Anita Sarkeesian’s positive female characters in video games

Throughout 2013 and 2014, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency made a lot of headlines in the video game community. Her video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” is critical of the depiction and uses of female characters in games. On the whole, she finds that all too often female characters are sexualized, abused, and made the objects of male conquests.

While many people, especially the journalism community, have been supportive of Feminist Frequency, many more rank and file gamers have been critical. Remove from the discussion the anonymous rabbles that issue death threats and spew verbal abuse against Sarkeesian. Intelligent and thoughtful gamers have looked at her critiques and asked, “Why are you so negative about the depictions of females in video games? What about all of the positive female characters who don’t fit your narrative of oppression?”

In the three previous posts I’ve critiqued Sarkeesian, that’s been one of my main objections. I acknowledge that female characters are often sexualized to the point of absurdity. But as a longtime gamer, I can think of numerous examples of positive female characters in games (e.g., such as the two or three dozen female characters in the Final Fantasy series).

Thankfully, Sarkeesian has started addressing this criticism with her new mini-series, Positive Female Characters in Video Games. I’ve been waiting for months now to write this post, in the hopes that she’d post a few more videos on this topic.

As of now, there are only two videos, so let’s look at her analysis in each.

The Scythian: Sword and Sworcery


Sarkeesian begins her series by examining a character known only as “the Scythian” from the indie game Sword & Sworcery. In short, the game pays homage to the Legend of Zelda series: there’s exploration, combat, and environmental puzzle solving. There are also a few differences: the character doesn’t level up throughout the game, but gets weaker. There’s less combat than Zelda. And the protagonist is a female.

These differences shouldn’t be interpreted as a critique of Zelda, as if Sword & Sworcery is a better game. It’s just a different game.

Sarkeesian discusses at length how the Scythian “subverts” traditional gender roles because she doesn’t appear female:

Thankfully, the game doesn’t resort to clear gendered signifiers like a pink outfit or a pretty bow in her hair, nor does it present her gender as some kind of surprise twist like we see in the original Metroid.

She goes on to say:

It’s not just in the visual sense that the Scythian lacks clear definition. We know very little about her history, and nothing about why she has undertaken the quest to defeat an ancient evil. While games often give us images of heroes who are fated to defeat evil forces, it’s rare for these heroes of myth to be women. Like many video game heroes, the Scythian is essentially a silent protagonist, a figure defined primarily by her actions, which makes her a blank slate for all players to project themselves onto.

What strikes me as curious is that Sarkeesian looks to the Scythian as a positive female character, yet visually she looks male, and on her quest, she does all the things that male protagonists do. She ends by saying:

Sword & Sworcery gives us a female protagonist and encourages us to see her as a hero first and foremost, one who also just happens to be a woman.

In effect, Sarkeesian is saying that female characters are positive if they are indistinguishable from male characters: visually, thematically, purposely.

Yet in her previous Ms. Male video, Sarkeesian critiqued female characters that were essentially carbon copies of male characters, albeit with a visual signifier like a ribbon or bow in their hair.

Personally, I think it’s fine if a female character is androgynous, as it’s fine when male characters are androgynous (to use Final Fantasy again, I’m thinking of some of the male characters, like Vaan or Kuja).

But I wouldn’t say that female characters are better when they are androgynous, as it seems Sarkeesian is saying. Men and women are different. For one, their body shapes, on average, are different, so including those differences in a video game isn’t sexist: it’s a matter of art reflecting reality.

Many of Sarkeesian’s critics have pointed out various positive female characters in games, characters who “just happen” to be a woman. Dixie Kong is one of my favorite female characters in this regard. She’s just as strong, just as fast, just as capable as Diddy Kong. She’s a clone in every regard, except for her special ability. She “just happens” to be a woman.

Yet if you’ve been following Sarkeesian’s work, you’ll find that she doesn’t believe a character can “just happen” to be a woman. In other words, a character cannot be judged on their own merits apart from their gender. In her feminist worldview, gender is inextricably linked to a character (or in the real world, a person), and the history of gendered violence cannot be easily untangled from women.

There’s a discrepancy, then, between Sarkeesian’s arguments in this video and her arguments in past videos. I won’t, however, go so far as to say she’s a hypocrite, as some have said. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, the more she researches these topics, her own views on women are changing. Maybe she’s starting to see, as many have long argued, that female characters can “just happen” to be female, and the history of gendered violence doesn’t have to inform our appreciation of these female characters.

Jade: Beyond Good and Evil


For the second video, Sarkeesian extols Jade from Beyond Good and Evil. Like Sword & Sworcery, I haven’t played Beyond Good and Evil, though I hear great things about the game all the time.

And before Sarkeesian started this mini-series, many critics referred her to this game as an example of a positive female character.

On the surface, then, it appears that Jade is universally recognized as a strong character, so Sarkeesian made a safe choice in highlighting her.

As usual, I have a few quibbles with her analysis.

In the beginning, Sarkeesian discusses Jade’s appearance:

We learn about who characters are not just from the things they say and do, but also from how they look: visual design is an important way for game designers to communicate information at a glance about a character’s experience and personality traits. Sadly, women in games are often depicted in wildly impractical, sexualized clothing designed to make them appealing to straight male players. But Jade isn’t designed to fulfill someone else’s fantasy. The midriff top is a little silly, but for the most part, she looks like someone who is dressed to accommodate her own needs. I mean, you don’t get much more practical than cargo pants.

The part that bothers me is the throwaway comment that Jade’s midriff top is “a little silly.” It’s almost as if Sarkeesian finds female characters acceptable only after all hints of sexuality and conventional attractiveness are eliminated. I’m surprised Sarkeesian didn’t go farther and mention Jade’s exceedingly thin waist.

This criticism bothers me because it runs counter to so much popular feminist discourse. In recent years, pop culture feminists have criticized people who engage in “slut-shaming.” Slut-shaming is the social stigma, usually levied at women, that comes from critiques of female bodies and appearance. Feminists decry slut-shaming; in general, I think they are on point here.

For example, they say dress codes–often at high schools or places of work–stigmatize women more than men. They say society (made up of both men and women, as women can shame other women) picks on women, holding them to different standards than men. In this worldview, the patriarchy tries to control women, in part, through a woman’s dress.

Feminists have popularized this idea across social media and college campuses, so much so that whenever somebody, often a male, criticizes the way a woman looks or dresses, they are outed as “slut-shamers,” and ridiculed.

