A few days ago, DualShockers reported about the attempt to pass a law amendment at the French Assemblée Nationale to penalize the production of video games considered “sexist,” and showcasing a “degrading representation against women.”
The amendment aimed to make the development of games falling in that rather vague definition ineligible for local tax credits, that currently cover 20% of the production costs under a number of conditions, including the lack of pornography and extreme violence.
The amendment was first withdrawn, and then introduced again by thirteen members of the French parliament, led by Catherine Coutelle, President of the Delegation for Women’s Rights and Equal Opportunities Between Men and Women.
Finally, it was briefly discussed and voted on January 21st, and ultimately rejected.
During her remarks (translated by our very own Morgane Bouvais), Mrs. Coutelle admitted that the French gaming industry is not prominently known for widespread sexism, but maintained that it’s not an exception from the norm, bringing forth what she considers “evidence” against games developed in France. She mostly avoided naming the games she was blasting, but the references were very clear.
Firstly, she talked about games that have no female characters because they’re “too difficult to draw.” This is an evident reference to a common misquoting of a statement by Assassin’s Creed Unity Creative Director Alex Amancio during an interview on Polygon. Amancio simply mentioned that having a female playable character would have been a lot of “extra production work” due to the necessity of creating more animations, assets and another voice acting track (which is an entirely valid budget reason for a development studio), but the quote bounced around articles and blog posts in a sort of echo chamber that warped it into the commonly (mis)quoted “too difficult to draw” or “too difficult to animate.” Apparently, like many others, Mrs. Coutelle did not do her homework.
Then she brought up another developer who says that he prefers to write female characters, but his character is a female android “controlled by a masculine voice.” She quoted the android’s line: “I can look after your house, do the cooking, mind the kids, I organize your appointments, […] and I’m entirely at your disposal as a sexual partner. You don’t need to feed me.”
Quantic Dream fans will immediately recognize that android as Kara from the tech demo introduced at GDC 2012, who is now becoming the protagonist of the Studio’s new PS4 game Detroit: Become Human. Of course, the message behind Kara’s “initialization text,” and behind her whole character, is completely different than what Mrs. Coutelle implied by quoting it out of context.
After that, she mentioned the Imagine DS and 3DS games (renamed Léa Passion in France) by Ubisoft, that prompt ladies to do cooking, fashion design, decoration and take care of babies, while boys can play rugby.
Finally, she explained that there are also cases of “hypersexualization,” and moved on to talk about another game, developed in Lyon, where the protagonist has to investigate on a dead woman, accompanied by a damsel in distress, a witch, a prostitute (which according to Mrs. Coutelle are numerous in games), and a caretaker. She even joked about being sorry for all caretakers. This is an obvious reference to Dishonored as described in a brief tweet by a popular feminist blogger.
Mrs. Coutelle ended her remarks by saying that sexism is not latent in video games, and it has been denounced by female gamers and bloggers, who have been victimized by cyber violence.
After that, the President asked the opinion of the government, represented by Axelle Lemaire, Secretary of State of the Economy Ministry for the Industry and Digital.
Mrs. Lemaire mentioned that the government shares Mrs. Coutelle’s desire to promote a respectful representation of women in video games and in media in general, but while the issue raised is very real and serious, the amendment wouldn’t change it, and would be instead counterproductive. French video game development doesn’t hold much weight yet internationally, and the amendment would have the direct and immediate effect of pushing developers to develop games that are violent and degrading for women overseas instead. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V, or even Ubisoft’s games that are developed abroad, are completely out of reach of this kind of legislation.
On the other hand, according to Mrs. Lemaire, the amendment would disempower a growing industry in France, that the government is instead trying to empower. On this, their action is three-fold: firstly, they try to make careers in media attractive for women, so that they can promote their objectives and contribute to create contents that match their expectations.
Secondly, they encourage the creation of games that promote a positive image of women, and have reached an agreement with industry professionals on this topic.
Thirdly, they encourage the creation of communities on the internet in which women can feel safe and free to express themselves.
According to Mrs. Lemaire, the dialogue with the industry on this topic has already produced results, with French studios that have recently produced games like Life is Strange and Beyond: Two Souls, featuring main characters who are strong and deeply human women. This is the signal of a French industry that wants to be more responsible than its European or international counterparts.
That’s why, while Mrs. Lemaire shares the general goals of the amendment, she felt that she had to provide a warning on the fact that its effects would be counterproductive, and demanded its withdrawal.
During the following vote, the amendment was rejected.
If you want to watch the full charade, below you can see the video, courtesy of the official site of the French Assemblée Nationale.
It remains to be seen if Catherine Coutelle and her colleagues will finally give up, or will present the amendment again in some other form. Yet, at least for now, it’s game over.