Women In The Wordplace: Words Are Power

A thing that video games have proved mostly garbage at is approaching issues of gender – now when I say that you might think I’m merely talking about how women are portrayed, but pretty much any portrayal of gender gets a simplistic portrayal in games. A simple way to deconstruct gender issues might be to look at how powerful language is at changing attitudes, making people behave differently, or at how bullying as a kind of constructive dismissal decimates self esteem.

Now on Kickstarter, Words Are Power hopes to address this through narrative and through play by offering a stylish word game that centres around a woman journalist in 1940s Washington D.C.

Here are some attractive people talking about their word game:

The video might seem a little cute but as I read more about this Kickstarter the narrative scenarios discussed in the pitch seemed really pertinent to me personally. Take this for example:

“When you’ve just confirmed a senator’s conflict of interest just in time for his re-election, you need the news to hit the front page. Unfortunately, the editor feels that your credibility is insufficient to publish such an accusation. He gives you the choice: publish the article under another (male) journalist’s name, or keep the credit but potentially miss the opportunity to change the course of the election. Which would you pick?”

I’ve never had trouble writing to my byline, but the problem is sometimes I’ve had trouble thinking about whether keeping a female-sounding nickname online in a game or on IRC is really a good idea, when people make your life a great deal more difficult because of it. It’s an interesting one, where your visibility and credibility in a professional situation like a writing for a newspaper can really matter. You want the kudos; is it worth risking everything to keep it?

What’s also interesting to me about this Kickstarter game is that the bizarre sexism problems that still exist are often totally cryptic, in that you often don’t notice that they have happened to you until after they have happened, or sometimes they happen to you in broad daylight but are completely invisible to the opposite sex. This cryptic nature of sexism seems to me prime territory for a puzzle game, and so I guess I’m surprised that more games haven’t approached it.

You can take a look at Words Are Power here on Kickstarter.

80 Comments

  1. RARARA says:

    Do the words you are using on the scrabble board have any context to the story at large? Or can you swap out the whole thing with any other minigame and it wouldn’t make a difference?

    • Alex says:

      Based on the below quote from the Kickstarter page, I think the basic deal is that the points you score in the scrabble modes are rewarded with dialogue/story advancement. So in that sense, maybe it could be replaced with a different type of minigame without really affecting the story. But, it seems to me that it was an intentional choice to use a “word game” as the main gameplay mechanic in a story all about words. On one hand, since the protagonist is a journalist it reflects how her main goal/struggle is to find the information/words she needs to compose news articles; on the other hand, the tension of needing to assemble the right words in order to progress in the story seems related to the intersection of gender discrimination and language (i.e. if the word “woman” applies to a person, they’ll be judged differently than if their identifying word was “man”).

      Quote from Kickstarter:
      ‘ “Interview” is the most common game mode, where you talk to various game characters to discover leads. Similar to Scrabble or Words With Friends, you place tiles on the board to form words. The more points you score, the more progress you’ll earn!

      Interrogation is the first variation you’ll play. This event will come up when you need to get a confession out of a character, get them to reveal hidden information. The board is covered in “fog” and by placing tiles you reveal more spaces. Attain the target number of spaces

      The game will feature even more game variations, like Decision that makes you choose how the story will progress and Talk Your Way Out where you must attain special exit tiles to escape a sticky situation! ‘

    • Cinek says:

      To begin with: I hope this game got some option to completely ignore godawful scrabble.

    • pepperfez says:

      or to socially constructed personalities
      Nobody cares about your chromosomes when they look at your byline, they care about your gender identification. In fact, almost all the times we talk about ‘sexism’ we’re talking about gender, not sex.

      • Yglorba says:

        The people who cause the most problems are generally ones who don’t care about distinctions between sex and gender, anyway. (And obviously if you’re openly trans anything that’s going to get you grief in its own right, too.)

        I mean, yeah, it’s your public gender identification that causes the most problems, but only because that’s what people see first.

        • Cinek says:

          “who don’t care about distinctions between sex and gender, anyway” – FYI: Internet does exist outside of the USA, Canada and UK. And not all languages in the world do have such distinction. So even if people did learn English and their language doesn’t contain the distinction of meanings between sex and gender – they most likely don’t even know about it.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      And the author is wrong. They are using an archaic definition system that has not kept up with modern science.

      For a start gender is not wholly a social construct. Gender is how your mind identifies yourself and recent research shows that this is physically imprinted on your brain and is developed during pregnancy independent of your sexual development.

      This is where we get GID from which is the condition that leads to someone becoming transgender. Even then science has identified chromosome sequences that do not fit in with existing sexual definitions even though the person identifies their gender as male or female. There are people born with both typical male and female sexual organs while some with none. Those with none get to chose their sex in adulthood. Then you’ve also got males who produce estrogen making them technically female and females who produce testosterone making them technically male.

      Gender and sex are interchangeable as identifiers because science has made the old definitions invalid.

      Lets also not forget that sexism doesn’t outline the reason why the prejudice exists. A person may literally feel that having a vagina makes a person weaker and would rather trust a person with a penis. Even if somebody viewed women as inferior based on their gender, that socially created gender definition is based on women being less capable of defending themselves while pregnant which is caused by their sexual organs so is still sex based and therefore sexism.

  2. teddancin says:

    Shout out to RPS editorial staff, for all the lady-bylines I’ve seen over the past 24 months

    • RARARA says:

      Bylines full of women.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Amen. Much as I am saddened by Jim and John writing less frequently, we’ve an embarrassment of riches to compensate. Long may it continue.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Michael, Michael, Michael, Michael. Come on, tell me about the lady-bys.

      I don’t suppose you’ve got any army stories about them?

  3. AreWeHavingFunYet says:

    It’s good that more and more games raise this kind of important issues. Not many people are aware, that being a woman was actually illegal until 1963.

    • waltC says:

      “It’s good that more and more games raise this kind of important issues. Not many people are aware, that being a woman acting like a man was actually illegal until 1963.”

      (Fixed that for ya’…;) Of course, even the revision isn’t even slightly true…;)) What’s sexist is getting caught up in gender assumptions, imo. A healthy, non-sexist person can appreciate the differences in the opposite sex without becoming obsessed with them. Yea, I think that pretty much covers it. Dwelling on imaginary or perceived slights which may or may not actually have anything to do with sexism strikes me as psychologically very unhealthy.

      • pepperfez says:

        Assuming that most perceived sexist slights are imaginary isn’t particularly healthy, either.

    • Heliocentric says:

      The womanist agenda again! The states of girl, bride, spinster and nun were all allowed.

  4. cederic says:

    I play games with female names. In the 90s online communities were terribly biased, people gave far more help/equipment to female characters.

    These days I don’t get treated any differently most of the time whether I’m playing as Cederic or my lady name.

      • RARARA says:

        The solution is to let the one person they fear the most know about their behaviour. All of whom happen to be women.

        Their mums.

      • Cinek says:

        Yea… that website makes sense… quotes and screenshots collected from entire flippin internet… that’s like… over 2802478934 people… and they can’t even get one image a day…
        This website proves the opposite of what it’s actually trying to prove.

        • Simplisto says:

          It doesn’t prove the opposite – it just doesn’t offer enough evidence to counteract your cynicism.

      • Shadow says:

        Well, that’s a nice site and all, but does it really depict aggression unique to women? As a man, off the top of my head, you can have your sexuality, independence and age (meaning experience) attacked in not too dissimilar ways. The base topics are different, but they still bring into question your ability to function as an “adequate” male member of the species (“lulz, your a 12 yr old beta fagget living in your mums basement”, to bundle it all in one statement).

        While less common perhaps against males, rape-related and general sexual comments exist as well. But even if they didn’t, there’s still plenty of gender violence to go around.

      • cederic says:

        Cara all I’ll say is.. check the email address with which my account is registered with RPS – John has my permission to share it with you, if needed. ;)

    • Simplisto says:

      When I was a teenage boy* I used to play as female characters in MMOs and experienced similar treatment, albeit by other teenage boys wanting to get to know a girl. More often than not though, across the spectrum of online gaming, you get abuse rather than favours.

      *I’m now living as a woman – and experiencing how things are from the other side.

    • MirzaGhalib says:

      I was playing CS: GO last night and watched another player ask a female player if she would give him oral sex. Another player said the harassed player was actually a 10-year-old boy, which was confirmed, and only then was the harasser embarrassed. I am somewhat familiar with the creepy attention male players pay female players, but that was the first time I had seen something so repulsive. Indon’t play a lot of online games, though, so maybe this happens all the time. Do people actually think that sort of behavior is acceptable?

      • Cinek says:

        Of course it’s not acceptable. I would go and slap that idiot in a face. Or actually: Both: him and his parents. None the less – I tend to play in MMO games as a female character / or a character whose name sounds in English like a female and I never ever experienced any abuse due to being perceived as a female.
        My sister is also a gamer, though to be fair: she doesn’t play as often online as I do, none the less: she never experienced any abuse related to her gender either.
        So it’s not universal. And we’re both having some good time laughing from some oversensitive people panicking all over the internet because someone said something on a chat. She just few days ago mailed me the whole “sexist” Barbie comic that people criticise so much online. Oh man, we had fun reading some comments online. People really need to get their shit together.

        • ShEsHy says:

          I’m a dude ;).

        • P.Funk says:

          Can we end sexist treatment of women simultaneously with obsolescing that ridiculous idea that you can slap men of any ages and not believe its assault?