That means that I, as a male, cannot and should not criticize–even comment on–a woman’s appearance or dress. In this worldview, women are autonomous agents, and only they get to decide what they wear. If they want to dress conservatively, that’s fine. If they want to dress provocatively and show off some skin, that’s their decision, and critics, especially men, better shut up and let them be.

It’s interesting, then, that Sarkeesian points out that Jade’s midriff top is “a little silly.” Why? Is not Jade an autonomous woman? Sarkeesian certainly thinks so in the rest of her analysis. A man didn’t dress Jade when she got up in the morning, did he?

In my mind, as I bow to feminist thinking on this issue, I cannot comment on Jade’s appearance, other than affirming the choices that she’s already made. So if she wants to wear a midriff top, good for her.

Certainly millions of high school and college women choose to dress the same way.

(And for the record, I have no problem with Jade’s appearance).

My second contention with this video comes toward the end:

In this early scene, Jade is trapped until Pey’j appears, throwing her a staff she uses to free herself and overcome the destructive alien force.

Pey’j: Hang on Jade! I’m coming! Free yourself, Jade. I’ll create a diversion.

It may seem like a minor detail, but the fact that Pey’j tells Jade to free herself, instead of doing it for her, is incredibly important. He assists her but doesn’t rescue her. He knows that even in this situation, she’s far from helpless, and the fact that Pey’j treats her as a capable partner encourages us to see her that way, too.

This moment also evokes a sense of mutual respect and partnership between these two characters, in a way that is all too rare for female characters in gaming.

Eventually, Uncle Pey’j is kidnapped, and Jade is determined to rescue him.

As a quick side note, it’s important to point out that a kidnapped male character saved by a woman and a kidnapped female character saved by a man are not equivalent, because while a damsel in distress reinforces longstanding regressive myths about women as a group being weak or helpless specifically because of their gender, a dude in distress does not reinforce any such ideas about men.

It’s this idea, that the history of violence against men and women are different, that probably earns Sarkeesian the most criticism. Her larger narrative is not only that violence against men and women are, historically and presently, different, but she goes even further to contend that the history of violence against women is worse than the history of violence against men.

Perhaps in some circumstances, but maybe not in all. I don’t think it’s healthy to try and “prove” which gender has suffered more through violence. But if you want to talk about real-life “dudes in distress,” look no further than the concept of prisoners of war. For thousands of years, across all civilizations, men have been the primary participants in wars between nations.

Civilians of all age groups and genders are killed, of course. But soldiers, by and large, are male, even today. Men suffer uncalculable violence on the frontlines, afterward from temporary and permanent battle wounds, and sometimes as prisoners of war.

In real life, men often do become “dudes in distress.” To cite only one example more than 400,000 soldiers were imprisoned during the American Civil War, about equally between the North and the South. Furthermore, 56,000 soldiers died in captivity.

I’ll concede to Sarkeesian that women, in literature and video games, are captured and imprisoned more often than men. However, this is a concession with a caveat: it really depends on which example of media we are discussing. Taking The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as one example: yes, Zelda is a female and she’s imprisoned (at the end of the game), but throughout the game, Link also saves many other people from imprisonment, such as half a dozen Gorons and four male carpenters (held in a prison run by women).

I am leery, then, in conceding that the history of violence, including imprisonment, is worse for women than men. In some cases it is worse, certainly. Women are more likely to be the victims of domestic abuse, for example, and that’s wrong. And yes, in many cases violence is gendered. But I won’t play this game in trying to determine which gender has it worse.

Violence in any form is wrong, regardless of the perpetrator, victim, or circumstances.

What I can say about Beyond Good and Evil, then, is that both a main male character and main female character are in distress, and they help each other. Their “distress,” then, is fairly balanced. That doesn’t make it right or wrong. The game simply offers one way of telling a story, a different way of creating conflict.

To paraphrase Sarkeesian from an earlier video, Jade is imprisoned and she “just happens” to be a female, and Pey’j is imprisoned, and he “just happens” to be a male.

Game on,
~Dennis

Critique of Anita Sarkeesian’s ‘Women as Background Decoration part 2’

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency fame recently released a new video criticizing the portrayal of women in video games. This is part of her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series, a series that has gotten much acclaim–and 10 fold the amount of criticism. You can read my previous critiques of Sarkeesian’s videos to get up to speed on the nature of this discussion (“Ms. Male” critique and “Women as Background Decoration part 1” critique).

She defines the Women as Background Decoration trope as follows:

The subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players.

In this video, she continues that argument by stressing “how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.”

Watch the video below first, as I’ll be referencing specific parts of her argument that are troubling or deserve more analysis.

My experience with these games

Let me start this critique by saying that of the 29 games she references in this video, I’ve only played one (Super Mario Galaxy, which isn’t even related to her main argument) and I’ve seen in action only parts of three games: GTAIV, GTAV, and Watch Dogs. As a game scholar and teacher, though, I am familiar with all the rest. So I write this critique not as somebody who personally plays these games for entertainment and takes offense at somebody else telling me my games are bad. I play very few Mature titles, as most of the time I don’t find those kind of games enjoyable.

On the whole, I agree with much of her argument. Women are often portrayed as sex objects in these games, far more often than men, and that’s a problem. The problem isn’t with any individual game, in my opinion, but with the proportion of games like this out there. I recognize the value of most of the games she analyzes as both forms of entertainment and in many cases social commentaries. It is troubling when you survey the entire landscape of games and find some many examples of these games.

But as I’ve long thought, individual developers can’t necessarily be held accountable for the actions of an entire industry, just because the games they make happen to be similar to the games others make.

While I agree with maybe 70% of what she says,she tends to overextend her argument,  as is typical of her videos, and pull on threads that, instead of having the intended effect of strengthening her argument, actually work against her and undercurrent the foundation she has successfully laid.

I offer the following critiques of parts of her argument, not as a way of nitpicking, but as a way of separating the chaff from the wheat. Every time she releases a video, the gamer community finds itself in a tizzy for two weeks. Sarkeesian receives ever uglier harassment and taunting (this time she even had to leave her house and call the police on account of personal threats against her family).

But there’s no need for vitriol: I write this critique for fellow gamers. Sarkeesian’s videos strike a nerve with many of us, myself included. When we separate the less-than-thoughtful parts of her argument, what we are left with is a reasonable critique about the state of women in video games.

