Category Archives: Gender

Times Are A-changin': Bringing Diversity into the Spotlight at E32015

Sometimes, after a lot of yelling, typing, hand-waving, and crying, sometimes the powers-that-be actually listen. Even more rarely, they listen and then act. And when that happens, it becomes clear that speaking out and speaking up really do matter.

That happened today at E3. (E3, for the un-game-initiated, is the biggest industry conference in gaming.) During today’s XBox presentation, Microsoft–arguably one of the whitest and most male companies out there–not only put women and people of color up on their stage to speak, but they showed off a full slate of games that included female protagonists (Rise of the Tomb Raider, Dishonored 2, and Recore are the three I’m really excited about) and characters of color (Gears 4, Tomb Raider), customizable protagonists (Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 4) and dogs (Recore and Fallout 4). And those are just the big titles.

Twitter–my feed anyway–began commenting about halfway through at the abundance of women and POC (and dogs), and getting more and more excited as the XBox presentation continued. Knowing that, in addition to Microsoft’s games, Mirror’s Edge will also have a new (still with a female protagonist) game, makes me generally optimistic–for once!–about the future state of the industry.

After a couple of years during which I was seriously beginning to reconsider whether I even wanted to continue following games media out of a mixture of exhaustion and despair, this has brought back a lot of hope. Does this mean that the industry is now a paradise of female and POC empowerment (and employment)? Of course not. Women and POC in tech still face discrimination and harassment on a daily basis. They are underrepresented in employment statistics and on screen. But at least the on-screen part is getting better.

Baby steps. But even baby steps are steps. Sometimes it’s worth being thankful for what progress we get… before getting back in the ring and continuing the fight.

TLF: “Jade for Beauty: Positive Female Characters in Video Games,” ep. 2

My TLF review of Anita Sarkeesian’s second video in the Positive Female Characters in Video Games series (on Jade from Beyond Good & Evil).

A lot of my frustrations with this episode are less to do with the specifics about what Sarkeesian says than a lot of the assumptions and implications of what she says. Overall, I actually think her video is a decent review of why she likes the game, which is actually pretty informative (and made me consider playing the game). However, there are a lot of “feminist pitfalls” to it that I find problematic (as a fairly militant feminist myself), such as the assumption that any game with violence subscribes to hegemonic male militarism (although I don’t think she uses that exact phrase).

Shameless (not-self) Promotion: Perception

So for those of you–if there are any–who read regularly, I’m taking advantage of this blog to promote the Kickstarter campaign for a new game being developed by a team of former Irrational Games developers (one of whom I happened to marry). The game is entitled Perception, and I like it for a variety of reasons unrelated to the fact that it is being worked-on by a person I live with.

First, Perception has a female protagonist (Cassie). First-person perspective means that her attractiveness, costume, and physique are irrelevant.

Also, she’s blind. Yes, the game is played first-person perspective with a blind protagonist. Which is also pretty damn cool. You should check out the trailer to see how that works. (Also, yet another reason why her physical attractiveness is irrelevant.)

Third, it’s not a shooter. It’s a survival-horror game in which the player does not shoot things–instead, Cassie uses her cane to sense the objects around her–and interacts with them based on sound and memory.

In other words, it’s a game featuring a differently-abled female protagonist of undetermined race (probably white, let’s be honest, but we can’t see her and SHE can’t see her) who isn’t engaged in shooting things and who is independent enough to be exploring a house on her own even though she’s blind.

Yes, please.

Oppression Matters: Intersectionality, Feminism, and the Importance of Diversity as a Practice

On my way to a conference the other day, I was sitting on the plane reading Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back, a history of feminism. The young woman in the seat next to me interrupted: “Excuse me, is that a book on feminism?” (There’s a cartoon superhero akin to Wonder Woman on the cover.)

“Yes,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said. “Not to be rude, but I took a couple classes last year on gender and women’s studies, and they changed my life. I think everyone should have to take classes like that. It really changes how you think about things, you know? I didn’t used to consider myself a feminist, but I really am. It’s important.”

That is not what I expected. As a (somewhat militant) feminist, I have had people ask me if it’s rude to ask if I’m feminist, I’ve had people tell me they can’t call themselves feminists because they like men, and been called a “feminazi” and a “social justice warrior” as pejorative terms. The young woman in the seat next to me (who, by the way, was a woman of color) gave me hope, not simply because she was proud of being a feminist, but because of the half-hour conversation that ensued in which we talked about popular culture, feminism, intersectionality (when identities–like gender, sexuality, race, religion, etc.–overlap), and misunderstandings of what all these things mean. And she got it. She understood the importance not only of feminism, but of understanding it in a larger context–cultural, social, and political.

