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.