What’s the difference between sexualized murder and murder?

Early in the video, she shows several examples of dead NPCs (non-playable characters). There is a difference between them:

A grisly example can be found in Bioshock 2 where mutilated eroticized female bodies are seen scattered throughout The Pink Pearl bordello area in Siren Alley.

Again we can compare the way the murdered male bodies are displayed and notice the distinct lack of sexualization in their presentation. The male corpses may be designed to evoke a sense of horror or disgust, but it’s not coupled with elements of sexual titillation in the same way that female bodies are.

Often in her videos, she presents an observation and considers that the critique. Okay, so female corpses are often sexualized, but is that the most serious issue here? Isn’t the fact that people are dead a little more important? A female character might be sexually assaulted before death, but maybe the male character was tortured (non-sexually) before death. Can we really say one is worse than the other, just because one happens to be gendered and one is not?

She attempts to explain why this is bad:

This Drop Dead Gorgeous trope, as it’s called, is commonly used in other forms of mass media, especially in fashion advertising. It is the collusion of violence done to women’s bodies and the fact that it is often sexualized. The idea being that a dead woman is still inherently beautiful, even if her body has been maimed, her life stolen from her, something arousing still remains available for male consumption.

Here she makes a big assumption. Perhaps the developers intend the dead, sexualized female to be “available for male consumption” (visually, I guess?), but how does she know that’s how players interpret it? In my experience, when I see dead characters in a video game, whether sexualized or not, I know something serious has happened. It can pack an emotional punch. Is she upset with the idea that a woman can still be inherently beautiful in death? How should a dead woman instead be seen: as inherently ugly and disgusting?

Cultures around the world often have immense respect for the dead (especially for family and friends). I don’t think viewing a corpse as ugly would be very honoring to the dead. I’ve been to four open casket funerals, and all individuals were dressed up by the funeral home to look as handsome as possible. So when we take away the idea that dead bodies can’t be seen as beautiful, and when we take away the assumption that men are “consuming” these bodies when they look at them, we are left with no explanation as to what the difference is between a dead, non-sexualized male and a dead, sexualized female, other than an observation about the manner of their deaths.

NPCs are necessary, but are always undeveloped

A main point of her argument is that sexualized females serve the plot in superficial ways:

During one mission in Far Cry 3 the players watch from the sidelines as a pimp beats up a female prostitute of color in a shanty town.

The women who fulfill this trope in gaming universes are sometimes designed to occupy minor narrative roles but more often than not they’re just hollow shells, empty representations with little to no personality or individuality to speak of.

A narrative in any medium–movie, novel, television, play, or video games–is filled with major characters and minor characters. By their nature, minor characters have little depth. The storyteller cannot give a fleshed out backstory for everybody (if you do you’ll end up with something bloated like The Game of Thrones). In the games she analyzes, there are plenty of male characters who are also beat, harassed, or killed in ways to advance the plot (though admittedly, often not in a sexualized way). But these NPCs don’t have much depth either.

I’m the kind of person who tries to have a consistent life philosophy, grounded in principles that work for many situations. I don’t like the idea of criticizing some certain instance but not criticizing other certain instances of similar quality. Yes, these female NPCs are undeveloped, but so are the males: so what?

Perhaps violence in general is Sarkeesian’s bigger concern

Sarkeesian is very prominently a feminist critic and a defender of women’s rights; that much is obvious. And while most of her material is focused on critiquing depictions of women in video games, occasionally she betrays a different motivation:

So in addition to helping paint a gritty picture for the rest of the game experience, this kind of sexualized violence against inessential female characters is exploited by developers as a sort of cheap one-note character development for the “bad guys”.

It’s a lazy shorthand for “evil” meant to further motivate the protagonist to take the villain down and help justify the excessive violence committed by the player in these games.

Some key words here: “lazy shorthand” and “justify the excessive violence.” Point taken: often times the villains in video games are shallow (I still don’t understand Bowser’s fixation with the Princess. He clearly has an empire in the Mushroom Kingdom and is a much more decisive and capable ruler than the Princess is). But if a villain was fleshed out and had depth, would that still justify excessive violence committed against him? Probably not. Notice the term she uses: excessive. I don’t know Sarkeesian’s motives for sure, as she never talks about violence divorced from gender, but maybe she’s equally bothered by the levels of violence present in many mature games.

From my experience with Mature titles, most of the violence is actually male-on-male, non-gendered violence. And that’s totally fine to be against excessive violence in video games–like I said near the beginning, I don’t play a lot of Mature titles, in part because the violence does get to be too much after a while. But excessive violence in games is a separate issue from gendered violence, and when the two are conflated in the same line of argument without proper analysis of one, then the argument falls flat.

The definition of “mature”

This is a small point, but as a scholar of communication, individual word choices and semantics are important to me. She wraps up most of her observations with this preliminary conclusion:

These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing “mature themes” into gaming stories. But there is nothing “mature” about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma.

The games that she analyzes are rated “Mature,” but that word means: not appropriate for children. She even begins her video by saying the content is graphic and not appropriate for children. The “Mature” rating does not mean “sophisticated,” “nuanced,” or “deep.” A think many adults are well-aware that games rated “Mature” don’t necessarily contain deep and sophisticated philosophies and critiques of the world: but they do know that these games contain violence and sex.

But as before, Sarkeesian is making an assumption about how players react to these games. Perhaps to Sarkeesian, who is well-versed in feminist philosophy and is intimately aware of the issues of female harassment, gendered violence, and female trauma (I don’t mean from personal experience–I don’t know much about her personal life–but she’s certainly studied these issues for a long time), the rendering of traumatized females in video games is not sophisticated, but shallow. I understand.

People are at different levels, though, with their maturity. Perhaps to some people, these simplistic depictions of female suffering are deeply meaningful. As a male, I can’t understand what it’s like to be traumatized the same way women are. And in my media consumption, I don’t often come across depictions of female suffering. For me, then, when I see a female character brutalized in a video game, it does shake me out of my complacency and start me thinking about women’s issues.

Maybe other players have the same experience and find that these games are indeed “mature,” in other words, “sophisticated.”

The difference between replicating and critiquing

There is a clear difference between replicating something and critiquing it. It’s not enough to simply present misery as miserable and exploitation as exploitative. Reproduction is not, in and of itself, a critical commentary. A critique must actually center on characters exploring, challenging, changing or struggling with oppressive social systems.

