Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Tale of Anita Sarkeesian, or How Geek Culture Lost Its Mind and Can It Be Gotten Back?

Let the shouting commence!
Due to a combination of burnout and health problems, I haven't been blogging for a while. Now that everyone has forgotten I exist, I am starting again, in order to fix a serious problem: I am still employable in the game industry.

Look. I'm 43 and I have 2 kids. The game industry doesn't want me, and, if it ever does, it'll just be to make me do 80 hour weeks and ruin what's left of my life. So I'm going to solve the problem by saying things that make the game industry think I stink like old fish.

And, if you want to piss off gamers, here is the number one thing you can say: "Women are human beings, and they deserve to be treated with respect."

And no, I'm not about to talk about Penny Arcade. There's a much bigger, more significant ongoing story that's been going on since I started my blogging sabbatical. So let's talk about Anita Sarkeesian!

(If you know this whole story and don't want to wallow in the absurdity once again, just skip to the last section. But I think the tale is surreal enough to merit multiple tellings.)

Anita Who Now?

I really think this story is fascinating, and, despite all the virtual ink that has been spilled on it, there are fresh things to say. So here's some background to the story. It's a good one.

Anita Sarkeesian made videos on YouTube for her channel, Feminist Frequency. It's what you'd expect: Analysis of popular culture from an "Are women in it? How are they portrayed?" kind of perspective.

They were decent videos. A little dry. Some people criticized them for not being up to the LOFTY quality standards of YouTube (chuckle). The standard, young male, testosterone-poisoning, Make Me a Sammich crowd that gets mad whenever women are discussed in any context, tended to come out and shout, but other than that, it was pretty quiet.

Then Sarkeesian did a Kickstarter, to fund a series of videos called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. The idea: To prove that women in video games might, get this, not be portrayed in a well-rounded, three-dimensional way (when they are portrayed at all).

When I heard about this Kickstarter, I kind of shrugged, because women being portrayed badly in video games? Duh. Might as well have a Kickstarter to prove the moon exists. But anyone who takes time to call out game designers for crappy, hack storytelling is doing The Lord's Work, so I hoped she did well.

Instead, She Pulled In a Fortune

Turns out, she struck a nerve. As obvious as her conclusion was, a lot of people were thrilled to pony up bread to make some noise about it. And good for them. Her goal was $6000. She pulled in over $150000. Because, it turns out, fixing even an obvious problem involves people making some noise about it.

The Kickstarter was a phenomenal success.

And the testosterone-poisoning crowd LOST THEIR MINDS.

Tales Of Moral Courage In Video Gaming

If you ever have any doubt that nerd culture has some nasty, toxic issues with women, the harassment Anita Sarkeesian received should dispel them entirely. Her Wikipedia page lists all of the abuse she received, but the most infamous example is the anonymous and gruesome Flash game where people could beat her face.

Folks, this is beyond trolling. This is profound psychological damage. This is Invest In a Bulletproof Vest territory. That Sarkeesian persisted in the face of all of this shows her virtual balls are well bigger than mine. I would have hid under the bed and never come out.

This is surreal! It's a Monty Python sketch. And here's the thing! What was she trying to do?

Was the trying to eliminate Twinkies? Cancel My Little Pony? Make some giant James Bond laser and blow up Mount Rushmore? No! She was trying to make some lousy YouTube videos! To prove an obvious thing everyone knows!

(You know how everyone knows it? Because, in every one of the million discussion threads that bring out people to put down Sarkeesian's work, the arguments are always: It's not a problem. It's the creators' right. There's no need to make this video. The production values suck. Women don't spend enough on games to be considered. [WRONG!] Nobody ever says her actual conclusion is wrong. For the same reason there aren't impassioned arguments about whether adding two and two gets you four.)

So the money came in, and, unlike certain other Kickstarters I could mention, the promised product is forthcoming.

Videos That Exist!

As of this writing, three of the videos are out. They're exactly what you would expect. Carefully considered, methodical in their arguments, decently made, a bit dry, with occasional sparks of true brilliance.

I often see guys online saying that her videos are pointless and don't prove anything. This is how I know that they never bothered to, you know, watch them. Don't believe me? Go to this one and skip to 7:40. If anyone has come up with a better display of the tired hackwork that so often passes for video game story-telling, PLEASE send me a link.

One thing you'll note about her video pages is that commenting is disabled. Something that is inexplicably considered a horrible crime by the testosterone crowd. Setting aside that YouTube comments are the most useless way to make an argument about anything anywhere, I think it should be a rule that once the death threats start coming in, you are allowed to start controlling the channels by which people communicate with you. Duh doy.

(You will note, for example, that having YouTube comments disabled has affected my ability to give my opinion not at all.)

Now On To the Main Question

So that's the prologue. Nerd culture, as a whole, engaging in the biggest over-reaction/freakout in the history of freakouts. Whenever these videos are discussed anywhere, go to the comments and read the rage. (Which, you will find, is not unanimous, but not hard to find at all.) This, again, is far beyond mere trolling. Sarkeesian has poked a huge, sensitive nerve in the entire culture.

