Women as Reward – Feminist Frequency
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Anita Sarkeesian

Executive Director and Buffy the Vampire Slayer Enthusiast

Content Warning: This educational episode contains game footage of a graphic sexual nature.

This episode explores the numerous ways in which the Women as Reward trope manifests in video games. The trope occurs when women or women’s bodies are employed as rewards for player actions, a pattern which frames female bodies and sexuality as collectible or consumable and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. We then discuss how this trope both reflects and reinforces the pervasive, socially constructed mentality of male entitlement that operates in the background of our culture.

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/21029965781

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

50 GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Alice: Madness Returns (2011)
Asura’s Wrath (2012)
Castle Crashers (2008)
Conan (2007)
Dead Rising (2006)
Defender of the Crown (1986)
Donkey Kong (1981)
Double Dragon (1987)
Dragon’s Lair (1983)
God of War (2005)
God of War 3 (2010)
God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)
God of War: Ghosts of Sparta (2010)
Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008)
Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
Joe & Mac Returns (1994)
Kid Kool (1990)
Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
Mafia 2 (2010)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004)
Metroid (1987)
Metroid II (1991)
Metroid Fusion (2002)
Phelios (1990)
Rad Mobile (1991)
Ratchet & Clank (2002)
Resident Evil 5 (2009)
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (2006)
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (2015)
Ride to Hell: Retribution (2013)
Rings of Power (1991)
S.P.Y. Special Project Y (1989)
Shadowgate (1987)
Shellshock: Nam’67 (2004)
Sid Meier’s Pirates! (2001)
Splatterhouse (2010)
Stanley Parable (2013)
Super Hang-On (1987)
Super Metroid (1994)
Super Off Road (1989)
Tales of Vesperia (2008)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
The 3rd Birthday (2011)
The Final Round (1988)
The Saboteur (2009)
The Witcher (2007)
The Witcher 2 (2011)
The Witcher 3 (2015)
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (2002)

Read the full article…

Content Warning: This educational episode contains game footage of a graphic sexual nature.

This episode explores the numerous ways in which the Women as Reward trope manifests in video games. The trope occurs when women or women’s bodies are employed as rewards for player actions, a pattern which frames female bodies and sexuality as collectible or consumable and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. We then discuss how this trope both reflects and reinforces the pervasive, socially constructed mentality of male entitlement that operates in the background of our culture.

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/femfreq/21029965781

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

50 GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Alice: Madness Returns (2011)
Asura’s Wrath (2012)
Castle Crashers (2008)
Conan (2007)
Dead Rising (2006)
Defender of the Crown (1986)
Donkey Kong (1981)
Double Dragon (1987)
Dragon’s Lair (1983)
God of War (2005)
God of War 3 (2010)
God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008)
God of War: Ghosts of Sparta (2010)
Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008)
Grand Theft Auto 5 (2013)
Joe & Mac Returns (1994)
Kid Kool (1990)
Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
Mafia 2 (2010)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (2008)
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (2004)
Metroid (1987)
Metroid II (1991)
Metroid Fusion (2002)
Phelios (1990)
Rad Mobile (1991)
Ratchet & Clank (2002)
Resident Evil 5 (2009)
Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (2006)
Resident Evil: Revelations 2 (2015)
Ride to Hell: Retribution (2013)
Rings of Power (1991)
S.P.Y. Special Project Y (1989)
Shadowgate (1987)
Shellshock: Nam’67 (2004)
Sid Meier’s Pirates! (2001)
Splatterhouse (2010)
Stanley Parable (2013)
Super Hang-On (1987)
Super Metroid (1994)
Super Off Road (1989)
Tales of Vesperia (2008)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)
The 3rd Birthday (2011)
The Final Round (1988)
The Saboteur (2009)
The Witcher (2007)
The Witcher 2 (2011)
The Witcher 3 (2015)
Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 (2002)

Transcript

CLIP: Dead Rising
“Fantastic!”

This episode comes with a content warning for game footage involving hypersexualized female characters and is not recommended for children.

As always, remember that it is both possible and even necessary to be critical of the media we enjoy. That’s going to be especially important to keep in mind given the video game franchise we are about to discuss…

In 1987 Nintendo released a 2D action adventure game for their Nintendo Entertainment System which departed from traditional video game conventions. Metroid starred a bounty hunter named Samus Aran who is covered head to toe in the now iconic cybernetic “power suit”. The game’s manual referred to the protagonist with male pronouns and described his identity as “shrouded in mystery”.

