An Open Letter to Anita Sarkeesian

Ms. Sarkeesian,

 

This open letter is in response to your latest video, Damsel in Distress: Part 2.

As many others working in the games industry, I have watched your first video and was interested to see where you take your line of thought, addressing more recent games.

It was interesting to see which games, or rather which particular scenes from certain games, you used as examples to showcase your views, and I have to admit I was a bit shocked to see some familiar titles appear in your video.

First of all let me state that I have no doubt in my mind that sexism and violence towards women is a reality in our times. There are people in the world who do not understand that women are equal and should be treated equally in every way. I would also agree that some games can contain sexist scenes as well as violence towards women (your example of the Grand Theft Auto 3 ending was well chosen).

However as a gamer, as a developer and as a man I would like to take the time to contest some of your examples and arguments.

 

Violence towards women in games:

I think it is important to look at violence in video games in general, as a developer and gamer I feel we are creating too much content that relies on violence. You made a similar statement in your video and I felt that was a good point to make. We do rely on violent gameplay activities to progress the player through our narrative and our game worlds. I share your hope of things changing and broadening up and I feel the (current) indie development industry is a driving force behind this. With the recent success of some non-violent indie (and also mainstream) games, I think it will only be a matter of time before we see more of those games, catering to an ever broadening demographic.

By your own statement though, that violence is a game mechanic, I think it is worth noting that it is, for the most part, indiscriminate. Violence to women is the same as violence to men in these games. The important criterion, which I think you fail to apply, is to see if women are subjected to violence BECAUSE they are women. In my opinion the vast majority of examples you use to further your argument in this case, shows violence to a character. The antagonist does not subject the character to violence because she happens to be female, but rather because it is the role of that character, in that story, to be subjected to violence.

To me, as someone that has created characters and that is telling stories in games, the test here should be simple: can the gender of the protagonist and the person being subjected to violence be swapped. If the answer is yes, if the scene would still work with the protagonist being female and the “victim” being male, then this is not what I would consider “violence towards women”.

The difference might well be subtle to some, but it is the intent that matters. Yes there will probably be some people who interpret the scene incorrectly, but the average gamer (consumer) will not. The average consumer will see the victim as genderless, as an element in storytelling. Few people will play a videogame in which a woman is subjected to violence and walk away thinking that the intended message was “it’s ok to hurt women”.

There are plenty of games in which male characters are tortured and killed. Again, the message here is not that it’s ok to do this in real life. But it is a story telling element.

As I said previously, you are correct that violence is overused in general in games, but I contest your insinuation that depicted violence on women in games relates to gender hatred and that it is specifically constructed in such a way because the character is a woman. The link towards violence to women you make at the end of your video, is a stretch to say the least.

 

Damsel in distress:

The Damsel in Distress element of stories to me is quite interesting, and I can see why you picked this as your primary headline for your work. It is easy to spot in many games and so there are plenty of examples which you can use for your arguments.

However I think you do not sufficiently explain to your audience exactly why the games industry uses this particular story arc, nor do you make any concession to business model or core demographic of games, which I think is a crucial omission.

Please let me expand a little and give a, brief, explanation as to why I think games have not evolved further.

Many games in our times, in particular big blockbuster AAA games, still try to emulate and follow classic movie story telling elements. As an industry we have not evolved sufficiently to tell stories our own way, make use of our medium to the full extent (interactivity) or go our own way. There are, as you also rightly pointed out, some excellent exceptions. But as of yet, they are still exceptions. Over time, many of us in the industry hope, we will evolve and our story telling will evolve. Some companies lead the way, not only through narrative, but also through environmental story telling.

But right now, many games still suffer from being chained to traditional story telling. Many games stories, particular those of a violent nature (see my thoughts on this above), feature a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist needs some kind of incentive to progress through the story, to eventually face his antagonist in some shape or form.

It is a classic, tried and tested (and yes overused) method to take something the protagonist holds dear and use that as an incentive to start him or her on their journey.

In itself, this way of storytelling is not bad. Overused, sure, but not necessarily bad, and it is (or can be) gender neutral.

