The second installment of Anita Sarkeesian’s much praised Kickstarter project was released yesterday but everything surrounding this project and the videos themselves just seems off
On May 17th 2012, Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstater that wanted to showcase how sexism existed in gaming today, a noble goal to be sure. This project, sexism in gaming and Anita herself all inspire very passionate feelings but after two videos and roughly 40 minutes I can’t see this project going better for anyone who is engaging with it. So much of the events that transpired between Sarkeesian, internet commenters and the gaming press worked to create a perfect storm; the results of which has made everyone seem a little foolish.
It’s very hard to disagree with Anita Sarkeesian these days but not because she is right. Commenter PorcoRosso pointed this out yesterday, but every time Sarkeesian’s videos come up in gaming press there is such hostility between her supporters and detractors, that rational arguments and counterpoints are left by the wayside. I don’t agree with the majority of Sarkeesian’s work and many of the examples she brings up don’t strike me as overtly based in sexism. However I also don’t begrudge Sarkeesian for trying to point something out and she deserves respect just like any other human on the planet. I can even agree that some sexism does exit in gaming I am just trying not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
After watching all of Anita’s video’s on her YouTube channel, sifting through her tumblr and reading her college thesis, I have come to understand Sarkeesian and where she is coming from. I can also confidently state that Sarkeesian is not a bad person; she is just trying to examine and point out sexism in our pop culture. The problem is she is just kind of bad at it. Sarkeesian typically shows evidence and uses examples that only go in service to support a thesis she has already made before researching a topic. She does not consider financial issues, publisher/developer relations and other factors that contribute to story/character decisions. She also closes all comments on her videos for gaming and disables voting which is very off putting to some.
In her second video, it is unsettling that she cited ICO as a title that portrayed the sexist troupe of “Damsel and Distress.” That this game could even be lumped into a sexism reel is so disrespectful of Team Ico it undermines the point she is trying to make. If you have played ICO, you will know that the character Yorda works with ICO as an equal to escape together throughout most of the game and she has mystical powers that ICO does not, is taller than ICO and more mature as ICO is a boy. Yorda even saves ICO’s life at the end of the game, and is no mere damsel. The game also features beautiful environments, great atmosphere and is a truly unique and beautiful experience. Sarkeesian reduced one of the greatest games of the PS2 into another example of sexism, which may be why some are so put off by these videos.
Many defenders of Sarkeesian state that these videos are her own creation and she can do whatever she wants in them, which is true. However, if we agree that Sarkeesian is not being fair and balanced nor using journalist techniques, than why is there so much surprise about the negative reactions to these videos? I want to be clear that the comments Sarkeesian received and displayed on her Kickstarter page where horrible and disgusting. There is no place in gaming or humanity for that kind of behavior. However, those comments shouldn’t be lumped in with the comments of others who are just angry because they feel like she is attacking something they love.
Discussion of sexism in gaming (or any other medium) is a very serious issue because it affects both genders. Women don't want to be portrayed poorly or reduced to sex objects and Men don't want labeled as misogynist pigs. Sexism is bad, everyone can agree to that and no one wants to be accused of it or have it applied to them. When tensions start at such an elevated height, a certain level of tact is required when trying to talk about them on a larger forum. To gamers, Sarkeesian displays all the tact of an uninvited construction crew coming in your living room at 5:30 in the morning and Jackhammering. In her videos, Sarkeesian causally brings up very controversial ideas of "Rape Culture" and gaming’s desire to kill woman with the underline tone is that anyone who enjoys these games is passively agreeing to and supporting this treatment of woman.
Another thing I have seen many supporters bring up is “Why is it so wrong that Anita bring up Sexism so we can talk about it.” To that, I would say there is nothing wrong with her bringing up these topics, but the way in which Sarkeesian is going about it will inevitably make some people angry. Docseuss wrote a great piece yesterday that tapped why people are so upset when sexism is brought up in video games.