In the book, Freedman defines feminism as follows:

Feminism is a belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth. Because most societies privilege men as a group, social movements are necessary to achieve equality between women and men, with the understanding that gender always intersects with other social hierarchies…I use “equal worth” rather than equality because the latter term often assumes that men’s historical experience—whether economic, political, or sexual—is the standard to which women should aspire. (p. 7)

What’s most important about this definition is that Freedman acknowledges the significance of politics of oppression–that feminism isn’t about making women equivalent to men, but of giving them equal value. It’s also important to recognize that there is agency in oppression; women have historically been oppressed by men, as well as by other women. Feminism–as opposed to “humanism” (already a thing, by the way, that has nothing to do with gender: “humanism” is a secular system of religious non-belief)–recognizes that the purpose of eliminating oppression is elevating the oppressed (here, women, hence, “feminism”).

This is as true of other forms of oppression: against homosexuals, transsexuals, bisexuals, asexuals, pansexuals, etc.; against people of color; against religious minorities; against national minorities. It is also true that we cannot focus on just one to the exclusion of all others; feminism cannot trump any other kind of anti-oppression movement. We are all strung together; equality is equality.

But that is not to say that we can simply erase the markers of difference which have caused this oppression. We can’t turn to #alllivesmatter because ALL lives have not been threatened; it must be #Blacklivesmatter because the lives which have not heretofore mattered are black. It can’t be humanism (not just because it’s already a term), because women have not been treated as full humans. It can’t be about straight pride, because straight people have always been able to stand in the open.

Oppression matters.

And, to turn it back to games (because, after all, that’s the point of this blog), it’s important to acknowledge the lack of women, LGBTQ, and people of color in the industry as fans, content creators, and in the content itself. And it’s important to deliberately include diversity in games because it has been so long absent. The status quo is no longer acceptable, it’s oppressive.

And now that we see it, it’s even more important to make a point of changing it.

Perspective Shift: Talking Games in the Midst of Violence

Today a friend asked a very good question, and one that I think is valuable to try to answer for cultural critics and academics the world over.

He teaches in Baltimore, where, as anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, yet another protest has been sparked by police violence resulting in the death of a person of color. Given the context – not only Baltimore and Ferguson and North Carolina… but the earthquake in Nepal, the annexation of the Crimea, and so on – how can we keep talking about games? How can we ask our students to put aside everything they see going on outside their doors (sometimes literally) to talk about games? And, perhaps most importantly, given all this, should we keep talking about games?

My answer is yes – but also no. Yes, in the sense that talking about games is talking about culture and society and politics. Yes, because in talking about games we are (hopefully) talking about the issues that have led to the problems outside our doors. No, in the sense that we should absolutely not shut out what is happening outside. No, in the sense that it is vital that we talk literally about what is happening outside.

I believe that there are issues, concerns, and events that require us to put our planned classes and lives on hold because it is imperative that we stop to take a good, long look at what kind of society we have created, what acts we permit and what acts we condemn. I believe that what is happening now in Baltimore, what happened in Madison and North Carolina and Ferguson, is one of those events. Racism is a real, institutional problem that urgently demands our attention, and we need to not only allow, but encourage our students (friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues) to talk about.

And I also believe that these issues, concerns, and events appear in our popular culture media, including games. I believe that the problem of institutionalized racism appeared in Grand Theft Auto V and BioShock Infinite and Dragon Age and Fallout 3, and that each of those games attempted to address the problems of institutionalized racism through different lenses, to force their players to consider the ramifications of permitting the status quo to continue unchecked.

I also believe that institutionalized racism is a problem in many of these games, GTAV and Infinite in particular, because those games don’t fully understand or respect the ramifications of their privileged assumptions about race, class, and gender. And it is important for us to keep talking about them in order to make those problems visible, not only in the games industry, but in the world which these games reflect.

So yes, we need to keep talking about games. We need to talk about the good games can do if they seek to encourage social change. We need to talk about the harm games can do if they perpetuate social injustices without taking a critical stance. We also need to talk about the very real, very upsetting, very harmful things happening to real people in the real world, and remember that games matter because of the real world.