So why is it, we developers use a female character so often to function as the “incentive”? The answer to this is simple: core demographic.

Creating a “Damsel in Distress” has nothing to do at all with looking down on women, diminishing their worth, their role or their prowess. It has nothing to do with degrading women or sexism. It simply has to do with the fact that young men between the age of 12 and 22 are the core demographic of many games (in particular violent ones). And a young man between the age of 12 and 22 will emotionally react stronger to a female character being in “distress” than if the roles were reversed.

Now, an argument can be made towards particular character modeling and appearance of female characters, and in some cases that does suggest catering towards more erotic male fantasies, however I would also argue that this in itself is not done with a view of degrading women or open sexism. There are many games where the woman in “distress” has a normal, everyday appearance, just as her male counterpart. It all depends on setting, story and all the characters in the game.

 

Interpretation – a different view

As I mentioned at the start of my letter, I recognized some of the games in your video and I have played a fair few of them myself. As stated I was a bit shocked, because I failed to see sexism or stereotypes were you seem to imply they are present.

I looked at one game again in particular, Dishonored, and I compared your statement with my own experience and how I saw the scene.

Your video shows a few choice cuts and audio snippets from the game, all seemingly supporting your point of view. However I strongly feel that these were taken out of context and, combined with your comments, present a vastly different experience of what is actually intended and indeed presented in the game.

Without going into too much detail (though I would be happyto, see end of letter), I would just like to point out that the Empress to me was not a powerless woman, a victim. She was the head of a large empire, a powerful and yet benign leader. She cared deeply for her subjects and risked much to try and find a cure for the plague. At the same time she was a single mother, raising a daughter and potential heir to the throne. It took 3 powerful men and a large conspiracy to dethrone her. And the male protagonist was powerless, unable to prevent it.

This goes to show, in my opinion, that it depends on who is playing the game, how the approach a game and how they interpret a scene. It is obviously hard for me to determine just what your frame of mind was when you played Dishonored, but if you played it as part of your research, it is no stretch to imagine you were looking for scenes to support your point of view.

I believe it is easy to find sexism and mistreatment of women in games, if that is what you aim to find. But it is a different thing entirely to claim that this is intentional or desired. I would argue that a lot of thought has been put in by the developers of Dishonored to create a strong female character, yet a 5 second video clip in your presentation degenerated her to a damsel in distress begging for help.

The exact same thing is true for many of the examples you listed where a female character is sacrificed at the end of a game, or killed by the player. I have played some of these games, and again my experience was different. Rather than seeing a weak female character, I saw a strong woman who was willing to sacrifice herself to save others (sometimes the world, depending on the game). This story arc was used very successfully in 2 Star Trek movies. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Both scenes were incredibly emotional. And I would neither call Spock (Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan) or Kirk (Star Trek: Into Darkness) weak characters.

Out of context, without looking at the entire story, the development of a character and the outcome of a game, it is easy to pick scenes and claim foul play. But when experienced as a whole, the interpretation can look vastly different.

 

Japanese (Asian) games:

The last major point of contention I would like to address in this letter is your mixed use of Japanese (Asian) games in the same space as western games. I feel this does neither culture any service. It has long been established that Japanese (Asian) pop culture has distinct differences to western pop culture. Game content as well as actual game play often are vastly different, as is characterization.

There is no doubt that, from a western standard point of view, many Japanese (Asian) games can be seen as sexist and that they contain female stereotypes. Female characters often wear skimpy outfits and are definitely portrayed as damsels in distress or objects of desire (lust).

I would caution in using them as examples however, because of the difference in culture. What we might well find to be questionable content is perfectly acceptable by their cultural standards (for example I don’t think you would find a “used panties” vending machine in the streets of London).

I don’t think anyone should be the judge of an entire culture, nor necessarily does anyone have a right to call for a change, other than someone coming from and living in that particular culture.

