Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming And Attempted Mob Censorship – Why It Didn’t Work

Justin Pot 04-09-2013

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist vlogger who apparently wants to destroy video games. The plan, according to an easily agitated section of the web, goes something like this:

  1. Analyze common video game tropes as they relate to gender.
  2. ???

I know this sounds stupid, but when Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter in early 2012 to make a “Tropes Versus Women In Video Games” series on YouTube, some of the feedback was…unpleasant.

Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming And Attempted Mob Censorship - Why It Didn't Work sarkaseen flood

People flooded her social media accounts with rape jokes, pictures of video game characters molesting her, and worse. Her existing videos were flagged as spam – some even briefly taken down. Attempts were made to hack her email and social media accounts. There was even a “game” that allowed people to beat Sarkeesian – every click revealed a Photoshopped version of her face looking more and more battered.

Basically: a mob formed and tried to shut her up. “Don’t touch video games,” seemed to be the battle cry, as though the creation of videos examining games could somehow threaten the entire medium.

Of course, there was also positive feedback. The goal of raising $6000 was absolutely crushed: $158,000 was the final tally. A year later and the videos are starting to come online – the first three, examining the “Damsel In Distress” trope, are already out. They describe a common story element with a long history in gaming – one shouldn’t be surprising to anyone familiar with the medium. I recommend them if you’re a fan of video games, vlogging and thinking about pop culture from a distinct point of view.


Do I agree with everything she says here? No. Did I find mistakes? Absolutely. Do I understand why people were upset enough to harass the creator? Not at all.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but harassment is wrong. Criticize ideas you disagree with. Don’t attack people for having and expressing ideas– even if you dislike their tone.

But beyond being (obviously) wrong, however, harassment simply doesn’t work. If anything, it hurts the point you’re trying to make. Here’s just a few reasons why, using the campaign against Sarkeesian as an example.

It’s Counter-Productive

If someone says you have an anger problem, yelling “NO I DON’T!” and punching them in the face is probably not the smartest way to respond. If someone says your religion is violent, shooting them might not be the best way to construct a counter-narrative. And it’s hard to think of a worse response to an examination of sexism than the use of gendered slurs and pornographic images.


This is why I’m so completely baffled by the response to Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter: it undermined whatever point it is that this hive mind was trying to make. If you don’t think sexism is a problem in video games, fine – make that argument. Harassment, though, hurts your argument more than it helps.

It Distracts From Legitimate Counterpoints

As with any analysis from a particular point of view, there are flaws with Sarkeesian’s videos. There is room for countering her arguments, and doing so is part of any healthy discussion. Those counter-arguments are happening now, and are worth a watch if you’re interested in the discussion.

The above video adds to the conversation. Abusing the spam function in YouTube to take down a video you dislike subtracts from it. It’s really that simple.

It Doesn’t Stop Anything

Anita Sarkeesian, Gaming And Attempted Mob Censorship - Why It Didn't Work Streisand Estate


Those who insisted on harassing Sarkeesian are no doubt familiar with the Streisand Effect, which states that trying to censor something on the Internet is the only certain way absolutely everyone will see it. The above photo became on of the most famous on the Internet when Barbara Streisand tried to have it removed.

Well guess what? Harassing Sarkeesian – and attempting to get her videos removed from YouTube by abusing the Report function – basically ensured that not only that her videos would be funded, but also that they would get a ton of media attention upon release. To paraphrase John Gilmore: the broader Internet interpreted your attempt at censorship as damage, and routed around it.


There are thousands of lenses through which you can look at any cultural artifact – video games included. Want to discuss Final Fantasy VII as the tale of the proletariat struggling to overthrow a capitalist regime? You can do that. Look at any subject from any single point of view and you’ll find negative and positive interpretations to be made based on it – and things you can learn about the world from them.

It’s important to hold multiple ideas in your head simultaneously. It’s perfectly possible that Super Mario Bros 3 includes antiquated gender roles and is also the greatest damn platformer of all time.


Lots of people are looking at gaming through lenses I disagree with. There’s this random Christian site, which seeks to “rate” games based on which taboo subjects they do or don’t mention – regardless of whether those games are actually good from a gameplay perspective. Sarkeesian goes out of her way to point out that a game with problematic gender roles could still be fun to play – she’s merely trying to start a conversation.