Now here is the thing, the point, the puzzle, the question at the heart of the whole mess ...

Why are guys so mad about this?

Y U So Mad?

(All nerd-based blog posts are federally required to contain 5% Pony content by weight.)

It's a handful of YouTube videos, saying an obvious thing in a quiet way. Why the rage? Why any rage at all? Why not just go on to the next video?

The obvious reason surely has much to do with this: Humans are naturally loss-averse. In other words, people with privileges (the privilege in this case being young men having video games made to please them and only them) get very angry when those privileges might be taken away. Some people just never learned to share their toys.

This is a lot of that, but I think there's more. I think it's a real mystery, and, as much as it's been discussed, I think it's important to prod it a bit more. (Or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it really is that simple. But it's at least worth thinking about, when I'm not going on about esoteric design issues or making fun of the stupid new Star Trek movie that was stupid.)

I have a self-serving reason: my two daughters are some of the biggest nerds in nerdworld, and I want them to grow up in the sort of geek culture where they can say things and have opinions and write games without getting harassment or death threats.

So, if you missed my blog, it's back. I've missed a lot of good stuff to talk about, and this is one issue I want to talk about a lot more. And thank you, Anita Sarkeesian, for tolerating a lot of garbage to say True Things. And hopefully make game stories better. Because it's needed.

Am I unemployable yet?

57 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. No comment about the Sarkeesian issue, but...

    I started playing Spidweb games when I was an impressionable 9 year old girl (almost 20 years ago) and stalked your website by dial-up. To this day I still love them and still consider Exile 3 a masterpiece. As long as you continue to write games like these, you will never be unemployable. (And yes I still stalk you on a regular basis.)

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    1. Not being a girl, I can't second this comment, except to say that Exile 3 was indeed _awesome_. (Or at least, the demo was. Now that I've bought the Avernum series, maybe I'll be able to play the whole thing!)

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  3. It tickles me to no end that my daughter plays your games (and many others.)

    It's always about privilege, and those with privilege often don't see it.

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  4. In middle school I was absorbed by Exile 3 -- I played through everything in the game I could without having it registered (waiting for the Tower of Magi to explode was hard).

    The game never judged me for being a girl, and it was a welcome respite. I ended up taking my permanent screen name from the world of Avernum/Exile (not used on blogger, sadly).

    Anyway, thanks for writing games with some of the best morality choices that are open to everyone.

    I can't wait for the redux of Avernum 2 and 3 so I can play through them without firing up my Classic Mac OS emulator. =)

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  5. After viewing the video excerpt you linked about women in refrigerators, it occurred to me that the game I'm involved with, last I heard from the writer, had a plot where your husband is brutally murdered, and you have to rescue your son. I can't decide if that's an "oops" or accidentally clever. (Or maybe the husband died earlier? I digress.)

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  6. Jeff, Thank you for your post! Those raging, impotent neckbeards are so very mad that people are finally interested in making games which don't exist solely to please the male ego. I am very glad that we can count you as an ally for feminism! You should check out the awesome people at Atheism Plus. We have the same opinions there that you do even if you are not an atheist that's okay.

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  7. All those issues make me really sad... I'm having a pretty difficult year in this respect about those issues, as it seems like is full of those kind of "controversies" :-S

    Is it possible that we are seeing the actions of a pretty limited number of people that make a lot of (awful) noise? To me, it's extremely difficult to accept that level of sexism and rage is common among people to the degree that looks like reading over the internet. Don't get me wrong, I've seen enough sexism in "real life", but creating a game to beat someone up I think is something that takes an incredible amount of rage.

    To be honest, I think is something beyond privilege. No one is arguing that "old-fashion-rescue-the-damisel-kill-enemies-macho-style" games are going to get away. I think that the discussion is more in the way that not EVERY game needs to be like that. I think there is also some emotional impunity in doing stuff anonymously, but, again, that probably won't cover all of it.

    But I am worried the impact that all this issues may have on a generation of young girls that are or could be interested in games (and technology, which is my field) and may be discouraged. Talking about my particular field (I'm a software developer), I think the most important step in the process is to "lure" people when they are in their teen years to get interested in computers and programming, so they may want to pursue a career. Women in their twenties or thirties have already chosen a career, and it's way more complicated to convince to get in (And, on the other hand, they probably won't leave for a couple of bad experiences if they identify them as the exception and not the rule)
    That's why I think things like these are absolutely outrageous https://www.usenix.org/blog/my-daughters-high-school-programming-teacher

    Again, I don't know what to do... And I think there are a lot of people like you and me at the moment thinking about these issues and worrying about them... :-/

    [A brief comment about Sarkeesian, I must say that I watched their videos and I was a little disappointed, as I think they are not as good as I expected, repetitive at times and there is some abuse of close-ups that does distract the attention from the games. But, of course, that's nothing that implies she doesn't have the right to do it, or they are unnecessary or meaningless... ]

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  8. Good to see you blogging again Jeff. Hope the health problems weren't anything too serious.

