Rise of the Tomb Raider… I hope.

Following today’s announcement of the development of Rise of the Tomb Raider – the sequel to Crystal Dynamics’ Tomb Raider (2013) reboot – I am… hopeful but skeptical. While I loved Tomb Raider for a wide variety of reasons, the whole premise of today’s E3 trailer (released by Microsoft, which suggests an Xbox One release, although it was not specified as such) seems to retract a lot of what I actually liked about the new Lara Croft.

First of all, the trailer is structured as a visit payed by Lara to an older, white male psychologist, whose patronizing dismissal of Lara’s experiences (contained in flashbacks to running, shooting, falling, and running from a large bear) as generalized “trauma” is disturbingly paternalistic, both in the “you poor girl, daddy will protect you” sense and the “trauma is something we can fix” senses, neither of which bodes well for the new game’s ability to continue some of the more feminist “I may be terrified and female, but I can still kick your ass and outthink you at the same time” attitude that Lara had in the 2013 reboot.

The Lara – under a hood and ostensibly unidentifiable to the viewer just yet, grows increasingly agitated by the psychologist (as do I) as the trailer progresses, cracking her scraped knuckles and tapping an iconically booted foot. The psychologist discusses how it would be good for her to go outside, to “take walks,” etc. He says that many people lock themselves up as a result of trauma, but that there is “another type of person.”

“Do you know what happens to them, Ms. Croft?”

“They become who they were meant to be,” her voice answers, in a flashback, rather than in the office, and the trailer ends with Lara holding a torch in the midst of a vast cavern.

Okay, so she’s certainly claiming agency at the end in asserting her identity as “who [she was] meant to be” rather than as a passive victim afraid to leave the house, but the fact remains that she’s still seeing a psychologist about the experience of trauma – which runs almost completely counter to the image of Lara cultivated both in the original series and in the reboot. Although real people certainly often need professional help with their lives, Lara Croft is not a real people, and the placement of the trailer in a psychologist’s office increases the air of victimization (which is so often read as weakness) surrounding her.

Perhaps this was meant as a way to make her more real, more (as my students would say) “relatable” to the real people who play the game. I hope so. But I’m afraid that it in fact augurs a new vision of Lara in which her strength is stripped down (much like Metroid: The Other M did to Samus Aran) or even stripped away in order to present her as a damsel in need of assistance, rather than a woman who staunchly refuses to be damselled no matter what happens to her.

That’s certainly what Polygon seems to think, given the following tweet:

As much as I hope they’re right, I’m skeptical. After all, in far too many circles, making a female protagonist “hurting” and “human” mean making her into a victim with little-to-no agency, a weepy puddle of “female feelings,” because everyone knows that “real” women are fragile, emotionally delicate flowers. I can only imagine what Pratchett’s Lara would do if someone called her a “delicate flower.” I hope this one is the same.

I really hope that my trepidation regarding Rise of the Tomb Raider (to be released late 2015) is unfounded and that perhaps they’ve even brought writer Rhiannon Pratchett back to continue crafting the Lara she started. I hope that this is more of what I loved about Tomb Raider (2013), and not a shift back to the staid misogyny of older games in which women can’t kick ass, take names, and talk intellectual circles around their opponents and companions. I hope it does more of what it promised in 2013, rather than less. I’m willing to hope, I’m just not going to hold my breath.

Oh, and one more thing. He calls her “Ms. Croft.” She’s an archaeologist. She has a goddamn Ph.D. and found the historical remains of a city that most people didn’t believe existed (Yamatai). She deserves the “doctor” that goes with her name. Use it.

Edit: TLF Crosspost

Yes.

I’ve read a lot of posts like this one over the last twenty-four hours since the UCSB shooter incident. I’m going to add my voice to what I hope will become a cacophony because it’s important that we – women – are heard. It’s also important to remember that each of us has his or her own unique experience, that these problems are faced by other minorities and oppressed classes besides women, and that it is vital that any and all people who experience abuse, harassment, and threat for being who and what they are deserve basic human dignity, be they men or women or trans, be they gay or straight, be they white, black, purple, blue, yellow, tan, brown, orange, red, pink, green, or multicolored.

