Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

I Watch Anita Sarkeesian So You Don’t Have To. But You Should.

So, my Twitter feed has been full of people who believe that Anita Sarkeesian wants to corrupt my brain, and convert me into being an SJW zombie, thus ruining every game that I ever make.  Because I have no free will and am part of the politically correct machine, I watched most of her video-game oriented videos.  And I gotta say, watching these videos really made me angry.  Because she spoiled the ending to about a couple dozen games I haven’t finished.  Seriously, Anita, a spoilers tag is customary here!

Now because I want to save any of you from becoming sheeple who might be infected by an opposing view by actually watching and considering her work on its actual merits, I thought I would pull a USA Today and share what I found to be the four primary takeaways from her videos so far in easily digestable form:

  1. 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.
  2. Game designers should be less lazy in reaching for the same, tired stereotypes – or merely xeroxes of male leads – but especially stereotypes showing women as disempowered, and find ways to depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles.
  3. 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.
  4. Seriously, all the dead, spread-eagled naked women in games are kind of creepy.

So here’s the thing – all four of the above statements are absolutely, 100% true.  As in, its hard to even debate them.

Times which she says that games should be censored or game designers silenced: zero.

Uses of the word misogyny: four.  

1. “[In Red Redemption], Female prostitutes are assaulted and murdered by johns who make a torrent of misogynistic slurs.” (She’s not wrong)

[In GTA3] “The writers wrote the character to annoy the player, so the decision to kill her is the punchline in a deeply misogynistic joke.”  (Also not wrong)

“But the truth is, there’s nothing mature about most of these stories, and many of them cross the line into blatant mysogyny.”  (I’d disagree with this one, but its an entirely subjective opinion)

“…The crude, sensationalized misogyny of Duke Nukem…”  (Again subjective, but much less debatable)

Times which she says game players are sexist or misogynistic: zero.

Use of the term ‘rape culture’ (a term I personally don’t like, because I feel it’s overloaded): zero.

Times which she says that all games are problematic: zero. In fact, she frequently makes it clear that she means the opposite:

“Just to be clear, I’m not saying that all games that use the damsel in distress as a plot device are automatically sexist or have no value.”

“This is not to say that women can never die or suffer… To say that women can never die in stories is absurd.  BUt it’s important to consider how women’s death are framed, and to consider why and how they are written.”

Now I’m certainly not arguing that all stories must include completely fearless, hyperindividualistic heroic women who pull themselves up by the bootstraps and never need anything from anyone.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally wanting or needing assistance.”

“Now just to be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the color pink, makeup, bows and high heels, and people of all genders may choose to wear them in the real world, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

Can you enjoy games with some of these tropes?  Of course!

But please keep in mind that it’s both possible – and necessary – to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while being critical by its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”

Times which I said “Seriously, did I just fucking watch 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:

“On a shallow surface level, these vignettes seem to contextualize these women in a negative light. However, these narratives are never about the abused women in question. Instead, (they) are flippantly summoned as sideshow attractions for stories about other things altogether.”

This is pretty much the only topic where she phrased things as anything approaching a call to action to developers – we NEED to do something.  (Most of her content merely catalogs and calls attention to content)

“To be clear, 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 she is doing all this?  Because she believes games are important.

“These games don’t exist in a vacuum. They are an increasingly important and influential part of a larger social and cultural ecosystem.”

Again, 100% not wrong about that.  Major games now have global reach and influence, and so do whatever messages they send.  This is, in fact, why working in the games industry is so exciting to me and hundreds of other game developers.  We’re well past moving out of niche and into being everyone’s life.  That doesn’t mean we gotta stop making video game versions of Reservoir Dogs and Lord of the Rings.  But we can vastly broaden our reach.

Now, I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with everything she says, and in some cases, she glosses over or perhaps doesn’t understand very real development issues solving some real narrative problems.  I could write longer analyses about some of these points, and maybe I will, but here’s an overview:

  1. Because most games have one protagonist.  If that protagonist is male, all female characters will by necessity be pushed to less important roles.  And while we should have more female protagonists, we shouldn’t automatically dismiss those with male leads as having failing grades by happenstance.
  2. Most literary theorists believe strongly that ‘save the loved one’ is  more powerful storytelling than ‘save the world’.  When combined with point 1, this means a lot of damsels as the default plot point, particularly in those without family.
  3. Saying that it’s ‘lazy’ that games use violence to fix problems which might include your possessed girlfriend … well, lets say, a simplification.  Games model physical problem solving better than mental, social or emotional problem solving because of the visceral nature of how control works, and how easy it is to create content.  Also, if your game has a core combat main loop, you are a bad designer and deserve no scooby snacks if your boss fights don’t use those mechanics.
  4. Fat Princess looks kind of awesome.

Are these unsolvable issues?  Of course not.  They do take finesse, but the level in Last of Us where you control Ellie is an excellent example of addressing point one in my list above (show empowered women) while sidestepping the first issue in my list of issues.

But here’s the thing: This is all a conversation that’s worth having.  Designers should listen.  We can choose to incorporate that feedback.  We can choose to ignore that feedback.  Hell, a design team can choose to say, “Fuck you” and do the exact opposite of what she wants, just because they can (although, hey, maybe you could not be a complete douchebag about it).  That is completely their right as artists.  But there is no good reason to attempt to squelch what is a valuable and interesting addition to the discussion.  There’s certainly no harm in an artist hearing the message of a critic.  Lord knows the OTHER side of the spectrum is represented on my game forums.