Metroid was notable as an early example of a game that employed multiple alternative endings which could be unlocked based on the player’s gaming skill and performance. If the player is able to complete the game in under five hours, a short cutscene will play featuring the protagonist without their armored helmet, revealing that Samus Aran is, in fact, a woman. This was a significant moment in gaming history, especially for many female gaming fans because, at the time, nearly all protagonists were just assumed to be male by default.

Remember this was back before the internet, when you couldn’t just hop online to find out about all the secrets and spoilers, so for many players, the ending of Metroid came as a genuine surprise. Still, the subversion only worked provided players were skilled enough to achieve the surprise ending. In retrospect, Samus’ gender reveal perhaps should not have been as shocking as it was, considering that Metroid is heavily influenced by the Alien films.

Sadly the alternate endings did not stop there; the two “best” endings make Metroid one of the first games to exploit the Women as Reward trope, as both reveal Samus in various states of undress. The better a player does, the more clothing is removed. If the player completes the game in under 3 hours Samus is shown without her armor and in a leotard. If the player finishes in under 1 hour they are treated to Samus in a bikini.

So yes, Samus wasn’t a damsel’ed woman waiting at the end of the game as a trophy; rather, her body itself became the prize awarded to players for a job well done. Later games in the Metroid series continued the convention of rewarding players with endings featuring Samus in various states of undress.

In one sense Samus Aran definitely did subvert traditional gender tropes of the 1980s by taking on the role of intrepid hero. However she and her body were still presented to players as prizes to be won. The convention, of earning access to cutscenes or ending vignettes with eroticized female bodies can be found in many titles over the past 30 years.

CLIP: Phelios
“Apollo”

CLIP: The Final Round
“Whoa! Whoa!”

CLIP: S.P.Y. Special Project Y

CLIP: Joe & Mac Returns
(Audience laughter)
“Oh!”

CLIP: Rad Mobile

We can trace the roots of the Women as Reward trope all the way back to the beginnings of the medium itself. As we discussed in our damsel in distress mini-series, upon successful completion of many arcade games players were rewarded with the related Smooch of Victory trope, so named for the kiss the hero received as a reward for rescuing a kidnapped princess.

Sometimes the prize is blatant as with the Standard Hero Reward in which a king will give his daughter to the hero. On other occasions, it’s taken a step further by employing the parallel Sex of Victory or Rescue Sex trope. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is: instead of a kiss, sex with the rescued victim is the player’s reward.

CLIP: Ride to Hell: Retribution
“That was gonna get ugly. You saved us!”
“My pleasure, ladies.”
“Thank you, thank you. Thank you.”

CLIP: The Witcher 2
“You saved my life. A bit of joy as recumpence is not too much to ask.”
“I’m intrigued. It’s been a tough day. I think some joy might do me good.”
(Moaning)

We’ve coined the Women as Reward trope to describe a long-running pattern found in interactive media. It occurs when women (or more often women’s bodies) are employed as rewards for player actions in video games. The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable or as consumable, and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players.

There’s some overlap between the Damsel in Distress and Women as Reward but they function differently. While the Damsel in Distress trope uses women as a plot device to motivate male heroes, the Women as Reward trope presents women as a formalized reward mechanism, meaning that the reward is coded into the game system itself. The result of this incentive structure is that access to women’s bodies, women’s affection or women’s sexuality is reduced to a simple equation that guarantees delivery as long as the correct set of inputs are entered into the system.

In this way the Women as Reward trope helps foster a sense of entitlement where players are encouraged to view women as something they’ve earned the right to by virtue of their gaming actions, skills or accomplishments.

This is illustrated in arcade classics like Joe and Mac and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; after players save the damsel in both games, she will bestow a kiss on the character who earned the most points on that stage.

CLIP: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
“I owe you one.”

Entitlement to women is made even more explicit in many versions of Double Dragon. At the end of the game, after the final boss has been defeated and the damsel in distress saved, player one and player two must fight each other over who “gets” to “have” Marian and with her the smooch of victory. Notice that Marian’s desires are not part of the equation, she has no say in the matter; she simply fills the role of a trophy for whichever player is ultimately victorious. This scene serves as inspiration for similar scenarios in more contemporary games like Castle Crashers.

