Anita Sarkeesian is Helping Usher In Next Wave of Games, Criticism

Games and games criticism are getting better, and if you want to see one thing that’s seriously helping both, go watch Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” videos.

Despite an enormous amount of ire focused on Sarkeesian and the work of her colleagues at “Feminist Frequency,” there is a lot of good to be associated with their video game-focused YouTube video series. It’s shedding a very clear, bright light on shortcomings in games as they relate to the depictions of women, and it’s starting a lot of important conversations as very smart people discuss and criticize the videos and the games discussed within them.

And yet, the YouTube series continues to draw a constant, consistent, ridiculous torrent of death threats and awful comments lobbed at Sarkeesian and the series’ enormously successful Kickstarter (which found itself so overwhelmingly funded precisely because of those awful commenters).

Those reactions are ridiculous. In fact, Sarkeesian’s work on “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” is hugely important to the advancement of both games themselves, and our ability to write and talk about games. Most people (men, specifically) who want to defend Grand Theft Auto V’s strip clubs or Fable 3′s brothel (to take examples from the latest “Tropes” episode) are missing the forest for the trees: Sarkeesian is providing gaming as a whole with a broad look at itself and how it lazily portrays women, and she’s giving all of us the tools, and some good reasons, to think more deeply and more interestingly about games.

I know, this is deeply obvious to many, many people, especially those who see games’ depictions of women as woefully flawed and who find many games hard to relate to because of them. Still, it seems this needs to be said aloud a little more often. There’s a subset within the gaming community that doesn’t quite seem to get it: Each video’s critical look at overwhelmingly pervasive tropes serves a powerful educational purpose if you’re uninitiated. One would think that would be pretty self-evident.

For anyone who’s taken a class on media­ and advertising portrayals of women, or really just about any introductory look at feminism of any sort, a lot of what appears in “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” is fairly rudimentary. It’s not like Sarkeesian is the first to point out how damsels work, or to explain the idea of portraying women as being a compendium of body parts for the enjoyment of men, rather than as people. These are things people have been talking about and analyzing in media for a long time, and it’s about time games take a serious, disinterested, and academic look at themselves.

Each video’s critical look at overwhelmingly pervasive tropes serves a powerful educational purpose if you’re uninitiated.

“Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” does just that, and if nothing else, it should shock most players who don’t think about this stuff when it puts together the sheer volume of examples it does as it explains each of its anti-women issues. The stupid number of portrayals of women as sex objects, damsels in distress, and other non-actual-people game characters is, frankly appalling, for a lot of reasons.

First and foremost, all those examples laid out in succession gives you a pretty good idea that games are terrible about portraying women, which plain sucks when nearly half the people playing games are women — but just because you might not be a woman doesn’t mean you don’t have a stake in how they’re portrayed. So many rants against Sarkeesian’s videos seem content to argue that things don’t need to change because men are the audience for video games, so who cares (we also know that claim that only dudes play games to be a false premise anyway). But even if you’re a misogynist jerk who sees no problem with half the human race being portrayed in games as sex dolls and ineffectual prizes, you ought to be annoyed at the number of lazy game developers who seemingly can’t be bothered to come up with new, compelling stories to push you through a game.

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30 Comments on Anita Sarkeesian is Helping Usher In Next Wave of Games, Criticism

Aedelric

On July 22, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Must be a slow day, Phil is on one of his feminism rants again.

Mike

On July 22, 2014 at 5:20 pm

I wonder what she is doing with all the money she got from her kickstarter, because it CERTAINLY doesn’t show in the quality of the work she has put out since then. I must admit I’m a little confused on the issues with women’s portrayal in strip clubs and brothels. I have gone to both and they are accurate in the portrayal of the women there. Also, there have been rebuttals to her videos by plenty of men AND women who use logic based arguments instead of the ranty frothings of the true raging sexist. I say “true” since anyone who disagrees with her is often painted as a sexist (like if you disagree with some of Obama’s policies, you must naturally be a racist). I don’t have a problem with the damsel in distress “trope” since it has been a fixture of literature since time immemorial. I don’t have a problem with brothels, or strip clubs, or prostitutes because those things have always existed in real life, and they always will exist, so why be disingenuous and not show them? You say she can open the door to new ways of playing games but guess what, we’ve seen this happen in other media as well, and it often doesn’t work. Like in comics, people say they want new stories and characters, but at the end of the day, all people REALLY want is to see Batman punch some guy.

