I didn't want to write about Anita Sarkeesian again. I really didn't. I just want her to make her videos, which should be boring dissections of pop media interesting only to insane deconstructionalists like myself. I want to watch them and work myself into a liberal lather of progressive rage along with my posse of rabid feminist geeks. Is that really too much to ask out of the world?
Apparently it is, because every time she releases a new video she becomes Salman Rushdie to the brodouche ayatollahs of gaming America. Valuable time screencapping God of War prostitute-banging minigames is spent instead on filing police reports and answering asinine questions about why everything she says kicks the hornets' nest of privilege right in its crusty crotch pouch.
It's stupid, but as far as I can tell no one has really set down to answer the stupidest of the "criticisms" of Sarkeesian point by point. Today, that's my job. Maybe it will convince a few people to go throw rocks at someone else and I can get back to my liberal la la land.
She Wants to Eliminate Male Lead Roles From Games A common idea is that Sarkeesian mocking the endless parade of chiseled-jawed, broody white guys that make up the vast majority of Triple A protagonists means she wants to turn every gaming hero in the future into a fat lesbian that fights off the hordes with a Women's Studies degree. The thing is she has never once said that. Has she called for more nuanced and less sexualized women in roles? Yes. Has she blasted developers for failing to create them? Ditto. But not once in any video, interview, or speech has she ever called for the loss of the Action Man. Hasn't happened.
Her Videos Lack Context The most common nitpick in criticism is that Sarkeesian fails to take the whole of a game against a specific trope. The most often cited is Hitman: Absolution where it is possible to gun down strippers and you can use the corpse of one (You didn't kill her) as a distraction to get past police. This is not indicative of the overall story, where Agent 47 is trying to protect a girl named Victoria from becoming the next him. A similar complaint comes from Watch Dogs where critics feel Sarkeesian overlooks your attempt to stop a human trafficking ring.
The purpose of the analyses isn't to label Hitman or Watch Dogs or anything other single game sexist or misogynistic, but to show a wide tendency to include tropes across a vast array of titles. It's not about one game; it's about a trend across gaming. Big picture stuff. Focusing on any one game is pointless.
She's not a Real Gamer (And Hates Gamers) The most damning "evidence" of this is this video that's been making the rounds. It's from a 2010 talk that she gave at Professor Melanie Klein's class in 2010. It's part of a larger talk on the practice of vidding, which is remixing clips to bring out hidden subtext that fans believe may be there. This video shows off one of Sarkeesian's own early viding attempts using video games, and right before she shows it she says...
"I'm not a fan of video games... I would love to play video games, but I don't want to go around shooting people and ripping off their heads, and, it's just gross."
Right there, right? The proof in the pudding. She hates games, gamers, and probably America as well. Not exactly. In her own videos Sarkeesian talks about growing up playing an NES and all those classic titles, so there's that. But also, there's a clear tone to the video and her talk that shows she's taking another look at video games as an adult. Nothing wrong with that. I dropped out of gaming for nearly a decade before rediscovering it and becoming a video game journalist.
But on a more personal note... people do dislike things and then come to love them. For instance, in 2010 I had never seen a single episode of Doctor Who, and now this art blog has a whole category dedicated to it simply because I would not shut up about it once I did get into it. People discover things... like the Men's Rights Movement, for example.
She Fakes Threats Against Herself for Publicity By far the thing the mainstream news media knows best about Sarkeesian is that she is so polarizing that people feel compelled to threaten to shoot up schools where she is scheduled to talk. If you listen to her detractors, they claim it's a publicity stunt.
Most "evidence" for this revolves around weird examination of her Twitter feed instead of, you know, asking the police or anyone involved in examining threats. An incomplete list includes...
- Organizers at the Game Developers Choice Awards in San Francisco received bomb threats in March this year claiming an attack would occur if an award was presented to Sarkeesian. SFPD deployed bomb-sniffing dogs to the event, but uncovered nothing.
