TFG Discussion: Activision Blizzard Lawsuit and the Representation of Women in Video Games, Part 2

This is part two of our discussion when three of the members of TFG, Catherine Harlow, Kathryn Cooperman, and Hayley Garden, as well as Julia Makivic, sat down near the end of August to discuss the current situation with the lawsuit against Activision Blizzard.  We also talked more generally about how women are represented in video games.  We had such a long discussion that we are breaking it up into four installments, so stayed tuned for the rest of our conversation.

The articles either referenced or sent to the team in advance that go more in depth about the lawsuit can be found here: Time’s summary of the lawsuit, IGN’s timeline, and Kotaku’s report of the Blizzcon panel

The transcript has been edited for clarity.

Read or listen to part one here.

Catherine Harlow  0:01

It’s really interesting what both of you are saying because that’s a good point, Haley, that, you know, Pokemon has made a distinct choice to stay for kids. Whereas like, Julia, what you’re saying, like, a lot of not maybe – you know Nintendo I think in general tries to keep it more family friendly but a lot of franchises have chosen to grow up with the fans who grew up with them. And you are right, like I did – there’s like a series on YouTube where it’s like, you know, “oh I have like my non-gamer girlfriend play these games” or other other YouTubers will be like, “I played games for the first time” and they also have experienced the same thing of there is an understood language and foundation that is built off of, you know you understand like the A button does this, or the B button does that like you, like – there’s a foundation that these controls do these things so that whenever you come to a new game you can kind of jump right into it. But, you know, it does then at the same time create that barrier of entry which I think is why is a lot of people who didn’t grow up gaming, they try a game, they are hit with that struggle and they say, “Oh, this is not for me,” and then just move on, which is, it’s interesting that like, yeah, they know their hardcore fans are always gonna keep buying the newest console and the next game, but, you know, I wonder if maybe they should do some market research on maybe if we make other kinds of games with other kinds of stories that maybe we could be tapping a broader audience and be more inclusive or even, you know, if we’re talking about differently abled people like I definitely see that there are some people who make controllers more accessible to those people, which is – I’m really glad that people are doing that because there are a lot of controls that go into a lot of these games that make it just impossible for many people to enjoy something and as a medium that’s an art form, I definitely think that games have a somewhat untapped potential on telling new kinds of stories and creating a new storytelling experience. It also reminds me of when the movies, when film, were first invented and the public backlash was like, “oh this is gonna destroy society” like, you know, “this is horrible” and now it’s one of the most widely consumed art forms, and storytelling mediums, and video games are that are the next, in my opinion, they’re the next – they’re the next movie media, on you know how powerful they can be in telling a story and how they can be used to really help people understand other people’s experiences, which is why the frat bro culture behind so many game studios is so disappointing, because it really is like in a video game you get to live – even more directly than a film or a book you – really get to live the life of somebody else. So you know imagine how powerful that could be if you choose to have a wide range of stories and characters and backgrounds that, you know, have fully fleshed out characters; which is again like with most women and in media games, in video games, like the men get to be fully dimensional people with struggles, backgrounds, backstories, you know, failures, successes and the women are just, like in so many movies, are just the pretty face.

Hayley Garden  4:16

I think it’s especially just depressing in games, because there’s this – I feel like a lot of it is an illusion because it’s still story and it’s still sort of predetermined but it’s that illusion of agency but the player has that, like, you’re making these choices and you’re controlling this character so there’s this illusion of agency – of player agency – especially when there are choices that you can make that can somewhat affect the narrative, and you feel like you’re in control of the story, but at the same time there’s still no real change. So, that’s what makes games such a cool medium is this conception of agency and being able to choose what you do, and feel like you’re affecting the outcome of the story even if you’re not actually.

Kathryn Cooperman  5:16

Speaking to that – I remember I was watching on Masterclass Will Wright, who created the Sims. He did a series on how to make a game, and one of the points that he brought up was that people feel that the characters are an extension of themselves. So, I don’t know, if the character died in a game, you would say “I died,” not “the character died,” and it’s very personal and immediate. And when I play the female-led mystery games I also find myself living vicariously through the characters. These are often young women maybe around my age – Carol Reed lives in her own apartment in this cute town in Sweden, and rides bicycles, and makes her own wine in her apartment, and solves mysteries, and I’m like, this is so cool, I want to be this environmentalist murder investigator. It’s a lot of living vicariously and relating to the characters, who are an extension of you, but yeah, I find that really cool.