So let’s do that. Is Sarkeesian’s examination of video game tropes constructive?  Is ignoring Peach’s playable status in some of the best Mario spinoffs Mario Gets Around - 4 Best Mario Spinoff Franchises [MUO Gaming] Besides the platformers that Mario is known for, there are a ton of spinoffs that feature the famous plumber's name and face attached to them. Almost all of the franchises with Mario's name are of... Read More a discredit to the character? Will this discussion have an effect on the ways game studios reinforce negative body images for women 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 ? Or are game studios not even paying attention? And what role does the existence of badass female characters in gaming The 3 Most Badass Female Video Game Characters Ever [MUO Gaming] It is a sad fact that video games are an entertainment medium that caters mostly to men. As a result, most of the main characters in games tend to be male, and many females are... Read More play in the wider discussion? Let’s talk about this and more in the comments below.

Related topics: Kickstarter, Politics.

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  1. Vouze
    October 22, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    I search secondary sources about troll attacks against Anita Sarkeesian ?
    Any sources which use only images from her web site or her videos is invalid.

  2. Eva
    September 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Oops, I just see you used the exact same punching metaphor in the article. Must have read over that. ;-)

  3. Eva
    September 13, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Awfully late to all this, but I think what one can extract from a lot of the reactions to these videos is one simple piece of advice:

    If a woman has pointed out inherent sexism in something you enjoy or take part in, then attacking her with misogynistic slurs and rape threats is a really, really bad way of proving that you aren't sexist, or that *she* is the one blowing things out of proportion. It's like when someone calmly tells you that you might have slight anger issues, and you are so annoyed by that false accusation that you punch them in the face.

  4. Guy M
    September 5, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Lara Croft was anything but weak. And she looked good while kicking butt. I don't mean pretty, or well-endowed, I mean she looked like a person who could do what she was doing.

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Single exceptions don't disprove a trope, though – they're common tendencies, not universal ones.

    • Guy M
      September 5, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      Tropes is on your Word-A-Day calendar isn't it? ;)
      I agree, it doesn't disprove the theory. What it shows is that female (or any gender for that matter) characters that aren't just T&A, can be done and still sell games. They can even create franchises as Tomb Raider did.

  5. MacDude
    September 4, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I'm not a gamer but have done some research on gender and the use of technology. As one young girl put it, "why can't there be a game with a woman protagonist where she rescues the sleeping male? Just a question. Do such games exist?

    • Wayne
      September 5, 2013 at 3:01 am

      yes it is
      its called SKYRIM
      you can choose a woman as protagonist
      and save the world from DRAGON

    • kashdoller
      September 5, 2013 at 11:01 am

      Who in the world would want to play a game like that? Or more precisely what male wants to be rescued by a woman? Likewise I doubt any females (if they are honest with their true feelings) would want to go through all that bullshit and rescue their "prince"? She'd view him as a weak loser and spit in his face and walk away. That's the reality.

      But to answer your question there are plenty of games with female protagonist characters - Metroid has been out with various versions since the 1980's on the original Nintendo and the main character is a woman.

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 2:24 pm

      There are games where you can choose your gender, like Skyrim, but there are few games with a well-developed female character with a plot specifically centered around her. Metroid comes to mind, as does Tomb Raider.

      But a couple of exceptions can't disprove a trope's existence – a trope is a tendency, not a universal rule. Sakeesian is pointing out dozens of examples of the trope, and not claiming the trope to be universal when she does so. All she wants is for us to realize it exists and think about that says about our culture.

    • dragonmouth
      September 5, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      "a well-developed female character"
      How do you mean that, Justin?! :-)

    • Chana
      September 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      Kashdoller, I think you're making a pretty big generalization there about what gamers want, and you're relying on gender stereotypes. 1-video games AREN'T the reality. They're fantasy. The same way a lot of people, both male and female, would NOT want to either really live in medieval times or really experience frequent sword fights. So even if you think those are the ways that men and women experience real life, that doesn't mean those are the games they want to play. 2- I don't think that's the way all men or women experience real life. And I think a lot of the ones who do experience it that way do so because gender stereotypes have been forced on them (it's interesting to note that in countries with more gender equality, like Sweden, gender stereotypes are much less rigid). I note that you didn't say guys didn't want to get rescued. You said they were afraid of being ridiculed (for not sticking to male gender stereotypes!) Strict stereotypes are actually bad for all involved, not just women. 4-Why stick to a model where one gender has to be passive and rescued to be valued, and one has to be active and violent to be valued? Can't we have games where both men and women have active roles? No one's saying you can't play the ones where that isn't true-but can't we imagine games where the plot doesn't rely on sorting the characters into little gender boxes?

