While watching an episode of Inside Amy Schumer the other day, I couldn’t help but think of a saying (which I’ll probably quote wrong) that goes something like this; “you know your campaign is working when people start making jokes about it.” Why did this phrase come to my mind? Because in the midst of many recent discussions about sexism in video games and male gamer privilege, this skit aired:
Judging by the skit’s title; “A Very Realistic Military Game” I’m guessing its primary target was actually the issue of rape in the military (and the all too frequent poor handling of such reports). But what really stood out to me was the point also being made (perhaps unintentionally) about male gamer privilege and the resulting treatment of female gamers.
First off, the experience of Amy Schumer’s character in this skit serves as an apt metaphor for the types of experiences many female gamers complain about in the real world. For example, female gamers often complain about the verbal abuse they suffer either while playing as a female character and/or once male gamers hear a female voice (during in-game chats). This abusive language is often used as male gamers do things to obstruct, limit or target the female gamer, thus ruining her ability to enjoy online competition.
The real world corollaries of male gamers making rape threats, insults and exclusionary tactics toward women are hard to miss
In the Schumer skit, her virtual character is blocked from the battlefield and apparently raped by her commanding officer (thankfully the rape is never depicted on-screen). But the virtual assault is merely the start of a downward spiral into a gaming experience that differs greatly from the one her boyfriend gets to enjoy. One that involves legal proceedings, victim blaming and vicious character assassinations instead of action-packed virtual gun battles and the heated competition she longed for. The parallels between this part of the skit and the real world corollaries of male gamers making rape threats, insults and exclusionary tactics are hard to miss. This is in addition to the privilege induced blindness Schumer’s “boyfriend” exhibits as he is completely unaware of her reality and even worse, when informed, simply dismisses her experience.
The boyfriend character then adds to his display of male gamer privilege by jumping in with his own form of victim blaming. First saying to Schumer; “no, no, no, no no…that’s never happened to me. That’s not part of the game, you must have pressed the wrong button…” which not only implies that he thinks she’s stupid, but also positions his experience as the only true, valid one. Sadly, male gamers in the real world, some of whom are family or romantic partners of their female counterparts, often engage in very similar behavior. They too deny the horrible experiences of women and justify the actions of other men. “Stop being so sensitive, that’s just how gamers talk” they say, or; “they’re just trying to get under your skin and you’re letting them” or; “they treat other guys like that too.”
Not only does the boyfriend minimize and deny Schumer’s experience, he also refuses to help out in any way. He claims he’s going to “check the message boards” to find and explanation, but instead views and discusses pictures of a “big fat Japanese baby” while his girlfriend sits nearby, clearly upset. Forget privilege, I’m starting to think this guy is just a plain ol’ garden variety insensitive prick…
I’m starting to think this guy is just a plain ol’ garden variety insensitive prick…
When the boyfriend finally does return, answer-less, he finds Schumer angry and yelling at the game, to which he says; “language! Act like a lady…” (yup, clearly he’s a prick) and finally; “I checked the message boards and it doesn’t say anything, so obviously you did something wrong, so it’s probably best that you don’t play…” He may as well have said; “move along now little girl and let a man play. Video games clearly aren’t for women.”
I don’t know if Amy Schumer is a gamer. If not, someone on her writing team clearly is, because the boyfriend character is such a spot-on depiction of (white) male gamer privilege that it’s almost frightening. In fact, if you’re someone trying to explain male gamer privilege to others, this bit of dark comedy may be a good place to start, along with this piece and this one (which isn’t actually about gaming, but can easily be applied to the topic). These three pieces, read and discussed together, form a pretty good 101 course on the issue.
My thanks to Amy Schumer and any other comedian making jokes about male gamer privilege (and rape, and a host of other social issues). Your jokes tell me that efforts to raise awareness about violence and privilege in the gaming community are working.