Feminism / Internet / Video Games

On the Legitimate Criticism of Tropes Vs Women in Video Games

Sarkeesian and Peach

The second installment of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series has been unleashed upon the internet, and that means there’s a brand new round of arguments over the slippery question of whether or not video games have kind of messed up attitudes about women. I’m rarely able to resist an argument that will eventually lead me to call someone a dummy, so I’ve been seeing an awful lot of discussion about Sarkeesian on Reddit, Facebook, and Youtube, the three best places on the internet to engage in intelligent debate.

For reference, here is the video: Damsels in Distress Part 2

Warning: The video and this article contain spoilers for numerous games. If you’ve seen the video, you’re safe to read the piece.

People don’t like being told they’re bad. Nevermind that Sarkeesian isn’t calling these people bad, because she doesn’t have to do it explicitly. All she has to do is say this piece of media that she likes contains material indicative of a harmful complex of attitudes regarding women, and BLAM, she’s cast aspersions on the character of anyone else who professes to like that same piece of media! She’s wily as fuck.

Anyway, this series has gotten a lot of netizens’ ire up, and because of that starting point of defensive anger, a good number of them have mistaken notions about what Sarkeesian is trying to do. She’s not trying to call the game makers bad or sexist. She’s not trying to call gamers bad or sexist. She’s not trying to call the games themselves bad or sexist. What she’s trying to do, and what she declares that she’s trying to do, is demonstrate a TREND of sexist IDEAS within games, and how they hide within games. There’s other stuff she’s trying to do and a very long list of stuff she’s NOT trying to do, but this is the basic gist so far.

This problem of synecdochal guilt, whereby a fault within one thing indicates a full-blown-wet-shit status of the thing as a whole, and of people who happen to like that thing, is pretty common, and combated by denying that there’s even the smallest issue in the first place instead of trying to get over the logical fallacy.

With this background set, let’s examine legitimate criticism of Sarkeesian’s video.

Tropes are not a bad thing. They’re a trend, an established narrative meme that can be recognized and named in a given narrative. Sarkeesian points out a lot of instances of the damsel in distress trope in games, sure, but she’s ignoring the context. Mario saves Peach because Bowser kidnapped her, not because he thinks she’s lesser than him! She’s the princess, for crying out loud! That dude in Castlevania kills his girlfriend when she turns into a vampire because SHE TURNED INTO A VAMPIRE. These games aren’t making some statement about women by making them the damsel, that’s just what happens. The game’s creator isn’t sexist, they just wanted to make a game where you get strong and save a lady! I’m not sexist, I just wanna play games where I shoot stuff! Leave me alone!”

There’s really a bewildering number of comments that act as though game stories are REAL and not written by human beings. It’s not world history. The only thing that’s relevant is that in some (a lot of) Mario games, Peach is entirely helpless and does absolutely nothing but get carted around to another castle over and over until Mario finally saves her. We are talking about the damsel in distress trope; here’s an instance. If we were talking about the “dragon turtle falls into lava pit” trope, we would likewise ignore every bit of context and focus only on all the times Bowser fell into the lava pit. Context is nothing. This is about gathering data.

The damsel in distress trope necessarily makes the woman lesser. The fact that Peach is the princess should drive this home, if anything. For all her vested power, she’s still being captured by King Koopa and can’t do shit until Mario comes to get her. Mario has all the power, here. HE IS BETTER. It’s the text of the story. It’s a statement, even if the creator didn’t mean to make it.

Damsel in Distress trope, noooo stooppp

Damsel in Distress trope, noooo stooppp

That’s not necessarily bad. I don’t particularly care if Princess Peach can’t take care of herself and needs a hero like Mario to save her, but it is undeniable that the game has been written and built to make that true. It counts as a point in the damsel in distress basket. And that’s the real issue, not about how individual games exhibit this or that trope.

Let’s just for fun assume that the media has an effect on people and how they think the world works—there exists this trope that shows women to be incompetent, helpless, in need of a male savior. If the trope was prevalent enough, what might media consumers start to think about women? And what does it mean that one of Nintendo’s flagship characters is so often relegated to damsel duty? While it’s tradition that Peach gets captured in Mario games, and I don’t care to fuck wit’ Nintendo tradition, they’re still putting out a game where the principal female character’s only role is to be a treasure for the player/protagonist to go win.