    • Rakombo says:

      It wasn’t just in the 90s. I had a friend who played MMOs,he played only female characters and pretended to be a girl in chat. He had dudes walking him through to the level cap just because when he was asked if he’s actually a girl he simply answered “yes”.

      Simplisto how the fuck is this:”*I’m now living as a woman – and experiencing how things are from the other side.” relevant to your comment?

  5. B.rake says:

    Not sure I understand the mechanics- dialogue choices combined with Scrabble style scoring for better results?

    Bioware should be well equipped for the subject considering how their dialogue choices always work: Step 1 – Pick a word that resembles the tone you would like your character to take. Step 2 – Recoil in horror as your character says something totally offensive, unmeasured, and only vaguely related to your choice as you now have to slaughter everything just like you were trying to avoid. SUBTLE, I know, but I can’t help but think this is the closest relative to having an actual conversation I’ve encountered in games. Playing up that dissonance in different ways I think you could make it suitable for this sort of ‘trying to accomplish goals when the obstacles are invisible and the reasons for those obstacles make no sense’.

    • montorsi says:

      Joke would be funnier if no one actually played Bioware games.

      • B.rake says:

        Er… wasn’t really joking… I genuinely think clumsy or not easily intuited choices are an interesting bit of design. You have found their dialogue choices true to intent?

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      *selects “SUPPORTIVE”*
      No, that’s not what I mea… Oh come on, stop having sex.

      • Cinek says:

        :D :D :D Oh man, you just described my life with Bioware games!

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Sounds like my life living with Asperger traits.

  6. wodin says:

    Cara..any chance you can email me? Tried emailing you to no avail. It’s about Freja:)

  7. evenflowjimbo says:

    Didn’t one of the female developers say RPS is anti-women? Is this the reason for this article? Never understood that, since most the time I’ve been on here, it’s pretty much pro-women.

    • Timbrelaine says:

      I googled a bit and didn’t find anything about it. Considering the chronic controversy surrounding their not-anti-women stance, I’d be surprised indeed if someone thought they were otherwise.

      • evenflowjimbo says:

        It’s mostly said in comments sections or forums. I have heard it from a interview in Huffpost with those three women talking about GG. One of them mentioned Kotaku, RPS and some other site.

    • Meneldil says:

      Oh. Cause we get to be pro-women or anti-women now? My, my, the intrawebz fighting for social justice never ceases to amaze me.

  8. Timbrelaine says:

    Two of the authors I read growing up, K.A. Applegate and J.K. Rowling, used their initials to hide their gender under their publisher’s recommendation/pressure, on the assumption that most of their audience would be boys, and reluctant to buy a book written by a woman.

    Similar problems exist in academia, and… on RPS. Remember the shock and dismay when our local oblivious sexists learned that Cara was a woman for the first time? The weird dichotomy in which women are seen as capable, but not credible, is a thoroughly modern strain of sexism. I kinda wish they were aggressive enough to set the game in the 2010’s. But then, current events is a full contact sport, and I don’t blame anyone for skipping it.

    Here’s hoping it’s good.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      This…this happened?

      I mean, Cara is as feminine as names get…why would they assume she was a dude?

      • Pockets says:

        It was about soup in games journalism. Decadent Tesco Finest soup, fully exposed in a clear tub. Not just any soup, but pea soup. Filth. Thoroughly unacceptable on a website like RPS. Were Tesco paying to parade their disgusting wares across the screens of our innocent children? We were never told!

        Oh, and apparently a journalist had her face in the photo.

        (I don’t think that was ever about someone not realising, but a picture making it so they couldn’t ignore the byline and had to accept it. Which, of course, they couldn’t, and shit spewed everywhere for a few days.)

  9. OpT1mUs says:

    Zzzzzzzzzz

  10. ssh83 says:

    While i spit on lying critics, I fully support artists, regardless of their opinion and view point. Talented people who create good art are always worthy of respect.

    Though given the failure of the kickstarter campaign… people voted with their money. If the gender critics all donated $50 for that game, it would’ve reached its goal in an hr. That didn’t happen cuz they’re not in it for the games, they are incapable of positive things like sponsoring art.

    • RobF says:

      MORE LIKELY POSSIBILITIES:

      1) Not many people had heard of it before today as nobody has a 24 hour MONITOR ALL THE THINGS-o-tron installed in their home just yet.

      2) It’s not an appealing idea for a game for a lot of people (possible!)

      3,4,5,6,7,8…3,9000) Many, many others.

  11. Wednesday says:

    Is it safe to say The W word out loud now?

    • Chaz says:

      Woodchuck
      Winnebago
      Wichita
      Walrus
      Widget
      Walleteer
      Wellington
      Warrantise
      Washeteria
      Wegotism
      Whifflery
      Windlestraw
      Woodshedding
      Wurzel

      No, none of those?

