I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to put a trigger warning here because this post deals with the infamous Anita Sarkeesian, and I am going to be defending her work on several points. So if you’re offended by what I have to say about the Tropes vs Women videos I suggest you get out of here now.
With that aside lets get down to business.
I’ve been reading up a lot on the GamerGate scandal which is crawling across the internet. As a person with many feminist opinions on the world and popular culture, I’m getting sick and tired of hearing how many threats are sent to women online just because they spoke their minds on things.
And furthermore, I am a gamer. I love PC games in particular and have played hundreds of games in the 24 years I’ve been on this planet.
I also hang out with many video game fans, with whom I do not share the same opinions, but are always up for a debate. And yesterday, one of my friends liked this video posted by conservative feminist (two words I don’t think belong in the same sentence) Christina Hoff Sommers. I gave the video a watch and came away liking several points raised, but have to say I disagree with Sommers’s attack on Sarkeesian and her ilk.
Here’s the video:
Now what’s wrong with that argument?
1. ‘Cherry picking’ in other words, they are finding the flaws and pointing out what is wrong with the games. No games are perfect, but these critics are doing what most journalists would do when they review pieces of art. People criticise sexist, racist, homophobic connotations in film, TV and Books every day – the same way as the critics here are talking about the games. And that doesn’t automatically mean the game falls into those categories, it’s always open to commentary.
2. By passing them all off as ‘hipsters with culture degrees’ really says a lot about you ‘Sommers’. If you’re just going by someone’s appearance then that really shows how deep and researched your findings are. Plus, are you damning cultural studies? Are you saying social sciences like African American Studies or Native American Studies are irrelevant or narrow? Also, not everyone here has a ‘cultures degree’, all you have to do is go to Sarkeesian’s website and see she has a masters degree in Social and Political Thought. (I’ll jump in here as well and mention that I have a degree in political sciences which majored in Gender Studies and Political theory in my final year – and I listen to tons of Heavy Metal and Independent Rock music and have a beard – does that make me a hipster when I criticise you Sommers?)
3. ‘They all want the male gamer DEAD!?’ Wow Christine. Words do almost fail me here. Let me just compare the criticisms of gaming tropes to the ongoing threats of rape, murder and torture; which even led to someone creating a game where you could beat Sarkeesian up. Nowhere in any of the videos and blog posts do Sarkeesian or Zoe Quinn wish death upon anyone. And let me remind you Sommers, that feminism is about gender equality – how do you gain that when you wish hate and death against a particular part of the gender spectrum? Plus, the video does not even mention, that 41% of the US gaming community alone is now female. You’re pretty much saying, ‘gaming belongs to men, it always has and it always should’. Yet you say it’s becoming more inclusive. The latter point of your contradiction there pretty much gives all the more reason to bring feminism to the gaming world. And as you say, the idea of a gamer being a teenage boy in his basement is gone, therefore people of all walks of life now take part in gaming and everything that comes with it. An ideology that brings equal recognition and respect for all now seems all the more relevant – which is what these critics are trying to bring to us. But frankly Sommers, you are a conservative masquerading as a feminist who is populating the political myth that all feminism is anti-men. I would have thought someone of your calibre would know of the many feminist schools of thought and how they differ on topics, the same way as other ideologies, ie: Anarchism, Socialism, Conservatism, Liberalism, etc.
4. And finally, yes there have been many well planned and thought provoking criticisms of Sarkeesian et al. but dismissing the jaw dropping number of rape threats, which recently reached a level where Sarkeesian was forced out of her home, as natural behaviour; I cannot fathom how you can call yourself a ‘philosopher’. What you’re saying there can easily amount to ‘victim blaming’ and you are enforcing a bigoted and infantile image of the gaming community which does not fit everyone who has picked up a controller in their life. Hell, even the friend who liked this video is no troll – I even recall him telling me how playing Call of Duty online was such a bad experience because of the number of trolls who only use the game as a forum for exchanging insults. What these gender critics are offering are not demonising diatribes against the games covered in their videos/posts etc. but they represent a school of thought which should be employed to discuss video gaming. As you said Sommers, video games are now a part of society and should be treated as equally as film, TV and literature. I bet you in the fairly near future, you will have video game narratives analysed from as many schools of thought you find in an English Literature degree course.