I welcome criticism.  It makes me a better artist.  Because here’s the secret.  Criticism comes with making art, and it comes from all directions, not just feminists.  If your art isn’t being criticized, that only means that your art is culturally irrelevant.

59 Comments

  1. It’s worth having, if people knew how to make the point without having to fight their own notion of marginalization. There might be some people who wonder why you didn’t spend quite as much time analyzing their rebuttals to Anita’s videos as you did Anita’s videos.

    To which I would reply, that’s what it means to have a blog. You get to choose the topics.

    • “Jack wanted to outlaw the sale of video games. Anita has never advocated using the force of law to regulate video game sales. That’s the difference.”

      What? So Jack Thompson tried to censor games through bureaucratic means and Anita Sarkeesian tries to censor them through social means, and you think Thompson is a threat and Sarkeesian isn’t? Get real dude.

      TV_Expert just backed you into the obvious corner and you’re resorting to an argument of semantics. Not fooling anyone.

      • No, actually, Anita has not advocated censorship of any kind. If you’re suggesting otherwise, you’re plainly wrong and should go back and read what Jack Thompson actually said, and what Anita has actually said.

      • Censorship definition. Read it.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship

        Anita may have a Youtube channel, but she is not a government or ruling authority. She has no power to censor, only critique.

        • Neither was Jack Thompson, but Anita has never actively campaigned or lobbied or built a legal case for censorship of video games, and that’s what Jack did, specifically. That was his whole agenda when it came to video games. He wanted to make it illegal.

          The only association Anita could ever be made to censorship is the tinfoil notion that she and other SJW’s through their criticism would directly change the content of games, universally.

  2. >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.

    Yes, games should show more women capable of strength, agency and power, but here she implies a lot of stuff by the unnecessary, insulting and superlative second part. She implies that:
    – Only women have been subjugated through those roles. No men.
    – Women should never go through those roles

    And by that she says that “It’s OK for men to go through these roles”. Summarizing: If it’s not ok to women, what is ok to fill these roles with?

    >Game designers should be less lazy in reaching for the same, tired stereotypes – or merely xeroxes of male leads – but especially stereotypes showing women as disempowered, and find ways to depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles.

    Yes. More well made characters, thus possibly leading to better games. But why especially women? Why only depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles?

    >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.

    Viscerally? So no negatives reactions against violence towards men? Only women? And here she implies that developers are ‘throwing these scenes in casually’. But what if that supposed scene is there to make the game better?

    >Seriously, all the dead, spread-eagled naked women in games are kind of creepy.

    Most if not all of the dead, spread-eagled women in games are caused by ragdoll physics and are not deliberately put there by developers. Cherry picking. It happens at a higher frequency with men because most of the videogame characters are male and I must remind that ass rape against males is a real deal.

    >all four of the above statements are absolutely, 100% true. As in, its hard to even debate them.

    No, they aren’t. Nothing is exempt of discussion. Nothing *should* be.
    Do you want me to do the same with all other Anita’s points you summarized?

    Extra:
    >it’s important to consider how women’s death are framed, and to consider why and how they are written
    That could be said for every death, and so we can assume that developers do consider them. Or is she implying that women’s deaths should be consider on a different ground?

    • Damion Schubert

      September 16, 2014 at 5:01 pm

      “Most if not all of the dead, spread-eagled women in games are caused by ragdoll physics and are not deliberately put there by developers. “

      This is 100% categorically false. Most of the women that I’m referring to (and the one she shows in her most recent video) are things like headless nude corpses tied to a bed in order to show ‘sexy creepy perversion’ – they were placed there by developers specifically that way. And sure, there are plenty of male corpses in games, but they are rarely nude and/or lightly clothed, and even more rarely in positions that imply sexual assault.

      Only women have been subjugated through those roles. No men.

      Nope. She raises two points: first that these roles have different meanings when they happen to men vs. women. She talks about this in the Damsel video. Secondly, her issue is that women are, in most cases, relegated ONLY to these roles. For example, the problem with hitman isn’t so much that there are strippers, but that there are almost no other female representations in the game. Women are non-players in the dangerous world of Hitman.

      Yes. More well made characters, thus possibly leading to better games. But why especially women? Why only depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles?

      The Ms. Pacman video does a good job of explaining this – feminists call this the Smurfette problem. There are literally hundreds of smurfs, and they display an astonishing variety of different traits and personality quirks. But there is one girl – smurfette. And her personality is being… a stereotypical female. Yes, fewer lazy stereotypes is good across the board, but right now, women and minorities are hit much harder by reinforcing stereotypes, because their representations are relatively few.

      • Then perharps the devs tried to show ‘sexy creepy perversion’. Maybe they tried to say that whoever is behind what happened there is a sick lunatic and you should be afraid of him?

        • Anita also addresses this point in her videos. Again, her conclusion is nuanced—it’s not *necessarily* a problem to use that tactic, but it is *overused*, and in games that combine that with so few contrasting representations of women, it plays into negative stereotypes regardless of developer intent. Pointing to the most surface-level interpretation (“they’re doing it to show the villain is a bad guy!”) is myopic. Each instance doesn’t exist in a vacuum—they exist as one of many instances within a game and within the wider sphere of ALL games (those existing with the yet wider sphere of all media).

      • Perhaps a minor point, but the rarity of apparently sexually assaulted males simultaneously plays more into LGBT issues and perhaps your latter statement.