What would be good, I feel, would be one part (or several) of your series dedicated to Japanese (Asian) games to highlight the difference. Although, this might well reduce the overall material you can draw examples from, and highlight that western games development has moved on substantially since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

 

Summary:

Ms. Sarkeesian, while I very much appreciate the time and effort you have put into drawing attention to storytelling and characterization in games, as well as sparking a much needed debate on the subject, I feel the examples and arguments you have produced in the first 2 videos is far from ideal. The games industry needs to mature, no doubt. We need to broaden our horizon, address important issues and use our medium to the fullest extent possible. But I feel your portrayal of games is very one sided and highly inaccurate.

It is my opinion that you take too much content out of context and present the material in such a way to support your arguments and views. In my opinion your agenda dictates your approach to games and your interpretation of a character or scene. You leave no room for an alternate view, and (one or 2 comments made in passing aside), you do not give the developers the benefit of the doubt, nor do you give them time or space to express their views and arguments.

While watching your videos it feels like you made your mind up before you even picked up a controller. Obviously, this is an assumption on my part, but this is substantiated by a distinct lack of positive examples. In your last video you named 3 indie games as positive examples vs. dozens of titles in the negative. Considering the vast amount of games coming out each year on a lot of different platforms, I would think that giving equal time to positive and negative examples would be easy enough. I feel this would also give your arguments more weight and actually facilitate the change in game development you obviously want to see.

The current videos do little to sway minds I think. They cater and speak for those whose opinion and views are already aligned with your own. They vindicate those who feel the same way you do. But, again in my opinion, do not present arguments well enough to sway the minds of those who sit on the fence and are undecided.

Your videos certainly spark debate, and that is never a bad thing. It is a shame though that you yourself do not participate in that debate. I would be delighted to discuss the points I made above and elaborate. I would also be happy to expand on the Dishonored example I gave above, discussing with you other games we both have played and find out what we saw differently, and (most importantly) why we saw things differently.

This is an open invitation to you, Ms Sarkeesian, feel free to contact me via this site, leave comments or even organize a public debate at a games conference.

In my opinion games are entertainment, and while they do represent a reflection of society to a degree, i do not think that games should be seen to form society. Games and other media can not be held accountable for people’s actions. If this was the case we would to look at more than “just” sexism. We would need to look at how violent games could, after all, be responsible for the actions of some individuals going on killing sprees. In my opinion it is the responsibility of parents, education and society as a whole to educate young people in treating everyone equal. Games should be seen as an entertainment, a diversion, they should not be linked to real world behavior or used as an excuse for anti-social behavior. This does not mean the industry should have no standards, or has no reason to change and mature, but at the same time the industry should not be held accountable if someone thinks it’s ok to punch a woman, just because he/she saw that in a game.

In the meantime, let me wish you all the best with your future videos. I will most certainly be watching them and I am looking forward to future lively discussions and debates with my colleagues and friends.

 

Respectfully,

ZeGerman1942

 

NOTE: as mentioned in the letter I welcome debate and discussion. Feel free to comment below with your views and replies. I will “approve” every comment, however I will not tolerate any hateful comments or threats directed at Ms. Sarkeesian (those directed at me are fine of course)

Comments

  1. Bravo good sir.

  2. Mikesean45 says:

    A calm and well thought out response. Well done!

  3. “The current videos do little to sway minds I think. They cater and speak for those whose opinion and views are already aligned with your own. They vindicate those who feel the same way you do. But, again in my opinion, do not present arguments well enough to sway the minds of those who sit on the fence and are undecided.”

    This is the most important point in my view; the Damsel in distress trope and the general treatment of women as objects need to be shown to people THAT DON’T ALREADY KNOW IT. There is next to no point in arguing the case for people, like myself, that already agree that we have a severe problem in how women are treated as objects. I would like this subject be treated as balanced and fairly as possible, to make it impossible to dismiss it out of hand by gamers and game developers, to force them to acknowledge the problem.

  4. ktrav94 says:

    ZeGerman1942, just wanted to step aside of the topic for a brief moment to tell you that I found this article today, then went on to read the rest of your articles on the site. You’re very well-spoken and I really want to see more reviews and discussion from you :^)

  5. [I'm reposting my response from twitter, as it was getting too unwieldy there]

    Your argument is “sexism in games is because they are targeted at a core demographic of men”. This is circular:

    Make games that marginalise women because most gamers are men. Few women play them because they feel marginalised.

