Anita and the Crying Wolf
I know what you’re all thinking: I’m going to do another sexism in gaming blog that you’re all probably tired of seeing. I’m going to be putting out something that you don’t think you need to be told for the millionth time within a few weeks span.
However, while this is about the sexism in gaming issue, this is about the person who jettisoned this into the limelight for the past few weeks. An until now little known YouTube feminist by the name of Anita Sarkeesian who put out a very controversial video entitled Tropes vs. Women in gaming. First video? The “Damsel in Distress” trope.
Before I get anywhere else, let me explain how wrong the usage of that term is in that video. The way she describes the “trope” does not make anything a trope, but rather a cliché. TV Tropes.org has several different tropes used in all forms of entertainment, and those are all things that we enjoy seeing; plot devices that are actually entertaining to see. A cliché, by comparison, is the overused version of a trope; when you get tired of seeing it over and over again. In this sense, this is her describing something that is a cliché to her rather than a trope.
Now that that’s out of the way, you might have noticed how many blogs, posts, and commentaries have been rampant within the past few weeks as opposed to how it was before the video came out. It does bother me to some extent how obsessed we are at the issue right now, but before you label me a sexist or me not wanting to discuss any portion of the sexism in gaming dilemma, let me explain why this is bothersome to me.
For one thing, look who what we’re using as a launching pad for the discussion. This is a video in which the host seemed to get some things both factually wrong (Fox McCloud did NOT replace the female in the game), and twisted both facts and her own rules when it would benefit the viewpoint she wanted to have. Starfox Adventures could be considered a spinoff due to it being a departure from the core gameplay and story of the original two Starfox games. However, while this game was looked at by Anita, another game in the Super Mario franchise was not due to a “no spinoffs count” rule: Super Mario RPG, in which Peach was one of the major reasons Culex, the optional super boss, was beatable (she could even solo that guy if you were good enough with her). She also has the best healing and crowd control abilities in the game. No wonder that the spinoff rule was in effect for that game that didn’t put Peach in the Damsel role for the entire game, and no wonder why she wrote off Super Mario Bros. 2 as not a true Mario game because of its origins (even though Nintendo has treated as such for years now). We’ll excuse Anita for not including Zelda’s Adventure when dealing with that series because…well, who WANTS to be reminded of that disaster?
But it begs the question of why the selective enforcing and cherry picking? Why were the two biggest offenders to her also two of the biggest franchises, and why is the trope itself the target when there are several games that use creative ways to employ the trope while not making the female involved not be what Anita makes them out to be in her video: males’ property that’s stripped of their dignity and strength just for become the game ball for the males to fight over? The matter becomes, in a way, what is she hoping to accomplish. To do this, we have to explore who she is, what she has done to command such attention to her in the first place, and if she has laid such claims down before that have been stripped of their credibility.
Unfortunately, her defenders have made every attempt to not allow such questions to be asked. Any attempt to do so gets you labeled anything in the book. Anything from censoring the discussion of the general subject to you being sexist is employed, and any words are being twisted to mean something detrimental that you’re doing, even if it was never even close to what was said.
But such might be the case with some feminists. There’s a Wiki page devoted to labeling different groups of their detractors ( http://geekfeminism.wikia.c... ), and concern trolls, which I’ve been labeled by a few people on the thread about the video over on NeoGAF ( http://www.neogaf.com/forum... ; I enter the thread at around the 120 page mark) whenever I even mention her name (much less put any amount of criticism about her or her video as a post in the 100+ page thread), is one of them. No getting through to some people involved in this discussion about someone who they’ve made as invincible as Anita has become thanks to her supporters. Thankfully, at least I would hope, the people on N4G would be more sensible, but then again, I think of N4G’s track record, and I find myself crossing my fingers that recent history doesn’t repeat itself.
