Video game: meeting in Seoul with feminist gamers

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Meeting in Seoul with two members of famerz, an association of South Korean feminist gamers.

Writer and curator specializing in digital arts, Isabelle Arvers began in June a world tour of the relationship between art and video games, which intends to focus on queer, feminist and decolonial practices. First stop: Seoul, South Korea, where she met the famerz , an association of feminist gamers, to discuss the issue of harassment in particular.

The meeting takes place at a community center in Seoul. I am accompanied by the Franco-Korean artist Yohan Han, who translates our discussions into French. Buddy Kim and Gamja-Potato, two active members of the association of feminist players famerz agreed to testify, on condition of anonymity.

Then begins a discussion in the form of exchanges and sharing of experiences between players and feminists. We compare the situation in our respective countries. The figures are worrying. While in France, the pay gap between men and women for the same job is 16% on average, it stands at over 37% in South Korea, according to Human Rights Watch . Thanks to the mobilization of feminists, a law to authorize abortion has just been voted in Korea, even if it has yet to be ratified. Finally, in 2017, the Korean Institute of Criminology published a study showing that nearly 70% of Koreans have already physically or sexually abused their girlfriend ...

Microphone off to avoid insults

South Korea is also one of the top countries in the world for video games. Koreans are also hyper represented in MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online games, editor's note) , notably the hit game Overwatch . What if 30% of Korean esports champions are women? , they mostly play without revealing their true identity, for fear of harassment, insults and misogynistic attacks. For example, none of the famerz members play online with a microphone (except when playing with each other). " There are only some men who play with a microphone, turning their voices into female voices. It is a strategy to make their opponents outsmart: the other players are not suspicious and, as a result, they play less well, believing they are playing against "weak" women!  Buddy Kim confides.

The famerz meet once or twice a month to go to the movies, play in a network and give lectures on the representation of women in video games. To reduce the objectification and reification of women, or even their transformation into sexual objects, they try to highlight the less caricatured female characters, far from the damsel in distress or the babe with generous measurements. Characters who are human beings before being women, including "  Ana from Overwatch , Ellie from The Last of us , Emily Kaldwin in Dishonored or Kerrigan in Starcraft ."  "

The character of Emily Kaldwin in Dishonored / © Arkane Studios

The famerz movement first appeared at the end of 2016, when female gamers joined protests to oust Park Geun-hye , the former South Korean president. Like most demonstrators, they create a flag for themselves. Theirs represents a white rabbit, with the effigy of D.Va, a character from the game Overwatch . D.Va, an excellent e-sports player and pilot of the MEKA robot, indeed represents a hope for Korean players, she is a bit the model of what could be for many of them the future of women in Korea by 2060, when the game takes place.

“  At the time, our association was unofficial, we just wanted to participate with our flag bearing the image of a strong woman character from the video game  ,” says Buddy Kim. But the image of the flag made the buzz on social networks and made them want to continue: “  In January 2017, we marched again, this time as part of the march for women, in order to publicize our action and our demands to fight against sexism in video games  ”.

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It must be said that South Korea is particularly concerned by this scourge. There are many cases of harassment against female players, even when the latter are excellent players. A 17-year-old gamer named Geguri notably had to prove online that she hadn't cheated to win Overwatch , although Blizzard, the game's publisher, had previously cleared her of any suspicion. Geguri was forced to stream her exploits in order to publicly prove her skills, because male players who could not believe that a woman could win at this game, threatened to leave the League ... Geguri then becomes a symbol for the players and, more broadly , for the feminist cause in South Korea.

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The discussion then switches to the gamergate episode , which has notably resulted in the online harassment in recent years of two game developers (Zoe Quinn and Brianna Wu) by groups of geeks from the 4Chan or Reddit forums. The two women were “outraged” online, which pushed one of them into depression. "  We here have  the t-shirtgate  !"  », The two gamers answer me when I ask them if the gamergate has crossed the borders of their country.

