There's been a huge debate over a question asked by me on the main site: How are women portrayed in King's Bounty: Armored Princess?

It's been closed three times already. We should come to a resolution on this.

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I think it's best if we keep Gnome's question open until we can make a decision on it. We still seem fairly divided on the issue. –  Wipqozn Dec 28 '11 at 1:30
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@Wipqozn, closing is 100% reversible, I'm more inclined to keep it closed in the meantime. –  jmfsg Dec 28 '11 at 13:54

4 Answers 4

I don't think these questions are appropriate for the site, and it may take me more than a few paragraphs to explain why, but please hear me out.

The crux of my argument against these questions on our site is that they are meant to elicit discussion, even if you don't want them to, and in my opinion, it is appropriate that they should. We should question these portrayals, because it means we are questioning the accepted norms of media's portrayal and whether or not they are appropriate and fair. Because these questions elicit such discussions, I feel they are outside of the scope of this site.

Some background

Fair representation of all genders/sexual orientations/etc. is something that is pretty personally important to me, and I spend a great deal of time on various websites reading analyses, opinions and viewpoints of people who examine games from both heteronormative and non-heteronormative points of view, as well as involving myself in discussions with others on what we think of aforementioned games' portrayals of various groups.

I'm not mentioning my involvement in areas elsewhere to say "lol I r smrtr then u" or something. I'm saying this so you guys know that this is something that I do a lot of thinking and research about and that I'm not just pulling this all from thin air or something, and most of all, that this is important to me and I'm not just VTCing because of the inclusion of the box art or the joking tone of Gnome's one line or anything like that.

Attempting objectivity and the problems therein

In regards to the argument that we can list objective descriptions in order to make the question and subsequent answers appropriate for the site, I disagree that this is an appropriate solution.

Even the answer by Oak, while well written, is not objective (Oak, I love ya man, please don't hate me for this, but you're the only one who has answered the question. Also note I'm not asking you to actually respond to any of the questions I ask about your description, I'm merely using them as an example).

Though it can of course be interpreted in many ways, I don't think women in this game are overly objectified

This is a subjective opinion, and people will have different interpretations of this. What does "overly objectified" mean to the answerer? Does that mean there's some objectification, and if so, to what extent? In what context? What one person may overlook as "harmless," another may find quite offensive.

This stems from the simple fact that we all enjoy various sorts of privilege. Because each person who tries to answer these questions comes from a different background with different circumstances and different life experiences, what they may interpret as harmless or harmful may be thought of as otherwise by another, and those conflicting opinions are not necessarily wrong. This is the very definition of subjective.

You play as a powerful, independent, fearless female protagonist; and the occasional advance by an NPC (which is pretty rare anyway) can be harshly rebuked by you using either wits or threats of violence. You can also get male squires serving you. Most other women in the game are also portrayed as independent and spirited individuals, though most NPCs are male.

This description is again subjective, and again, this is relative to whatever the answerer's point of view is from a privileged standpoint. When I read this description, I find myself wanting to ask questions about the protagonist's background, about her circumstances, about the writing of the game, and how well and fairly it treats the subject matter.

Why is she considered powerful? Is it because she earned it through her own accomplishments, or was she given power from someone else? Why is she considered independent? Is it because she's follows her own path and makes her own decisions or is because she's considered an Alpha Bitch? How is she fearless? Is it because she stands up to her enemies without quailing from a fight or because she murdered some person who abused her?

The interpretation of the character would be different based on which (or none!) of those reasons would be true, and that's because context is important when deciding whether or not the representation of women or men or homosexuals or Chinese or whomever is fair or not.

Objective lists removing context is not appropriate for these types of questions, and I would even argue harmful. We only need to look at our "classic" questions to see how ridiculous and/or misinterpreted some things can be when taken out of context. And even attempted objectivity can still come across as subjective.

Attempting objectivity in practice - an example

Let's look at this situation from a game this year completely out of context from 3 angles.

The male movie star protagonist attempts to flirt with and hits on a female Marine several times, though she rejects him every time. After the final rejection, he grabs her in an attempt to keep her from walking away. She pushes him away and punches him. He then responds by punching and kicking her repeatedly until she's nearly dead. He apologizes and offers a hand to help her up, which she rejects.

A list of events as they occurred chronologically. Fairly objective, insofar as I can objectify the events as they happened.