Essentially, when someone participates in something, whether through time, action, money, or some other resource, it becomes a part of their identity, a part of themselves. As such, they become more likely to defend it, doubly so if they really like it
This is not to say Sarkeesian is “asking for” those horrid comments she received, those are just trash. I am just trying to say that when you’re placing pretty hard accusation on something people love and feel is a part of themselves, people are going to feel hurt. Perhaps Sarkeesian is equally hurt from the sexism that she sees in gaming and doesn’t care about tact but again, we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that people were upset.
That brings me to the very disappointing press that the gaming media has given Sarkeesian. I don’t mind that pretty much every gaming site in existence wrote an article showcasing Sarkeesian Kickstater. What I have a problem with, was the gaming presses reaction to those nasty comments Sarkeesian received. Almost every single outlet saw those horrid comments and someone made a giant logic leap that this is how the majority of gamers felt in response to sexism in gaming. Stephen Totilo, Patrick Klepek, Cliff Bleszniski and many other all point to disgusting comments as proof that gamers are typically sexist. When did everyone suddenly think that YouTube comments and random internet assholes were enough evidence to decree the viewpoints of any group?
YouTube most likely always produces garbage in the commenting system and the internet is notorious for generating crap. Least we forget Kotaku routinely runs articles on how funny and stupid comments from the BioShock videos where or the GTA trailers. Remember John Scalzi and how upset gamers where on his article Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is. Well, Scalzi himself saw some pretty horrible comments on Kotaku but urged us to have some perspective:
Shorter version: Don’t freak out at the jackasses in the comments. They’re not representative of the whole crowd. They’re just loud. Outside of that tiny minority, there are lots of other people, many of them straight white males, reading without comment. Some of them are probably coming away from the piece thinking in whole new ways about the issues raised in the pieces. Which is not a bad thing
Except when it comes to Sarkeesian, the gaming press did freak out. They helped changed the conversation from: “Are video games sexists and do they have misogynist troupes?” To: “Video games are sexists, gamers are misogynist and the gaming community has a problem with sexism!” The gaming media is running a giant game of guilt by association. By running articles and putting a spot light on these nasty comments, perceptually they were not outliers anymore; they were the voice of the community. How in a span of 20 years did the stigmata of gamers go from "nerds who live in their parents basements" go to "every white male gamer is a sexist, misogynist asshole"?
Yes, Sarkeesian had to deal with unsettling comments but let’s not forget that she raised $158,922 dollars (many of that came directly from gamers) to explore sexism in gaming. Shouldn't the takeaway from that is there are many more supports than detractors of her cause? Sarkeesian stated that she had received “hundreds” of harassment examples in her posting but she has 6,968 backers of her Kickstarter. The majority of gamers out there are supporters, so when the gaming press continues this narrative that we are sexist, its problematic.
Lastly, the gaming press is not even addressing sexism. They are posting Sarkeesian’s videos, championed as fact and trashing the gaming community for its response. However, I have yet to see one article in the gaming press that is actively critical of Sarkeesian’s work and it’s not like there is nothing to criticize. Sarkeesian is making some pretty enormous claims in her video about how dangerous these troupes are and warns what the results of these games could be, yet no one from the gaming press is challenging these view in anyway.
Look at how this very site trashed Katie Couric for her uneducated and research viewpoint on video games. Kotaku ran four articles about “Couric-Gate” calling her one episode “one-sided, fear-mongering”, encouraged gamers to tweet at her with challenging viewpoints and did a victory lap when she offered a mea culpa. Where is that for Sarkeesian’s work? Couric ran one 40 minute episode on gaming; Sarkeesian plans to run 13 parts each over 60 minutes in length making just as grandiose claims of the ramifications of gaming. Where is the analysis in the gaming media?
What is so upsetting about all of this is that it limits the discussion that we should be having. Where does Sexism truly exist in gaming, how can we make it better. We can leave out the sensationalism, really research what we are talking about and really try and learn how the other side feels. Now there is an article I would like to read.
DanimalCart’s Soapbox: 05/29/13