But the game stories we’ve been discussing in this episode do not center or focus on women’s struggles, women’s perseverance or women’s survival in the face of oppression. Nor are these narratives seriously interested in any sort of critical analysis or exploration of the emotional ramifications of violence against women on either a cultural or an interpersonal level.

I’ve been an amateur student of the arts for many years. I’ll freely admit I do not know much about art theory and philosophy, but I do know a bit. And as an artist myself, I learned long ago that it is impossible to objectively replicate something found in nature. No matter what the medium is, there are always choices by the artist about what to include and what not to include. In this way, even the replication of something, like female oppression, is an act riddled with subjectivity.

Some artists even go so far as to suggest that their works do not have intended or subliminal commentaries associated with them. Some artists just create and let the audience draw meaning from there.

In this way, then, perhaps the games analyzed by Sarkeesian can be seen as critical commentaries on some aspect of life and society. She says that these narratives are not “seriously interested” in exploring these issues, but now she’s making an assumption about the developers behind these games. How does she know what the developers, as artists, intended? Perhaps to them, their games both replicate reality (albeit imperfectly) and critique it at the same time. Certainly many people have interpreted the GTA series as one long social commentary, in spite of GTA’s sexism, violence, profanity, drug use, and racism.

Now, we could argue that, if these games are indeed intended to be critiques that perhaps the critique isn’t effective, or isn’t effective for everybody. That would be fair. But when you remove the artist’s motivations behind their artwork, and open the door for individual subjective interpretations of art, then you’ll likely find an entire range of reactions to these games: some will see them as mindless and devoid of artistic merit, whereas others might be deeply impacted by the images they see.

Are viewers comfortable with these games?

The truth is that these games do not expose some kind of “gritty reality” of women’s lives or sexual trauma, but instead sanitise violence against women and make it comfortably consumable.

She makes this argument in many videos, that the depictions of women in media “normalize” violence and oppression against women, that frequent consumption of sexist media “desensitizes” people to reality. But again, she’s making an assumption about how players react to these games.

I think by the end of her video, I’ve finally hit on my main problem with Sarkeesian’s entire line of argument in all of her videos. She primarily examines content, not people. She is using a research technique broadly called “qualitative content analysis.” I’ve conducted both quantitative and qualitative content analyses over the years: I even published a qualitative analysis of the television show Death Note and its embrace of apocalyptic religion. Analyzing media content is one thing, but this research methodology has two serious shortcomings: it tells us little about what the creators of said media actually intended, and it tells us nothing about how consumers of media react.

If you want to know how people react to these video games, there’s a simple solution: go talk to people and ask them what they think! Observe them, survey them, interview them…there are numerous methodologies.

How does Sarkeesian know that gamers are “comfortable” with  these depictions of women in games? Just because a person buys a game doesn’t mean they are comfortable with 100% of the content (or even that they see the objectionable content). Just because a person isn’t publishing a public video critique on YouTube doesn’t mean that they are comfortable with the game’s content.

Video games aren’t just for entertainment and fun: a person can have many emotional reactions to video games. I know when I see a woman brutalized in a video game it bothers me. Does that mean I stop playing the game? Not necessarily. Sometimes I trek on because I think that the game does have a social commentary intertwined with entertaining game play.

The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies, but it’s very brutal and most of the time isn’t comfortable to watch. So I don’t watch it all the time. But I understand the value of the movie, even in its uncomfortableness.

Just because a game features something over and over again doesn’t mean that with each viewing, players get more comfortable with its content.

Maybe some people really do see violence as inevitable

These games also tend to frame misogyny and sexual exploitation as an everlasting fact of life, as something inescapable and unchangeable.

I’ve played my share of violent games over the years, and have seen plenty of ultra-violent movies as well. Currently, there is a media trend, as she identifies, of gritty, dark stories where even the heroes commit serious acts of violence. And sometimes at the end of these stories, the hero is miserable: think The Dark Knight. Now, I don’t understand the motives of any of these storytellers. Maybe some of them really do revel in the violence they create and are entertained by it.

But over years, I’ve come up with a different conjecture. Maybe some storytellers really do see violence as an inescapable and unchangeable reality of life. Certainly there is evidence for this (the entire recorded history of humanity is filled with violence). And maybe some storytellers haven’t been exposed to, or haven’t accepted, more hopeful philosophies of life. Maybe they really do live in the darkness and can’t envision a world without grisly violence.

While I don’t hold that worldview, I don’t begrudge those who do. Maybe that philosophy is the natural consequence of the life they’ve lived up to this point. Should those people be prevented from presenting their view of “reality as they know it” just because somebody doesn’t think that view of reality is accurate?

A mixed conclusion

She ends her video with this:

The truth is that objectification and sexual violence are neither normal nor inevitable. We do not have to accept them as some kind of necessary cultural backdrop in our media stories. Contrary to popular belief, the system of patriarchy has not existed for all of history across all time and all cultures. And as such it can be changed. It is possible to imagine fictional worlds, even of the dark, twisted dystopian variety, where the oppression and exploitation of women is not framed as something expected and inevitable.

When we see fictional universes challenging or even transcending systemic gender oppression, it subverts the dominant paradigm within our collective consciousness, and helps make a more just society feel possible, tangible and within reach.

Here’s what I take away. She’s saying simply: stop depicting sexual violence as an inevitable part of reality, because reality can be changed. I’m not clear what a universe that “transcends” systematic gender oppression looks like, but I’m guessing it means that, in a fictional universe, systematic gender oppression does not exist, and instead of storytellers focusing on that aspect of life, they can then be free to focus on other aspects, perhaps other forms of oppression. Am I getting close?

It seems like she wants these transcendent universes to be on display so that a more just society “feels possible.” In other words, these transcendent universes serve as a model in our consciousness, something to strive toward.

That seems a laudable goal, one I share, but I’d argue such universes already exist (the worlds of Final Fantasy seem pretty transcendent on the gender front, as does the Legend of Zelda [though Sarkeesian disagrees with that]).

Earlier in her video, she said this:

Now, to be clear, I’m certainly not saying stories seriously examining the issues surrounding domestic or sexual violence are off limits for interactive media – however if game makers do attempt to address these themes, they need to approach the topic with the subtlety, gravity and respect that the subject deserves.