"  In 2016, Kim Jayeon, voice actress for online gaming Closers tweeted a photo of her shirt with the message" Girls do not need a prince, "a feminist messages published by Megalia, another group of feminists radical  ”. A tweet that sparked its share of comments on Ilbe, the South Korean equivalent of 4chan, populated by men often marked on the far right and deeply anti-feminist. Kim explains to me that " their hobby is to take pictures of their girlfriends or their sisters when they are naked, and then they publish online with ultra sexist comments. And rather than supporting the latter when they demonstrate, the government advises them to demonstrate "masked" in order to avoid being molested or harassed even more!  "

"4 to 5 women are fired each year under false pretenses, they are made to pay for their feminist commitment"

The players, many of whom hang out with Ilbe, then went on a rampage at actress Kim Jayeon, who was fired from the company producing the game and had to make a public apology to the "outraged" players, also asking all those who have like his tweet to turn public apology in the form of criticism.

Since that episode, Kim and Gamja tell me, “  4 to 5 women have been fired each year under false pretenses. They are made to pay for their feminist commitment  ”because the“ commercial weight ”of male players (who represent 70% of gamers in South Korea) is extremely strong.

Twitter / @ KNKNOKU

The same goes for queer or trans, forced to hide their sexual identity or lose their job. This is what I learn when I interview Ruin, representative of the Korea Queer Archive in Seoul and doctoral student on transidentity and gender issues: “ In 2007, queer and trans people fought for recognition of free sexual orientation when the anti-discrimination law was passed, but far-right groups lobbied parliament to remove this provision from the law. law. As a result, queer and trans people are forced to disguise their identity and sexual orientation or else they will be fired and under constant pressure to conform to the norm. In Korea, a woman must be flirtatious and feminine, and a man cannot have an appearance that is not “masculine”… The gender is written in our identification number, which we have to present at all times in all shops and restaurants…  ”

#metoo has found its counterpart in South Korea with #schoolmetoo, which aims to denounce the harassment to which college girls are subjected 

More recently, the #metoo feminist movement has also found its counterpart in South Korea with the #schoolmetoo movement aimed at denouncing the harassment to which college girls are subject. “  We have just learned in the media that a rape was committed on a ten-year-old girl by an elderly man who, well defended by his lawyer, managed to '' make an agreement with the young girl '' and was not worried. As if a ten-year-old could make an agreement and ignore her own rape…  ”, Kim and Gamja tell me to give me an idea of ​​the extent and topicality of the phenomenon.

It is in this context that Blizzard, the publisher of the game Overwatch , has just given a new skin (clothing) to the character of D.Va, dressing him up in a school uniform. Feminists around the world have risen up against this new skin , citing a form of "lolitafication" . In hentai porn , the figure of the schoolgirl in uniform is very often found as a sex object. The famerz therefore relayed this feminist protest movement on their twitter account , publicly asking the company to remove this new skin.in the name of respect for women. The disparaging comments were not long in coming, on the following register: "  There was no sexual objectification before your complaints, now there will be ...  "

The female character D.Va in the game Overwatch , with her new "skin", a school uniform

When I ask Kim and Gamja if all of this doesn't inspire them to play more indie games, or even create their own video games on their own, they show me footage from 2048 Muug: Let's stir the tea. The story about every day misoginy , an indie game created by game developer redMins , which tries to develop a feminist discourse in a playful way. "  We invited her to present her game in order to show other players that it is possible to use video games to convey messages  ” says Gamja.

redMins is to her knowledge the only feminist game developer in Korea. She has also just created the game Planet Adventure X , which features a planet on which patriarchal power has disappeared. “  Before, I worked in the video game industry, but tired of the prevailing misogyny, I complained to my colleagues. I was not supported, so I started my own independent game studio. I finance my games through  crowdfunding campaigns and, for the moment, I have rather good returns ”, confides to me redMins.

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How do the two young gamers imagine the future of Korean women? “  Women should become equal to men, that they are no longer afraid to go out to play sports like boys do,  ” Kim answers. "  And especially that women no longer have to risk their lives in cosmetic surgery operations to comfort themselves to the norm,  " adds Gamja. An eminently political question, in a country where many companies still require photos and measurements of women - and men - on CVs when hiring.

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