There have been a few topics that have tackled issues of gender and sexism as presented in D:OS2. As some of those threads have gotten out of control, I felt it was time to start fresh and try to cover the subject as comprehensively and maturely as I can.

Biological and cultural differences between men and women

There are clear biological differences in athletic aptitude between men and women, and that's why sports generally are uncontroversially segregated by gender. However, Lyrhe made some comments where he argued that there are fundamental biological differences in intellectual aptitude between men and women.

Addressing a comment by Skallewag, I made the case earlier that culture is much more significant than race when it comes to athletic aptitude. That's why Americans are good at basketball, Australians are good at swimming & cricket (and summer sports, generally), Canadians are good at hockey, New Zealanders are good at rugby, Europeans are good at soccer, etc. I can't imagine anyone trying to argue that there are significant biological differences between these groups.

Likewise, all evidence points to differences in intellectual aptitude between men and women, but further analysis points to this being cultural, not biological. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in different contexts, as per the following references:
Think Again: Men and Women Share Cognitive Skills
Men Are Better At Maps Until Women Take This Course
Why you should send your daughter to an all-girls school
Girls and boys have different cognitive abilities

Text vs subtext

To be clear, it is not a problem if the world depicted in D:OS is sexist. First off, it's far less sexist than the real world anyway. In the real world there are few women taking on the roles of warriors, particularly in the medieval style of society that is depicted. The removal of this sexism makes the world less realistic, but I can accept it and I appreciate the freedom it provides.

On the other hand, there are media like Witcher 3, Game of Thrones & Dragon Age which also present sexist worlds with sexualised characters, and yet this does not bother me.

Art is more complex than just the world it presents. In art, it's important to remember that there are different layers of text:
  • -> text (in this case, the world that is depicted)
  • -> context (the cultural lense in which we view this world)
  • -> subtext (the attitudes presented by the manner in which this world is portrayed)

The subtext is the part that really raises eyebrows. To be clear, the subtext in D:OS is much less sinister than the subtext in highly sexist examples like Metal Gear Solid V or Grand Theft Auto. D:OS2 could be worse, but there's still room for improvement.

So far, the concerns I've had regarding the subtext regarding gender relate to:
  • -> Contrast between male and female poses during character creation
  • -> Sebille (female) as the only scantily clad playable character, and the first character you see during character creation

This is certainly not exhaustive. There are potentially other issues that will be more apparent through further exploration of the game and as more content is released.

Traditional gender roles and why it matters

There were some very problematic comments by Testad I'd like to highlight. He's right that he comes from a different culture that views gender differently from my cultural background. But we all need to analyse our cultural views on gender, and consider how individuals push their cultural attitudes (which Testad admitted to be unjustifiable) onto the broader society they inhabit.

Traditionally women are not idolised for their intelligence or their strength. It's not seen to be attractive for a woman to be strong or intelligent. Under this dichotomy (and as confirmed by thebonesinger's comment) the men are attractive for taking poses that emphasise their strength or intelligence, but for women who want to take on a strong or intelligent pose, they also need to also sway their hips or otherwise emphasise their female sexuality in order to also be seen as attractive.

This is the reason women seem to be inherently less apt in masculine fields. There is clear research showing both men and women unintentionally rate equally qualified women as less competent than men in traditionally masculine fields. Media sends the message that strength and intelligence are masculine traits that are less important to women their femininity. This is the direct cause of experiences such as the one that Vometia expressed where colleagues questioned her aptitude in IT because of her gender. (This not only affects women, mind you. Men also face roadblocks if they want to take on feminine roles.)

Regardless of our culture, I think we can agree that men and women should have the same freedom of choice and the same opportunity to succeed, but we all need to acknowledge that this is not the reality we live in. This is the reason I care about how women are represented in a game.

Gender imbalance among fans of D:OS

Finally, there is this article from Swen lamenting that only 4% of the visitors to the Kickstarter were "female", and that only 9% of the followers of Facebook were "female". In the end, one conclusion Swen reached is that the Google analytics used for the Kickstarter were inaccurate. He accused the analytics of being sexist because when demographic data can't be obtained directly, Google will guess gender for purposes of Adwords. Because these are guesses, it's impossible to understand its accuracy.

However, when Google Analytics guesses, it does it in a sophisticated way -- that is, it won't assume you're a male just because you visit a website associated with a male interest. However, it will look at the known audience of that website and assume that you're male if you spend a lot of time on websites where most of the audience is known to be male. The results of these processes appear to be very accurate.

The fact is that all evidence points to the D:OS audience being overwhelmingly male. As a business, Larian needs to recognise that it's unlikely they're reaching the gender diverse audience they expect to be reaching. Given that Swen pointed out that PAX attendees are 35% female, this is clearly a problem that cannot simply be explained by blaming the overall demographics of hardcore gamers.

Even highly masculine games like Battlefield have a 22% female player demographic, so it's unlikely that less than 20% of the players of D:OS2 would be female, but there is something very problematic about having only 4% of visitors identifying as female. I'd be interested to know if there are any Google Analytics that have been done to see if this forum's demographics look any better.

If Larian wants to attract female gamers or address sexism, then they will need to do some navel gazing that doesn't simply rely on fielding opinions from their core fans. I'm not necessarily suggesting that the gender imbalance will be solved by reducing sexism in the game. As we are all living products of sexist culture, eliminating sexism in the game may actually be irrelevant to the goal of attracting women and Larian may be better off focusing on introducing explicitly "feminine" elements such as romance.

But it's important to recognise that there's a problem and I do not think it is unreasonable to hope that Larian could also try to aim to present any new or existing elements in a manner that does not invoke or reinforce regressive sexist attitudes.