As far as life experience goes, I’ve led a fairly privileged one. I am white, from an upper-middle-class background, went to private school, and am overeducated (I’m an academic, that last one goes without saying). I have a job, cats, a husband. The life I lead is heteronormative and privileged. I have food every day, whatever I want, and I own more electronic devices than I know what to do with. In the grand scheme of things, I have it pretty damn good.

But none of that means I’m immune from the plethora of things that are now being hashtaged #Yesallwomen. I stopped counting the number of catcalls and offers of dates I’ve received a long, long time ago. Some were polite. Many were not.

In grade school, my best friend and I were taunted for being lesbians because we only ever hung out with each other.

In high school, I was verbally harassed on a daily basis. Sometimes sexually, sometimes not.

When I was 19, I was groped in a bar in England. Yes, I’d been drinking. This is when I learned that my instinctive response to this is violence, and I left the groper lying on the floor while my companions hustled me out of the club. That same year I was thrown across a room in my dorm for refusing to obey orders from one of my drunken “friends.”

While at work on the Freedom Trail, I received a variety of offers to “do it like the Puritans,” offers to help me out of my colonial dress, and to “engage in reenactment” with a man in a Redcoat uniform from another site whose response when I said “No thanks, I’m married,” was “That’s okay, me, too.”

Once on my way home from work (while in grad school), I was used as a masturbatory aid by a man whose face I never saw on a very crowded T.

Over the last two years, I have dressed up as a gold statue and been harassed repeatedly while working. One man pressured me for my hotel room number. Another offered to help scrub the gold paint off me. Others just made general lewd comments. Most of us had our butts grabbed more than once per evening.

Last week, while wearing running shoes, jeans, and a rainbow tie-dyed tshirt, I was told to “work it baby, yeah” while walking down the street to the grocery store.

I am not a particularly “sexy” person. If you saw me on the street, that horrible phrase that should never be uttered (“She’s asking for it”) would never occur to you. I use power tools, I play videogames, and I lift weights. I’d rather be called buff than hot. And yet, I can’t go to the grocery store closest to my house after 8pm without being propositioned (in three years – if I go after 8pm, someone has to hit on me, sometimes politely, more often not).

I am not telling these stories for pity. There are far more people out there who are far more deserving of sympathy than I am – I tell these stories precisely because they are seen as so very banal. Because I don’t really think about them unless someone brings up the fact that our culture not only permits, but even encourages such behavior.

These stories of mine are so ordinary, so pervasive, that every woman who reads this will have a dozen more just like them, and many women will have stories that are far, far worse.

That that is unacceptable.

Let’s Be Critical

So I’ve recently started doing more research into what’s been written about games, and games and gender in specific. The answer, sadly, is “not much,” and I’m not only speaking about volume, but also depth. While there certainly are some worthy pieces out there in the aether, they are few and far between.

For one thing, some of the best criticism I’ve read about games and gender has been journalistic; this isn’t in and of itself a problem, but it does raise the question why academic works touching on the question aren’t doing as good a job as journalists – especially when academics generally pride themselves on critical rigor. Journalism also doesn’t rely on research and theory nearly as heavily as the academy, which means that even brilliant pieces of journalism lack some of the components academics look for simply by virtue of genre. And it’s great that there are good critical journalistic pieces out there – but they aren’t the kind of criticism I’m looking for (neither, by the way, is this blog – nor is it meant to be).

Nick Yee’s The Proteus Paradox (2013) has theory, research, and thoughtful criticism, but it isn’t focused on the parts of games that I, as an academic with training in literary criticism, am looking to find. It’s a good book, but I want to find more pieces that engage not only in social scientific inquiries, but also humanities-based research. In short, I want to see more of what I want to do: narratological (with or without ludological) analysis of games with regards to their impact on questions and discussions about gender and identity.

I’ve seen a couple of well-done pieces in the Approaches to Digital Game Studies series edited by Gerald A. Voorhees, Josh Call, and Katie Whitlock, although not generally focused on gender questions, and I was hoping to find (but didn’t) similar pieces in From Barbie to Mortal Kombat and Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. Instead, I find repeats of the same, tired, and (I believe) misleading idea that women don’t play games because there’s something different about women and girls. Maybe it isn’t that we can’t play games, maybe it’s that we just don’t like them…yadda yadda.