So on the one hand, she wants developers to include stories of female trauma, but only if they fit a certain critical mold. But on the other, she wants stories that transcend gender, whatever that means.

But I’ve said too much as it is. For a proper conclusion, reread my section “my experience with these games.” Enough from me: what are your thoughts, Reader?

Game on,
~Dennis

Critique of Sarkeesian’s “Women as Background Decoration” Video

Every few months, Anita Sarkeesian, feminist media critic behind the popular website and YouTube channel Feminist Frequency, releases a new video about women in video games. Her videos draw sharp criticism from gamers, but over time, people are slowly starting to recognize the value of her critiques. She even recently won the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award for her work in drawing attention to the plight of female characters in video games.

For all the research she puts into her videos, inevitably the videos arrive short of perfection. All arguments are open to critique (including this critique). And I want to state at the outset that a male writer (myself and others) critiquing a woman espousing feminist views is not in and of itself evidence of the oppressive patriarchy trying to silence and condemn women or feminist ideals. Feminists don’t have a monopoly on the discussions surrounding gender and sexuality in our culture; other perspectives need to be encouraged.

In her latest video, Sarkeesian examines the “Women as Background Decoration” trope in video games, which she defines as:

The subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players. Sometimes they’re created to be glorified furniture but they are frequently programmed as minimally interactive sex objects to be used and abused.

Before going any further, here’s the video in question. Please watch to understand the specifics of this critique. Unfortunately, the video is quite long (31 minutes, and it’s only Part 1!), so buckle in.

Areas of agreement

Of Sarkeesian’s five videos on women in video games, I probably agree with Sarkeesian most in this video. Women have been used as background decoration in video games for a very long time, and the problem has only gotten worse in the last 6-7 years with the development of near-lifelike 3D female characters. Sarkeesian focuses on NPCs, Non-Playable Characters, in this video, which she reterms Non-Playable Sex Objects. I mostly agree with her when she says:

Non-Playable Sex Objects can usually be found on the sidelines of role playing or open world style games, populating the many virtual strip clubs, red light districts or brothel locations that have become almost obligatory in many so-called “mature” titles.

I don’t play a lot of mature video games, and I’m not a fan of sexualized characters in general. They feel cheap, crude, and immature. She goes on to show that in many modern mature titles, characters are forced to walk through strip clubs, brothels, and women’s dressing rooms in order to advance the plot. Now, I don’t think these sorts of places or characters such as prostitutes should be eliminated from video games entirely: there might be many justifiable story reasons to include such seedy establishments. I don’t want to deny storytellers any tool that could potentially tell a compelling story.

But she’s right that in most cases, these sexualized NPCs and strip clubs don’t really add much to the game.

How not to critique cultural studies

Before I outline my areas of disagreement with Sarkeesian, I think this conversation (which is already happening on a variety of video game websites, as Sarkeesian doesn’t allow comments on her videos due to continued harassment directed toward her, which I understand) could be advanced if we outlined some rules for debate. Whenever Sarkeesian posts a video, people invariably nitpick all of her specific examples. They will highlight one specific point she made and explain it away in the larger context of that game’s world and logic.

A second strategy is to present counter-examples, perhaps a video game that has a justifiable use of prostitutes or something. But people miss the point about what cultural studies is supposed to be. Cultural studies, which Sarkeesian is a student of, is a research methodology in which some aspect of our culture is examined. It takes a forest-level viewpoint, and in the process, misses some trees. So yes, we could nitpick some of the specific games she uses to highlight her points. And we could probably come up with 10 examples that contradict her points. But do a few counter-cases outweigh the evidence she has gathered? I think in this case, the answer is no.

Instead, I want to focus on broader problems with her argument.

Sarkeesian’s zeal to provide overwhelming evidence goes too far

This has always been her biggest problem. Sarkeesian wants to provide overwhelming evidence of some trend in video games, and in the process, she ignores not just individual counter-examples, but entire bodies of evidence. Then, with the evidence she has left, she reads so far into it that I start to question: do gamers even take these issues as seriously as she is presenting them when they are playing these games? Isn’t she being just a little hyper critical?

For example, she spends much of this video examining open-world or “sandbox style” video games like Grand Theft Auto and Sleeping Dogs. She points out numerous examples of Non-Playable Sex Objects, which the player can beat, stab, kill, kidnap, and stuff into the trunk of their cars. And she says that the player is encouraged to commit acts of violence against women, that designers put these systems in place and want the gamer to test the boundaries of the game’s rules.

Maybe so. But anybody who’s played an open-world video game knows that acts of violence aren’t just committed against sexualized women: you can perform acts of violence against most anybody in these games! Sarkeesian anticipates the argument that I just used, and responds:

Typically all the non-essential characters in sandbox style games are killable, but it’s the sexualized women whose instrumentality and brutalization is gendered and eroticized in ways that men never are. The visual language attached to male NPCs is very different since they are rarely designed to be sexually inviting or arousing, and they are not coded to interact with the player in ways meant to reaffirm a heterosexual fantasy about being a stud.

Correct, male characters often aren’t sexualized. But they are still killable. What is the greater sin: killing a sexualized woman, or killing a man? In Sarkeesian’s worldview, the first. But in my worldview, and in the worldview of many gamers, the killing of any innocent NPC is bad. A life is a life, and all life is precious. Sarkeesian states:

But even if sexualized male NPCs were more prevalent, equal opportunity sexual objectification is still not the solution to this problem, especially considering the existing power differential between men and women in our society. Women are constantly represented as primarily for sex. Men may be sexual too, but they can also be anything else, they are not defined by or reduced to their sexuality and their sexuality is not thought of as something existing chiefly for the pleasure of others. Which means the fundamentally dominant position of men in our culture is not in any way challenged or diminished by the rare male depiction as sex worker.

I agree with her that our society has a more oppressive “script” when it comes to violence against women compared to violence against men. This is a problem for women, yes, but also a problem for men. Why aren’t more men outraged by violence against men? Why aren’t more women outraged by violence against men?

NPCs are always used for the player’s benefit

Sarkeesian spends considerable time examining how women NPCs are objectified in video games. She has example after example of women NPCs being used for sex and providing stat boosts, being killable so that they can be robbed, or fulfilling some cheap mission objective. She says:

In the realm of interactive media I use the term “instrumentality” to refer to the practice of using virtual women as tools or props for the player’s own purposes.

