On the Topic of Sexism and Video Games

An in-depth essay written in response to the feminist media critic, Anita Sarkeesian’s work

If you follow me on Twitter, you may be aware of how I vaguely stand on this topic the Internet is pretty focused on lately. But I’m done being vague. Let me make this absolutely clear: the media you consume is not intrinsically misogynistic. It is a reflection of the ideas, perceptions, concepts, and behavior of society and culture. So here it is: My Open Letter to Anita Sarkeesian.

Look, if you want to talk about sexism in video games, by all means, go ahead. It’s everywhere. But don’t attack an entire artistic medium and the subculture surrounding it as if they are purveyors of these negative conceptions. Especially without taking into account the guilty party at large.

You want to talk sexism in video games? Then talk about David Cage and his treatment of women as trophies for male heroes and how women are obligated to forgive men’s indiscretions or else be terribly, awful people deserving of misery. Or talk about how Ubisoft blatantly refused an option for a female Assassin character in their biggest selling franchise. Or how about discussing sex being used as a selling point vs. to empower and exemplify a woman’s right to sexuality? Or even how the implication of sexual abuse towards women is more sensationalized and considered a worser fate than violence and murder?

Or better yet, talk about how the assumption that all men look to engage in the “male power fantasy” is just as sexist as it is to assume women require some form of a knight in shining armor or prince charming. Because feminism is about equality, right? Or what about the lacking representation of LGBT+ individuals as more than support characters? Because equality, right?

Another idea on the topic of equality is to address how a large portion of the video game market is located in Japan, meaning that an entirely Western application of feminism being applied to the whole of the industry is narrow-minded and inaccurate, so opening the doors to a multi-cultural understanding of women is necessary in order to intelligently discuss and address our media’s representations. So with that in mind, we should acknowledge and question the representation of Eastern women from a Western perspective and how it is perceived outside of that perspective.

Better still, let’s talk about how, just because a woman is dressed in scandalous clothing, she is instantly perceived as sexualizedreflecting on this patriarchal idea that a woman’s body is inherently a sexual object when this directly contradicts the idea that a woman’s body is sacred because remember, rape = worse than murder.

Actually, I’ve got an even better topic to address. Let’s talk about how you, as a willing participant in a medium, are able to find sexism while actively seeking it where other participants have not? Because here’s the thing about video games, the reason we are so fascinated by them. By choosing to play a game, you sign an unspoken contract to participate in the action. When you choose to play a video game, you aren’t a passive viewer of a contained screen. Choosing to play a video game puts you in control of where the action goes. You decide how to act. You don’t just watch the story play out, you participate. You actively engage with the medium, so why is it that you, as a player, perceive sexism where others who have signed the same unspoken contract have not? Is it a reflection of culture’s sexist ideologies being ingrained subconsciously within society? Or could it be confirmation bias? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s a bit of both?

I’m not saying sexism doesn’t exist in video games. Exactly the opposite- I’m saying there is plenty. But the point is: if you want to talk about sexism in video games, then take a look at the industry guilty of perpetuating itTake a look at the marketlook at what’s selling, and talk about how the financial input of the consumer influences the output of the product. Talk to developers about contractual mandates and how this affects the production process. Talk to players about the games they have found to be unnecessarily sexist and how they, as players, would like to have seen the subject matter handled. Talk to female gamers about the “fake gamer girl” stereotype and how it affects women’s credibility as figures in the gaming subculture. Basically, pool your resources, do your research, and most importantly, engage with an audience outside your own personal echo chamber. Open the floor to discussion and to the possibility of being refuted with an effective counter-argument rather than shutting down the interactivity that the Internet, as a platform, provides.