We’ve identified 6 primary ways the Women as Reward trope manifests in video games. Over the course of this episode we will examine each in turn. In addition to the “earned cinematics” we’ve already discussed, we will cover the trope as it relates to Easter Eggs, Unlockable Costumes, Experience Points, Collectibles, and Achievements.

Easter Eggs are intentionally hidden secrets or jokes which developers conceal inside of their games. Like the eggs at a children’s easter egg hunt, these secrets are usually difficult to find but are meant to be discovered as rewards for particularly industrious gamers. Easter Eggs can be hidden messages, items, secret characters or random events, and their inclusion encourages experimentation with the game’s systems and mechanics in order to uncover these extra treasures.

Some can be found inside game environments, while others require a cheat code to unlock. For example, if players input a specific button sequence while starting up the 1991 role-playing game Rings of Power the title screen would change. By pressing down, right, A, B, C and the start button, players were rewarded with an image of a topless woman next to the Naughty Dog logo.

Easter eggs are, of course, not inherently problematic, and gaming history is filled with examples of neat secrets that designers have hidden away for players to discover. But too frequently, Easter eggs are used as another way to reward players with women’s bodies.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4 included a secret unlockable character named Daisy, who bore the likeness of porn star Jenna Jameson. Daisy’s sexualized appearance and skateboard tricks are designed as a reward for those players who unlocked her. One way to do that is by entering this code… ( o ) ( o )

Probably one of the most famous Women as Reward easter eggs brings us back to Samus Aran. The original Metroid used a password system to save progress. By inputting the secret code “Justin Bailey” into this system, gamers would unlock a powered-up playable version of Samus wearing only her leotard-style bathing suit. Incidentally this is the same outfit we covered earlier as an end-game reward, only here she has the powers of the Varia Suit and its associated color pallete swap, which changes her hair color to green. Players can then play the entire game as Samus without her space armor. So she ends up exploring a hostile alien world and fighting off deadly monsters in her underwear.

CLIP: Ratchet & Clank
“Welcome to the Hovercon intergalactic hoverboard competition!”

There’s a bizarre easter egg in the original Ratchet & Clank: If the player does a series of side-flips in front of a green-skinned alien, the woman’s breasts will suddenly begin to inflate. The more gymnastics stunts performed, the larger her boobs will become.

There are so many Women as Reward-style easter eggs in the Metal Gear Solid series that it would take several hours to go over them all. First released for the PlayStation in 1998 and then remade for the GameCube in 2004, Metal Gear Solid featured not one but two separate easter eggs that allow players to see Meryl Silverburgh in her underwear.

The second of these easter eggs requires players to follow Meryl into the ladies room and interrupt her while she is changing. If this is done quickly enough the next cutscene will play with Meryl in her underwear.

CLIP: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
“Anyway, how did you recognize me in disguise?”
“I never forget a lady”

Jumping ahead to the fourth game, the protagonist is assigned a psychologist for PTSD counseling. During these remote sessions, if players shake their Playstation controller the psychologist’s breasts will bounce and jiggle in response.

CLIP: Metal Gear Solid 4
“Memories began to resurface from his childhood, when he fought for Solidus in the Liberian Civil War.”

Keep in mind that easter eggs are not accidents or glitches. They are intentionally put into the game by the designers, and as a result, indicate the value that the designers themselves place on these female characters. They communicate to players that yes, these women exist for players to exploit or experiment with for their own amusement.

Unlockable outfits are additional costumes earned during gameplay which allow gamers to play dress up with player characters or party members. Alternative “skins” as they are sometimes called come in all shapes and sizes and are typically just cosmetic changes to the character’s appearance, although sometimes they add special abilities.

Many unlockable costumes are cool, wacky or bizarre. But when applied to female characters we see a distinct pattern of revealing, hypersexualized outfits.

Fetishized bunny, cat, maid or nurse costumes are commonly used by developers as a way to pander to an assumed straight male player base.

It’s important to remember that sexualization is not necessarily just about the amount of skin showing, but is instead connected to the question of whether or not a costume is eroticized for the express purpose of titillation.

CLIP: Tales of Vesperia
“Hey, why were you wearing that stuffy-looking suit of armor?”
“Oh? You didn’t like it? It’s pretty sturdy and protects my body quite nicely. See? Look at this beautiful skin, free of bruises and blemishes!”
“Very nice… I’m actually worried where my eyes might wander.”
“You don’t look all that worried to me.”
“I’ve just got a good poker face. So, you’re okay? You don’t mind leaving your armor behind?”
“It’s sturdy, but it’s heavy. Walking around with that on tires me out.”
“Hey, no complaints here. I prefer eye candy to scary armor any day.”

