Monday, 9 July 2012

Hot Topic: Anita Sarkessian and Video Games

There has recently been a loud discussion, in my opinion, concerning feminist values and video games. I decided to write this opinion piece regarding video games and feminism because, as everyone knows, games are serious business. So that we are on the same page, this post will outline my views on feminist analysis of video games and the portrayal of women in video games.

Anita vs Ralph
The Issue

Anita Sarkessian has become sensational gaming news concerning her "tropes vs women in video games" Kickstarter. Her Kickstarter involved financing a video analysis of the most apparent stereotypes of women featured in a selection of video games. During her Kickstarter campaign, a backlash occurred from gamers concerned by Anita's motives and outcome bias. Supporters of her campaign flocked to her side, while the backlash grew, and Internet trolls found a new source of entertainment. 

Internet hate is not a new phenomenon, freedom of speech and reasonable anonymity allow people to speak their minds, be it love or hate. Internet trolling, people getting laughs by harassing other Internet users, is at an all time high, an art form unto itself. The better the troll, the bigger the laugh, and the more people who know, the better. There are even troll communities on the Internet, meeting on IRC networks or popular image forums. As long as there is an Internet there will be Internet trolls. Internet trolls targeted Anita and her Kickstarter seeking a comical or flawed response.

Pac-Man, Pong and Space Invaders
The Past

In the past, women were treated like chattel(personal property) of their father, husband or man of the house. The women's suffrage movement demonstrated and fought for women's rights, and succeeded in changing how women are treated in the western world. Modern feminism was born out of the women's suffrage movement. Feminism, to put it as plain as possible, is the struggle for equal opportunity, treatment and income for women. Feminist theory and criticism is often applied to books, speech, movies, music and even video games.

Video games are a relative new form of entertainment. Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Pong are some of the earliest video games made available to the mass public. These classic video games have pervaded into pop culture and feature across multiple media platforms. Many early video games don't discriminate between men or women, even Pac-Man is shown as a genderless pizza with a mouth. Classic video games could be deemed gender neutral and pose no threat to feminist values of equality.

Over the last few decades, boys and men have become the main target of video games and computers/consoles. Any economist knows that people only value what they personally believe holds worth. Men and boys value women and girls, video games that contain beautiful women generally sell more copies. Throughout the 90s, the guns and girls attitude flooded mainstream pop culture, including video games; Arnold, Stallone, Doom and Duke were all successful money makers of the 90s.

Battlefield 3, Bayonetta and Call of Duty
The Now

Today, exploiting the guns and girls market is still big money; the Call of Duty, Battlefield and Bayonetta games are evidence of this continued success. Money is what drives publishers, and, when the Call of Duty franchise has made 3 billion dollars of revenue, exploiting what men and boys want has never been better. Women have only recently become a valued revenue stream for game publishers. With the rise of social media and casual gaming, more women than ever have become a new untapped market waiting to be exploited.

When feminist criticism extends into fictional media and art there will always be a backlash. Feminist analysis of video games raises many questions: Are women poorly stereotyped or are men being exploited by good looking pixels and marketing? Is it possible to objectively analyse a fictional character based on a feminist agenda? Is Anita picking a soft target, concerning female portrayal in video games, when games are often marketed towards men? Is the backlash against Anita warranted, or being exploited to promote her personal goals? Can gamers already guess Anita's conclusions, based on her overt feminist viewpoint?

Brain interface for gaming
The Future

Until Anita's video series is completed, there is no way to accurately answer the myriad of potential questions that feminist critiquing of video game characters creates. I do know there are many strong and complex female characters featured in modern video games, but the majority of support characters(including men and women) are shallow decorations; most female characters fall into support character status. Considering the majority of games are made by men for the male audience, when a good female character does come along, they are often cherished far more than their male counterparts.

In the future, there will be more women and girls playing games than ever before, forcing publishers to develop games to suit them. I believe economics will be the driving force behind better portrayal of women in video games, not feminist criticism of existing female characters tailored for a male audience.

As a gamer, I hope Anita takes the time to fully discover each of her subjects true worth and underlying character. It would be a pity if she held each character up to a feminist ideal, an ordeal none of them were created for.


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