If you’ve been following Games during the last year or so, you’re probably aware of the strange but sadly not unexpected controversy surrounding Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project. If you haven’t, here’s a simple breakdown. Anita Sarkeesian is a female feminist blogger and vlogger who shares her ideas with the world on FeministFrequency.com. Like many ambitious young people do these days, Sarkeesian decided to try and crowd-fund a relatively simple project of hers via the very popular crowd-funding web service named above. If you aren’t familiar with Kickstarter yet, you should go check it out; it’s pretty cool. Anyway, said project would be an extension of her “Tropes v. Women” series, a relatively user friendly discussion of popular culture through a (of course) feminist lens. This series has already had six episodes, dealing largely with tropes in Film, Television, and Comics, and has touched lightly on Games as well. This new extension was to be a similarly modest series of videos, and would focus primarily on a feminist analysis of harmful tropes in Games specifically.
Just to clarify, for those of you who are peripherally familiar with the story, and may thus be, through no fault of your own, misinformed, she wasn’t initially asking for a huge amount of money (6000 USD), and the project was neither particularly ambitious in scope, nor revolutionary, unusual, or different in it’s basic nature/format. Many artists do use Kickstarter and Indiegogo to garner patronage for specific projects that do not have an inherent commercial component (that is, they do not produce a “product” that can then be sold and resold). Not too long ago, for example, a theater troupe from my beloved Baltimore (the Copycat Theater) raised money to produce the second iteration of their experimental interactive live production (The Rooms Play), which, by the way was awesome. This is just one example. Not only was there no “tangible product” produced, but the intangible product was time limited, and directly localized. If you couldn’t come to Baltimore to experience it, well, you’d have to settle for a second hand version. Shows, performances, installations, and etc. show up on crowd-funding sites all the time, have since their earliest days, and will continue to in the future. These sites generally do not allow people to raise money for personal reasons (i.e. “I want a vacation/need to pay my rent/need to pay for medical bills”), but projects of all varieties tend to be fair game.
This is why I personally found the controversy that ensued (and still persists, alas) to be “strange,” to put it mildly. Apparently, an embarrassingly large contingent of male “gamers” felt so threatened by Sarkeesian’s fairly humble video blog that they took it upon themselves to conduct a large and systematic attack campaign (a war of sorts) against her as a person, instead of…you know, using their brains or acting like grown ups. What followed is a pretty disgusting example of cyber-bullying with a central, and very shameful, misogynistic component. You can view one of her talks on the matter for a glimpse of how egregious it really was. For our purposes, let’s just say that threats of physical and sexual violence were thrown around liberally, and Sarkeesian’s private accounts were hacked and vandalized. We aren’t in the objectivity business here, so I will go ahead and say that I personally cannot see any rational justification for that kind of behavior in any sphere of society by anyone ever. But I also happen to think that sexism and rape are very, very bad things, so…I suppose you can take my statements with a grain of salt. Maybe I’m too much of a “bleeding heart,” for thinking this way (sarcasm).
Anyway, that happened. As trolls often do, however, these charming gentlemen ended up sabotaging their own misguided “cause.” Trolls are, believe it or not, just a very vocal and active minority of internet users. If it is properly riled up, the less vocal majority of decent people does occasionally step up. As a result, Sarkeesian’s project wasn’t just funded. It was over-funded by a ginormous (yes, that’s a word) margin. Basically, enough to pay for the full time yearly salary of several skilled individuals (almost 159,000 USD).
So. Happy ending, right? Well…almost. If not for that almost, we wouldn’t have much to talk about. Every time I brought this story up, hoping to have a frank discussion of unfortunate sexist trends in one of my favorite media, or of issues of gender ex/inclusivity in said medium, and every time I saw it brought up elsewhere, some very interesting and troubling answers came out, often out of very intelligent, generally respectful people. Some of these answers were, of course, more troubling than others. The most common are, as follows:
– Anita Sarkeesian is a con-artist that never produced the intended product, or, if not a con-artist, a failure. She, in the words of a good friend of mine, “bailed.” Where are the videos we were promised?
– Big Developers cater to their target audience that, let’s face it, loves skimpy outfits and boobs, and, as such, sexism in games is unavoidable and a discussion of sexism in games is not worth the wasted breath. That’s just the way it is and always will be. Let’s just play and have fun and kill things. All this critical thinking is harshing my buzz.
– If you don’t like sexist games, just vote with your wallet and go Indie.
– Games are “Art” so don’t try to censor them!
– Games are just games. Who cares? You are being way too sensitive about that sort of thing.(Amazingly, this one was spoken in the same breath as the “games are art and thus shouldn’t be censored” argument).
Unfortunately, while it’s by far the least important or interesting of these claims, the first one should probably be addressed first. The rest will be covered in part two of this article, which, for the purposes of sanity, will be posted separately. So: