In The Frame

Surprise, this month I have mostly been thinking about men. Read on if you want to know about the exhausting amount of stuff I have been up to recently, as well as a few thoughts on Dishonored.

Much has been said of the idea, this week, that stories about masculinity must have male protagonists: actually, I find, that more is said about masculinity these days by giving the stories to the women than to the men. Women characters have been the focus in narratives much less often, giving more opportunity for women to test out how well masculinity stands up when it isn’t actually the reason for everyone’s existence. In fact, when I wrote the (woman-led) Sacrilege this wasn’t at the front of my mind, but the more people talk about masculinity, the more I think about the men who gave me feedback on that game and how they tell me they learned something from it.

In Dishonored, women occupy what is often a melancholy and palpably miserable existence, something the game goes out of its way to point out. This isn’t unusual in games; the idea that women might be second-class citizens used to dole out story or sympathy or be provokers of male heart-twanging is absolutely the norm. What Dishonored does differently, and this part really digs in, is that the women in the game, instead of framing themselves with respect to the men around them, frame themselves in terms of who they are and what they do. Granny Rags is formed from Vera Moray through what she does with bone runes, not by her husband, who she hides her vocation from, and the Heart often reveals that women servants are thinking about killing themselves due to their position in society. These are pangs of agency, though their plights are horrible and unpleasant: their will comes clearly through and they define themselves through their roles, not through what men think or are doing. Even the Boyle sister who says she wants to tap every man at the ball in her diary: she’s expressing desire and agency, has her own voice – she isn’t asking what men think of her, she’s telling men what she will do to them. Which is to Hit That. I like this approach, though the next thing for me is to give women more agency in games, power that helps them say a greater variety of things about who they are. For more reading, I found this article really interesting.

This week an article about Jessica Chobot came out on Polygon, and it framed her, or at least, it seemed that Jessica Chobot framed herself, in terms of the relationships she had in her life. This is the way I see my own life; I identified with many things in the article (which is the first time I have learned anything about Jessica Chobot other than that the internet dislikes her). Of course, because the article had been written by a man, it was a problem to many that she’d been defined by her relationships to men, which is a thing I agree is done too often. But I still got something from it: the story that Jessica seemed to be telling was (at least partly in her own voice) a tale of one where her relationships were often the reasons she made important life decisions. I think this is perfectly normal.

Lots of journalists objected to Chobot being framed this way, even women journalists who often use men to frame themselves in their own work. I also consistently define myself through my most important relationships, most of which have been with men, and I recognise that it might be necessary to swim against that current sometimes, and resist the urge to write about men, to men, for an audience of men. For example, I often get in trouble with commenters for using gendered language or for saying ‘clitoris’ instead of making a dick joke or for referring to myself as being a woman, or for working the trappings of my life which are feminine coded – such as painting my nails – into my copy. ‘Stop throwing your gender around,’ male readers often say. But what they don’t realise is that this is not for the purpose of fetishising myself to them, nor is it for their ‘attention’. It is for the purpose of speaking to my own gender. I want to roll out the welcome mat to women who until now have been alienated by the lack of women talking directly to women. For too long games critics have addressed only a male readership in terms that pander to a male readership. I don’t want to say ‘fuck you’ to that readership, I love that readership (largely). I just also want to give the women readers a chance to feel welcome. Femininity isn’t something that is ‘less’ and I don’t feel like men should feel alienated from it. Part of why I write is because I want to change the discourse slightly to be more inclusive of other views. I don’t feel like it’s more virtuous to pander to the establishment that says that women talking about things that affect them is somehow ‘off topic’. The establishment is well-served. Can’t we talk to the people who are less often addressed as well?

In any case, since I last updated here I deliberately brought 1996 Electronic Dreamphone to Rock Paper Shotgun this month, along with some Tori Amos. I championed Hawkeye’s Female Gaze in the Young Avengers at the New Statesman. At the Guardian I talked about how Jenn Frank’s Boobjam is a political creative movement, meant to include more women’s voices. And I wrote about how Gone Home, a story about two sisters who frame each other in the narrative, was made. I was very proud to have that article sat next to Philippa Warr’s excellent Going Home With Gone Home – her personal response to Fullbright’s little bombshell.

Have I talked to you on here about Not A Game podcast yet? It’s a podcast about games run by four critics who all freelance – my friends Philippa Warr, Tom Hatfield and Craig Lager are regulars, and I’m in the mix too. It’s almost always 50% mans 50% womans, and this week we’re 75% womans with Jenn Frank contributing. You can find Not A Game podcast here. We’ve already had the great Taylor Cocke and Cassandra Khaw on. Give it a listen!

Other things I am up to include a regular feature I am doing for radio show One Life Left called Electric Dreams (oh man, do I love this feature), and I also did a little tribute to games legend Hiroshi Yamauchi on BBC Radio 4. Yamauchi recently sadly passed away. What a wonderful man he was. I’ve also just finished writing for television, although I am not sure about how much I am allowed to tell you about that. But it will be on TV in the end so I suppose it doesn’t matter.

Also: I’ll be at Gamecity Festival in October! Come and visit. Me and Keith Stuart are presenting a lunchtime roundup show there, and I’ll also see you at Eurogamer Expo this week, if you were lucky enough to grab some tickets (I hear they’re sold out!).

Until next time. I SALUTE YOU. And yes I will try to pitch more to RPS. Stop reminding me.


  1. Grizzly 09/27/2013 / 9:37 am

    You ought to pitch more to RPS :P!

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