        Depicting villainous/depraved homosexuals is itself an issue because of the stigma homosexuality already has. Homosexual protagonists, afterall, are more rare than female ones, and having your villain depicted as a homosexual rapist may not help matters (Far Cry 3 has this).

        A perverse female rapist/abuser would certainly be unusual, but arguably a female rapist would not be seen as a great improvement in female characterization either. That is, if you find violence against women objectionable in games, you may not find a female rapist/murderer particularly positive either.

        There are problems with all three scenarios. It’s questionable if flipping the target/perpetrator is a vast improvement. In a way, female victims help skirt the issue of demonizing what is arguably a more oppressed minority in one case.

  3. Your point #3 of truths is actually a problem in itself. When you realize that people percieve voilence against a character differently because said character has a certain gender you should also realize that this feeling is coming from internalized gender roles and is in itself sexist. So saying people should act on that, means you’re actually advising to perpetuate said gender roles and said sexism.
    It’s even showing us that a lot people think voilence against males is acceptable, which it isn’t and shouldn’t be.
    That said, what does casual voilence mean to you? I’d define it as a form of voilence whereas the protagonist and by the extension also the player, don’t need to and don’t give a fuck about. And honestly i don’t see this a lot in current video games for female characters. Most of the time i run across such situations they are used as a device to get me to act or feel in a specific way, which is for me non-casual.
    But maybe i’m just playing too many non character based games or too few mainsteam games to realize that this is a thing.

    Even your point about how some crimes are being just side-quests is for me problematic. As you start discounting other crimes, which are ~100% time shown as sidequests, by it.
    Why do you think do developers need to give special attention to such crimes? Or why you think other crimes don’t need special coverage. Just go ahead and read up on the psychological problems of victims of bruglaries, to see what i mean. To me it seems again as if you and Anita make a special point of voilence against females, when it actually shouldn’t be a special point.
    And don’t get me wrong, i’d love some games trying to explore the psychological impact of some crimes, but i don’t get why you think it’s a special issue with these cases. Especially as there are more robberies and burglaries as there are of these crimes.

    And yes Anita believes games are important.
    In the same way ‘Jack’ Thompson thinks games are important. She’s not a game enthusiast who was offset by today games having not enough female protagnoist, but she’s a gender-studies enthusiast who thinks to reach her goal of a utopian society she’ll need to change games. And you can actually watch a video which is proving that point.
    But that doesn’t invalidate her legitimate critizism. Even though i still think she would be better of telling us how she feels about tropes in general, then trying to make a point about games. And i honestly think writers should themselves go ahead and read a bit more through the tvtropes website.

    The discussion really worth having is actually discussing the influence of nurutre and nature to discern what actually might be a good goal to aim for. And not just sprint ahead to reach parity in distribution of everything, when we actually have signs that there are real biological differences playing into females choosing to do different things than males.
    Utopian ideas often forget about the human nature and therefore paint weird pictures of people having no longer any sort of money or how we’ve become able to percieve every being as full human being. Or how taking children from their parents away to be raised by a city-state institution might miss the point of the importance of partenal bonds.

    But please don’t get me wrong, you’re completly right about us having to accept critizism, even when we disagree with said critizism. And i completly agree that more games with female protagnoists and more diverse characters overall would be nice. Especially because women keep telling us they’d like to be able to play females and would like to have bigger games also catering them.
    But i don’t think you can make a major point of games as medium being bad, when our disparity overall is less than 10%. And i don’t think the whole current discussion is worthless. I honestly think some messages you can find in the whole situation are very good.
    The message i love most is that journalists need to shut the fuck up about specific games not catering to a certain audience. I mean most of us get that [gender], [heritance] gamers might want to have protagonist and that there aren’t enough of such games, but that’s simply no reason to critizise e.g. Gods of War for not being that game.

    p.s.
    When we speak about critique of art, we also need to speak about analyzis of art. And if we take a look at God of War with the crushed nude girl or the horrible dead island bikini statuette, we could also reach the conclusion that the artist beyond that work wanted to challene our perception of holiness of beautiful young women through desecrating/killing them. I guess though that at least in the case of the statuette it was just a semi-dumb PR idea (semi-dumb because of all the free coverage), while i can’t say much about the God of War thing.
    But than again art is a bitch in that the subjectivity of it makes everything and nothing acceptable as art.

    • “But than again art is a bitch in that the subjectivity of it makes everything and nothing acceptable as art.”

      Your gender-specific slur just hit my trigger and now I feel bad.

      • I’m honestly sorry if you really feel bad about that. But i saw no other way to translate what i meant from my first tongue to english.

        • Damion Schubert

          September 17, 2014 at 5:23 am

          Um, that’s just John’s sense of ‘humor’. You grow to understand it after you get to know him a little better.

        • Trap sprung.

          • I just quote myself:
            “[…] if you really […]”. I was quite aware there was a big chance of you trying something i honestly don’t get, as i don’t feel trapped by offering an apology to someone who is oversensitive.

    • Damion Schubert

      September 16, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      It’s usually not that women react negatively to scenes of domestic and sexual violence because they are women. It’s usually because they have *experienced it*, or have helped someone else through the experience. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, then even reading about it can cause memory relapses and panic attacks (thus, the push for trigger warnings, a cause I’m still ambivalent on). It becomes a condition you have to manage for the rest of your life.
      My point (and Anita’s) isn’t that these topics shouldn’t be addressed in games. But as she points out, cut-and-pasting these scenes of attempted rape and domestic violence, in scenes that aren’t even central to the plot, throughout the game as Watchdogs apparently did in order to make the world feel gritty and dangerous – well, that is going to turn off a lot of women. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But it certainly is useful for a designer to keep in mind how a potential market may react to his artistic statement.

