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May 28 2013

Tropes Vs Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress (part 2)

Anita Sarkeesian’s completely nonexistent series continues with a completely nonexistent part-2 for her completely nonexistent first topic, the Damsel in Distress. In this one, she specifically takes on the trope called Stuffed Into the Fridge. This trope almost always takes the form of a WOMAN stuffed into the fridge. Watch, to find out why.

But that’s not the biggest news about this. Apparently, it went up today, and within the first hour it was up, it was immediately taken down by Youtube because it had been flagged as containing objectionable content.

Think about that for a moment. People are so desperate to attack Sarkeesian and any attempt at injecting feminist commentary into video games, that they’re willing to silence her by marking it as objectionable. Not because the content is incorrect, or because the content is damning of the industry, but because how daaaaaare this mere woman criticize this immature art form that we love so much?

Sigh.

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  1. 1
    Ichthyic

    perhaps in an indication that youtube is finally starting to take false-flagging seriously, her video was back up about an hour after it was taken down.

    Still, if it were me, I would be thinking to get some backup servers for my vids at this point, and note parallel releases there for my fans.

    there are a lot of services out there that do the same thing youtube does these days.

  2. 2
    electrojosh

    Just watched it and enjoyed it a lot more than part 1 – mostly because part 1 felt more like an intro (which it was) an kind of over-explained the trope. This one is more in-depth and specific to video-games.

    Again; despite her stressing that this isn’t an attack on games but a look at the tropes and how they are problematic I am going to assume a whole of “critiques” will ignore this and complain how she is out to destroy games.

  3. 3
    Sassafras

    I noticed on Twitter that some dudes were saying that if she hadn’t disabled comments and ratings, she wouldn’t have gotten false flagged. That’s right, since they couldn’t vandalize the video with a flood of downvotes and hateful comments, their only recourse was to vandalize it with false flagging and it’s all her fault.

  4. 4
    shockna

    I’m quite satisfied with her videos so far (I donated much, much more to her than I could really afford as I made a point to donate $2 for every absurd display of misogyny I saw in response); I really don’t understand this knee jerk against any form of criticism. Sarkeesian, IIRC, is actually a gamer. Not some outsider trying to burn down the house, like most of the sexist dipshits seem to imply.

  5. 5
    Ben Wright

    Sarkeesian, IIRC, is actually a gamer. Not some outsider trying to burn down the house, like most of the sexist dipshits seem to imply.

    Ah but you see, in their tiny, warped minds, no woman is really a gamer. They’re all outside the treehouse because girls are icky and stupid.

  6. 6
    left0ver1under

    Ichthyic (#1)

    perhaps in an indication that youtube is finally starting to take false-flagging seriously, her video was back up about an hour after it was taken down.

    I mean no derision toward you, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I recently got a “message” saying “false flagging can lead to termination of an account”, but when the decision of what and whom to delete is up to individual “moderators”, not a fix policy, it’s easy to abuse. I flag crap like white supremacist stuff or sexist videos when I encounter them. It won’t shock me if my flagging gets my account deleted before the videos do. Those I flagged are still up.

  7. 7
    left0ver1under

    What I’ve noted before is still true in places where I’ve looked: those whining about “misusing the money” are the dolts who never donated a dime in the first place. Those who donated have been happy with the videos.

  8. 8
    Adam Woolston

    Honestly, the false flagging stinks more of petty vindictiveness and simple-minded trolling than conscious macho chest-beating.

    If we can push the moronic delinquents out of the conversation where they belong and address this with a some intelligence and balance… I think [some] gamer critics are finding themselves left a bit disappointed that Anita is achieving more with this series. The high expectations are less to do with the amount of money she received and more to do with the fact that a certain element of gaming culture would really, really like to feel as if they had a spokesperson with the intelligence and insight to examine this tricky issue with the requisite nuance that takes into account all aspects of the question.

    The problem with Anita is that her presentations lack intellectual riguour when it comes to analyzing how games as a story-telling medium ‘disempower’ ALL non-player characters for the sake of increasing the agency with which the protagonist must act. Moreover, she fails to engage the issue of how games [and indeed all art] do not exist just to be politically correct instructional lessons in how we should act to one another. Mentally stable human beings are more than capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality and their behavior is far more informed by what they learn from those around them than by the fictions they indulge in from time to time.

    Anita tiptoes up to the line of making the age-old ‘nanny state’ argument that art that indulges basic and violent wish-fulfillment or fails to depict a progressive level of diversity needs to be lambasted because… look at the horrifying amount of violence and abuse that is happening in the real world. The real problem is that she has now seemingly put her shields up when it comes to engaging in dialogue with those with reasonable questions and counterpoints. Yes, it’s true that she’d have to wade through waves of idiotic trolling to find them but without that connection she will always seem to be preaching more than teaching…

  9. 9
    leftwingfox

    It’s pretty clear that you haven’t actually watched her video Adam.