TIME 101

Last night, Anita Sarkeesian celebrated being named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of the year. The piece in TIME was written by Wil Wheaton, an advocate of equality and diversity in geekdom in general, and gaming in specific. He calls Sarkeesian “gaming’s feminist advocate,” and explains the general narrative of what has happened to her as a consequence of her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.

She’s categorized by TIME as a “Pioneer,” someone on the forefront of a field. And – no disrespect to Sarkeesian, who I think has done a lot of good for equality and diversity in gaming – I’m just not buying it.

She’s been put alongside Scott Kelly, an astronaut who is right now aboard the ISS for six months risking his health and body in order to study the long-term effects of microgravity on the human body; Misty Copeland, an African American ballet superstar whose participation in the American Ballet breaks down presumed barriers of racial bias against black women in the fine arts, as well as showing that dance is an athletic form; Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, co-creators of a gene-modification technique that “gives scientists the power to remove or add genetic material at will”; among others, including Emma Watson, whose address to the UN on global issues of women’s oppression led to her nomination.

I want to make perfectly clear that I think what Sarkeesian is doing is important and contributes value to the games industry and to diversity in general. I’m just not certain that it’s worthy of being named one of the 100 most influential people. For one, no one outside of geekdom and gaming knows her name (even if they might find her picture similar to the actress from the Law & Order: SVU episode that I wish had never happened). For another, her selection minimizes a lot of work being done in games diversity – not because her work is bad (despite my criticisms of it, it isn’t bad), but because there is a lot of complex, nuanced, and, frankly, better work being done.

What it boils down to for me is that Sarkeesian’s work – unlike that of many of the other people listed – isn’t going to change the world. It isn’t even going to do real work in changing games, although it has done a lot of good in terms of raising awareness (how I hate that phrase) about the harassment of women in the gaming community and online more generally. And someone needs to do that awareness-raising work, and it’s important, I’m just not sure it warrants a top-100-people-of-the-year spot.

I guess my ultimate concern is that Sarkeesian’s work is done by and for people with privilege. Even though women are maligned in tech and gaming, even though games focus predominantly on the straight-white-male figure, gaming is fundamentally the purview of the privileged. People involved in games have homes, food, and disposable income. This doesn’t invalidate the work of gaming criticism (I do gaming criticism, after all), but I would feel just as awkward if it were me (ha!) being nominated.

Is Sarkeesian a leader? Yes. Is she doing good? Yes. But I bet there are a lot of people whose work makes a bigger difference in the lives of people who are starving, displaced, impoverished, or dying who deserve the accolades more than a cultural critic.

TLF: Feminist Frequency’s Positive Female Characters in Video Games, “The Scythian”

So yesterday, Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency released a new video in a new series on videogames focused on positive depictions of women in games. It seems that these will be much shorter than those found in Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, and will focus specifically on a single character, rather than a laundry-list format.

On the one hand, this suggests that Sarkeesian is listening to some of her (rational) critics, who dislike the laundry-list format. And I think this is a good move – it allows for more focus, more nuance, and avoids the problem of rapid-fire lists. My write-up for TLF is here (includes links to video and transcript).

Feminist Illuminati: Academia, Feminism, and Gaming Mix Poorly

Today an article by Shira Chess and Adrienne Shaw – “A Conspiracy of Fishes, or How We Learned to Stop Worrying about #GamerGate and Embrace Hegemonic Masculinity,” published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 59.1 (2015) – came to my attention. Sadly, it lives behind a paywall at Taylor & Francis, so unless you’re an academic or willing to cough up some money, it will remain inaccessible. (If you do have access to an academic library, you can likely find a copy, however, and I would encourage you to do so.)

In some ways, the fact that Chess and Shaw’s article is locked within the Ivory Tower is deeply ironic, given that one of their points is that “The opacity of what we do, how we do it, and the language we use is often so far removed from the publics we are discussing that academia, itself, becomes part of the problem” (209). This is not a problem exclusive to games – any field into which academia dips its proverbial big toe encounters this barrier constructed of jargon, elitism, and paternalism which we call “academe.” Sadly, what this generally means is that normal, everyday people dismiss academics as being out of touch; we are, but not typically in the ways in which people think we are. Most academics are discussing subjects that are immediately relevant and significant to the sociopolitical world, just in terms and forms which are completely impenetrable to the uninitiated.

And this leads to an inherent distrust of the very people who are likely among the most equipped in the world to deal with the problems in those fields. It isn’t a good situation. When one combines this aversion to the academy with the typical response to “feminism,” as Chess and Shaw observe, things only get worse. And when this is compounded within game studies and, more frightening yet, games more broadly (fans and industry), it turns into the stuff of nightmares.

Some months ago, DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association), an academic organization supporting the study of all aspects of games and gaming, became the subject of inquiry for a spin-off group of GamerGaters referring to themselves as #OperationDiggingDiGRA (more on them here and here). The Twitter hashtag, with a repeated group of individuals asking questions and making comments about the “feminist conspiracy” underpinning DiGRA, spawned, apparently, by a Fishbowl panel hosted by Chess and Shaw at DiGRA’s 2014 conference.

What happened, explain Chess and Shaw, is that their open symposium-style panel (“Fishbowl”) and its attendant public Google Document designed for the audience to take notes and make comments had somehow come to the attention of GamerGate, who began to doctor and comment upon said document:

On September 1, 2014 we began getting emails that indicated someone was commenting on our Google Doc. The one that caught our eye was a comment that read: ‘‘guys, use the comments thingy, leave the thing unedited please. It won’t look credible to anyone outside of 4chan if doctored around.’’ Reviewing the edits, it had apparently been edited and commented on since late at night on August 31. One edit simply replaced ‘‘identity and diversity in game culture’’ with the word ‘‘penis.’’ Another deleted the title entirely and replaced it with ‘‘I fuck kids- op.’’ That version also altered nearly every paraphrasing of participants’ comments to include something about ‘‘sucking cock.’’ Finally, someone reverted it back to the original added a note stating: ‘‘It’s impossible for us to mess with it too much, because it can always be restored to a later version, like what I just did.’’ Another comment encouraged everyone to make a copy of the document, just in case. Being busy and uninterested in following the sophomoric edits via the log we made a copy of the original version and deleted the shared doc. We wondered, however, how anyone came upon our notes from an academic conference in the first place—or, for that matter, why anyone would find them interesting. (211-212)

The very fact that GamerGaters felt entitled to change a document in order to present it as evidence is itself evidence of a very different kind. Obviously, many of the original “edits” were simply there as trollish pranks – one assumes no one would believe that the spontaneous appearance of the word “penis” in a document was evidence of a feminist conspiracy in the academic ranks.

Naturally, this document alone was not the basis for such a claim. Instead, the document – discussing identity politics and gender-related issues – was mixed with journalists’ reports of harassment against Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian, blogs and thinkpieces about women in gaming, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and presented as “undeniable” evidence of a conspiracy within feminism (as though “feminists” are all members of a unified secret cabal) to destroy videogames.

When mixed with the fact that many academics – including those in game studies – receive federal grants for their research, this supposed feminist conspiracy took on a new level of nefariousness. After all, federal money funding a secret feminist cabal has to be insidious, right?

On September 9 ‘‘Sargon of Akkad’’ posted a YouTube video titled, ‘‘A Conspiracy Within Gaming.’’ The video promises that ‘‘The smoky-room Communist meetings in gaming actually exist, they’re just done in the brightly lit halls of academia’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). (213)

Sorry. Secret Communist feminist cabal. But what is interesting – both to me and to Chess and Shaw – is that somehow the status of ‘academic,’ typically conflated with “egg-head” and “tweed-wearing” and often dismissed by our students as pedantic and arrogant (at best) or out-of-touch and meaningless (at worst) became, to GamerGate, a legitimate threat:

In part, what appears threatening about academia is an assumed social standing: ‘‘It’s going to be impossible to fight against, because academics are viewed as intelligent people with  authority in their particular disciplines’’ (Sargon of Akkad, September 9, 2014). Evident in the IRC chat log, comments on the video, and numerous sites where the information was circulated, is that academia simply does not make sense from the outside. More than that it is perceived as threatening. (214)

Chess and Shaw go on to say that the opacity of academic discourse (a phrase in-and-of-itself that illustrates the academic tendency toward unnecessary obfuscation) is inhibiting legitimate conversations between fans and academics, and I can’t say that I disagree. What I do think is more wishful thinking than truth, however, is the idea that by becoming more accessible in our language and criticism that we, as academics, will be any less subject to being blamed for participating in feminist conspiracies.

