Lately, I’ve been mulling over the controversy over the Kickstarter project entitled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” by Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is known for her Youtube channel, where she discusses and highlights issues with the portrayal of gender roles in the media. I’ve a very mixed opinion of Feminist Frequency as it brings up some topics I agree with, some I’ve never thought about before and others where I outright disagree altogether. With her latest project, Sarkeesian intends to study and highlight the tropes in which women are represented in video games.
Now, she hasn’t even started her project yet, but here is just a fraction of the backlash she’s getting for just talking about starting this project. Enraged yet? Ok, good. Let’s just put aside for a second the hate, death and rape threats, name calling, and from what I can make out, the curious notion that Sarkeesian has just waged some sort of gender war. What piqued my interest most was the “Oh yeah? Well guys are stereotyped in video games too!” rebuttal. Now, it’s fair to say that hyper-muscular male characters and hyper-sexualised female characters don’t really give off the same vibe as each other, i.e. one is an emphasis on power, the other an emphasis on sex.
But let’s humor these concern trolls for a moment. Let’s pretend that hyper-muscular male characters reflected negatively on the portrayal of men on video games or were indeed designed solely to titillate young women; why is everyone ok with that? Why is there such a defeatist attitude when it comes to such problems with video games? Many of the commenters exclaim that this is just how things are and we should just deal with it.
There’s always been some sort of controversy surrounding video games, be it the assumption that they encourage violence or that they often portray offensive stereotypes. I love video games enough that I tend to ignore what is generally terrible writing, glorified violence or character design; I’ve done so for years. At this day and age, however, I’m starting to expect a better standard of video games and certainly more variety. It has gotten to the stage where I walk into Gamestop and stare dismally at the new release wall, barely able to count anything that isn’t a generic war game on one hand. The majority of triple A console titles these days bore me. Everything is the same. Brown on brown shooters, Fast and Furious copy cats, a game for every sport ever invented, and half assed attempts at squeezing more money from a current movie title. Booooooring!
This is why I appreciate what Sarkeesian is doing. I’m not going into the “women in video games are sexist” thing, because there are people like Sarkeesian who are already doing just that. What I do applaud is that someone is actually criticising an area of video games that needs much criticising. When we are being bombarded with the same crap like this over and over, I recommend that someone should also consider criticising other areas such as: the stereotypical manly, manly male characters that everyone is apparently so upset about, half-assed story writing, short campaigns and tacked on multiplayers, terrible voice acting, recycled plotlines, and sequel after sequel after sequel, to name but a few.
Anita Sarkeesian is not a big evil feminist looking to strip retail shelves of Lollipop Chainsaw and have them all dumped in a landfill. If the internet trolls would get their head out of their ass long enough to realise that “feminist” and “games” do not equate the preceding image, they’ll see that she’s simply pointing out one area where games persistently fail to do better in.
I have tried to engage with a handful of the YouTube trolls in an attempt to properly pick their brains about the topic. After being bombarded by some baffling logic and a demand to suck their unmentionables, they all more or less came to the one conclusion: it’s not a big deal, games are fine the way they are.
Ok, let me tell you a quick story here. When I finished up college last year I made it a personal project of mine to figure out how to make games more appealing to women. This wasn’t a feminist, girl power crusade to achieve gender equality in video games, this was simply market research. I want video games to appeal to all demographics because, you know, more people equals more money. Anyway, due to that wretched human diversity thing I came to no discernable conclusion (other than maybe guy gamers should be a little bit nicer to girl gamers). Different girls like different games for different reasons. Who knew?
I had a discussion about it with a friend of mine before, and I mentioned that appealing to a non-gamer girl with existing console titles is difficult because the majority of them are marketed towards young men. At one point during the conversation my friend stopped me and said, “But I love violent games! I love blood and guts and gory stuff.” I was somewhere between a face palm and a consolatory cuddle (Cuddle palm? Face cuddle?) when I explained that no one is going to take away the violence from video games, simply because it already sells so well. The only thing I’m looking for is a little wiggle room for something that appeals to a broader market. Is that so much to ask?
Video games may still be a young entertainment medium compared to movies and literature, but it really needs to get with the times. Geek culture is starting to bleed into popular trends in society and the games industry needs to realise this and seize a potentially huge market. That’s why we need people like Anita Sarkeesian to poke holes in tired, recycled formulae such as stereotypical female characters. Sooner or later someone will listen, but it’s up to gamers to not go out of their way to silence constructive criticism. So guys, seriously, enough with the torches and pitchforks. No one is going to take away video games, we just want to make them even better for everyone. Surely you can appreciate that?