    The problem with Anita is that her presentations lack intellectual riguour when it comes to analyzing how games as a story-telling medium ‘disempower’ ALL non-player characters for the sake of increasing the agency with which the protagonist must act.

    No, she’s talking about the specific types disempowerment essentially reserved for women, in a way that almost never happens with any regularity in the gender reverse (which is in fact the next video: subversions, inversions and genderflips).

    Moreover, she fails to engage the issue of how games [and indeed all art] do not exist just to be politically correct instructional lessons in how we should act to one another.

    Of course not. But are you implying that we should continue to fill our media with buck-toothed coolie-weariring caricatures of chinese people? Subservient shuck-and-jive blacks played by white guys? Her point is that media in general shapes the cultural narrative of what’s acceptable; games are a part of that media landscape.

    Besides, look at what we now see as watershed works of literature which bucked the dominant trend: To Kill A Mockingbird, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Media is both shaped by dominant culture, and shapes it in return.

    Mentally stable human beings are more than capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality and their behavior is far more informed by what they learn from those around them than by the fictions they indulge in from time to time.

    A point she addresses directly in this very video. (20:50)

    The point has also been made elsewhere that when we deal with issues where we disagree, we have our shields up. The real problem is when we aren’t thinking critically about the issue, when our shields are down. It’s easier to dismiss killing in a video game (which we know is wrong) than it is to dismiss the role of women as damsel, which is “just the way things are”.

    Anita tiptoes up to the line of making the age-old ‘nanny state’ argument that art that indulges basic and violent wish-fulfillment or fails to depict a progressive level of diversity needs to be lambasted [...]

    Why did you just conflate government “nanny-state” intervention with public criticism? There is nothing illegal about me making the most racist game imaginable, but do you feel that it’s an imposition on my freedom to be massively criticized for it?

    Fuck that.

    because… look at the horrifying amount of violence and abuse that is happening in the real world.

    (19:13) pointing out that studies show that most people tend to blame women for their abuse, and how “she was asking for it” is the dominant excuse.

    The real problem is that she has now seemingly put her shields up when it comes to engaging in dialogue with those with reasonable questions and counterpoints.

    Then make the reasonable points, and people will deal with those. Like I’m doing now.

    Yes, it’s true that she’d have to wade through waves of idiotic trolling to find them but without that connection she will always seem to be preaching more than teaching…

    It’s the INTERNET. You don’t need the YouTube comments to reply to her points. Write a blog! Make a video response. Write comments in one of the many, many articles dealing with the abuse she receives. The whole net is your oyster; don’t complain that the grit is essential to the experience.

  10. 10
    Wojo

    @ Adam Woolston -

    Is it possible to examine “all aspects of the question”? Her series is focusing on the many different tropes and portrayals of female characters in games. Your right that the medium disempowers all NPC’s in order to empower the PC, but this does not require the story telling to be brutally violent towards said NPC’s. She points out a few games that tackle the concept of death without the need to get one dimensional with violence. I imagine that she will continue to show that disempowered NPC’s does not necessitate anti feminist tropes.

    I find your argument a bit disengenuous because your critiquing her entire argument before she has even made half of her claims. If you would like to discuss the tropes she has covered such as the portrayal of the damsel and stuffed in the fridge, I would find those genuine areas of discussion with regards to Anita’s videos.

    As it currently stands it feels like you are criticizing the fact she has not released more videos yet, as apposed to those she has released.

  11. 11
    Lou Doench

    Very well done by Ms. Sarkeesian. I’m glad to see only one of my games on the list, Borderlands 2. Still enjoying the game, but it is nice to be informed of the problematic nature of it.

  12. 12
    Adam Woolston

    Actually I have watched both her Damsel in Distress videos and at least half of her Feminist Frequency episodes in full. I’m by no means suggesting that her work is not valuable- far from it [particularly given the awful lack of truly thoughtful criticism of gaming as a whole]. My point is more that she falls short with the kind of far-ranging and comprehensive criticism the gaming community could do with as a whole to start seeing more examples of truly profound experiences. Again, it’s not really her fault that she has this much attention on her and perhaps it is expecting her to approach the subject with properly balanced criticism as opposed to blinkering her focus so as to make a more hyperbolic point about gaming culture.

    Truthfully, there is no arguing against that the basis of her argument that videogames could be so very much more original, thought-provoking and less designed to cater to the tastes of the majority and the lowest common denominator. But that a ever-present argument that stands against all artforms and fails to give due credit to the fact that there will always be a huge space in the market for games that provide a more trashy, visceral experience.

