@FringeNerd asked me to respond to his response to my article generally praising Anita Sarkeesian’s work. As mentioned previously, I agree with a lot, but not all, of what Anita has to say. I do definitely think she has an important voice, and that she was a worthy recipient of the GDC Ambassador’s Award. Even if I still like boobplate. (Note, I cut out a couple places in order to shrink this down)
> Games should show more women capable of strength, agency and power in your game world, instead of being relegated to simply being background props or quest objectives that could be replaced with a sock monkey.
Same could be said for male NPC characters. Yes, I’m whatabouthemen-ing, but only to point out that there’s a distinct lack of context in her videos. A significant number of the criticisms she levels at video games and developers apply also to their treatment of male characters, and gendering and/or ignoring half of the context of those points is disingenuous and misleading. This circles back to your remarking that she doesn’t understand the constraints of development; but it’s more than that. She doesn’t have a firm grasp of the topic she claims to be an expert in, either.
Not really. There are only so many strong characters in most games, and in most games (much like most action movies) they go to men. And in many games, it goes even further – for example, in Far Cry 3, there are no women at all that hold a gun. This is pretty significant in a world where guns are the expression of power, control and liberty. (Yes, that article does make a feminist point based on Anita’s work that you should be able to shoot more women).
> find ways to depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles.
I’m not convinced this isn’t already happening all the time. Tropes exist for a reason. One could even call them archetypes.They’ve been used since the beginning of time, and each generation has brought something a little different to its interpretation of the roles. Granted, I no longer play a lot of “AAAs” because most are poor excuses for games (and I’m a Linux user), but those I have played seem to be making a concerted, if calculated, effort to stretch beyond the way women have been portrayed in the 90s– and the 90s made an effort to move beyond the 80s, too. Archetypes aren’t going away, sorry. But the industry changes. There’s something about Anita’s laser-focus on proving misogyny and sexism and patriarchy and victimhood that pisses people, including me, off like very few other critics manage to do. She’s in the “rarified” company of the likes of Patrica Hernandez.
Those tropes do exist for a reason, and Anita is the first to say that she doesn’t expect these tropes to go away. However, while the tropes for men tend to be empowered: the hero, the supervillian, etc, the tropes for the women tend to be about being an object. See Princess Peach and Zelda in most of the platformers Nintendo makes.
Also, there is a massive variety in the kinds of roles that male characters have, vs. a tiny variety of roles for the female characters. Her Ms Main Character video really described this clearly. Now, there are some caveats here: there are more men than women in most male-oriented films, just as there are more women than men in chick flicks, and clearly Sucker Punch shows that you can go too far in the other direction into panderland. But right now, most female characters just fall back into a handful of very familiar roles.
And to be honest, I’m less bothered by the percieved sexism than the SLOPPINESS. The clip that Anita showed of a string of a dozen games where your wife dies and you have to rescue your daughter made me feel guilty about all the times I’ve just been party to a design team that just ‘phoned in’ its character design.
> Game designers should keep in mind that a lot of people (and not just women) have a viscerally negative reactions to scenes showing violence against women (particularly as many have first-hand experience with it), so maybe we shouldn’t just throw these scenes in casually.
And here I’m going to whataboutthemen again, because there’s something seriously fucked up about a world that doesn’t mind men being tortured, killed, and generally abused but gets up in arms the second a woman suffers the slightest harm. That Anita doesn’t address this in her videos at all is a HUGE failing. The lack of context is, again, disingenuous and misleading.
Let me make this more clear. How often have you seen a man raped in a video game? Very fucking rare. In fact, I can only think about it happening in Far Cry 3, and even then, it’s purely offscreen and implied. Why? Because men find this shit icky as shit, and men make the games.
>Seriously, all the dead, spread-eagled naked women in games are kind of creepy.
And what of it? Art and entertainment has long been a way for society to grapple with its psychoses and fears and the darker aspects of itself. It’s good that you think it’s creepy. It says something about you as a person. At the same time, it’s deeply worrying to me that the West is so paternalistic when it comes to the way women are treated in video games.
Let me make this more clear. How often have you seen a dead naked man hogtied and with a ball gag in his mouth in a video game? Very fucking rare. Why? Because men find this shit icky as shit, and men make the games.