AxΣtwin

On July 22, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Phil, I CANNOT believe you are defending this bile. Anita is so clearly uninformed about the topic in which she’s talking about, only someone that is so clearly blind couldn’t see that. She is everything that is WRONG with defending feminism within the gaming industry.

Within the first minute and a half of any of her videos (and yes, I’ve watched them in the past) it is so completely obvious she only has a general working knowledge of the material she’s talking about because she’s never actually played any of them. That’s like giving a full fledged review of a game when you’ve only played a demo or have seen the E3 promotional videos. Then still expecting people to take you seriously.

Over the years Phil, you and I have never really seen eye to eye on things. However, I’ve atleast given you enough respect to take your articles and your opinions seriously. I’ve never discounted your opinion even though I tend to disagree with most of them. That is more respect than I tend to give most gaming “journalists”. However, this article and you defending this tripe. This woman (who probably spells it womin or wymin (plural), yeah it’s a real thing, look it up) has no idea about what she’s talking about and you’re defending her. That makes me question your level of professionalism and more importantly, the amount of professional respect I used to have for you.

rickshaw

On July 23, 2014 at 1:31 am

She’s got to be bored..

Aedelric

On July 23, 2014 at 2:09 am

To be honest I never heard of this Sharkeesian fellow before, but after reading some of the replies I had to go find out.

My conclusion, I agree with everything AxΣtwin said.

I am all for equality in the gaming industry, games themselves do not require it, just like a book or painting the subject matter is completely dependent of those that work on it, it is their artistic vision, be it sexist or not. But the industry, those that works on games should strive for equality. unfortunately this Sharkeesian womin does seem to embody all that is wrong with feminism.

I will point out one thing that AxΣtwin said which I do not entirely agree with;

“That makes me question your level of professionalism and more importantly, the amount of professional respect I used to have for you.”

I never had any respect for you as a reporter long before this piece Phil, you are probably one of the least professional on this site by a wide margin. Try making less opinion pieces and not pushing your personal agendas quite so hard, your feminism articles are becoming a running joke, that should tell you something.

AxΣtwin

On July 23, 2014 at 2:52 am

Ouch, damn man that’s cold.

jesse

On July 23, 2014 at 3:12 am

Might I ask you watch
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QJeX6F-Q63I
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WuRSaLZidWI

bob

On July 23, 2014 at 4:07 am

oh look another video from a con artist

Geoff

On July 23, 2014 at 5:02 am

Anita Sarkeesian is, and always has been, an attention-seeking misandrist without a single original thought in her prejudiced brain. No more, no less. Shame the blinkered liberal guilt-trippers at this site can’t see that.

Shame, it had been a good few weeks since you last posted any of this half-baked political commentary horse crap. I almost started to think the staff were more interested in discussing games than forcing their ideology down our throats.

SweetPea

On July 23, 2014 at 5:04 am

I shouldn’t have wasted the time it took to read this article. Phil, just look at the second video jesse posted.
Watch it at least halfway through. That’s Anita Sarkeesian for you. That’s the “award winning” woman you’re defending.

I have to agree with the others here, the amount of respect I had for you just got decreased, by a lot. The next time you rant about the topic again, I probably won’t even read it, it’s a waste of time.

Kratoes

On July 23, 2014 at 5:34 am

And with that, Phil Hornshaw’s depleting credibility as a professional journalist – videogame or otherwise – finally vanished for good. There’s no turning back now, this is worse than Angry Joe defending her because at least Joe made the point of admitting she was full of it but said it was still her right to say these things and criticised those who had made personal attacks and threats towards her and other women (which I agree with completely, if only because such childish actions just allows idiots like Sarkeesian to exploit it as a vindication for their actions). But for you, Phil, to actually try to promote her as a legitimate mouthpiece shows just how out of touch you’ve become. There is no longer any research or thought that goes into your rants, they are now nothing more than directionless bile that add absolutely nothing new each time. And for you to attempt to use an appeal to authority by calling her “award-winning” is laughable, you should have known a lot better and the fact you didn’t has destroyed your standing permanently. Even otherwise balanced contributors like Aedelric, AxΣtwin and SweetPea have had enough now.