But NPCs by their very nature are designed for the player’s use. Some NPCs sell objects to the player. Some NPCs give objects or keys to the player. Some provide information. Some provide money. Some offer the player quests to complete. Virtually every adventure game (e.g., the Legend of Zelda), role-playing game (e.g., Final Fantasy), action game (e.g., Resident Evil 4), and open-world game (e.g., Grand Theft Auto) has NPCs who serve to assist the character in some way. Herein lies another instance of Sarkeesian going beyond what her data says while simultaneously ignoring vast swaths of counter-points.

She then criticizes the interchangeability of sexualized NPCs:

Since these women serve an identical or nearly identical “resource” function within the game space, they are created to be interchangeable with any other female NPC of the same type. A fact reinforced when developers simply copy and paste the same character models into various locations throughout the environment.

Yes, it is true that women NPCs, like prostitutes, are interchangeable, and on some level, I can understand how this is dehumanizing to women. On the other hand, this is a very common practice in video games for the treatment of all NPCs! This primarily has to do with technological constraints. Up until very recently, video game technology was not sophisticated enough to have completely unique NPCs throughout the entire game. Even if the technology is there, asking developers to create unique NPCs (and for open-world games, this would be asking for thousands of unique character models, character animations, catchphrases, and so forth) would require far too great of an investment in resources on the developer’s part.

For instance, consider nearly every RPG, from Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior on the NES in the 1980s through today. Most RPGs feature a variety of towns that the player visits on their quest to save the world. And every town includes shops that sell weapons, armor, magic, potions, and other useful items. Those shops are usually run by NPCs. If the developer is really ambitious, the NPCs will look different each time. But essentially, are they not interchangeable? They exist to provide the player some benefit, and character models can be swapped at will and it doesn’t affect how the game is played. Are shopkeepers in RPGs objectified? I suppose on some level. But there are a lot of technical reasons for this, as I’ve explained.

Most video games do not accurately mirror reality, both in representations of characters’ bodies and in treating characters like real people. There are a variety of game play reasons why video games don’t mirror reality. For instance, who would play an adventure game if it honestly took 3 hours to walk between towns? Or who would play any game if the character had to sleep for 8 hours each 24 hour period? So cuts are made to reality to facilitate the game play. It has to occur, though how it occurs varies from game to game.

A final example. She points out that when sexualized female NPCs are killed, their bodies disappear after a few seconds:

Their status as disposable objects is reinforced by the fact that in most games discarded bodies will simply vanish into thin air a short time after being killed.

Again, this phenomenon of disappearing bodies isn’t unique to sexualized NPCs. This is probably her weakest point in the entire video. In almost all video games, defeated characters disappear. There is largely a technical reason for this: when a video game renders different objects, like characters, cars, etc., it takes memory. If that object is no longer being used (i.e., the character is dead) then the game simply makes that object disappear so that it doesn’t clog up the memory. In fact, games in the 1980s through the 1990s were very limited in the number of unique objects they could display on a screen. So having objects disappear allows the game to continue functioning.

Areas yet to be addressed by Sarkeesian

In my previous critique of Sarkeesian, I ended the post by identifying four areas of gender and culture that Sarkeesian has not addressed sufficiently, to her detriment. I’ll conclude in a similar fashion.

  1. What about violence against men?I mentioned this last time, but this critique now has more nuance. As I’ve elaborated in this post, violence against women is bad, but violence against men is equally bad. In the vast majority of video games (and practically all of the video games Sarkeesian used for her analysis) the protagonist is a male. Do video games not perpetuate the stereotype that men must resort to violence and death to solve their problems? Isn’t this a problem? Not only are the playable characters male, but the vast majority of enemies that these male protagonists kill are male. Yes, you can kill prostitutes in games like GTA. But most of the policemen, gang members, and other enemies you kill will be male. Video games are primarily a spectacle of male-on-male violence. While many victims of violence in real-life are women, and that is bad, are not the majority of perpetrators of violence male? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, men are 3.6 times more likely to commit homicide than women.
  2. Are the critics affected by the games they research? This is an honest question I have for all cultural studies researchers, not just Sarkeesian. If violent and sexualized media is so detrimental to viewers, why are not the researchers affected by what they study? Like I said, I’ve played almost none of the games Sarkeesian examines in this video. Yet she’s played them and studied them for months now. If seeing images of sexualized images is so damaging, then critics like Sarkeesian should probably be the most affected by them. These images probably do affect her on some level, and she probably does have a strong support system to help her cope with the images she sees (at least I hope so). It’s clear that she is bothered by these subjects, so it is commendable that she is proceeding with her message in spite of the dangers these games might be doing to her mind. But even so, it is also clear that she has not internalized the poisonous aspects of these games. She doesn’t commit violence against women; she doesn’t degrade women in her talk or her beliefs. She doesn’t tell off-color jokes about rape. She has a very high respect for women as individuals. So if she can find a way to “see through the lies” and she can find a way not to internalize the destructive messages of these games, why does she assume that gamers cannot? Why does she assume that the majority cannot? Gamers are a lot more intelligent and thinking about the games they play than critics give them credit for. Which leads to my last point:
  3. Do we know if these games are actually affecting gamers? That’s the big question. Even if we accept all of her critiques, how do we know that gamers are actually playing these games and internalizing regressive patriarchal attitudes toward women? At the end of her video, Sarkeesian resorts to a logical fallacy I refer to as “phantom studies.” She says, “Studies have found, for example, that after having viewed sexually objectified female bodies, men in particular tend to view women as less intelligent, less competent and disturbingly express less concern for their physical well being or safety.” Phrases like “Studies have found” or “research shows” are tip-offs that somebody is resorting to phantom studies. Which studies? Who were the participants? When was the study conducted? By who? Who evaluated the study’s findings? We don’t know! Her phantom studies provide an air of authority, yet are essentially meaningless. I can say this as somebody with a PhD in mass communication, who has examined the same studies that Sarkeesian has examined, that social science research is highly contextual and contains many caveats. We don’t have time to examine why, but there are a variety of methodological shortcomings of social science research, primarily, researchers don’t have the time, money, or resources to see if the media really does have a long-term effect on the people who view it. A study that provides evidence for a phenomenon in a lab is very different than a study conducted outside the lab. In fairness to Sarkeesian, she does include links on her website to additional resources, many of them studies (or summaries of studies) about the destructive effects of playing video games. However, I still believe the research still has many shortcomings regarding these issues.

Thoughts? Where am I going wrong with my analysis, and where do you agree with Sarkeesian? Leave your respectful comments below so we can continue this discussion!

Game on,
~Dennis

Critique of Anita Sarkeesian’s “Ms. Male” Video about Problematic Female Characters in Video Games

Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist media critic behind Feminist Frequency, has posted a new video analyzing the state of women characters in video games. Her previous three-part video series examined the Damsel in Distress trope. The series received widespread criticism from gamers, though gaming publications at least linked to the videos with a tepid description along the lines of, “She has some good points: please be responsible in the comments section!”

Sarkeesian does not allow comments on the videos themselves or the associated blog posts, which is frustrating, as debate regarding her videos gets spread across myriad websites. She has experienced incredible amounts of sexual harassment, so I understand why she doesn’t allow comments.

(Anita, if you’re reading this, perhaps find a group of your loyal Kickstarter fans to help administer comments. You might be surprised how many people you’ll find who are willing to delete all the garbage comments, leaving the legitimate comments public of people who want to discuss these issues with you further.)

Her latest video analyzes what she calls the “Ms. Male” character trope, the phenomenon of female “clones” being made of male video game heroes. Before we get to my analysis, watch her video below. It’s a longie, but a goodie.

Her forest-level observations are accurate, but sometimes her details are overblown

So let’s start with the obvious. Yes, many times female characters, especially in the early days of video gaming, were simply “clones” of male characters. The characters often have virtually the same abilities, and often use the same character model, but small superficial markers are added: lipstick, the color pink, eyelashes, etc. She is right about this, and it is a problem. But I take issue with her characterization of some “Ms. Male” characters.

Let’s start with Ms. Pac-Man, the character she spends considerable time analyzing in the beginning of the video. Ms. Pac-Man does indeed use the same character model as Pac-Man, but with added lipstick, bow, eyelashes, and beauty mark. Sarkeesian seems deeply offended, though, about how Pac-Man was originally created. Here’s a quotation from her video:

Incidentally Toru Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, has stated in numerous interviews that the game was designed to appeal to women because, and I’m not kidding about this, he said, “When you think about things women like, you think about fashion, or fortune-telling, or food or dating boyfriends. So I decided to theme the game around “eating” — after eating dinner, women like to have dessert.”

Luckily Iwatani’s regressive personal or cultural notions about women are not reflected in the finished game itself. Pac-Man went on to became an international sensation and remains one the most recognizable pop culture icons today – but probably not because women are genetically predisposed to “like eating desserts” more than humans of other genders.

The original creator did, indeed, create Pac-Man to appeal to women. Knowing a fair bit about Pac-Man history, though, I offer an alternative explanation of why Pac-Man is focused on eating:

At the time Pac-Man was released, almost all of the arcade games were focused on shooting, violence, and war. Games like Defender, Asteroids, Missile Command, and Space Invaders were immensely popular, but were also very violent (for the time). While many girls did play arcade games, many were also turned off because of the violent nature of these games.

Iwatani, then, wanted to create a game that accomplished two things: it did not involve violence (or very little: eating the ghosts could be seen as violent, though they never actually “die”), and he wanted a game that could appeal to both men and women. So yes, he did focus it on eating because women like eating. I wouldn’t consider this a “regressive” notion about women, though. Rather, a realistic response to market conditions.

Anita Sarkeesian

Feminist scholars make a big deal about the differences between the “social construction” of gender and biological notions of “sex.” In fact, many feminists see differences in males and females as almost entirely socially constructed: it’s a key part of feminist theory.

The average public, though, doesn’t necessarily know, nor care, about the differences between social construction and biology when it comes to gender and sex. People eventually figure out that there are differences between men and women: whether those differences come about through biology or society makes little difference to them.

Iwatani, then, simply looked at the culture and saw that women are often connected with food. Is it any surprise? Women are often the head cook and baker in the household. Television cooking shows on Food Network and the like are often dominated by women–and watched by women. Cooking magazines are primarily targeted at women. Against Sarkeesian’s contention, I don’t think Iwantani ever considered whether women were “genetically predisposed” to like desserts–but it is a part of our culture.

And luckily for him, he was right about the game’s appeal to women (the cute characters are also considered another factor in Pac-Man’s cross-sectional appeal). Many girls did play the game, and Pac-Man holds the record for most popular arcade game ever, a record unlikely to be broken considering the demise of arcades in the late 1990s.

Surprisingly, little has changed today in regard to “eating” games. Consider the extremely popular game “Candy Crush Saga,” a puzzle game on Facebook where the game pieces are made of candy. I’ve known many women–from women my age to women my mom’s age–who do not consider themselves gamers, or who have rarely played video games before, who are huge Candy Crush Saga fans. Of course, men play the game, too, but consider this informal survey of my own Facebook account: when I look at the number of my friends who play CCS, 17 are male and 29 are female. And the only players who’ve ever invited me to play the game are women.

Just out of curiosity, when you’re done reading this post, go to Facebook and search “Candy Crush Saga.” You don’t have to sign up for the game: just look over the list of your friends who play the game. Leave a comment on this post on the number of women who play the game verses men. I’m curious how representative my friend mix is.

The small details can always be criticized

One problem with qualitative research, which Sarkeesian is conducting, is that identifying trends and general patterns is one thing. But these trends need to be backed up with specific examples to make one’s point. These specific examples can always be torn apart and viewed another way, as I just did with Ms. Pac-Man. We could go point by point through Sarkeesian’s analysis and find counter explanations for all her arguments. The question each reader needs to ask themselves, though, is: does the weight of evidence point you in support of Sarkeesian’s critique of video games, even though all of her individual points are up for criticism?

For me, the weight of evidence makes me support Sarkeesian’s general analysis about the “problematic” (one of her favorite buzzwords) role of women in games. I do not, however, view the problem as widespread as her.

Here are a few more quibbles I have with this video:

About halfway through her video, Sarkeesian decides to show the extent of the “Ms. Male” character problem by referencing the “oldest” Ms. Male character, Eve from “Adam and Eve” fame:

One very old and notable example of the Ms. Male Character trope comes to mind. As the story goes, God made Adam in his own image and then later took a rib from Adam’s side and fashioned a woman out of it to be his wife and companion. This Adam and Eve version of the creation myth reinforces a subordinate view of women — man is cast as the original concept and source code for woman who is derived from his body. Essentially Eve is the sequel to Adam, just as Ms. Pac-Man was built from the body of Pac-Man who came before her.