These types of unlockable outfits can be especially pernicious since they often end up undermining women who are otherwise appropriately dressed for active or professional roles. The Resident Evil franchise has been particularly guilty of this over the years. Almost every major release in the series has included the Women as Reward trope.

Resident Evil is a bit unusual in that, since its beginnings in the mid 90s, the franchise has featured a large number of playable female protagonists, most of whom are skilled zombie fighters and have impressive professional resumés, to say the least.

Rebecca Chambers is a police officer and medic in the Special Tactics And Rescue Service. Players can dress her up in “sexy nurse” and cheerleader costumes.

Jill Valentine is a high-ranking Special Operations Agent in the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, and also the master of unlocking. She can be placed in sexy police woman and sexy pirate outfits.

Claire Redfield is a member of a human rights organization that provides aid during bioterrorism incidents. She can be turned into a motorsport umbrella girl.

Sherry Birkin is a US government agent working with the Division of Security Operations. And here she’s wearing a schoolgirl outfit.

Helena Harper is a Secret Service agent and a former member of the CIA. Her unlockable costumes include another “sexy” police woman complete with mini skirt and garter belt

Sheva Alomar is an agent for the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance, operating in the West African branch. The tribal print bikini outfit is especially disconcerting, because it combines the sexualization of a female character with the racist tradition of exotifying women of color, particularly women of African ancestry. More on that topic in an upcoming video.

As a reward for completing the main game under specific conditions, players gain the ability to shove these female police and special agents into the digital equivalent of those patronizing “sexy” Halloween costumes we see mass produced every year. These ensembles are not only completely inappropriate for the mission at hand, but also reduce otherwise capable characters to sexual objects for the voyeuristic enjoyment of players.

CLIP: Resident Evil: Revelations 2
“None of this makes any sense. What did we do?”
“I wish I could tell ya.”

The latest game in the series, 2015’s Resident Evil: Revelations 2 continues this condescending tradition by offering DLC that puts Claire Redfield into a sexualized cowgirl outfit and forces Moira into whatever the hell that is supposed to be…? The developers call it an “urban ninja” costume? [Sigh.] Meanwhile, the male playable character Barry gets a gentleman’s Commandant alternative costume.

Alternative costumes for men are rarely objectifying. They’re instead presented as “tough guy” power fantasies for other straight men to identify with. And when men are stripped down to their beachwear it’s most often meant as a lighthearted joke.

Shifting to an example of a game that does alternative female costumes right, Alice: Madness Returns features a wide assortment of imaginative unlockable dresses. And if you must go the “bunnygirl” or “catgirl” route, this right here is definitely the way to do it.

In many games experience points, or XP, are earned by completing tasks like defeating monsters or finishing quests. Once enough experience points have been accumulated player characters can periodically level up, making them stronger or giving them access to new abilities.

Unfortunately designers sometimes tie the awarding of experience points directly to sexual interactions with female characters, effectively transforming women into conduits which players can utilize to become more powerful warriors.

In the 2007 game Conan, for example, dozens of half naked “maidens” are chained up throughout the game.

CLIP: Conan
“Take me and crush me with your love!”

When rescued they essentially function as sexualized treasure chests rewarding the player with experience points which are then used to unlock more powerful fighting moves.

CLIP: God of War
“…just a bit longer”
“We’ve reached Athens. Get your things and get out.”

A number of other games tie experience points directly to sex. The God of War games, for instance, established a tradition of including mini-games that reward the player for successfully having sex with one or more women. Completing these little quick-time events earn players red orbs that are used to upgrade attacks and magic.

Beginning with the 3rd game, the Grand Theft Auto series allows players to buy sex from prostitutes…

CLIP: Grand Theft Auto V
“Get in the car.”

…and rewards them by restoring their health meter.

In Grand Theft Auto 5, players are given additional encouragement to solicit prostitutes, in the form of an increase to their character’s stamina rating, which enables those characters to sprint, swim, or ride a bike faster for longer periods of time.

Similarly, in The Witcher 3, Geralt earns a handful of experience points for buying sex from prostitutes, and he earns more points for sex with the “courtesans” in the wealthier districts than with the “strumpets” in the poor parts of the city.