    Basically, there is no more to be gained decrying the Mario and Zelda games for building their story around ingrained fantasy tropes than there is tearing apart YA Romance and Fantasy novels for reusing cliched scenarios. I mean, these tropes can and indeed have been torn apart and subverted by some comparatively insightful works but there is still a huge desire to see less thoughtful and more simplistic pieces because they are simply appealing. Games where we solve problems with violence are first and foremost a lot easier to portray and write code for and secondly are satisfactory on a primeval level. The argument that indulging in such primeval guilty pleasures is bad for us is a tricky one that unfortunately leads far too many people into ‘Nanny-like’ protective mode.

    It’s one thing to examine a body of work and notice trends that can appear unsettling. On that count, Anita very much succeeds in starting the conversation. So, let’s delve more into the damsels in distress / fridge trope. First of all, in the grand scheme of things it’s not as gender-biased a trope as a lengthy battery of examples might suggest. There are many, many instances where your mission is to save a imprisoned guy(s)- be they fellow soldiers, leaders, family members, etc. because it makes for a simple to understand, ,high-stakes scenario. Likewise, I could list more games than Anita where you fight the villain because he killed your father / mentor / brother [if in fact he doesn't turn out to be one of those three]. Would it be appropriate for me to now talk about how much of the violence in the world is enacted in the name of getting some kind of vengeance?

    Seriously though, if we take a moment to look at videogames in this way as experiences that set examples or instil cultural ideas they are horrendously awful. If games are to be found guilty of damaging our perceptions of women they should also be held accountable for informing our black-and-white vision of the world where it’s a constant struggle for power and resources and there are only friends and enemies, though there’s a significant chance at some point your friends will betray you and then become your enemies…etc.

    Sincerely though, I’ve never been arguing that game storytelling isn’t often laughably simplistic or just plain lazy. What we have to take into account here is not just that this afflicts the mainstream of every medium but there are understandable reasons why it has been constrained more than most in games. First of all, the primary function of many game genres is not to tell a story but to make an interactive experience. As programming improved some genres evolved to include a story but this always has to be be attuned to the designers capabilities and not the other way around. Thus the storytelling in games has often been simplistic and based around established tropes largely because it was the [cheapest] most effective way to make an experience recognisable [and create NPCs with understandable but not too complex behavior].

    To wrap this up- the real problem is not so much with women being captured and needing a savior in generic fairytale fantasies or action-based killing sprees. Such escapist worlds work efficiently because complex considerations of character intelligence and agency don’t have to be taken too seriously. I mean, she touches on the potential concern that men in videogames only find self-worth when they are ‘questing for a lady’ or enacting vengeance against those that wrong them but that can be countered that ‘love’ is almost universally accepted as the most powerful / justifed reason for extraordinary action.

    The use of these trope are more troubling when placed in stories that try to tell more complex narratives. The real issue, however, is more that there is such a awful dearth of female protagonists- a deficiency which is being addressing, though of course not as quickly as we’d like.

  13. 13
    Wojo

    @ Adam Woolston

    Actually I have watched both her Damsel in Distress videos… are satisfactory on a primeval level.

    I’m going to reduce the first 2.8 paragraphs into: “Some people like misogynistic portrayals of women in video games”

    This is true. As with your example of young adult novels reusing tired old tropes and people eating them up, this is true. But you are strawmanning Anita’s arguement if you believe her intent is to take away mysoginistic video games. She does not wish to censor the games, she simply is pointing out the “Tropes vs Women” with the intent to inform us of the problem.

    There are many, many instances where your mission is to save a imprisoned guy(s)- be they fellow soldiers, leaders, family members, etc. because it makes for a simple to understand, ,high-stakes scenario.

    No argument here. You however have failed to notice that when it is a male character they are not treated as property or as a prize to be won. This is exceedingly important as it dehuminizes the female character. This is what leads to problems, dehuminization.

    If games are to be found guilty of damaging our perceptions of women they should also be held accountable for informing our black-and-white vision of the world where it’s a constant struggle for power and resources and there are only friends and enemies.

    Yep, you are absolutely right. But this is not a criticism of Anita, but a criticism of the lack of critcal work on the medium of video games. If you are trying to be critical of Anita here you are equally saying “The civil rights movement is guilty of not thinking about the needs of white people, therefore terrible”.

    First of all, the primary function of many game genres is not to tell a story but to make an interactive experience. As programming improved some genres evolved to include a story but this always has to be be attuned to the designers capabilities and not the other way around. Thus the storytelling in games has often been simplistic and based around established tropes largely because it was the [cheapest] most effective way to make an experience recognisable.

    Therefore we should not hold game companies responsible for terribly misogynistic portrayals of women? Because they are lazy? Are you serious?

