Pong: Violent, Sexist, and Vile
As founder and lead writer of a retro pop culture website, I don't often afford myself the opportunity to write about current goings-on in the fields of television, toys, video games, music, and movies. That is about to change right now, albeit only briefly. Here in June 2012, the current cause célèbre in the video game community is the fight against sexism. Recent trailers for the games Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution have sparked outrage due to their alleged portrayal of women as weak-willed sex objects whom exist only to have alternating bouts of violence and intercourse inflicted upon them. Now it seems like everyone from Felicia Day to video game sites that have yet to receive advertising dollars from Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution to Felicia Day has an opinion on sexism in video games. However, this is not an issue that is exclusive to these two games, nor is it a new issue. Since 1997, American activist and lawyer Jack Thompson has been one of the most vocal opponents of M-rated video games, games which he often labels as "murder simulators" and "rape simulators". In doing so, Thompson raised the ire of the video game community who, not wanting their hobby subjected extended scrutiny by outside forces, banded together in a rare display of unity to try and drive poor Jack Thompson insane. And drive Thompson insane they did. Constant trolling from the internet video game community eventually led to Jack to adopt his own increasing trollish rhetoric, which in turn led his peers in the Florida Bar Association to revoke his license to practice law in 2008. And while this did not stop Mr. Thompson from protesting controversial video games entirely, his spirit was very much crushed by his disbarment; he is no longer as ubiquitous or vociferous as he once was. The gaming community had won.
The story of Jack Thompson's feud with the gaming community is often characterized as a parable about a bully who shoved every other kid in the schoolyard until they finally banded together, went on the offensive, and ripped him limb from limb. It's a cute story, but it's not even remotely true. History is written by the victors, and the victors have been able sell the public at large two big lies as though they were truths: that Jack Thompson had something other than the best of intentions in his heart, and that Jack Thompson was wrong about video games. Gamers are a consumer base that, while increasingly diverse, are still largely white and male. Jack Thompson's crime against gamers was not a disregard for free speech or a willingness to completely mischaracterize gameplay and features of games that he found offensive, as is often reported. No, Jack Thompson's real crime was trying to make games less white and less male. Make no mistake, video games were invented by white males like Ralph Baer, popularized by white males like Nolan Bushnell, and originally intended for the sole enjoyment of white males. And again, while the ethnicities and genders of both video game developers and their consumer base have expanded greatly since the 1970s, a game still has to cater to white males if it ever hopes to be a runaway success. Jack Thompson's most famous targets are Doom, Quake, Bully, Mortal Kombat, and Grand Theft Auto. Some of these games are known for their overt sexism, all of them are known for their gratuitous violence... and all of them were developed for white males by white males. Now, one could argue games such as the ones just mentioned came about as a result evolving technology as well as their respective developers' desire to stand out and be noticed, and that they are not fair representations of the video game industry as a whole. Well, that argument would be completely wrong. Violence and sexism have been the most hallowed hallmarks of industry dating all the way back to the first commercially successful video game: Pong. Pong isn't as bad as the kill-all-pedestrians-rescue-the-helpless-but-pretty-woman-kill-all-the-hookers-kill-your-teachers-kill-your-idols-worship-Satan-now-look-at-this-sexy-catgirl-while-you-rape-Ayumi games that comes out on a weekly basis... it's a hell of a whole lot worse. And I'm about to show you why.
1. Violence Is The Only Option
In Pong, you can only perform one action: hit something. If at any point you fail to register a hit when the game presents, your opponent is awarded a point. If you fail to hit enough times, your opponent wins. By presenting striking (i.e. punching) as not just a viable solution to problems, but making it the only available option, Pong has helped to breed the neolithic culture of hyperviolence that we live in today. Since all violence is driven by testosterone, hyperviolence also helps to perpetuate the male-dominated rape culture that has dominated post-millenium society and viciously marginalized women.
2. It Trivializes Women
The focal point of the Pong experience is a ball that careens obscenely back and forth across the screen like an especially bouncy scrotum that has somehow been removed from its original proprietor. This ball, like all balls dating back as far back as the Mayans, actually does represent an especially bouncy scrotum that has somehow been removed from its original proprietor. This is why society associates sports and athletes with virility, because of the scrote-like qualities that all balls have. In fact, the first official game of soccer on record was played in an Irish pub in 1872 with the loser of a recent argument's disembodied nads. This is also why we sometimes refer to testes as balls. With so much emphasis on balls and male virility, Pong - like so many other sports - is innately exclusionatory towards women by its very design.
3. It's A Dick-Waving Contest
The player's in-game avatar in Pong is The Paddle, a blatantly phallic device. And much like an actual phallus, The Paddle can only move along a vertical plane. The goal in the game is quite literally to wave your dick until your opponent is humbled by your superior dick-waving and relents in their own dick-waving endeavors. Since there is no option to let gamers play as a vagina-themed avatar, the overall Pong experience is most obviously sexist.
