First Person Shooter
If you are bothered by ten-year-old television spoilers you might want to skip this entry.
I have a large X-files box set, which I've been working my way through at a rate of approximately one episode per day for, well, quite a while now. I am currently in Series 7, and just watched the episode "First Person Shooter". In this episode, Mulder and Scully investigate a virtual reality game which has somehow started killing people for real.
The X-files is not a show that always takes itself too seriously, and that is fine by me. I'm happy to ignore the ridiculousness in a lot of the cases investigated. However, in this particular example they really missed their mark for me, and First Person Shooter may well be my least favourite episode. Which is sad, given my interest in gaming, and love of geeky episodes and the lone gunmen. The episode is even written by William Gibson, which I would have thought was a good sign.
I think the X-files in general does quite a good job of portraying an equal partnership, and exploring gender dynamics in a relatively genuine way. They don't always get everything right, but Dana Scully remains one of the best examples of a strong female character I encountered during my teenage years. So, it's a bit of a kick in the teeth when they decide to cheapen those dynamics.
In FPS, Scully spends a lot of time ranting about testosterone fantasies, and arguing against the possible merits of violent games. Meanwhile, Mulder effectively regresses to adolescence and gets very excited at the prospect of running into the simulation all-guns-blazing.
It's as if the mere use of video games as subject matter makes it okay to hype up gender stereotypes. And I don't consider that okay. Not even ten years ago when this episode was aired.
If there is a twist (and in the realm of X-files there is usually a twist) it's that the sexy virtual assassin woman causing all the problems was not created as a man's fantasy. Rather, she was a female developer's reaction to working in a testosterone-dominated environment. She was her "goddess", designed as a source of strength. In the scheme of plot twists it wasn't a very important one.
Ultimately it's Scully who has to kick enough arse to bail Mulder out, but that's a rather tired girl-power story. I've become accustomed to something better than that (though I will admit she looks pretty cool...).
I know video games are still finding their feet when it comes to gender. It would be pretty stupid of me to try and claim otherwise, and I do think it's important to address that. But that doesn't mean games should be portrayed as though they cannot ever be divorced from gender imbalance. Sadly, I'm not convinced that in a similar scenario created today would be any better. That is really quite upsetting, and it's stories like these that give non-gamers of the world skewed perceptions. We can all do better than that