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Tropes Vs Women In Video Games – Damsel In Distress to be released this month

Kotaku reports:

Sultan's daughter, Prince Of Persia Classic (2007)

Sultan’s daughter, Prince Of Persia Classic (2007)


Anita Sarkeesian, the controversial feminist critic whose plans to produce a crowdfunded video series about female tropes in video games led to someone creating a video game all about punching her in the face, is almost ready to show her work.

[…]
Sarkeesian tells Kotaku that she’s aiming to launch the project’s first video very soon.

“The new Tropes vs Women videos are currently in production and we are shooting for the first video to be released in February,” she said in an e-mail. “Due to all the unexpected extra Kickstarter funding we were able to greatly expand the scope, scale and production values of the project which is exciting but also means we’ve had to rework our timetable.”

She’s only “controversial” because she dared to look at a space, the gaming world, that a whole lot of men believe they own, for the record. She’s controversial because she asked for money, she instead got abuse from the entitled assholes, then when people saw the abuse they gave her way more money than she was asking for. Since then, people have called her a scammer repeatedly because no videos had then been produced. Never mind that she explained that, to meet the challenge presented by her being given $150,000 in response to a request for ~$1500, she has ramped up production values and the scope of the series, and that takes time to do.

So a video is about to be released. I’m going to guess it’ll be about 15 mins, like her others in previous series. I’m also guessing it will be very well-researched, given that she’s apparently set up a Tumblr showing well over a hundred video game screenshots over the past few days. And I’m guessing that’s where most of the pushback came from — entitled douchebros recognizing that the whole medium is rife with tropes that are worth criticizing.

And I’m further guessing that even if the entirety of the series were posted tomorrow and it had the budget of an action movie, I would still get a dozen hits to my blog a day from people Googling “anita sarkeesian scam”. Because people love that narrative for some reason. They love to question why people got donations when they asked for them. They love to try to catch people out on some kind of con, even when there’s zero evidence of wrongdoing, and zero requests for refunds by the donors.

Also, pro tip to media creators: use TV Tropes. Invert as many tropes as you can. Don’t fall into using tropes to replace actually having to write a character, especially not women who already get short shrift in media. It’s well possible to create fully realized, well-rounded characters without relying on tropes so damn much. And as a bonus, you’ll probably be considered the next Joss Whedon, if you catch a studio’s eye.

Comments

  1. wswordsmen says

    On behalf of gamers who think before they speak. “We’re sorry.”

    When the medium first started needing defending it was from ***holes like Jack Thomson who were insulting games and gamers for things they weren’t actually guilty of. However it caused the community to be so reflexively defensive that it led to gamers defending the medium reflexively from even valid criticism.

    Note: This is not an excuse just an explanation of why this happens and why gamers always look like immature ***es in things like this.

  2. says

    I disagree. See the thing with tropes is they WORK, sometimes they need to remain the way they are and sometimes they need to be inverted. If you invert them for the sake of inversion you end up with a mess.

    Don’t invert GOOD tropes for the sake of inversion. Beat the bad ones, push the good ones.

  3. Pitchguest says

    She’s “controversial” because she moderates all her comments on YouTube to give the illusion that there is no dissent, except for the video where she asks for money. As a ploy to create the ultimate victim status, which of course led to several pity donations and instead of $6000, she garnered almost $160,000. But you can continue with your screed if you want, Lousy. You can continue with your propaganda. It makes no difference.

    She’s several months delayed, she hasn’t updated her backers, she asked backers to do her work for her. Who cares if the video gets made now? It has to be one hell of a presentation to make up for it, but it won’t. Her videos are amateurish and badly researched (biggest example would be her video on Bayonetta [which she deleted, by the way, to cover her tracks]). The only reason she makes the video now, at this stage, is so she wouldn’t be seen as a fraud, and the only reason you support her is because she’s a woman. Which is admittedly very chivalrous of you, but I think you should know better.

  4. says

    I agree with pretty much everything except this minor point at the end.

    “Invert as many tropes as you can.”

    I don’t think you should just invert as many as you can it needs to be more thought out then that. Not all tropes are bad, not all tropes are cliches and there are tropes that exist because there are strong narrative reasons. Heroic sacrifice for example is a common way for main characters to die because it helps give the character a meaningful and satisfying death which is often needed if you’re not going for a darker theme of futility. To just invert is like cargo cult writing. Instead you should study the craft, know the tropes, how they are used and why we use them so often in the first place. Then you’ll have a much better idea of when to invert a trope and how to do that well.

  5. says

    I’d really like to see something on Facebook or phone games too. Somehow, you aren’t able to build a city or flip puzzle blocks or fight dragons without having a female character explaining to you in a tutorial how it’s done. And also, having to do tutorials for newbies somehow makes you transcend boundaries of human physiology and doesn’t pay enough for clothing. Ugh.

  6. says

    You’re both right, of course. Sometimes tropes are great. I’m fond of the World of Cardboard, for instance.