Catherine Harlow  6:21

Yeah. Which is why I appreciate games like, I know I’ve written about it before, but Horizon Zero Dawn. To me that’s a masterpiece of a game from the story, the art direction, the gameplay, but you know another thing I really, deeply appreciate about it is the female protagonist. She’s a strong character, she you know, completely capable, but it’s not about her gender, she just is. Yeah, she just is the most boss person in the whole game. And –

Hayley Garden  7:08

See, I was going to – when you guys are talking about accessibility and gaming I was actually going to bring up Horizon Zero Dawn. I thought that game was so hard to play. I regret not playing it on story mode, where there was just absolutely minimal combat because the combat was so frustrating for me that it affected my enjoyment of the story, because I got so mad trying to fight the bosses.

Catherine Harlow  7:38

That is a good point like it definitely was meant to be very much a challenge. So, yeah, I always get disappointed when people say they don’t like it because I think it is a masterpiece of the game and it is one of those games that takes it just from fun entertainment to it’s telling a powerful story that’s worth telling, and has a lot to say. 

Hayley Garden  8:05

Yeah, I did like – I thought that Aloy was the best part of that game. 

Catherine Harlow  8:12


Hayley Garden  8:13

Just, and the journey of her trying to find her mom, and be like – and what I really appreciated about Horizon Zero Dawn, looking back on it, was – and I’m prefacing this by saying I always, I do enjoy a good romance – but I liked that there was no romance in that game. 

Catherine Harlow  8:35


Hayley Garden  8:36

What they would have to win. And they set up characters that she could have had relationships with, but I just, I appreciated that she just didn’t have such a romance. I mean I wrote about something similar when I wrote about Moana and how Moana I think was a strong movie because it just let her arc be about her, and I think, Horizon Zero Dawn is the same and I think that was definitely a strong point for that game is that her arc was just about her and her mom, and everything else that came along with it, and there was just no other pointless romances to drag her arc down, and that can happen a lot, especially in games written by men when the romances have these male gaze. I mean I see that all the time in Bioware games. A lot of AAA platform games where the romances are written by men who don’t understand women, and it becomes frustrating female characters, stuck in mediocre romances, but what I really appreciated about Horizon Zero Dawn, is that there was not that in her character arc and I think that made for a stronger story.

Catherine Harlow  9:55

Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, back to the point about the accessibility of that game. You know, I think you’re right that it is unfortunate that it is a really difficult game to play, but there is that story mode, I didn’t play but I imagine that that does make it more accessible, but in terms of like, you know, hitting at the fan base that does enjoy the sexual fantasy of the games, I think maybe it’s a good thing that this is a game that is highly regarded, very difficult, so those hardcore gamer dudes can be, unbeknownst to them, having a different perspective and being exposed to women are real full complex people too. And you can fully enjoy a game about a woman, it does not have to be about a man to be an excellent game. 

Hayley Garden  10:51

Yeah. 2017 was such a good year for games. 

Catherine Harlow  11:05

It really was. 

Hayley Garden  11:10

So it was really great. I feel that there were some good games about – Now I’m just thinking about Breath of the Wild and how that game handled Zelda, and I actually think – I actually quite like how that game handled Zelda, especially compared to how other games tend to handle Zelda, which is just not at all. Like she’s just not in the story, or she’s a damsel in distress. I feel like Breath of the Wild and Ocarina of Time are two of the best, where she has an active role in the story, but I really – and I liked how Breath of the Wild told it, sort of in fragments about how she comes into her own powers and has this rocky relationship with it. And it – and I’m excited for the sequel because I feel like she’ll be doing more, but that also compared to Skyward Sword where she’s not in the story whatsoever. “I’m going to sleep, bye.” 