Do the honourable thing and leave, and take Stew Shearer and Phil Owen with you, before you eventually send the entire site into an irreversible nosedive.

Pat

On July 23, 2014 at 6:13 am

Two years ago, when basically every other mainstream publication was slamming gamers for criticising the ending to Mass Effect 3, calling them uninformed and entitled children and using straw man arguments while ignoring a vast majority of what was actually being said, GameFront was moreorless the only site with any reputation that actually stood by the fans. Phil Hornshaw and Ross Lincoln posted what remains one of my favourite articles on anything relating to games, in which they took the time to look at the five biggest complaints and used objective scrutiny as well as examples of press statements and pre-established in-game lore in order to make their point. While the rest of the industry was treating their audience like a bunch of stupid bratty idiots and fawning all over BioWare based on nothing more than their name value compared to the unwashed anonymous neckbeard masses (in their minds) GameFront gave us all a voice. It was a hugely liberating thing to see and I will always be grateful for it.

It therefore breaks my heart to see the exact same writers of that great article, who were so professional and level-headed in their treatment of that controversy while all others seemed to be losing their minds, make the exact same mistakes when it comes to the increasingly tiresome deluge of table-thumping agenda-driven leftist nonsense that has now become their legacy. Straw man points, appeals to emotion, emphasis on the arbitrary prestige of those they’re endorsing instead of on the quality of their arguments, and lazily writing off often completely valid rebuttals as “anonymous trolls” (Lincoln’s own words) and generally talking down to anyone who takes issue with what they have to say. Pushing a hive-mind viewpoint while not allowing any other ideas to come through.

These were the exact same things the rest of the media did with Mass Effect 3, and that GameFront so courageously took a stand against. It sickens me that articles such as these show you up to be no better than the foaming elitist tossers that we rejected in 2012. And every time you post one of these fluff pieces, and every time you attack your readers – whether directly or with condescending rhetoric – the reputation of your journalism deteriorates, including your ME3 coverage. How can I take it seriously when nearly everything you’ve posted since has been just as hackish and unprofessional as those other outlets were back then?

If you want to counter bull, the answer is not even more bull. Please, Phil, get a grip already.

AxΣtwin

On July 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

One more thing I want to say.

I’m not sure which video it’s in, but at one point Anita says the reason Princess Peach has never been a playable character in any Mario game is because we (by “we” I mean men) want to teach the future generation of male gamers that females are incapable of doing anything for themselves.

That goes beyond the scope of the rough around the edges message you’re trying to convey here. That is ignorance on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. That is just one example of the message you’re trying to spread.

Just because she’s had a successful Kickstarter doesn’t mean she’s right. It just means that when someone starts using really big words on Youtube, the uneducated masses will just assume she’s correct.

Dylan

On July 23, 2014 at 8:24 am

Since jesse’s already posted two links that perfectly demonstrate why Phil needs to get his head out of his rear end, here’s another one that might be deemed relevant.

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

Clearly Phil never heard this when he was growing up and nor did many of the other GameFront writers, or in fact Anita herself. Diluting your output and repeating the same old e ad infinitum does not make your point more important, it makes your audience less interested. The saddest part is that there was another article posted just after this one that was discussing the pay gap between male and female games industry employees, which may otherwise have been a pretty decent chance to open a strong and mature debate on the gender balance, but I just don’t care anymore because Phil has run this into the ground for too long and made it hard to tell which stories are real and which ones are tabloidesque sensationalism.

Not to mention, there’s not a single female member on GameFront’s staff, unless you count occasional contributor Catherine Cai who – predictably – does not spout the same level of white knighting feminist wank that the male writers do. I could take your obsession with gender parity a lot more seriously if you attempted to practice what you preach yourselves, but you’ve instead allowed the site to become an echo chamber of neoliberal circle jerking. It doesn’t make for interesting discussion and it certainly doesn’t make for good games journalism.

Look at the comments, Phil. We’ve had enough and we will eventually vote with our feet if you don’t start responding to demand instead of pretending the problem is on our end.

Nick

On July 23, 2014 at 9:31 am

Hahahaha. This comment section must be what Freud envisioned when he came up with castration anxiety.