Instead of complaining, why not try to actually make changes from the inside? Encourage girls to get into game development. Encourage girls to buy and play games, period. The industry is run by white males. The market is focused in on white adolescent males. There’s a demand there for white male characters, and to produce anything else is a huge risk. Have you ever heard the writing adage, ‘write what you know?’ Well, mute, useless, helpless women is all white males know. Diversify the development teams, and you’ll get your precious female and minority characters. And if you don’t like how games treat women, vote with your wallet and don’t buy them.”

Shut UP, feminists!!

Shut UP, feminists! Gosh!!

“Write what you know” doesn’t mean what they think it means. It’s about using your experiences and your emotions and relationships and stuff to write resonantly. It’s kind of the method you would use to write a fleshed-out female character. Games writers are perfectly capable of doing this. And if they aren’t FUCKING HIRE ME, PLEASE.

The “practical” games industry argument is always annoying to me, because how fucking often do nerds complain about the Xbox One’s “always on” internet policy or its creepy Kinect spy camera or how Sonic games are all terrible or how Mass Effect 3 didn’t have a good enough ending, considering all that time they wasted having fun with it? And a lot of the time, people actually expect to be listened to and think their complaints should be heeded! Maybe these people who argue that complaints are good for nothing aren’t the same people that bitched and moaned about Modern Warfare 2‘s PC support and then bought it anyway, but it’s irrelevant and also I doubt it. It’s kinda goofy to complain about it, because video games are frivolous and goofy, but it’s just as valid to complain about sexist portrayals of women in games as it is to complain about any other aspect of them.

It’s also annoying because, like, getting into the games industry is really hard, man! Those people work their asses off. But honestly, you shouldn’t have to work your ass off to feel like your gender is treated with respect. I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and say that it’s stupid to demand that people put their time in at Ubisoft or wherever before games writers make them actual characters and don’t resort to stereotyping and consider them as a protagonist. That’s stupid. The market argument always carries with it the implication that straight white male gamers can’t handle complex characters of other demographics. That’s stupid. You’re stupid. The whole attitude just stinks. They’ll readily admit that they’re in control of the games industry, and then call feminists entitled for wanting female characters that aren’t shitty.

“What’s this business about violence against women in games? In Gears of War, thousands of men are chainsawed in half, curbstomped, shot to death, blown up, and eaten by brumaks. Men clearly get the short end of the stick here, so why is Anita so concerned with ONE scene where a woman is euthanized by her loving, heartbroken husband? I mean, he’s CRYING.”

Taste the sad, Anita

Taste the sad, Anita

The issue here is again one of agency. The men in Gears of War are nearly ALL soldiers. They’re choosing to be there, or if they were drafted, they still have the capacity in the world of the game to defend themselves. Maria, the only woman I can even remember from the two Gears games I played, was kidnapped and disappeared, then came out a husk that served as a reason for Dom to make a terrible sacrifice and experience further tragedy and make him cry. Not only is she helpless, her ONLY purpose in the game is to add to Dom’s own purpose. The male gender experiences a higher volume of violence in the game, but in terms of agency, and the respect that the story pays to each, men are still way ahead. They’re driving the story and winning the war and trying to save their women.

In most games, the only time a woman dies is because of the story. These examples have to be scrutinized individually, but in many of them, e.g. Gears of War 2, Max Payne, The Darkness, the woman’s death is serving the ends of giving the protagonist depth. In other instances, it’s done solely for shock value. This is one of the trickier areas of Sarkeesian’s critiques so far, because parts of it draw upon societal inequities between men and women, which many people are loath to acknowledge.

There are numerous games that have female enemies. And I…rarely see people complaining about those? What happens to cannon-fodder isn’t of much concern to people exploring narrative tropes. There’s definitely things that can be objected to—overly sexualized designs, orgasmic death cries and pain barks, enemy backstories that fall into sexist tropes (for example a type of female enemy who were palace courtesans, turned evil by some demon?). However, violence visited equally upon men and women, e.g. on the battlefield, is a lot less of a problem (unfortunately it’s still kind of a problem because of real-world violence against women and the patriarchy and shit, sorry, I almost made it all the way through without using the p-word).