5. And finally, yes Sommers I do agree with you that games do not make people more misogynistic, homophobic or racist. I’ve been defending video games for the best part of my life and the videos and posts covered here will not stop me from gaming. But I think it is unfair to say that gender critics of gaming are expressing the same opinions as your conservative parental advisory comrades have done in the past. What is being covered in the videos are tropes of popular culture. Clichés which make stories boring. Have you even noted that the majority of the games covered by Sarkeesian follow a linear narrative akin to a film, TV show, etc. Video gaming is best summed up as ‘interactive storytelling’, though not all kinds of games are being covered in these videos. I can safely say, that in a lot of games you can pick how the narrative pans out, but because of the logistics of a game, your pathways are limited. This might be why a lot of the games I play fall into the RTS genre, because you can tell as many stories as you like using as much of your imagination because you aren’t always faced with an immediate cast of characters – characters who populate said tropes. Storytelling being bad is what I think the feminist frequency series is talking about more than anything.
Is there any middle-ground in this GamerGate malarkey?
While I do like the debate and concern raised by Sarkeesian, I don’t see her as the face of 21stcentury feminism, nor of feminism on the internet.
I’ve been tracking down as many feminist criticisms of her work and I think the best place to go for this is The Learned Fangirl. It’s a pop culture and video games blog run by Kristin Bezio, a feminist video gamer and academic, who by a long shot offers the best criticisms of the Tropes vs. Women videos. If you want to go somewhere that discusses all this without being trolled by MRAs then try The Learned Fangirl.
One thing I really hate about Sarkeesian’s videos is their tendency to act like a ‘laundry list’ that can sometimes become monotonous in saying ‘this game is bad, this character is awful, etc.’, and I do doubt a lot of the sources used in researching the videos.
How bad is GamerGate proving for Video Game journalism?
What worries me the most about these ‘gamers’ attacking video game critics, is that it will turn away young and enthusiastic people from entering the world of video game journalism – especially young women.
From my experiences on YouTube, it now appears that the favoured medium of reviewing a game is a Let’s Play video. This is good and I see it as another step on the road to interaction between media and fans which could create a people’s run community that recommends new material. But, if you’re constantly under attack from infantile anti-equality slacktivists who don’t like change, then I’m very angry if this creates a feeling of dread in young online journalists who feel anxious to publish their opinions on a game.
And how do we know such feelings will cross over from the video game world into other worlds of online journalism, like music. As a music journalist, I’ll be very very pissed off if what I’ve just suggested comes into the world of Metal or Punk or any kind of music for that matter.
GamerGate is reinforcing an idea that gamers are whiny little snot-noses with nothing better to do than be as obnoxious as possible. And I will add that I sometimes get that impression from a few of Sarkeesian’s videos. But GamerGate is, above all, the prime example of why we need gender equality on the internet and in the gaming world. And Sommers, a self proclaimed ‘philosopher’ just had to step in the bullshit and feed the trolls with the impression that they are smart.
So why do I watch Sarkeesian’s videos?
Above all other things, I watch the Feminist Frequency videos because they are tackling clichés which amount to bad storytelling.
I view myself as a learned man and would like to be seen as a representative of his age. And that age is one where tropes such as the Damsel in Distress, The Manic Dream Pixie Girl, The Straw Feminist, Women in Refrigerators and GratuitousViolence and Sex masquerading as satire; are not commonplace.
I feel Sarkeesian is that critic we needed to spark the debate on the portrayal of women in popular culture. And whether or not you agree with her, she has got us all talking about video games in a way that not all of us did before the videos were made.
And I’ll leave it here saying: if you disagree with her on every level, that’s fine. Please make your argument known and use as much information you can to back it up. But resorting to threats of violence, rape, torture, bombing or plain rudeness is completely and utterly bogus. I don’t want the gaming world seen as evil and childish and I bet you don’t either. That is why online harassment is not OK in the slightest and it will never have my support.