In case you haven’t heard, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist culture critic, was recently scheduled to talk at Utah State University. Unfortunately, some douchenozzle out there decided to threaten to shoot the entire place up, and due to Utah’s carry conceal laws, Utah State can’t prevent people from carrying weapons into a speech (nice law, guys).
If you don’t know, Sarkeesian got e-famous because she started a Kickstarter campaign to examine sexism tropes in video games, and, predictably, neckbeards on the Internet lost their shit and started threatening her, calling her all kinds of insane shit, etc. You’ll never go broke betting on people to act like assholes on the Internet.
I consider myself a gamer. I love video games. My first system was an Atari 2600. I’ve bought virtually every generation of game system there is. I’ve gone from Atari to Nintendo to Sega to Nintendo to Sega to Sony to Microsoft to Sony. I love video games.
But let’s face the facts: we have a serious sexism problem in video games.
Once Marginal, Now Powerful
Part of the problem is the culture if gamers. Video games have not always been a multibillion dollar industry. It attracted people who felt marginalized by society. People who weren’t popular or socially gregarious.
This might shock you, but many of these people were dudes, and they were not super successful with the ladies. This might further surprise you, but continued rejection tends to lead towards bitterness.
In fact, it’s something I’ve experienced personally. When I was overweight, I was constantly rejected by women. Indeed, I deserved to be. The women I sought took care of themselves; I did not. They were confident and charming; I was not. (I know, I know, hard to believe.)
But when you’re stuck in that cycle of rejection, you start to feel malice towards the world; and worse yet, you start to blame women. Seeds of misogyny are surprisingly easy to plant.
When you’re part of a subculture, you suddenly identify with someone. You feel like part of a club.
And when Sarkseesian decided to shine a light on some of the darker aspects of that club, these people felt attacked. Their club had been invaded by an outsider who just didn’t understand. She wasn’t one of them. And the anonymity of the Internet is the perfect place to let the most vicious parts of us out.
Maybe she isn’t one of us. But that doesn’t make her wrong, either. And it sure as shit doesn’t justify threatening someone.
After all, you’re only making us all look like assholes. So thanks for that.
Of Course Video Games are Sexist
One of the biggest pushbacks you hear from gamers is, “Well what about X game, where Y is the female protaganist?”
Indeed, there are counter-examples. But we need to accept that we live in a world where you can buy games with options to decide how jiggly womens’ boobs should be. It’s not exactly a step in the “women are people” direction, now is it.
Granted, part of it is just overall cultural tropes. The “hero saves a damsel in distress” notion was hardly invented by video games. But we do need to be careful that we do not simply continue in the direction of presenting women as either helpless victims or purely sexual objects.
One of Sarkseesian’s biggest criticisms is about games like GTA V where you can kill prostitutes or other sexualized women and the game rewards you with money. This is a bit of a deceptive argument, because the truth is, everybody you kill in GTA V drops money. Man, woman, whatever. She never states this, and merely implies the game encourages you to kill women.
There is a (possibly) nefarious idea here that video games just treat humans as disposable objects, but that’s neither here nor there. Unfortunately, Sarkeesian is happy to simply acknowledge the existence of these things without offering an alternative.
For instance, in GTA games, you can kill anybody, right? And part of her problem is that the men are overly sexualized while the women are not. Fair point. But prostitutes do exist in the world, and GTA is attempting to simulate the world, in a way. So do we just… erase them from existence? In a game about crime and gangsters?
Unfortunately, problems like this have more questions than answers.
We Don’t Encourage Women to Game, Either.
One of the worst things I’ve noticed is the harassment most female gamers have to go through. Hell, if a girl even likes football, guys tend to quiz her as if she’s not a “real” fan. Video games are even worse.
I’m sorry, but women can be gamers, too. They don’t have to prove shit to you. They don’t need to tits or gtfo. Everybody has the right to enjoy this shit. So get over yourself and leave people the fuck alone.
If a girl says she games, it suddenly turns into a referendum on her. What games do you play? How good are you? It’s fucking nonsense. You’d think for a group of marginalized people, we’d stop being such collective assholes. But nope.
Personally I wish more women played video games and weren’t discouraged from doing so. Heck, the girl I’m currently dating plays Diablo 3 with me and it’s fucking amazing. It’s nice to be able to share something you love with someone you spend so much time with. I don’t want those worlds to be exclusive.
(As long as she doesn’t fuck with my Monk obviously).
Criticism Flawed.. but Ultimately True.
At the end of the day, Sarkseesian and other feminist gaming critics do make some deceptive arguments and, perhaps, overplay the threats made to them — this is the Internet, after all. I mean, if you’ve ever gotten into an argument, someone has threatened to rape and kill your whole family. People are pricks.
But that doesn’t make it okay. Especially because you have to realize that many women do not feel safe in the world as it is. It might be “normal” to threaten people on the Internet, but it shouldn’t be.
We need to stop calling everybody who criticizes gaming a huge bitch and accept that our medium is flawed. And work on some of the things. Of course, women need to help, too. Since most developers are male, they’re going to make games from their perspective. That means more female developers. Programmers.
For the love of god, I went to Engineering School — please, more women would be great.
But that’s a whole different problem.
Today, we need to accept that some of Sarkseesian’s criticisms are absolutely valid and take a long look in the mirror and think about how we present women in video games. I’m probably not going to stop playing GTA V.
But it’s worth listening to, thinking about, and talking about. Respectfully.