    Hey, we could put some more clothes on Lara Croft.. Nah, that would cost too many pixels.

    I mean, she touches on the potential concern that men in videogames only find self-worth when they are ‘questing for a lady’ or enacting vengeance against those that wrong them but that can be countered that ‘love’ is almost universally accepted as the most powerful / justifed reason for extraordinary action.

    I’m pretty sure we are passed the whole ‘love’ is the most powerful reason to act in video games. That jumped the shark somewhere around Donkey Kong. It isn’t about love anymore. It is about Posessions. Mario, win the princess. Link, win the Princess. Prince of Persia, win the princess. If the goal is a person they have been turned into a posession.

    The use of these trope are more troubling when placed in stories that try to tell more complex narratives. The real issue, however, is more that there is such a awful dearth of female protagonists- a deficiency which is being addressing, though of course not as quickly as we’d like.

    This would still be a problem if we reversed roles. It would just remove agency from male characters.

    The mass of your post seriously makes me think that you don’t get the point of Anita’s series. From her Kickstarter “In this video series, Feminist Frequency will explore five common and recurring stereotypes of female characters in video games”. And all I hear from you is “what about the menz.”

    I’m sorry if this was not your intent, but it is the way your post came off.

  14. 14
    Adam Woolston

    I’m going to reduce the first 2.8 paragraphs into: ‘Some people like misogynistic portrayals of women in video games

    This probably gets to the heart of our misunderstanding straight away. I prefer to explore the whole breadth and depth of the issue [and in doing so are perhaps dismissing the gravity of some specific concerns] while you and Anita perhaps prefer to boil trends down their constituent parts to point out what’s being misogynistic.

    I’m not trying to apologize for misogyny in videogames at all- the lack of decent female protagonists is shameful and is one of the main issues that the industry could really do with addressing ASAP. That said, I do find that Anita is guilty of muddying her straightforward analysis by tangentially highlighting the fact that horrifying violence occurs against women every day after listing instances where game characters have to kill their loved ones because they’re dying or have become monsters. Her link between the two is a flawed segue at best if not woefully flawed reasoning. As I’ve said, there are just as many instances of having to ‘mercy kill’ a male character than a female and far more where you have to fight your own father / brother / mentor as a final boss.

    You may feel like I’m just reactively being all ‘What about the menz?’ when honestly I’m merely taking issue with highlighting instances where female characters come off badly from lazy / simplistic writing and calling it misogyny when its far more grounded in prototypical ‘Hero on a Journey’ storytelling. If we’re breaking that down equally every ‘non-protagonist’ is a largely dehumanised plot device with arcs that are purposely designed to instigate the most drama for the hero. And if we apply this strict deconstructionist perspective to videogames as a medium- almost all of them are only ‘encouraging’ the worst of our violent, competitive, greedy natures and so must be ‘bad’, right?

    Seriously though,

    But this is not a criticism of Anita, but a criticism of the lack of critcal work on the medium of video games.

    no it’s not. Yes, there could certainly be more critical work done dealing with videogames but not the kind that overstates connections between videogames employing dehumanizing representations of NPCs and the extent of dehumanizing treatment of people in real life. The fact is that a few instances of princesses needing saving or women being mercy killed have, in practical terms, nothing to do with the very real issue of women being abused and disempowered. That injustice is very much the product of certain populations misapplying ancient teachings and shielding themselves under the shadow of old ‘patriarchal wisdom’. Our cultures have far more to fear from individuals perpetuating their own prejudices on their children than said children playing a videogame and getting violent or ‘disempowering’ ideas.

    Anyway, I get the feeling I might be miscommunicating the basis of my criticisms here. For instance,

    Therefore we should not hold game companies responsible for terribly misogynistic portrayals of women? Because they are lazy? Are you serious?

    that wasn’t what I was saying at all- more that not every game should be expected to be a legitimately groundbreaking piece of contemplative art when most examples of every artform are instead mass-produced retreading of familiar territory. Therefore, simplistic storytelling that conform to established ideas is going to be as prevalent as it is in action or adventure movies, and simplistic does not always equal bad.

    I’m pretty sure we are passed the whole ‘love’ is the most powerful reason to act in video games. That jumped the shark somewhere around Donkey Kong. It isn’t about love anymore. It is about Posessions. Mario, win the princess. Link, win the Princess. Prince of Persia, win the princess. If the goal is a person they have been turned into a posession.