CLIP: The Witcher 3
“Greetings to the honorable gentleman. Welcome, make yourself at home. What have you come for? We’re prepared to fulfill your every whim.”
“I like you. Like how you look, like how you smell.”

When women are used as sexualized experience point dispensers, the sexual scenarios are themselves a reward designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. But there’s a dual reward here: absorbing these expressions of female sexuality carries with it the ability for male characters to grow stronger, faster and more capable, reducing the women to points in a mathematical equation that directly links the flippant consumption of female sexuality to an increase in male power.

Note that, while the consumption of women makes male characters more powerful it has nothing to do with mutual relationship building. The “relationship,” such as it is, ends with sex, or rescuing the woman. At that point, she has served her purpose. Players have reaped the benefits and her value has been depleted. Like an empty energy drink container, she is simply cast aside after being consumed.

CLIP: Grand Theft Auto V
“That was nice!”

That’s hardly the only problem with female NPCs who are designed to function as sexually objectified set dressing. For more on the myriad of issues with these types of characters, see our two videos on the Women as Background Decoration trope.

Collectibles are virtual items placed or hidden throughout a game world for players to find. Some collectible objects have effects on gameplay, such as boosting player stats or serving as score multipliers. Other collectibles are designed simply to be accumulated to provide a sense of accomplishment. Once acquired, some collectibles unlock concept art or other media fragments that can be viewed later in galleries selected from the game’s menu screen.

When done well, collectibles inspire exploration and replayability. However, when they’re designed to function as an extension of the Women as Reward trope, players are encouraged to view women’s bodies as souvenirs of their adventures.

In the 2010 remake of Splatterhouse players are encouraged to collect ripped-up pieces of photographs of the protagonist’s girlfriend which are strewn around each level. Once the player pieces them together, the completed images consist mostly of private, personal sexual photos.

CLIP: Splatterhouse
“I swear to God, you put this on the internet, and your ass is grass, buster.”

Sometimes the Women as Reward trope takes the form of corporate-branded product placement. For instance 2K Games officially partnered with Playboy to include 50 hidden magazines scattered throughout Mafia 2’s open world environment. Once found, each collectible opens to reveal vintage centerfolds from real 1950s Playboy issues. The discovered magazines are then stored in the game’s inventory and are available to be perused at the player’s whim.

Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series took this trend a step further by actually turning pornography into a weapon. In Metal Gear Solid 4, there are Playboy magazines scattered throughout the game world for players to find. When acquired, the magazines are stored in the game’s weapons inventory (alongside rifles and handguns) and serve a dual purpose. Players can look through the images at their leisure, and also use them to set traps by laying the centerfolds open on the battlefield to distract enemies.

CLIP: Metal Gear Solid 4
“Ooh, what’s this? Heh heh heh…heh heh heh…”

In the first Witcher game, players are awarded “romance cards” for successfully seducing each of over two dozen different non-playable female characters.

CLIP: The Witcher
“Let’s take our relationship further.”
“Come home with me. Let me thank you”
“Let’s go.”

Like other examples we’ve talked about, these pornographic collectibles are saved in the player’s inventory and are available to be ogled at anytime. The souvenirs function as a private trophy collection, encouraging players to view these female characters as sexual conquests and acquire as many different flavors of women as possible during their playthrough.

If collectibles in the player’s inventory work as a private trophy collection, then achievements serve as a public trophy case, on display for all to see. Achievements, or trophies, are meta-goal award systems built into most popular gaming platforms. Unlike collectibles, achievements are earned through in-game actions but awarded outside of the game environment itself and have no effect on gameplay. Some achievements are rewarded for skill or completion of tasks while others are arbitrary challenges set up by developers.

CLIP: The Stanley Parable
“Oh, please. Are you really just doing this for the achievement? Click a door five times? Is that all that you think an achievement is worth? No, no, no, no, no. I can’t just give these merits away for such little effort.”

These systems encourage “replayability” and provide players with incentives to spend more time inside the game space experimenting with its environments and characters. By default, your achievements are visible to anyone who views your profile on a gaming platform and thus they allow players to show off their gaming skill or dedication to their friends. In other words, achievements are designed to function as status symbols for gamers.

A whole host of games reward players with trophies for successfully having sex with one or more female characters. A suspicious number of those achievements are called “ladies man”.

