It all points back toward the act of taking something from someone else. Even in analog games like chess and checkers, one removes another player's pieces from the board and the rules become the logic that make that action seem just and inarguable.

The conversational rationalizing of "You like that, don't you?" can be taken as an instinctual reaction to the discomfort of suddenly finding one's self in the position of violent aggressor. The hero is seeking some kind of vague reassurance that the entitlement of behaving like a monster for a few seconds is allowable within the mutually agreed terms of play.

In many ways, the sexism and hostility toward women is least meaningfully expressed in aesthetic standards and the choice of protagonist gender. In games with women heroes like Metroid Heavenly Sword, Bayonetta, Dragon's Age, andTomb Raider, the underlying systems remain rooted in violent domination.

The call for more representation of women in games—both as characters and in development, where men outnumber them by almost 9 to 1—is good and necessary. However, it has most force when combined with a movement that is critical of the legal and political structures that give these aesthetics resonance.

The surest way to tame them is to change the political and legal culture in which they're experienced. Even art that seems maximally offensive and morally disgusting can be taken as a starting point for self-reflection. The most encouraging dialogue to open about games is not one based on repudiation, but rather one of effect and interpretation—something that empowers the audience to claim their subjective authority over the work.

In its own way, negative criticisms of art perpetuate the fear of being wrong or seeming weak, which makes the hyperbolic fantasies of violent domination seem even more appealing. When we're ready to think more openly about how to play with each other without resorting to miniaturized models of domination, the language and logic behind our aesthetics will be changed accordingly. 

Michael Thomsen is Complex.com's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.

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