Cultural commentary has often not “got” games. Okay the word on a lot of game sites has been Anita Sarkeesian’s video.
And there is something I realised. Thunderfoot is pretty strong among the gaming community. Nearly every person I normally play games with sent me this link either to cover, to rage about or in the hope that it would get me to stop writing things under the Hags of Lag moniker (to be fair there are just 2 of us in it so it’s less of a guild and more of a silly name that we came up with).
It’s an amusing video primarily because he simply didn’t get what the point is. And let us not say that this guy is a minority. A lot of of players think this way.
[warning]This post contains links to TV Tropes. If you have work and do not wish to watch an hour of your life spiral down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes do not click on the links[/warning]
To date this video has 11,000 likes. That’s more than 10 times the reader base that I get and not everyone agree with what I write. It’s a largish audience of people who genuinely think that Thunderfoot is right and Anita should give all the money back and shut up. Okay. I don’t agree with an excessively deep look into “some games” because frogger is not about industrialisation and the destruction of the habitat. Pacman is not about greed, consumerism and drugs. Snake is not about the nature of bureaucracy getting bigger and unwieldier as it increases in size.
The Damsel in Distress trope is as old as humanity. I am sure our early ancestors had these stories. Some of our oldest tales are these. The Story of Troy and the Ramayana are both Damsel in Distress stories. If you want to portray men as macho then dying pointlessly in honourable warfare to rescue a single kidnapped woman is older than civilisation.
So let’s correct Thunderfoot.
1. Double Dragon Neon didn’t invert anything. All it does is add a scene where Marian was rescued (in the original? You actually fought your team mate to see who got to win “Marian”) where she takes revenge on a falling villain by uppercutting him while he falls crotch first onto her. Now here is the thing. He wasn’t defeated by Marian’s cunning strategy to making him leap at her in such a reckless and unsafe manner. He was beaten to a pulp by the two heroes and then hurled off a high structure where he plummets to his gravity powered defeat. Her attack was pretty much pointless and not empowering or a fair representation of women. The entire point of “Damsel in Distress” is that the onus of the hero’s actions is due to the kidnapping of a woman who happens to be “the prize”. Where the mere act of rescuing her makes her your love interest. Women can be eternally grateful to you without displaying such gratefulness with their vaginas. Her punching him in the crotch at the end is not feminism. It would be like a pickpocket accidentally being killed by the wallet he stole. The wallet is still an object and honestly? My wallet has more personality than Marian in Double Dragon. The game is fun but it’s plot is basically “the simplest plot ever”. Hell if you want to nitpick about Marian “not” being a prize because she uppercuts the villain (Skullmageddon… A liche of all things) in the family jewels then I get to point out her sole improvement over the original is her being more important in the plot but her role in the plot is to be kidnapped, turned evil and to be the reward and have a minor role in cut scenes.
2. It’s an analysis of video game tropes and how they deal with women. Nitpicking that it involves all tropes is just simply being a pedant. Yes there are some tropes that are not helpful to women. Straw Feminist for example has poisoned people’s attitude towards feminism to the point where some women say “that they believe in fighting for equality but are not feminists” because feminism is associated with birkenstock wearing harpies rather than “normal people who just want to alleviate gender differences”. All Amazons Want Hercules, Best Her to Bed Her, No Guy Wants An Amazon. Seriously? Want more? Aren’t You Going to Ravish Me? Want to combine with racism? Asian Airhead. Want to just be distasteful? Disposable Woman, Cartwright Curse, Stuffed In The Fridge. Fuck mate… there are tropes that are pretty fucking racist such as You are a Credit to Your Race. And you suddenly think there are none against women? Yes there are some against men and you know what? We should slowly realise that and stop that too so we aren’t flogging the same silly bullshit year after year. I am sure I have to put down examples here or else I would have to deal with an influx of people asking me so All The Good Men Are Gay, Guys are Slobs. I’m a Man, I Can’t Help It. Plenty of stuff that stereotypes both genders as either shockingly incompetent children or as either shrews or trophies.
