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France considers cracking down on sexism in video games

The French government is considering several measures aimed at combating sexism in video games, according to a report published this week by Le Figaro. Axelle Lemaire, the French Minister of Digital Affairs, met with representatives from the French video game industry last month to discuss the set of measures, Le Figaro reports, which include financial incentives and labels for games that give a “positive image of women.”

A spokesman for Lemaire’s office later confirmed the Le Figaro report to The Verge, adding that discussions are still in an early phase. A finalized proposal is expected by the end of this year, the spokesman said.

Catherine Coutelle, a socialist deputy of the National Assembly, proposed legislation last year that would have excluded games that portray a “degrading image of women” from receiving government tax credits. The amendment was met with opposition from some industry groups, and was withdrawn in January. But in a response to Coutelle’s proposition published on Tuesday, Lemaire signaled that her ministry still aims to “encourage the production of video games that promote equality between men and women,” and to address “topics related to sexism and violence against women.”

Among the proposals currently under consideration are bonuses or other financial incentives for video games that promote a positive image of women, as well as a label that would distinguish such games to consumers. Sweden considered a similar labeling system, based on the Bechdel test, in 2014.

Another proposal would categorize games that “incite sexism” as discriminatory, forcing them to be labeled with the highest age rating (18 and over) and barring them from prime time TV advertising. Under the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating system, the “discrimination” category currently applies to games that incite hatred against an ethnic or religious group. Lemaire is also considering measures to encourage more involvement among women and minorities in the video game industry, Le Figaro reports.

In the response published Tuesday, Lemaire said the push for greater gender equality in video games and the industry itself is a reaction to “violent polemics” on social media — an implicit reference to the “Gamergate” online campaign that targeted women and activists with threats and harassment. She also credited Feminist Frequency, the video series created by Anita Sarkeesian, with spearheading a broader conversation about how women are portrayed in games. Lemaire added that French developers are “at the forefront” of the movement, pointing to games such as Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil and Arkane’s Dishonored 2 as examples in which “main female characters carry a positive image of women.”

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