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.