- In August Sarkeesian posts the second of her "Women as Background" videos and receives threats on Twitter specific enough to cause her to flee her home to stay with friends and contacted authorities. A journalist from Breitbart, Milo Yiannopoulos, claimed to have contacted SFPD and received information indicating they had no such complaint on file. Almost immediately, information came to light that SFPD had actually turned her complaint over to the FBI, explaining the confusion.
- Sarkeesian is scheduled to give a talk at the Utah State University's Center for Women and Gender, but cancels after an anonymous person emailed the school and promised a massacre if she was allowed to speak. Sarkeesian cancelled the appearance (Rare for her) because gun carry laws in Utah cannot inhibit a person from carrying them in a public space and police would not set up metal detectors to search attendees.
So, while it is technically possible for Sarkeesian to be the person behind all these threats they now involve national media, including reporters from the New York Times and the FBI. In at least three cases they have been confirmed by authorities to be worthy of investigation. It's a leap of faith to assume that's she's staged them. Especially in the wake of so many other women in the gaming industry receiving similar threats.
This story continues on the next page.
It's All a Scam There's no denying that Sarkeesian's Kickstarter to start her examinations of video games was fantastically successful. She asked for $6,000 to do it, and ended up pulling in over $100,000 once she started getting attacked. To many, this is proof positive that the whole thing was simply a money grab. In those people's defense, video game based-Kickstarters not exactly being completely transparent about the money they receive is not uncommon.
There's not really any evidence that Sarkeesian is using the money in any way other than the way she initially pledged to. Certainly her video quality isn't lacking. There's also the fact that Sarkeesian registered Feminist Frequency as a 501(c)3 non profit charity this year. That means that her expenditures come under review of the IRS, so feel free to add that organization to the juggernauts that Sarkeesian is supposedly duping successfully. This is her first year as one, but if you're patient she has to make her return available for public inspection as part of the organization's tax exempt status when she eventually files.
There's also the fact that the videos she produces are free even if you didn't contribute to her Kickstarter and don't donate to her charity. I can personally attest to this, as, ironically, so can most of the people that post hate videos and blogs about her. I fail to see how someone can be scammed by viewing something for free.
She's a Sanctimonious Cunt Please leave. The adults are trying to talk. I suggest you call your mom and ask her opinion on this.
She's Wrong Because More Women Are Gamers Than Men Now I could rebut this simply by saying that there are more women in America than Men and yet we've never had a female president and women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership roles both private and public. Let's dig deeper, though.
The study usually cited in this shows that 52 percent of people that played a game within the last six months were female. Case closed, women love games as they are and there's no need to change, right? Otherwise they wouldn't play them.
However, if you look at the data harder you see that mobile games like Candy Crush account for a lot of the rise, and games like that are usually missing much of the gendered tropes that Sarkeesian talks about. You'll also notice that she rarely talks about MMORPGS, which allow women a much freer form of expression and control over what they are exposed to in a game. Consequently, the most numerous dedicated World of Warcraft players are women.
The obvious conclusion is that while the Triple A titles that Sarkeesian examines get all the news and are most wedded to the standard sexist tropes, they also do not necessarily make up the explosion of female gamers over the last decade. It seems like too much of a coincidence that women would flock to the games and systems that offer fewer of these tropes.
This is an Attack on Gaming Guys, look, the world is changing. Many marginalized groups are now finding themselves not quite so marginalized, and want to see themselves better represented in the media they love. Homosexuals want believable gay heroes, people of color want non-stereotypical portrayals, and women don't want to be cage bait. Really, there's no reason they should be with the sheer number of games being made right now. Likewise, there will always be a market for watching Kratos murder and fuck his way through Ancient Greece. Even a raging feminist like me enjoys playing that occasionally.
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It is possible for gaming to tell better stories, forge new paths, and go where it hasn't before. Things can be better. At the very least they can offer more options. It's not an attack on gaming to look for ways aside from graphic improvements and accurate gun mechanics to expand the medium. There's an increasingly diverse market, but I promise that as long as you keep buying what you like people will keep making it.
As Sarkeesian herself says...
Remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it's more problematic or pernicious aspects.
If you don't look for weak spots you never level up or beat the boss. You'd think more gamers would know that.