3. These games were made for a mainly male audience who made up the initial purchasers of games. Games are generally made by and for men and young boys. This unfortunately led to a cycle where there were no women capable of affecting ANY changes to the system. A feminist is any person who thinks women should be treated the same as men bar the obviously biological reasons to be treated differently. Feminists don’t want to take away your right to pee standing up, they just want to see women treated equally. These games do not treat equally mainly because the creators didn’t think it through. Now lets look at a game that did well amongst women and men. The Sims series. Why? Because it was a virtual doll house? No… men played it just fine too. Because it actually allowed you to play a game where you made your own challenges and your little sims were more akin to tamagotchi than “dolls”. You could have a female General or CEO while the man of the house stayed at home cooking. I agree this was due to simplism rather than an active decision (although if anyone can prove me wrong I will be delighted at EA’s stance on this). Not all sexism is about subjugating women and I am pretty sure most games didn’t set out to subjugate women mainly because in the domain of games there were NO women. There was nothing to subjugate. To lever themselves into games women had to put up with batshit crazy crap. And yes games have to make a profit but you know what? Claiming that sexism makes a profit so we shouldn’t change it is like claiming the only FPS people want to play involve simplistic plots and endless hordes of faceless mooks rather than the set piece extravaganza and being the star of your own action movie.
4. The medium only allowed simplistic plots? People have timed the initial part of the game and routinely claim that the plot is so “simple” not because it’s an age old trope that no one ever really thought about but because it’s a simple plot. Why not steal a martial art macguffin instead? Hell, Double Dragon 2 ups the ante by making it about Revenge! Marian gets Fridged as the driving force for your epic fist driven revenge against the bad guys. No. The issue is that these tropes were considered “harmless” because we never really thought about what they meant and women were never into videogames in the numbers that we have today.
5. Thunderfoot hopes that you have never played the epic two man beat-em up that is Double Dragon to completion. Why? Because if you did and you did so with a friend as player 2 (my house, I get to be player 1!) then there was a twist. The final boss fight was the other player. You fought each other to determine who got Marian. Most people in healthy relationships love and care about the people they are in relationships with. And yes, arguably your brother would get together with you and both of you would go on a rampage to save the woman who you love from the jerks who kidnapped her. But here is the thing… Marian Delario is not some weak helpless woman in the “fluff” of the game. Even Double Dragon (the original) pointed out that Marian Delario was an instructor at the Dojo where she was kidnapped from. The same dojo where two other instructors get together and beat the tar out of an army of mooks. It’s not that she was kidnapped, it was that she was kidnapped so pitifully. That the same martial arts that let Jimmy and Billy beat 50 shades of snot out of their enemies was fuck useless in the hands of her womanly body. For the love of Ryu Billy and Jimmy can punch knives back at the people who throw them but Marian can’t even take a single punch? And I am going to assume she was dressed that way because she and Billy have a hot date planned after their day job as martial arts instructors. Okay, I understand that it’s an old game and defending it is like trying to defend most 80s movies and their casual attitude to sexism and hairspray but honestly we have grown past that.
6. The argument that someone who loves you would go on a quest to beat up the gang that stole a loved one (rather than say, call the police? Maybe Axel and Blaze would show up. After all… the law is on their side too. Okay that’s silly. But it’s no sillier than saying Double Dragon is an expression of love considering the end has Player 1 and 2 fighting for who gets to “win” her. It implies that the only “Real” option is to go out and fight the “criminals” which has traditionally ended poorly for real life player 1s and indeed real life Marians.
7. Thunderfoot basically fails to understand the difference between why a character is stolen and why she isn’t. The modern day attitude to Damsel in Distress is awfully “coy”. Let’s face facts. The Damsel in Distress is a trope so old that Helen of Troy is considered a subversion. Ramayana and Perseus/Andromeda both date back to 500 BC at the earliest. These are not new tropes. These are stories ingrained into our culture across the globe. Whether it’s Rama slaying the Demon King of Lanka who kidnapped Sita to be his Wife (and Rama behaves like a terrible wanker about it too) or Cervantes with Don Quixote. All of them appeal to us because of the trope because we know that if someone takes your woman you go get her back. You see this sort of behaviour as “Apes”. If a tribe of chimpanzees tries to muscle out another tribe to gain access to the females the males of the other tribe will try and get them back. The argument is not that Jimmy and Billy fight for Marian after she gets kidnapped but why on earth does she need to get kidnapped in the first place? A loved one? In many of the games she mentioned the “Princess” has no knowledge of who the hell you are. Mario is a freaking plumber as is his brother and Link is some kid in a village. Their contact with Peach and Zelda is incidental. In the first game Mario and Luigi “heroically” respond to the plight of the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario is rewarded with a Princess. Zelda and Peach/Toadstool are Magical MacGuffins. Women do not fall in love with you when you slay the modern dragon of “Helping Put Ikea”. These stories date back to the time when women were actual rewards for achievement and perhaps we should stop using the trope so much.
8. Thunderfoot doesn’t grasp the difference between a hospital and a story, even an interactive story. Hospitals don’t exist to satiate the need of the doctor but of the patient. Patients do not exist to make me happy, I exist to make them happy (and I gain happiness if they are happy so there is that!). The same applies to the Police and what have you. The female character in the game gets abducted solely to improve the male character’s (and usually a male player’s) experience.
9. Showing a clip from Star Trek is actually pretty laughable. There was no reason for James Kirk’s dad to fly the ship in himself. There are computers advanced enough to do that for him. He could have set the ship to ramming speed then jumped off quite handily. The Narada was pretty much impossible to miss. Not to make light of his awesome sacrifice but they didn’t go for any other option. In addition, James Kirk’s father is considered a hero NOT because he did it to save his wife and kid but because he did it to buy time for EVERYONE to escape by going down with HIS ship. Star Trek (TOS) plays to the trope of Age of Sail Naval Captains who were a lot more involved in the combat and diplomacy on a ship and going down with your ship while not common place is romanticised.
10. It is also accepted by anyone with a sense of human empathy that historically women have been regarded as possessions and that a trope that treats one as a reward is probably not a good one. Calling on human empathy without calling on historical context is frankly stupid.
11. No. It’s not the same as women being around to help solve puzzles or drop hints and power ups. Anita’s stance on Dragon’s Lair was not that the woman was in distress but that she was so clearly sexualised with her outfit and her movements and her speech that there is literally no question about what the reward for setting her free is.
12. The entire stupidity of “the patriarchy” is it portrays men as having to do all the dangerous work. Where women should be grateful (with their vaginas and boobs) to us men because we do all the dangerous work while they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about anything. You know what? Fuck that. Women should do “traditionally male” jobs too. And vice versa. Women CAN do dangerous jobs. There is nothing stopping them except expectation. In India, women work as brick layers just like men do. Why? Because there were no gender roles saying “builders” have to be men. Thunderfoot acknowledges this in passing but fails to realise who created this trope. It certainly isn’t the women who have desperately had to fight tooth and nail for basic rights.
13. The stereotype that men are strong and women are weak has lead to the notion that women are property and men are not. In nearly every single aspect of life, men have it quantifiably better. Claiming games are death traps for men and not for women is highly idiotic because it simply ignores the fact that men have been dominant in society for most of human history. Feminism as a concept is less than 200 years old while male domination of society is seen even in our ape relatives and is probably the default. The fact that we are changing our behaviour to be less like our ancestors and be more inclusive and more egalitarian is a good thing.
14. Claiming many male characters don’t have a voice in games because they are “Silent” protagonists is to provide a blank slate in which to insert YOURSELF. All those things you are joking about? That’s what the character is meant to be saying. All the responses going off in your head? That’s what the character is saying. Now while many people don’t like the silent protagonist and feel it breaks immersion the correct usage of one (see Half Life and Half Life 2) results in a “blank” slate where you have not only assume control of the player in game but also are providing (in your head at least) the necessary lines.
15. You would have to be a blind oaf to claim that these games despise men when they do nothing but enable a bunch of men to be big damn heroes. Skullmageddon getting shoryukenned in the gonads isn’t “feminism” it’s you defeating him so badly that he is eventually taken out by a single punch by a weak woman. It’s you asserting your superiority over the inferior specimen of a man, not women being portrayed as equal to men. And while men may be brainless fighting troglodytes in game then women are skimpily clad trophies and it’s nicer to be a brainless violent troglodyte than nothing more than a trophy.
16. Dear Thunderfoot. Economics 101. 50% of the population has a XX Chromosome. If you tailor your games to only XY chromosomes while denigrating XX and creating a culture that bashes anyone with a XX Chromosome then people with the XX Chromosome will not buy your games. If you instead create a game that is inclusive and encourage a culture of play in both demographics then you have the BEST coverage of a game and will make MORE money.
17. Want to know something? In order to be taken seriously as a human being you have to dress appropriately. Claiming Anita spends time on make up and earrings is no different from claiming I spent time ensuring my head is trimmed evenly (It’s actually easier HAVING hair), keeping my finger nails blunt and short and dressing professionally. Gelling my hair (well if I had any) into spikes and dying them red may have been my hairstyle aged 17 but now I would look deeply unprofessional and no one would respect me. The same if I had my old piercings or if I got an overt tattoo. And I know what would have happened had Anita not “dolled herself up in the pink shackles of patriarchy”. Anita Sarkeesian shearing her hair down to a gender neutral style, removing her earrings and not wearing make up while wearing unfashionable clothes would just have resulted in Thunderfoot complaining about how unprofessional and ugly she looks. She is damned no matter what she dresses in.
18. Thunderfoot’s demands that she makes a videogame successfully herself are like me demanding that Thunderfoot successfully deliver a child. Anita lacks the skills to make a game. As do I. I lack the skills to operate heavy machinery, design houses and successfully lead an expedition to Mars. By that logic anyone who wants world peace to be achieved should be told to go to North Korea to get them to disarm. There is a market for games with no gender biases. A pretty big one. A lot of the success of the Wii was not as a serious gaming system but as a device that was open to all users. They made a device which my grandmother enjoyed playing as much as my brother. A gap of nearly 70 years and different cultures. The free market SHOWED that there is an alternative. That there is a viable market for games outside the norm of White, Heterosexual and Male. And that you don’t lose anything by catering to others. The Sims are another example. That series has sold devastatingly well because the premise is simple and effective. World of Warcraft had a sizeable female player base. League of Legends due to actually listening to fans has got a decent female player base (Although something tells me it’s down to Teemo). You can make a profit with a company who has a diverse cast and who has a diverse audience. It isn’t even hard to do even for games as “Manly” as Call of Duty. Keeping the sexism out of such games will get you female gamers. The Meowcenary is a COD fiend!
19. And games take money to make. Millions of dollars in fact for triple A titles. Anita simply doesn’t have the pedigree, the skills or the ability to make such a game anymore than Thunderfoot has the skills to score from a freekick position. Demanding she make one to prove the point that no one would buy it is moronic. All Anita is pointing out is that there are some tropes in games that don’t help women and that by NOT using them or subverting them we may make our environment less toxic and so slowly erode at a culture that is terribly misogynistic. No. What Thunderfoot wants is a game made by what he thinks a feminist sounds like which is a trope in itself. The Straw Feminist. Even the example that Anita Sarkeesian gave (Dinosaur Planet) was probably pulled because it went through developmental hell. And here is the thing. The gender of the protagonist doesn’t matter in that case. Anita took issue to Star Fox because it made gender matter. She would have had no issues with Star Fox if you could play as Crystal in a similar role to Fox.
20. The Thesis argument? Well her thesis is flawed IMHO for pointing out that traditional female “strengths” are different from male ones. I fear that’s due to delineation of stereotypes of women from TV where women are seen as more intuitive and caring while men are all strong and action orientated. She wants to see more women in positive role models rather than women ape male characteristics. A lot of feminists LIKE Ripley from Alien/Aliens as the strong female character and indeed someone who is quite feminine in that she doesn’t run around hating men (considering the entire genre is about penisy rape aliens) and even takes on a maternal role. However she has no qualms strapping a machine gun to a flame thrower and fighting the Alien Queen in a Power Lifter. And the reason she was written well was that the role was initially meant for a man. There are significantly fewer positive feminine roles in TV because all the best ones are traditionally male. I disagree with her in that we should have more characters who fit into positive female stereotypes but think more characters should basically take from both positives and we should stay away from tired hackneyed tropes. I haven’t read her thesis but I assume that she would want women to take from the men’s section of traits since the men’s section of traits includes some pretty fucking important stuff like rationality, confidence and decisiveness.
21. Sexual dimorphism is only really valid if your biggest selection pressure is punching other men. We stopped doing that. Modern society and the technology we possess mean that women are effectively almost as strong as men. Most women are capable of what passes for hard physical labour in the west. I know they can do it because Indian women who are routinely half starved and often living on diets of poor protein and poor iron still do hard physical labour that most western men would struggle to do. If these women can do it then rich tubby westerners can too. The only reason that they do not do so is the societal belief that women cannot be construction workers or do physical labour.
22. The olympians are “freaks”. They are freaks of nature. They are severe outliers on the scale of human physical fitness to the point where they cannot even be considered within the norms of human capacity. Usain Bolt can run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds and he doesn’t respire aerobically during that run. Many of us would struggle to run that distance in 20 seconds. Most female atheletes exceed the performance of the average man. These are people who have pushed human physical fitness to the absolute limit to the exclusion of everything else. To claim at this stage men are stronger and faster than women is fine. But honestly? Most of the women there would be faster and stronger than the average man or even a reasonably fit man. This is a little fantasy world of ability. I have no qualms that despite my training in rugby the England Women’s Rugby team would be faster and stronger than me. And the ultimate joke is none of these things MATTER. Yes, watching Usain Bolt run is a thrill but ultimately his run doesn’t matter to most of society. We are impressed by his achievement but we go back home and put the Tea on and go to sleep without things having changed. Most of our society in the west is intellectually and skill based. Our “strength” means pretty much nothing considering my massive man musculature (LADIES! *wink*) means nothing in the surgical ward where fine motor skills are important. Most jobs are like that. Benching 200 pounds means nothing if you are a lawyer. Being able to throw a javelin very accurately may have been important 2013 BC but in 2013 AD it’s a sport rather than an integral part of hostile take overs. In fact in my current pudgy state I have no qualms that many of these weak indian women would easily out power me. Development of physical strength has more to do with nurture than nature particularly in an environment where the difference in strength are made up for by the usage of tools.
23. Women don’t want to be portrayed as bench-press fiends on TV. That isn’t strength. Also? Comparing menopausal women to men who don’t suffer the side effects from the menopause such as loss of bone density and strength is pointless. The fact of the matter is that Thunderfoot doesn’t understand what someone means when they say “That is a Strong Female Character”. It doesn’t mean “That’s the Terminator”, they mean “The qualities possessed by that Character are worthy of being a role model”.
24. Disabled Comments? If I remember correctly Anita Sarkeesian disabled her comments because she was sick and tired of people calling her a cunt and threatening to rape her. Honestly? If people wanted to comment on her topic then debates have broken out in a variety of places and don’t need to be clogging up her stuff. If your comments made (any) sense then she would respond to them.
Would you like to see how criticism of Sarkeesian would go in a purely technical standpoint?
Okay. My gripe with her video is this. She has come to play video-games relatively late in life. Some of the games she is playing are nearly 20 years old and are seen in the context of modern feminism. Many such stories are horrifically sexist in a modern day context too. She doesn’t see the context of games and why the remakes are so true to the originals. The fact of the matter remains that outside of context of time periods these games are frightfully one dimensional and boil down to saving women because the trope was so universally strong in all human culture and it transcended translation rather than a direct plan to oppress women.
She has also ignored parts of the games she has played such as Double Dragon 1 actually making you the final boss where you literally fight over the possession of a woman. In her quest to play such a variety of games I fear she may not have plumbed them in as much depth as I like leaving a superficial look at sexism in games when it probably runs a lot deeper. I hope she proves me wrong.
There is genuine criticism, but there is only so much you can say in a 10 minute video. She has done a good job. Note, she isn’t telling us what to do as gamers. She is telling Game Makers that they are stagnating down hackneyed plots. A kick in the pants will increase our diversity of game and only benefit us the players. It doesn’t mean that our Call of Duty is going to suddenly be about solving international crisis by diplomacy but it does mean that we may see women portrayed in a better way in different games. You may see better treatment of women gamers. You may see more people coming to play our games and an entirely new demographic enjoying it.
I want my girlfriend to play. I don’t want her to go through life thinking that the games we play are stupid and childish. I want her to have fun with this too. But she won’t be able to enjoy it as much as I do because the entire community from both producers to the users don’t treat women well. I know if she played online she is almost guaranteed to get a “Shut your whore mouth” (or equivalent. A random insult will be issued to you should you play. Contents may vary). And this will leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.
It’s regressive crap and it has to change for the better.