I’ve seen the problem, and it is us

I talk a lot about my hangups regarding fan culture here, even going in depth as to my reasons for not wanting to label myself a geek or nerd anymore. It would be great if I could leave it at that. No one wants to read the incessant rants of cultural nay-sayer or, worse, a nerd shamer. But I can never be done with it so long as there is more fuel to add to the fire.

I am an occasional reader of Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency. While I do not necessarily agree with her point of view on everything, I do respect her opinions and what she brings to light about the portrayal of women in the media. When I heard about her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” project, I was excited to see what would come of it. Unfortunately, the road to the actual video series has been littered with the refuge of misogynistic video game culture. Yeah, despite playing and thoroughly enjoying video games, I do not call myself a gamer. I’m currently more glad than ever that I don’t throw my hat in with that lot.

Please, take a moment to read about the attacks on Anita that have been left on the YouTube page for the series’ Kickstarter campaign’s video here. When you’re done with that, please take a moment to read about the vandalism to her Wikipedia entry. If you can walk away from those without feeling disgusted by those gamers who are simply exercising their voices, you are a sociopath. This is behavior that should not be accepted, but what can we do?

And I know that I am using gamer pretty generally and not all gamers are like that, but this is the gaming culture we have created via the hypermasculine caricatures of men and powerless, sexualized women on exhibit in games.  Most of us who play games have contributed to it in some way or another, mainly by giving money to companies who perpetuate this imagery. (And don’t brag to me about the fact that you haven’t paid for a game in 10 years. That just makes you an entitled jerk who perpetuates the imagery by both taking it into yourself by playing and distributing it for free. Nice work.) It’s not gamer culture, it’s some weird voice developed in male culture that is finding a voice in pop culture thanks to the internet.

Case in point, there are some questionable comments in this Wired article about the cover for the upcoming first issue of Catwoman. The same imagery games are providing males have long been present in comics.

I’m not really sure what more needs to be said here. I love the fact that Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter was more than fully funded by donations, probably thanks to the controversy. It’s also great that everything she’s encountered does nothing but validate what she’s doing. But I can’t help but shudder and think that this is something of which I am part. These are supposed to be my people, but something in them is horrid. It’s not even just because it’s a bunch of guys attempting to silence a woman. It’s because a bunch of people are attempting to silence another person for pointing out the failings of media in its portrayal of people. Where do we go from here? How do we fix this?

I’d like to say that Sarkeesian’s video series will be a good start, but that’s like saying that by putting a book on politics in a library you will influence how people vote. If no one wants it, no will find it. Plus the shelves are so crowded, it’s hard to find one title. The video series will be incredibly helpful, but they will primarily only hit the people receptive of feminist theory perspectives already.

The solution is probably in creating better, more inclusive, less subjugatory media. Media that presents a better worldview without beating people over the head with it. But we don’t get that in video games, where characters are more often than not super tough white males – and the women are either damsels in distress or super vixens. (And the latest incarnation of Lara Croft is a rape survivor because they felt that would give her backstory depth… No, if you want an intriguing backstory, make a guy a rape survivor.) The ball is really in the court of the creators and those of us who want to see better things. As consumers, we invest in the media around us. Let’s stop investing in the entertainment that these people people feed, let’s start critiquing these things for what they are, and let’s start demanding newer voices.

We can do that, right?

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About Gospel X

I am a major mediaphile as well as a social researcher. My ultimate belief is that the media can be used to teach children prosocial behaviors and teach adults how to access paradigms. And I think that Mega Man is an amazing example of proteanism. Add me on Google : https://plus.google.com/u/0/113795848855477334599

Posted on June 18, 2012, in culture, games, the hell?, video games and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. When I read Lara Croft was supposed to be a rape-survivor, it felt like an old media gimmick.

    “She’s too sexualized, do something about that”
    “Yes, sir”.

    It’s a contrived and tired story. She could have had her research stolen or destroyed. She could be in a race with an academic rival for an artifact. Either would show a female role model that excels in academics and kicking ass. New Rule: when writing storylines game developers should ask what would Valve (or Pixar) do?

    • What complicates the new rule for writing video games are:

      a.) The people writing many video games aren’t really writers. They are people associated with the company for one reason or another, often designers or programmers – or even executives who feel that there should have been “more” to the game without knowing what exactly. They don’t go out of their way to hire people with writing backgrounds. If they do hire someone with a writing background, it might be limited because writing for games is not considered real writing due to the quality of the writing of games that already exist. You have to love a catch 22.

      b.) They honestly don’t care. The issues of sexism and exclusion have been present in games for decades. So long as the current audience throws money at such games, it will be extremely difficult to make any changes.