      You ask: “Why do you think do developers need to give special attention to such crimes?“
      Because the depiction of these crimes typically shows them as plot devices that just serve to move the player to action, and are immediately forgotten. Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you made a game that involved your girlfriend being raped. Now imagine that, instead of never bringing it up again, she brought it up all the time in future game cutscenes – pulling away from you because she feared intimacy, waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares, etc, etc. You would still have your revenge plot, but the game would give a much greater and nuanced representation of the damage that sexual assault does.

      You say: “she’s a gender-studies enthusiast who thinks to reach her goal of a utopian society she’ll need to change games.“
      Anita is a media critic. She catalog and explores, through a certain lens. Her level of actual power (and her expectations as such) are pretty damned low, compared to other voices in the design process. And this is true of virtually any media critic you can name.

      You say: “But i don’t think you can make a major point of games as medium being bad, when our disparity overall is less than 10%.“
      I don’t know if I’d go that far. I do say that, in general, I’m pushing back against people who bash the whole medium of video games because of a handful of highly visible examples. It’s like saying that all television is hyperviolent- just look at Spartacus! – and ignoring that there are thousands of channels with thousands of shows.

      That being said, it’s completely reasonable to examine certain television shows, particularly ones with broad reach, as well as to look at highly visible trends. Sure, there are plenty of ‘good games’ on the market, and she acknowledges some. But this doesn’t mean that some anti-feminist tropes aren’t not only existent, but incredibly widespread.

      • Thanks for your answer and your thoughts.

        I totally understand that a design should be aware that he might drive away some potential customers by every depicted crime. But again he should also be aware that not including one specific group of people in a certain depiction is drawing a line and actually perpetuating the feeling of them being totally different.

        You wrote:
        “You would still have your revenge plot, but the game would give a much greater and nuanced representation of the damage that sexual assault does.”

        There are quite a few problems, e.g. writers not getting said nuances and said experiences also driving potential customers away. But again, i’d like to see something like that, even though, as someone who experienced something similar, it might impact me a bit more.

        You wrote:
        “Anita is a media critic. She catalog and explores, through a certain lens.”

        She critizises media, so sure, she’s a media critic. Just like Jack Thompson, even if she’s less extrem about it. But again her roots are very important to understand where’s she coming from. And that’s why i point out how she’s not your ‘average’ gaming enthusiast who became a critic.

        You wrote:
        “I do say that, in general, I’m pushing back against people who bash the whole medium of video games because of a handful of highly visible examples.”

        Which is just fair.

        You wrote:
        “That being said, it’s completely reasonable to examine certain television shows, particularly ones with broad reach, as well as to look at highly visible trends.”

        Individual critique is fine. But i think you can’t judge a game by something it doesn’t want to be, or at better said shouldn’t do it too harshly. I’d compare that somewhat to critizising the picture “the Scream” for not being realistic like pictures out of the realism period. Or WoW failing in reproducing the huge interactivity of the world of Ultima Online or from some Muds.

        You wrote:
        “Sure, there are plenty of ‘good games’ on the market, and she acknowledges some. But this doesn’t mean that some anti-feminist tropes aren’t not only existent, but incredibly widespread.”

        I guess you meant tropes which depict women in a bad way and not actually tropes against feminists.
        I’m not denying that. And as said i’d like to see more diverse protagonists ad heroes not only in computer games.

        • I just wanted to chime in that I don’t consider Anita like Jack Thompson because Jack actively advocated for the censorship and removal of certain types of game imagery.

          While I can understand seeing Anita’s videos in a similar way, they’re more about raising awareness than advocating for the removal of anything. Anita has been clear on this, IMO, from the very first video.

          This overlooks that there may be additional variables when comparing violence in games turning people into killers and sexism in games reinforcing pervasive sexist ideas. A fundamental difference in what both are describing, IMO.

          • I’ll admit that i’m quite likely to be a bit overcritical of Anita. Because of some of my experience with people coming from the direction of gender studies e.g. discounting the influence of our dimorphic nature and claiming we need to take very radical steps in reducating people.

            Otherwise i’m quite certain studies who made a point against Jack Thompson often actually also said it was reinforcing behaviour that have been there already.

          • Anita Sarkeesian has never to my knowledge advocated censoring or outlawing *anything*. Jack Thompson openly lobbied for the criminalization of video game sale and purchases.

            As in, that was his stated goal. Anita Sarkeesian points out how women are sometimes depicted as an “other,” less capable, subservient and/or somehow less “human” than male characters, in mass media properties including video games. Jack Thompson would claim openly that “These games don’t just teach skills—they break down the inhibition to kill. We’ve been trained by society and our parents not to kill another person, so the way you break that down is to put a soldier in a VR setting, which will be far more effective in the long run.”

            http://www.jackthompson.org/archives/transcripts.htm

            Pointing out and criticizing how sections of humanity are depicted in mass media can be rebutted or argued against. If you want to do that with Anita’s videos, you should start with what she actually says, not with some extrapolation of what ideal feminist utopia others might imagine she wants.

            If you want to actually do that, you can start by erasing the bullshit comparison of Anita Sarkeesian with Jack Fucking Thompson. You don’t have to like her or her videos or even what she represents, but have some context.