It’s disappointing to find that even the critics to whom I would turn for a good critical feminist analysis are coming back with “Look, a damsel!” as the most complex example of criticism they can produce. Yes, there are a lot of damsels in games. Let’s move on now to something more interesting, like, say, examining the precise nature of how this particular damsel functions as social commentary, either positive or harmful.

I try to do some of this in my reviews, and do it moreso in the pieces I have published on Dragon Age (although not on gender, yet), but most places I look don’t have that kind of critical depth. Instead, most writers seem to feel obligated to defend their choice to write on games for at least the first three pages of their article. I think that by now we need to move past that defensiveness and start doing the kind of critical work that many of us have been trained to do – focus in on details and context, do the research, invoke the theory, and analyze the games.

And that means, for the love of all that is and is not holy, that you must play the games in order to write about them. As both a gamer and an academic who writes on games, there is nothing more infuriating than realizing someone is analyzing a game that they haven’t played. If you want to talk in general terms about it on your blog or in a catalog piece, then fine, but if you’re going to present yourself as a gaming academic and write on a game in academic circles, you had better have played that game. Repeatedly. Maybe even on legendary.

The point is, we can’t both complain that people don’t take our work seriously as feminist critics and then not play the very games that we set out to analyze. Our voices are dismissed because we become enmeshed in social justice projects to “get more girls to game” or “desexualize female characters” and lose our ability to explain why those things are problematic to begin with. We can’t criticize games for objectifying women without also demonstrating that those games do objectify women and that, in doing so, those games are doing harm to the social perspective of women. If we want to call ourselves feminist critics of games, then we need to go back to the games, analyze the games as texts, and play them with every bit as much attention as we would read our Butler or Foucault or Irigaray.

Pink and Purple Unicorns

Several recent things have come together to spur this post, including the always-unfortunate reading of internet comments, my Twitter feed, and my academic research. First, I’ve recently read From Barbie to Mortal Combat, published in 1998, and have started working my way through Beyond Barbie and Mortal Combat, published in 2008. Second, I recently read a news story about how women are no longer to be permitted to teach Bible classes at some Christian colleges. Third, the following tweet:

What they all have in common is the assumption – or, in Todd’s case, challenging the assumption – that women must somehow want something inherently different than men, or, as the next sequence of tweets suggests, that women are somehow biologically deficient when compared to men:

Maddy’s tweets (and I did skip several intervening ones that illustrate rather colorfully just how angry this concept makes her) show another fundamental problem facing not only women, but all minorities in most situations (not just gaming). It’s the kind of warped Darwinian logic that was used in prior centuries to explain why people from Africa were intellectually inferior to people from Europe – and, like that argument, the claim that women have poor reflexes is the consequence not of genetics, but socialization.

Men have better game-playing reflexes in general because more men than women play games from an earlier age. More boys are expected to play videogames than women. More boys are taught to play sports. All of which hone coordination and reflexes. Mythbusters recently did an experiment about the myth of “throwing like a girl” in which they learned that men and women throw exactly the same with their off hand – meaning that men’s supposed natural ability is conditioned by their expectations, both taught (in playing) and observed (watching men play professional baseball, for instance).

That aside, the notion – which seemed to be accepted without much problematization in From Barbie to Mortal Combat – that women must necessarily want something different than men (physical abilities aside) is equally ludicrous. While it is true that women are socialized to like pink sparkly things, unicorns, and rainbows, women and girls are not genetically programmed to like them. In fact, a few centuries ago, blue was considered feminine (one of the reasons the British Army wore red).

Women and girls are no more genetically predisposed to like Barbie Fashion Designer than they are anything else; their supposed preferences are entirely socialized. Socialization doesn’t make those desires any less real, of course, or any less valid, but the point I’m making here is that there is no intrinsically “feminine” way that games must be in order to attract female players.

The answer to Todd’s question above shouldn’t be “What can games do to be more attractive to women?” but “How can games be less hostile to women?” Really, that’s the point where we (still) are in games; games objectify women, they victimize women, they place women in positions of little to no agency or control. And the gaming community is no better – perhaps even worse.