    Good post this. Sarkeesian sure trolled a bunch of people real hard. And you're right - her calling out hacks is indeed very good work.

    But the internet will always be full of clueless people learning about life as they go along, just look at reddit. Nothing we can do about that except laugh when they get trolled.

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  9. "Why are guys so mad about this?"

    I have a personal pet theory: the people who got mad were either

    • People who actually approve the sexists hack plots: they'd love to live in a world where wives and daughters are glorified pets and where one can indulge in an orgy of vengeful violence against anyone who hurt said beloved pets, therefore the games with hack plots provide them some fictional fix.

    • People who may not approve said plots but never complained about these because they don't want to challenge the fuckwads who do, thus becoming the cowardly lackeys and enablers of sexist bullies. Since challenging said bullies highlight their own cowardice, they react violently against Sarkeesian because "How dare this harlot sully my good name?"

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    1. there is another option. They dont like someone using wedge issues and exploiting rather low hanging fruit to make money. As a gamer for years i know of plenty of women who are not interested in games, not because it was men only, but because they were interested in other things. Now, Ask any one of these supposed misogynists if they oppose miss sarkeesian writing her own game. She is supposedly highlighting a gap in the market. As we all know. market forces love to hold a vacuum and require a second rate feminist to point out money making opportunities to them.

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  10. What I think is that it is indeed about privilege - you can look everywhere and see that anything NOT about being White, Male, Hetero and Christian is under attack in our country.

    But I see the 'something more' being ... progress. In other words, things SEEM to be getting worse, but are in fact getting BETTER. So ... what is happening is that when a person of color became president it was threatening to many, so ... Tea Party (not totally fair, I realize). Powerful women? Rise in vocal mysogeny. Independent women? Rise in defense of 'rape culture'. Gay Marriage? Trying to codify biblical verses into law.

    And so on. Low-brow, bigoted reactionary stances by those in fear of losing control and having to share. It is the fear that is amplifying things.

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  11. I do remember there being a lot of hoopla when this Kickstarter started, all around the sudden waves of angry comments that came her way. I also remember a lot of commentary on how almost all the commentators were new users to Youtube and Kickstarter, and some suspicion that it was all done by her to drum up support.

    True or not, those comments pretty much did make the Kickstarter a huge success when it might have failed otherwise.

    Whatever the case, I find the videos I watch by her interesting, but often overly trite. And much like Gail Simone's original site, the fridge video frequently took the events out of context to make it sound much worse than it was, which in and of itself is disingenuous.

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  12. Welcome back. I have missed your blog, and this is an instance I wasn't aware of. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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  13. Well, you'll always get my money! Your games were the first rpg's I ever bought, and I've always appreciated how women are just *present* in your games--as mayors, soldiers, blacksmiths, villains, whatever. It's so lovely to be able to play a game and enjoy it without worrying about gender stuff.

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  14. Well I disagree with you saying that their videos are good. It's great that she made people aware of how poor game stories often are, but I find her videos poorly made, with often stupid and far-fetched arguments and not enough research.

    And that's my biggest problem: the issue exists, but neither side is right. Obviously people sending Anita death threats are the bad guys, but Anita's sympathizers are often as riddiculous and aggressive and no one is trying to understand the other side. One side is calling everyone who disagrees with them a neckbeard and a misogynist and the other side is refusing the idea of forcing developers to make better stories just because they hate one person and because it usually concerns the other gender. And everyone is so damn negative about it.

    This blog post doesn't really change much, but you're doing the best thing to fight the stereotypes - writing great stories - so please keep doing that no matter what you post or don't post here.

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    1. As a game developer I never have once felt like any of this discussion has told me I was being told what to do. Not once. EVER. Oh there are people telling me what sucks and what I should do next/better all the time. But I get to decide in the end. Every artist does and if they worry about perception more than their art are they really in it for the art?

      I do see some holes, missed points, and simple views in every side of it. But mostly the parts that I find detracting are opinion with fallacy sprinkled here and there being used as fancy fact sauce. I am completely discounting threats and rage, they have a special place in comment hell. The only time I listen to those is when another game developer who has cut their teeth on the subject matter gives me the time of day... I listen to those comments.

      As a father of two very young girls I am trying to figure out what stories they like and what skills they need to survive in a world where some people don't believe no means no.

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  15. Not much to add to this discussion, other than to say - welcome back to the blogosphere, Jeff! I always enjoy reading your stuff. My wife and I just had our first child and "The Poo Bomb" became required reading. :)

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  16. If anyone wants more evidence of the weird anger this issue brings up, go to

    https://www.facebook.com/SpiderwebSoftware

    and look at the discussion on this post. The angry are not usually the majority, but they make up for it with a remarkable persistence and intensity.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  17. While the vitriol leveraged against Anita is insanely toxic by and large, plenty of people have responded to her videos and arguments in mature and responsible manners only to be ignored by Anita herself (and by extension the entirety of the gaming community.)

    Example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJihi5rB_Ek&feature=player_detailpage



    Dismissing anyone who isn't praising Anita and her content as misogynistic is incredibly ignorant and you're falling into the trap of "only listening to the vocal minority".

