WARNING: This article contains harsh language, topics covering sexual assault and violence against women
Anita Sarkeesian received widespread attention in 2012 for her wildly successful Kickstarter project; Tropes vs. Women, a web series that focuses on video games through a feminist lens. She has been making videos since 2009 and has a deep, extensive knowledge about video games. The project’s original goal was $6,000 and it received over $150,000 in pledges. However, along with all the support from fans and backers, Sarkeesian was attacked and bullied online for her criticism of video games.
Just recently, the latest installment of Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women came out and the absolutely vicious response from misogynist gamers reached a whole new level.
How Did This Start?
The video that sparked this backlash was titled “Women as Background Decoration.” It focused on how sexual abuse and violence against women saturates modern video games. As a result, by the next day, she had to flee her home. Sarkeesian had received so many violent threats, many of which actually contained accurate information about her home and family, that she had to seek shelter and call the police.
Good job gamers, respond to someone’s critique of the sexism in video games by spewing misogynist garbage at her. Very smart. Luckily, Sarkeesian is safe and, despite threats against her person, she plans on continuing her web series.
A Look At Sarkeesian’s Web Series
Sarkeesian has explored many aspects of video games on the episodes in her web series, all of which can be viewed on her website: Feminist Frequency. She has discussed how many female game characters are cast merely as a damsel in distress, or at best a Ms. Male Character; who she describes as “the female version of an already established or default male characters, [who is] defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts.”
In parts 1 and 2 of “Women as Background Decoration,” Sarkeesian focuses on how female characters are sexually and physically abused, just to provide the game with a grittier atmosphere and make villains seem more evil.
WARNING: Video contains scenes from games that depicts graphic violence against women.
The “Arguments” Against Sarkeesian’s Critique
But men are murdered too, right? Well, Sarkeesian demonstrates that male characters in video games experience violence very differently, not only that, but the way their corpses are displayed afterward is dramatically different from women. Sarkeesian comments that “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.”
In the video games mentioned in her videos, the player is often encouraged to rescue these damsels in distress. That’s a good thing, right? Well, Sarkeesian points out that many video games represent rape and abuse in a very cavalier way that doesn’t represent the female perspective. Instead, the games use women as props in male storylines.
“These vignettes are not major plot points. Instead, violence against women is essentially used as a set piece to establish or punctuate the seedy atmosphere of crime and chaos-ridden fictional universes,” Sarkeesian said. “These narratives are never about the abused women in question. Instead, depictions of female pain and victimhood are flippantly summoned to serve as sideshow attractions in storylines about other things altogether.”
Seriously though, it’s just a game. You’re not supposed to take it seriously, right? Yes, we should be able to separate fiction form reality. Or, we should hope people can. But unfortunately, it’s a fact that the media we are exposed to helps shapes our culture: young girls and women feel bad about their bodies because of the Photoshopped images in magazines and on the internet, rape becomes trivialized when it is shown in such a casual way on TV, in movies, and yes; in video games.
Sarkeesian points out that; “These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing mature themes into gaming stories. But there’s nothing mature about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma,”
We’ve all heard that nasty and horrible statistic: every 1 in 5 women in the United States experience some form of attempted or completed sexual assault. That means that these video games “end up sensationalizing an issue which is painfully familiar to a large percentage of women on this planet, while also normalizing and trivializing their experiences.”
Yet, people still seem to think that it is mainly men who play video games. These games are created by men, to be played by men, why are women complaining? But women make up nearly 50% of gamers in America. Yes, that’s right. 50%.
The gaming world isn’t just for men anymore. Most people have managed to realize it. With half of the gaming population being female, it’s time for video games to grow up.