    But don’t just wade through the stock character warehouse and pick a few off the shelf and call that a story.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Just insert Alice, the though co-worker of Dilbert into those video games. She does not take crap from anyone, even undead assistant bosses.

  8. hjhornbeck says

    Pitchguest @3

    Who cares if the video gets made now? It has to be one hell of a presentation to make up for it, but it won’t.

    So the strength of an argument depends on how timely it’s delivered?

    She’s “controversial” because she moderates all her comments on YouTube to give the illusion that there is no dissent, except for the video where she asks for money.

    You think that by moderating comments on her YouTube account, she’s silenced all dissent? How do you explain your own words, then?

    The only reason she makes the video now, at this stage, is so she wouldn’t be seen as a fraud, and the only reason you support her is because she’s a woman.

    If that were true, Thibeault would support Wolly Bumblebee as well, the woman who became famous for freaking out over giving a dime to a feminist cause. Does he?

  9. manuel moegarcia says

    My main problem with Anita Sarkeesian is that I cannot see how her criticism will lead to better and less intellectually insulting games. But that is a general complaint about any critic, I suppose.

  10. Scr... Archivist says

    Despite the false claims of the above Mickey-Mouse crusader (see @3), Anita Sarkeesian has indeed updated her backers on the status of this new series. There have been half a dozen updates since the fundraiser concluded, and the latest one was just last week.

  11. says

    She’s “controversial” because she moderates all her comments on YouTube to give the illusion that there is no dissent, except for the video where she asks for money. As a ploy to create the ultimate victim status, which of course led to several pity donations and instead of $6000, she garnered almost $160,000.

    Wait, what was a ploy to create the “ultimate victim status”?

    The fucked-up bigoted comments on her Youtube video?
    The “game” where you get to pretend to beat her up?
    The non-stop harassment on Twitter and Facebook?
    The hacking of her website?

    Which part, exactly, is supposed to be Sarkeesian’s doing, in order to falsely portray her as a victim, “ultimate” or otherwise?

    If none of it was….then how the fuck is any of that her fault? And what exactly is wrong with people deciding that she deserved some more money because of it?

  12. says

    Can’t say I blame her. Videogames are rich ground for such things, pneumatic female figures with unattainable bodies; male ‘grunts’ with even more unattainable physiques (that make Ronnie Coleman look anorexic) and 7 stone weaklings (which is 98lbs your side of the Atlantic) who can go toe to toe with the grunts! Ludicrous all of it.
    Then you have the ethnic stereotypes, the reggae Jamaican, the heartless Russian, the Indian fakir, dwarves always being Scottish (wtf?) etc etc. The social stereotypes, not least the negative portrayal of science (it always leads to disaster) and big corporations (they are always evil and on the point of destroying society).

    The only problem I have with her work is that, especially given the extra funding, it won’t go nearly far enough.

    Still, given the games world is one where gunning down people in their thousands is not only acceptable but the aim of the game (in most cases) but a single sex scene creates a media scandal i think it is fair to say the level of fucked-uppedness runs deeper than the tropes and stereotypes.

  13. says

    People seem to fucking hate criticizing tropes as even a concept. I feel it’s because most of the best games of all time use them. Not a surprise considering it’s a male dominated industry. I understand this aversion since so many of my favorite games fall into this category. People need to learn not to take criticisms so seriously though. No one is telling you the whole game is shit or you can’t enjoy it.

  14. Christoph Burschka says

    Invert as many tropes as you can.

    While I agree with the necessity of being trope-literate: That’s a bit over-simplified because every inverted trope is, itself, a trope. The more you invert, the more you adhere to – so it is still necessary to be aware of which ones you use (and how, when, how often etc.).
    The number of harmful or overdone tropes that benefit from a straight inversion isn’t all that large. There are some where this is enough; others benefit from light-hearted subversion, lampshading or a more serious deconstruction. And of course the truly nasty ones are best avoided entirely.

    (Joss Whedon uses tropes like no other, too – about one per minute in Buffy according to TvTropes – he just has a great sense of which, how and when.)

  15. Klang says

    Wait, what was a ploy to create the “ultimate victim status”?

    Pitchguest is a pitter, I believe. It seems to be the consensus over there that any woman who talks about sexism is playing the victim card.

    If you’re a decent person you just suck it up and move on, apparently, because Richard Dawkins got abused and rarely talks about it, and Thunderfoot gets internet threats and rarely talks about it. Because everyone has to react to things the same way, you see, no matter the varying circumstances.

  16. says

    As a hardcore fighting game fan, I’m fairly confident that across the King of Fighters series alone, SNK has probably represented every single female character trope in gaming.

    While I love my 2D fighters, it’s hard to argue that characters like Mai or Chun Li aren’t “fan service” characters; though in various games they’ve had their places as being gloriously overpowered.

  17. says

    Klang said:

    If you’re a decent person you just suck it up and move on, apparently, because Richard Dawkins got abused and rarely talks about it

    …except when he, for reasons unknown, finds it important to stress how much less this abuse damaged him than religious indoctrination does.

    and Thunderfoot gets internet threats and rarely talks about it.