      I would love if they approached games like Valve and Pixar approach their projects, though. Game enthusiasts would really love to see the hobby elevated and respected, but we’re waist deep in crap that honestly doesn’t deserve respect. And we’re represented by people who don’t deserve respect, either.

  2. I want to take a shot at the question you pose. Can we creating a better, more inclusive, less subjugatory media. The short answer is no. The long answer is yes 😉

    We, The Internet, don’t have to respond to every piece of anonymous internet flotsam that insults or trolls us, our opinions, or ultimately undermines contemporary media by turning most topics into a polar issue. There is also a truism that 90% of ________ (Sci-Fi, fiction, games, TV, etc) is crap. Its a lot of work to find good content.

    There are great opportunities now. A lot of newspapers, many of which shared ownership, are collapsing. Television stations, and other media conglomerates, are struggling. The ones that seem to be thriving (to my eye) are those investing in good content. But the internet is inherently a meritocracy. It’s the wild west out there where anything can happen. It’s provided writers, actors, comedians, and entrepreneurs to create good content and more often than not sell it. It does cost money to make these productions. I’ve backed independent magazines, such as “Hail to the Victors” from mgoblog.com on Kickstarter. There seems to be a large independent gamer faction supporting new and creative games on Kickstarter. Venessa Miemis, of emergentbydesign, created a five part series “The Future of Facebook” and while it was funded through private funding I think this may be indicative of the way forward. In addition to critiquing media that talks down to us or is foolishly one sided. We need to be the change we want to see. We can put our money where our mouth is. Invest in new voices. Comment on their blogs and ignore the riffraff.

    As a side note, listening to some of The Nerdist comedian podcasts — it seems roundly accepted that its easier than ever to get your name or brand out there. Anyone can do anything.

    • You make a lot of good points, but I want to respond to your side note. While it is accepted that it is easier to get your name and brand out there, it’s already being discovered that there are new impediments showing up. Stars and already-knowns are starting to crowd the free space. Chris Hardwick made the Nerdist empire what it is, and that happened because he grew the brand out of familiarity with him – going way back to Singled Out, then his hosting of “Gadget Pron” on Attack of the Show, and because he was asked to provide a guest piece on Wired. His podcast, and the ones associated with his podcast through the Nerdist branding, make it difficult for new podcasts to be found. Similarly, Kickstarters like Tim Schafer’s and the recent Ogre campaign by Steve Jackson Games are technically competing with and drawing funds away from other lesser known projects. When the larger brands crowd the formerly democratized space, it’s not as easy to get your message out there.

      • I agree.

        An idea, magazine, audience may not be for everyone. Part of the same Nerdist show also mentioned that Dave Chappelle may be the last great comic (large mass appeal). Smaller comics, like Earthquake, can easily to target his or her niche/demographic and unless pushed may be able to carve out a happy lifestyle.

        Overall, if someone can create a game as fun as Tim Schafer, I believe it will find an audience. Hopefully, the creator has the ability to “level up” and show their value, create their brand, before they give up.

        Perhaps I’m being optimistic and we’re merely between phases. A new set of corporations will rise and dominate our media creating a similar dynamic. That said, I still believe in the long tail of opportunities available online if creators are willing and able to put in sweat equity. I trust Google, Netflix, Last.fm and the like to help me find them.

      • I found a number of podcasts as part of the Nerdist Network on iTunes. Generally, I’m overwhelmed by the options. I REALLY wish there was a way to rate them and give me feedback on which other podcasts to try out.

        I was rewarded when I took a chance on “Tweet me Harder”.
        Any podcasts you’d suggest?

        Can’t remember where I heard this. But we’ve hit a point where we cannot keep up with the best anymore. Way, way too much out there. I’ve been trying to keep up with RSS. But I’m starting to give in. If I haven’t read it for a week, apparently I just don’t have the time.

        • As you know, I’ve been struggling to find the time for everything as well. There is too much media out there to consume. I’ve been pruning my RSS feed in an attempt to keep it manageable, but there’s just too much. Similarly, it is difficult to keep up with podcasts, which I primarily listen to while heading to and returning from work every day.

          Sadly, I can’t recommend that many podcasts. Most of the ones I like fall under the Nerdist umbrella (The Nerdist Podcast, The Indoor Kids, The Nerdist Writers Panel, Comic Book Club, and Mike and Tom Eat Snakes), with the occasional Retronauts and Doug Loves Movies thrown in there for good measure.

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