The obnoxious man hits on the poor woman several times, even though she repeatedly rejects him. After becoming fed up with his endless advances, she tries to walk away but is manhandled by the brute. She responds as any sane woman would and punches him and tries to escape, but he then brutally abuses her, beating her to within an inch of her life before he finally relents. To add insult to injury, he tries to help her up.

A version of the events heavily slanted to favor the female Marine's perspective. Uses weasel words to slant the reader's opinion against the male protagonist.

The handsome guy attempts to befriend a woman, though he's surprised to find his wit and charm not working. Not wanting to lose his chance, he tries to get the frigid girl's attention by grabbing her arm, when she then flips out and punches him. He defends himself appropriately, but shows his chivalry by offering to help her up after he knocks her down, an offer she coldly refuses.

Another version of the events, this time heavily slanted to favor the male movie star's perspective. Again, weasel words are used to slant the reader's opinion.

If any of these descriptions showed up on the site, I imagine most would try to edit them to adhere to the first example in the name of objectivity. However, you still have to deal with the subjectivity of the editor in question's POV. Which words would they change? Which wouldn't they? How would we solve disputes in editing that one person may find offensive, but the other would think is no big deal?

Why does this matter to Gaming.SE?

It shouldn't.

Objectively, the above situation sounds kind of... well, awful, and many people may say that they would not want to play that protagonist. But those of us who played the latest Mortal Kombat (myself included) found ourselves in that situation in the 4th fight in the storyline campaign, Johnny Cage vs. Sonya Blade. I think it's fair to say that a lot of people didn't really bat an eye at the situation because, well, it's Mortal Kombat. Should we feel more uncomfortable with this? Is it okay to describe this situation objectively and without context?

I experienced some internal conflict playing some games that were very popular this year (including that one) because of questionable representation in them, bringing up questions of whether or not it's okay to enjoy something with such representation, where the line may lie in levels of "acceptable" thresholds of poor representation, etc.

But does this matter to the site? No. Despite what others argue to the contrary, I don't feel that this is a simple question. In our FAQ it states:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

There are entire books dedicated to the fair representation of various groups of people in media. There are entire websites dedicated to this kind of analysis of video games and asking questions about the why's this or that, and I think that boiling down a game's various portrayals to objective snippets A - does injustice to the game and B - does injustice to an issue that has many levels of nuanced layers.

We are a Q&A site. We solve problems like "I'm stuck on this boss" or "I'm looking for the most efficient way to do X, how can I do that?" Answering questions like this is not within our scope and nor should it be.

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This is a really thoughtful response, and I agree... To a point. Where we splits is that I think that you're forgetting that we can have good subjective answers within the SE model. When we say that a question like this should include examples of criteria, it's not in an attempt to turn answers into checklists - rather, it should be a means of providing a lens on the askers frame of reference and criteria, so that an answer can be provided. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Dec 28 '11 at 14:05
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The first paragraph was pretty much my reaction when I saw the question. I think your answer provides a good background as to why that's a valid reaction to it. –  agent86 Dec 28 '11 at 14:19
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@LessPop The problem with that is the lens will still be framed from a certain perspective which we cannot accept as the definitive answer. Under Great Subjective's criteria of explaining "why" and "how," we can't back that up, as we're not the writers of the games, so all we can do is speculate. Sharing experiences over opinions is also invalid here, because as I stated with regards to privilege, everyone will have a different life experience that shapes their view of what constitutes, in this case, sexism, and for that same reason, we also cannot back up answers with facts or... –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 14:25
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...references justifying our personal experience. Just because I say and so-and-so of this paper says "This does not constitute sexism" doesn't mean that it still can't feel sexist to you. Too much relies on the tone of situations to determine whether or not its sexist. I know it when I see it is not necessarily invalid in this case, because we cannot judge how other people will or should feel. –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 14:27
    
Thank you for reaching into my brain and putting my jumbled thoughts into such a well written piece. –  user9983 Dec 28 '11 at 16:50
    