    Perhaps, but then that point of view leads us to consider that actually all fictional depictions of ‘romance’, are more a matter of ‘enjoying the chase’ with the greatest satisfaction in ‘love’ coming in the moment of ‘getting’ the partner rather than embarking on a relationship with them. The reason behind this is not really latent capitalistic attitudes towards finding a loved one being ‘a goal to achieve’ but the fact that the most evocative drama generally comes from facing conflict over something they really care about. If If you can’t say that Mario or Link fight because they love their princesses [tellingly neither automatically become King themselves on success] then you can’t really say with any more certainty that any romantic hero and heroine fights for the sake of another other than to ‘claim’ them as their own.

  15. 15
    Chaos Engineer

    You may feel like I’m just reactively being all ‘What about the menz?’ when honestly I’m merely taking issue with highlighting instances where female characters come off badly from lazy / simplistic writing and calling it misogyny when its far more grounded in prototypical ‘Hero on a Journey’ storytelling.

    Can’t it be both? I think the argument is that people somewhere back in the mists of time came up with these tropes, and these were seen as acceptable in their own culture, but come across as hopelessly bigoted today. And other people have been lazily copying them without thinking about what they’re doing, partly because they’re not the targets of the bigotry and they don’t see how harmful it is.

    When I was a kid, there was a popular “Cowboys and Indians” trope. The traditional version was that some peace-loving settlers would be brutally attacked by savage Indians for no good reason, and a small force of volunteers would have to defend the settlers against overwhelming odds until the cavalry arrived.

    At some point, somebody said. “You know, this trope is based on dishonest political propaganda from the 18th and 19th centuries, the reality of the situation was completely different, and we hurt people when we tell these lies. We ought to tell them the truth.” (Then, later on, some other people said, “Wow, people sure get upset if you try to tell them the truth about certain things! We’d better just retire the Cowboys and Indians genre and do Lawmen vs. Bandits stories instead.”)

    It would be easy enough to get rid of the “Damsel in Distress” trope the same way: If the game is structured so that a female character has a personality, or a character arc, or goals beyond “Sit around and wait for someone to rescue me”, then she doesn’t fit the trope. If she does fit the trope, then she can be replaced with an inanimate object like the Maltese Falcon or the Plans to the Death Star. (If you’ve already done the artwork for the character, you can think up a character arc, and put her in the game as the hero’s sidekick or a rival hero or something.)

  16. 16
    shockna

    Anita tiptoes up to the line of making the age-old ‘nanny state’ argument that art that indulges basic and violent wish-fulfillment or fails to depict a progressive level of diversity needs to be lambasted because…

    After reading the entire thread, I don’t precisely see what exactly makes this a “nanny state” argument, in the absence of an overt call for government intervention.

    Regardless, the primary criticism seems to be, apropos of this quote:

    I prefer to explore the whole breadth and depth of the issue [and in doing so are perhaps dismissing the gravity of some specific concerns] while you and Anita perhaps prefer to boil trends down their constituent parts to point out what’s being misogynistic.

    That Sarkeesian is focusing on a particular aspect of a problem and not looking at the entire thing at once. This would be a problem if she raised money under the auspices of “looking at the entire picture”, but she didn’t. She was quite clear on what her specialty would be.

    I was vaguely familiar with her work before the kickstarter, and analyzing specific segments of a problem seems to be her preferred mode of operation. I personally don’t see a problem here; we need both types of analysis (the specialists and the generalists) when doing an examination.

  17. 17
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    People are so desperate to attack Sarkeesian and any attempt at injecting feminist commentary into video games, that they’re willing to silence her by marking it as objectionable. Not because the content is incorrect, or because the content is damning of the industry, but because how daaaaaare this mere woman criticize this immature art form that we love so much?

    Well, what do you think the Red Scare was? How daaaaare these mere workers criticize this oppressive profiteering system we love so much =/

    Adam Woolston #14:

    This probably gets to the heart of our misunderstanding straight away. I prefer to explore the whole breadth and depth of the issue [and in doing so are perhaps dismissing the gravity of some specific concerns] while you and Anita perhaps prefer to boil trends down their constituent parts to point out what’s being misogynistic.

    Increasing your word count does not necessarily add content. Being told that you’re using too many words doesn’t mean the other person is making assumptions, it means you need to edit your writing better so that you don’t come off as trying to obfuscate or deny things like oppressive tropes.

    Like with this:

    I’m not trying to apologize for misogyny in videogames at all

    [...]

    …I’m merely taking issue with highlighting instances where female characters come off badly from lazy / simplistic writing and calling it misogyny when its far more grounded in prototypical ‘Hero on a Journey’ storytelling.

    You could have simply put a ‘but’ in there. The big chunk of words I took out just distracts the reader from how you’re giving lip service to the existence of misogyny, and then turning around and denying the fuck out of it anyway.

    Get an editor. Though, I dunno if you’ll be too pleased with the results.

