It all started with a proposal on Kickstarter.
Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian asked for $6,000 to help fund a video series about the way women are portrayed in video games. Sarkeesian was open that her hope was to spur the development of “more interesting, engaging and complex female characters, that avoid the standard boring cliches.”
Now, it’s probably not news to anyone that there are some fairly negative tropes in the gaming portrayal of women. Female characters tend to be designed with an eye on their physical attributes first. Female characters in video games are there for their sex appeal, because there still is a core belief in the gaming community that all gamers are 14-year-old boys. Sarkeesian was investigating a phenomenon as familiar as gravity.
Unfortunately, a number of male gamers didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that there was a possibility that their games might be anti-women, and so they responded to Sarkeesian with an unrelenting stream of vitriol and hate, including online vandalism of her Wikipedia page. Quotes such as “tits or get back in the kitchen, bitch” were posted to her YouTube channel. Clearly, there was no misogyny in the gaming community for her to investigate.
At any rate, thanks to the hatred directed at her, Sarkeesian ended up raising her $6,000, plus an additional $152,000. Her treatment was horrific, but at least the vile, women-hating jerks who attacked her would be chastened by the clear public support for her.
I know, that is funny; the gaming community did not go gentle into that good night. Instead, they doubled down on violent rhetoric and misogynistic threats, culminating in an online game (with disturbing graphics) in which you can beat up Sarkeesian.
The game was pulled from Newgrounds.com, but not until its creator, Sioux St. Marie, Ontario native Ben Spurr, had managed to sicken nearly everyone.
Spurr claimed, naturally, that he did not mean to intimate that violence against women was okay. In his now-suspended Twitter feed, Spurr said”The game isn’t about ‘punching women.’ It’s about punching a selfish person. There’s a difference.”
Spurr said he put together the attack game because Sarkeesian “is not putting in the effort and research she said she would.” He added, “Many of her tropes have been debuncted [sic].” Spurr said he was only trying to elicit “a direct response from Sarkeesian.”
Of course, Sarkeesian has not even started her video series yet, so it’s not clear what on earth Spurr was referring to. Then again, it really doesn’t matter. Since Spurr wasn’t reacting to any specific trope referenced by Sarkeesian, what he was rejecting, violently, was the very idea that women’s portrayal in gaming could be anything other than perfect.
What Starr and his ilk prove, of course, is exactly the opposite of what they scream and threaten: misogyny is a huge problem, both in gaming and in the larger society. When your response to a question is to scream, pout, and threaten your questioner, you’ve lost the argument. The question is not whether misogyny is running rampant in gaming. The question is what game creators will do to stop it.
Image Credit: David Futrelle