First of all, I never claimed my answer is entirely objective. I tried to be as objective as I can regarding the game graphics - which is relatively easy - and tried to provide a personal but at least somewhat substantiated opinion. The 3 personality traits I've mentioned, by the way, are pretty strongly evident in this game, even though you see them as very subjective. Other parts are definitely subjective, though - that's why I added the "I think" and the "overly objectified". The box art looks like a pin-up image, for example, and if I recall correctly the succubi wear even less. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 20:35
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What I'm trying to say is that I agree with LessPop's first comment here. Is my answer completely objective? No, far from it. But I think there's a way to answer questions like this in a way which is objective enough, and is mostly informative. I think I understand where you're coming from, though - someone else playing this game can certainly see things under a different light and disagree with my answer. But we have a lot of questions around here with answers bordering on the subjective, and I do think it's possible to give them a good answer with references. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 20:38
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And also (1) I find it amusing that of all games, King's Bounty is the one mentioned here in terms of depth of story and character background etc. I really like that game, but story and characters are not particularly among its strengths :) also, (2) I don't hate you :) and I don't completely disagree with you, either, I just think that this question is a real question that can be answered with an answer which involves mostly facts and a little opinion, and that's good enough. I'm not saying my answer is good enough, just saying that a good-enough answer is possible :) –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 20:41
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@Oak I do understand where you're coming from in considering it a legitimate question and wanting to help the asker (also I'm glad you don't hate me). I do think these are important questions. But I don't feel we're the people to ask. Mostly, I'm trying to prevent opening a whole, ugly can of worms on our site if we allow these questions, especially in regards to moderation. It's a very, very heavy issue with people sitting on both sides of the fence and everywhere in between. The only thing I could maybe see working is requiring that these questions receive a single Community Wiki answer. –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 20:59
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I feel that it would be unfair for a user's reputation to be affected by their opinions and interpretations of such issues. People getting downvoted because their interpretation was slanted to be less positive in the community eye than someone else's whose was interpreted to be more positive has the same problem that Game Rec questions had. What would we use as references in this case? In regards to the characteristics of the character, each differing option changes whether or not the character may be interpreted in a positive light or not. Not having an answer to those questions also... –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 21:06
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...can affect the perceived positivity or negativity of the character ("Is this just shallow characterization?" "Was this overlooked by the writers because they ran out of time or is it lazy writing?"). Also, I know very little about the KB series and have never played it, but I understand the amusement! I do think it is a real question, but I just don't think that we are the place to ask it. I just don't think it's very fair to the subject matter to ask in these questions a place that's designed against discussion. –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 21:15

You said in a comment on the question:

I'm not asking if the game is offensive, or sexist. I'm asking for information about how it is presented. How I interpret that information IS subjective, and my own business. It's not part of my question.

If that's the case, why do you include the box art and mention how it caught your eye (and imply that it was due to the sexuality), etc.? Background information about why you're asking the question is one thing, but you go out of your way to distract attention from the objective part of the question and provoke the two-extreme response you're getting. That's just not helpful and I don't think the question in its current state is anything but Not Constructive. (And I'll note here that as of 3 hours ago, the objective part was simply not present.)

As for an improved version of the question: Personally I still dislike it because it applies to every game (or at least every game with a humanoid/anthropomorphic character) and is extremely basic. I don't want the site cluttered with these when YouTube already has gameplay videos.

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Gameplay videos are good but are problematic in many ways, particularly: (1) they take a long time to watch; reading a short, straight answer takes infinitely less time. Consider the difference between us and gamefaqs: for some games they have far more information, but digging something out can take some time. (2) They can reveal spoilers (again, like complete faqs or walkthroughs). (3) Most gameplay videos focus on the action and less on things like dialog, which is part of the question here. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 0:29
    
@Oak That's fair. I still dislike questions that can be asked about almost any game. –  Matthew Read Dec 28 '11 at 0:37
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Like "please explain the ending"? Yes, it can be asked about any game. But this is a real question by a real person, not as part of a large collection of similar questions. We generally allow these, as far as I'm aware. Just because it can be asked about many games does not make it close-worthy. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 0:42
    
For the record, the plug about noticing the woman on the box art was mostly a joke. How exactly do I go out of my way to distract from the objective part of the question? –  ElfSlice Dec 28 '11 at 2:39

This is off topic for violating the most basic rule of the FAQ.

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

As asked, your question is not based on an actual problem. It is you just wondering whether this game would be too sexual or not. But! It can be rephrased into a practical problem! The core of that question would be something like this:

Would I like this game?

Well, we can't answer that for you. That's Bad Subjective™, and we close those as not constructive.