  18. 18
    Adam Woolston

    Since I’m obviously tripping over my own tongue trying to clarify the points I’m going for I recently found a writer who makes similar ones a lot better.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/jenniferbosier/2013/05/29/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games-reveals-an-ugly-truth/

  19. 19
    kingjing

    I’m so glad she brought up the point of how lazy game design leads to lazy writing, which often ends in women being thrown under the bus. As an artistic medium, game’s greatest strength lies in the ability to craft experiences with the player through game mechanics. But there really isn’t that much* innovation happening among the Triple A developers that aren’t, at their core, aesthetic changes to the standard “point and shoot” mechanic. It’s rather disappointing, really.

    *Obviously, there is still some innovation going on in large studios. And yes, I am a big enough asshole to put a footnote into my comments on a blog.

  20. 20
    leftwingfox

    It’s certainly clearer, but It’s not a point I agree with,

    First, she minimizes the sexism in favour of offence at the cliche:

    I have to admit it doesn’t anger me as a feminist so much as a purveyor of strong, intelligent storytelling.

    This strikes me as wrongheaded because the over-application of this trope specifically towards women IS sexist. Pointing out the cliche is fine, but not if it means developers simply move to a more diverse set of sexist plot lines.

    More importantly, the fact that it IS a cliche and that it IS widely accepted is a big part of what makes this a problem. Just as with the Bechdel test, the fact that a single movie fails the test doesn’t make it a bad film. The fact that a majority of movies fail the Bechdel test s a good sign that there is a systemic problem: i.e. sexism.

    Similarly, whereas Sarkeesian specifically references Ico as being “extremely patronizing,” many gamers regard this as one of the most poignant dramas of the PS2 generation.

    This is a perfect example of the key logical fallacy underlying much of the opposition to cultural criticism. It’s an argument from popularity: Just because a game is popular does not address whether or not one element of the game is sexist or not. This is all the more infuriating since Anita explicitly mentions in this video that one can enjoy a game, even while criticizing problematic elements.

    Once again, Anita Sarkeesian does a good job of acknowledging certain tropes, but unfortunately, she lacks the intrinsic knowledge to accurately reflect upon what this means for gamers.

    Why? She never expands on this statement just leaves it for granted, much like you do when you blast her lack of intellectual rigor. To me, she starts with a thesis “there is an issue with sexism in our media”. she then shows the symptom (Damsel in distress) links the symptom to the thesis (Damsels are sexist because they disempower women in favour of a man’s story) and then shows how widespread the symptom is, and finally, how that is reflected by sexism in society as a whole.

    I find that very compelling evidence. There’s points that could be falsified of course: If you could show evidence that damsels in distress are far less common than dudes in distress, for instance.

    What really kills me is the last paragraph:

    As for embracing female heroes, well, that’s a trickier issue. Until pop culture at large begins to show strong female characters in prominent roles (The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones are helping), it’s unlikely we, as consumers, will begin to do as such. As a long-time female gamer, I’d like to think we’re more advanced as a demographic, but until more publishers are willing to gamble on female heroes, we won’t know.

    So we have a chicken and the egg problem: gamers won’t buy games with strong women characters unless publishers make them. Publishers won’t make games with strong women characters because they don’t know if there’s a market. What can we do?

    Possible solution, actually make a noise? Complain? Point out specific problems we would like to see less of? Make developers aware in ways other than money Raising awareness seems to be exactly the thing to do here.

    And that’s exactly what Anita does.

    And people lose their shit over it.

  21. 21
    Eristae

    leftwingfox dealt with most of what I had to say about that analysis, but I wanted to add this:

    Similarly, whereas Sarkeesian specifically references Ico as being “extremely patronizing,” many gamers regard this as one of the most poignant dramas of the PS2 generation.

    You know, I feel like a lot of people are making the mistake that a game has to be objectionable or fun and have problematic elements or be a good story, a view that Sarkeesian explicitly rejects.

    A story is perfectly capable of being both extremely patronizing and a poignant drama. I’ve played a lot of games, and a lot of them are both extraordinarily sexist and nevertheless are fun to play, present a rich story, are very engaging, and all in all are wonderful pieces of media.

    For example, I love Final Fantasy VI. It is my absolute favorite of the Final Fantasy series. It had an amazing story, interesting and unique characters, a rich and detailed world, an incredible switchover between world-states, and two out of the three women in the game were focal points at various times in the story. I played the game multiple times.

    It is still sexist. On the protagonist side of the fence, there are 12 characters (not counting the two bonus characters) and out of that, three are female (with two being adult women and one being a child). That means there are four times as many men as there were women. As for the antagonist side of the fence, there are no women at all. Furthermore, neither of the two adult women protagonists escaped having a very significant part of their existence relate to their romantic interest; the antagonist side clearly couldn’t have women who escaped such a fate because there were no women on the antagonist side. And none of this deals with how men vs women were portrayed in the game.