    Also, while I'm all for people raising awareness of an issue, Kickstarter is not the way to do that. Anita made a shit ton of money off of internet "upvotes". She also didn't really deliver her content as planned, with her videos being delayed and infrequently released. To me this is the bigger issue: Anita is using a popular movement for personal profit. Even the initial basis for the Kickstarter is shaky, do you really need $6000 before you can produce a few videos? People have been sharing ideas in far simpler methods for millions of years and quite frankly I don't understand what was so special about Anita's perspective and ideas that warranted six figures of profit to go into her pocket. She wanted to say something everyone was already thinking about, so people gave her money to say it.

    Not all the vitriol directed at Anita has to do with negative views of women or people trying to retain their "privilege". Her arguments and narrow and weak, she doesn't engage in discussion of the issue and instead preaches from a soapbox platform and she has financially taken advantage of a segment of the gaming populace who had frustrations of shitty writing and female characters.

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    1. Not all the vitriol directed at Anita has to do with negative views of women or people trying to retain their "privilege". -- said the white male

      Her arguments and narrow and weak -- source?

      she doesn't engage in discussion of the issue and instead preaches from a soapbox platform -- so that she doesn't get death threats from male neckbeard teenagers, (who, one might argue, have literally nothing useful to add about how women are depicted in the gaming industry)

      and she has financially taken advantage of a segment of the gaming populace who had frustrations of shitty writing and female characters. -- again, your opinion, or it could be that thousands of people who are tired gave her money so that she could extend her voice to a level where the concerns could be addressed.

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    2. Why do you think she needs to find someone to engage in a discussion with? I know that could potentially strengthen her argument, but Roger Ebert (not to say she's comparable in quality) did a lot of movie criticism where he was the only voice present.

      I think it depends on who her intended audience is. Obviously the trolls and the "privileged" are not her audience. I would argue that her intended audience are game developers and writers. But I'd also argue that her intended audience also includes the larger popular culture, not just the games part. Games are another thing one can point at as an example of how far we still have to go as a society.

      I know I look at them that way, but I also look at average anime that way, along with the formulaic action movie. In a better world, all popular action movies would be closer to The Dark Knight in quality. All popular anime would be closer to Death Note, Attack on Titan, Cowboy Bebop, Studio Ghibli, etc in quality. And all popular games would... well, at least now I know there are games out there with good writing. Next we need some good writing that doesn't lean on overused tropes. I really need to check out Journey, been eying it for a while.

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    3. While I think it a mistake to believe that Sarkeesian is a member of a vocal minority, that is an excellent video. Thank you for finding and sharing a reasonable and thoughtful disagreement. I would hope that Sarkeesian saw this one, because considering it could really help strengthen her points. Perhaps I spoke too quickly when I questioned the need for a 2-way discussion. I need to read EVERYTHING first, THEN respond. >.<

      There's nothing innately wrong with the Damsel in Distress. It's a trope, it doesn't need to be tied to a single value judgement for all time. Sometimes it's done well, sometimes not. I would argue that sometimes it's done too MUCH, but that's a different issue.

      That response video does an excellent job of arguing that Peach and Zelda are both examples of the trope done WELL. Color me convinced. However, it appeared to respond only to the first Damsel in Distress video, and the second one argues that the trope is used too much. I think I still agree with that, since she listed a lot of major big budget titles. I am thinking she could improve her methods though.

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  18. My (very hypothetical, probably too Psych-101-y) answer to the (admittedly rhetorical) "Y U so mad?":

    First, assume not everyone who is angry is angry for the same reason.

    Second, let's ignore people who are by nature unreasonable or who have taken their anger to extreme and indefensible extents.

    This leaves us with a hypothetical group of people who are angry and who are not unreasonable, which is a more interesting group to consider.

    For some of these people, I think the source of a knee-jerk sort of angry response is that they've played some of these games and enjoyed them in the past and maybe even felt emotionally moved by the stories.

    For someone to come along and say that these stories are both misogynist *and* riddled with cheap tricks designed to play with your emotions -- no matter how true those assertions are -- in some way reflects poorly on their character. So that even an otherwise reasonable person has to deal with the cognitive dissonance of liking something while at the same time realizing it is disgusting, and/or acknowledging that you were taken in by the emotional manipulation.

    For some that cognitive dissonance manifests as anger.

    As a tag to this hypothesis, I don't think this is Sarkeesian's fault: she does at certain points in her arguments attempt to extract the blame from the consumer, but you have to ask yourself -- you feel a little complicit even still, don't you? I think aspects of this psychological trick of human nature manifest in every debate where one group has historically subjugated another. No one wants to feel blamed for wrongs they have not wittingly perpetrated. Even so this is certainly not a justification to *not* have these discussions. Still, to me the anger feels less malicious if I can see it as the product of misunderstanding and natural emotion rather than just some evil corner of humankind.

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    1. It sounds to me like you're talking about what I call the problem of liking problematic things. (I kind of hate the word "problematic" but let's just go with it since it covers what we're talking about pretty well.)

      I like a lot of things that a lot of other people don't for the reasons you mention, and once you get over the discomfort of that cognitive dissonance it's actually a pretty interesting place to be. But I also think that a lot of people are pretty angry generally and maybe just looking for something specific to be angry at.

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    2. That makes me think of a related point. Most of us gamers got by early on by thinking our interest was special, a typical geek behavior. I know this because a number of geeks feel threatened by the "mainstream-ing" of games.

      I just realized, though, that to pile on top of that mainstream invasion a discussion of the formulaic-ness of games, and then to basically conclude that they are going through many of the same issues in writing that the other entertainment mediums have gone through just compounds the feeling that gaming isn't special. And to suggest that someone's passion isn't special can... offend them. Which is too bad, because it means we (humanity) still have ridiculously far to go. =/

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  19. When I first heard of the kickstarter I too didn't really care about it (as it was pointless), but I was interested in hearing what she had to say.
    After watching the current 3 videos I was disappointed. Not just the mediocre production value(after getting all that money) but the clear lack of research, skewing of "facts"(most of the time opinion), numerous fallacies, and to top it off the abundant misuse of the word misogyny(calling devs misogynists when really they were just lazy). I found the videos to be more like hate mongering speeches(in a pleasant wrapper) than actual analysis of an already known issue in the game industry.
    Anyway that's all I feel like saying at the moment on that topic, already had a number of long conversation with friends on opposite sides of this debate and I find if a draining topic.
    Good to see you blogging again and keep making great games. I loves them so much.

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  20. Some of the negativity seems to stem from a knee-jerk assumption that this is a zero-sum game, i.e. if games have better female characters, they must have worse male characters; if games are respectful to women, they must be disrespectful to men; if games are appealing to women, they must be unappealing to men.

    It doesn't help that zero-sum thinking (competitive, win-lose, us vs them) is both traditionally masculine and a heavy part of games, while the reverse (cooperative, win-win) is considered traditionally feminine.

    Partly it is a maturity issue, but maturity is really hard for a lot of us, and even harder in an anonymous venue like the internet. Honestly that's why I post under my actual name, because I find myself being more of an asshole when I post under a handle and I don't like that in myself. Penny Arcade: "Normal Person - Consequences + Audience = Total Fuckwad"

    @tomasdoyle: Anita's videos are "hate mongering speeches"? Seriously?

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    1. @Mark Schaal: Um yea, Anita's videos are full of unnecessary buzz words, like misogyny, meant to evoke anger.
      Everyone here is talking about the crazy trolls that are hating on her(and yes that is bad), but have you ever read a comment from one of her fanatic followers? Or find it hypocritical that she condemns those trolls that made death threats, then turns around and praise comics, done by her fans, that depict her killing game developers that she hates because of games they made that she didn't like?
      I never said that her videos were not devoid of some good points about how women are portrayed in video games. But it is clear that talking about that subject is not the main goal of her videos, she does have a certain target market she is trying to please after all. So "hate mongering" yes, its just presented in a pleasant way.

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    2. In her recent series, she uses the word misogyny 3 times and each time it is referring to acts of violence against women. You may or may not agree with her specifics, but that is a completely reasonable use of the word.

      There are transcripts of her recent series at her web site. Could you pull out a paragraph or two that has this "hate mongering" in it, because I'm not seeing it. Vague references to "a certain target market" isn't concrete enough for me. Thanks.

      http://www.feministfrequency.com/2013/08/damsel-in-distress-part-3-tropes-vs-women/

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    3. A violent act against a female character in a story does not = misogyny: the hatred or dislike of women. Again that is the misuse of the word. By that logic Jeff's games are misogynistic, because you are required to kill female characters in order to complete certain quests. And yes, she doesn't use the word misogyny as often in her new videos. Instead she uses sexism and "degrades women". And were she does not specifically use those words she implies that the topic/game is sexist because she says it is. But only if its happening to women, because if its the other way around now it is ok because, double standards are ok?

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  21. WRITING REVIEWS IN CAPS IS ALMOST AS BAD AS THE FINAL EPISODE OF LOST.

    I do like your post, though.

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    1. I thought that there had to be a better middle ground. Maybe use all caps alot, but not constantly. the comments were OK to read, but that whole thousand world all caps article was just stupid.

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  22. I disagree with much of Sarkeesian's argument and honestly, the way people responded is a bigger point than anything Anita said.

    Getting angry is irrational, but her arguments are flawed. The bottom line is these games serve a market. The primary consumer, going back to the 70s and 80s, of these games are men that might enjoy saving the proverbial damsel. I don't even think it's a misogynistic fantasy, just fantasy that appeals to the largest demographic, heteronormal men. Sure, more options are good.

    Also, Sarkeesian doesn't account for real cultural differences between the West and Japan. Most of the games she mentions are imported from Japan as American developers are significantly less likely to use these tropes. A lot of her arguments reek of "your art sucks because I disagree with your culture".

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    1. Matt, your arguments appear to be this:

      1) Having stronger men rescuing weaker women isn't anti-feminist because heteronormal men like it.

      2) Having stronger men rescuing weaker women isn't anti-feminist because Japanese like it.

      Feminism is fundamentally about the equality of women. There is of course a wide range of views on how exactly "equality" should show up in practice, but it seems to me that the damsel-in-distress trope is inherently counter to that.

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    2. We'll probably always have games that appeal to baser instincts, just like we have movies and books and music that do the same thing. One good reason why people don't need to feel so threatened by Sarkeesian and others.

      That said, I don't want to only watch the new Star Trek, even though I actually enjoyed it. Sometimes I want to watch Moon. I wish there were more movies out there like Moon, but so far there seem to be more like Star Trek, and that's an objection I have to the movie industry.

      Games tend to reflect society kind of like movies and books and music do. And it has inherited some of the same problems, along with creating some new ones.

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  23. I disagree that there's something deeper going on, unless you mean we're in the process of unpacking a more complex knot of psychological tendencies than we initially realized. In which case I would agree.

    And I missed your blogging. This is one of my favorite subjects too.

    As for the discussion, no one reasonable is suggesting that the "damsel in distress" needs to disappear. When people hear something criticized, they hear that as "this thing must not exist". We will always have games/movies/books that are formulaic, and appeal to our baser natures. It's when those are the only or almost the only options that there is a problem.

    In other words, our selection of entertainment is not zero-sum as Mark said above. However, saying that will probably not convince many people, since we seem to be trained from birth to expect the world to be zero-sum.

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  24. I think you need to separate actual criticism towards her videos and just plain trolling.

    Her videos are nothing more then a narrow minded opinion presented as valid criticism.
    I don't think there would be much to talk about if she and her followers wouldn't make it seem like she's some godly voice of all female gamers and that her opinion is more then such.

    She doesn't give any actual reasons for why the damsel troupe is harmful other then her own feminist opinion that is based on how she thinks female character should be, act or look.

    That and her view of male characters sounds like she believes males can't express basic human emotion without some kind of need to overpower females.

    So it's pretty silly to think that anyone who opposes her is a young guy who thinks their games are gonna be hurt. She gets backlashes from males and females who find her view and the new feminist gaming movement annoying.

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    1. I believe one issue she had with the Damsel trope is that it was overrepresented. There's nothing innately wrong with it, but it's troubling when that seems to be the only way women are represented. What if all women in anime had the same personality as Lucy in Elfen Lied? She's awesome, but I'd get bored eventually. Not only that, but I'd start to wonder if the writers believe that all women have dual personalities, one that is cutesy and one that is homicidal.

      Similarly, Sarkeesian doesn't believe that males can't express basic human emotion without some kind of need to overpower females. No, she believes that too many games make it SEEM like males can't express basic human emotion without some stereotypical female surrogate present.

      I don't think it's silly to think that anyone who opposes her is a young guy who thinks their games are gonna be hurt. I think it's dangerous to think that. The people who are offended and push back against her ideas are much more diverse than many people are willing to admit, and that's why the problems she points out are still problems.

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  25. Thanks for bringing this subject up. It's important, and when you have daughters it comes closer to home.
    Video game makers are obviously expressing something in themselves and putting it out for mass consumption. They think there is no problem with their portrayal of females, because in their hearts, they all know they have nothing but the deepest respect for women. Especially thier breasts. So, until they enter into self-examination and find out "why does part of me want to use women as pleasure toys?" and not shy away from the answer, they will keep projecting their fantasies onto unwitting boys, who will in turn project their fantasies onto their female victims. It's basic psychology 101.

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  26. Well no matter your view on her videos, I think we can all agree that the new Star Trek was far worse.

    And if anyone is going to get death threats, it should of been JJ Abrams.

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  27. Kinda ironic that people are prepared to write off the entire geek sub-culture as evil neck-beards(!) when I expect most of them reacted to the issue the same way that I did - that I've no real interest in her agenda but nobody should be treated that way by a tiny, vocal minority, most of whom aren't even especially geeky.

    And then, like the majority of geeky gamers I moved on because getting bogged down in red flag issues like this is pointless. Whatever I say in her favour will not be enough, whatever I say to condemn her trolls will not be enough, so the sensible thing to do is say nothing. And that won't be good enough either, but at least this way I don't waste my time arguing with fanatics from either camp because in this debate if you don't agree enough then you're the enemy.

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    1. I think part of the reason people got up in arms about Sarkeesian's Kickstarter is because it got a lot more interest and money than expected. When people donate thousands to a cause, you start wondering if it's really a minority. But ultimately I'm wondering why you think she's condemning all gamers? Do you really think her perspective is that extreme? I'm curious exactly what clues give you that impression.

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    2. You didn't interpret what I had written in the way I intended for it to be interpreted. I'm blaming you for that because it makes perfect sense to me. No biggy.

      Here's an extract from the title of this post: "How Geek Culture Lost Its Mind and Can It Be Gotten Back?"