AxΣtwin

On July 23, 2014 at 10:16 am

@ Nick – Castration anxiety? Hardly. When you’re calling for what is essentially a paradigm shift, you better know what that paradigm is all about beforehand. Anita has repeatedly demonstrated she doesn’t, therefore she has no place trying to speak for those that are feeling oppressed.

Vicky

On July 23, 2014 at 10:37 am

You dodged all the legitimate criticism of her, and just mentioned ‘death threats’.

Lets see shall we.

1. Stealing Lets Play content from other Youtubers (she bought all those games and didn’t play them)
2. Claimed 3 years ago she doesn’t like or play games
3. Has made 4 videos with no quality increase from her prior videos after receiving 160k in donations
4. Took 2 years to get charity status for ‘Feminist Frequency’ now we have no idea where the money is.

This is all ignoring all the terrible, contradictory videos she makes, with her blurred ideology.

We may need better portrayals of women in video games, we certainly do not need Anita Sarkeesian the scam artist.

GazH

On July 23, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Is this a joke? This is a joke right. Right? Because surely nobody can take the drivel that woman was spewing as serious. I’ve never heard of her until now, but that video was more than enough for me to know she’s not championing anything but the level of ridiculous that these people go to to try and win an argument.

I was quite happily listening to what she had to say until she got to that part about Hitman, where we’re supposed to be getting some sort of sexual arousal out of killing these two women and rearranging their bodies into humiliating positions. Um. Is she playing the same game as I was? Because the whole point is to avoid that sort of thing. You’d have to be pretty sick to be getting sexually aroused at being some sort of perverted hitman who stops mid-contract to move some bodies around into weird positions.

Just like.. wha’? Her whole argument just crumbled after that, everything she had said was tainted by the fact that this is just total trash to try and push an agenda. That’s 30 minutes I’ll never get back. Thanks Gamefront.

thedog

On July 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Sorry nick, but you’re the only one here with no balls. Heck, even Anita has more than you. I believe that’s your picture under wikipedias definition of eunuch.

Tony

On July 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Phil should change his name to Phail. It’s bad enough that Anita doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about and makes no attempt to do any research, but when a paid journalist does the same thing out of pure blind ideology it makes the rest of the site look like utter garbage. The worst part? He’s still convinced he’s somehow in the right and everyone else is wrong, or doesn’t understand his message, when it’s his message that’s completely backwards and devoid of anything worth analysing, not to mention it hasn’t evolved in any way.

I’m glad to see I’m not the only regular reader getting fed up of this man’s flaccid, PC guff.

Dantes

On July 23, 2014 at 9:37 pm

@Pat My thoughts exactly. Well said.

@Phil You’re an idiot.

@Nick You’re an even bigger idiot.

Jim Chong

On July 24, 2014 at 12:33 am

“Games and game criticism are getting better, and if you want to see something that is seriously helping both…”

…look at this self-serving dogmatist whose views are discredited for not having any factual basis and being entirely down to a pre-existing prejudiced belief system.

If you honestly think this is a step forward in games criticism, you have no place in the world of professional games criticism. You are clearly blinded by your well-known cultural marxism which, as Aedelric pointed out, has become a running joke in your ‘work.’

Jay

On July 24, 2014 at 2:01 am

I’m a male and identify as a feminist. I recognize the daily objectification in media of females and do believe that there is distance that needs to be covered to. I practice my beliefs enough to feel uncomfortable when i’m in a strip club.

But, this video, her script, and the exaggeration she uses in her claims are ludicrous. She is not helping people understand anything. She is trying to make people angry.

AxΣtwin

On July 24, 2014 at 11:12 am

This article may or may not be on the second page by this time tomorrow, so I have one last thing I want to say.

Phil, the reason you are losing “journalist credibility” here is NOT because your article isn’t titled “Reasons you should hate Anita Sarkeesian”. But because the woman herself has no credibility. She lies and passes misinformation off as fact. She uses hyperbole and exaggerates minute details of specific aspects of a game, completely disregarding the context just so it seems a hundred times worse than it really is. These are all things that would get any self-respected journalist not only fired but blacklisted if they were caught doing. You telling us she is furthering the way we criticize games only makes yourself look bad given the crimes she’s guilty of.

