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?