“The games Sarkeesian talks about are not known for their thoughtful or quality narratives. I’m not taking life lessons from Gears of War, I’m just trying to shoot some aliens. Stop looking for things to complain about and just let me shoot some aliens!”

A lot of people object to Sarkeesian’s choice of examples, that they’re bad games, or not plot-focused games, or plot-focused but not widely considered a game with great writing, like Bioshock or Silent Hill 2.

...or, um...Bioshock Infinite....

…or, um…Bioshock Infinite.

The quality of a narrative is completely separate from the messages it sends, and from how affected the consumer is by it. You don’t absorb values consciously. It requires actual thought to AVOID absorbing values. That’s the — excuse me — value of critical thinking guides like Tropes vs Women. It teaches media consumers how to recognize certain recurring notions about women, therefore making it easier for them to avoid just blithely accepting the fifth time they see a woman transform into a monster that needs to be beaten into anime schoolgirl normalcy.

Looking for things to complain about may sound like the hobby of a loser, but what if you actually FIND something? Something that a good number of people also think is worth complaining about, asking game developers to reconsider? A lot of people say “we already know damsels in distress are a common trope, we know women get killed in media for shock value. You don’t need to whine about it.” That’s true. Most of us know that. What’s harder, though, and much less common, is understanding what these things MEAN. As explained in the video, a damsel in distress has been turned into an object, a ball being fought over by protagonist and antagonist. Women are killed for shock value because they’re presumed to be weaker, perpetually in need of good guys to save them, more intrinsically precious (keep in mind that “precious” doesn’t mean “better”). These are pretty much basic facts, but many people aren’t aware of them, and a lot of that group will deny such facts on the basis of some political vendetta against a woman who’s trying to destroy video games. But they’re vital facts. That’s what makes the trope objectionable.

Despite Sarkeesian’s imperative tone, all she’s really doing is pointing out facts. She’s building a base of knowledge, and so far I haven’t seen anything in her analysis of games that’s even arguable. To my mind, a large portion of the criticism Anita Sarkeesian and her video series gets comes from a misunderstanding of literary criticism. Pointing out problematic elements of a game doesn’t mean the game is bad, or that you shouldn’t like it. It doesn’t mean that the developer is sexist, and it doesn’t mean that you’re sexist for liking it. This isn’t about you. You can enjoy the most problematic media around and still retain your “good person” status. But this is a matter of critical thinking. It’s about questioning and troubling and teasing out meaning from things that often don’t make an effort to say ANYTHING beyond the most basic plot. And when it’s information that’s relevant to the societal status of actual people, it’s the more responsible way to consume media.

I'm Commander Shepard and you just got told.

I’m Commander Shepard, and you just got told.

17 thoughts on “On the Legitimate Criticism of Tropes Vs Women in Video Games

  1. Thank you for treating Sarkeesian’s argument fairly! I actually really appreciate her critiques. She’s still a fan of the games (like I am), she’s just pointing out some problematic tropes that we should make ourselves aware of.

    I think the arguments against her videos are very defensive – you’re on the nose when you say that “People don’t like being told they’re bad.”

    But the problem is, their defensiveness is making them blind to the actual problem. It’s not that the trope itself is bad, it’s the persistence of the trope. The reason it’s so troubling is that writers CONSTANTLY put women in refrigerators. “The damsel in distress trope necessarily makes the woman lesser.” THANK YOU for pointing that out, instead of just implying it. And as far as I know, the same thing doesn’t happen to men – or at least, not as often. Even if it did, it wouldn’t be fair to constantly treat one gender as sacrifices for the other gender’s progression.

    “Let’s just for fun assume that the media has an effect on people and how they think the world works.” Just hypothetically, of course. ;)

    Another hypothetical: So what if we take away gender, or change gender? How does the story change if instead of Peach, Luigi gets kidnapped constantly? What does that do to Luigi? What does it do to Mario? (This is just a thought I’m having, I’m certainly not saying that the “damsel in distress” trope doesn’t matter because Mario would do the same thing for his brother. The fact that Peach is a woman matters. Unfortunately. I think the fact that the story (and what it means and how it affects “people and how they think the world works”) changes when you replace Peach with Luigi shows how problematic this trope is. I feel like Luigi wouldn’t be considered “lesser” or “weaker,” and I don’t think his kidnapping would affect the way people view men. Though perhaps it might affect the way we see younger brothers.)