    Do you see the problem there?

    ZeGerman1942> Andy, targeting a game at a male audience does not equal women being marginalized. Dishonored is a perfect example.

    And yet you spent a lot of words arguing that marginalising women in games was ok because they weren’t the audience.

    ZeGerman1942> i never argue that marginalizing female characters in games was ok. I would say you read the arguments incorrectly there

    Not in so many words. Your “Damsel in distress” section argues that the “someone in distress” trope is trite but workable. Then you say that this is invariably a damsel in distress because the core audience is men. You are using that to excuse the use of the damsel in distress trope. But you didn’t go on to address the reasons why the the core audience is mostly men, and why that’s problematic and self-perpetuating.

    You then (in the next-but-one section) go on to use essentially the same argument from status quo regarding Japanese games, and say that this might be “perfectly acceptable by their cultural standards” (implying we should not complain if their culture is also very sexist).

    Given that you excuse western games with “that’s the way they are made”, and Japanese games with “that’s the way their culture is”, you are ultimately arguing that the end result—marginalisation of women, in games from both cultures—is acceptable.

    • Nice post Andy, as replied on twitter: i don’t think marginalizing women in games is ok at all. My argument is rather that women are not necessarily marginalized. If the male protagonist has to rescue a female character, that (in my opinion) does not necessarily marginalize the female character. The character can still be strong, have a firm place in the narrative and hold her own. That’s why i had an issue with Ms. Sarkeesian’s portrayal of the Empress in Dishonored. The character, in my opinion, was very strong indeed and despite the protagonist trying to come to her aid (in which he failed as well), i never once thought that she was weak and needed rescuing because she was a woman. A male emperor would have worked just as well from a narrative point of view.

      Because the game is geared towards male gamers though, the protagonist is male and for the narrative to make more sense and be more emotionally attachable, the empress is a woman.

      I agree with your initial comment on twitter that this is a bit of a self fulfilling prophecy. I.e. developers make games that cater towards men, not many women like it, demographics don’t change.

      But i would argue that many publishers try, from time to time, to create new IP that breaks the mold. A great example would be Mirrors Edge (an image of which featured in Ms. Sarkeesian’s video). It sold just over 2 million units, which is not bad but far from the success of a Call of Duty. Out of those 2 million i would argue the majority of customers was probably male as well – despite the game having a very strong female protagonist.

      So publishers and developers try, but often times (unless they are indie and dev costs are low), those tries end up in a financial loss – then it’s back to tried and tested games catered to the larger (male) market.

      My hope, and that of many developers, is that we can make small changes and that with the help of indie developers bringing out new and fresh games, over time the demographic will be expanded considerably. Then we make games for everyone.

    • Thanks for hitting on some of the same points I was about to make. I would like to just add that I do appreciate the well thought-out response of ZeGerman1942, however, there are a few more logical fallacies present in his letter that indicate he missed the point.

      “But I feel your portrayal of games is very one sided and highly inaccurate”

      This is a part of the crux of Anita’s point. The fact is that a lot of these games CAN be interpreted incredibly one-sided (with very little/nothing to counter the points within the same games). Notice that a lot of the counterpoints people bring up involve titles other than the ones she covers, and yet, the fact STILL remains that there are a LOT of video games that implement female stereotypes and tropes in potentially harmful or degrading ways.

      On the Dishonored usage, you can’t really argue with her presentation on that segment. She presented it for what it was, and that was a use of the “Woman in the Fridge” trope. I’d invite you to re-watch that segment from her second video, but pay close attention to the direct connection between the trope (as it was first popularized in comic books) and the role The Empress filled in the story of Dishonored. The Empress being murdered is what DISHONORED is all about. WHY was Corvo DISHONORED? Because his ability to protect the one he cared about was called into question, and so he sets off on revenge. You couldn’t find a more fitting game to have its name replaced with “Woman in a Fridge” than DISHONORED. DISHONORED = “Your woman got placed in the fridge” in a nutshell.

      I could go on, but I think I’ve given you enough to think about and re-evaluate for now.

      • Good comment. Though i would not say i’d have to re-evaluate my position.

