It's the capitalist patriarchy, stupid: Academics create video game normalizing prostitution; lets patriarchy, johns, and capitalism 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, , 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.




Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • Sabine

    The willfully and disastrously misunderstood concepts of “choice”, “agency” and (choke) “empowerment” have become the bane of modern feminism thanks to the so-called “pro-sex” liberals and nowhere more so than when it comes to prostitution. Not “sex work” – PROSTITUTION. Selling one’s body is not anything approaching a “normal” job and it is absolutely sickening that, in particular, non-prostituted people keep screaming that it is. And now the predictable backlash in a patently ridiculous form. Actually, a computer game is pretty appropriate considering these morons’ total disconnection from reality. I would imagine to them this is like a game they can dip in and out of with their misogynistic foghorns. Not so for the women who are forced to do this in order to survive through a very distinct LACK of choice, agency or empowerment.

  • jen stenley

    This is an awful lot of pontification for a game you haven’t played. Sounds like the lazy journalism you lambasted.

  • Susanna Astarte

    I consider myself a left-wing and Trans friendly feminist and I have never endorsed the objectification of women- especially not in jobs like stripper or prostitute- to me these avenues are degrading and dangerous for women.I am not trying to make the women who work in these industries feel ashamed- I’m certain their self-esteem is low anyhow- but I will never endorse any ‘workplace’ where women are subjected to constant harassment for a living.

  • stephen m

    This sort of thing makes me so angry. Given that Bill C-36 is supposed to give prostitutes freedom from control of pimps and brothels, the institutions of higher learning should be taking an active and positive roll in the new order of things.

    -The post secondary institutions should be offering large grants and bursaries to exiting prostitutes.

    – Since the average starting age for prostitutes is 14 these institutions of higher learning should be offering special free courses for academic upgrade and which would provide admission to post secondary institutions including special scholarships.

    – Post secondary institutions should *not* be trying to maintain a system that harms prostitutes and women in general in so many ways (see past posts on prostitution).

    If I was an alumni of Concordia I would be ashamed and withdraw all support, financial and moral. I would also be writing to the Board of Governors about this atrocity!

  • martin dufresne

    “the term “sex worker” is explicitly intended to erase the exploitative nature of the sex industry”
    Absolutely, and the best proof of that is that sex industry apologists define “sex worker’ as including pimps, escort agency owners and recruiters.
    The term is explicitly leveled against women and their rights when they insist that any law must protect “sex workers” i.e. the industry, rather than the people it exploits and harms.

  • mauritia

    I don’t know — while I’m probably not politically in line with the people who made the game, it seems like it may be raising some good points. I have been a Nordic model supporter for several years but am beginning to wonder if it doesn’t have its flaws as well. If it really does make it harder for these women to earn a living, doesn’t it hurt them? The most vulnerable women in the industry typically work as prostitutes because they have no other options. Ending demand without addressing their socioeconomic issues will just leave them with no way to support themselves.

    • bella_cose

      Most countries that have adopted the Nordic model,have comprehensive exit programs for those who wish to leave prostitution. You’re right that it would be cruel just to leave women without any options, so having the exit programs in place is key. If women know they have a support system in place, they can actually make a choice, whereas without it, they’re stuck. I do hope Canada does invest more in supporting exited women. The amount allocated for exit services doesn’t seem like much, and that needs to change for the law to be successful.

    • stephen m

      @mauritia, Given the intent of Bill C-36 to criminalize, reduce and eliminate the pimps and brothels shouldn’t the prostitutes that choose to remain in prostitution keep all the money they receive and control their own expenses? I understand that in countries where prostitution is decriminalized the prostitutes net a very small percentage of the money they charge. Unfortunately I have not found any firm figures to go by, help here?

      Therefore under the Nordic Model the prostitutes would have to work far less for the same monetary returns than they would receive under pimps and brothels? An advantage, I think so. The determined customers will find the existing prostitutes.

      The argument of violence reduced under a decriminalized system has shown to be a red herring. Prostitution is very violent under *all* systems.

      • David

        I think you are right about pricing.

