I wrote this as a comment on gaming site I write for – on Anita Sarkeesian and the topic of disagreement in game culture. Thought I’d post it here so I could curate proper discussion, because this is an issue I’m grappling with as a game and culture “critic” – and as a person trying to be decent. [sic] all around.
I’m not a fan of her work, but don’t see why a woman facing death, rape and bomb threats, who is at least bringing conversation, requires me to do in-depth criticism, 300 youtubes of how she’s wrong about Hitman, etc.
Frankly, I’d rather defend her right to be part of the culture and focus on her and others’ safety, than how they don’t get my favourite game is actually super important and the best thing ever. Games matter less than people’s safety.
Second there are plenty of people who deserve more attention for how wrong they are about games, such as those who say it “causes” violence, journalists who flout their swag, show off and show little engagement with material of games, developers who screw their audience, Kickstarter failures, etc. All these are actually detrimental. One person’s YouTube criticism is not.
I’m actually not interested in people’s criticisms of her work. First, because I have my own; second, who needs to hear it right now? Will the industry die because your voice wasn’t heart against Sarkeesian?
Imagine meeting an astrologer who’s got death threats and demanding he pay you attention, from a screaming mob, so that you can deliver criticism of his pseudoscience. I don’t care that you’re right about astrology; I care that you’re using time and energy to criticise him when you could be using it to defend him against bullies threatening him.
I also want to add: If we want to develop a culture that handles criticism properly, we need to care about people first. For example, those wanting “social issues” removed from game reviews are wanting solidification of the current state; the state that allows so many people to reach this level of anger at harmless women. Games can’t be removed from social dynamics anymore than cars or paintings can be. How you examine such items devoid of the contexts and identities that gave rise to such things in the first place is beyond me – except that you’d be delivering the most neutral, bland inhuman aspects of it. Imagine describing the Mona Lisa by listing the colours and direction of brushstrokes – that’s what it sounds like to me when you plead for objectivity. (No I don’t think every game write-up should analyise the race/sex aspects and what the second tree really means; but I do think such things can be written and should be done without cries of it being not part of gaming – or that it’s “ruining” games.)
You want to criticise Sarkeesian – Great. Work on creating a culture where doing so is done maturely, civilly and with sensitivity to the other person as the default. By pushing through with your criticism, you’re making it clear you don’t care about the current context a harmless person is facing for merely trying to make games better. Whether she’s right is debatable; whether she – and others – should have her life and safety threatened is not. Right now, I know what my priority is in this particular instance.
Maybe one day we can debate the merits of her video – and I might actually agree with you on some points. But now is not that time and, as indicated, there are other targets more worth your criticism. Otherwise you just become part of the climate that is already a room of knives.