GamerGate, as a whole, is not a movement built on or persuaded by logic or fact. Attempts by dozens if not hundreds of academics (some of them on the DiGRA listserv) to explain game studies to #OperationDiggingDiGRA participants came to a messy and mutually frustrated end, with neither side convinced whatsoever by the other, and those of us with English degrees tearing out our hair at the plethora of grammatical errors on one half of that conversation.

That isn’t to say that conversations can’t or shouldn’t happen across the Ivory Fence; they can and should. My point is more that academic transparency isn’t going to solve or inhibit movements like GamerGate.

In-and-of-itself, academic transparency is a good thing, something for which more disciplines ought to strive. It enables the transmission of knowledge, something sadly lacking these days, as not only GamerGate, but climate change denial and utter ignorance about basic female anatomy proliferates among the more conservative portions of the political population.

One of the conclusions at which Shaw and Chess hint – and one with which I can’t disagree – is the idea that academia is trying to change the status quo, except that it isn’t so much a conspiracy as it is overtly and directly advocating for change. But we don’t all agree on the direction that change ought to take, or even whether change is what is necessary. That said, academics, as a whole, tend to be liberal-minded advocates of advancing knowledge, in any and all possible forms that knowledge might take.

And yes, some of us are feminists. Some of us are advocating for more diversity, more tolerance, less objectification of women and less oppression of minorities. We are the proverbial and hated “social justice warriors,” but it isn’t a conspiracy in the sense of being at all hidden. We may use difficult language that the untrained find hard to penetrate, but we aren’t doing it in order to hide anything; we just speak a different language.

Women’s Day Post

Today is International Women’s Day, GDC (Game Developers’ Conference) and PAX (Penny Arcade eXpo) East are wrapping up, and GamerGate is still hanging on to its undead, stinky existence. In honor of all the women – of all stripes, shapes, colors, orientations, and identities – out there, I want to acknowledge the efforts, struggles, and battles you have fought and continue to fight every day.

I want to tell you that you’re awesome for getting up in the morning and walking out the door, for logging on to the internet, for raising your voice, for simply being each and every day. Every time you do any of these things, you make the world a little better, a little brighter, a little more equal.

Which isn’t to say that the war we call daily life is anywhere near over, particularly not for women of color, transwomen, queer women, women of size, women in third world countries, women in STEM and games, women in academia… you get the idea.

A lot of people have been posting in honor of International Women’s Day, most positively, with role models and inspirational encouragement. On the other side of things, some have been using this as an opportunity to point out how feminism is oppressing men, asking “When’s International Men’s Day?” (The answer, by the way, is November 19th.)

Yesterday (maybe in honor of International Women’s Day, maybe not) Cracked posted a piece about “Feminist Easter Eggs” in the Portal series. It’s a pretty good read, all things considered, but the five things they point to aren’t Easter Eggs (which are hidden surprises, usually fun or funny in nature) – they’re the whole point of the game. Having a game with all female characters (Portal) is not an Easter Egg. Having a female protagonist who doesn’t look at her own boobs is not an Easter Egg. Having an abused women triumph over adversity is not a bloody Easter Egg. These things are the central point of the games, but they’re termed “Easter Eggs” so as to… I don’t know… not offend male gamers who might be horrified to learn that a game they played and liked is feminist? I’m really not sure of the logic there.

But it points to one of the reasons why it’s so important to commemorate International Women’s Day – because we still consider “feminist” to be a dirty word, because women who aren’t white and affluent are erased from conversations of women’s rights, because women still make less than their male counterparts, because women have to work harder and produce more in order to receive the same promotions, because men and women both deserve equal parental leave and accommodations, because women who don’t resemble the media’s “perfect female image” are ostracized and insulted on a daily basis, because women have to fear walking home alone, because street harassment is normal, because women are “bossy” while men are “leaders,” because GamerGate exists, because #yesallwomen and #notyourshield and #1reasonwhy and #letgirlslearn, because we’re afraid to put women forward as role models and heroes… because of all these things and more.

Because there are girls growing up who believe that because of what is (or isn’t) between their legs, they are less suited for leadership positions, technological innovation, scientific research, academia, business, and pursuing their dreams.

Happy International Women’s Day.

Hedging our Bets: Kotaku on Sarkeesian

So yesterday Stephen Totilo of Kotaku did a write-up of a talk given at NYU by Anita Sarkeesian. Twitter and the internet in general naturally have things to say about this, some good, some bad. But what drew my attention was specifically a tweet from Emily Nussbaum:

So I went and took a closer look, and she’s right. There is something wistful about the piece, something hesitant, which seems to be keeping Totilo from actually taking the plunge and saying what he really thinks.

