Hopefully everyone knows about Ms. Sarkeesian’s efforts on Kickstarter Project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, on Feminist Frequency. If you don’t here’s the short version: Anita Sarkeesian successfully funded a documentary series with the aim to highlight distressing trends in the video gaming industry. To date, she’s released seven videos with the focus of getting the message out there.
Unfortunately she has suffered a great deal of scrutiny from irate male gamers. Some have crossed the line, turning their complaints into case examples of the problem at hand: threats. It’s gotten so bad that she has to disable comments on the videos.
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear before I go on. I fully support her venture. The topics she mentions are all excellent examples of problems in modern media. However once I dig a little bit deeper, I see the problem at hand.
Gamers like any fandom are a fickle bunch. Many of us are introverted and embrace things like online communities because it gives us a voice with the comfort of anonymity. Because of this gamers get a bad reputation, because the loudest voices are the irrational jerks in our midst. If you compare this to a political scene the Game Community (in regards to Ms. Sarkeesian’s videos) is split into three groups; those for, which will agree with her on principle alone; those against who will argue against regardless; and those who share no strong feelings on the matter or don’t want to throw their hat in.
In this case, Ms. Sarkeesian has a hard sell convincing the people against because many of them won’t even watch the videos. The comments made make that obvious enough. However the impartial middle is ripe for convincing. The trick is to turn the middle against the jerks. If she wins over the middle, when the jerks talk it will only make her look better.
Sound familiar? Good. Because Martain Luther King Jr. did the same thing. He offered a peaceful protest until the moderates realized just how oppressive they were being, The rest is history.
The problem I see, as someone that agrees with consistently agrees with her from the feminist standpoint, I don’t often agree with her as a gamer. The name of the project is “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” as such I feel it should be targeted towards slights the game industry does specifically.
As I mentioned before, us gamers are fickle. Ms. Sarkeesian has a few things going against her. First, she’s not an established figure in the world of Video Games. This is key. When she Kickstarted the project it may have been a wise move to try and recruit some star power. Only recently the developers from Volition, of Saints Row fame, spoke up for her. They even took their lumps for mistakes made early in the series.
Second Ms. Sarkeesian doesn’t strike me as a gaming peer. She seems to be a reporter first and a gamer second, and given how protective gamers can be this can be problematic. More important than the first point, she needs established cred. Even something as simple as Twitter tweets about enjoying specific aspects of specific games goes a long way. Anyone who criticizes a medium should be intimate with it. A movie critic should love movies, a game critic should love games. I am not saying she doesn’t. I’m saying I’m not seeing her love of games first hand in her videos. Enthusiasm and humor goes a long way, any successful you-tube celeb could tell you that.
Third she lays heavy focus on the general problem of discrimination, rather than its presence in games themselves. As a point, in her most recent video the collage of game boxes well demonstrates one of my key problems with her videos. It is a thirty minute video against a genre of games. The problem I see? The genres mentioned (action/shooters with the occasional action/rpg) emulates movies in a clumsy fashion. The larger problem here is the fact games are falling into a slog of going with the marketing flow (which she mentions in passing). The message is lost if it doesn’t effectively apply to all genres because there are many gamers that only play specific genres. To counter balance this I suspect she needs to highlight genres that do it right, so people who already shun the mentioned genres become allies. In this light I can see how people could see this as an attack on the gaming industry.
Instead I think it should be a plea. Personally when I see some of the things she mentions in games I sigh and shake my head thinking: “Come on game industry, you can do better than this.” She does do this in some of the videos, but it needs to be done in all of them.
All this said, if you haven’t watched her videos I recommend doing so.
She makes some rock solid arguments against mistreatment of women in fiction. It’s a good cause with a good message and I hope more influential people in the industry lend muscle to the important point.
In her last video she made a particularly strong point. Even though we have a super powered hero with an invisible backpack full of weapons we fail to accept a that a world could exist without expected sexual exploitation. It hasn’t existed throughout history unconditionally and we shouldn’t treat it as a norm. It cheapens the medium. It cheapens the story. Women shouldn’t be used as an ‘easy’ way to give a villain bad guy points.
Long story short. Ms. Sarkeesian’s project is eye opening and enlightening, but I can’t help think the inclusion of video games only serves to dilute her best points. If she’s serious about these videos making strides toward improving the gaming market, I think she needs to tighten her focus on games and appeal to the impartial middle of the gamer world.