This is, of course, one reading of the Adam and Eve story, but there are dozens of major interpretations of this story. Sarkeesian doesn’t seem to be a theologian (nor is she claiming to be one), and I think she’s stepping far outside her expertise with this criticism. Applying modern models of morality to ancient texts, without understanding the socio-cultural climate that produced those texts, is sloppy and unfair. This post isn’t the place to examine creation theology, but I’ll share this one quotation from Matthew Henry, who sees Eve’s creation as an affirmation of her equality with Adam, which I believe is true:

Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.

Anita Sarkeesian and Dixie Kong

Anita has another small criticism of Dixie Kong, who’s actually my favorite female video game character. She states:

Dixie Kong is the feminine variant and love interest of Diddy Kong. Note the ponytail and hair ringlets, pink shirt, pink hat, earrings, and eyelashes all to distinguish her from her predecessor. Essentially Ms. Male Characters are feminized imitations or derivative copies of already established male characters. They exist only because of, and in relationship to, their male counterparts.

Ms. Male Characters typically aren’t given their own distinctive identities and are prevented from being fully realized characters who exist on their own terms. This has the, perhaps unintended, effect of devaluing these characters and often relegating them to a subordinate or secondary status inside their respective media franchises, even when they are, on rare occasions, given a starring role in a spin-off or sequel.

Sarkeesian says herself in another video that there’s nothing wrong with wearing pink (she says this in a video in which she wears bright pink). So why the excessive criticism of characters who look like girls? Yes, Dixie Kong has a ponytail, eyelashes, earrings, and wears pink, but Sarkeesian also wears a ponytail, has earrings, wearings make-up and pink clothes. I know she hates people referencing her personal appearance: she wants to be criticized based on her ideas, not her looks. That’s all well and fine, but you’ve got to play fairly. Criticize Dixie Kong for her character, not her appearance.

Dixie Kong first appears in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (SNES: 1995). Dixie at first does appear to be a “Ms. Male” character. Her character is light and quick, just like Diddy (Donkey Kong, conversely, is heavy and slow, but more powerful). Donkey Kong doesn’t appear in the game, though: he’s been “damseled” and must be rescued by Diddy and Dixie. Dixie Kong, though, is superior to Diddy in her playability. Her “hair helicopter” move is far more useful than Diddy Kong’s cartwheel, and I play as Dixie whenever I can.

In Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble! (SNES: 1996) Dixie Kong is now the star, as both Donkey and Diddy have been “damseled.” The clip Sarkeesian chooses to show of Dixie is from the upcoming game, Donkey Kong Country Returns: Tropical Freeze. Dixie does indeed ride on Donkey Kong’s back, but not because she’s a women and subservient to Donkey: Diddy also rides on Donkey Kong’s back in DKC Returns. That’s just how the developers decided to pair the monkeys this time around: instead of one following the other, Donkey is the main character, the other monkey is a sidekick (perhaps rightfully so, as DKC2 and 3 were named for Donkey Kong, yet he wasn’t a playable character at all).

Sarkeesian’s broad analysis of gender is itself shortsighted: Areas that Sarkeesian has yet to address sufficiently

Sarkeesian brings up many good points about the role of women in video games. Her current video is mostly right, and her previous three videos on Damsels in Distress are also mostly right. Even though her analysis seems comprehensive (roughly 100 minutes for all four videos), she fails to acknowledge many counter-arguments. Here are my four biggest problems with Sarkeesian’s brand of feminism:

  1. The goalposts are always moving. This summer she criticized Damsels in Distress. Now she’s criticizing Ms. Male characters. Her next video will likely criticize sexualized female characters: she’s certainly criticized women like Lara Croft before. The narrative has already written itself for what remains to be criticized: Over-representations of white female characters. Lack of diversity in body types. Lack of diversity in sexual and gender identities. The list goes on. On the surface, it seems that Sarkeesian would be pleased if more lesbian and bisexual women were represented in games, but what if a game featured a straight, lesbian, and bisexual woman? The next criticism is likely, “Gender and sexual identity does not fit neatly into three distinct categories. Gender identity is a multifaceted rainbow with dozens of possible permutations.” To be completely inclusive, do video games need to give players characters with three or four different gender identities and sexual orientations, three or four or five or six different races, three or four or five different body types for women, ranging from skinny to obese, and three or four or five different ages of women (why are almost all female characters teens or young adults? Ageism!) There’s no way any one media product can satisfy all permutations of women. Which leads to my next criticism:
  2. Developers make games in isolation, not as part of a collective action. What do I mean by this? Well, developers are each going to make their own game, and include their own representations of women. Sarkeesian says pink is okay sometimes. Is it also okay if a woman has prominent sexual assets sometimes? Probably. Is it also okay if a woman is white? Probably. Okay then. Who decides, then, which developer is allowed to make a female character who happens wears pink and earrings, and which developer is allowed to make a female character who happens to be moderately unattractive? Nobody. Developers do not get together and decide what ratio of different female characters they will create for this year’s games in an effort to be equitable. So it seems unfair to criticize the collective state of women in games, considering that female characters in games likely came about through individual decisions that just happened to result in patterns.
  3. What about men? Sarkeesian’s stated mission is to “explore the representations of women in pop culture narratives. Her work focuses on deconstructing the stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture as well as highlighting issues surrounding the targeted harassment of women in online and gaming spaces.” Analyzing women is great, but talk to any man, and I am sure he can all think of problematic ways men are stereotyped in pop culture as well. When feminism focuses solely on the dire straits of women to the exclusion of men, it give a false impression that only women are systematically oppressed and that men are 100% privileged: men have nothing to be concerned about. Certainly that isn’t true.
  4. What about the positive? Sarkeesian’s criticism is almost entirely negative. She vaguely hints at strong female characters from time to time, but this is rare. In this Ms. Male video, she references a strong female character “Claire” from the indie game Thomas Was Alone. Indie games are making some strides in opening up characterization in video games. However, is a blue faceless square really the best example of a strong female character?

Thoughts? Where am I going wrong with my analysis? Feel free to leave your comments below!

Game on,
~Dennis