikeia Walker, an applied math and statistics major. “I feel like when it comes to games, people are overly sensitive.”
The Stony Brook Gamers Guild focuses on the preservation, discussion and playing of video games. The elected board established the group over the summer after they realized there were no dedicated video game clubs on campus. They currently meet every Thursday at 10 p.m. on the top floor of the Student Activities Center.
When students were asked to name their favorite lady from a game, most attendees chose characters that serve as side-kicks to male protagonists or exist only as damsels in distress. A lot of the responses overlapped.
“Games tend to focus on male characters and they never usually give the female character the main role,” said Keith Boccio, the club’s president and a computer science major.
The meeting also addressed homosexuality by asking students to think of a game where the main romance was between two males. This question was answered with perplexed facial expressions. It took students a couple of minutes before one was mentioned.
“I’m certain there have been ones with a homosexual protagonist,” said Supak, “but they’re just never in the spotlight.”
In addition, the club also reviewed the issue of violence versus sexuality in bringing up the Entertainment Software Board’s system for determining game ratings. The elected board said games can be as violent as they want to be and stay in the mature category, but if the game is sexually graphic, it gets an adult only rating.
Boccio quoted another student from the meeting saying, “We are allowed to see violence, which causes death, but not sexuality, which brings life.”
Students at the meeting remained vocal until the very end. “The overall discussion was very insightful,” said Walker. “I learned a lot and never realized how often there aren’t female protagonists.”
“A lot of people know this stuff, but a lot don’t,” added Lewandowski.
When asked what could be done to make improvements, Boccio said gamers making the purchases are responsible for possible changes. “Consumers need to voice their opinions to the developers,” said Boccio. “That’s pretty much the best way for it to happen.”
“Depending on what people buy, it will shape how developers release games,” said Supak. “With negative female roles, sales are getting worse,” said Supak, “but things like homosexuality and mature sexuality are getting more prominence in games and are selling well.”