    Sorry, I got off topic in the end there. But anyway, thanks for a thoughtful discussion of Sarkeesian’s videos.

  2. Did she really need to “raise” (so as not to use the word “con”) $100,000 just so she could play all these games and edit her videos when a bunch of kids with a camera and some editing software do the same thing every day? Is she really so irked by what a bunch of Internet toughs say, that despite claiming to want to engage in discussion, she disables comments on her videos?

    • Sarkeesian didn’t ask for $100,000 for her videos. She received that much because the amount of online harassment she was getting spurred others to support her. Kickstarter is not about who is the most “deserving” of funding, so can we stop using that BS to try to disqualify her? She’s putting up videos that have well researched content and good observations about an industry, and even though she says a thousand times she doesn’t have a personal hatred for games/gamers/gaming, people still find stupid reasons to still believe otherwise. As for disabling the comments it’s not about being “irked” by random people on the internet. Her last video was taken down for “copyright violation” because people were angry that her critiques were trying to suppress their free speech. The fact that they can’t see the irony in this is unbelievable to me. There are plenty of places (like here, for example), where Sarkeesian can be discussed diplomatically and without abuse.

  3. Hey, just curious on your thoughts (or anyones thoughts) on the idea and dynamic of an older man saving a young girl in video games? such as in last of us.

    • I don’t know a whole lot about The Last of Us, since I’m trying to keep myself in the dark for when I actually get to play it, but the dynamic qualifies as a Damsel story. Like I said in the piece, this isn’t really a bad thing, and in itself doesn’t say anything bad about the game. It’s simply another data point to be used in the argument “Video games sure love putting women in a position where a male hero saves them.”
      Keep in mind that I don’t know what really happens in the game so the story could go in a direction that would make me reconsider or at least temper my opinion on the trope’s application.

      • From what I can tell, it seems to be a very good game. I don’t want to give anything away either, but it’s definitely not damsel in distress. I was just commenting as a side topic to your post, about another dynamic in video games in which an older man saves and escorts a young girl. Instead of man saving/escorting boy or woman escorting girl or boy, it’s usually a man escorting a young girl. I was wondering if u had any thoughts on this.

        • I think it’s just a consequence of women being rare as protagonists. It’s an older/middle aged man because it’s a father/child dynamic that is harder to “sell” if the man is young, it’s a young girl because there’s a cultural, urh, tradition, that has made it easier for audiences to be engaged when a young girl is under threat/doing violence. Kind of a weird mix of patriarchical concern and feminist empowerment. Ultimately it’s laziness, like most tropes. Games aren’t accustomed to using mother figures as protagonists, they’re not comfortable with the mother-son dynamic, little boys in danger don’t get as easy a reaction as little girls.

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  5. “People don’t like being told they’re bad. Nevermind that Sarkeesian isn’t calling these people bad, because she doesn’t have to do it explicitly. All she has to do is say this piece of media that she likes contains material indicative of a harmful complex of attitudes regarding women, and BLAM, she’s cast aspersions on the character of anyone else who professes to like that same piece of media!”

    – Yes. That could be why their defensive. Or…the thoughtful critic of Anita might have a working memory of history and recognize that people who deliberately target artists and ‘offensive material’ for moral outrage tend to be less than genuine and regularly do more harm than good?

    “I have been working in the anti-censorship cause for about 30 years, and I have never encountered a censorship controversy in which the other side wasn’t saying ‘This isn’t censorship'” – Leanne Katz, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship

    Being dismissive of people who are anti-censorship and calling us ‘guilt-ridden’ doesn’t change the fact that we have five thousand years worth of oppression and atrocities to remind us why it’s extremely important to be critical of the people who want to discuss which ideas are culturally ‘right’ and which ideas are culturally ‘wrong’ for artists to portray. Typically people who claim moral outrage over the content of something like Double Dragon or Super Mario Brothers or Green Lantern are extremely suspicious. If she can find tempests in those teapots how would she react if she encountered art or artists that truly disagreed with her? Or worse, actively chose to offend her? Would she respect their opinion? Would she respect their freedom of speech and live and let live? I’m doubtful.