          • @John Henderson
            My comparison was mostly concentrating on their roots and not on how or if they both want to ban certain types of games.
            But please you’re free to go ahead and reread my posts and take a look at the context, because you missed it.
            Also note how i already admitted being quite likely overcritical of Anita.

            I’m dicussing Anitas points already, but i’m not basing my discussion around Anita. Because her videos are neither making a lot of new points, nor are they presented in a good way and a quite a few are not even worth discussing in the way Anita wants to discuss them.
            E.g. i think we should discuss having more female protagonists, because people would like to have them and not because some weakly grounded science thinks scoiety needs this different media for becoming a better society. Because from my experience it’s most of the time better listening to the society than the people who claim who know what would be best for the society, especially when they even admit they’d need to reeducate society.

          • “Also note how i already admitted being quite likely overcritical of Anita.”

            I noticed that.

            “I’m dicussing Anitas points already, but i’m not basing my discussion around Anita. Because her videos are neither making a lot of new points, nor are they presented in a good way and a quite a few are not even worth discussing in the way Anita wants to discuss them.”

            Anita makes her points better than you make yours.

          • “Jack actively advocated for the censorship and removal of certain types of game imagery.”

            So is Anita. That’s the entire point of her videos. She’s not pointing out things she hates about games so they can continue unabated. She’s pointing them out cause she wants them to go away.

            And yes she’s said that.

          • “Jack Thompson would claim openly that “These games don’t just teach skills—they break down the inhibition to kill. ”

            Anita has made that exact same claim.

            http://www.salon.com/2013/10/05/the_legend_of_zelda_is_classist_sexist_and_racist/

            The repeated use of this sexist cliché helps to, as Sarkeesian says, “normalize extremely toxic, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes.”

            So the comparison is valid. She is a female Jack Thompson

          • Techni, that’s a Salon article that Anita did not write. However, the work that Salon quotes does not say anything close to, “games should be censored.” Rather, it points out that the narrative can be viewed a certain way, and if parallels to real-world scenarios can be made, then they’re worth thinking about.

            As has been pointed out, though, THOSE ASSERTIONS ABOUT OCARINA OF TIME WERE NOT ACTUALLY MADE BY ANITA, THEY WERE MADE BY THE SALON ARTICLE AUTHOR, WHO IS NOT ANITA.

            https://medium.com/@stillgray/classist-sexist-and-racist-a-cheap-ploy-for-pageviews-b15667319d67

            If you want to try again, go ahead.

          • But what is the difference about the content of their message?.
            “Wrong Video games have a negative influence on people”. Both say the same thing, which has been proven false many times.

            The only difference is that Jack Thompson WAS a lawyer and Anita isn’t. Pretty much…

            Now that Thompson can’t practice law if he ever gets a youtube channel they would basically be at the same level.

            PS: Is important to note that Jack Thompson wasn’t against ALL video games, only the ones he deemed wrong.

          • Jack wanted to outlaw the sale of video games. Anita has never advocated using the force of law to regulate video game sales. That’s the difference.

        • Here is her Thompson equivalent quote

          Compounding the problem is the widespread belief that, despite all the evidence, exposure to media has no real world impact. While it may be comforting to think we all have a personal force field protecting us from outside influences, this is simply not the case. Scholars sometimes refer to this type of denial as the “third person effect”, which is the tendency for people to believe that they are personally immune to media’s effects even if others may be influenced or manipulated. Paradoxically and somewhat ironically, those who most strongly believe that media is just harmless entertainment are also the ones most likely to uncritically internalize harmful media messages.

          In short, the more you think you cannot be affected, the more likely you are to be affected.

          • This is not equivalent to Jack Thompson in any way, shape or form. Anita Sarkeesian is not advocating that buying or selling games be outlawed, and is not calling them to be changed or censored in any way.

            What she’s saying is, that media messages can be harmful, and if they can be harmful to some, they can be harmful to anyone.

            Her argument in this case is that games may contain imagery that objectifies women, and generally speaking, you shouldn’t apologize for it, because the message and its effects might actually be real.

            You should read more carefully about what she is actually saying and stow the bullshit comparisons to Jack Fucking Thompson.

          • Anita says “we are affected by media, so we should discuss how and encourage developers to present a more balanced view”. Jack Thompson says “we are affected by media, so ban games and sue developers in court.” Not the same.

  4. The thing with Earthworm Jim (the one where the princess is “randomly” killed by a falling cow) is that it’s a parody, a very tongue-in-cheek game where, yes, cows often fall and kill stuff.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zDZ35e2bEc

    I’m not saying the game is clever or anything, but the ending is really just a parody of the usual save-the-damsel tropes.

    Maybe that’s why some people are dismissive of Anita’s work: stuff being presented out of context?

    • Damion Schubert

      September 16, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      She talks explicitly about that topic, Dadidou — the game is trying to subvert the trope, and may even be doing so successfully, but it doesn’t do so in a way that truly addresses the core problem feminists have with the trope – i.e. that the primary female presence in the game is an object to be pursued, one so generic that in this case she’s called ‘princess whoever’ (or something).

      Which is to say, she presents that context fairly, and still criticizes it.

      • Bartendoleus The Third

        September 19, 2014 at 4:33 am

        “Which is to say, she presents that context fairly, and still criticizes it.”