If you are a developer who wants more female gamers, then make your community and your game inclusive of women, rather than exclusively for women. Men and women don’t have to be dichotomized, and in fact shouldn’t be. Instead, games – any component of a modern and egalitarian society – should include everyone, catering not to a generic player (who is by default white, male, and straight), but to all players.

Life Choices

A few days ago, Border House writer Gunthera1 posted a review of the new Nintendo 3DS Tomodachi Life that highlights one rather glaring absence, the ability of players to choose to “marry” someone of the same gender in the game. The premise behind Tomodachi Life is life simulation; the Miis in the game interact with the other players’ Miis as friends, enemies, and even romantic partners, as long as both Miis are straight, of course. Same-sex couples – or even bicurious Miis – need not apply.

In response to a fan outcry and hashtag #Miiquality campaign (started by Tye Marini), Nintendo released the following statement:

Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life’. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that ‘Tomodachi Life’ was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.

Aside from the at-best-privileged-ignorance-and-at-worst-bigoted assumption that the vast majority of their players would have no interest in pursuing virtual same-sex relationships (which is a strange assumption), Nintendo’s insistence that “we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary” does a couple of highly problematic things. First, it assumes that games do not inherently contain “social commentary” simply by virtue of being cultural artifacts. They do. (So do tv shows, movies, books, and every other form of popular culture in existence.)

Second, it assumes that their audience isn’t smart enough to realize that someone had to code in heterosexuality as not only the default, but as required. Including a “romance” mechanic between Miis without gender distinction seems to me (and I’m admittedly not a programmer) to be a simpler thing to code than a “romance” mechanic with prohibitors based on the gender identity of a Mii. In other words, somebody made the choice to make all the Miis straight. Somebody (maybe the same somebody, maybe a different somebody) approved that choice, or even demanded it. Which means that even if the company at large didn’t mean “to provide social commentary,” somebody did.

Gunthera1 rightly suggests that this is an obvious, glaring, and even deliberate oversight on the part of Nintendo’s design team: “They decided who is included and who is excluded.” Games writer Samantha Allen made a similar post on Polygon, saying that “The more words a company needs to use to justify its exclusionary choices, the more simple its motivations. Call it a queer version of Occam’s razor. Behind all the corporate jargon and flowery public-relations language lies hatred, pure and simple.”‘

Whether or not Nintendo’s exclusion of non-heteronormative couples is “hatred” or privileged ignorance or a horrific miscalculation of audience demographic may be debatable, but – no matter how you read Nintendo’s intentions – it nevertheless sends a harmful, hurtful, and even (yes) hateful message to players. Those whose preference for same-sex Mii romance is precluded are rejected from fully participating in the game. Those whose personal preference might include same-sex partnerships feel insulted and marginalized (even more so than they already are). And, perhaps worst of all, those whose paradigmatic view of the world suggests that anything outside of heteronormativity is condemnable have their warped ideological position ratified.

To be fair to Nintendo, following the posts from Gunthera1 and Allen, the #Miiquality campaign, their PR department issued a second statement on May 9, 2014:

We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.

 Gunthera1 also posted a follow-up on Border House, stating that although

I am disappointed that this was not included in the original game. I am angry and hurt by the words of that first press release…I am hopeful for the future. This new statement shows that Nintendo realizes that lesbian, gay, and bisexual players ARE their fans and that their representation in games (or lack thereof) does matter. My hope is that this realization spreads within Nintendo and into the mindset of other companies. This is a matter that goes beyond Tomodachi Life and into all games.

I’m not sure that I feel the same sense of “hope” that Gunthera1 does, although perhaps that is simply a matter of my generally jaded response to PR statements that seek to shove dirt and grime under the rug by wailing “we didn’t mean it!” as loud as they possibly can. But I do see the point here; at least Nintendo did make a second statement that recognizes the diversity in their player-base. I’m skeptical of the claim that Tomodachi Life can’t be patched to permit non-heterosexual relationships, although I do understand that it may more be a matter of “we’ve already moved on to our next project” than it is “we can’t do it.” This is even more likely to be true of the company doesn’t expect Tomodachi Life to be particularly lucrative.