      • Sexism is systemic. The sobering reality is that men own most of the resources, have most of the money, own most of the property, own most of the distribution channels, own most of the services and own most of the industry to build anything. So discussion of sexism is important because female and gender roles need to change to accomplish true equality. Discussing gender roles in the media as a way to demonstrate sexist perspectives is healthy. It shows how scarce female roles are and how what little roles do exist are very male-biased in their perspective. Because of the tight control over production by men.

        However. Calling art ‘dangerous’ is sensationalism and is always regressive. It’s shooting the messenger. It does not challenge systemic sexism and it only creates precedents that allow systemic oppression to take even tighter control over the creation of media and the arts. Which it always uses to oppress women. See: MPAA. See: Modern Music. See: Comic Books. All three protested by feminism to protect women and the portrayal of women. All three mediums used this ‘moral outrage’ to justify ‘self-censorship’. All three used that censorship to push out progressive voices and take larger control away from female and male artists alike.

        Quote Anita:

        “Given the reality of that larger cultural context, it should go without saying that it’s dangerously irresponsible to be creating games in which players are encouraged and even required to perform violence against women in order to “save them”.”
        – Anita Sarkeesian, Tropes versus Women part 2

        In that particular part of the video she is attempting to draw parallels between video games and real-life abuse, rape and rape culture. Parallels that do not exist. She is making this commentary simply to demonize content she doesn’t like. Who do you think this advantages? Women? The artists? No. It advantages the Patriarchy. It allows them to use Anita as a patsy to promote ‘self-censorship’ of video game artists and creators. For the ‘common good’. And who do you think will be attacked? Sexists? Racists? Or progressives? History has consistently shown which ones get the axe. But I won’t spoil it for you.

        • If sexism is systemic, then why are the portrayals Anita points out irrelevant? They connect to real-life violence against women because violence against women is a thing that exists as part of a system of sexism. They are at the very least related.

          Anita’s critiques challenge the patriarchy and her main opponents are agents/beneficiaries/drones of the patriarchy. Do you have any evidence at all that this criticism series is part of some plot? I feel like the reality of it is that patriarchy, capitalism, racism, etc, are persistent and adaptable and will take advantage of any opening that exists. Even as we slowly move towards progress, they will find a hold. Patriarchy as I understand it would much “rather” things go on the way they are, because the more often women are presented as weak, prizes, covetable objects of protection, the more reinforced that becomes as a norm. Work like Anita’s is directly attacking those very issues/portrayals.
          The MPAA is shitty, but the moral outrage or whatever that prompted its creation (I have no idea of the history here) was unlikely to be based in feminist thought, and the fact that it’s run by a bunch of sexists is more a miscarriage of justice than it is proof that “people shouldn’t complain about content because look what it gets you.”

          I appreciate your point that demonizing art is regressive, and I don’t know exactly what to say to that aside from the fact that Anita isn’t calling for any kind of ban and would likely not support one. But you’ve just acknowledged that sexism is systemic and perpetuated via pop culture and media, so I don’t know that you can just turn around and say that there’s no connection between the casual use of violence against women in games and the casual use/acceptance of violence against women in the real world.

          • I wasn’t going to respond to this because I felt I was very cut and dry regarding my opinion. Most of the time when people ask you to repeat yourself they’re doing so for the sake of deliberately casting you as being ‘obtuse’ or ‘confusing’. Especially if you’re a woman. It’s a form of sexism to disparage women’s arguments without addressing them. But I think you’re genuine and I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I will try to explain myself a little more thoroughly. Please excuse the length of the post. TL:DR:

            In any oppressive society where resources and production are controlled predominately by one group any attempt to limit speech (self-censorship or not) will always and only advantage regressive forces. We have never seen an example to the contrary. Which is why I’m saying sensationalist outrage towards art is always regressive regardless of its intentions. Simply saying ‘the Patriarchy finds a way to be shits no matter what’ diminishes and demeans the actual victims of censorship. It turns a blind eye to the causes of these events and the methods and ways the Patriarchy and oppressive forces use to limit freedom of speech and the arts. Ignoring history does not mean history is irrelevant.

            I do not believe Anita is a part of a plot. I never said so. I’m just using all of artistic history and censorship as an example.