        Suuuuuuuuure. Let me just extract a section of a bigger article that is divided in 3 parts (with several pages each)

        http://gamesided.com/2014/09/08/sarkeesian-truth-part-1-straw-feminist-trojan-horse-censorship/

        http://gamesided.com/2014/09/09/sarkeesian-vs-truth-part-ii-phantom-sources-dixie-kong-double-standards/

        http://gamesided.com/2014/09/10/nsarkeesian-vs-truth-part-iii-impossible-argument-men-koopas/

        Part 3 has this fragment that starts with quotes from her video:


        “In the 1994 platformer Earthworm Jim the woman in peril waiting at the end of the game is officially called “Princess What’s-Her-Name”. A reference meant to humorously acknowledge the fact that many damsel’ed characters in classic era titles were so unimportant that they either remain unnamed or were otherwise entirely unmemorable.

        So the developers of Earthworm Jim noticed that sexist trend, thought it was hilarious and proceeded to make another game in which a woman is completely unimportant. To add injury to insult, when Jim finally reaches Princess-What’s-Her-Name and is preparing to collect his reward, she is randomly killed by a falling cow.[…]

        More often than not the ironic humor is just an excuse used by developers as a way try to and have their cake and eat it too (so to speak). They want to use the trope, but not be held accountable for the inherent negative gender implications that come with it.[…]

        There is a clear difference between sexist parody and parody of sexism. Sexist parody encourages the players to mock and trivialize gender issues while parody of sexism disrupts the status quo and undermines regressive gender conventions.”

        The Earthworm Jim comics beg to differ.
        http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/281/files/2014/09/princessstrong.jpg

        This reaches Suey Park-esque levels of humorlessness and lack of self awareness. Sarkeesian seems to think that because “Princess What’s-Her-Name” is depicted as completely unimportant (so unimportant that she dies at the end), the game is therefore treating women as completely unimportant. Of course, the point of the joke is that it’s funny to have a female character be treated as this unimportant because it’s inherently ridiculous, because the character should be more important than just a “what’s-her-name.” Playing a trope straight can make it look extremely silly — see also this post from the Toast which makes “old fashioned” values look ridiculous by quoting some actual ancient folklore and traditions and behaving as if they’re just old fashioned common sense.
        http://the-toast.net/2014/09/03/call-old-fashioned-must/

        Similarly, Princess What’s-Her-Name isn’t the butt of the joke in Earthworm Jim; the competing games that treat their female protagonists as disposable are. But for Sarkeesian, humor can only achieve anti-sexist ends when it makes men the butt of the joke.
        —–

        That last sentence: “But for Sarkeesian, humor can only achieve anti-sexist ends when it makes men the butt of the joke.” is interesting.

        It explains why its ok for her to approve this fanfic and finding no contradiction or hypocrisy in the act:
        http://femfreq.tumblr.com/post/58161053721/spider-man-recruits-the-help-of-anita-sarkeesian-to

        For those who dont get the context, here is the quick version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7nO9F7okbo&t=5m46s

        • So in other words, someone else criticized Anita’s article, and you’re quoting what someone else wrote.

          You don’t have to agree with Anita. You don’t have to like her videos. No one is saying that.

          Also, your last Youtube link is about Anita addressing the Flash game that is about punching a cartoon version of her in the face. The link before it is about someone writing fanfic involving her and Spider-Man taking on Randy Pitchford because Aliens: Colonial Marines sucked. She says “I kinda like it.”

          I don’t get the context. A:CM sucked for lots of reasons. Anita has no obligation to approve of her own cartoon image being beaten up. Unless you’re genuinely trying to suggest that the game she references is “funny”.

  5. Damion,

    This is a really good summation. Thanks for writing it!

  6. Great post, and almost all of it spot on, but to nitpick regarding point #3 I am unsure if you are aware of what the crime statistics say?

    You do know that men are more than 3 times likely to be murdered than women are (1) and more likely to be victims of violence (2)?

    According to the logic you are proposing, that would mean that video games should mostly show violence against women, since that is less likely to be a trigger given that women are the minority of victims of violence.

    I assume that you do not wish to reach that conclusion, so what this discussion shows is probably rather that we think of violence against men as normal and unexceptional, but that violence against women feels much more important, even though it is less common.

    Would there be a way of discussing point #3 without glossing over violence against men?

    Notes
    1) Homicide victims: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded-homicide/expanded_homicide_data_table_1_murder_victims_by_race_and_sex_2012.xls

    2) Violence victims: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv11.pdf
    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_298904.pdf

  7. Slowly working my way through the videos, thanks for taking the time to summarise them 🙂

    Criticism is difficult to deal with by many because it challenges their own perceptions of how things are. It is so much easier to drown out those criticisms or attempt to silence them than actually reflect on them and see the issue from another view point, or admit that a long held belief is wrong and needs to be modified.

    And of course criticism can focus on many aspects from subjective cultural commentary to the more objective technical aspects.

    I feel those criticisms levelled from a subjective point will always be the harder to deal with as they stem from deeply ingrained cultural stereotypes and wants.
    Objective criticism on the other hand has the luxury of being detached from any of the emotional aspects.

    I think it is essential to uphold both the freedom for developers to make the games they want and the right to comment on those games.

  8. Thing is, the games press has put her on a pedestal and -any- criticism of her viewpoints and/or questioning her lack of awareness of the context these tropes are placed in has been conflated with misogyny (although I guess we can blame the actual misogynists for that last one, huh).
    This makes it impossible to have a conversation about her that involves anything but unilateral praise on anything but your own blog. It’s very silencing.

