Okay. I'm gonna get some hate for this, but I'm somewhat sick of such a one-dimensional discussion of "video games". This was sparked by a conversation about GTA5, which is a game and franchise I already dislike.
To a certain extent, I like to ask what about the game makes people uncomfortable. I, as someone who plays a ton of games, am made uncomfortable by GTA in general. This is, I think, because of a few reasons, but primarily I'm less of a fan of presenting organized crime as glorified. Additionally, I dislike the gameplay and I generally dislike the kind of characters they portray because while they have often great death, they're the sort of people I just can't bring myself to care about.
That wasn't as succinct as I wanted it to be.
I always like to bring up Spec Ops: The Line into these conversations because it's an example of a game with virtually no women/feminine aspects whatsoever that also happens to be extremely well-written and philosophically challenging. Simplistically, it is a retelling in the long and storied history of transplanting "Heart of Darkness" into various settings and conceptual frameworks. This one is contemporary and takes on the concept of modern, 4th generation warfare as a means of terrorism/control. Suffice to say that it exhibits more thought and inherent worth-as-art than almost any other game I have ever played. It's very morbid. For example, the "best" (and least morally ambiguous) ending you can achieve is basically blowing your own brains out once you realize you've become exactly what you originally came to Dubai to kill. It's seriously disturbing and very, very thought-provoking.
There isn't a woman in sight (if you discount refugees and victims of war) and it does not, in any way, suffer for it. It provides a strong, morality-based story with meaningful choices and a very deep, developed and presented plot which includes an absolute ton of surrealist and psychological twists and turns.
And I really do think that, sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees. Gaming has, at the core, a writing problem. This is evidenced by the sheer amount of recycled and reused stories and characters. Have you noticed that the vast majority of all characters get the short end of the writing stick? It's almost like AAA developers can't write a shopping list without giving it power armor and a chainsaw gun.
In this age of skyrocketing budgets and full voice acting, the act of writing a coherent or developed character has fallen by the wayside. A game like The Longest Journey is communicated almost entirely through text because it was the 90's. It costs a pittance to pay writers to write words. It's far, far more expensive and far less de facto mutable to record voice work for everything. It used to be that if there was a plot issue you could spend a few hours re-writing. Now you can't do that because you can't get the actors back in and you have to pay them significantly more than you would pay for a traditional "writer".
AAA games have a writing problem. Women are the foremost casualty of this problem.
It also brings forth a certain concern over how we're contextualizing these discussions. I won't make my ire for Anita Sarkeesian hidden because I think she's an absolute fraud at best and a horrid troll at worst. She fans the flames and then counts her money. This should be offensive to anyone who actually cares about the progress we could make.
I think it's worth it to note that Anita is simply problematic, endstop. Here's a 2010 lecture she gave in which she claims she "isn't a fan of video games" and that in order to create a project that employed video game footage/focus she had to "learn a lot about video games".
Even without evaluating the truth of either of her statements (either "lifelong gamer" or "isn't a fan of video games") one of those has to be a lie as they're mutually exclusive. I can accept that she played video games as a kid and then put them down during high school (which is what I, myself, did), but either way the dishonesty and clear social-sculpting she engages in with her very limited, censored discourse should make anyone who values truth, transparency and honesty a little nervous.
The real Big Deal that I have experienced is that our discourse on "video games" too often lacks any historical context. We all know games have been around since the 70's, but they only broke into a realm of social acceptability a few scant years ago. We forget that there was a time when everyone was discouraged from going into gaming as a career, and that time isn't very far off from where we are now. Video Games only became acceptably, culturally, around 2007-2008 or so, yet our critiques never consider that the discourse was very, very different before that marker.
People who are "in charge" of studios now are overwhelmingly of two varieties: They're either individuals (mostly men due to social constraints in the 70's and 80's) who fought against the constant stream of "games are for kids!" and "there's no respectable career in video games!". I know that as a kid growing up, I was constantly hit with a cultural negativity and disdain for my hobby. I even stopped playing games during high school (1999-2003) in part because of this backlash (and a thousand other reasons, like how my high school's theater program was amazing!).
It hasn't been very long since games began to be taken seriously, and the reality is that it takesdecades to work your way to power within any industry. We have a huge number of women hopefully sticking with STEM and game-related focus. But we're still 10-15 years away from seeing the fruits of that labor. Since cultural acceptance and actual academic programs are relatively new, it's no surprise that the majority of developers are the sort of people for whom it was both marginally acceptable (male) and who also possessed the drive to fight against the overwhelming cultural bias against "gaming". We forget this, and I suspect and hope that in the next decade we'll see huge strides in gender parity.
I remember, when I was finishing my undergrad in 2007, realizing that if I had been born even a year or two later that I could have done a sociology major with an actual focus on gaming. That killed me because it's what I love.
Regardless, I'd propose that the issue is a general homogenizing force in "big business" gaming that is a result of context and the need to produce hits quickly rather than a dedicated issue with keeping women out. The quicker we can democratize gaming and rely on crowdfunding and the such the better off we are. Support good writers when we want well written characters. Support good designers when we want a good sim or a decent world-builder. We're looking at this industry and not giving them any credit for their immense shifts over the last five years.
Bah, regardless I find GTA5 to be boring and awful. Not me. Thankfully I have bunches of games to play that I like and enjoy.