    However, none of this changes the fact that I love that game. I don’t need to think that the game was flawless to love it. It’s no different than if I was shaking my head sadly at a graphical aspect of the game: I could be critical of the graphics and still love the game.

    This is not an either or thing. Knowing and understanding something’s faults doesn’t mean we can’t love it. In fact, I find it odd that people think they can love a thing while denying key aspects of it. Sexism is woven in the very fabric of games in general if for no other reason than it’s woven into the fabric of our society in general. Pretending that this isn’t so only denies us the ability to deal with this sexism.

  22. 22
    Sassafras

    ICO lost a lot of its poignancy for me when I found out the creator really does have some shitty ideas about women that affect his works.

  23. 23
    leftwingfox

    Thank you Eristae. :) I agree with your points completely, although my personal favourite game is Chrono Trigger.

    Sassafras: Oh, good grief. So much for the benefit of the doubt. :(

  24. 24
    John Kruger

    The more I learn about these things the more I am convinced that large scale cultural bigotry is fueled mostly by uncritical ignorance. I doubt anyone consciously thinks “I am going to do my best to make the lives of a particular group miserable for no other reason than they are labeled/identified differently from me.” It really seems like more of an oblivious “of course the hero rescues the princess, that is the way it has always been” attitude that lacks any wider consideration of what types of images or ideas that kind of trope perpetuates. Programmers and game designers tend to be predominantly male, so it is no surprise they would create characters that self-identify mostly with the gender they know unless they put special consideration into it. Given the problem of motivating a player to action, I think revenge is just one of the first things that come to mind, and what is traditionally the most vengeful motivation is family be wronged in the most egregious way (like rape, murder, or torture). It is only a narrow cultural view that makes them fail to notice that the victims that are plot devices are all too frequently female and rarely ever male in the narratives they are creating.

    I would also point out that the series does not imply that the existence of any one instance of the tropes is the problem, it is the overwhelming pattern that is the problem. I can rattle off quite a few mainstream titles that have a damsel trope with little difficulty, but the reverse “male damsel” is much harder to come up with. I think the same is true of all the tropes discussed in the series so far. I would like to see more positive “this is the better way to do it” examples, but I expect that is much farther down the line in the overall series.

    The series is fulfilling a much needed education, and I think she is doing a terrific job. I just hope I can catch the next one before the inevitable false flagging delay.

  25. 25
    Jason Thibeault

    John Kruger: EXACTLY right. The point of challenging these tropes is to fix that uncritical acceptance of them. Cheers.

  26. 26
    John Morales

    Jason:

    The point of challenging these tropes is to fix that uncritical acceptance of them.

    So, the point is not to fix critical acceptance of them.

  27. 27
    dekomitri

    Hi Jason, this news is far from surprising. Anita Sarkeesian’s the position put forth in her first video has been torn apart thoroughly by multiple critics. This second video is far from an improvement. She only re-enforces her ignorance of the issue. Sarkeesian however is not out to debate or have a discussion. This leaves people without no outlet for their frustration against her position. A key principle of YouTube is the idea of feedback and criticism. Sarkeesian attempts to disable any means for people to do so but people will find other ways to speak their minds because they believe it is their YouTube privilege.

  28. 28
    Jason Thibeault

    Explain how her viewpoints have been “torn apart”, and link to those critics. Otherwise all you have is bluster that she’s ignorant, put forth without any evidence.

    And what can be presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

  29. 29
    Jason Thibeault

    Also too: “YouTube privilege”. *snrk*

  30. 30
    dekomitri

    Hey Jason, One of my favorite responses is by a YouTuber named KiteTales found here.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJihi5rB_Ek

    Sarkeesian’s argument is thin. Most of the 25 minutes is anecdotes and filler. For starters Sarkeesian claims that, “the Damsel in Distress trope disempowers female characters and robs them of the chance to be heroes in their own rite”

    - No, when the playable character is male they can by definition not be female. The disempowerment comes form the fact that video game companies made an assumption that only boys want to play video games and when playing those game they will prefer to be male rather than female character. If games were made with main female characters the damsel trope doesn’t die, it can simply replaced by another person of significance.

    Sarkeesian continues, “One way to think about Damsel’d characters is via what’s called the subject/object dichotomy. In the simplest terms, subjects act and objects are acted upon. The subject is the protagonist, one the story is centered on and the one doing most of the action. In video games this is almost always the main playable character and the one from whose perspective most of the story is seen.”

    - No, we are all acted upon. The damsel acts upon the hero thus giving him motive.

    Sarkeesian, “So the damsel trope typically makes men the “subject” of the narratives while relegating women to the “object”.

