I love video games. I believe that the thought and effort that goes into the creation of games is comparable to that of feature films and that games should receive that same level of respect as film. But gaining this type of respect requires developing a body of criticism, criticism that asks not only “How are the graphics?” but also “What about the content?”
Enter Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency and Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games. Anita Sarkeesian’s series on the depiction of women in video games has turned her into a lightning rod for unwarranted attacks from frustrated gamers who are upset that she would dare challenge their beloved. This is unfortunate since her assessment of these tropes is one of the boldest critical projects I have ever seen in the world of gaming.
In each episode of Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games, Anita Sarkeesian examines one trope and uses in-game footage to illustrate and critique her thesis. For example, she’s previously discussed the “Damsel In Distress” trope of women existing only as objects to be rescued. To prove her point, Sarkeesian used a ton of video games, from the popular — Princess Peach in Super Mario Brothers — to the obscure — Minnie Mouse in Magical Tetris Challenge. Each video is a little over 20 minutes long, and each one is eye-opening. Even when the trope is familiar to viewers, her illustration of the trope is fresh and surprising thanks to her peerless research.
After we featured the first of the “Women As Background Decoration” episodes of Tropes Vs. Women In Video Gaming on YouTube Nation, we received a lot of comments attacking Anita Sarkeesian (and Anna Akana. Sorry, Anna). I responded to many of the comments, but thought it would be more useful to respond to the general accusations all at once and in one place.
Here we go:
“Anita Sarkeesian Is A Fraud.”
The accusation I encounter most is that Anita Sarkeesian has somehow defrauded her contributors. This is the most absurd accusation out there. First off, plenty of Kickstarted and otherwise crowdfunded ventures have failed and never delivered on their promise. Look at the guys behind the crowdfunded vaporware, Yogventures, who ran through half a million dollars and never delivered the game they promised. Anita Sarkeesian, meanwhile, asked for $6,000 to make a series of videos with slightly higher production value than her original Feminist Frequency videos that would focus on a specific topic-depictions of women in video games. She raked in $160,000, and she is delivering on exactly what she promised, creating the Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series. Each video released brings her a step closer to completing the goal, making this accusation inarguably false.
“Anita Sarkeesian Is A Plagiarist.”
The source of this accusation is that Anita Sarkeesian uses other people’s footage in her videos without their permission. It is true that she is using other people’s content but she is doing it in a way that is consistent with what we think of as “Fair Use.” Fair Use is a caveat of copyright law that exists specifically for this kind of use, the creation of educational materials and commentary. I also have seen an instance where Sarkeesian used someone’s fan art without her permission for her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games logo. While that is unfortunate, it has no bearing on the content of her videos.
“Anita Sarkeesian Cherry Picks Scenes and Comments.”
This accusation usually refers to two different things when people levy it against Sarkeesian. They suggest that she is cherry picking footage from video games and misrepresenting it to make her point. Other times, they suggest that she is doing that with comments that have been made toward her. In video games, Sarkeesian is not relying on just one instance of a trope in one scene of a video game to make her point. She assembles sometimes mind-numbingly large portfolios of each trope across a great many games to illustrate how often it is being repeated. That’s not cherry picking. That’s creating an effective argument.
With regard to comments, people have suggested that Sarkeesian is showcasing only the vile comments in an attempt to distort the nature of the comments she’s received. Sarkeesian has never said that she only receives hateful comments—just that the hateful comments are vile enough that they obliterate all other commentary. She’s right, and you can’t cherry pick something that doesn’t exist. People need to stop being so hateful.
“Anita Sarkeesian Turns Off Her Comments To Avoid Criticism.”
Anita Sarkeesian has been very clear about why she’s turned off the comments on her videos. She doesn’t want to host the vitriol and hatred being spewed by misguided people whose comments are hurtful to her and might also traumatize her intended audience. Everyone may have a right to an opinion, but no one has a right to make someone else listen to that opinion, especially when it is hateful. By turning off her comments, Anita Sarkeesian makes her video welcome to anyone who would want to watch it by not exposing them to the hatred she seems to inspire in others. That does not insulate her from critique. Anyone remains able to write a tweet, compose a blog post, or upload a video critique of her work and share it with others, and Sarkeesian remains free and even willing to respond to criticism and hatred, usually by exposing the latter for people to see.
The work Anita Sarkeesian is doing is bold, ambitious, and deserves to be seen. It is the kind of thing YouTube was made for. It’s unfortunate that a minority of vindictive trolls are trying to stifle the woman and her work, but it’s admirable that Sarkeesian has the courage of her convictions and is dedicated to producing the series, no matter how personal the attacks. I’ve included a playlist of the entire series for you to enjoy: