Geek Feminism Wiki

The advertisement incorporating BDSM imagery

Nintendo released a sexualized magazine advertisement for their Game Boy Pocket in 1996, which featured a man's first-person perspective of a woman tied to the bed in preparation for kinky sex. The bottom corner shows that the man is playing Tertis on a Game Boy Pocket and ignoring this sexy display, like the gameplay is just that good. The woman looks up at him with what Nintendo intended to be annoyance and confusion. A tagline clarifies: "The new Nintendo Game Boy Pocket. Seriously distracting." Feminist criticism led to the advertisement being pulled.


The advertisement incorporates sexual material so as to objectify the female subject. The man is barely in it, and he is shot from a first-person perspective to put the viewer in the role of the man in first ogling the woman and only later noticing the video game. This is an example of the male gaze being applied to advertising. Video games available to the Game Boy Pocket were unrelated to that kind of sexual imagery, so this is an example of unnecessarily using sexual content in advertisements. The woman being there for the man sexually while he chooses to ignore her reinforces cultural misogyny holding women as there for men's pleasure and not to be respected as active sexual participants.

It further acts to brand the target demographic of the Nintendo video game devices as male. The name Game Boy was the first big step in establishing this identity, but prior to the mid-1990s, their advertisements featured both male and female children enjoying gameplay together. This advertisement was one of the first to incorporate sexual imagery, which had the effect of shifting the branding away from being for boys and girls together and instead being for boys and men. As the advertisement shows the man actively playing a game, while the woman is there for sex and is confused, the branding asserts that only men are interested in video games while women don't understand their interest. This branding shift contributed to the hostile misogynistic environment of modern gaming, which produced the Gamergate coordinated harassment campaign.

Feminist Controversy[]

Outraged by the advertisement, feminists led a letter-writing campaign to the UK Advertising Standards Authority, in which they asserted that the woman looked terrified and held against her will. The ASA instructed Nintendo to remove the advertisements from future issues, saying that it was inappropriate to show a woman "subjugated and humiliated" in their advertisement.

This letter-writing campaign was likely composed of second-wave radical feminists, who are characterized by an ideological opposition to BDSM (bondage and discipline, domination and submission, and sadism and masochism). In their view, BDSM is an extension of patriarchy and an expression of rape culture. They believe it can never be done consensually because women would never consent to being placed in a subordinate role and any women who attempt so do this because their beliefs about their personal autonomy have been damaged by growing up in a patriarchal culture. Some even harbor wild beliefs about all submissive women being the victims of incest and reject all claims to the contrary because human beings can't remember their first three years of life and distrust men so much they assume these women's fathers are rapists without hesitation. This extreme negative take on BDSM was what in part inspired the rise of the modern sex-positive third-wave feminist movement.