I don’t know Totilo. I have no idea if he’s a fan of Sarkeesian, a skeptic, or if he wishes she would disappear into the earth. But his piece reads like something struggling desperately not to alienate two disparate and at-war audiences: those who all-but-canonize Sarkeesian, and those who’d rather see her burned at the proverbial stake.

And I don’t really blame him. Totilo took a lot of heat at the beginning of the debacle that is GamerGate, particularly concerning pieces published by Kotaku which were written by “feminist sympathizers.” People demanded that he fire some of his writers and/or that he himself be fired. He’s had first-hand experience of the horrors of getting involved in the gender-and-videogames discussion.

So the fact that he was willing to jump back into the shark-infested waters to begin with shows some courage (or stupidity, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here, since he seems to be an intelligent man). Whether he likes what Sarkeesian has to say or not, he has to come at it with a very large dose of skepticism or risk alienating his readership. (Some people are okay taking that risk, but I get why he might not be.)

That said – and I do not blame him for hedging his bets – Totilo is somewhat dismissive of the fact that most of Sarkeesian’s points are art-based: “Sarkeesian’s emphasis on the critique of what players see, more than what they do.” He points out that because she doesn’t often talk mechanics or interactions, her “criticisms of gaming occupy a different spot than other people’s criticisms about, say, free-to-play game design, game length, or downloadable content. Those latter arguments clearly and directly pertain to whether a game would be more or less fun or engaging for any player, which for many gamers is the paramount gaming concern.” To me, this feels very much like a claim that “real critics talk about design and gameplay,” although that’s not explicitly what Totilo says.

By beginning with a discussion of how Sarkeesian doesn’t really identify as a gamer (sort of) how she plays mostly Nintendo games of her own volition, and how she enjoys casual games (like Angry Birds) most, Totilo has set her up as a non-gamer (or at least, not as a hardcore gamer) whose criticisms are about the “fluff” of games, rather than the core component – “the paramount gaming concern.”

Furthermore, he concludes with the following statement:

As easy as she had suggested some of the changes in gaming could be, so much of this is likely to be controversial—and not just because someone might be sexist. How do you balance creators’ freedom with the need or desire to open a game up to a broader audience? How do you assess which portrayals of women in games attract or repel male or female gamers? How do we truly determine the impact of the characters we see or control on how we relate to those characters or view the world?

The implication, of course, is that what Sarkeesian suggests is restrictive to developers’ freedoms, that female characters are somehow repellent to gamers, and that it shouldn’t matter what our gaming avatars look like because in the end ‘it’s just a game’ (my words, not his).

And that’s where he lost me for good. I get wanting to make the article as palatable to his readers (many of whom are hardcore gamers) as possible, but to dismiss Sarkeesian’s criticisms as functionally fluff that ultimately doesn’t matter is to take a political side. Sarkeesian’s requests are not about restricting the freedom of developers any more than a critique of a film is designed to restrict the freedom of its director or actors. It’s about making the medium better for everyone – about opening up options, not closing them off.

Furthermore, even bringing up the idea that adding gender balance and reducing sexism (and racism) in games might be infringing on someone’s “freedom” is to borrow a tired trope from the privileged class: someone else pointing out oppression is not censorship. Bigotry, racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. are not freedoms; they are themselves restrictive and oppressive, and exercising them is not a right. No one has the “right” to harass others, objectify others, or oppress others. Asking someone to stop even unintentional oppression is not stifling creativity – it’s allowing for more voices to contribute, more perspectives to be considered, more to be created.

So, in the end, while I understand Totilo’s hesitancy to really take a stance – and he tries very hard not to – he ends up falling back into the same hedge-maze of games criticism and journalism, walking in circles rather than finding the way out.

Does Anita Sarkeesian have the answers to the problems of sexism and racism in games? Probably not – or at least, not exclusively or perfectly. Are her eight points really as “easy” as she thinks? Almost certainly not, nor are they going to “fix” things the way she seems to imply. But considering them – and the intentions behind them – would probably make games better, not because they would restrict the “freedoms” of developers, but because they would cause those developers to think about and then intentionally choose specific characters, motions, and mechanics instead of defaulting to the same old, tired sexist tropes without any consideration given to why they’re being employed.