  12. AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

    Extraneous gameplay element, my old nemesis, we meet again.

  13. souroldlemon says:

    It looks fun and looks likely that it can end up being as polished as it needs to be. Backed. Although i consider myself too broke to be an rps supporter, despite wanting to…
    And it could be educational, in a good way (a gaming way, not a serious gaming way.) Just because i consider myself a non-sexist guy doesn’t mean i already know or understand everything about sexism.

  14. AngoraFish says:

    Worthy concept, but worst pitch ever – over produced, and the stilted, rehersed dialogue just feels disingenuous.

  15. ffordesoon says:

    Backed, but if only it had dialogue trees or something!

  16. Rakombo says:

    Don’t really care about the game but the pitch video is AMAZING.

    I love when the makers of a product tell me how they love their own product,I find it refreshing.
    I love how naturally they read,I mean say their lines,squinting and moving your head like you broke your neck,hmmmm that’s how people usually talk.

    I’m actually interested if it’s really “The game he always wanted to make” or is it just that the time feels right for this type of game with the feminist bullshit regularly circulating in the gaming media

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Yeah, feminists are so cynical, right? Emily Wilding Davidson stepped in front of that horse for the Youtube hits. When they forcefed her gruel though a tube she actually loved it. Secretly all women want to be forcefed gruel through a tube. There’s no such thing as sexism, it’s just a bunch of stupid women complaining because of hormones. ETC.

      • Rakombo says:

        Incredible example,simply incredible. You couldn’t find something that goes back even further? Dying for what you believe in when you are oppressed and bitching about women having big tits in video games is exactly the same right? Of course it is.

        Also video game discussion boards and gaming sites is just the place to discuss sexism, the biggest problem is the portrayal of women in games after all.

  17. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Ooo, sounds interesting and vaguely reminiscent of the Deep Space 9 episode where Sisko is a sci-fi writer back in the 40s or 50s or so. One of my favourite episodes, and the source of the “it’s REEEEAL!!!” video clip. I’ll have to check this Kickstarter out this evening when I have more time. Thanks!

  18. PrometheusRising says:

    I have to say that’s one of the dumbest narrative scenarios I’ve ever heard of. So you confirmed the truth with facts and then suddenly you have to publish as a man to be taken seriously? So the people in this setting are going, “Yeah I wanted to believe that the senator was corrupt but you know the article had a woman’s name on it so forget that. I’m going to watch Fox News from now on.” This whole premise for a game is just about the worst use of feminism possible. Instead of a scrabble ripoff , how about you make a game about Nadia, a woman living in Saudi Arabia who wishes to go to school or have the freedom to walk around her city without a man escorting her. I’m tired of seeing these projects popping up with hot-button issues and hoping that the controversy will make them rich. Please stop.

    • All is Well says:

      I think you’re presenting an overly naïve view here – you seem to be suggesting that people will judge a given statement only by its supporting evidence and will not place any importance on who’s saying it, how it’s said, in what context and so on. I think this is discounting the very real influence things such as class, gender and ethnicity has in deciding which statements are regarded as trustworthy or true and which are not.

      I also don’t really understand your last point – how is gender discrimination in the 1940’s media/news industry a “hot-buttion issue”, and how many games have you seen covering it exactly, that you feel it necessary to ask people to stop making them? And isn’t your suggestion of topic more exploitative of “hot-button issues” as it’s both an entirely contemporary issue and not specific to a certain profession?

    • Rise / Run says:

      Replace “dumbest narrative scenario” with “not altogether uncommon occurence in journalism during the 20th century” and maybe you’re a bit closer to the truth.

      To me, the major problem with most social issues that we’d prefer didn’t exist is that they DO exist, and have existed in a similar form for quite some time. We tend to point our fingers at other places and say “but it’s far worse there.” But even if that may be true, it doesn’t excuse our own societies. It’d be nice to think that workplace harassment is a thing of the past. But it’s clearly not, and women are more often and more egregiously harassed in the workplace than are men. Any form of media that may increase people’s awareness of these issues is welcome.

  19. moms pubis says:

    One of the word-placement game GIFs on the home page spells out “ADMIT MOON TRUTH.” This game is actually about the protagonist traveling to the future to uncover a conspiracy to fake the moon landings.

  20. goon buggy says:

    1940s
    Wheres my tea and crumpet love, Ol Jerry wont sit over there forever, weve got a war to win.

    Ohhh usa you say. Hmmm
    Oh ms jones, i do declare that there is a page stuck in the bottom of that fancy picture copying machine there, fetch me a fried coke and hot dog, then bend over and retrieve it please.

    The above drivel may or may not be accurate, i dont know what they ate in the 40’s.

    I did know someone that swore a bit to the queen in the mid 40’s. But im from the colonys, soo um yeah gday shelia.