        Even if you want to apply the “girl in the fridge” aspect to Dishonored, which is fair enough, i would still argue that the story mechanic is not necessarily a bad one. If the female character fulfilling that role is herself a strong character, well defined and not marginalized then what is the problem with using that “trope”?

        Can we not put any character, male or female, in that role, ever?

        Games like Duke Nuke and GTA 3, in my opinion, clearly show sexism. This kind of thing has no place in games or any media. My argument is though that many of the examples Ms. Sarkeesian lists don’t necessarily contain sexism or are derogatory towards women. I think that depends on how you approach the game and story. I think you can see sexism if that’s your view on things and if that is what you want to see, but that does not necessarily make it universally true.

        • “i would still argue that the story mechanic is not necessarily a bad one”

          And neither does she.

          “If the female character fulfilling that role is herself a strong character, well defined and not marginalized then what is the problem with using that “trope”?”

          But justifying it IS in and of itself a form of cheapening the motivation. The thing we are seeing more and more in the gaming industry is a sense of self-fulfilling prophecy. “This is what gamers react to, therefore we make more money making games like this, therefore it is OK to use it repeatedly.” Why should their even be a sense that such a plot device would have to be justified? Do you see where the problem is stemming from? It isn’t ABOUT whether or not using women in their currently commonly perceived roles is inherently bad, but that it is unhealthy to feed the stereotype/trope (either intentionally or unintentionally) and leads to a degradation of value. Anita has, on several occasions, even defended titles that she highlights of being guilty of using these same tropes, often within the same breath. She is perhaps the most offended on some occasions at the harsh reality that some of gaming’s most beloved characters are, in fact, misrepresented in several instances.

          Since Anita is a self-identified feminist, it would make sense that she is perhaps hyper-sensitive to these issues compared to everyone else, but that doesn’t invalidate the existence of these tropes. In a perfectly gender-equal society, tropes wouldn’t exist, and I dare say, they shouldn’t exist, regardless of the demographic affected by them.

  6. “Since Anita is a self-identified feminist, it would make sense that she is perhaps hyper-sensitive to these issues compared to everyone else.”

    I think that is perhaps one of my underlying thoughts.

    As i have previously stated (and in the original letter), i agree that as an industry we need to move on. Working in the industry i need to work from within, to make sure we tell the best possible story in the best possible way, using all the tools we are given through our medium.

    Personally i don’t have a problem with using a stereotypical character (male or female) because it’s a stereotype per se. I have a problem with using one because it’s what everyone else does and i would like to set games i work on apart from others.

    What i do not want is a knee jerk reaction to stop using certain story telling elements simply because current climate and level of political correctness labels them to be sexist. Art and Entertainment should never be censored.

    Imagine if games go down the route of telling real stories, the way movies do.

    I would LOVE to tell the story of the man who rescued 3 Ohio women:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2013/05/meet-man-who-rescued-three-women-missing-decade-cleveland/64945/

    or have a scene like this in a game:

    http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/story/22060079/woman-rescues-man-and-his-dog-from-clinton-river-in-sterling-heights

    This is what i mean with interpretation of a story. Both these news pieces feature someone in distress and someone who comes to the rescue. In neither article do i ever think less of the victim or would consider the victim to be weak. I would never think that the Ohio women were unable to escape because they were women, instead i would say they were unable to escape because of their circumstances and the brutality of their captor.

    I have no problem with the general purpose of Ms. Sarkeesian’s project. How could i? Just as i have my opinion, she is most certainly entitled to hers (as is everyone else). The intent of my letter is not to change her views or opinions. As i clearly said in the original letter (and in other posts i have made), sexism needs to be highlighted and stamped out. Awareness does need to be raised. Personally i am more worried about sexism and violence towards women in the real world and i think Ms. Sarkeesian wants to create a link between games and the real world, insinuating that games influence how people act in their lives. And that i simply cannot agree with.

    I also believe that due to her mindset she finds it easy to spot “sexism” everywhere. I am not asking her to stop, quite the contrary – i would even love to debate this issue with her.