For those scratching their heads wondering where this is coming from, check out Phil’s twitter. He left a response on there because for whatever reason (I won’t descend to the level of personal attacks) he thought that was the better place to respond than in the comment section.

DasItMAne

On July 24, 2014 at 11:45 am

Anita is plain and simple

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9_MVPq1SJY watch this video

SweetPea

On July 24, 2014 at 12:24 pm

That’s pretty low, Phil. You know exactly why your journalistic credibility is questioned, so how about you write a proper comment detailing why you think we’re wrong, or, if you can’t, admit that you were wrong about her?
Going to twitter and complaining about us, as if we were just a bunch of idiots who want to hate on Anita Sarkeesian is easier, right?

Jesse

On July 25, 2014 at 1:31 am

Cant you just youtube or google her for 5 seconds
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixhr8mjy1fs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_1033688773&feature=iv&src_vid=ixhr8mjy1fs&v=zQYiSTPhz4M

lol

On July 25, 2014 at 3:57 am

You have to honestly wonder if Phil is retarded. Clearly he’s delusional and think we’re idiots if he expects us to support him on this.

Aedelric

On July 25, 2014 at 5:19 am

The fact is Phil used twitter to reply because a reply here (Which is where he would usually respond) would only fan the flames of anger towards him. He is obviously trying to keep his head down and let things blow over, his behavior does not surprise me. The problem for him is that the damage is already done. I agree with feminist views, I believe in equality for everyone. But I cant abide Phil’s constant stream of poorly researched articles and this latest one is a shining example.

Anita herself is not really worth the effort to get annoyed about. Her videos speak for themselves, they appallingly misinformed and an obvious attempt to get people riled up to get more views.

Personally I agree with feminist views, I believe in equality for everyone. But I can in no way support Phil or Anita as I firmly believe both do more harm than good.

Sigh

On July 25, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Oh boy.

It’s been well deconstructed in the comments already but I just had to add some additional words, for the sake of my soul as much as anything else. Can’t let this slide.

This article shows the dangers of what I call, ‘Banner support’. You agree with Anita’s endgoals so you either ignore all criticism of her methods or assume said criticism is coming from a sexist place.

I am a feminist but simply because I broadly agree with Anita’s cause does not mean I will excuse sloppy research, dodgy crowdfunding issues and a distorted view of gaming. There are oodles of better thought out critiques of sexism in gaming available, ones made by people who actually know what they are talking about.

Puzzlingly, because they have not asked for money and then put it to no discernible extra use, because they respect and participate in the community they are talking about, they do not seem to draw quite the same level of abuse. Funny that, eh?

They also don’t tend to chuck about terms like sexism and misogyny interchangeably like they are the same thing, or display levels of cognitive bias that leap off the charts. For example:

i forget which Anita video it was, but it included the bit in the Darkness where a character’s wife is killed, the bad guy saying “And now I take from you” Anita is implying that the female character is seen as simply a possession.

1. This might be the view of the Bad guy, but it does not necessarily reflect the view of the developers.
2. By take, he might not simply be referring in a physical sense. He is talking about taking the most dear, precious emotional attachment the character has away forever. This gives the moment it’s emotional heft. As misrepresented by Anita, it comes off as a cheap motivator.

it’s either a deliberate misrepresentation to provoke, or its an example of someone digging for gold on a beach while holding a metal detector in one hand and scattering gold coins with the other. Cognitive bias; we only see what we want to.

Why is this more than nit picking? Because if one can simply put media commentator in front of one’s name and say any old lot of poorly thought out, sketchy word-dreck then we will end up with poor arguments in FAVOUR OF CHANGE.

How frustrating do you think it might be for someone who actually cares, cares enough to hold their view in constant 4:1 against conversations (whether on online or IRL) to hear someone go “Yeah, but what about Anita…” She is discrediting the whole idea of inclusiveness within gaming.

Anita is shining a light on a topic for the ill-informed people say? Yes, but the light is defective. It blinks on and off and only lights up portions of the room. It doesn’t tell the whole story and it narrows the conversation.

Even if none of this registers, consider this: is Anita beyond criticism? Are you Phil? Do the means justify the ends?

Journalism, the kind that makes a difference, the kind that matters, is what we need in gaming. Not rally-round support for a false idol. I would like to say more but you have left me tired, angry and melancholic about the state of our industry.

But I live in hope.