This week Anita Sarkeesian released the latest video regarding video games through Feminist Frequency, her first of the year and the first since the start of the #GamerGate and its anti-feminist backlash. Rather than a new entry in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series, it was the first in a new series highlighting positive portrayals of women in video games that she announced she would be starting in 2015.
The series and an upcoming accompanying series dedicated to portrayals of men in video games was seen as an answer to calls from her detractors that she focused exclusively on negative aspects of gaming. This was perceived as an attack on gamers themselves by many, and often fueled allegations that Sarkeesian wished to censor or ban games despite expressing no such sentiments in her work.
The first video focuses on the Superbrothers indie title Sword & Sworcery and its pixilated heroine, The Scythian. Sarkeesian praised the title from a feminist perspective for several factors including her non-objectifying outfit, the low-key manner in which her gender is handled and the fullness of her story beyond her perception of meaning in relation to other male characters.
Her largest praise involved the fact that women are rarely seen as legendary figures in archetypal fantasy hero stories. This reinforces the idea that such roles are typically reserved exclusively for men, and contribute to the marginalization of female protagonists in interactive storytelling. The closest example one could give of The Scythian in other titles would be the nameless, genderless player avatar in Journey, a game specifically designed to mimic the traditional Hero's Journey without boundaries like race or gender.
In essence Sarkeesian's new series is more like a traditional video game review, albeit with a narrow focus on how women appear in the particular title she has chosen to look at. One upside of this side project is that the videos are noticeably shorter, and might theoretically come more frequently as a result. Her typical episodes usually clock in near the half-hour mark, an eternity in web series time. These shorter pieces are smaller bites less than six minutes long.
She's also more easy-going and engaging. Since the start of her work Sarkeesian is rarely humorous or off-the-cuff, leery of having her words taken out of context or misunderstood and rarely speaking without a carefully prepared statement. This contributed not only to the slowness with which videos were released, but sometimes took its toll on her tone making her seem stern. It's nice to watch her loosen up a little.
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The thing that made Tropes vs Women in Gaming such a great exploration of feminist theory in gaming was the detailed and meticulous way the episodes explored tropes across a wide range of time and titles to see how they were employed as a whole in the gaming history. By sticking to specific games she's able to highlight aspects more acutely, but hopefully will continue her larger commentary on industry-wide storytelling techniques as a means of keeping the big picture in focus.
Sarkeesian has been a big supporter of independent gaming since the start of her video game work, in part because indie titles like Dear Esther and Thomas Was Alone are more likely to break the norms than AAA releases. It's nice to see her criticism platform to bring better attention to the up and comers who will define the next generation of gaming, hopefully in a way that is more positive in its portrayals of women. Check it out below.