    - No, casting men as player characters makes men the subjects of narratives.

    Sarkeesian, ” This is a form of objectification because as objects, damsel’ed women are being acted upon, most often becoming or reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found or a goal to be achieved.”

    - No, objectification is treating a person as a commodity or an object, without regard to their personality or dignity. The damsel plot device does not imply objectification, indeed, it implies that the woman is special enough to the hero to save her.

    Sarkeesian projects, “The hero’s fight to retrieve his stolen property then provides lazy justification for the actual gameplay.’

    - Princess Peach is Mario’s property?

    Sarkeesian, “At its heart the damsel trope is not really about women at all, she simply becomes the central object of a competition between men (at least in the traditional incarnations). I’ve heard it said that “In the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” So for example, we can think of the Super Mario franchise as a grand game being played between Mario and Bowser. And Princess Peach’s role is essentially that of the ball.”

    - She is right, the damsel trope is not really about women, it’s about providing plausible motivation. Love and duty are simple, well used and understood concepts. The hero being male an obvious love interest becomes a woman. For a hero to be required to act there must be no alternative means of resolution. Thus the woman in question cannot act herself. That doesn’t make her a ball.

    Hope that help for starters…

    Hah I know, “YouTube privilege” right?

  31. 31
    Specter Von Baren

    I’ve been noticing the same incorrect argument on a lot of these sites talking about this, which is that Sarkeesian doesn’t think these games are bad just because they use the trope. The problem is that she IS.

    “Now it might be tempting to think the Damsel in Distress was just a product of its time, and that by now surely the trope must be a thing of the past. ”

    AKA, surely this thing must not be used at all now. As in, she believe that not using it at all is the desired outcome.

    “Ok so we know that the Damsel in Distress is alive and well in gaming but that’s not the full picture, there’s even more insidious side to the story. ”

    AKA, the trope is “insidious” by its very nature.

    “Periodically, game developers may attempt to build a more flushed out relationship or emotional bond between Damsel’d character and the male protagonist. In the most decidedly patronizing examples depictions of female vulnerability are used for an easy way for writers to trigger an emotional reaction in male players.”

    Ergo, even if it is done well and the relationship is deeper than just “rescue this woman” it’s patronizing.

    “So narratives that frame intimacy, love or romance as something that blossoms from or hinges upon the disempowerment and victimization of women are extremely troubling because they tend to reinforce the widespread regressive notion that women in vulnerable, passive or subordinate positions are somehow desirable because of their state of powerlessness. ”

    Ergo, she believes that a romance story with this trope, of any sort, is bad.

    “Given the reality of that larger cultural context, it should go without saying that it’s dangerously irresponsible to be creating games in which players are encouraged and even required to perform violence against women in order to “save them”.”

    Here, with the mercy killing, she’s saying that the trope is bad just because of what has happened in the real world (In which case we get into the video-games cause violence debate).

    This completely contradicts her later statements about how she doesn’t believe these effect people in real life.

  32. 32
    Jeremy Rimpo

    @dekomitri

    Pretty much ignoring a key point. These are characters with supposed power and influence, but somehow they can’t help but be captured time and time again. Even when they show some agency within their games, they become sidelined as a character that must be rescued. Time and time again. And again. And again. It may originate to some extent from lazy writing, but whether or not that’s true it’s still lazy writing originating from a trope with a decisively patriarchal bent.

    @Specter Von Baren

    There’s a key difference from Anita’s hypothesis and your strawwoman Anita’s hypothesis. The games, individually, are not going to cause people to commit horrible acts. But they contribute to a society where such depictions allow us to consider these things as ‘normal’ or – at the very least – to help desensitize us to the entire concept. Why, of course it’s perfectly normal for the influential, beloved, and important princess to be effortlessly captured by the bad guy. She’s only a woman, after all. Don’t expect her to have protection, to put up a fight, or to have a plan.

  33. 33
    Jerimy

    I can’t help but get the feeling that pretty much everyone here is talking about gaming franchises that have maintained similar story lines through each new installment since they were created 20 years ago.

  34. 34
    Jason Thibeault

    That’s actually fairly easily falsifiable, Jerimy, by looking at the video games shown in the video.

  35. 35
    Eric Rogotsky

    I created my own response to her that I think sums it up best. I think it’s worth a watch http://youtu.be/bmxcMZ6p2zg

  1. 36
    TLF: Digital Damsels in Distress | Playing at Leadership: Games, Gaming, & Leadership Studies

    [...] as that last one,” which, while not a ringing endorsement, isn’t condemnatory, either. Jason Thibeault refers to it as “nonexistent” over on FreeThoughtBlogs, and then spends most of his post talking about its removal from YouTube. In a slightly more [...]

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