Guest post: Quite a backlash

Guest post by Mary Ellen Foley. 

A threat to bomb the Game Developers’ Conference if Anita Sarkeesian gets an award there…threats to murder her and make it look like suicide because she’s a worse threat than terrorists to the country…and for what? For pointing out that it’s not good that video games exploit images of women’s bodies and of violence against women as scene dressing in the backgrounds of games? Really? A veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq says she’s worse than terrorists because she suggests that it might not be a good idea for game developers to show an animation of a man slitting the throat of an anonymous woman just to get the pulses of game players racing?

I tried to watch one of Sarkeesian’s pieces about the use of images of women in games, and I had to stop pretty quickly — I don’t have a strong enough stomach — though I must point out, not least because my husband makes a living in the video game industry, that not all games are violent and not all games are misogynistic — but of course Sarkeesian doesn’t say they are.

There’s been quite a backlash from misogynist video-game fans over suggestions as mild as that the industry should, in addition to the violent misogynist games the fanboys love, make games that women like to play, too, or more games that maybe offer the possibility of playing as a female character — not that you have to play as a female character, but that other people can if they want to. They so want the Girls Keep Out on the clubhouse door that they can’t imagine life in which women play games, too; they threaten to punish the industry by not buying games at all if the developers go wild and make some more games in which players can, if they want, interact with the virtual baddies as female characters. Women, it seems, just shouldn’t play games, and female characters should be abused, killed, or rescued but certainly ought not to be heroes. Fortunately, as statistics and estimates my husband has pulled together show, the guys who think the world of video games revolves around them are wrong; the money they spend on games makes up a surprisingly small proportion of the funds that keep the industry rolling—hard to believe, but that’s because the violent action games get the press.

And they should at times get the press, and Anita Sarkeesian is part of that press, but she’s getting death threats serious enough to bring out the police and the bomb-sniffing dogs, and the FBI is now looking into who’s threatening her. I wish it were unbelievable…

Mary Ellen Foley blogs at M E Foley’s Anglo-American Experience Blog.


  1. Seth says

    I’m a feminist because bomb-sniffing dogs shouldn’t have to get involved in a gaming conference just because Anita Sarkeesian might be there.

  2. Gemma Mason says

    One of the things I really like about the structure of the Tropes Vs Women series is that she ordered her topics so that she could start out with Mario and Donkey Kong, rather than launching straight into Hitman and GTA and so forth. She did a lovely job of not implying that the only “real” games are the violent action games. Heck, she even had an interesting mention of Angry Birds in (if I recall correctly) her “Ms. Male Character” videos.

  3. says

    The backlash is pretty ridiculous. I love Sarkeesian’s videos for how they analyze the tropes therein, even when I don’t agree with every minute interpretation (and my disagreements are quite few and mostly pedantic, indeed). I dunno, maybe some gamers are having flashbacks to all the times people have called to end video gaming because they’re responsible for all the school shootings, delinquency, etc. Even if they truly did misunderstand the critique by such a wide margin, dredging up enough hatred to make threats on a person’s life… inconceivable!

  4. says

    If anyone is interested in seeing mass hysteria in action they could do worse than have a convo with the #GamerGate crew. After pointing out to them that the “devastating evidence” that they had of her lying about reporting the threats online to the police wasn’t that devastating, it got worse. Some were claiming she doesn’t play any games, cos she isn’t a gamer and said 4 yrs ago she doesn’t like games particularly. I point them to a picture of her after the kickstarter next to 300 games she had bought, cue cries of “Where are the receipts!? Why won’t she release the receipts!”… Bit like talking to birthers, they believe she somehow got 300 empty cases, or borrowed them from friends, or I don’t know what! Occams Razor is not at the forefront of their minds, pushing a narrative that she is a lying bitch therefore lies seems more their thing.

    Not quite as extreme as the bomb threat, but that is partly why it shocked me so much, it’s a banal minor thing. But they demand she provide “evidence” she bought games and played them when she is cranking out videos of game critiques referencing hundreds of games… Just, surreal.

  5. Anthony K says

    At least in the UK it would appear that the myth that only men play video games is just that, according to new research.

    Nuh-uh! That’s not what Sommers says, and Dawkins called her ‘factual’ so she mist be!

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