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It’s the capitalist patriarchy, stupid: Academics create video game normalizing prostitution; lets johns off the hook

Apparent academics are promoting capitalism and misogyny under the guise of feminism.

Our faux-feminist friends over at Concordia are repping for the sex industry again, this time, making a fun “game” out of capitalist patriarchy. The objective of “The Oldest Game” is to to trash Canada’s prostitution legislation, which came into effect on December 6, and to normalize prostitution. The trailer describes it as “A news game that demonstrates how the lives of sex workers are challenged in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision (known as the Bedford decision) and Bill C-36.”

One of the creators of the video game, Sandra Gabriele, told The Globe and Mail that “as an academic” she wanted to create a “news game” that would “[help] us understand stories beyond the two-sided debate in typical journalism” and “devise a game that explored the systems and point to the complexity of the situation, with the hope that people would then better understand exactly what’s at stake.”

Except at no point will this “news game” present the debate or the issues with any “complexity” whatsoever, nor does it intend to represent more than one particular side of said debate. The explicit aim of the game appears to be to convince “players” that the law is bad — not to help people “better understand exactly what’s at stake.” Not only does this form of “journalism” not count as “journalism” at all, but it succeeds at doing much less than even most lazy mainstream journalism does, in terms of covering this issue, presenting an extremely limited, biased, and underresearched view as though it is “complex” and goes “beyond the two-sided debate in typical journalism.” Cool academic (and journalistic) integrity, though.

The libertarians over at Reason are more accurate in their coverage of the game, framing it as an attack on feminists and a feminist analysis of the sex industry within the context of a capitalist patriarchy. Official Spokesdude for “sex workers” and Reason contributor, Noah Berlatsky, uses the game as an opportunity to attack feminist video critic Anita Sarkeesian, who has done excellent work pointing out the virulent misogyny and objectification that happens in video games, particularly.

The main bone of contention sex industry shills seem to have with Sarkeesian is that she uses the term "prostituted woman" instead of "sex worker" in her videos. Sex industry advocates and social justice warriors (some of whom vaguely allude to some form of alliance with "women's rights" by glomming on to and manipulating feminist discourse for the purpose of framing prostitution as a route towards female empowerment) have roundly jumped on her over this language, which is cool because, as we all know, the most productive way to advance the feminist cause is by harassing and tearing down powerful feminist activists and leaders.

For the record, feminists use the term "prostituted woman" instead of "sex worker" because this term describes the context and power dynamics behind the "choice" to enter into prostitution, because this is the term used by many exited prostitutes, and because the term "sex worker" is explicitly intended to erase the exploitative nature of the sex industry, as well as the role class, race, and gender play in terms of who sells sex to whom and why.

One of the things Reason writer, Elizabeth Nolan Brown, and Emma Woolley, who covered the game for The Globe and Mail, seem to appreciate about the game is that "the goal is to make as much money as possible" (so the free market capitalism part?) "while staying safe," Wooley adds. Yet both writers and the game developers refuse to acknowledge who it is that makes prostitution "unsafe" (i.e. the clients).

The literal and stated purpose of the game is to normalize prostitution and present it as simply “a job like any other.” But even in places that have removed laws that criminalize prostitution in any way, it is in no way “a job like any other” so much as it is a last resort (or something victims are forced into) that routinely leaves women and girls abused, exploited, and dead.

“With the goal of paying bills, the game normalizes sex work by stressing that, just like any other type of worker, sex workers are striving to meet their financial needs,” state the creators.

This game is impossible to win, highlighting that sex workers cannot earn their livelihood safely and legally while it remains illegal to keep a brothel, to live off the avails of prostitution, and to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution. This will hopefully lead players to empathize with the plight of sex workers. It will help them to understand how monumental the Ontario changes to two laws is for sex workers, as well has how problematic it is that the third law (to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution) still remains illegal.

Well, that’s a misrepresentation if I ever heard one. But maybe Concordia has given up on frivolities like “research.” The new laws are targeted at johns, not prostitutes. The goal is not to criminalize women who sell sex, but rather to criminalize men who exploit those women. So “communication” is not illegal, across the board. The law criminalizes the purchase of sex (so yes, it is illegal for johns to communicate about buying sex), pimping, and third-party advertising for sexual services (meaning it is legal for a prostitute to advertise their own services, but not for others to advertise on their behalf). Prostituted women are decriminalized, though it remains illegal to communicate for the purposes of selling sex near a playground, school or daycare (which is an aspect of the law feminists have pretty universally declared unnecessary). Beyond that, there is no such thing as a “safe, legal” industry anywhere in the world.

This “game,” it seems, is little more than that: a game — a fantasy.

Maybe Concordia “academics” should play a little game called “who’s really profiting from prostitution” or “what do johns really think about the women they pay for sex” or “maybe some of these women would like to pay their bills without having to blow strangers” or “Gee, who’s really causing the harm? Is it the law? Or the men who perpetrate violence against prostituted women?”

I mean, there are so many fun options for “games,” why choose the one that blatantly misrepresents the purpose of the law and leaves out a feminist analysis of the sex industry?

Gabriele told The Globe and Mail that “the game is developing at a crucial time for understanding just how oppressive the new legislation really is” and that “The team has had extensive discussions on how the character should look, how much sex should be shown… and how issues like violence and drug use should be represented, or if at all,” yet somehow they came out of this with a video game that misrepresents the legislation as “oppressive” to prostituted women, rather than “oppressive” to johns and, in fact, completely erases the men who buy sex (and the men who hurt the women and girls they buy sex from) from the scenario. Literally. The john in the trailer appears only as a shadow.

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