CLIP: God of War III
(Giggling.) “The Gods have truly blessed you, Kratos”

Other games in the God of War series use a variety of euphemistic naming schemes for this. In the PS3 version of the original game the trophy is titled “Rockin’ the Boat.” In Ghosts of Sparta players receive the “A Hero’s Welcome” trophy and in Chains of Olympus the award is called “Two Girls One Spartan.”

CLIP: Grand Theft Auto IV
“Oh, Nico! I really like you!”

Some games in the Grand Theft Auto series offer achievements for bedding a “girlfriend.”

CLIP: Grand Theft Auto IV
“I think she likes me.”

Just so we’re clear on what’s happening here, players are receiving a literal trophy for “achieving sex” with a woman. When games such as these award players with achievements or trophies for sexual conquests they are directly reinforcing negative ways of thinking about the dynamics between men and women in our society. By presenting sex as an end goal of men’s interactions or relationships with women, these games frame sexual encounters as challenges to be overcome.

Let me emphasize that the problem here is not necessarily that sex is included in these games. By presenting sex as a goal and then presenting players with an award for accomplishing that goal, these achievements function as a form of trophyism. Simply put, trophyism is the tendency for men to view women as objects to be collected and displayed as status symbols of their sexual prowess or virility. These “trophy women” then serve as a way for men to assert their social status among and relative to other men.

The “fame points” system in the 2004 version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! provides us with a stark illustration of trophyism. In the game, romancing and then rescuing any of the game’s many governors’ daughters not only rewards your pirate with the option to marry her, but also wins him extra fame points. The daughters are largely interchangeable; they don’t even have names, and their value as a reward is tied directly to their appearance. Courting and marrying a “plain” daughter earns fewer fame points than marrying an “attractive” one, and marrying a “beautiful” daughter earns the most points of all. Fame points then directly contribute to the social status your character achieves at the end of the game. Depending on the amount of points accrued, you could end up as anything from a lowly pauper to a powerful governor. Other ways to earn fame points include acquiring wealth and defeating rivals. Like all your swashbuckling escapades, acquiring a woman becomes just another feather in your proverbial cap, functioning to elevate your prestige and renown in society. And since, in the game’s Xbox Live Arcade release, there are achievements for getting married, and for courting governors’ daughters from all four nations at once, these accomplishments also increase your gaming status.

Achievements on Sony Playstation platforms are called “trophies” but back when they were first introduced they were called “entitlements,” which is a fitting name for those that fall into the Women as Reward trope.

Since entitlement, or more specifically “male entitlement,” is the crux of much of what we’ve been discussing in this video, let’s take a moment to define what “male entitlement” actually means. First, the word “entitlement” refers to the conviction that someone deserves something, that they are owed it, that they have a right to it.

By extension, “male entitlement” is the conviction that men are owed something by virtue of their gender. It’s the belief structure that tells men they deserve to have their whims catered to, both culturally and interpersonally. One of the most harmful aspects of male entitlement is the false belief that men have a right to survey and use women’s bodies. This mentality carries with it a corresponding set of expectations about what women should provide for men. It’s a worldview that primarily defines women’s social role as vessels of sexuality, and men’s roles as consumers or patrons of that sexuality.

Unlike access to clean water or health care, which should be considered human rights that all people deserve simply for being human, access to a woman’s affections, her body or her sexuality is not a right owed to anyone, except herself. This should be obvious, but unfortunately male entitlement is a pervasive problem in our culture today.

The male entitlement mindset has a profound impact on how men relate to and interact with women. We see it manifest whenever a man orders a woman to show him her “tits,” or makes demands during an online game that a woman send him nude or sexual photos. We see it in real-world spaces whenever men catcall women on the street. We see it whenever a man gropes a woman at an event or convention. We see it whenever a man expects sex in return for buying a woman dinner. At its most serious, male entitlement is the mentality that serves as the foundation for the epidemics of date rape and sexual assault in our society.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that every individual man consciously thinks that he has a right to the body of every individual woman he sees. Rather, male entitlement operates in the background of our culture; it’s a socially constructed mentality that is so deeply ingrained that it’s often invisible, operating as an unquestioned base assumption. The critical thing to remember here is that men are not born with this sense of entitlement; it’s a learned way of thinking that shapes the ways men relate to women and women’s bodies.

