Point / Counterpoint: Sexual Stereotyping and Android Demonstration Videos

VG24/7 (thanks to Good Games Writing for highlighting it) an article about sexism in video games / video games ‘journalism‘, with the key point being that although it goes on, both developers and writers have the ability to reduce latent sexism by not focusing on the obvious T&A presented to them. All it takes for sexism to flourish is for good men to post cheesecake shots, as it were.

A striking example of this kind of sexism in action presented was the Quantic Dream: Kara video, with is a graphics / tech demo that uses a short narrative. As a brief summary of that narrative: a female android is pieced together by an off-screen male technician who is running basic diagnostic tests on her.

As she becomes more human-like, she is less “I can look after the house, do the cooking, mind the kids, […] and I am entirely at your disposal as a sexual partner” and more “I thought… I was alive” and unhappy at just being merchandise for sale. The technician moves to disassemble her and does so up to the point that she expresses a fear of death, which sees him reassemble her and send her out in the world with the admonition, “Stay in line, okay? I don’t want any trouble.”

Here’s the video:

Watching that video made me think of a similar concept: the David 8 video that’s part of the “Prometheus” viral campaign. It is a birth video of sorts for a male android and hits some of the same notes as Kara’s – it talks about what David can do as he answers questions from an off-screen male, there is a bit where he sheds a tear and it ends with him in a package for sale.

Here’s that video:

Obviously the two videos were made with different purposes in mind, but I thought it very interesting how male versus female gender identities were shown.

  • Kara is naked (and when she gets skin, she covers herself for modesty; when her dissembling starts, her underwear is torn from her) while David is fully clothed in pretty much every scene.
  • David has been developed to help work in companies, where Kara is clearly a domestic servant.
  • Kara clearly mentions as being developed for sexual purposes, while David (at best / worst, depending on your reaction to having sex with a David Bowie impersonator) barely hints at it.
  • David actively promotes his ability to work independently while Kara is almost destroyed for suggesting that she might think for herself.
  • Kara is told what to do during her tests by the off-screen male while David has a much more ‘ask-and-answer’ adult to adult relationship with his off-screen male. Kara performs on request; David responds to questions.
  • David is also quite creepy in his potential ability to deceive and perform “unethical” acts that humans wouldn’t while Kara is clearly an innocent not built for that purpose.
  • Kara doesn’t appear to want to hurt a fly while David is upset at the idea of “unnecessary violence”, thus opening the door to him finding necessary violence completely acceptable.
  • David understands emotions but doesn’t feel them, while Kara is clearly in the grip of her emotional experiences (notably fear, but there are other potential emotions she is shown to experience).

It’s interesting that in two separate videos supposedly showing androids in demonstration mode that Kara and David adhere so very closely to arguably sexist social norms (e.g. women are emotional, men aren’t; women are to be shown wearing as little as possible, men are to be clothed; men work in organisations, women work in the home).

Not Sure If Serious

Some of the criticisms of VG24/7’s article was that it was talking about a graphics demo with a narrative that was ‘obviously’ meant to show Kara in a vulnerable state, so therefore wasn’t sexist. This is completely wrong, since for graphics demonstration purposes there was no need to have a woman begging a man for her life.

In short: yes, the Kara video was sexist, and it looks a lot worse in comparison to another android-related video narrative released around the same time. Both adhered to expected gender stereotypes, which is amusing / frustrating since both videos were about robots who don’t need to have any gender other than that we project on them.

It also raises the point of how hard it is to have a discussion about sexism in video games when a vocal segment among gamers refuse to see that there may be an issue, but that’s a topic for another day.

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2 thoughts on “Point / Counterpoint: Sexual Stereotyping and Android Demonstration Videos

  1. Well put.

    “In short: yes, the Kara video was sexist, and it looks a lot worse in comparison to another android-related video narrative released around the same time.”

    My I also add that the whole thing is just…. kind of poorly written? Typical David Cage garbage. Especially the argument at the end between Kara and the operator is a lost opportunity. I would’ve found the whole thing much more sinister if the whole thing was actually part of the plan, to test her perception of herself as being “alive”, that they’d implanted in her.

    The idea of her working exactly as intended presents a much more interesting moral conundrum than her malfunctioning and being left alive anyway.

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