A Woman On The Internet


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Woman on the Internet
"What does it mean when a woman cannot control the visual language through which her body is presented?" | Photo: Courtesy of SQIFF

According to research, almost half of those who participate in online gaming are women, but many choose not to reveal that. The reason why is obvious. Sexism and misogyny are rife in such environments – and, this film suggests, all too often they are built into the games themselves.

Created as a filmic response to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s 1995 text Romancing The Anti-body, this work uses real game footage together with interviews about the experiences of women and non-binary people. One sequence (which it is suggested is a recording but may be a recreation) features a female avatar being shot because she doesn’t elect to give a random male her attention. This reflects a widespread problem facing female gamers and, still more so, those who are visibly gender-nonconforming. What does it tell us that, in a world without consequences, this is how men choose to behave?

There is discussion here of the process of creating avatars. How do people whose bodies or gender experiences don’t fit into a binary system do that when the assumption that everybody fits a stark binary has been carried over into so much of the gaming world? Some games attempt to be more neutral, and that’s touched on here, but the focus is on highlighting the problems with those which don’t and, in particular, their creators’ inability to see that their choices in designing games this way are not politically neutral or without social consequence.

Polarised binary gender is rarely good for women. Why do male avatars strut whilst female ones sashay? Why do male ones jump up from the ground whilst female ones get onto all fours in the process? Everything seems to be about making them look sexually available, as if there’s no real awareness that the people playing them are, well, people. And that’s before we even get to the clothes. There are some interesting attempts here, using the tools that are available, to tweak the design of female avatars so that they look more like women in the real world. This additional complexity immediately gives the impression that they have more personality.

Whilst none of this is particularly new, that’s part of the point – it’s something most women who go online are aware of, yet it isn’t talked about widely or loudly or angrily enough. We have the capacity to imagine ourselves in any way we want and yet, as these tools develop, it is mostly men who are trying to set limits on that imagination, to dominate virtual space as they have dominated elsewhere. What does it mean when a woman cannot control the visual language through which her body is presented, and what does that tell us about how she is thought of in other contexts? This is recommended viewing for any game designer who wants to be part of the solution.

A Woman On The Internet screened as part of 2021's Scottish Queer International Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2021
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A filmic response to Lynn Hershman Leeson’s text, Romancing The Anti-body (1995), exploring the jarring juxtapositions of friction, toxicity, joy and liberation that trans people, queers and femmes experience when playing as their own custom character creations in video game spaces.

Director: Jamie Jankovic

Year: 2021

Runtime: 22 minutes


SQIFF 2021

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