Please raise your hand if you sometimes just feel like hating a complete stranger for no reason other than him/her expressing an opinion that is different from yours. Come on, don’t be shy now, no one here is innocent! Are your hands baldly brazing the sky already? Well then, hop aboard the hate train, because the next station is Anita Sarkeesian’s video blog Tropes vs Women in Video Games. Choo-choo!
Sarkeesian is a self-proclaimed ‘pop-culture critic’, which is the least of all meaningful titles you can apply to yourself right after ‘food taster’ and ‘toilet user’. You can watch her videos for yourself if you want, but I can just as easily summarize them for you. Her major complaint is that video games are guilty of perpetuating the stereotype that women are incapable victims who need men to come and rescue them (the so-called “Damsel in Distress” cliché), which she claims is not true. Furthermore, she blames video games for contributing to a society wherein women are continually victimized in all facets of our daily lives. You’ll notice how these two complaints blatantly contradict each other, and this is not the only logical error or falsehood that make up her feminist rants that only serve to strengthen the idea that every woman automatically is a victim.
“In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team; they are the ball.”
Several bloggers have already pointed out that the kind of games that she analyses (mostly action/adventure games and shooters) are predominantly played by males, making it perfectly understandable that they put forth characters to whom men can relate (i.e.: men). It’s equally easy to point out the many video games in which strong female characters take the lead, such as Metroid Prime, Tombraider, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, and virtually every fighting game ever made. Finally, it has been pointed out that her claim that there is any causal link between popular culture and popular thinking is difficult if not impossible to prove, just as no one has been able to prove a link between violent video games and violent behavior in real-life. In short, this is the worst plea for women’s rights since Sandra Harding declared Isaac Newton’s Principica Mathematica to be a “rape manual”, or since the time that Luce Irigaray claimed that Einstein’s famous equation e=mc2 is a “sexed equation” (because it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us, I don’t even need to explain that, right?).
All this bad reasoning made me think the unthinkable: does this mean that video games hate the Netherlands as well?
Because if we apply Sarkeesian’s line of reasoning (that is to say: purely anecdotal and based on confirmation bias) to my motherland, it inevitably follows that, much more than damaging the image of women the world over, video games are on a hate crusade against The Netherlands! Think about it, how often have you seen The Netherlands being portrayed in a positive light in video games? Never, at least not to my knowledge. Does the playable faction in that expansion pack of Civilization IV count? Whoops, thanks for reminding us of our not so small contribution to colonialism and slavery, you patriarchal, anti-Dutch monsters! Or how about the Rendezvous in Rotterdam level in the first Hitman game? Lots of fun there: if the solemn, gray slums that are supposed to reflect my hometown weren’t bad enough, all we saw were homo-erotic bikers torture-killing snitches, and that’s bad advertisement. Last but not least, there is of course an endless string of World War 2 games, where the Dutch are again and again subjugated into the submissive role of a defeated nation that is desperately waiting to be saved by their British-American overlords.
So there you have it: an equally poorly researched and biased analysis of pop-culture. And I didn’t even need to go on KickStart and ask for over one hundred and fifty thousand dollars from you in order to do it.
Although I believe her reasoning to be flawed at times and her timing odd by releasing 1 episode and starting with the most critical one so a very incomplete image is created (she is set to release 5 or 6. I however do believe it’s good to analyze popular culture for underlying infrastructure and tropes it puts forward. When all 5/6 are finished a more nuanced reading (or something resembling it) will probably be created. So I want to wait with bashing someone until the work is complete.
But a few sidenotes: Why wouldn’t men be able to relate to women in videogames? You defy your own logical by naming the games that have female protagonists that are also largely played by a male demographic. And on a broader scheme of things. And it’s a reasoning that a lot of her haters are using. But just because something serves a certain audience does not mean it becomes void of any social constructs worth analyzing (if it were about race or ethnicity then outrage would be instant for instance).
Aside from that in the second video in the series she does explain that there is no easy causal connection. But by analyzing certain content and discourse you get handles to criticize and analyze our culture. Just because there are no straightforward causal lines should not mean it should not be analyzed and systematized.
I am a male gamer and I believe she makes legit points, especially in the second video. I find a lot of games narrively shallow and serving straight male fantasies over loss of dominance and that also influences my thinking and acting (my imagination), again not in a straightforward monkey see monkey do attitude, but much more subtly.
The last few years we see this landscape rapidly changing, since the women’s gaming market is starting be treated more seriously beside Barbie’s dreamhouse and the Sims from years before. Even Lara croft her boobs are slowly shrinking :-P. i have a couple of female friends who are openly frustrated about the lack of non-violent gameplay in games. It also says a lot about males limited perspective on gaming principles on how most of them should revolve around violence (and dominance).
Lastly I do think medium is of major importance here: youtube. The combination of her exaggerating her stances and her total lack of humor make her a popular interactive youtube celeb. But on the other hand do you think she deserves this misogynist crap http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZAxwsg9J9Q . Apparently there are still plenty of gamers who have no issues setting up complete hate campaigns and actively proving her point :-P. lol
And just because women bitch about patriarchy does not make them victims. I wonder if a like-minded article would ever appear on here that says: ‘Can I be an aggressor, please?’ which would then be about men, I guess :-). Feminism and critic do not equal victimization. I would love to know which feminists you DO respect?
Martijn, thanks for your comment. I’ll try to respond to your points as adequately as possible,
Considering that she has chosen to upload the videos one by one, I don’t see why anyone should hold back an opinion, or why she would even expect us to (no more than I would expect people to hold back forming opinions about this article even though more may follow).
