A quick Look Back on Gender-related Issues in Videogames

A quick Look Back on Gender-related Issues in Videogames

This article is a brief summary and “update” to an article that appeared in Multilingual #188 volume 31 issue 2 March/April 2020

Gender-related issues in videogames continue to be a hot topic right now, and it is a topic that has been widely discussed, even more so in light of events such as Gamergate, a campaign of targeted harassment towards women in the videogame industry, that exposed a side of the gaming community that had best remained hidden.

The perception of gaming as a “boys’ club” has endured since the inception of the medium itself, and while nowadays game developers tend to cater to a more diverse audience by being generally more inclusive. Not only toward women but also toward minorities, the LGBTQ+ community etc. It is undeniable that during their by now several decades long history, videogames have had their fair share of issues with gender representation.

In 1985, in the iconic Super Mario Bros, a mustachioed Italian plumber, went through many hoops and stomped on many enemies to – naturally – rescue a beautiful princess, it’s hard to get more literal than this when it comes to the “damsel in distress” trope.

Who plays videogames? People do

And mind, in the 80s, gaming companies did not shy away from presenting videogames as a hobby geared toward young males. The most famous portable game console of all time, the Game Boy, has the word boy in its name – talk about literal once more! Fast forward to nowadays, though, and you’ll discover that basically everyone plays videogames. The first time I wrote about this topic, I quoted a statistic from Newzoo that mentioned that 46% of gaming enthusiasts were women, but it really seems quite restrictive to me now. The thing to keep in mind is, who plays videogames? People do.

It feels disingenuous to neatly categorize who plays videogames into preconceived notions of gender, race, age, social class. Now, I’m aware that target audiences are a thing, and that’s all well and good, but I feel that ideally a media product should not a priori cater to a specific audience. It’s all preconceived notions, after all. Again, it’s self evident that a rom-com film or a teen drama are engineered with a specific audience in mind. But let’s not limit ourselves from the start, right?

Sometimes videogames do just that, and I feel that it’s a problem that’s still more widespread in videogames than in cinema or literature. Let’s not forget that videogames as a medium are very young, and have yet a lot to mature. They’ll have to do it fast though, because they are the most popular form of entertainment on Earth!

Representation and diversity in videogames localization

Why, as a translator, am I going back to this topic? Because I feel that we must not restrict our scope in keeping in mind representation and diversity while localizing a videogame. Originally I focused on Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider series to highlight issues specifically related to gender in the Italian localization of many of the titles of this saga, such as her being addressed as “puttana” (whore) in the 2013 reboot, while the insult was not at all present in the original script. This is just one small example of an issue that is introduced in the text at the time of localization. It wasn’t already present in the text!

If an evil character actually threw a gendered insult at our heroine in the source material, then we would be compelled to maintain it in the localized version for fidelity’s sake (he’s evil and he would probably say that, after all!). But this (and many others) was not the case. It is our duty as translators to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Remember: everything has a meaning, everything that we write has a purpose, even if we don’t realize it. If we introduce a discriminatory, negative meaning in a text, then we are contributing to the spread of discriminatory language and, by extension, ideas.

Localization can make gaming a more welcoming space

What I wanted to go back to, though, was the scope of this analysis. I feel like it is always more and more worth it to tackle representation issues from a wider point of view. In a very compelling article from 2018 called Are we there yet? The Politics and Practice of Intersectional Game Studies Adrienne Shaw points out the necessity to move away from focusing on an issue at a time but generally focusing on what is considered intolerant, be it towards gender, sexual orientation, social class, age, etc.

In other words we should consider gender issues (not only in gaming, but that’s one of the areas that needs it the most, I feel!) from an intersectional point of view. That is, when these single isolated issues combine together, as they often do. I’ll certainly go back to this and expand my analysis but in the meantime let’s all try to take a look at how black characters are represented in games, queer, trans and non-binary characters, old characters, old, black and woman characters, and at how localization is a powerful instrument in making gaming a more welcoming and caring space.

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