Catherine Harlow  12:20

Yeah, no, that’s a really good point so like you know, 2017 both Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn came out so I think that is both of those things are a good indicator that perhaps the gaming industry is changing and is trying to be more intentional about having a broader array of characters and perspectives, but with Zelda in particular, it’s really interesting because the franchise is called The Legend of Zelda, but it’s never about Zelda, it’s about Link, and Link’s journey to save Zelda. So, I think Breath of the Wild does the best job of showing that Zelda herself is a full character, like she is a full person, that she has agency and power, and she doesn’t, you know, obviously, everybody needs help, but she is capable as well.

Hayley Garden  13:20

And yeah, and also that she’s like she’s human and she struggles and she can’t fully master it, but she’s not like, “Link, like, give me power,” like she’s struggling on her own, and she’s taking charge of her own story which I really enjoyed seeing as I got the pieces of the Breath of the Wild story. I think it was that the story was definitely second to the gameplay, I noticed in that game, but I appreciated what they did with Zelda. I feel like it was definitely a big step forward for the franchise, for what they can do with storytelling there.

Catherine Harlow  14:04

Yeah, and I haven’t played – in Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity also kind of like goes into the backstory of before Breath of the Wild. I only played the demo, I haven’t gotten the game yet, but, you know, anyway, so I don’t know if there really is too much story, but I did play the demo and at least in the demo you can actually like play as Zelda and fight as Zelda, which is like, “Finally! Finally you can play as Zelda.”

Hayley Garden  14:33

At least in some capacity. Hopefully someday in a mainline games we’ll be able to play as Zelda 

Catherine Harlow  14:42

Yeah. Or I always thought – I always thought it would be really cool if they introduced co-op to The Legend of Zelda where you can play as Zelda in, in co-op mode.

Hayley Garden  14:54

Yeah, kinda like what they do – they kind do that in Pokemon with Let’s Go, Pikachu because you play as a second little kid and follow around. They – it’s definitely possible they have that technology in some of their more recent games. That would be fun. Or like in Mario. But Mario also isn’t as – there’s, not as much going on in Mario compared to Zelda, story-wise, or with characters. In the more fun platforming games, like there’s lots of – 

Kathryn Cooperman  15:41

What does it mean by co-op? 

Catherine Harlow  15:43

Oh cooperative play, you can play together with another person. Yeah. 

Kathryn Cooperman  15:48

Cool, cool. 

Catherine Harlow  15:49

Yeah, thanks for asking.

Hayley Garden  15:53

Actually when we were talking about accessibility, it made me think of the, the Ratchet and Clank remaster that we were playing, and how like, you couldn’t get into it because you’re not used to modern gaming and you prefer the original, because that is the way that they make games that were just simpler and more straightforward and not without like a million every different thing needs to be mapped to every different control, every single button on the controller. And, like I definitely can see preferring the simplicity of the original to the more complicated remaster, whereas I was able to adjust to the remaster more because I’m more used to playing games that have been given all these roles. What they consider to be quality of life updates at the state of mind gaming, really just, it’s just very interesting to think about the purpose of gaming and what like certain people do versus – and what you think of as quality of life update but might not actually be good for certain players. Like they think that being able to just rotate the camera is good, but it makes you dizzy when you’re playing it. It’s coming back to the accessibility issues of playing a game. But that was interesting.

Kathryn Cooperman  17:24

So I’m much more of a traditionalist when it comes to games and I guess I’m not really into the newer games, I mean the mystery games I play, now it’s point-and-click, it’s very simple interface but there’s more, I guess, thinking and trying to figure out your next move, picking up on clues, and Ratchet and Clank was a bit different. I’ve played that when I was a kid. So, the first one came out in 2002. I played that when I was maybe, I don’t know, it was a little bit later, I was 11, 12 I think, and I really appreciated the simplicity of the storyline. It’s about this character, he’s called the Lombax and it’s like a wolf character and a robot and they team up to save the galaxy essentially. It’s a very charming story, there are a lot of cutscenes that are funny and you know have humor, and they have these different villains, and then they save the galaxy eventually. But yeah, the more modern remasters and the one that I played with Haley I find they’re too complicated, there are too many like weapon upgrades and there’s just a lot of unnecessary things added on and from an accessibility perspective. The camera just moves too much, and I got really dizzy playing up the remaster with her. So I don’t know I like the older games that are more focused on the storyline and I guess more simple and they have like relatable parts to them.

Come back for part three next week.

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