      I've no idea what Sarkeesian said - as I explained I didn't really pay much attention to what she said. She can say what she wants - it's a free world in the West.

      I'm disappointed that "geek culture" in its entirety is being blamed by JV for something that is a peripheral geek issue at best and actually a more general problem with the much wider and broader young male (by no means just white) culture.

      Now here's why I shouldn't have replied to you. Now, what you should do is apologize for misinterpreting what I'd said and we both forget about, but here's what I think will happen - you're going to read some other message into my reply and answer those points. The points I haven't made.

      In some alternate reality our spirited discussion turns into a blood-drenched murder-suicide (not an actual threat) because, although we broadly agree with each other, I don't agree enough.

      Anyway... transgender lady reviews GTA over on Gamespot UK and my faith in humanity dies a little more. And should I even mention the transgender part? Probably not.

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    3. Oh to be clear, it's the comments that dent my faith in humanity, not the lady reviewer part. I'm fine with lady parts.

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  28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcPIu3sDkEw
    Title is "anita sarkeesian is not a real gamer"
    She's just been revealed as a fraud. A video leaked out of her lecturing a class in 2010 before all this started.
    "I am not a gamer" her words, 2010:)

    Not allowing discussion tends to show that either something is feared or being hidden. There is a reason religions tend to do this, they call it blasphemy, and they always consider themselves the victim, their purpose is nobel, but the truth is, they dare not open themselves up to criticism, because they cannot stand in the light of day.

    The entire premise of this issue is questionable.

    She has made the discussion toxic by portraying anyone on the other side as just some creepy nerd or someone making a threat. Its a way to morally tarnish anyone that has objections or criticism, and as before, its what religions have done in the past. Scientologists actually call such people "suppressive persons".

    You see a pattern yet?

    The idea there are a bunch of angry nerds keeping women from games is a concocted fiction. Its like saying that there are a bunch of piggish men keeping women from enjoying the WNBA. Remember that? Yes it was the last crusade of the womens groups, where they claimed that it was patriarchy and the rest of a giant conspiracy that was keeping womens sports from being as successful as mens sports. But when given a chance, it seems even women couldn't be bothered to watch the WNBA. Men and women just don't have equal interests, theres no crime in that, but apparently its not allowed to be acknowledged, and so the whole WNBA issue was shoved under the rug and purposely forgotten by gender warriors.

    Now we have gaming and the same playbook is being worked, but this time, they know not to test the theory, just make videos and the rest, and claim men are just "trolls" or whatever other vulgarity if they dare to disagree with whats being said. The only thing that is allowed is a whole sale condemnation of men, guilty by default. Doesn't matter if the assumptions made in the arguments are false or true, it just matters that the patriarchy and sexism is condemned whether it exists or not.

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    1. Boy do I have a host of questions for you. Why does Sarkeesian saying she's not a gamer make her a fraud? It would make sense if I thought she wasn't doing a good job of interpreting the themes in games, but nobody has tried to argue that she's wrong in saying that the primary motivation for the character of Bioshock Infinite is to save Elizabeth.

      I was wondering if you could support your claim that she's portraying the "other side" as creepy nerds? I would like to know exactly what actions and words she uses create that impression for you, because as a gamer, I definitely do NOT feel like I have been portrayed as a creepy nerd.

      As for the rest of stuff you wrote, I'm realizing maybe I don't have that many questions, since it sounds like you already made your mind up years ago that sexism and patriarchy aren't real, and that feminists and gender warriors are just "trolls" to dare to disagree with what you're saying. In other words, they're guilty by default, doesn't matter if you made a mistake in your assumptions, as long as feminism etc is condemned whether it exists or not. Confirm/deny?

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    2. For me at least, its not that Anita is wrong in pointing out the lazy writing damsel tropes in some games. Its that after a statement like "the primary motivation for the character of Bioshock Infinite is to save Elizabeth" she then says that it is sexist/misogynist or hints that it is without using those exact words. When it is clearly not misogyny: the hatred or dislike of women. I find this misuse of these words appalling as well as her attempt to falsely accuse developers of being sexist(I think this is were a lot of the hate towards her has come from).

      I found it funny when I realized that before a friend had told me about her kickstarter I had completely forgot about this trope. The truth is I have never had an interest in playing games that involved rescuing damsels. On top of that most of the games I play tend to represent men and women equally. It would be nice to see more female leads, but that doesn't mean there aren't any.

      I feel like her videos over exaggerate the tropes prevalence in the industry.

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  29. Video game plots might be overall really mediocre, but that's not because of the sexist tropes they employ. Common tropes tend to be used because they're good and sensible - I don't think anyone would deny that a plot with a man rescuing her woman or child, gives quite a different tone than a woman rescuing her man or child.

    Men and women are fundamentally different, both in real life and in their video game representation. Of course most videogames never strive to do a good plot, but just something minimalist and serviceable to keep the action flowing.

    And in many ways videogames pander to women, too, you can just as well have a woman with maxed out strength in D&D or in Spidweb games as a man, while obviously that's not how the world works. But that's fine of course, let people create whatever ridiculous characters they come up with.

