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I’ve got some bad news: video games are traditionally pretty sexist 3 Ways Game Studios Still Reinforce Negative Body Images For Women [Opinion] 3 Ways Game Studios Still Reinforce Negative Body Images For Women [Opinion] It’s 2012. It’s been four decades since video games first began to emerge as a form of entertainment for consumption. In those decades, game complexity has improved, massive online worlds have been constructed, and 3D... Read More . Shocking as it may be, a medium dominated by the masculine middle classes panders to patriarchal ideals – and it just so happens that video blogger Anita Sarkeesian has noticed.

The fruit of the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Kickstarter, which beat its funding goal 26 times over, this refreshing series of videos looks at games, their culture and their roles as social commentary from a distinctly female perspective. The results aren’t exactly pretty.

The most recent of these videos saw Sarkeesian call law enforcement following death threats made against her and her family – for daring to claim that video games rely on outdated, sexist tropes Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming And Attempted Mob Censorship - Why It Didn't Work Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming And Attempted Mob Censorship - Why It Didn't Work Read More .

Death Threats

The “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” issue was always going to be a contentious one, but the trend was there in plain sight for anyone to pick up on. Anita Sarkeesian just happened to be the vehicle for a message that even the most vehement of her critics has trouble denying: the portrayal of women in video games has been unacceptable since video games existed.

It’s perhaps a sad inevitability then that when someone threatens the status quo, some see it necessary to do anything in their power to stop or discredit them. This has led to Anita being threatened with death, rape and having her online identities constantly probed by hackers. Some went as far as to upload a game called Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian to Newgrounds, others created and circulated illustrations of her being sexually assaulted.

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These extreme examples have done nothing but highlight the validity of Anita’s cause. She has even been accused of not being a games industry “expert” – which completely ignores the fact that you don’t need to be an “expert” woman to weigh-in on sexual discrimination. Each attempt to smear, label or somehow drown out her viewpoint only lends more credence to her message: misogyny and oversexualisation of women in video games is a very real problem.

Tropes vs. Women In Video Games

There were initially 12 Feminist Frequency videos planned after the Kickstarter project destroyed its funding goal, though it’s not clear if this is still the plan or not. Head over to the Kickstarter page for the full list.

Damsels in Distress

Split into three parts, Damsel in Distress examines the portrayal of women in games as victims. Anita opens each of her videos with a wonderful bit of advice that appears to have been ignored on a mass-scale: “Remember that it’s both possible – and even necessary – to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”

So begins an in-depth look at where the “damsel in distress” trope came from, and how it has appeared in games over the past 30 years or so. Donkey Kong and Mario are first examined for their use of “the girl” as a prize, but in total more than 183 games are shown or featured in some form across all three films.

The series moves on to the darker and more sinister examples of this trope in the second video, exploring the normalisation of violence against women in games and also how developers have “spiced up” the damsel in distress formula for greater impact. Finally the third part, above, flips the formula on its head somewhat by examining “dude in distress” role reversal and retro-inspired “ironic sexism” in some of today’s indie titles.

Ms. Male Character

Pac-Man is one of the most iconic and addictive arcade games of all time Pacmania: 4 Of The Best Pac-Man Clones Throughout History Pacmania: 4 Of The Best Pac-Man Clones Throughout History Would games even exist if Pacman had never existed? Maybe, maybe not, but it's impossible to deny that this game paved the way for arcade gaming and beyond. Read More , and its influence cannot be denied – even people who don’t play video games know what Pac-Man is. It’s probably pretty damning then that such an influential game tried to further its appeal to female gamers not by creating a Pac-Woman, but using a “honey don’t you know, I’m more than Pac-Man with a bow” Ms. Pac-Man instead.

Women as Background Decoration

The world’s first commercially available video game was a 1971 arcade cabinet called Computer Space, a pixellated monochrome multi-directional shooter that had you avoiding incoming missiles and shooting flying saucers – but it was marketed using “sex sells” female imagery. Of course, sex seemed to sell everything in the 1970s – but the commodification and portrayal of women as peripheral to the core activity spilled over into the games themselves.

A frequent core difference between male and female characters in video games is that much of the time females exist as non-playable characters (NPCs), while the hero is nearly always male. These films explore how the common female video game character was reduced to little more than a walking, talking decoration – too often scantily clad and much of the time fulfilling a disposable, ancillary role.

The Rest

I’d love to be able to share Anita’s upcoming films about women as a reward, the “Mrs Male Character” conundrum, how unattractive equals evil and the bound-to-be-exciting “Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games” – but they’re still in production at the time of writing.

Instead, subscribe to Feminist Frequency on YouTube and check out some of Anita’s other videos while you wait for the completion of the series.

