The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Infrequent Feminist

Written by: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

As a rule, I avoid getting into discussions regarding hot button issues: Politics, religion, or women in video games. Today, I’m going to break that rule.

Now, hopefully more than a few of you out there are confused by the addition of “women in video games” as part of that short list. Politics tends to be divisive because, at least in America, we are taught that Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally different creatures and can only get along in romantic comedies. Go ahead and watch MSNBC for five minutes, followed by FOX News. It would seem, from the reporters’ point of view, that our nation has never been more troubled. Of course, we know that isn’t true (this level of dissent and criticism is actually pretty standard for our country), but it nevertheless keeps me from diving headfirst into these types of arguments. 

Both sides go down smooth

For the record, I don’t define myself Right or Left, because I’m not a hand. And, even if I did, that should have no affect on our possible friendship or your enjoyment of my articles. And if it does, you are not the kind of person I’d want to be around, anyway. 

Religion is also a huge issue, as it brings up a lot of heat for a lot of people. I’m not just talking about Christians VS Jews VS Muslims VS Hindus VS Spaghetti Monsters. I’m talking about the concept of religion as a whole. On more than one occasion, I’ve dealt with fanaticism of one kind or another (and yes, fanatical Atheism is a real thing, and it is just as annoying). Again, if you don’t think you can be my friend or enjoy my articles because of the God I choose or choose not to worship, then you are not worth the time it takes me to type out a response.

Gary Larson already nailed my image of God, and the rest has been commentary

However, as I am a firm believer in open and honest communication, I will now address a serious topic that has recently found a focal point. Back in June, video blogger Anita Sarkeesian (creator and host of The Feminist Frequency) launched a Kickstarter campaign for an ambitious project she dubbed “Tropes VS Women in Video Games.” In 24 hours, she hit her intended goal of $6000. In less than a week, she blew right past that and hit over $160,000. Unfortunately, this crazy success was quickly buried underneath a torrent of hate-filled comments to her Twitter and email accounts. In trying to expose sexism in video games, Anita found her proof in the pile of sexist comments launched her way.

In what I feel is the most disgusting and shameful display of misogyny this year, men (and some women) have rallied against Anita. But instead of having an open discussion of her points and trying to convince her with well-reasoned arguments, they resort to name calling and vitriol. 

No one with this many games could be a bad person

Before we get into this article, there is one thing I’ll get out of the way. I’m not trying to come to anyone’s rescue with this piece. Anita does not want or need the support of a relatively unknown (yet incredibly talented) writer; she’s handling this ordeal fine. In fact, the reality of my saying that statement is part of the reason this whole incident is such a big deal. I shouldn’t need a reason to support someone during this sort of circumstance. Some people will claim I’m trying to be a White Knight saving the Damsel in Distress. Others will claim I just want to sleep with her (for the record, I have a fiance). And that mindset, that women in general are to be used as devices in the grand stories of our lives, is EXACTLY what Anita is trying to call out in video games. 

Art imitates life. This is a fact of any medium, and is true in video games no matter how psychedelic they may be. We may think of fetch quests as a boring trope of RPGs, but back in the olden days the barter system was pretty much the name of the game. If you didn’t have the coin to purchase an item, you would find other ways of working it off. But, if we accept that the stories in games are meant to reflect most modern values, then why are women so underrepresented? It’s not because women are less populous on planet Earth, or even play games less (last I checked, it’s about 50/50). As Anita (and many other gaming reporters) have already pointed out, the treatment of women in video games is the same as it is in most movies, books and television stories. Women are treated as sexual objects, damsels to be saved, or just background dressing so you know it isn’t some dystopian future where all women have died off. Art is indeed imitating real life, and that should piss us off.

The treatment of women in the entertainment industry is a byproduct of generation after generation of sexual inequality and gender bias. This isn’t just me spouting off some feminist ideology I pulled from the internet. Open your eyes and take a good long look at the world we live in: We invent a new form of nail polish in order to prevent date rape (because preventing rape is clearly the woman’s responsibility). We still have female tennis players wearing skimpy skirts (and getting shamed in articles when they grunt?) For crying out loud, we criticize Hillary Clinton for not taking care of her appearance when traveling to war zones?

Though we all know a firefight is no excuse for not looking your best

Video games fall to the same sad state as the rest of the world. That’s why GTA V has zero redeemable female characters, Lara Croft is almost a Barbie Doll-level sexual object, and female armor in RPGs uses more nipple tape than the red carpet at the Oscars. What’s worse is our casual acceptance of it all. No matter how many times these types of articles come up, we don’t see any change in the industry. 

But maybe, with Anita’s video series and the media attention, change could start. 

Saints Row creative director Steve Jaros recently tweeted that Anita was dead on regarding his own work. The open-world gang title is infamous for its over-the-top violence and pop-culture references, but certainly not for its glamorous portrayal of women. Though things aren’t as distasteful as they may have been in the first iteration, Jaros was willing to take his lumps (and call out other developers) and admit that things need to improve. Yes, Kratos is a poor role-model for male gamers, and his physique is certainly not helping our fragile egos (in the same vein, 300 made us all sad we didn’t have 30-pack abs). But we also have characters like Nico from GTA IV, who had a paunch and a receding hairline. Women in games don’t get that kind of treatment.