    • Chana
      September 12, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      I realize that my post is kind of jumbled, not because I'm a women or because I'm stupid, but because I'm typing while ill, always a dangerous activity. The point is a-you're assuming that people really like the gender roles they play in real life, which is not always true, b-you're assuming that all people play very conventional gender roles in real life, also not always true, c-you're assuming that men and women want very different things out of the games they play, which I also don't think is true. If men don't want to play games where they're rescued, what makes you think women don't find that boring or insulting too? d-you seem to be saying that the main point of gaming for guys is or should be reinforcing gender roles-i.e., that the games make them feel "like men." I think there's probably some of that, but I also think most hard core gamers just want to have fun. And more complex games are more fun. So why should all games have to fall into the very old, very simplistic plot of "boy saves girl"? Always relying on gender stereotypes to define plot and characters is kind of a cop-out--why shouldn't we have games with complex characters of both genders?

  6. dragonmouth
    September 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    Sarkeesian should not have been treated the way she was. However, she is not going to change anybody's mind by preventing people from playing certain games.

    Sarkeesian says that she just wants to start a conversation. That is what all self-appointed censors say. In actuality they want to impose THEIR point of view on everyone else. I have no problem with people holding different points of view, as long as they keep those points of view to themselves or like-minded people. You may not like my lifestyle but do be trying to prevent me from living it.

    Sarkeesian does not like the way women are portrayed in some video games. Others do like the violence. Still others do not want various political, religious or ethnic groups included in games. And still others object to demons and other fantasy animals because they are creatures of the devil. If we let such people dictate what should and should not be included in video games, pretty soon there will be no video games at all because there are self-appointed censors who object to every facet of the games. Then there are those that object to video games as being a complete waste of time. If you don't like a particular game, don't play it but don't try to prevent others from playing it.

    • Saa
      September 4, 2013 at 10:53 pm

      You have a different point of view and I disagree with you, so could you please keep it to yourself or like-minded people? You are trying to censor other people's videos on youtube, and if it keeps like this Youtube will be closed, because there are things that people don't like there. If we let people like you dictate what should and should not be included on youtube, pretty soon there will be no videos at all uploaded because there are self-appointed censors who object to every facet of the videos. Nevermind the fact that you're just a commenter on MakeUseOf stating your opinion and not Google's CEO, if you don't like a particular video, don't watch it but don't try to prevent others from watching it.

      ... did you notice you aren't preventing anyone from watching the video, mostly because you didn't even mention watching it or not, but you're still a censor that's going to make Youtube be shut down? Anita even said at some point that what she says shouldn't prevent you from playing, and that most of the games she talks about are very good and *should* be played, but somehow she's a censor that will end the videogame industry? If we go by your logic, everyone should be quiet at all times and discussion should be against the law or something.

    • Katharine W
      September 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

      Sarkeesian has never stated that she thinks any of the games she criticises should be banned, made illegal, or taken away from the people playing them. Does she wish they were different and that game makers were less apt to use sexist stereotypes and tropes to sell games? Yes. That's not censorship. That's asking the game creation community not to pander to something that harms and degrades women. She is trying to educate people on why these stereotypes are harmful, nothing more.

    • Katharine W
      September 5, 2013 at 6:52 am

      I honestly do not understand where some people are getting the idea that Sarkeesian wants to make offensive games illegal. I've watched every single one of her videos, and at no point ever does she say anything even remotely like "games like this should be banned/illegal" or "people who make/play these games should be arrested". What she's trying to do is educate people on why these tropes exist, and how they are harmful to women, and to ask game makers to make more games that treat female characters as fully actualized beings instead of tropes, stereotypes, and vehicles for male masturbation or angst. That's it.

    • dragonmouth
      September 5, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      And how do you know what vehicles males use to masturbate?! I notice any comment from you is conspicuously absent from the 10 Spectacular Female Superhero Posters You'd Want to Gawk At. Don't you think those posters are a vehicle for something or other.

      "That’s not censorship."
      If you agree with the point of view, then, to you, it is not censorship. But to people that make a living from creating those games, it very much is.

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 2:41 pm

      "Sarkeesian says that she just wants to start a conversation. That is what all self-appointed censors say. In actuality they want to impose THEIR point of view on everyone else."

      Who isn't a censor by this definition? I find Sonic The Hedgehog games disgusting because of pour design, and am happy to talk to anyone about why I feel this way. Does that make me a censor? If not, how is it any different?

      The interesting thing is, in the movie and TV industry, there was massive censorship. For decades. It's why Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds – it was forbidden to imply that they ever even thought about sex. And this censorship didn't begin because someone "wanted to start a conversation", it started because someone in power decided what could and could not be portrayed.

      Sarkeesian can't censor video games in any meaningful sense of the word. She has no power – she's just someone who makes YouTube videos.

      The fact is she's taking video games seriously enough to break down the problematic elements, instead of just making a blanket statement like "video games are crap and should be banned". I think gamers should celebrate that, because it means the medium has come of age.

    • Matt S
      September 5, 2013 at 6:33 pm

      "She is not going to change anybody’s mind by preventing people from playing certain games."

      How do you expect anyone to take your seriously when you start your argument with a strawman so large it makes Godzilla look like a runt?

    • dragonmouth
      September 5, 2013 at 8:19 pm

      "Who isn’t a censor by this definition?"
      Exactly my point. But how many proselytize and get things changed?

      "Does that make me a censor?"
      Only if you prevent others from accessing Sonic Hedgehog.

      "The interesting thing is, in the movie and TV industry, there was massive censorship."
      Which was misguided but those insisting on censorship thought they had very good reasons. Did they? That depends on your standards. We also had the Prohibition. The temperance movement also thought it had very good reasons. Every censor can, and does, rationalize his view point.

      "it started because someone in power decided what could and could not be portrayed."
      Actually that is not true. It was the Bible thumpers and their followers that pressured the movie industry to start censoring its product. Just as it was the Bible thumpers and their followers who fought against "Demon Rum."

      "Sarkeesian can’t censor video games in any meaningful sense of the word."
      By herself she can't but if she can get a politically significant group of followers, they can pressure those that can censor video games. That is what happened with movie censorship and Prohibition.

      "she’s just someone who makes YouTube videos. "
      And Godzilla is just an overgrown lizard. Haven't you heard, online video is a very powerful medium.

    • dragonmouth
      September 5, 2013 at 8:20 pm

      "when you start your argument with a strawman"
      What strawman is that?

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      But she never once advocated banning anything, and goes out of her way to say at the beginning of every video that acknowledging problematic aspects of a game does not mean you can't enjoy them. What does she have to do to persuade you she isn't secretly trying to take something away from you? Buy everyone on earth a copy of Duke Nukem Forever?

    • dragonmouth
      September 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      I don't want to ban you from MUO, I just want you to stop writing articles about Linux because it is a cancer on the computing world and a communist O/S.

      Do you see the parallel?

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 9:53 pm

      No, I don't. There isn't one. It's more like saying "Your Linux articles only mention Ubuntu, and that's not fair because it causes people to think Ubuntu is the only Linux distro." She's pointing out flaws, not saying the medium is fundamentally flawed.

    • Katharine W
      September 6, 2013 at 6:32 am

      "I notice any comment from you is conspicuously absent from the 10 Spectacular Female Superhero Posters You’d Want to Gawk At."

      I didn't realize I was required to leave a comment on every post on this site in order to discuss this one. It's a puzzling requirement, to be sure.

    • dragonmouth
      September 6, 2013 at 1:18 pm

      "I didn’t realize I was required to leave a comment on every post"
      You don't. It's just that seeing as you are such a proponent of Sarkeesian's efforts and opponent of male masturbation vehicles, I would have thought you would be consistent and weigh in on that particular article. After all, the posters are designed to stir up fantasies.

    • Katharine W
      September 7, 2013 at 12:53 am

      I'm not opposed to men finding women attractive or sexy. I'm opposed to the fact that many female characters in video games seem to have the sole purpose of sexual gratification or fueling male fantasy (sexual or otherwise) instead of being fully actualized characters in and of themselves. What that other post has to do with this, or why the fact that I didn't happen to comment on it, somehow demonstrates my "inconsistency", is a mystery only you can solve apparently.

    • LOL Seriously
      September 29, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      "by preventing people from playing certain games."

      LOL, were you prevented by her to play a game? oh, dear you. LOL seriously.

    • dragonmouth
      September 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Oh ye of little foresight! Try to see past the end of your nose.