The Facts

The point Anita Sarkeesian is making with these videos is that women’s portrayal in video games – frequently by men – is unacceptable. This has been endemic in cinema Crime, Corruption & Dastardly Deeds: 6 Film Noir Classics That Have It All [Stuff To Watch] Crime, Corruption & Dastardly Deeds: 6 Film Noir Classics That Have It All [Stuff To Watch] Welcome one and all to a new regular feature here at MakeUseOf, crudely titled “Stuff to Watch”. Each week I’ll be delivering a visual-dose of moving images, internet-related film-making and little known gems that are... Read More , and it’s a reality for video games too. This has nothing to do with how men are portrayed – it’s not an inclusionary critique of violence in games, but a look at females their use as a device in the games industry.

What did Feminist Frequency teach you?

  1. exo
    April 11, 2016 at 8:57 pm

    you are a fraud lady you should stop writing if it is to "recommend" this ***** to people

  2. exo
    April 11, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    But Anita S doesn't even love video game and doesn't play them , she said it herself . why would you recommend her to "teach" people about videogames ?

  3. Jessica Coccimiglio
    September 25, 2014 at 2:40 am

    Hi Anthony,

    I think it's important that the world moves towards becoming a space where women feel safe in traditionally male industries like gaming and technology, and feel safe presenting critique of the fields. I applaud my fellow author Tim for featuring Feminist Frequency here at MakeUseOf, and challenge everyone who is offended by his piece, or Anita Sarkeesian's work to open their minds and exercise your compassion muscle. To those unwilling to do that, I bid you goodbye and good luck. You'll need it in this changing world.

    Best,
    Jessica

  4. Anthony Salcedo
    September 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    She's a dishonest liar, fear mongering professional victim. Many of the examples she gives do not reflect the way a gamer would actually play the games in question. I'm disgusted you would feature this waste of oxygen in any positive light.

    "How many mental hurdles you need to jump over to convince yourself that Sarkeesian is doing this…"

    None, all it takes is critical thinking. You should try using some of that.

    "for what? Just to piss you off?"

    Greed, personal vendetta. Mo$t likely greed.

    "The saving grace for the rest of us is that it doesn’t really matter what people like you think"

    The same argument can be made for you.

    "these videos are having a massive impact on the industry and the way games will be made in future"

    The only thing that will influence how games are made are what sells. It's a business, remember?

    "The more people try to discredit them the clearer the message becomes – so keep it up ;)"

    Truth has a funny way of rearing it's head much to the detriment of those committing a fraud. If you had your opinions based in any sort of reality, you know, the kind outside of your head, you might see this. But alas...You're free to buy into the Kool-Aid she's selling. But some of us will continue to out obvious frauds.

  5. Maryon Jeane
    September 4, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    And they wonder why relatively few women are interested in computer gaming and come up with all sorts of theories about how our brains are wired differently so as to explain this phenomenon...

  6. Bob
    September 4, 2014 at 12:45 am

    Ah, another miandrist male genocide advocating journalist in the game industry supporting a woman who claims to be able to time travel, makes fake threats against herself to commit fraud ,and steals money.
    How... awful.

    • Tim B
      September 4, 2014 at 12:54 am

      How many mental hurdles you need to jump over to convince yourself that Sarkeesian is doing this... for what? Just to piss you off? Does a gaming landscape where women aren't treated as a sub-species scare you that much?

      The saving grace for the rest of us is that it doesn't really matter what people like you think – these videos are having a massive impact on the industry and the way games will be made in future. The more people try to discredit them the clearer the message becomes – so keep it up ;)

  7. Dave
    September 2, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Hmm...guess it's time to remove this site from my rss feed.

    • p3ngwin
      September 2, 2014 at 11:31 am

      yep, and Joss Whedon's comment made me lose some respect for him too :(

  8. Pieter
    September 2, 2014 at 6:45 am

    I've been following her videos on gaming from the start and she makes an excellent point and, as a gamer, I really hope this will eventually result in a more diverse gaming landscape.

    She's had to take quite some crap though, I can imagine starting this series did not make her life any easier. The threats, abuse and idle name calling should stop., they don't add anything to the discussion.

    • Tim B
      September 3, 2014 at 1:02 am

      I agree – I'd love to see this make a real impact on the industry.

      All the threats and publicity have only served to highlight the validity of her cause. While what she's had to go through is horrible, the publicity generated for FemFreq and the Women vs. Tropes project wouldn't have come anywhere near current levels without it.

  9. Justin D
    September 2, 2014 at 1:38 am

    This is awesome. Thanks for covering this, Tim.

    Anita Sarkeesian's videos are amazing, and it's so sad to see all the hate directed at her from the gaming community.

    • Tim B
      September 3, 2014 at 1:08 am

      I love these videos too, I was just waiting for there to be enough of them to justify a whole article :)

      I think I'm most disappointed by the fact that a surprisingly large portion of "gamers" aren't able to listen to a critical analysis of the medium and its shortcomings from a perspective other than their own without resorting to personal attacks.

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