Anita Sarkeesian recently announced a Kickstarter project called Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games in which she plans to take a closer look at how women are portrayed in games. Gamers across the internet responded to Sarkeesian with death threats, threats sexual assuault, and slander against both her race and her sex. According to Sarkeesian, there have been numerous attempts to get her promo video labeled as “terrorism” on Youtube so as to have it banned from the site. Her Wikipedia page has been repeatedly vandalized with images with images of hardcore pornography and descriptions of Sarkeesian being sexually objectified herself. All of this for wanting to explore the ways in which videogames portray women. Something tells me her project hit a nerve.
For the record, I agree with John Walker when he says:
The question of sexism in videogames really oughtn’t be a question at all. Videogames are rife with the thickest seam of sexism, and have been since the first had front covers on the cassettes. Not just in the games themselves, but in the culture surrounding it, from the prevalence – and misogynistic reaction to – ‘booth babes’, to the wretched response received in all corners of the internet when people attempt to discuss it. Pretending otherwise is pointless, and responses of being “tired” of the topic are a statement of acceptance.
Thus, I think that a video series like “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” sounds like a worthwhile endeavor and from her promo video, it seems like she wants to help the game industry be a little more self aware. That said, for the sake of argument, let’s just pretend that Sarkeesian’s video series is actually little more than a hit piece designed to undermine videogames as a medium. Even if that were true, why would anyone bother to speak out so vitriolically against it? If that were the case, the simplest solution would be to carefully demonstrate such a bias. This, of course isn’t the first time game enthusiasts across the internet have leveled death threats at women who criticized aspects of the videogame industry. The violent response from gamers across the internet only reinforces the danger of the misogyny in the world of videogames that Sarkeesian intends to investigate.
There seems to be a strong tendency to naval gaze in certain sectors of the gaming community, so much so, in fact that when people who are perceived to be outside the gaming community offer criticism, the immediate response is to silence it. For the record, these threats are not primarily being offered by developers or publishers of misogynistic games, who have the most to lose from such a video series, but rather the fans of said games.
This is a strange phenomenon. Can you imagine book or film enthusiasts threatening a documentarian with death and sexual assault for reporting on sexism in their medium? These fans are not stupid. They understand that most women do not look like Lara Croft and that there is an unhealthy ratio of damsels to dudes in distress in videogames today. By seeking to silence whatever message Sarkeesian would convey, these male gamers are refusing to consider the gendered messages of the games they are consuming. This is troubling. We need to recognize that such silencing and naval gazing represents a very vocal and very active part of our community.
The best way to respond to critics is to hear them out. The beauty of criticism, when heard, is that it has the power to transform things for the better. Perhaps if, instead of attempting to silence people like Sarkeesian, we heard her out, we might learn something about the state of the industry and our place in it. Perhaps we might even learn to share it with others in ways that enrich our lives and theirs.
Truth be told, there are perhaps more people who are supportive than not of Sarkeesian’s project as she has shattered her goal of raising $6,000 worth of pledges with a promised $133,000 of pledged support and counting. So don’t mistake the incessant trolling of Sarkeesian to mean that gamers don’t want to hear what she has to say. Additionally, 47% of all gamers are women and women over the age of 18 are one of the industry’s fastest growing demographics. This makes projects like “Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames” not only important to the health of the industry but also essential to seeing it’s fans fairly represented.