A female gamer faces a terrible backlash when she decides to examine the ways women are portrayed in video games. By Ilinca Barsan (Writer, Little Miss Geek)
If you ask most people what gaming means for them, they might talk to you about the perfect display resolution or their amazing sound system; how they have found the best ultrabook for gaming; look forward to playing the latest release; or are simply seeking to improve their high score. But some people choose to approach the subject from an entirely different angle – one which is slightly more socially aware.
Enter Anita Sarkeesian. An avid gamer, Sarkeesian was disappointed in the limited ways in which video games portray women and decided to raise awareness of this controversial issue. Through the micro-funding site Kickstarter, she requested backing for a video project that would uncover and analyze common female stereotypes used in video games. And she did so quite successfully: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games achieved its set goal – and more – in a matter of days: almost 7000 people pledged a total of approximately $160,000 for the video series.
As a result, Sarkeesian was able to expand the original project and will now dive deeper into the issue. Initially planned as a series of five videos, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games will now comprise 12, to include episodes titled: "The Sexy Villainess," "Unattractive Equals Evil" and the series’ opening video "Damsel in Distress" that can currently be viewed on YouTube.
"As a trope, the Damsel in Distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must then be rescued by a male character, usually providing a core incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest," says the video. It goes on to stress how women are objectified this way; while the male protagonist is portrayed as the game’s proactive, courageous subject.
In exploring and critiquing a number of well-loved classic video games – like Zelda – Sarkeesian emphasizes the importance of thinking critically about the media we choose to consume – while enjoy the games at the same time.
The project continues to face a lot of criticism, however – most of which seems to have become personal, anonymous attacks on Anita Sarkeesian herself. Facing sexual harassment and serious threats, she revealed how online bullies attempted to hack into her personal accounts, posted photoshopped pictures with violent and sexist content of her online, and even created a game that invites users to "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian."
Evidently, gaming culture can but profit from open-minded and civilized arguments about gender issues – in terms of games, and indeed, with regard to the community itself. It will be interesting to see Sarkeesian’s next video and witness the online community’s reaction. The portrayal of women and girls in video gaming and the extent to which female gamers are encouraged or discouraged from questioning these norms, directly impacts on their sense of ease and acceptance within the gaming scene – a place that really should be ‘fun and games’ for all.
Women 2.0 readers: What needs to be done to make gaming a more welcoming place for women?
About the blogger: Ilinca Barsan is a freelance writer and student of sociology and politics at the University of Edinburgh who loves cooking, reading and running. She is passionate about all things tech, social media and pop culture and is fascinated by their impact on society’s views and expectations.