    What i would like to ask, and that was the purpose of the open letter, is for her to be slightly more objective, to not take scenes out of context and, if she does not want to interview those who’s work she criticizes, at least try to look at how a developer intended something to be.

    There is no denying that her effort at least opens up debate – as can be seen here. And that is a big plus.

    • “i think Ms. Sarkeesian wants to create a link between games and the real world, insinuating that games influence how people act in their lives”

      Interestingly enough, I get the feeling this is what rubs people the wrong way most. That in turns leads people to acting defensively over the subject. Oddly enough, I don’t get that sense from her videos at all. In the context of who she is, what she studied, and how she presents her material, I think she is doing a fantastic job of drawing logical conclusions and criticizing a medium in a very harsh light, as evidenced by the immature outrage and spite accompanied by the illogical and garbage youtube responses she has garnered.

      Not saying that ALL responses are immature or illogical. I think you have displayed your views and opinions in an intelligent manner, but I do disagree with the notion that she is pushing any kind of agenda or insinuating real world connections. I get the feeling her point largely hinges on the fact that such tropes and stereotypes can be so easily identified, even among titles as pure as Mario and Zelda.

      The problem with saying she is insinuating or pushing an agenda is that it relies on making an assumption, namely, that she feels there is something to gain in subverting the status quo, and that whatever she feels she is getting out of it in the end is worth more than the crap she has had to put up with. Her motivations at this point are already pretty obvious, however, and that is to exercise her talents and ability in such a way as to earn that money she was pledged through kickstarter. If she fails to live up to that promise, then it will be a lot more than internet haters and dissenters that will be breathing down her neck. I admire her sense of integrity, and I wouldn’t dare assume she would be doing less than her best to ensure her conclusions can all be logically drawn and are soundly based on good evidence and research. The truth may be difficult to swallow, but as an industry we need to make sure we are part of the cure, and not the disease.

  7. I can’t speak for other people, but that link between games and real life is not what “bothers” me the most.

    If you want to call it “bother”, i guess what bothers me the most is simply the fact that her interpretation of some games is done very one sided, to fit her views and arguments.

    That is why i chose Dishonored as an example, because it is a game both me and Ms. Sarkeesian have played, yet we seemed to draw entirely different conclusions and saw different things in it. I never once considered there to be a trope or the fact that a female character was weak (begging for help).

    I can see how someone could interpret it that way. I can see how scenes and characters in many games can be interpreted that way. But, and this is one of my core points, i think you can find sexism in a lot of things if you want to, if you go looking for it with that particular mindset.

    In her video Ms. Sarkeesian states “it is important to see how women’s deaths are framed”. And that is certainly true. But then (after briefly giving 3 indie examples of how she would like to see things done) she goes on to say that “a sizable chunk of the industry is building game narrative on the backs of brutalized female bodies.” This i feel is not necessarily the case, it is an exaggeration. It really depends on how the player interprets the framing. It is also a very generalizing statement, which in my opinion simply is not true.

    As i said, our industry certainly has to look at broadening it’s horizon, finding more ways to tell stories and entertain people. But i would not want currently used story telling mechanics to disappear simply due to “political correctness”. This would amount to censorship in order to appease one group of people. And art should never be censored. The line has to be drawn between what is real, intended sexism (GTA 3, Duke Nukem and similar examples) and what is perceived sexism or stereotyping. If a game brutalizes a female character because she is woman or if a game includes overt sexist commentary and derogate language simply for the sake of it, then this must be called out and stomped out. But to look at every game and trying to find things that could be perceived as sexism if one is thus inclined, i feel is not the way to go about this.

    I don’t disagree with the sentiment of Ms. Sarkeesian’s message, however i have 2 issues with the way she presents it:

    - A lot of her content used to further her argument is taken out of context and only represents a fraction of the game in question. Any kind of positive remark (if there at all) is short and book-ended by negative comments.

    - Most people who advocate for her videos mention she produces them in order to spark and further the debate. Yet i believe she is not interested in debate, she is merely interested in presenting her opinion and view. She does not facilitate or participate in debate. Discussions happen on the sidelines, on various internet sites (like this) and forums. I think it should be easily possible to set up a discussion forum where obvious abuse gets moderated (and IPs get reported) but where different views can be presented and discussed, with her participation.