    …because he’s too busy bashing other people (women, of course) for discussing their own.

    Now that you mention it, it’s interesting how the alternative to “playing the victim card” seems to be denigrating the extent to which others are victimized…and then denigrating the people themselves for talking about it.

  18. doublereed says

    “Controversial”? Hahaha.

    Deconstructing and inverting tropes is tons of fun and exactly the kind of things that nerds and gamers love to do. If they would just get away from their male privelege they might realize just how fun this kind of thing can be. Sigh, but I guess those idiots won’t see it that way.

    But it’s not just about getting rid of the tropes in gaming. It’s about making more fleshed out characters and more the storytelling medium more interesting. It’s not just deconstruction, but also reconstruction.

  19. Anthony K says

    This “banning for disagreement” trope is really popular among the pitters.

    Reap Paden, for instance, banned Oolon from his blog for disagreeing.

    So much for FREEZE PEACH.

  20. Denverly says

    Looking at the Tumblr photos posted, I don’t recognize a lot of the older screenshots. I didn’t start constantly gaming until about 2000 (except for Mortal Kombat, some Mario and a bit of Doom) so I’m interested to see what she finds. I have such a love/hate relationship with Mortal Kombat. It holds a special place in my heart (blood code was abacabb and I have never forgotten it). About the time Mortal Kombat: Deception came out and breast physics made their first appearance, I became aware that there was something truly wrong with my favorite hobby. I’m not saying the problem wasn’t there, I just never noticed it. I’m actually looking forward to her series to see some of the things that I was too dense to notice myself.

  21. noxiousnan says

    Great news; I look forward to watching it!

    Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project, “will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games.” That’s data collection and analysis. That is not a denial of the existence of tropes and stereotypes of men in gaming. It’s not even a call for change although she is planning a new series with the end goal being, “to start creating more interesting, engaging and complex female characters…” The horror!

    While she has made no assertion of misogyny, the backlash she has received for funding future analysis is all the evidence I need to see there is a serious problem with it in gaming.

    I see that a series has also been funded (Indiegogo) to analyze male tropes. I’ll make sure to check them out. The producers’ seeming expectation of a conclusion – misandry – is troublesome, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

  22. says

    Reminds me a lot about the manufactored shoetroversy about Greta:
    While those who actually contributed were nothing but delighted to see her out and about and kicking ass again in shiny new shoes, those who didn’t give a cent were loudly complaining about how the money they didn’t give her was apparently spent on something they disapproved of*.
    But we’re the ones who want to run everybody’s life…
    Oh, and also the cries of “acoutantability” from the same general direction, asking for details about how the money they didn’t give in the first place was spent and ignoring that updates had been given…

    *In order not to feed into the urban myth: Greta didn’t use the donated money for the shoes. Not that it mattered if she had…

  23. says

    I see that a series has also been funded (Indiegogo) to analyze male tropes. I’ll make sure to check them out. The producers’ seeming expectation of a conclusion – misandry – is troublesome, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

    Some thoughts on that.

  24. says

    She’s several months delayed … Who cares if the video gets made now? … Her videos are amateurish and badly researched

    So, to be clear; if the video is not properly researched, you’ll dismiss it, but if she takes the time to actually do the research, you’ll ignore it.

  25. says

    To be even clearer, LykeX, the idea that Sarkeesian doesn’t research her videos came about when she did a video about Bayonetta that praised her being a single mother — never mind that the child isn’t her actual child, just insists that she is, and never mind that actually explaining what she IS would spoil the one big plot point of the game that doesn’t center around killing shit.

  26. says

    Speaking as a developer, the biggest stumbling block we face when creating characters for games is the Marketing department and their data. To be fair, their data is good, in the sense that it is actual market data and not pulled out of thin air, but bad in that it biases towards certain demographics, because those are the guys (and they *are* mainly guys) they select for focus tests, questionnaires et al.

    The thing to remember is that Marketing carry enormous weight and at some publishers they have signoff powers over characters and high-level narrative (and even features!). I have rarely found it to be a happy relationship, because attempts to push against tropes, even mildly, often receive a lot of pushback.

    In one product I worked on recently we trialled four characters, with a 50-50 male/female mix. There was also a mix of ages, ethnicities and nationalities. By the time it had gone through the Marketing grinder and focus testing we had lost one of the women, we had gained an American so that the group was 50% US and also gained a black character in place of the hispanic.

    What I have learned from this and similar exercises was:

    * Marketing tolerate no more than 25% women characters in action games, and even that is grudging. (I have been quoted data on L4D 2, showing how Zoey was the least-selected character, as justification for a lopsided gender mix.)

    * Marketing prefer games to be dominated by North American characters.

    * Marketing lean towards white-dominated character mixes.

    * Marketing demand a black character as standard, but prefer them to be a sidekick rather than a lead.

    Oh, and I also learned that if you sit in on focus tests in which women characters are being tested, the (mainly male) respondents are likely to denigrate those characters with fairly sexist remarks. They do so not realizing there are women devs watching them behind the one-way glass.

    Excuse me while I go ‘grrr’…

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