Trigger warning: This post, and articles linked in it, discuss extreme sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape or threats of rape. If this kind of topic triggers panic attacks or flashbacks for you due to past history, please either skip this post or be very careful reading it.
Back in June, a controversy erupted in the video game-related blogosphere. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media and pop culture critic (and self-identified gamer), initiated a Kickstarter project called “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games”. As a result of this, she was insulted and threatened on the YouTube page for her project description video, reported to Kickstarter for inappropriateness, and had the Wikipedia page about her hacked with racial and sexual slurs.
This started a firestorm. Many bloggers, game news sites, and other media came out in support of Sarkeesian, expressing horror at the treatment she received. Other bloggers insisted that she was overreacting, that trash talk was endemic to gamer culture and couldn’t/shouldn’t be characterized as misogyny, etc. It has opened a discussion about sexism and misogyny in the games themselves, in the gamer subculture, and in the game development industry.
Truthfully, though, the Anita Sarkeesian incident this summer is just the latest in a series of publicized instances of female gamers or female game developers being attacked. The issues being addressed have been around a long, long time. And the discussion about them has been open and ongoing for at least the past 2-3 years.
My own opinions on this topic are somewhat complex. On the one hand, it seems obvious that there is still rampant sexism in existence in the game industry overall. Meaning, there are relatively few women in key positions, women tend to be clumped in some job categories rather than others, and women tend to make less than men in similar positions with similar levels of experience. There are also a large number of games, even now, that have female characters who are hyper-sexualized in contexts where male characters are not hyper-sexualized.
I don’t agree with everything Anita Sarkeesian, or other feminist pop culture critics, say about video games. For instance, she seems to have a problem with violence in video games, which I personally find simplistic and uneducated. There is no conclusive evidence that violence in video games, or other media for that matter, actually causes players to engage in criminally violent or abusive behavior (whether against women or just in general).
However, regardless of whether I agree with her, Anita Sarkeesian did not at all deserve the kind of gross mistreatment she received as a result of her Kickstarter proposal. While trash talking and “trolling” on the Internet is abhorrent, it is a different endemic social problem. Gender-based name-calling, such as “c**t” or “b**ch” or “sl*t” is certainly sexist in the sense that it is directed at a particular gender—and this is bad enough. But threatening violence, rape, or death is just plain criminal behavior and should be treated as such. While I am leery about any kind of legislation that could lead to more privacy infringement for Internet users, I have to say that we need to find a way to track down people who hide behind the Internet while engaging in behavior that, in real life, would get them thrown in jail.
So I am going to throw in my two cents and write out my own opinions with regard to these issues. Here’s a summary of what I will talk about in the rest of this series:
- Sexism/Misogyny in attitudes toward female gamers and female developers
- Sexism/Misogyny in the design of video games themselves
- My observations and opinions as I attempt to tie this all together
I don’t know that I can offer any definitive solutions in this series. I just want to contribute to the discussion. Because the key to social change is first of all, recognizing the problem and bringing it out into the open.
Thanks for reading!