    This wasn’t mentioned in your overview, but I seem to remember her making some comment regarding the killing of female NPCs in open-world games where “the player is meant to feel aroused by murdering women” or something like that, which is just… no? What? Huh?

  9. In fairness, here.

    Princess Daphne/Dragon’s lair – This game is 31 years old.
    Princess Peach Adventures – Japanese.
    Earthworm Jim (cow killing princess) – This game is 20 years old.
    Pacman/women eating – Japanese.

    None of these can really be held up as examples of contemporary western games.

    Anita has a lot of examples because there are a lot of games. If you’re willing to go find the 25 worst examples of any trope, and you’re willing to look 31 years into the past, you can find quite a bit no matter what you’re looking for.

    A better question than “what are the worst trope examples?” is “what percentage of games express these tropes?”

  10. Damion, I’m going to agree with you, and probably still piss you off. I agree, sexism and over-use of tropes is a conversation that we should have. But Anita should not be part of that conversation, in fact doesn’t really want to be part of it.

    She’s not a games critic pointing out gender issues, she’s a gender studies activist criticizing (not critiquing) games in service of an agenda that has little to do with them. She hits the point of how these “problematic” points are there to “titillate” and “arouse” the “straight male gamer” over and over like a drumbeat (I’ve watched her videos too), making it very clear that she is not engaged in aesthetic critique but moral criticism.

    She doesn’t want to help us make better games, she wants to pick fights in the Culture Wars. And I don’t want to participate in that.

    Now, I will point out that does *not* mean that I think the personal attacks, the outright misogyny, and the threats are in any way justified. They aren’t. They are the actions of the irreducible 1% of assholes, whether you call them “griefers”, “trolls”, whatever, the point is that their actions are not representative of *anyone* besides the actual offenders. By definition they are the acts of the anti-social. They aren’t even representative of most of the people on the other side from Anita on the #gamergate mess.

    I am not saying that Anita is a bad person, I’m saying she’s a bad critic, and as a result her critique is of limited usefulness. The vileness of her opposition doesn’t change that.

    This whole thing is drama bullshit stirred up in the intersection of 4chan, Tumblr, and Twitter, three places I long ago wrote off as of absolutely no value to game design. Nothing about this affair has made me think I was wrong about that.

    • At the very least, this is addressing the phenomenon of Anita Sarkeesian by looking at what she’s actually said and her actual goals. So this is valid, and doesn’t piss me off (I am not Damion) because I never said anyone had to like Anita or her videos.

      But I think Culture Wars are mostly cold, and I think Anita is brave to put herself on the line to say what she thinks. If she’s had a measure of success at stirring the pot, it hasn’t made anything worse for me personally.

      (Though it sure has made some women I know less likely to show bravery or want to talk about gender as it relates to any kind of media or entertainment.)

      • The “Chilling Effects” of the intensity of the slapfight are definitely a problem. I do know women who feel like it’s too dangerous to try for a higher profile in games because of the way that Anita, Zoe, etc., have been treated. There’s some of that the other way, developers that agree with some part of the #gamergate case, but don’t want to be lumped in with the trolls making death threats and obsessing about Zoe Quinn’s personal life and are keeping silent.

        The industry has serious issues:

        1) Quality of life for developers is terrible. They’re paid squat (compared to what they could make in other IT/Graphic Arts/etc. jobs), have no stake in the upside of a successful product, and have no job security (even a successful launch is often accompanied by pink slips).

        2) Game journalism is a joke. Bought and paid for advertorial mixed with irrelevant sermonizing on cultural issues that go far beyond games.

        3) Budgets have gotten so large that everyone is actively risk-averse, leading to 9 figure projects that bring absolutely nothing new to the market but visuals updated for newer hardware.

        4) Asymmetric bargaining positions of studios and publishers combined with the consolidation in publishers means developers who want to make AAA products have to agree to contract terms with no real upside. They can fail, or they can succeed and be squeezed to death so the publisher can take over the IP.

        Except for casting point (1) as a peripheral point of a gender issue, and point (2) as (bullshit drama) scandals involving individuals (rather than a systemic problem), this whole kerfluffle addresses none of these. Yet discussion of any of them is held hostage to first resolving the problem of how to drive either trolls or feminists off the internet/out of the gaming community.

        There’s no win scenario for either side of this mess, it’s just an endless screaming match that distracts everyone.