4. It's A Dick-Waving Contest
While Pong is a dick-waving contest in the most literal of senses, it is also a dick-waving contest in the metaphorical sense. While one can watch a game of Pong and two men boldly exhibiting their mighty fucksticks in a display of textbook alpha male heroics, one can also watch the score. A player's score functions much as a penis does: bigger is better. And much like the man with the bigger penis wins at life, the player with the bigger final score wins the game. The classic scoring mechanism is verily biased against women, because a score does not compare similarly with a woman's reproductive organs; the woman with the largest vagina does not win at life. In fact, it is often the woman with the smallest vagina who wins at life. The Pong scoring system is a painful reminder to women with unfavorably large vaginas that they live life at a disadvantage, both due to the vagina girths and due to the fact that society is still a cruel patriarchy that goes out of its way to favor white males.
5. No Really, It's A Dick-Waving Contest
Another highly suspect thing about Pong is its name. Upon initial inspection, Pong appears to be just a nonsense word that was chosen at random. Such is not the case. Pong, as one can clearly see, rhymes with dong. Not a big deal, right? Wrong. See the thing about dong is this: it's only one letter off from being ding. From there, it's only a short jump to the realization that ding rhymes with wing. Finally, we reach the last bridge of discovery when we notice that wing is only one off from wang. And wang is synonym for words such as cock, dick, penis, and cock. Coincidence?
6. It Makes Light Of Feminine Infertility
In its purest form, Pong offers sharp monochromatic contrast between black and white, light and dark. In the game, the white represents the necessary, while the black represents the unnecessary. While some scholars have argued this contrast is racist, and while common intuition would also seem to suggest this, it is not; it is sexist. In the world of Pong, white symbolizes man as he sees himself, as the ever-vigilant white knight. Black symbolizes woman as seen by man, as a black hole of despair. The blackness in Pong also implies barrenness, which in turn implies infertility, which is the absolute worst thing that a woman can be in a male-dominated society.
7. Did I Mention It's A Dick-Waving Contest?
The original home versions of Pong were not controlled by the joysticks that we are so accustomed to today. Instead, the game used knobs. So you controlled your penile Pong paddle by jerking your knob back and forth. The worst part? Both controllers were connected to the same base, so you had to watch your opponent jerk his
or her knob back and forth at the same time. The strikethrough in the last sentence is there to remind all the women out there that they do not have to debase themselves by playing such sexist, regressive bullshit as Pong. The modern woman doesn't need such things. The modern woman respects herself and her gender while simultaneously disrespecting outdated attitudes, genders, and institutions. You've come a long way, baby!
8. Seriously Though, Pong Is Sexist
I know what you're thinking thus far: Syd Lexia, you're full of shit. And hell, maybe I am. I'm high as fuck on bath salts right now and most of the evidence that I've presented thus far is "open to interpretation" as you fuckwads in academia like to say. On top of that, four of my previous seven points are the exact same point argued in four slightly different ways. But I do know this: Pong really is sexist. The story that I am about to tell you is completely true, and if you don't believe me, you can fucking look it up yourself. In 1974, when Atari began work on the first home version of Pong, the project was given a codename: Darlene. This codename was not a preemptive homage to the as-of-then unborn Sara Gilbert for her work on the hit television Roseanne. Rather, it was a tribute to an attractive female coworker who all the guys on the project wanted to fuck. Oh, how the male employees of Atari dreamed of fucking Darlene. They dreamed of fucking her ass, fucking her mouth, and fucking her fuckhole. One guy even dreamed of fucking her nostrils, but he was afraid to broach the subject with his coworkers. And every single day that these guys go to into the Atari office and "work hard on Darlene" they secretly imagined that they were working hard on Darlene... the human version... in and around her vagina. Why? BECAUSE THEY WERE EVIL SEXIST DOUCHEBAGS.
So there you go. Pong, the cornerstone on which the entire fucking modern video game is built is little more than a massive celebration of violence and sexism. But mostly sexism. I don't know how we fix this, kids. How do you fix an industry that has reaped massive rewards from impropriety since its formal inception? Perhaps we can't realistically fix it. Can we extricate video games from sexism? Absolutely. But will they still sell? Data from other entertainment industries suggest that the answer is no. Not every hip-hop album is sexist... but 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' outsold Will Smith's Willenium by a margin of 4:1. So unfortunately, it looks like the days of heroic men with giant gun-penises rescuing gorgeous, helpless women from monsters are here to stay for the foreseeable future. My advice to female gamers is this: relish in every small victory, and ignore the much greater defeats. There are still things in games that you can be proud of. For example, Street Fighter's Chun-Li. She's got disgustingly fat thighs, but she remains one of gaming's most recognizable and beloved characters. That's something, right?
Posted by: Syd Lexia