    The intention of my letter was not to change people’s minds. I find that most people, once they made up their mind about matters so fundamental such as this, won’t change their opinion anyway. If i am lucky, one or two people reading this letter will come to the conclusion that not everything is black and white and concede that at least i have a point, even if they disagree with it.

    I have gotten quite a lot of feedback since i posted the letter and a lot of personal messages. Some support my view, or concede some of my points, and so i can say i have “achieved” my goal here. What is sad to see though is that many will not acknowledge their agreement with me publicly (not even inside my own company), because they don’t want to “rock the boat” or in the current climate, publicly agreeing with me or disagreeing with some of Ms. Sarkeesian’s points, could have negative consequences. And this is what i am worried about. That we all conform to her views and those like her, even if we don’t agree, simply because it’s the current climate.

    This would be a clear case of the “Emperor’s clothes”.

    • “the fact that her interpretation of some games is done very one sided”

      The notion that you perceive a “side” at all is problematic. In the cases she points out, the fact remains that women are being used, and not always in such a flattering way. She has conceded that there is nothing at all wrong with women being used in plot scenarios, but the acknowledgement is that there are just SO MANY uses that it cheapens the experience. How many times have you ever tried playing a game and had a notion like “They did this same thing in X, Y, and Z games.” In other games, a particular plot device may have become so commonplace that you decided to just ignore the cliche or stereotype for the sake of seeing what else they had to offer, or perhaps the game was fun to play just for the sake of the game.

      “Any kind of positive remark (if there at all) is short and book-ended by negative comments”

      More polar reasoning. Listen carefully to the language Anita uses in her videos. She does not use subjective language.

      From the video around 20:35

      “One of the really insidious things about systemic and institutional sexism is that most often regressive attitudes and harmful gender stereotypes are maintained and perpetuated unintentionally. Likewise engaging with these games is not going to magically transform these players into raging sexists. We typically don’t have a monkey see, monkey do direct cause and effect relation with the media we consume. Cultural influence works in much more subtle and complicated ways.”

      And a little later around 23:42

      “To say that women can never die in stories would be absurd, but it’s important to consider the ways that women’s deaths are framed and examine how and why they’re written.”

      She later acknowledges the complex nature of discussing a topic of worldwide cultural import while analyzing works of fiction. Honestly, I think she is doing a very good job of working the subtlety and nuance necessary.

      • I was referring to the consumer “side” vs. the developer side. I.e. she does not provide any space in her work for developers who created those games.

        As i mentioned before, you’ll never get an argument from me about re-using game-play and story telling mechanics. That is a fact and it is something the industry needs to work on. A slight difference between how we both see it is this: i would say we need to work on this regardless of what gender a character has, and not because of the gender of a character. (correct me if i am wrong).

        The same is true for violence in games. We need to look at how we frame death of any character in games. Many games aim to be edgy to stand out – Ms. Sarkeesian is spot on with that – but i don’t think this is only true for the death of female characters. I could list a handful of games were male characters are killed in shocking ways. There are some games i stopped playing due to excessive violence. But again, this is a gender neutral issue. We developers don’t kill female characters in a gory way because they are women. We kill female characters in a gory way because we kill all characters in a gory way. Blame us for that, and we won’t really have a case to argue against it. But i don’t think it has anything to do with being sexist or marginalizing women.

        With regards to subjective and objective language, i think we will have to agree to disagree. I would not say she uses subjective language throughout, but there are clear cases where she makes an assumption which fits her overall subject.

        That is natural really, because in her view, in the examples she lists, women are represented negatively. It is this view that i contest. I believe that it depends on the person playing the game and experiencing the story, how they interpret the female character in question.

        I don’t think any kind of report, video or blog of this nature can truly be objective. Too much emotion, personal conviction and self interest is involved. In order for her work to be completely objective it would need to give equal time to good and bad examples and give time and space for people who disagree with her assessment on some level to present counter arguments. In my opinion this could actually serve well to make the bad example stick out even more, and i feel it would go a lot further in convincing those that believe sexism is never an issue in game (which of course it can be).