    • Dave Rickey, comments like yours make me feel bad.
      You need to think about how you talk about this issue. Especially Anita’s place in the conversation: “But Anita should not be part of that conversation”. Well, why the hell not? Have you heard of it being a good idea to get an outside perspective? Saying that she shouldn’t be a part of the conversation is a way of saying that she should keep her mouth shut and that her voice shouldn’t be heard. It doesn’t matter if someone challenges games on gender or race issues – you can always tell them they are ‘not being a games critic’. You can argue until your face turns blue that ‘games aren’t about gender issues’ but that won’t make it true. Almost any perspective on games and other media are valuable, because we learn from them. The argument that she shouldn’t be a part of the conversation is one I can’t accept. Maybe you can tell us who, according to you, should be a part of the conversation?
      It is OK to say “her critique is of limited usefulness”, that is your view and it is valid in that way. The question is what it is useful for. When it comes to improvement of games, her perspective is valuable. She doesn’t need to discuss gameplay, handling or other issues you maybe would see as central – other people do that already. She contributes where her perspective is missing. You can argue that she would be more effective if she would raise these points as well, but… Is there someone else that takes up Anita’s issues about games in a better way, in your opinion?
      You argue that she engages in moral criticism and that “She doesn’t want to help us make better games”. You should listen to your own words and consider if it isn’t helpful to receive some moral criticism in order to create games that are better from an ethical and moral perspective. You can argue that you don’t want games that are better from an ethical standpoint. As long as they are enjoyable, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want improvement in that direction. I enjoy headshots in GTA, Quake or Counterstrike as much as anyone, but why should we limit ourselves to headshots? In the same vein, why should anyone limit their discussion of games, movies or books to only be about aesthetic critique? Moral criticism is sometimes needed, because the ones in the situation itself don’t realize that there is an issue. Take the example of the Stanford Prison Experiment, where Dr. Zimbardo needed an outside view to realize that they needed to stop the experiment. How could he have improved the situation by saying “you shouldn’t be a part of the conversation – you’re not acting like a psychologist”?
      If games have a negative effect on the gamers’ worldview and people find them disturbing… then isn’t it good when someone calls that out and says “we need to change the way we do it”? Just because games are that way NOW, and the world is like it is today doesn’t mean that there is no better way. It doesn’t even mean that the people working on the games agree with the message the game conveys. Sometimes we need a person who says “I’m sorry, but I feel really uncomfortable in this situation, could we please stop doing it this way?” Suppress your immediate defensive reaction of your actions and try to understand the other perspective. Maybe it is valid, and you didn’t realise why until you sat down and played the game from an abused man’s perspective (for example). Of course you don’t have to agree with their agenda or the direction other people want to take, but each perspective makes us understand ourselves more.
      We need more voices, not less, in all areas of media critique.
      Sincerely,
      Charlotte

      • Okay, I can accept that. I don’t find a lot of value in the Feminist Frequency deconstructions because they’re mostly a straightforward Feminist critique. I can do it myself, I’m familiar with the conventions. There are probably developers that aren’t that could find value there.

        Maybe I’m going too far to say she shouldn’t be part of the discussion. Like I said, from where I sit, what she adds over and above the straight deconstruction smacks of moralist judgements on the audience and creators, and I don’t think that is value added. *I* don’t want to have the discussion with her, I don’t think it would be productive.

        • Hi Dave,
          Thank you for the reply. There’s so much animosity on the internet.
          I think it’s fine you don’t want a discussion with her. That’s your right. 🙂
          There’s probably a fine line between moralising and moral critique.

    • “I am not saying that Anita is a bad person, I’m saying she’s a bad critic, and as a result her critique is of limited usefulness. The vileness of her opposition doesn’t change that.”

      Not even when the opposition are her own backers?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kHOn1UsWao

      Or even other Feminists?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDtyrK1butI
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MxqSwzFy5w&feature=youtu.be

      I never understood how the logic behind the “The vileness of her opposition doesn’t change that.” or better known as “If you have enemies then you are doing something right” makes any sense, when you apply it to horrible human beings that DESERVE the hate they got.

      When Kim Jong-il was alive and woke up in the morning knowing that almost everyone hates him, did that fueled and reinforced the idea that he was the good guy who controls the unwashed masses for their own good? Surely if an entire WORLD hates you, then you must be the Messiah at this point!

      Man or woman, if you manipulate innocent people then you are bound to be hated. Period. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhC85L3v8oE&list=UUhi4TtLzwVnMQ5xHwaxWD-g

  11. I suspect the reason that Damion Schubert has been so actively blogging lately is because SWTOR 3.0 is done for the most part so he’s got more free time. So when are we getting that xpack announcement?

  12. For some reason i cannot see my comment i posted days ago. Hell, i didn’t even get a “waiting for approval” message or anything. I will try to just link to a TwitLonger link which will have the same 10K character rebuttal. At least i assume the large comment was what prevented the posting in the first place.

    https://twitter.com/DioWallachia/status/512170542305402880

    • Question: Do you believe that the goal of Anita Sarkeesian’s analyses are about removing any and all perceived inequalities from any and all media that depicts men and women?

      “I never understood how the logic behind the “The vileness of her opposition doesn’t change that.” or better known as “If you have enemies then you are doing something right” makes any sense, when you apply it to horrible human beings that DESERVE the hate they got.”

      I do not believe that people who say things that are disagreeable, deserve hate. They might get it, they might expect it, they might even court it. But hate is dangerous.

      These are just words on the Internet. If any part of #gamergate is a negative reaction to a perceived slight that prevents people from saying what they want in reaction to articles, then it should be acknowledged that hate is a negative reaction. No one should want to foment hate on any part of the Internet that they control.

  13. The problem with Sarkeesian is that in her current, polarising position, any points she makes, whether valid or not, preaches to the choir or makes her opponents dig in harder.

    If Sarkeesian truly wants to make the gaming world a better place, someone else should take her place, and the money she has be spent on this new figure. Simply put, it is diminishing returns to give it all to one person. No matter how rich someone is, there is basically a maximum output of content one person can do. Furthermore, Sarkeesian, while prominent, is in the worst place to convince others from their current, opposing positions.

    • Its unlikely this would work her bullies will cry victory, and the next person will be bullied just as viciuously. The idiots who bully her dont se it gives validity and reiforces the perception shes rigth. They literely hand her free ammo. Idiocy at its finest.

  14. watching this is painfull.But i get the point.

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