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70 Years Since The First Video Game, Has The Industry Turned Inclusive?

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When Josef Kates invented Bertie the Brain, one of the earliest computer games, he did not know he was laying foundations for a global industry. Nor did he have any inkling of the fact that the profession was going to be dominated by the likes of Ralph Baer, known for patenting the first home video game system.

More than 70 years after the early games made their debut into the world, gaming is no longer just an industry but as intrinsic a part of our lives as the internet. 

According to a report by Accenture, the value of the global gaming industry exceeds $300 billion, which is more than the combined markets of movies and music worldwide. The pandemic has further contributed to drastically increasing the number of people playing video games around the globe

Accenture’s “Gaming: the new super platform” report finds gaming represents $200B in direct spending and influences another $100B+ in indirect revenue. [Source: Accenture]
What this basically means is that we are now looking at a new future where gaming has emerged as not only a pastime but also a learning experience for children and adults alike. Bandura’s Social Cognition Theory holds that what we observe in our environment influences our behaviour.

Video games too, consequently, hold considerable influence over the behaviour of people, especially children. So the real question that arises here is, what are our children, the ‘future’ of the world, learning from these video games? Is it just teamwork? Sportsmanship? Or is it something more sinister, like sexism and misogyny for example? 

Sexism As A Norm In Games

Several studies conducted around the globe have come to the same ominous conclusion; many of our beloved games actively promote sexism, unrealistic body images, misogyny and cultivated toxic masculinity in our society. 

The launch of every edition of Grand Theft Auto has been met with the same counts of criticism: sexual objectification of women, misogyny and overall lack of inclusion of strong female characters. But don’t go on trusting me blindly of course!

Numbers speak for themselves; a 2007 study of 225 video game covers found that even though male characters appeared more frequently, the female characters were more likely to be portrayed with over-exaggerated and objectified sexiness.

Objectification of women in GTA. [Source: Reddit]
The unrealistic portrayal of Final Fantasy VII’s character, Tifa Lockhart, and Catwoman divert the attention from their non physical characteristics. Such hypersexualized characters not only promote hostility towards women by the male gamers, but also lead to a negative body image for female gamers.

If this wasn’t a pressing enough problem already, a study in PLOS ONE indicates that exposure to sexist video games can decrease empathy for female violence victims. In an era where gender-based crimes are at an all-time high, this can only spell doom. Surely this isn’t what we want little kids to learn right? Putting the genie back in the bottle is no longer possible.

Video games are a much needed respite for millions and it’s a moral obligation of the creators to make them safe spaces for all genders and communities. Gone are the days that video-gaming was a solely male pursuit; female gamers now demand a better representation and enhanced role of female characters. 

How Do We Move Forward?

The costumes and portrayal of different body types can not only be used to promote body positivity but also help in making the industry more inclusive of the queer and trans communities, who are still severely underrepresented in the industry, with the number of popular games with queer or trans characters being next to zero.

Inclusion of androgynous clothing is the best way forward, as people become more and more confident in the perception of their sexuality. The 2018 Spider Man video game was not only inclusive of the queer community by featuring the pride flags everywhere, but also took a major step in countering sexism by changing the attire of Black Cat, a prominent character in the game.

While this is just a small step in the right direction, it’s still a significant one and a perfect example for other video game creators to follow. 

The lines between media and entertainment have blurred to the point of extinction. People aren’t just consumers anymore, but critics too. We owe it to ourselves to question dubious representation of our fellow citizens and demand that these industries do better. It is only through collective action that we can bring sweeping change.

The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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