The May 9 follow-up is, as Gunthera1 suggests, better. It is more hopeful than a dismissal of diversity or a claim that – as we so often see in response to demands to include more women in games – “that’s not what fans want.” While I’m hesitant to call it a step forward, it at the very least is not a step back, and I suppose that’s something worth validating, even if not celebrating.

For now, I’ll wait to pass judgment until the next game is released, and will continue to look forward to games – like BioWare’s Dragon Age: Inquisition due out in October – that deliberately embrace diversity instead of (deliberately or not) excluding it.

That’s Just Normal

Today, Polygon ran an opinion piece by Jonathan McIntosh, producer of Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Videogames series, entitled “Playing with Privilege: The Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male.” As far as such pieces go, this one is fairly banal – well-written, accurate, non-inflammatory, non-accusatory, and straightforward, with no intentionally upsetting anecdotes about the kinds of harassment women receive while playing or discussing gaming, either online or in person. It doesn’t illuminate any significant aspects of gaming culture that those of us in it and aware of the problem don’t already know, but its reasonable tone might make it more likely to be read and absorbed by those who still remain ignorant… out of privilege.

I don’t really have much to say about McIntosh’s piece itself. I do – following a recent theme on this blog – have something to say about the comments. First of all, the comments are fairly tolerable, all things considered. No one gets called nasty names, no one gets told to make a sandwich, and no one gets called a “white knight” (although the trope does get brought up). There are a couple of things about it that bother me, though.

1. “It’s not just videogames.” This is one of those comments that bothers me in part because of its truth. Sexism (or privilege of any kind) isn’t just a part of the gaming community. Sexism is rampant everywhere, to greater or lesser degrees. As a female stage technician, I can say that it’s present every time I walk into a Home Depot and someone asks me if I’m shopping for my husband (nope – he buys me the power tools). As a woman in academia, I’ve had my work or ideas dismissed by the male academe (although fortunately not at my current place of employment). As a gamer, I’ve been asked for photos of my body parts, demands of sexting and cyber, told to get off the headset because I’m just talking for my boyfriend, and presumed to be shopping for my male counterpart when in a game store. Yes, sexism is everywhere. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about in gaming just because it happens on the street, at the office, and in hardware stores the world ’round. It happens everywhere, we should address it everywhere, and that includes in gaming.

But the one that really gets me:

2. “It’s not privilege, it’s just normal.” Yes, it is just normal. For you, the straight white male. And that is the very definition of privilege. Because for me, it isn’t normal. It has become normalized, accepted as “the way it is,” but because I can see that it isn’t normal for you, the SWMG, I understand that it is only normal for me because I am Other than SWMG. You do not have to see that your “normal” is privileged because that is the very essence of privilege: that you do not have to see that your normal is for others the unattainable-but-longed-for. To call your normal privileged is not to insult you or suggest that you somehow have attained something you do not deserve. You do deserve your normal. But so do the rest of us who, by virtue of our birth, have been excluded from that normal.

As I write this, I am very much aware that to be able to discuss the ramifications of sexism (ablism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) in gaming culture is itself a privilege. I have access to the money, technology, and time to participate in a culture that is a measure of my leisure and luxury. I have the ability to play videogames, the money to pay for them, and the sociopolitical infrastructure to do so online and without fear of official or legal sanction. And all those things are markers of my membership in a privileged nation, society, and community.

There are larger problems in this world than sexism in gaming. There is poverty, sexual trafficking, genocide, war, hate crime, religious persecution, and widespread sickness. There are things that many of us can – and probably should – do to improve all those things, even on a microcosmic scale. But I also firmly believe that the culture of the privileged can be changed – from both the position of those who create it and those who consume it – in order to be better, more equal, less tolerant of hatred and marginalization. If the culture of the privileged is that toward which we all aspire, then that culture should be one which embraces rather than excludes, encourages rather than excoriates.

So while, yes, there are bigger problems, larger issues, and more widespread discrimination, that does not mean that we should allow the symptoms of the larger disease to go untreated. Yes, we should be searching for a larger cure, but the disease can be managed by treating the cough, the nausea, and the pain while we labor to find the panacea it so desperately needs.

Comment-ment Problems

So I’m starting to dread comment notifications on TLF. I guess I’m lucky that most people haven’t found this blog, since it means that I’m not inundated with depressing comments on a more regular basis.