So take your pick. Off topic or not constructive. Either way, it shouldn't be open.

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The fact that this question has been in an ongoing tag edit war for tags like woman and ratings definitely doesn't help your case in this matter. As it is, the former presence of those 'joke' tags has skewed what may have been intended as a meaningful question into off-topic territory. I agree with Strix - the question should stay closed. –  Raven Dreamer Dec 27 '11 at 23:07
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I'm not so convinced that not knowing whether the game is too seuxal isn't a real problem. It might not be a problem related to gameplay -- you can still progress if you somehow don't figure it out -- but it's akin to a plot question. You can be legitimately confused/ignorant, and that's a problem by my definition. +1 though since I agree that can be viewed as a sort of recommendation. –  Matthew Read Dec 27 '11 at 23:19
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@MatthewRead "Too sexual" is subjective. What two people find too sexual won't be the same. There have been other questions similar to "is this game appropriate for my child?" which I also find subjective. The ESRB rating system provides guidelines and an estimated appropriate age, but it's trying to provide fixed boundaries for a sliding scale. I feel that all of these types of questions are too subjective –  Dave McClelland Dec 28 '11 at 0:41
    
@DaveMcClelland I totally agree -- but it's still a real problem. –  Matthew Read Dec 28 '11 at 0:43
    
@MatthewRead Agreed –  Dave McClelland Dec 28 '11 at 0:44
    
I also agree with Matthew and Dave. This is a real problem. It's very answerable. We've also had similar questions before and I don't recall them being debated. And I strongly disagree that it can be reworded into "will I like this game"; he can certainly dislike that game even if we dispel his fears about this particular aspect of it, for example. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 1:19
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@Oak I disagree that it's very answerable. That seems to imply that the question is a simple one with a simple answer, and I disagree on both those points. It certainly is a real problem, however, I don't feel that Gaming.SE is the place to discuss whether or not a game's depiction of women is sexist or not because it is out of our scope. See my answer above. –  FAE Dec 28 '11 at 14:53
    
This answer is disingenuous. The core question is not Will I like this game?, it's Will this game offend me? Now, as has rightly been pointed out, what offends different people varies, which is why it's important that the question lay out a definition for what is offensive in this context. This question does so. Answers can be substantiated and backed up, and there can be a 'right' answer for any given individual. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Dec 28 '11 at 15:07

I think it's a legitimate question, and is very similar in spirit to the existing and highly-upvoted Is Skyrim kid friendly? question.

In short, you're asking for more information about a game, information which may not be easily available; in this specific example, a gameplay video can quickly show you how the game looks, but it cannot (for example) reveal whether the content of dialogs - of which there are many in the game - is sexist or not.

Now, I find the basis on which you are asking it to be rather weak, primarily because tons of video games from the very dawn of this medium have been featuring scantly-clad women on their cover, even way before we had any sort of quasi-photorealistic graphics. Nevertheless I consider this a legitimate question; one I will be happy to answer if it were open, seeing as I completed this long game 3 times :)

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That one's not written well either, the answer depends entirely on your stance on parenting and viewpoint on the game. The accepted answer does well to point to resources for the OP to figure it out for themselves, but the question's still bad. I don't think we should encourage more of the same. –  Matthew Read Dec 28 '11 at 0:40
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Copied from my comment to Strix's answer: "There have been other questions similar to "is this game appropriate for my child?" which I also find subjective. The ESRB rating system provides guidelines and an estimated appropriate age, but it's trying to provide fixed boundaries for a sliding scale. I feel that all of these types of questions are too subjective" –  Dave McClelland Dec 28 '11 at 0:42
    
The ESRB provides general guidelines, not detailed answer. We're in a far better position to provide real, useful answers by humans, giving detailed facts. In that aspect the question in question here seems actually better than that Skyrim question, because it does not ask whether something is appropriate - which is completely subjective - but asks for details which will be used by the asker to make his own decision. This is very similar to what IMDB provides for movies, by the way - all movies get a general rating, but IMDB also provides details, which can be used by parents or filmgoers... –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 0:46
    
... to make their own choice. It's a valuable resource. If I'm looking to buy a game and am concerned about its content for some reason, something which is not always easy to find out, such a question can be immensely useful, to me and to the Internet at large. –  Oak Dec 28 '11 at 0:47

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