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But frankly, this is a moot point. Whether by inertia or by the hand of developers, the sexist and dehumanizing portrayal of women in games is, ultimately, driven by demand. If serious change is going to come about in this area, we are going to need to make it happen, by insisting on games that are thick on substance and thin on sexism. This is particularly true because, as PC gamers, we hold two key advantages: One, we tend to fall into a more mature demographic of gamers that - in theory, anyway - transcends the testosterone-driven daydreams of young teenagers; and two, our platform, with its mouse and keyboard configuration, lends itself to more involving and complex gameplay than consoles do.
The evidence for potential progress and the means to achieve it is there, at least anecdotally. Alvarado gives us an example in the thinking person's FPS, Half-Life 2, in which Alyx, a woman of smarts, "helps you out of as many bad spots as you help her out of." Boal cites the under-rated title Beyond Good and Evil, a game graced with not only a powerful dialogue that brought him to tears, but also a "strong-willed female" protagonist to deliver it. An equally intricate game with a powerful female lead was Planescape: Torment, in which the female character possessed "a degree of strength, pride, and dignity uncommon to most other female characters," says Jason Kalishek, an 18-year-old RPG fan from Wisconsin.
The opportunity to drop puerile sexist imagery and bring women into the fold of PC gaming should not be missed. Contrary to myth, women are not duplicates of Laura Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie who will need Barbie Doll games to woo them to PC gaming. The protagonists highlighted above illustrate that plenty of excitement can be provided by female leads who will, in turn, bring in female gamers - not to speak of richer gameplay options. Additionally, as McIntosh says, most women gamers are "confident enough not to feel threatened" by sexist imagery, merely finding it annoying and disappointing.
Annoying and disappointing, however, are enough to keep women gamers alienated and outside the arena of PC gaming. As we well know, that would be a serious loss for them - but it would also be a serious loss for us. For we can delve into the depths of our fantasies, striding across landscapes in scooter bikes and soaring along lunar eclipses in starships, but what an unnecessarily cold and lonely journey it will be if we continue to ignore the dreams and visions of the women who could be riding alongside us.
To transform the status quo requires us male gamers to reboot and reconsider our collective thinking. Like Windows XP and a creaky DOS program, the lofty goal of a more fulfilling and fruitful gaming experience and the bleak reality of denigration and objectification of half the population are utterly incompatible. The solution is clear: Exit sexism, uninstall - women gamers, welcome aboard.
M. Junaid Alam is a journalism student at Northeastern University, a political commentary writer for the university paper, and a freelance reporter for The Sun Chronicle in North Attleboro, MA.