Today’s featured comment is in response to a cross-post here about another comment from TLF. It suggests that by pointing out the problematic nature of the phrase “wom[e]n like…” I am thereby effacing any sort of distinction between men and women.

Well, in the case of criticism, yes, yes I am. I don’t think that the gender of a critic, an academic, a journalist, etc., is a relevant criterion when one is discussing – whether positively or negatively – their opinions. I did not say that Sarkeesian’s “female experience,” to borrow the most recent commenter’s phrase, was irrelevant to her viewpoint. Nor did I ever once suggest that “everyone is identical,” as the commenter concludes.

Instead, I said that one’s viability as a critic is not determined by one’s gender. Nor, for the record, is one’s viability as a critic determined by race or sexuality or religion. That does not mean that one’s experience as a member of any of those groups is invalid or not valuable. But it does mean that if I, as a white woman, wanted to criticize the racial depiction of a character in tv or a videogame that my race and gender are irrelevant to the quality of that criticism. I can’t personally speak to the “Black experience,” to quote the commenter, but I can suggest that, for instance, Bioshock Infinite contains a highly vexed depiction of race (and gender).

To reduce my disparaging of the phrase “women like…” in regards to the first commenter’s dismissal of Sarkeesian’s opinion as being intrinsically female to the statement that there is no distinction between male and female experiences of the world is being intentionally obtuse. Sarkeesian isn’t writing about the female experience. Neither am I. I’m talking about a critic’s perception, an academic’s observations.

Are they colored by whatever other components influence my life? Of course they are. But to say that my voice should be subsumed into the general category of all women before it should be considered academic or critical is both dismissive and reductionist.

For that matter, to suggest that there is a single “female” or “male” or “Black” experience that is shared by all people of that designation is equally reductionist and problematic (if that is in fact the intention of the commenter… which I hope it is not, as to assume so is to be guilty of the very crime of which I stand accused).

In the grand scheme of internet comments, this one is banal, even benign. Yet the perpetuation of the attitude that biology or genetics must inherently make us categorically unequal is infuriating. Of course every individual is skilled or unskilled, good or bad, at different things. I am not a construction worker or rocket scientist and do not pretend to be. But I am a trained carpenter and electrician, a gamer and an academic, an aerialist and a stage manager. Those things are not categorically part of the “female experience,” and my gender is irrelevant to all of them (with the exception of the kind of costumes I wear in aerials)

In fact, what the commenter calls the “female experience” is almost entirely socialized – the product of socialization far more powerful than biology. And anything that is socialized rather than inherent, any experience that is the result of a false inequality, although all too real to those who experience it, should not determine their competence or identity. Yes, women are treated differently than men, but aside from purely biological functions, they should not be, nor should Blacks be treated differently than Asians or Native Americans or Hispanics or Latinos or Arabs or Whites. They are – but they should not be.

So when I suggest that the phrase “women like…” is problematic, I don’t mean that women don’t experience sexism, but, rather, that they should not, and that the evaluation of their work should be on its own merits, on the content of their character rather than the color of their skin or the chromosomes in their DNA.

“Woman like Anita”: What’s (Not) Wrong with Critical Fandom

About a week or so ago, I received a new comment on an old TLF post on Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Videogames” project. The original post was written before Sarkeesian actually released any of her videos (there are subsequent posts on TLF that talk about each video once they were released), and has garnered more attention than any other post I’ve made at TLF, which bothers me a little if only because it’s since been dated by the release of Sarkeesian’s videos (Post #2, Post #3, Post #4)  and I’d like to see people follow the conversation, not react to the original post. But that little complaint aside…

This most recent comment bothers me quite a bit, and I was having trouble figuring out why, exactly, since it’s a far cry from the kind of internet troll harassment that people talking about Sarkeesian’s work usually get (i.e. no threats or demands for sandwiches). However, there are several things about it that bother me.

First, the assumption that “No one has yet come to the realization that this anita sarkiseen woman has done it for the attention and the money? Thanks internet for giving this woman a free ride in cash and picks with universities” is irrelevant. Yes, Sarkeesian is making money with this series. So what? People make money doing what they do for a living. This is what she does for a living. The idea that somehow her publicizing her work and speaking about it in public is a sign of corruption is ludicrous. I talk about gender and games, I publish about games, I teach about games, and part of the reason I get paid is because of that. It’s my job. Sarkeesian may be self-employed, but talking about “Tropes vs. Women” is nevertheless her job and she should get paid for it, irrespective of whether or not anyone agrees with her opinions.

