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Sweden takes a stand against sexist video games

The Swedish government, in accordance with major game developers in Sweden, is planning to launch a new rating system for video games in their country that focuses on sexism. A grant of 272,000 Swedish kronor—around 350,000 USD—has been awarded to the trade association Dataspelsbranschen in order to analyze sexism within video games and create a regulating system to better protect consumers. They will work with game developers in order to examine the way women are represented in games, and use that research to develop a standardized system to classify games based on sexist content.

In the wake of recent controversy within the video game industry, this decision by Sweden is a welcomed one. Since Aug. 2014, sexism in games and game culture has been at the forefront of major news publications because of the Gamergate scandal, which is comprised of an anonymous or pseudonymous collective of self-identifying gamers on the Internet that are making it their mission to silence women in the video game industry. This includes both defending sexist tropes in games, and real-life harassment of women who decide to speak up about better gender representation within games. Because much of the focus in the media has been on those women facing horrible threats, it is a necessary change in the overarching narrative of the games industry to see Sweden’s government attempt to provoke positive change within it.

Details about the actual system, however, are currently sparse. So far, it seems to be no more than an idea with government funding behind it. Whether the system will include an age limit, numerical score, or a detailed message explaining just how a given game engages in sexism is still a matter of speculation. There is also no word of when exactly the system will be released, or how far its reach will be in terms of covering both blockbuster games as well as independent games.

Sweden is home to major game franchises such as Battlefield, Hotline Miami and Minecraft, all of which are massively popular in the United States, so the chances of the new rating system affecting gamers is the U.S. is certainly a possibility. Since many choose to buy their games digitally, and sometimes directly from the publisher, these ratings may in fact matter to international consumers.

The most important thing about this initiative, though, is that Sweden is making a statement by backing research into sexism in gaming. The fact that the government has stepped in means that games exhibit sexism blatantly and without warning. Sweden is setting an example in taking the content of video games this seriously, and hopefully more countries will follow in being just as progressive.

It’s unclear whether game developers will either ignore the rating system, rely less on sexist themes due to fear of a bad rating, or cause developers to see how offensive and alienating it is to experience sexist themes in games as a woman, and change their design philosophies in accordance, bringing about positive change within the video game industry.

While the rating system is not yet in effect, and it is not clear as to exactly when it will, and what form it will take, it is comforting to know that an attempt to end sexism in a major media industry is present.

 

This article originally appeared in the December 3, 2014 edition of The Pace Press.

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