I also notice that they are uniformly white, but that is an article for another day

The storm of angry messages, hacks and death threats forced Anita from her home, while at the same time demonstrated the very thing she was fighting against. Actually, “fighting” isn’t the right word. Anita wasn’t militant in her stance on the roles of women in video games. She wasn’t standing on a soap box demanding that Mario be renamed Maria for any and all upcoming titles. She was stating the facts and addressing a known issue, and she was demonized by the very community she supports. This type of backlash is common across the entertainment industry, and if that isn’t the saddest thing to hear in 2014, I don’t know what is. 

This type of sexism is indicative of a culture that is off the rails. I equate this hate speech with racial and religious intolerance. It is simply unfathomable that we are still having these debates. We should be infuriated as a species that we allow baseless hatred to remain a part of our society. And what gets under my skin is that the media gets to feel heroic for pointing out that compassion is a good thing? That showing someone common courtesy and dignity is considered revolutionary?

Am I the only one?

Judging another person based on the color of their skin, their religious choices, their sexual orientation, or their gender identification is wrong. I’m not saying there are not differences in our species; that’s part of what makes us great. Men and women do indeed have unique traits associated with their biology, and to forget those differences is just as silly as to claim they restrict life choices. But when we are unwilling to admit that we have mistreated half of the population again and again and again, then we are failing at life.

Our Founder and Editor-in-Chief Robert Peterson says it best: “There’s not much I can add to this conversation other than ‘Sarkeesian is 100% right, and an astonishing preponderance of male gamers are completely out of their neanderthal minds. Sarkeesian’s thesis — that women are objectified, used as props and otherwise not made central to the storytelling in video games — is as self-evident and uncontroversial as saying the sun sets in the West. That her videos have been met with misogynistic lunacy instead of sober conversation shines a light on the sorry state of the male psyche in gaming today. And here’s another uncontroversial statement: What Sarkeesian describes happening in video games isn’t unique to her chosen media. It happens across all media — movies, TV, books, music — and the message it sends is hateful and corrosive. It tells women they don’t matter, and tells men they shouldn’t care.”

It’s like that scene in Star Trek where the science officer develops as a character by stripping naked in front of Kirk

Anita Sarkeesian’s videos aren’t acting as a call to arms for feminists. They are straight journalism covering an important aspect of our culture. If you are so offended by her take on the issue, make your own video with an intelligent response. If all you can muster is hyper-aggressive bullshit like “tits or gtfo,” you are literally what is wrong with humanity. Shame on you. 

Women are as large a part of the gaming community as men, and yet they are still marginalized and objectified. Girls are told they “can’t” be gamers, or that they should only play certain genres. Female characters are sexualized, victimized or turned into horrific stereotypes in the name of…what? Telling the story? If you can name one game made better by the addition of T’n’A, I’ll buy you a donut. Last of Us was able to tell an incredible story, and everyone got to keep their clothes on (and yes, I do know that some people take the portrayal of women in that game as sexist, as well. Personally, I saw it as the story of a Father-Daughter relationship and did not take away any sexist trends, but as I am a white man, my views are somewhat skewed).

I’m literally almost this white

Also, is this White Walker coming on to me? He’s got “bedroom eyes”

One of the most common defenses of sexism in the gaming industry is the concept that “Sex Sells.” Yes, that’s very true. Human beings have a biological drive to procreate. We also have a natural attraction to the ground. It didn’t stop us from learning to fly. This argument is honestly as bad as saying, “Well, black people have been segregated from society for such a long time, it would be a bother to fix that.” Cigarettes used to be advertised to children, and cocaine used to be used as a stomach settling aide. JUST BECAUSE WE USED TO DO THINGS A CERTAIN WAY, DOESN’T MEAN THAT’S THE BEST WAY TO DO THEM. 

Your motorized conveyances are a travesty, and we will not partake in its tomfooler

Using sex to sell a product, other than marital aids or sex itself, is inherently demeaning to women. It is the advertising equivalent of a “your mom” joke. We ought to be better than that as a society. 

Next time you see a video like this, and you feel that anger boiling inside, take a deep breath before posting a comment. Remember that the people making these types of statements, both men and women, are part of your species. They are human, just like you, and deserve respect. You may disagree with what they say, but that in no way undermines their right to say it. And if you do feel the need to express your opinion, use real words and arguments. Provide evidence to support your claims, or to disprove theirs. Have an open and honest discussion. 

Most importantly, be prepared for the possibility that you are wrong. You may, in fact, have a skewed perspective and not completely get the point of what the other side is trying to say. What this means is that Republicans and Democrats both actually want what is best for the country, they just have differing opinions on the best way to get there (and hey, news flash, there are more than two ways to run a country, and plenty of Americans who don’t fall into either mold). People of every religious persuasion deserve as much respect for their personal views as atheists. Finally, women who feel underrepresented in the military, the workplace, in movies and games are RIGHT. And they are not “Feminazis” for saying so. They are your mothers, sisters and daughters, and they are members of your community.

And, if you are willing to hear a well-developed and thoughtful exploration of the tropes of women in video games, I encourage you to watch Anita lay down some truth in the videos below. 

Author: Adam “ManKorn” Korenman, CC2K Video Games Editor

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