Second, this sentence: “Woman like Anita are a waste of time and nothing more than a media-eyelight eyesore forcing their way on how games should be.” Any sentence that contains the phrase “Wom[e]n like…” should immediately set off warning bells, since it presumes that the gender of the person doing something is relevant (hint: it usually isn’t). In addition, the idea that anyone‘s opinion on “how games should be” shouldn’t be made available to the general public is absurd. Anyone who plays games or wants to play games is allowed, by virtue of being human, to have an opinion about what they think “games should be.” That doesn’t mean the industry is going to listen to them, but they’re welcome to declare their opinion anyway.

Third, the commenter claims that “This is why innovation in games is getting more stale and less appealing to because of those like Anita, who believe the game world should be the real world and reflect their wants and needs.” Um. The game world does and should reflect the real world and reflect the “wants and needs” of the people who play in it. That doesn’t mean that all game worlds are going to reflect the “wants and needs” of Sarkeesian, but that there ought to be game worlds that do – as well as game worlds that do not. Gaming is a new medium in the grand scheme of media, so it’s still (slowly) playing catch-up on this one, but other forms of popular culture (tv, movies, books) already reflect multiple worlds and worldviews, and it’s not only appropriate and desirable, but inevitable that game worlds will, too. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Finally, this:

Selfish americans are what is the true underline issues, not guppy-politics on how the smallest inch of mesh fabric on a female game model is a derangement to all the poor and unfortunate real-life woman out there. We waste so much of our money, time, and attention on things like optional video-games that don’t matter in the whole-run where us as a nation is actually going. Instead we’re like brainless sheep, following the face of random feminist women or anyone that tickles our ears with their ideas and agendas. We have become color-coded followers of the popular social “norms” of those who just want to ram their ideals quiet frankly, up our butts. I surely do miss old america, the new america is nothing more than a joke.

This commenter clearly has no concept of how popular culture reflects and shapes society, and I’m fairly certain I’m not going to be able to convince him (presumably) that it does, since he appears to be one of those people who doesn’t realize that his opinions about the universe have been constructed by his life-long exposure to media (including games) and society. Clearly his opinions were plopped into his brain by Truth Itself. That aside, the commenter claims to be above the rest of us who “waste” our time and money on games, yet has obviously decided to “waste” his time reading and then commenting on a post about gaming because he clearly does consider it important.

I am also curious what, exactly, “old america” is supposed to be. America in the 1950s when women were meant to stay in the kitchen providing for their husbands and children, and suffered from severe depression as a result of oppressive social norms? The 1850s, when slavery was still legal? Or maybe 1776, when the Founding Fathers chose to create a nation based on the very principles of free speech that the commenter seems to think apply only to him and not to me or to Sarkeesian?

Yes, it is true that people who are in extreme poverty should care more about food than videogames. But the vast majority of Americans are not – fortunately for us – in that category and do choose to dispose of our time by playing games (I’d imagine, the commenter included). And since we do, it is not only our right, but our responsibility as socially conscious and conscientious individuals to make sure that medium represents our viewpoints and does positive work toward the shaping of our sociopolitical ideals. Popular culture shapes our world in far more ways than we even realize, and taking responsibility for demanding that pop culture be accountable to its audience is a vital part of our society’s ideological formation. Yes, there are other very important concerns: education, poverty, crime, etc., but games (like any other popular media) impact the abstract ones: racism, sexism, homophobia. And if we can use games to change our society to become less bigoted, then that is a laudable and valuable goal.

Do I think that Anita Sarkeesian is the best person to do that? Probably not. But she is doing it, or at least trying to, and the very fact that her voice is out there and public has perhaps done more in the last few years for starting the conversation about gender equality in the gaming industry than a lot of other, less controversial and less public voices. Ultimately, I guess my stance has changed since that first TLF post: I’m a feminist gamer, and I’m all about Anita Sarkeesian.

Edit: Cross-posted on TLF.