      No, I was not prevented by her from playing any game but only because she and her ilk have not yet managed to impose their philosophy. If she gets her way then the anti-violence crowd will come out of the woodwork next, demanding the elimination of violent acts from games. Considering that in most, if not all, games there are elements that can be deemed "violent", eliminating those games will have the gaming crowd reduced to playing Pong. Even Ms. Pacman can be considered violent with Pac Miss gobbling up all those little dots.

  7. Doc
    September 4, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    "Analyze common video game troops as they relate to gender." TROPES. Duh. :)

    • Justin P
      September 5, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Egg. It's on my face.

      Fixed it, but the comment remains to honor the memory of my screwup. :)

  8. zzz
    September 4, 2013 at 6:32 pm


  9. jkendal
    September 4, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Life was so much easier in the 70's when Space Invaders was all the rage.

    • Chad P
      September 4, 2013 at 7:35 pm

      I can kinda understand where this vlogger is coming from if she's only looking at specific cases that portray women badly in games - the DOA volleyball games and the Super Princess Peach 3DS game do not paint good portrayals of women. The DOA games are pretty overt about their pandering to those interested in perving at female figures. The Princess Peach game, on the other hand, while garnering good ratings on most game review sites I've seen, apparently has Peach deriving some of her powers from mood swings.

      On the other hand, though, while are games like the above mentioned titles and others that seem to demean females in games, there's also plenty of games out these days that treat male and female characters pretty evenly. The Elder Scrolls series, the Fallout games, Diablo 3, the Rune Factory games, these are games I like to play that treat male and female characters equally. Any content in the Elder Scrolls games or the Fallout games that treats women badly is either user-generated (and therfore not the fault of the game-maker but the fault of the user that made it,) or the offensive content is treated in a negative light. In the most recent Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, one of the factions, the Stormcloaks, has some hints of racism, and possibly some chauvinism, against some of the other species due to past events in the game's backstory. You're usually given the option of going along with such treatment or going against it, in one instance resulting in a fight.

      In the end, games with content that are offensive to some group of content will always exist so long as there people interested in those games. And there will likely always be people who find something offensive in video games, no matter how much or how little agreement they get on the topic from others. You can't stop people from making games with offensive content; not only is the definition of "offensive content" in many cases subjective and likely to change from person to person, but video games are just one of many forms of (entertainment) media protected by various laws, the USA's First Amendment Right to Free Speech, which is not the only such protection just one of the more well-known. You break these laws and get these games made illegal and you pave the way for much worse than that. The only thing you can really do if you find the content of a game offensive is not buy it and try to convince others to do the same. Try to get those games made illegal and you clear the way for censor-obsessed groups to purge any and all media of any entertainment value at all.

    • Saa
      September 4, 2013 at 11:30 pm

      Chad P:
      First of all, you're right, plenty of games treat male and female characters evenly, including those you mentioned. But lots of games don't, and Anita is talking about the sickness, not the healthy people. Still, if memory serves me right, one of Anita's videos on the Damsel in Distress series shows games without the problem or something like this.

      Now, about the last paragraph of your comment... nobody said anything about making those games illegal! Anita made the video to show people that all those gender stereotypes, even when not offensive, can be really harmful, and I guess to ask people to stop spreading them and making them the norm. But she's asking, not demanding! Censorship is extremely wrong and harmful to the culture, nobody disagrees with you there.

      The problem isn't so much "people should stop making games with offensive content" as it is "people don't stop making games using those (harmful and untrue) stereotypes (in this case, the whole 'women are fragile' thing), and this is BAD, so could you please, I don't know, show women as people?". Imagine something really common in games, even on the most famous ones, was showing black people as lazy. Imagine the final objective in Mario was to wake up a black person. Imagine the whole point of Link's adventure was to save Hyrule because the former hero was black and didn't do anything to help or prevent the situation. Now imagine someone makes a video about this, saying spreading the "black people are lazy" stereotype is harmful, and would people please stop making videogames where the only black character is lazy?. Now imagine this video gets everyone saying "ugh, stop complaining, n****!" and "black people should be slaves again!". Imagine yourself saying, "___, ___ and ___ didn't portray black people as lazy. Actually, in Skyrim, the College of Winterhold has some hints of misogyny, but you can fight against it. Oh, and as much as the games mentioned in the video are pretty offensive to black people, they shouldn't be illegal.". It doesn't have to be offensive to be wrong, and it doesn't have to be illegal to stop happening.

      I'm not trying to disagree with you, and I think all of the points you make are valid, but they're not related to the issue!