        As i stated previously, in quite a few of the cases she mentions i never thought of the female character as a victim, being weak or being a damsel in distress. I did not see any violence directed at a female character for the mere fact that she was female. Does this then mean that i am sexist, that i think it’s OK to have sexist content? Or does it mean that i simply interpret the narrative and characters differently?

    • ***”Most people who advocate for her videos mention she produces them in order to spark and further the debate. Yet i believe she is not interested in debate, she is merely interested in presenting her opinion and view.”***

      I don’t agree that she isn’t interested in sparking debate(though I also can’t proclaim to know her that well), but if I were to agree.. Is there something wrong with simply presenting an opinion/view in hopes that someone might either re-think their position or at least concede that she ‘may have a point’?

      Does she have to be *in* the debate in order to spark or further it? I’d say she’s doing a pretty good job sparking and furthering debate between people like you and Vauche (and unfortunately, between people who are much less civil or open minded). The question is: why should she be expected to debate? Does that make her views more or less valid? Is it because we need her to clarify her position? Or is it something else?

      ***”She does not facilitate or participate in debate. Discussions happen on the sidelines, on various internet sites (like this) and forums. I think it should be easily possible to set up a discussion forum where obvious abuse gets moderated (and IPs get reported) but where different views can be presented and discussed, with her participation.”***

      While I understand the value of a forum dedicated to this type of thing, I just don’t understand why people *need her* to participate. She’s made her stance clear. Whether or not she wants to debate with others doesn’t change what we ourselves can glean from her video, does it?

      ***”The intention of my letter was not to change people’s minds. I find that most people, once they made up their mind about matters so fundamental such as this, won’t change their opinion anyway. If i am lucky, one or two people reading this letter will come to the conclusion that not everything is black and white and concede that at least i have a point, even if they disagree with it.”***

      I’m just guessing, but that could be what she was trying to accomplish as well. Perhaps the unrealistic ideal is to change a mind, but the more realistic(and I think, better) hope is that someone will come away *thinking*. Just thinking. And maybe they’ll go out and ask some questions of themselves and others.

      It would be interesting to see her debate and hear her thoughts on others’ opinions, but I can’t see how it’s imperative to the discussion.

  8. Fair points Amyth. I suppose what i see as a shortcoming of Ms. Sarkeesian’s presentation can be seen differently, the way you just described.

    I can see your argument that she does not have to be part of a debate to facilitate it and that’s a valid statement.

    Though, i do think it also depends on the topic, the method of delivery and the intended audience and reach.

    I feel if such a powerful message is delivered but the person (or institution) delivering it does not get involved in the debate that follows, answering critics and counter arguments, an opportunity is lost.

    This might be a bit nit-picky on my part (and i freely admit that), but i picked up on the fact she described her own presentation as a “discussion” (i.e. “What we discussed in this video”). That to me is simply not the case – “we” (which implies her own involvement) did not discuss anything. She presents, then withdraws for a number of weeks or months, while many of us discuss.

    What would be fantastic, in my opinion, would be for her to increase the length of her videos by 5 minutes or so and briefly address some prominent counter arguments (of her choice) critics had for her last video. Even this would show that she is actually interested in interaction, rather than just lecturing.

  9. Well focused and a good analysis. I love how you mentioned Dishonored because I had exactly the same feeling and saw it quite unfair in general how it was treated in Anita’s video.

    My respects.

  10. Christoffer Hedborg says:

    “As i mentioned before, you’ll never get an argument from me about re-using game-play and story telling mechanics.”
    “Personally i don’t have a problem with using a stereotypical character (male or female) because it’s a stereotype per se.”

    right.

    • You seem to imply that the second quote contradicts the first. Do i understand your comment correctly?

      if that is the case, please not the “per se” part at the end of the second quote.

      I have no issues with using a stereotypical characters, those types of characters can have their time and place. But if it’s used because you can’t think of anything else (i.e. you are re-hashing things from other games) then it could be an issue.

      Choice of character all depends on the story, the setting and the mood a creative wants to convey.

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