Why do we see video games as inherently male and why are female gamers going to such great lengths to fight against misogyny in them?
Anita Sarkeesian, director of The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project says:
Social science indicates that one of the primary ways we learn about the world and our relationship to each other is through a process of observation and imitation, human beings also learn by seeing something modeled for us, especially when the modeled actions are accompanied by rewards or punishments.
When video games depict women as trophies to be won, it perpetuates the notion that women should be seen as “collectable, intractable, or consumable (Sarkeesian, 2015).” It sends the message that women are merely status symbols to confirm the manliness of straight male gamers (Sarkeesian, 2015).
The increasing popularity of video games means that more women than ever before are now gamers. A 2014 survey by the Entertainment Software Association says that 48 percent of gamers are women. As more women began playing, they started to question the sexism that has been common in the industry since the early 90’s (Sinclair, 2014).
The controversy known as #Gamergate shone a light on sexism and misogyny in video games as well as its effect on the players who have been subjected to it through frequent play. Research indicates that on average, gamers usually have about 13 years of experience under their belt playing video games. Isn’t it fair to hypothesize that 13 years of steady exposure to sexism and misogyny in video games may have had an effect on a gamer’s behavior, especially those who this questionable sexist content was targeted toward, the straight male gamer (Entertainment Software Association, 2015)?
In her article for The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan writes, “With #GamerGate, the video-game industry’s growing pains go viral. Sexism in gaming is a long-documented, much-debated but seemingly intractable problem. It’s also the crux of the industry’s biggest ongoing battle being waged on Twitter under the hashtag “#GamerGate.”
The gamergate movement has been associated with death threats and harassment of virtually anyone who spoke out about the sexism that exists in video games. If I were a female I’d be nervous to enter a gaming culture that encourages that kind of behavior against anyone who disagrees with their ideology. One glaring example of this is when Anita Sarkeesian was forced to cancel a speaking engagement at Utah State University after an email from an anonymous source was sent to the director of the Center for Women and Gender Studies, Ann Austin, as well as members of her staff. The anonymous author wrote:
You’ve probably heard of a man named Mark Lepine. He was a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism on Western masculinity. We live in a nation of emasculated cowards too afraid to challenge the vile, misandrist harpies who seek to destroy them. Feminism has taken over every facet of our society, and women like Sarkeesian want to punish us for even fantasizing about being men. This is why I’ve chosen to target her. Anita Sarkessian is everything wrong with the feminist woman, and she is going to die screaming like the craven little whore that she is if you let her come to USU. I will write my manifesto in her spilled blood, and you will all bear witness to what feminist lies and poison have done to the men of America.
Upon learning that Utah’s open carry laws meant the university could not legally restrict the carrying of firearms to the lecture, she made the decision to cancel the engagement (Neugbauer, 2014). This is a terrorist threat directed toward a specific target all because of her criticism of video games. And she still fights for this cause today, even after being forced to flee her home and becoming a frequent target of violent threats. So why are the way females are represented in video games important enough for Sarkessian to champion its cause at great risk to her safety and life?
Much attention has been brought to the subject of how females are represented in video games. The current trends show that female protagonists in video games are rarely seen, and females in video games tend to fall into a generalized stereotype:
In video games, the major stereotyped myths of women are typically the damsel in distress, hyper-sexualized villain (Sylvia Christel from No More Heroes) and the sexy/strong best friend (Tifa from Final Fantasy VII). Oh, and let’s not forget that pointy-haired Cloud has his eyes on the more feminine Aeris, so Tifa’s not even in the running as a viable love-interest because she wears drab clothing rather than a bright pink dress. In all of these instances, the female character is, more likely than not, in love with the male protagonist or trying desperately to bang him (Tremblay, 2012).
With examples such as these, it’s not hard to imagine why gaming is viewed as a mostly male activity. Female gamers want to be represented and respected in video games. They speak out against misogyny and sexism in video games because they are underrepresented and mistreated in gaming culture. They want a better future for themselves and future female gamers. And most importantly, since video games are deeply ingrained in our society, they don’t want anyone viewing women as simply objects of sexual desire or trophies to be won, not in the virtual world, and especially not in the real world. And they most certainly don’t want their very lives threatened for speaking out against it. The fight is important because if we as human beings decide to tolerate this type of behavior, it will only become increasingly worse.
Entertainment Software Association. (2015). 2015 Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from www.theesa.com: http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ESA-Essential-Facts-2015.pdf
Kaplan, S. (2014., September 12). With #GamerGate, the video-game industry's growing pains go viral. Retrieved from washingtonpost.com: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/12/with-gamergate-the-video-game-industrys-growing-pains-go-viral/
Neugbauer, C. (2014, October 15). Terror threat against feminist Anita Sarkeesian at USU. Retrieved from www.standard.net: http://www.standard.net/Police/2014/10/14/Utah-State-University-student-threatens-act-of-terror-if-feminist
Sarkeesian, A. (2015, August 31). Tropes vs Women in Video Games. Retrieved from feministfrequency.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC6oxBLXtkU
Tremblay, K. (2012, June 1). Intro to Gender Criticism for Gamers: From Princess Peach, to Claire Redfield, to FemSheps. Retrieved from www.gamasutra.com: Intro_to_Gender_Criticism_for_Gamers_From_Princess_Peach_to_Claire_Redfield_to_FemSheps