Feminism isn’t trying to take away videogames

When brainstorming what to write about this week I had settled on writing a response to the recent episode of Anita Sarkeesian’s series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games; which is part of her Feminist Frequency channel. Yet the response that she has received has been worse than the usual vileness that those on the Internet can produce. Last night she had to call the authorities after receiving threats against her and her family.

I’m still going to address my concerns against her video, but I feel that I am one of the few who is critiquing her because I agree with her cause; what I disagree with is her message, or more accurately her approach.

I admit it might be a bit much for me to criticise her, for she lectures at universities and conferences on issues relating to feminism. So who I am to criticise her? Although I can claim to have attained the same level of education as her; and in similar fields. With my humble brag out of the way, what is my problem with her approach?

Anita does not claim that her recent video series is meant to be academic, and this is likely so as to be suitable for a wider audience. Yet for someone who comes from an academic background (I refer to both her and myself) I am surprised at how one sided her argument is, and how little solution she provides. Obviously her aim is to highlight the inequality of how women are portrayed and represented in videogames (and in the industry itself), and whilst I do not expect her to therefore provide an equal number of examples of how the same can be true of men, I feel that some would actually help support her argument.

I’m aware of how as a white heterosexual male it might sound for me to state that negative portrayals of men should be highlighted. But doing so could support her cause, for it is an example of the other side of the same argument; that being equality.

Feminism has its detractors because it is is a fragmented social field. It also suffers from the problem of the unjust stereotype that it struggles to shake. Whenever feminism came up as a topic during my politics degree the majority of the class would groan; and this was a class made up primarily of women. It is quite a surreal feeling to find oneself defending feminism against women, yet this was a situation I continually found myself in.

There are many women who do not see the point in feminism because as far as they are concerned everything is fine. Whilst that is great that they feel they are being treated equally to men, the same unfortunately can’t be said for all women. This is why Anita created Feminist Frequency, for she saw problems in how poorly women are portrayed in videogames.

The recent episode was a continuation into looking at how women are often background decoration in videogames. With the vast majority of videogames having white male protagonists, her point is understandable. Although her examples frequently drew me out of her argument. The problem was that many of the games from which she was highlighting took place before the first half of the twentieth century. The issue with drawing attention to this is that unfortunately (and please do not take this the wrong way) the portrayal of women and their role in society was rather different to how the situation is today. Thankfully society (for the most part) has come a long way. However with games that are set during these time periods the developers are going to draw on historical circumstances when developing the game.

One particular example that was often shown was Dishonored. Even though the game takes place in a fictional world, it is very much based on late 1800s early 1900s Britain, and therefore there are parallels between how women are portrayed in the game and how they were treated during the same time period in the real world. It was also odd for this game to be included, as despite its connection with antiquated social values, there were female characters who were of status and were portrayed in a similar light as some of the male characters. Then, despite the fact that technically you do “rescue the princess” it is with the aim of returning her to the throne as the rightful monarch.

This is somewhat nitpicking, but the thing is that this is how Tropes vs. Women often seems to come across as. Instead of properly analysing the problem and suggesting solutions, they often come off as one example after another of how women are negatively portrayed in different videogames. True as this may be, and I don’t disagree with the sentiment, but for me this fails to properly explore the problem, showing a mirror to the industry will not solve the problem.

Though in the recent episode at the end she does highlight a particular game, this being Papo & Yo, as a possible way in which feminist issues can be addressed. Papo & Yo is a game about a child dealing with their fathers alcoholism who confronts this in a dreamlike world. Anita briefly explains how other games could take this approach to tackle heavy issues such as domestic abuse.

This is what I feel has been missing from the other Feminist Frequency videos. I understand that she might be reluctant or against the idea of showing the otherside of the argument, but I have felt that her arguments hitherto have been flat and lacked proper analysis. Typically an academic paper will have an overall argument that the paper is trying to support, this will often also include a counter argument to provide balance, but can also help strengthen the core argument. This can then be followed by a conclusion in which recommendations can be produced based on the evidence provided so far. Something which has mostly been missing.

I have been wanting to address my concerns with Anita’s work for sometime, but have struggled to find the appropriate argument to do so. I have held off because I have been conflicted as I support her cause and respect what she is doing in the face of the sheer amount of hate she has received. However I have found myself at odds with her approach and grappling with how best to address this. Just because you support something doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything others who share your view does.

For those who think that Anita Sarkeesian represents some great evil that is trying to take away your videogames, you are very much mistaken. She is not doing this to take them away, she is trying to help strengthen this industry and help keep it relevant into the future. Meanwhile calling her abhorrent names and sending death threats is just adding to the reasons why those outside the industry struggle to take this medium seriously.

If you haven’t already you can watch the most recent episode below:

Image Credit: Neorice

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