Oh, and on the note of engaging with your audience? How about let’s not use click-bait-y titles and buzzwords to stir up controversy for attention to the issue you want to discuss? “Fighting Fuck Toy?” Really? There is no other way for you to address this trope without sounding like a yellow journalist? Couldn’t you provoke intellectual discussion with something more akin to a question or thesis statement? Like, “What is a ‘Strong Female Character?’” Or, “Does A Woman’s Ability to Fight Make Her ‘Equal?’” I don’t know, maybe even, “Fighting Women: Male Kink Fantasy or Female Sexual Empowerment?” The fact that you are intentionally addressing problems in what you claim to be a misogynistic industry in a way that provokes and baits contention implies to me that you’re simply looking more to make waves and less that you sincerely want to question the prevalence of sexism in this particular medium. If that’s the case, then I ask you, why should I care?

Guess what? People are interested in this topic. That’s why Tropes vs. Women was funded. (Biting the hand that feeds you, much?) And bit by bitgamers and developers alike are trying to change the industry, and the best thing you can do as someone looking to influence this change is to be constructive in the criticism you’re dishing out. If you’re looking to produce valid and valuable criticism, then please, do everyone and yourself a favor, and make it actionable. Make it something that both creators and audience members can work on. Don’t estrange an entire group of people by villainizing them. When you put your audience on the defensive, your point is immediately lost because no one can be receptive to new ideas behind a protective wall.

The more and more I see of your work and your social media presence, the more and more I’m convinced that you couldn’t care less about influencing social change for women in gaming culture and are more concerned about homing in on the abuse you receive, as evidenced by the fact that your Pinned Tweet being a talk on “harassment tactics and conspiracy theories targeting women online” rather than the media you claim to be a critic of. And you know what? If you want to shift from sexism in video games to the discussion of misogyny on the Internet and social media, by all means, go right ahead. You’re well-equipped to talk on that subject… But if I’m right, and you are intentionally manipulating your audience under the pretense of talking about video games and the representation of women to illicit harassment so you can instead talk about that, then you need to fess up and shed this charade before any more damage is done. Lying to your audience and leading your results for a social experiment is unethical, unjust, and unnecessary. As you have put it, you are a woman and a feminist on the Internet. Without even saying anything at all, you are immediately the target of unwarranted misogyny, but targeting a group you already recognize as easy to arouse with statements that purposefully get a rise out of them… It becomes easier to understand why people have lashed out at you. It is absolutely no excuse for their behavior, but if your audience feels manipulated and used, then of course their reactions are going to be visceral. And that level of tampering with the results of your experiment is worth questioning the ethics and legitimacy of.

Finally, and this part’s for everyone, for those who think I’m taking some sort of side in this entire debate, let me tell you this: YOU. ARE A PART. OF THE PROBLEM. I’m not trying to berate women or defend men. This is not a binary issue. Once again, this “us vs. them” mentality prevails and destroys any and all civil discourse that could potentially produce necessary change in our culture. I’m not here to “take sides” because the fact that there are “sides” to begin with implies that this is a warzone, and you want to know a little something about war? It tends to result in less understanding and a lot more pain and unnecessary suffering. I have said it before, and apparently it bears repeating: “Why are people so adamant about applying our world’s reality of violence, threats, and hate to this place where – for the first time in humanity’s existence – we actually have the opportunity to open ourselves to communication and understanding beyond ourselves?”

So in case I can’t make this any clearerabuse is not okay. No, I don’t agree with Anita Sarkeesian. I think her work is severely flawed and in desperate need of revision. I think she’s either uneducated and close-minded about her topic of choice or incredibly disingenuous with regards to her intentions. I think she needs to seriously re-evaluate her career and choices before continuing to work, for the sake of her own well-being. But do I believe she deserves or has warranted the threats to her life? Of course not. She’s a woman with her own opinions and the right to those opinions as well as the same happiness and safety we all have the basic human right to. No matter how enraged I may get when I witness another atrocious display of this brand of “feminism,” I still believe she’s got every right to a safe and content life where she’s free to be as ignorant and ill-informed, or as productive and proactive, as she so desires.

(c) Morgan Lea Davis, 2014


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