Does The Last of Us Prove Anita Sarkeesian Right About Video Game Violence and Women?

Spoilers Ahead

Before we get started, I want to set the tone of the article in the first paragraph to try real hard to head off the haters who are eyeing the comment section like a girl passed out at a party. This is in no way a knock against Naughty Dog. I think they are definitely one of the good guys when it comes to trying to forward the presence of women characters and gamers in the world. Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann famously told The Escapist that they had to specifically request female gamers after their focus testing group didn't bother to include any even though the second lead character is a girl and she's on the freakin' cover of the box.

Druckmann's a good guy, and so is Naughty Dog. That said I watched the latest edition of Anita Sarkeesian's "Damsel in Distress Tropes vs Women" videos literally the day before I started playing The Last of Us, and she has me thinking that there really is a problem with female portrayals in gaming that needs to be addressed. It's a problem that I honestly don't think many game makers, male or female, are aware of because it's so institutionalized.

Flashback From Celes to Lara Croft: The Evolution of Sexual Assault in Gaming

If you don't have time to watch a 20-minute video on feminine portrayals in video games, let me touch the highlights. Sarkeesian brings up Gail Simone's old Women in Refrigerators list, which was inspired by an issue of Green Lantern where Kyle Rayner found his girlfriend dead and stuffed in his fridge by an enemy. Simone went on to note an embarrassingly long list of incidents where female characters, superpowered or no, were continuously attacked, killed, mutilated, raped, or worse (Don't ask). In every single case the common denominator was that the woman's fate swerved only to evolve the main male character's story. They were emotionally ornamental, depowered, and most of all possessed.

Sarkeesian presents a similar game list, with much commentary on how the tropes have evolved or not, and it's sheer length is as damning as the comic one. Bionic Commando, Castlevania: Lord of Shadows, God of War, Max Payne... it's more than twenty mainstream titles. Each one is concerned with only one thing, and that's using the death or pain of a female as a pawn for the male protagonist's inner journey.

Now, lots of people will argue that taken individually, instances in most of these games make perfect sense from a storytelling perspective. I wholly agree, and think Sarkeesian does a disservice by waving it away so quickly in pursuit of her greater point. As an example, God of War. Yes, I'm using God of Freakin' War as an argument against a feminist point. Don't ever let it be said I'm scared to play the hard setting.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner