Gamers vs Anita Sarkeesian vs Tropes vs Women

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There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Anita Sarkeesian, feminist media critic and creator of the series “Tropes vs Women”, within the gaming community. She has been casted as a villain, given death and rape threats, and has even had a video game made of her in which you brutally beat her face through mouse clicks.

Sarkeesian argues that women, in video games, are often represented in the form of tropes (cliché plot devices) that work to objectify and typecast the female gender. Her first three videos work to deconstruct the “damsel in distress” trope and how it has stunted narratives within video games. In her opinion, Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and many other canonical games have persistently used the “damsel in distress” as a plot device, making women into a trophy to be won for the male protagonist.

These ideas have infuriated gamers, yet there is a large community that has contributed to her Kickstarter campaign and continues to support her work. Sarkeesian has received a lot of positive attention through several interviews with gaming news outlets, like IGN and gamespot, and in the newspapers of New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe. She was even invited to talk for TEDxWomen concerning harassment found within the online community.

Anita Sarkeesian is someone who is worth hearing out. It is a hard argument to swallow, especially for those who feel like she is attacking nostalgia itself, but it is an important one. Even as writers, it can help to move us past using tropes, clichés, and stereotypes towards crafting stories that represent both genders in realistic ways.

Check out her website Feminist Frequency and the first three installments of her video series “Tropes vs Women” below.

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19 responses to “Gamers vs Anita Sarkeesian vs Tropes vs Women

  1. I watched the first part of this series a while back. While I found it interesting, it didn’t grab me enough to get me watching the second and third parts right away.

    I think part of the problem I had was more to do with some of Ms Sarkeesian’s other videos, which I found to be a bit insulting, though I’m sure that wasn’t her intention. The Twilight video is the one that springs to mind. But I can understand where it was coming from, even if I didn’t like how the point was being made. It did kind of put me off her other videos, though once I’m back home from this training course I’ll probably sit down and watch the follow up sections of this series.

    I’d like to make one observation though (and it’s entirely possible I could be wrong here). I’d always understood tropes to be something different from clichés. Kind of a “all clichés are tropes, but not all tropes are clichés” situation. As I understood it, a trope is a commonly used convention or device used in literature (or film, television, or any other media), but that as long as it is used well and in an interesting way, it avoids becoming a cliché. A cliché is essentially the overuse of a trope until it becomes meaningless, but even a trope that is normally seen as cliché can still be used in an interesting way and avoid becoming a cliché. After all, tropes become tropes because they’re effective tools for helping to build stories and worlds.

    This isn’t to say that I disagree with Anita Sarkeesian’s argument that many of the representations of women in gaming fall into the category of cliché representation of the Damsel In Distress trope, I just think that the name of the series is painting tropes as a “bad thing”, instead of showing that they can also be a good thing if used correctly. Perhaps “Clichés vs Women in Gaming” would have been a better title, though I suppose it doesn’t seem to have quite the same ring to it.

    Well, that’s me done. Sorry for the wall of text, I have a bad habit of letting my brain run away with me when I start typing.

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    • I agree with a lot that you have said. What I appreciate the most about what Anita is doing is that she has made space for a conversation on women in video games. I think that is really important. What a lot of gamers have done with that space has been absolutely childish and she is undeserving of the amount and type of ridicule she has endured. Gamers should be critical of her argument, come up with counter arguments, and back them up with facts.

      Long comments are always welcome BTW.

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      • I knew there was something I forgot to mention. You’re right, Anita really has created a conversational space for this topic, and this is very important. Sadly, you’re also right about the fact that a lot of people have reacted in precisely the wrong way to this. What I consider to be really sad about the whole situation is that people don’t seem to understand that they’re actually proving her point. By spewing vitriol and hate about her even trying to discuss the subject, they’re showing that there is a very definite problem with how it is viewed. If you really want to argue, it needs to be done in a calm, rational and logical manner.

        Unfortunately I think this is a case of the vocal minority making the majority look bad. It’s just that in this case, because we’re talking about the internet community, even the minority is a huge number of people.

        Ultimately though it comes down to the fact that no one, absolutely no one, deserves the rape and death threats that Anita Sarkeesian has been receiving.

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  2. I am a proud gamer girl and I personally have no issues with old school games. I do wish that there were more games in which you could choose to be a female fighter like in “Dragon Age”, or just the option to play as a female period.

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      • Agreed. I also want to clarify that I know that I am aware that having the option of a female character isn’t always viable in all games because of storyline issues or other reasons and I understand that and I am ok with it.

        I just would like more opportunities to play a female character.

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  3. I think Anita Sarkeesian’s criticisms are best appreciated from a literary standpoint. When we write characters, are we making skilled use of all aspects of storytelling, or are we taking lazy shortcuts? Anita’s putting her finger on a huge, gaping flaw in the way that many games tell their stories: the male main character will be fleshed-out and compelling, while the female characters are reduced to plot devices to advance the male lead’s story.

    While this isn’t always a bad thing and it’s certainly fine to take shortcuts on occasion, I think we can all agree that it’s unsatisfying and artistically problematic to to tell the same old story in the same old lazy way. It’s easy and lazy to hang a protagonist’s motivations on the fact that the villain killed his wife and stole his daughter, but it’s much harder but more artistically rewarding to come up with more subtle (and frankly, more realistic) motivations for both the male and female characters involved. All characters should be actual characters. The problem with the “Damsel in Distress” trope is that it gives you some real characters, and some female-shaped objects/plot devices that serve no other purpose in the story than to be the MacGuffin. I think the indie game “Braid” explored this problem very nicely, and I wish we could expect the same level of thoughtful storytelling in every game.

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  5. I had not heard of this, so thank you. Very interesting. I would have thought gamers would be more of an open community. It seems to me, an outsider to gaming, that she is showing us a hole in the fabric of gaming and perhaps some have taken that too personally or are not comfortable with change.

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    • Hopefully our host doesn’t mind me jumping in to respond to this.

      Gamers as a community are similar to the community at large. We run a whole range of social types and attitudes. Some of us are quiet, reserved players of single player games. Some of us are social gamers, whether that means multiplayer video games or more traditional board games and role playing games. Some of us take it far too seriously. Unfortunately, some of us are also immature jerks with some severe issues.

      Because this situation is playing out online, there’s a couple of factors that have amplified this issue.

      1. John Gabriel’s Greater Internet $#@%wad Theory. This was coined by Penny Arcade back in 2004 (seen here http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19 – Warning, does contain some profanity). Basically the theory is this. Anonymity, plus an audience, can result in relatively normal people becoming raging jerks. I’m not saying that all of the people abusing Anita Sarkeesian are normally good guys, quite a few of them are probably rabid bastards in the first place. But at least some of it is quite likely to do with the fact that people have realised (falsely, because there’s no such thing as true anonymity online these days) that no one knows who they are, and there are no consequences to their actions.

      2. The “Vocal Minority” effect. The vast majority of gamers won’t have even got involved in this situation. Many of the rest of us are supporting it. As I mentioned in my earlier comments, I think Ms Sarkeesian is raising some good points, but I have my issues with them, and how she makes these points. But, I also believe that she’s doing something very important, and I support her right to do that. The problem here is that you rarely hear from those of us who don’t have an opinion or quietly support what is being done, and since the online community is so large, the incredibly loud minority starts to seem like a majority. Again, because of the fact that they have an audience and “anonymity”, they begin to spew vitriol and abuse even more than they normally would.

      The other thing to consider is that the “gaming community” is actually comprised of a lot of smaller communities. You’ve got video gamers, board gamers, role-players, card players, LARPers and more. There can be massive shifts in attitude between these groups, and even amongst players of different games within these groups.

      For example, where I live there’s a pretty big community of Magic: The Gathering players. Most of them (I can’t really say us anymore given how long it’s been since I played) are friendly, approachable and more than willing to help out new players with figuring out the rules and building a deck. They’re there to have fun. Obviously there are exceptions, but that’s the general experience I’ve had.

      Now let’s look at the Yu-Gi-Oh players. The overwhelming experience I’ve had with them is that they’re all overly competitive, rude, abrasive, and in general are stereotypical angry nerds. I’ve seen grown men verbally abusing 8 year old children for making a misplay in a game, taunting them mercilessly and swearing like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen the kids start to do the same to each other, and even respond in kind to the adults. In general it’s just a nasty group. Now if I wasn’t a gamer, and I was introduced to the community through the Yu-Gi-Oh players, I’d be appalled and convinced that gamers were an awful group of people. As I said, there are exceptions to this, but this is what I’ve personally experienced with them.

      I guess the point I’m trying to make here is that the gamer community, at least the majority of us, actually would be as open minded as you’d expect, if not more. It’s just that you don’t hear from us as much as you do from the rabid dogs that make up the smaller portion of our community. Think of them as our equivalent of the Westboro Baptist Church. I know not all Baptists are like these guys, but I rarely if ever hear anything about other Baptist churches. Same deal applies.

      Anyway, I hope this is of some interest to you, and sorry for the lengthy response. I really need to start trying to get my ideas across in a more concise manner… years of writing essays and having to blather on without end have taken their toll on me.

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      • Don’t apologise, I enjoyed it and thank you for filling in my gaps. I suppose like many, I assume that gamers are for the most part, nerdy guys ( nothing wrong with that, I’m a nerdy girl) and the ones I went to uni with would never threaten a woman.

        You’re right. The most vocal are the small minority.

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      • Haha. Well, I suppose most of us are nerdy when it comes down to it. Comes with the territory. We don’t all fit the mould though.

        I’m a lifelong gamer, been playing video games since I was 7 and pen & paper RPGs since I was 12. But on first look, I don’t really come across as a gamer. A surprising number of people actually consider me to look physically intimidating, as despite being only five four in height, I’m fairly broad across the shoulders and heavily built (8 hours a week in the gym on doctors orders will do that to you). Add that to fact that I shave my head completely bald and have a beard, and am usually wearing a leather jacket, heavy boots and gloves since I ride a motorcycle, and people look at me and assume “thug”, not “gamer”.

        As anyone who knows me can tell you though, I’m a friendly, easy going guy who wouldn’t hurt a fly. I play in 3 or 4 different role playing groups, I write a blog about gaming, and I play a lot of video games. If I’m not doing that, and I’m not working, I’m listening to music, reading, writing, or watching something (sometimes all at the same time). And as you mentioned, I’d most definitely never threaten a woman. Nor would any of my friends. Sadly I know quite a few guys, nerdy or otherwise, who do consider that to be allowable behaviour, but thankfully they are indeed the vocal minority.

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  6. This is typical of the feminist movement as a whole … instead of rolling up their sleeves, learning how to program, and building games which appeal to them, they criticize and tear down the men who pioneered the technology behind gaming and naturally wrote games which appealed to themselves.

    Men – and a small but growing minority of women – create and innovate; feminists just guilt trip others into doing things for them.

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  7. As a woman, and a storyteller, and most particularly a woman storyteller who plays videogames avidly… I really don’t have an ISSUE with tropes in literature of any form. I am also a Troper and to be honest… Tropes Are Not Bad. I make use of Tropes in all forms in my storytelling. Playing them straight, inverting them, subverting them, etc. I’m aware of them so I can use them as I see fit.

    After all, an amateur doesn’t know the “rules” they’re breaking… a master knows the rules and knows what she’s doing with them.

    I do agree that while this particular woman is doing a fundamental service, making people aware of potential issues and preconceptions of thought that currently exist…. she’s missing the point in that there is supposed to be a phase that comes after that. We have had at LEAST a dozen or more years of people pointing at videogames and such and decrying the use of women in this form or another.

    I, for one, am sick and tired of the finger-pointing and say that it’s time to move on from what is supposed to be a temporary phase in the development of a culture.

    Feminists in general and this woman in particular are not doing anything to make the situation better. They simply sit back and complain about it.

    She’s not writing books about heroic Pirate women who go rescue the Princes who got himself locked up by a villain as part of a political coup, or building videogames that show women conforming to her concept of a positive role model (which is an image that I would take extreme exception to for reasons of my own), or anything at all that would be helpful for encouraging girls to see themselves as powerful while simultaneously NOT telling men that they are horrible, awful, no-good, very bad and overall beyond redemption or value… which seems to be the unspoken message of this so-called Feminist Movement.

    I would really challenge her to either put up or shut up. Either you’re part of the solution or you’re part of the problem. I’m doing my part for the solution by being aware of the Tropes and the Archetypes and manipulating them for a result that hopefully does justice to all involved. I’d like to see what she could come up with… that is if she’s capable of doing anything other than running her mouth.

    By the way, thank you for noticing my blog and doing me the honor of both liking a post and following the whole. I’m grateful for your time and for the subsequent link which brought me here.

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  10. okay there are videos exposing her to be a fraud and how she is handling the issue for power, influence and money. everyone agreed the is an issue in the video gaming world and the back lash she gotten from is from two separate but equally important sources with a surprising third connection to the sex wars between feminist. the first is the 4 chan connection, everyone knowns 4 chan is a troll haven which she or someone working for her plaster her kick starter all over 4 chan while fully aware of this fact herself. there is her youtube career before the kick starter mess it is today as she made videos without comments being enabled to prevent not just trolls but valid counter points to the issue at hand (that tactic was heavily used by Christian fundies to prevent counter points from atheist community which i experience it myself trying to make such a counter point) or “filtering” comments favoring her point of view. she made two videos on about the books she read one of them i notice is hunger games then suddenly her kick starter vidoes has comments enabled, this gets very interest as she show the negative comments to further prop her self but she left out people making counting points on her review on the books she did(i checked the kick starter vid the comments are disabled as if she is hiding something from her backers). then there is the sex wars between feminist from what people are seeing outside of the war on sex between feminist and without knowing the sex wars seeing anita representing the movement as a whole but look deeper anita is apart of a group who wants nothing to do with equality among men or woman, she wrote a paper about her ideas what men and women should be in the media. this group is known to be anti sex feminism who are the vocal side of the feminism who decry the sex industry and paint evil forces that needs to be drive by any mean including but not limited to false information to solidified their claims and then there is the pro sex feminism like Divinity33372 who has the exact opposite views of anita and anita’s idol gail drines another anti sex feminist. the pro sex feminist want the sex worker(refering both male and female depending who it is worded) to have right and regulation on the sex industry. even though she attacks the trope like the Damsel in distress but when it comes to real solid non threatening counter points she hides behind her fallows which in turn playing the very trope she is attacking. yes there are feminist that are criticizing her and is being labeled as sexist for not having her view point.

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