            The MPAA in the 1980s under Jack Valenti completely changed their rating system and targeted controversial artists at the behest of ‘political correctness’ and yes much of that was driven by the good intentions of feminists. Many of those feminists would never have agreed to censoring homosexual or transgender or minority cinema. And yet? The MPAA tremendously limited independent artists (many of them women, homosexuals and minorities) for the profit and advantage of a giant regressive Hollywood/studio system. It wasn’t just ‘shitty’. It was a cleansing. They used ‘self-censorship’ to limit the distribution and success of any filmmaker they chose at the drop of a hat and it destroyed independent cinema in America. Outraged sensationalist arguments against the arts handed them the power to do this and not one of those outraged groups challenged Valenti’s actions.

            The original point of the above article is that all of the critics of Anita are misled or uneducated or wrong. I’m simply pointing out the obvious. That artists and the fans of the arts have every right to be suspicious of this woman’s intentions in cultural and historical context.

            You don’t get to eat your cake and have it too. You don’t get to say “We can’t ignore the cultural context of art” and then ignore the cultural context that Anita’s work exists in. Anita does not approach the argument from the perspective of a ‘critic’ she approaches the argument attempting to pander to moral outrage. And yes, that is always regressive, it is always oppressive, it is always a step towards censorship. Just because people might say they don’t want to be censors doesn’t mean they aren’t contributing to oppressive forces. Just like people who claim they don’t support rapists can contribute to rape culture.

            On one side you have people who understand that cultural issues like sexism can be complex and that people’s intentions in art are not necessarily as important as their cultural meaning. And then these very same people look at a massively complex cultural issue like censorship and think it’s binary.

            “Oh, you either are or you’re not a censor”.

            No. It’s not that simple. You don’t get to demand artists accept the consequences of their actions and then ignore the potential cultural consequences of your own. You have to be responsible and think critically when you are discussing culture and the arts. Because there are much larger issues at play. This moral outrage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s not just about offensive imagery or insulting stereotypes.

            There are ways of addressing rape culture in the arts in a constructive manner without vague finger-pointing and accusations of blame and outrage that cannot be proven false and serve no purpose but to vilify artists and a medium. Can there be a link between rape and rape culture and video games? Of course there can! Can they be related? Yes! Absolutely! This is why we discuss these things. This is why it’s an important topic. But stating it as a fact? Stating that artists are indeed responsible for this without a doubt? That is a settled argument, a done deal? That’s not a discussion. That is not a debate. It contends that the discussion is over. That there is no argument, that there is no debate. And yes, that kind of absolutist rhetoric is irresponsible. As a supposed educational statement on a medium or an artist it carries a lot of deceitful and manipulative implications that are culturally dangerous.

            And do not think for a moment that such actions cannot add to rape culture. Making something forbidden can often be the same as making it rebellious. It can give the imagery you are trying to denounce a powerful presumptive legitimacy. Actions have consequences and ignoring the current cultural climate and not realizing that making sexist imagery in this climate ‘forbidden’ could be very problematic for women as a whole, is irresponsible. In many cases attempts to diminish sexism and racism in the arts has done nothing but create regressive artistic climates that advantage sexist and racist artists (see: Comic Books, and Dr. Fredric Wertham as one of the many, many examples.).

            I said in my original post that I am suspicious of her and I am. I have every right to doubt her convictions in cultural context. No censor sees themselves as a censor. They see themselves as champions of morality and that’s usually how you can spot them coming. Anita’s entire argument, all of her videos so far, hang their hat on moral outrage. She’s not talking to artists, she’s talking to the mob. To be shocked that artists or the fans of art would be suspicious of her intentions or hostile towards her criticism is to disregard and belittle the oppression that has faced artists throughout the centuries.

            • You bring up a lot of interesting things that I don’t think many people have bothered to examine in this discussion.

              My only question is, what would be your ideal alternative to Anita’s efforts? Can someone dedicate a series like this to examining what they perceive as problematic patterns in popular culture, without pandering to sensationalist outrage? And if so, how would that be done? I am genuinely curious.

              Or would you prefer more of a push towards getting girls and women involved in fields currently dominated by men, like game design, comics, and filmmaking, with less of a focus on cutting down the art that already exists?