I won’t comment on the supposed written study she did since I can’t seem to find it now on the internet. Me saying anything about that would be heresy. However, her review on Bayonetta and on some Christmas songs are very well documented, but you’d need to use The Google to find said documents: the actual videos were deleted by Anita. Her TEDxWomen speech made light of despicable comments she received via the Kickstarter page for the series that has now pushed buttons across the gaming map desiring rape and pillage, and even highlighting a “punch the feminist in the face” game that probably wouldn’t have gotten as much attention had she not brought it up. However, said comments wouldn’t have been able to be posted on any other video she made: she disables comments, or heavy moderates them, on each YouTube video she makes for her sponsored page…and this was before she even thought of her Kickstarter project, the only time she didn’t moderate the allowed comments. What’s the problem here, aside from the immaturity of gamers and the inability they have to comment about anything without resorting to such tactics like using prejudices and making personal attacks? It’s that the mainstream gaming community knows there’s an issue with people who choose to wage that kind of war with people who they feel are attacking their hobby. Sadly, such an issue is growing and it’s not being addressed as seriously as I would like, but Anita made it seem like, one, she was the only target of this kind of premeditated attack (just ask Geoff Knightly about those….hell, ask any one of any different race, origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation about what they have gotten from these wastes of life), and two, that she never tried to separate the idiots from those that disagree with her but choose to be civil about it. To her and her supporters, all criticisms of her are the same, it seems, and there’s no way to separate the civil discourse from the lunatics that give the rest of us a bad name and rep. Of course, this is not downplaying the seriousness of the comments in question, but the people who did all of that don’t, or at least shouldn’t, represent the entire gaming community.
And then there’s what this video created. The very freak out (for lack of a better term) about the trope because of this video. The N4G blogs about Peach and Zelda and the sudden outrage over GoW trophy names, among other things, are just small fish in this vast sea right now, and until we understand the situation we could get ourselves into by this mass overload of concern, it’ll become a case of us having burnout over the topic.
This is because we have a serious case of people crying wolf right now. How many things can you find in gaming that could be considered sexist by definition? Now, how many of those things wouldn’t actually offend you had you not tried to find something offensive about them? This is what some people are beginning to do. Scenes from games no one found anything sexist about before are suddenly getting a second look, and this time, we’ve got the fine toothed comb at the ready. We’re picking apart and overanalyzing several scenes, and trying to be offended at something that, when watching it casually before, never gave us any offense. This is simply a matter of if you go watching or reading something looking to be offended, you will be offended. The problem, however, comes from us crying wolf, as the boy did in the Aesop Fable the term came from, too often: people will stop running to the call. In this case, people will stop taking it seriously because they can’t possibly handle the many, many things we’re calling sexist that no one else is. Look at what people think of the Parents Television Council now, or even Jack Thompson. The PTC started to do way too many FCC complaints, and people had way more important things to do with their lives. As for Jack Thompson, we all know where he is now, and how he got there.
And this brings me to the most important aspect that both Anita and everyone who’s blindly shouting sexist at everything they see because of the video. Before we are male and female, we are human beings. We have individual personalities, characteristics, tastes, styles, etc. We all have strengths and weaknesses, things we fear, things we fight for, and things we couldn’t care about. Basically put, these things exists in every one regardless of gender. There are males that are pacifists, and some that are warmongers. There are women who can kick your ass in a heartbeat, while other women are physically weak because they choose to take a different path. Some people like to cover themselves up from head to toe, while others like to bare all if they could. If you rob game developers the ability to define human characteristics in a character they create for a game from fear that they might be branded with whatever hysteria we create, then we not only get a boring game that is not representative of anyone, but a game that has no immersion factor. Part of why we love the new Tomb Raider game is because of how Lara is defined in it. She’s is strong willed (just doesn’t know it yet when you begin the story), but she is human and, because of that, she has the same flaws that you’d expect of any human. We should be careful of not stripping women of dignity, but we shouldn’t go the other way, either, and put all women into a superhuman category (not sure what you’d call it, so bear with me as I try to do the best I can here) that would be sexist, too. Women want to be treated as equal as anyone else. They are not looking to be superior (well, not in the serious sense, anyway), and they are as human as anyone else is.
But if we allow ourselves to get carried away, do the “cry wolf” routine, and make anyone who criticizes certain figureheads of a movement into a label which they have no fair chance to remove from themselves without subscribing to a belief they fundamentally disagree with, we defeat the purpose, and we just give more reason for the darker side of the gaming community to begin to take hold. If a scene or game offends the feminist in you, it should offend you without you trying to find a reason why it would, and no figurehead of any movement is invincible from vetting or criticism, regardless of the ways and means their supporters try to have you believe otherwise.