        Short version:
        50% is normal pimp share, even enshrined in law in Germany.
        Sweden has the highest prices in Europe, 3 times the price in Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain. Double the price in UK and Ireland.
        To make minimum wage, Eur17,600 per annum, a woman must turn
        – 1600 tricks in Germany, and keep 21% of all earnings.
        – 175 tricks in Sweden, and keeps 63% of all earnings.

        The usual cut for a pimp, or legal manager, worldwide ranges from 30% to 70%. Pimping is a business, ‘staff’ must be kept motivated. It is bad business practice to demotivate the front-line ‘service providers’ by taking all her money. 50% seems to be the standard brothel share, I’ve been told by women in Asian gogo bars that their bar-fines are split 50/50. Escort agencies usually charge 30 or 40%.

        In Germany, a pimp can legally take 49% of earnings, 50% and over has been defined as “exploitation” by the courts. 50% seems to be what legal systems consider fair, and I would guess that most pimps/prostitutes would strike a similar bargain, its a nice round figure, easy for everyone to understand.

        Prices reflect many factors, but it is a basic business principle that risk must be rewarded. Where sellers run legal risks, they demand compensation. When buyers run legal risks they demand discretion to minimise the risk, which must be paid for. All legal restrictions drive up the price, but only if they pose real risks, that is, if there is sufficient enforcement and penalties.

        The form the industry will take depends on buyer, not seller, preferences, and is shaped by law. Where sex can be legally bought in normal environments (nicely decorated brothels/sauna clubs, night-clubs, karaoke bars, prostie-bars), these will become the dominant form. Buyers will prefer these to the perceived seediness of the street, or the hassle of hiring an escort whose picture does not match her face. Having the opportunity to see the woman and talk to her for a few minutes allows him to reinforce his belief that he is causing no harm and continue to feel good about himself.

        The legal system in Germany permits brothel based prostitution on an industrial scale. A common form of prostitution is seen in FKKs (maked sauna clubs). Men pay an entrance fee (Eur70 or so) and can sit around drinking and eating in their dressing gowns. The menu and prices of sex services is fixed by management, supposedly by agreement with ‘workers’, but in reality prices are dictated by the market and the FKK must be price competitive. Standard price for full service is Eur50.

        Women pay a similar daily entrance fee, pay for the use of a room/laundry and pay Euro25 tax per day. In total she pays Eur170 per day. She commonly must be naked at all times since management are allowed to set working rules. In order to make minimum wage, Eur17,600, over 365 days she must turn 1,600 tricks. The brothel will make Eur53,000 and the government collect Eur9,000 in tax. She keeps 22% of all earnings.

        By comparison, a woman in Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, Philippines, or any other poor country, would have to turn 800 to 1000 tricks a year to make the average wage. Assuming she is not pimped, she keeps 100%.

        The dominant form of prostitution is Sweden is internet escorting (in-call). The standard rate for 30 minutes (the most common sale) is SEK1500 (Eur160). Assuming internet advertising is charged at Eur250 per month and she pays rent of Eur1000 per month, she must turn 175 tricks to earn minimum wage, Eur17,000. The website makes $3,000 per year. Tax of approx Eur4,500 might be liable, but she can avoid paying (staying underground).
        She keeps 63% of all earnings.

        Sweden’s law does not drive women onto the street, it drives them into high price, low volume, indoor settings where they dictate their own working conditions (hardness of mattress, weight of man on top and colour of wallpaper), choose who to serve and who to reject and work their own hours. Additionally the law tries to ensure they are free of exploitation, and policies are put in place to help those who need it. In contrast, German brothels should have a sign outside that reads “Arbeit Macht Frei”, just as the concentration camps did.

        • derrington

          That’s exactly what these German brothels are, concentration camps.

  • Reader

    You said it Megan, depressing and Orwellian.

  • FrustratedRadFem

    Old article I know but holy shit does this propaganda look creepy she doesn’t look happy she look distressed and out of it. I swear to god sex industry lobbyists can’t hide how creepy they are but people still believe them.