              I write about independent games, and when I can, I make a conscious effort to focus on the women who are doing cool things in the community/industry. I don’t write exclusively about women, because there just aren’t that many in indie games, unfortunately, but if I have a choice to mention a relevant female developer rather than a male, I try to go for it. Some might see it as a slight bias, but I see it as more of a balancing. I think my site’s readers – especially because they’re there for gaming, and not politics – react a lot better to opening up an article, reading about a game they love, and discovering it was designed by a woman, than they would opening up that same article and feeling like they’re being preached to about its possibly problematic elements. In some settings, casual normalization can be a lot more powerful than trying to school people who generally don’t want to hear it anyway.

            • There’s a big step from criticizing media to creating a regulatory body like the MPAA. I appreciate that censorship isn’t binary, but to what extent is the community allowed to demand change from itself? Is it always harmful for artists to be told that their work is sexist? As I feel the video series shows, these people are often not aware. They don’t think about it, it’s mindless, the default. Is it because Anita points at specific games, because she (rightly) says that casual depictions of violence against women normalizes said violence, that you see this as an attack?

              She’s saying this stuff like it’s fact because it IS. She’s citing text (“phsyical” fact), saying it connects to real-world problems (not technically fact, but you just said you agree), and that that’s a bad thing (unless something’s really wrong with you, you probably agree with that, too). At the same time, she goes to great lengths to make it clear that she’s discussing tropes, not artists/creators (that little spiel at the beginning of her videos where she explains what criticism is and isn’t). It’s really not her problem if someone misses the point and directs their anger at individuals.

              You’ve brought up the point that declaring something “dangerous” like how Sarkeesian does with certain depictions in games not only constitutes censorship, but can even make things more dangerous by attaching a forbidden cachet or taboo. But can you provide any evidence, even anecdotal, that taking drastic action against sexism is worse than simply letting things be? I can imagine you being right, but I can imagine anything. I don’t see any reason to believe that the backlash (and, yeah, there is/will be) would be more harmful than letting things sit and quietly writing opinion pieces that don’t target anything/anyone in particular. So far it seems like you’re paralyzed by the possibility of negative side effects.

              Sarkeesian saying “normalized depictions of sexist violence contribute to a climate where sexist violence happens” seems kind of unassailable to me, and even if it does attack artists and free expression (it doesn’t), that doesn’t make her incorrect. What is not dangerous about helping sexist violence, rape culture, and so on continue existing? Earlier, you seemed to disagree with this point (“parallels that do not exist”); why is media and art exempt from responsibility when it comes to perpetuating cultural ideas? It’s like the main avenue for doing so. You later contradicted yourself to chastise me, so I don’t know your actual position on this.

              She is ABSOLUTELY NOT laying the blame at the feet of artists or calling for action against them, and I can’t even think of (m)any instances where a games artist was hurt/damaged by someone misunderstanding that. Her work is meant to examine trends, and try to convince people that such trends shouldn’t exist. I can see how that sounds like censorship, but rape culture itself is made of trends. Sexism is a series of trends and tropes. At what level should we be attacking these problems?

              Your worrying about de-facto censorship springing out of this movement doesn’t ring true to me. All you really have is a “what if” scenario that relies on some sort of thought-police/gatekeeper organization forming. The indie games community is growing larger and larger every year, at a pretty amazing rate, and it’s empowering minority voices and perspectives in a big way. And it’s pretty intimately tied to work like Sarkeesian’s. It’s much more receptive to her type of thought and concerns, it’s generally braver and more progressive. I honestly find it kind of inconceivable that making progress, no matter how quick, on the sexism-in-games front, would have a negative effect on the creative climate or minority artists.

              The fact is that things will change from work like Sarkeesian’s. Games will change, and people will change what they put in their stories. If her ideas gain traction, it will become less okay to just casually use the murder of a woman as a throw-away motivating plot point, or to have a helpless woman prop as a prize. Because the culture will evolve in such a way that people feel less cool with using those tropes, and consumers feel less cool with consuming them. I don’t know exactly what your definition of censorship is, but if you think that counts, then I’ve gotta assume you have some weird ideas about culture.

  6. Pingback: Six Logical Fallacies People Need to Stop Pointing Out | Be Young & Shut Up

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