Yesterday may have been the first Canadian Video Game Awards but I doubt they are the first instance of overt sexism in the Canadian video game industry. Last night I attended the first Canadian video game awards and minus the bad dialogue, the sexist jokes and the glorified “booth babes” as stage candy it wasn’t half bad. I rather enjoyed Video Games Live. They are a live orchestra doing renditions of popular video game music set to visuals of the games. The awards would not have been the same without them and the performance made the event worth attending. They performed songs from Space Invaders, Mass Effect 2 and Tron among others. They also featured Martin Leung who definitely stole the show with his incredible piano talents. He is best known for playing the Super Mario Brothers theme blind folded and my jaw nearly dropped listening to the speed of his playing, it was amazing.
But as the show progressed, I couldn’t help but notice the blatantly sexist comments. As the jokes kept coming I wondered if they were written as part of the dialogue or just on the whim of the male hosts. While the first award of the night was being handed out, co-host Tommy Tallarico commented to the winners that they “win the girl in red” referring to the women on stage handing out the awards, clearly there for their appearance. Not only are these women used just to ‘decorate’ the stage but they are being offered up as a prize. Ya, ya it’s just a joke right? How about when Brianna McIvor, Co-Host of Electric Playground, was presenting an award and one of the hosts said to the audience, “Are the whistles for the games or for Brianna.” As if street harassment isn’t a huge problem already.
And just as I thought it couldn’t get any worse they threw in a few racist jokes as well. Assassin’s Creed II was nominated for seven awards and won the most of any game that night. The development team is from Montreal so naturally they have French accents. After the second or third thank you speech, co-host Victor Lucas commented “I love the multicultural vibe” clearly clueless as to what the hell he is saying. Nearly every person in that room was white and the vast majority male. I’m not sure what his definition of multiculturalism is, clearly he is not aware that a French Canadian accent is not exactly what folks mean when they talk about ‘multiculturalism’. At another point he joked about the accent of a woman who lives in Edmonton as if everyone who lives in Edmonton is a native English speaker. Not sure if it was the pressure of hosting a show or being on stage but that isn’t license to say stupid and offensive comments.
I couldn’t help but think how fitting my latest video remix “Too Many Dicks” was to this night’s events.
Tommy Tallarico from Video Games Lives kept talking about how globally influential and culturally significant video games are yet they still can’t manage to not alienate and exploit women. It’s no wonder that there are so few women involved in the industry when not only are most of the games clearly marketed exclusively to men but the gaming community is blatantly sexist (and apparently racist too). Sexist and racist jokes are often used in spaces that the joke teller believes is a safe space, as in their are no women or people of colour around. Clearly, Tallarico and Lucas believed they were in a safe space that night with the freedom to joke around about objectifying women and everyone in the room will laugh along. Hey gentlemen, I’m not laughing. And I think it’s important that we don’t laugh and if we have the opportunity to tell folks when they are being offensive. This helps to create safe spaces for the rest of us, those of us that are the butt of the jokes. The joke teller will have to think twice before telling his next joke.
“Dare to make people uncomfortable, beginning with yourself… It may seem that such actions don’t amount to much until you stop for a moment and feel your resistance to doing them — your worry, for example, about how easily you could make people feel uncomfotable including yourself. If you take that resistance to action as a measure of power, then your potential to make a difference is plain to see. The potential for people to feel uncomfortable is a measure of the power for change inherent in such simple acts of not going along with the status quo.”
– Allan G. Johnson, The Gender Knot