As for the point of male players relating to male characters, I’ll grant you that this was sloppy writing on my part. I should have been more clear in adding that this does not meant that males *cannot* relate to female protagonists, but rather that it is – in general – easier for men to relate to other men (as it is a rule that we easier relate to someone who is similar to us). The main point here is that this is a much more straightforward answer to the question why males seem overrepresented in the gaming industry. It’s for the same reason that teen pop artists are overrepresented in teen magazines: the audience wants to look at an idealized version of themselves.
My main point in naming games with strong female lead characters is to show how anecdotal the argumentation of Sarkeesian is: she cherry-picks examples from over two decades of gaming. You could just as easily fill hours of videos of men being portrayed as having all kinds of negative character traits if you wanted to. What Sarkeesian lacks in her videos is balance.
I fully agree that analysis of popular culture is important, and this is precisely why every analysis should be analyzed in its turn. Sarkeesian may admit that the causal link between culture and popular culture is difficult, but without this link, the point she is trying to make is absolutely moot. She must tacitly accept this link as being self-evident, otherwise her feminist rant is just a philosophical mind-game.
Also, I have a problem with naming Sarkeesian an “interactive” YouTube celebrity, because she has disabled comments on her videos. I am always suspect of people who want to convey their message in a one-way street. Sarkeesian is not engaging in conversation about pop-culture: she only wants to preach.
And no, of course I don’t think she deserves to receive hate-mail where people laugh over the thought of her being raped. And I do not see how this proves her point. If you stick your head out on the Internet, you will receive verbal abuse, especially if you attack a group of people (in this case: gamers). People hate her for being critical of their favorite past-time and they would hate anyone who did that, regardless of gender or any other trait. On the surface, it seems like they are proving her point, but in fact, they are simply saying whatever they think will hurt her. There is misogyny in society, no question there; the unanswered question is whether or not video games are to blame for this, and this is the point that Sarkeesian is trying (and in my opinion: failing) to make.
Also, I never said that every woman who ‘bitches’ about patriarchy is a victim: what I said was that Sarkeesian claims that every woman is a victim.
On a final note (and I must say I’m somewhat curious as to why you asked), the only feminist I’ve found interesting so far is Julia Kristeva, even though this is due to her writings on aesthetics and semiotics, and not so much due to her thoughts on gender roles. I’ve also been taught about Cixous and Irigaray (even saw the latter debate one of my university professors last year), but I find their style irritating and their points nonsensical (then again, I’m hardly a fan of Francophone post-modernism).
Thank you for your reply. If there is anything in my response that was either unclear or if you want to discuss further, please let me know.
Thanks for responding. A lot became clear! and I do understand the beef you have with her. It’s good to be critical with media analysis. Especially media discourse analysis can become a rather self-fulfilling prophecy when it thematized. Believe me, I know!! 😛 You start to look for the signs.
But in that sense I do understand what she is trying to do and what she’s going for. She organizes her analysis by theme not by chronology. And that’s one of the bigger problems I have with this first video. It seems chronological and thus giving the illusion that she is in fact is analysing the whole of gaming history while in fact she is just picking certain prevalent themes starting with the most harmful one. It would have been much smarter to bring out all video’s and themes simultaneously and make all of them separately chronological and start off with one of the less critical ones to sorts of warm people up to her style and analysis. she’s an acquired taste :-p.
What I’m also completely missing from her is the fact that she completely ignores the ‘interactive’ aspect of gaming that makes it very different from a more passive reading people do with film ad TV. The very possibility of girls being able to control male protagonists and boys being able to control female protagonists (or even creating them) makes it all much more complex and doesn’t touch upon the subject once, like it’s irrelevant. that’s just sloppy.
Lastly what I do hate about what she is doing is that she continuously morally charges the assumingly scientific statements she pretends to make thus undermining any ‘objective’ stance or power she could give to her words: Turning all the cultural products in the now into evil entities that need to be combatted with her as sergeant general spotting the enemy targets. It weakens the whole a lot and adds a little ‘frustration’ sauce to the analysis of an already big and bulky 5 course dinner. A little humour and less judgement would have made this from something semi popular into something big. Then you give people more space to form their own ideas about what it does and how they feel about it. Now she is force feeding us this chunky cuisine.
In a wider context it’s something I personally struggle with though. Since we’re in a Dutch discourse where feminism has became a dirty word and is associated with braless hags and hairy armpits I just don’t feel like feeding it. and I fear that titles like ‘Can I be a victim please’ reiterate this discourse strongly.
and I totally agree that the misogyny performed by third parties unto her is much more of a means to annoy and hit her where it hurts instead of revealing a horde of gaming Neanderthals who want to all massively rape her. But it was a very smart move of her to make it prove her point :-P.
Finally I do think the gaming market has been stereotyped in the last few years. Women have become a huge segment of gaming. Research show that gaming is not just for the adolescents and nerdy guys anymore. it’s a bigger industry then the film industry and that’s why it is frustrating to see how little amount of games are targeted at more women friendly gameplay. Spielberg , and George Lucas were actually mentioning something along those lines at the E3 last week. Cinematography and narrativation/writing are slowly becoming more integral parts of the gaming industry as can be seen with big titles like ‘the last of us’ ‘Tombraider’ and ‘Bioschock Infinite’. It’s only a matter of time before a truly more feminine oriented game will become a huge economic success.