Anita Sarkeesian Isn’t Your Straw Man

Anita Sarkeesian Isn’t Your Straw Man

So Anita Sarkeesian, creator of the Tropes vs Women in Video Games video series, has made the news again for a variety of reasons. She was announced as a new playable character in Towerfall. A new episode of Law & Order has come out focusing on #GamerGate with an Anita Sarkeesian type character in it. A recent news expose has interviewed her and gotten the gaming populace riled up again. She is easily one of the most divisive figures in gaming.

For the life of me I don’t know why. I’ll give you a bit of a background on me. I am basically a straight, white, male, cis, blah blah blah all those titles. I’m like, privilege central if you were to ask the greater Tumblosphere. I guess I’m not rich and I have a few disabilities but like, seriously, got some privilege going on here.

I’m also a gamer. I’ve been a gamer for life. I started playing games when I was 3 on my parents’ Intellivision. You ain’t got nothing on my Astro Smash. When I was diagnosed with dysgraphia and hand tremors as a kid, I was told to play with the NES to improve my hand-eye coordination. I tinkered with making my own game controller as part of high-school circuitry class. I wrote a Marxist critique of Final Fantasy X as a college paper. I’ve been around the world from EVO, to E3, to PAX. Gamer blood runs through these veins.

If you were to believe portions of the greater community of gamers out there, I should be angry at “SJWs” and “liberal fascists” and of course, Sarkeesian herself. But I’m not. I’m just not. In fact, the sheer amount of rage that gets thrown toward Sarkeesian is mind-blowing to me. I personally don’t see why you can’t both be a gamer and listen to Sarkeesian’s critiques. I agree with some, don’t agree with others, and basically get on with my life, while others call her a liar, a whore, and threaten school shootings just so she won’t give a talk.

I mean, doesn’t that seem profoundly screwed up to you? Heck, I’ve never seen reactions this extreme over other pastimes. Do sci-fi fans threaten to harm George Lucas for the Star Wars prequels? Do rival tennis players make death threats to each other?

But I’m not here to talk about the reactions. I’m here to talk about the premises. You see, I hear a lot of people saying that Sarkeesian is the worst thing that has happened to gaming. That she calls all gamers misogynists and that she hates all of us, and frankly, I haven’t seen any of this! I’ve looked really, really hard, too. All I see is an exploration of gender issues that may be right and may be wrong but isn’t anywhere near as inflammatory as people are making it out to be.

Let’s look at some of these claims and examine whether or not they are actually accurate.

Anita Sarkeesian calls all gamers misogynists or woman haters.

Uh… no? I mean, please do respond with a comment where this has been said. I’m open to being proven wrong, but in all the Tropes vs. Women episodes, Sarkeesian rarely talks about gamers. Rather, she talks about game design and how it might reflect on our society. If the things she says makes you feel uncomfortable, I’m sorry, but the jump from “these are some problematic portrayals of women in games” to “you are a horrible misogynist” is one you are making, not one she is making.

Anita Sarkeesian Cherry Picks Her Examples and Never Shows Positive Portrayals of Women

Well yeah, that’s what examining a piece of media is. She isn’t reviewing these games. She isn’t beholden to talk about the good and the bad. She is analyzing one part of the game, and that’s how it could negatively portray women. She never talks about how games positively portray women because it’s not the topic of her series. In fact, Feminist Frequency is going to start a new series talking about positive portrayals of women in gaming.

Look at it this way. Say I was doing a series about bad first person shooter mechanics in games. I spend a ton of time talking about games like Battleship and Battle Los Angeles . Would anyone come up to me and say “But you didn’t talk about Call of Duty or Battlefield !” Duh, I wasn’t talking about good first person shooter mechanics. I was talking about bad ones. I also wasn’t saying ALL games have bad first person shooter mechanics, just that THESE games do, and that we can learn things from them. Similarly, Sarkeesian is just saying the games she is referencing have problematic portrayals of women in them, and we can learn from that.

Anita Sarkeesian Isn’t Your Straw Man

Anita Sarkeesian Is a Liar

I’ve never seen this claim backed up by evidence. It always seems to point back to a statement she made about not having experience with games and yet calling herself a gamer, which I don’t think are mutually exclusive statements. I used to call myself a gamer when I was young, but I got into shooters much later. Limited experience does not really disqualify someone as a gamer. You qualify as a gamer if you identify as one.

Otherwise, I haven’t seen anything in her videos that isn’t true. She cites real examples from real games, shows them on screen, and dissects them. You may disagree with her opinions, but the facts are always there. I haven’t seen her falsify anything. Once again I’m willing to be proven wrong here, comment away, but I also have to wonder if her biggest opponents even watch her series.

Anita Sarkeesian Says Games Need to Stop Catering to Us and Only Cater to Her

Once again, I’ve never actually heard this come from Sarkeesian’s mouth. She calls for more positive portrayals of women, sure, but I don’t see a problem with that. It’s not like all the games featuring straight white male characters are going to disappear. She’s just asking for a couple more games that appeal to more people. GTA doesn’t have to go away, for example, for another game that has powerful female protagonists to come out.

Let’s look at the GTA style of game as vanilla cake. It strikes me that Sarkeesian is going, “Wow, there’s a lot of vanilla cake here. I’d really like some chocolate cake. Can the baker make some more chocolate cake in the future?” and the gaming community is going, “SCREW YOU, BE HAPPY WITH VANILLA!” I mean… I don’t see the harm in just asking for something that would please you. Can’t we all have things that make us happy?

Anita Sarkeesian Says We Can’t Enjoy Our Favorite Games Because They Are Bad

I think that there is a confusion between “bad” and “problematic” here. I don’t think she said anywhere that you can’t enjoy GTA. She may say some elements of GTA are problematic, and that may be true (or you may disagree with it). But just because something is kind of problematic doesn’t make it bad and doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. There are tons of things out there that are kind of problematic that I still love.

Look at the song “Baby its Cold Outside.” It’s a great song. It’s a little creepy considering it’s about a guy who keeps trying to get a girl to stay the night with him even though she really wants to go home. Heck, it even has the line “hey, what’s in this drink?” So yeah, kinda creepy, but still a great song and no one cares if you enjoy it.

Or what about Ender’s Game ? It’s written by someone who has been against gay rights, and for me that’s a problem. That still doesn’t mean his works aren’t able to be enjoyed or analyzed. So I don’t think Sarkeesian is saying anything about whether or not you personally should enjoy a game or not.

Honestly, the amount of hate that gets thrown at Sarkeesian is just plain scary for me. Maybe half of the gaming community needed a pariah and half needed a martyr, but applying any of these grandiose terms to Sarkeesian seems to be missing the point entirely. She’s just one woman making a series critiquing gender roles in games. Critiquing, as in critic… as in criticism… as in opinions? You can agree or disagree however you like, but framing her as this great deceiver among gamers just seems wrong at best and at worst delusional and kind of sociopathic. I mean, there are lots of things to spend your hate on. Why spend it on Sarkessian, and certainly why spend it on this image of Sarkeesian that has been popularized but isn’t accurate to the things she says? That seems like it would be exhausting, if not maddening.

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