Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gaming America Cover in Reason Magazine: Freer And More Fun. And Sexist?

The Reason magazine' recent cover about video games in the US provoked some comments.  Here's the cover:

I haven't read the insides of the magazine from which the cover is taken, so what I write here is about the cover, and in particular about the sentence:  How gaming is making America freer -- and more fun.

Two people are picked to represent this story.  They are both white, one wears a business suit and sits on a bed, kinda relaxed.  The other one stands in the doorway, arms akimbo, either in a somewhat hostile position or perhaps a defensive one.   That one wears sedate bikinis and winter boots.

The player, sitting on the bed is a man, the bikini-clad observer is a blond-haired woman. She's not playing.  It's hard to know what her role in this cover might be.  Is she disapproving?  Is she standing for a character in the game?  Is she coming in to play?

On one level writing about a magazine cover is trivial and silly.  On another level the picture suggests all sorts of contradictions with the statement that gaming is making America freer and more fun.  The player guy is in a work uniform of the upper or middle classes, after all.  The not-player gal looks a little like woman-as-sexual-object-in-games, except that the artificial breasts are not there, her waist is not wasp-thin, and her bikinis have more coverage than the average female game character would have.

Then there's the whole idea behind the cover:  It paid homage to this:

According to the Editor-in-Chief of "Reason," Matt Welch, the cover was chosen to reflect an image style that would be familiar and recognizable as well as reflect the idea that gamers were becoming "more mainstream." Welch said that the magazine "cleaned up" the original image [from Grand Theft Auto V], removing the bikini clad poster girl in the background and changing his middle finger to an index finger in a "hold on, wait one second" gesture.
The character himself was cleaned up to appear more well-off, successful businessman: who "Reason" sees as the modern gamer, rather than the stereotypical image Welch describes as "some guy in his mother's basement."

This tells me that it's the guy who is intended to represent the gamer on the cover.  It's he who has been re-dressed.   It's he who represents the freer and more fun America, out of his mom's basement.  The bikini gal (not the near-naked one in the poster in the second picture) is probably intended to represent real America, too.  But as a gamer?  I don't think so.

So is the cover sexist, as the linked Reason post asks?  To answer that we need to know what sexism there might mean.  The cover shows the stereotypical view of video games as a guy thing (whatever actual numbers might show) and it gives a nod to the idea that women sorta enter that world at their peril and clad in underwear.  Showing any of that isn't sexist, in itself.

What's sexist, in my view, is the idea that just the guy sitting on the bed can stand for the freer and more fun America.