>Times which she says that all games are problematic: zero. In fact, she frequently makes it clear that she means the opposite:
That’s really, really undermined by how she never has anything good to say about games. Why doesn’t she have anything good to say about games? My theory is she doesn’t actually know enough about games to feel comfortable being positive about them. (Cf Bayonetta. What a ridiculous video that was. Which she’s since removed, without acknowledging she was wrong or apologising for it.) Sorry, not good enough.
She has talked about games the thinks are good examples of working with the tropes, and also discussed games that she thinks tried to subvert the tropes but failed. I think the third Damsel video is where you can find that.
>This one point caught my eye in particular, about how relegating stories of trauma and sexual abuse to being crappy side quests trivializes one of the greatest crimes and fear that many women have:
And all the other crimes that are relegated to side quests? Again, there’s a remarkable lack of context here.
Here’s her point – a lot of games are very cavalier about domestic abuse and sexual abuse – rape or attempted rape. Her example is Watch Dogs, I believe. In that game, the same domestic abuse side quests are just cut and pasted across the world, in order to make the world more ‘edgy’. She points out that a lot of women, completely reasonable and not particularly feminist women, have a visceral reaction to seeing this AT ALL, and filling your world with it is going to invoke a visceral negative reaction. This is the sort of thing you should think about if you’re a game designer. You may decide ‘screw it. We didn’t want that audience anyway’. But it deserves an iota of thought.
>I’m not saying stories seriously examining domestic abuse or sexual violence are off-limits to interactive media. However, if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach these topic with the gravity, subtlety and respect they deserve.”
Why? Quentin Tarantino makes irreverent movies of horrifying subject matter all the time. Holy cows are stupid–and dangerous.
Yep, and he’s gotten a ton of criticism for it from feminists! Note: he still gets to make those films, and they still fill theaters.
Here is my biggest criticism of Anita: her perspective is distinctly American, in an industry which is increasingly without borders. Her understanding of Bayonetta, for example, betrays the sex-negativism that is the hallmark of America. There is a way to see Japanese games as sexist and misogynist, and certainly there are those games, but really the Japanese industry is more fetishist than it is anything else. Look to anime just a decade or two ago and you’ll see men treated with the same sort of lens, sexually, as women are. (Yes, the roles of that sexualisation differed, but the lens was the same.) What changed? Anime became international, and had to tailor itself to the regressive attitudes of Americans. The same has happened to gaming. It’s colonialism by economics.
I would generally agree with this, actually. Japan is its own world in terms of cultural norms, built upon a bizarre mix of fetishism and repressed sexuality. Comparing American sensibilities to that is trending close to comparing apples to oranges, and I think more often she should point that out in her videos. That being said, there are things that are the same in both sides, such as damselling.
>This is all a conversation that’s worth having.
Yes, but Anita shouldn’t be its spokesperson. She’s clearly not up for the task.
And clearly you and I disagree. Here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with her talking. As long as she isn’t advocating government censorship or legal action like Jack Thompson, there is no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Game designers have the ability to listen and take what they feel is important, and ignore what isn’t. Movie directors have been doing the same thing to Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert for years. Stopping reading the New York Times because one critic in there cares about women’s issues in film would be a massive overreaction, and so is getting mad at Gamasutra or Polygon because they say, “hey, this woman has opinions on games.”
In closing, I’d like to note that while Sarkeesian herself might not be that important or harmful, the way the media are treating her is. She’s been reduced to a damsel in distress, a shield against criticism, a tool for clickbait. It’s just another damning indictment of how fucked up the gaming media is. Nobody’s owned up to this. Nobody’s accepted the responsibility of treating her work with the analysis and scrutiny they claim it deserves. In the greatest of ironies, the very industry which accuses its enthusiasts of being manbabies doesn’t have the maturity to treat a discussion of gender with anything beyond the maturity of a teenager.
And again, I think you massively overstate her impact. We are still, STILL making the same sorts of games and the games media is STILL giving games like GTA V a 97%. I do think that some feminists disagree, and I read those too. I take what’s good, and ignore what doesn’t work for me. And I’m an immensely better designer for it.
If you want real clickbait ‘feminism’, then go look at how Christina Sommers dismisses all of Anita’s stuff without actually addressing a single thing in it, and then just poo-poos it away with a ludicrous leap of logic. I’m sure you’ll reject that, right? You certainly aren’t going to cheerlead her just because her views happen to line up closer to where you stand.