Is Reason's New Video Game Cover Sexist?



Over at Huffington Post, Taylor Casti writes that Reason's latest cover shows "the modern gamer as male, sexist pot smokers"—a choice she describes as "odd." (UPDATE: The piece seems to have been pulled. Here's an archived version, with weird in-line editing notes.) @HuffPostTech puts a finer point on it with the phrase "disgustingly sexist."

Casti is right about one thing: we certainly did mean to imply that gamers disproportionately support pot legalization—that's what we found in our latest Reason-Rupe poll. We found in the same poll (and noted in the same write-up) that the game-playing population is split about 50-50 these days.

As for the charges of sexism in art decisions, well, here's what Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch told Casti when she called him for comment:

According to the Editor-in-Chief of "Reason," Matt Welch, the cover was chosen to reflect an image style that would be familiar and recognizable as well as reflect the idea that gamers were becoming "more mainstream." Welch said that the magazine "cleaned up" the original image [from Grand Theft Auto V], removing the bikini clad poster girl in the background and changing his middle finger to an index finger in a "hold on, wait one second" gesture.

The character himself was cleaned up to appear more well-off, successful businessman: who "Reason" sees as the modern gamer, rather than the stereotypical image Welch describes as "some guy in his mother's basement."


The cover is a riff on promotional art for GTAV, the biggest-selling game of all time.

"You can't recreate the 3D experience of playing a game in a 2D print magazine," [Welch] tells the Huffington Post, but that "GTA V" as a "cultural phenomenon is huge—we're paying respect to that culture." 

Cracking open the issue reveals a take on gamer culture that's plenty nuanced, including some tidbits about gender. In a review of a new book about massively multiplayer online games, The Proteus Paradox, author Bryan Alexander writes: 

Proteus outlines how male players denigrate, harass, and drive off female players. But Yee offers two twists to this sadly familiar story. First, women report wanting to play for many of the same reasons men do—achievement, social interaction, and immersion-going against essentialist expectations of gender behavior difference. And second, MMOs offer a pedagogical benefit of sorts to male gamers who play under female avatars.

Males do this switching with some frequency—"men gender-bend roughly three to four times more than women"—mostly to enjoy the eye candy of an attractive female avatar displayed in a game's third-person perspective. That gaze is then reversed, as it were, as other players ogle the same avatar from their own avatars' perspectives. It's a surprising opportunity to experience the kinds of sexual harassment that real-world women know too well.

Heck,'s Nick Gillespie even anticipates Casti's critique in "Are Video Games Art?":

Game-Spot's Carolyn Petit, even while hailing the game's "vast, varied, beautiful open world" and perspective shifts, zeroed in on what she saw as an "unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness." GTAV, Petit wrote, "has little room for women except to portray them as strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we're meant to laugh at." Perhaps the surest sign that a form of expression is approaching the status of "art" is the creation of a robust community of critics and explicators who aid the audience in thinking through the significance of their shared object of contemplation.

Mostly, though, the issue is about some seriously fascinating shifts in how the world views a medium that has long since been embraced by both genders and people of all ages. Our featured profile is of libertarian-leaning Rep. Jared Polis, hardly the typical gamer jerk of Casti's nightmares:

Close your eyes and think of a stereotypical gamer. Is he a bowtie-wearing gay father of one with a penchant for beekeeping who represents Colorado's 2nd District in the House of Representatives? Probably not. But maybe he should be.

Of course, Taylor Casti may be indulging in a little stereotyping of her own. Maybe she thinks of libertarians as "male, sexist pot smokers" who lacked the sensitivity to see how women were being mistreated in this cover image? You know, people like our Art Director Barb Burch, who commissioned the image. Or me, the managing editor of the magazine and a possessor of two X chromosomes, who approved the image. 

Other folks who took notice of the eye-catching parody cover managed to make a note of the bikini babe and bong—and then move on to the guts of the issue, including The Washington Post, Ars Technica, and Electronic Gaming Monthly