It just doesn’t happen (well, except once, and that wasn’t very good).
That’s got to be for one of two reasons: videogames are about suspension of disbelief so we all want to be perfect in them, or it might be because male designers have very limited experience of what women are really like. I don’t know. The point is that if you were from outer space and you tried to understand Earth-bound humans simply from their video game avatars, you’d come away with an impression of the female of the species that was a little one dimensional.
And that’s exactly the point that Anita Sarkeesian has been making in her “Tropes vs Women in Videogames” series of videos for some time now. Hardly groundbreaking feminist theory, but pertinent all the same. Yet bizarrely, Sarkeesian has found herself at the receiving end of another computer-based phenomenon that affects women disproportionately: angry young men who should really learn some manners before being allowed onto social media.
Sarkeesian has been making small, easy to watch, popular internet videos about gender in toys and games for some time now, but her crime this time round was to ask for some money to make them. She turned to crowd funding site Kickstarter to raise some production capital for a series called ‘Tropes vs Women in Videogames”. Her first episode focusses on Damsels in Distress, and notes that there’s rarely a case when a female character has to rescue a male.
She also keeps a nice Tumblr about it.
There was a giant internet tantrum. Thousands of these individuals – calling them men and boys only insults the gender – got together and thought it was their right to harass Sarkeesian to a degree that horrified normal human beings. You can see a small sample of this harassment here [warning: this is not for the faint hearted]
As a woman reading the stream of vitriol that sits on Anita’s site it is really hard to not get wound up. When these individuals posted their comments she hadn’t even started making the videos. These imbeciles didn’t even know what she was going to do, and if you take the time to watch the first episode of the series (below) you will see that there is no sign of anti-male rhetoric, nor does she destroy fond memories of great games. Anita points out flaws that are, honestly, hard to miss and makes no sweeping statements or unrealistic demands. Like any medium, videogames should take this insight and use it to improve, to meet the demands of a new demographic and grow up. And no, that doesn’t mean pink games called Handbag Simulator either.
The bile and hate that spewed out about this series was nothing short of astonishing. I learned some exciting new words and career choices. Ovendodger was one of them. Wow, I had no idea that wanting to finally play videogames that didn’t have pneumatic women in skanky clothing as the lead heroines meant that I was avoiding my responsibilities as a sandwich and baby maker. These individuals really know their stuff.
Some, obviously extremely well educated commenters who had spent months doing research on gaming statistics, said that it was a male dominated market and that’s why female characters are, and always will be, over sexualised. I shall immediately call the Entertainment Software Association and let them know that their research showing how, “forty-seven percent of all players are women, and women over 18 years of age are one of the industry’s fastest growing demographics” is completely wrong. Shame, they must have missed the troll memo.
Personally, I am delighted that Anita has received so much abuse.
I’ll wait while you take a shocked breath.
This immense attack on her as a person, the revolting video game that allowed you to beat her up, the attempts to ruin her credibility – they were snapped up by the media and spread out to the wider world. The sexism, childishness and cowardice of gaming thugs would have never been so utterly exposed without her.
And there is no real reason for their vitriol either. I have to confess to being baffled by it. Why are they so threatened by a series that exposes the inequalities in videogames? Why does it matter to them that the female characters become playable or more realistic? Or is this just the moment when they realise that they can no longer play videogames with one hand down their pants because the fake women on their screens are now just as real and smart and sassy as the ones on their streets?
Anita Sarkeesian’s first video is a studied and measured exercise that’s interesting and thought provoking. It reminds me of how isolated I felt as a gamer back in the 80s, one of very few women who enjoyed afternoons playing Space Invaders on her Atari, or coding on her ZX Spectrum. This series is a great step forward for the industry and it highlights one vital thing for the gaming industry…
It could really do with more female writers.
I’d offer my services but it I am far too busy screaming hysterically at the sight of a large gorilla in my bathroom…