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  30. Welcome back, Jeff!

    I'm sorry to hear you've been having health problems; I hope those clear up soon.

    As for the topic of this post, you're proof of why every man should have daughters. ;-)

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  31. I found her videos and arguments in general to be rather poor. I don't much care for either side of the argument however, as both seem to be full of angry wackjobs who spend more time flinging virtual feces at each other than discussing any 'issues', of which there aren't any in the first place.

    If someone wants to make women (or men) walking stereotypes in a game, that's their right, as they're the one making it. Take the recent game... Dragon Divinity Commander or whatever it was called (the new real time strategy game in the Divine Divinity series). One of your main advisors was an over the top walking stereotypical feminist... who you could shut down at every opportunity and consistently mock. It was hilarious. Similarly the advisors for the other races were usually quite 'stereotypical' as well (the undead were religious fundies, the dwarves greedy jewish capitalists, etc). I see no problem with any sort of offensive representation because no one's being forced to sit down and play something they find reprehensible. You don't like it? Don't bloody buy it.

    Horrible storytelling is one thing, getting upset at 'man saves woman' tropes as some sort of manly fantasy is borderline absurd when most romance novels aimed at women (and written by women) do the exact same thing. Manly man saves attractive woman is a shared fantasy for both genders, the fact that there are so few of these is probably why it gets overdone all the time.

    Basically if you're upset that games don't go the way you like them, you should stop whining and make one yourself like Vogel does.

    PS: Please don't go into 'privilege' nonsense Jeff, that's the territory of the same crackpots who won't shut up about nonsense like critical race theory and mythical white privilege, and they'll smell blood in the water. See that comment from steve nichols above - dismissing something because somebody is a certain gender/race is a mark of the truly insane.

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  32. It makes her a fraud for the same reason someone claiming to be a war veteran to bolster their argument on politics or war is a fraud. My question fired back at you is why you have such low standards for anita? Is it because she's a woman?

    I made up my mind that certain claims of persecution aren't real based on reason. Many many groups claim to be persecuted, from fox news to extremist muslim fanatics, to well.."feminists" in their current form. Theres a reason feminists like the prominent blogger meg lanker simmons resorted to creating threats against herself when none could be found to work her agenda, theres a playbook they use now based on professional victimhood, and its just time people saw through their act.

    Your attempt to flip the argument doesn't work. Only one side spends its time pushing the idea in the media and popular discourse of professional victimhood, then uses it as an excuse to censor dissent.

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  33. I like how people basically confirm what Jeff is saying.

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  34. Welcome back to blogs Jeff. Interesting summary on the whole Anita affair. I think some your chronology is incorrect, but the gist is there and just goes to show how clouded the whole event has become. I watched from the internet sidelines last year as it all unfolded and I'm still confused about it all and just shake my head now.

    I'm a gamer and I'm passionate about games. Her statements about not liking or playing games a few years ago to a non-gaming audience (building rapport maybe?) disturbs me, but doesn't condemn her. I believe anyone can be converted into a gamer in less than 5 minutes. Having played lots of online games (and also across tabletops), I've learned that some gamers are just mean.

    That's it. Just this: some gamers are mean.

    When I encounter them, I leave the group and/or switch to doing something else and move on. That's the freedom gaming gives me. Make sure your daughters know that mean people do really exist. I think Anita and her fanatics are mean and I think the trolls who attacked her online are mean.

    So, let's move on. What didn't you like about the new Trek film?

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  35. My problem with Anita Sarkeesian, isn't the fact that she's a woman who's bringing up discrimination in the gaming industry, I think that more women should have a voice in games. My problem with Anita is that while she does bring up serious issues, she does it in an awkward and weird way, and she doesn't offer a way to fix these problems she just mentions them. Then there's the selective comments. Now I know that the comments section on any video especially ones on feminism is going to be full of hate comments, but you shouldn't just show the ones you want and block the one you don't, that right there makes you an awful person.

    Then there's the kickstarter campaign, where Anita exploits gamers into giving her money, by making herself to be a damsel in distress, which ironically enough is the subject of her first video on the trope damsels in distress in video games. And we haven't seen this money from her kickstarter go to her videos, I mean they look just as bad as they did back in 2012, so what did she do with it?

    And to top it all off Anita gets the ambassador award during the game developer awards. I mean really her? Anita isn't even a gamer and yet they're giving her an award for what? Whining about feminism and going on Fox news and whining some more.

    So really the reason why people hate Anita Sarkeesian isn't because she's a woman or because she's a feminist, but because she's a fraud who exploits and lies to people for her own personal gain.

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  36. The sexualization of violence is what makes it misogynistic. Dead women still have to be fuckable. Dead female characters say as much as they did alive. If you have a murder scene that a non-necrophiliac can masturbate to, you're doing it wrong. Imagine a game where all the main characters are women and all of the bit male characters spend all their screen time stripping, blowing kisses, and begging. Then imagine watching the female characters kill male character after male character, and every male character dies with his penis hanging out and his ass in the air. Catching on?

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