This attitude is taught through a complex socialization process impacted by a whole host of factors. Families, religions, peer groups, movies, pop-music, mainstream pornography and video games can all play a part in the construction and perpetuation of this mentality. So of course video games on their own are not responsible for singlehandedly creating “male entitlement”; however, because games are interactive systems, they can be programmed to reinforce male entitlement in some unique ways not found in other forms of media.

For instance in Asura’s Wrath, when the player stares at a maiden’s breasts, she’ll try to cover herself up. But if the player keeps staring they will unlock an achievement called “View of the Valley”.

Similarly, in Lollipop Chainsaw the player can unlock the “I swear! I did it by mistake!” achievement for using the game-camera to look up Juliette’s skirt for an extended period of time despite her coy efforts to block players from doing so.

The “Casanova” achievement in The Saboteur can be unlocked for utilizing a mechanic in which players kiss 50 random women on the street without their consent as a form of camouflage to evade pursuing Nazis.

CLIP: The Saboteur
“That’s what I’m looking for.”

These achievements are directly rewarding players for in-game behavior that amounts to sexual harassment. Players are actively being encouraged to think of women’s bodies as something they are entitled to interact with.

That fact, in and of itself, is troubling but it’s just another example of the core problem with the Women as Reward trope. Game systems are designed to provide feedback mechanisms that either punish or reward players for the ways they interact with virtual environments. Because video games are constructed around these formal input/output systems, they can be an especially powerful tool for reinforcing cognitive patterns by modeling and rewarding player behavior.

In a game, you’re not just watching someone else being rewarded with a woman. You, the player, are earning a woman as a reward yourself for the actions you yourself have performed.

Players make the correct inputs into the game; a woman’s affection or her body is the corresponding output. Players go through the process of saving the princess, and the game’s algorithm dutifully rewards them with what they think they are rightfully owed for doing so: whether it be a kiss, a girlfriend, or sexual attention.

Social science indicates that one of the primary ways we learn about the world and our relationships to each other, is through a process of observation and imitation. Human beings also learn by seeing something modeled for us, especially when the modeled actions are accompanied by rewards or punishments.

Video games are uniquely positioned to provide experiences that do all of these things, because in most games, the player occupies both the role of participant, and the role of spectator to their own actions.

In this way the women as reward trope in video games becomes a mechanism through which male entitlement is taught and reinforced in our wider culture. Cognitively, it’s strikingly similar to the expectation that if a man buys a woman a few drinks, then he is owed sex. The money and time for the alcohol and conversation are the inputs, the sexual gratification is the output.

When men’s entitlement-based expectations are not fulfilled they sometimes lash out in resentment or aggression towards women. This is clearly illustrated in the catcalling scenarios I mentioned earlier: street harassers feel entitled to women’s time and women’s attention. If they don’t get the response they feel they are owed, they can become increasingly angry, following their targets, insulting them, groping them, or otherwise aggressively demanding to be acknowledged.

In the gaming community, we see this entitlement-fueled outrage bubble to the surface when some gamers encounter indications that games aren’t made exclusively with their fantasies in mind. Angry public temper tantrums from straight male players have occurred when role-playing games have forced them to interact with gay male characters, or presented them with lesbian characters who were not available as romance options to male avatars.

Angry backlash from straight male players also materializes when Western releases of Japanese games place women in slightly less revealing outfits, or increase the age of young sexualized female characters to 18.

In the same vein, when presented with critical analyses of the poor representations of women in many popular games, this intense male entitlement manifests in aggression, abuse and threats.

As we’ve demonstrated in this episode, the Women as Reward trope is set up to fulfill a very specific male entitlement-oriented fantasy. In many cases game creators may not even realize their mechanics are working to cement this mentality, but when games use a woman’s affection, her body, or her sexuality as a carrot on a stick, they’re actively encouraging men to think of women as objects, prizes, and status symbols.

And it’s not just men who are affected. This ideology of male entitlement seeps into the wider social consciousness of everyone, regardless of gender, a byproduct of which can negatively impact the ways women relate to one another and the ways we think about our relationships to our own bodies, and our own sexuality.

The good news is that because male entitlement is a learned attitude, it can, through education and conscious effort, be unlearned. And game systems are capable of being part of that transformative process. Just as their interactivity makes them a powerful tool for reinforcing male entitlement, so too could that interactivity be harnessed to disrupt antiquated gender dynamics and engage us with game mechanics that explore more equitable interactions between people of all genders.

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