There is no Feminist-Led “War on Games”

I don’t think it’s all together out of the blue to bring up the perceived “war on games” that is said to be led by feminists within the gaming community. Since Gamer Gate came about last year this notion that feminists are intending to ruin video games by forcing equality on the world of gaming, thus changing everything we know and love, has kicked up a bit of a storm. As you can image, the so-called “war” is taking place between feminists and those who are against feminism – because darn those feminists and their declaration of war via advocating for representation in video games! There are many things wrong with this idea, but I’d like to go over the main problems and argue that no, there is no war on games led by the evil feminist mercenary party.

gearsofwar1

Firstly, let me explain (yet again) what a feminist is. There are a variety of different interpretations and ways of being when it comes to the label “feminist”. I can’t speak for everyone, and there are indeed a lot of problematic individuals within the feminist ranks, but for me and many, many others it goes like this:

Feminism is a multi-disciplinary approach to sex and gender equality understood through social theories and political activism. Historically, feminism has evolved from the critical examination of inequality between the sexes to a more nuanced focus on the social and performative constructions of gender and sexuality. […] 

Feminist political activists campaign in areas such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, gay marriage, and workplace issues such as family medical leave, equal pay, and sexual harassment and discrimination. 

Anytime stereotyping, objectification, infringements of human rights, or gender- or sexuality-based oppression occurs, it’s a feminist issue.” [Credit]

Of course, that is an extremely boiled down version for basic understanding. An even more boiled down version is that feminism is the fight for equal rights of women and other minorities. In the video game world, feminism has aimed to take a stand against sexism and inequality against women and other minorities within games themselves. Most feminist gamers push for more female representation within games as well as representation for other races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations. White, straight, cisgendered males have been the most prominent playable characters in the games we play since the dawn of video games themselves. Only within the last few years have we seen a shift to more female characters and generally better representation of women (ie not as sex objects, etc.). It’s not perfect by any means, and there is a lot of work left to do in games themselves as well as within the community of people playing the games, but there is some progress being made.

Now let me get back to this “war on games” before I get too off topic, though everything I have discussed thus far is indeed related to the main issue. Now this “war on games”, which I will continue to put in between quotation marks to as not to legitimize it because it’s an insane concept, is generally defined as feminists ruining games with their push for equality. Of course, that is the politely boiled down version but to be honest, I don’t want to sift through the sewers of the internet to find actual quotes from people who believe this garbage exists and if you don’t want to hate your life I suggest you don’t either. Though if you must search out “proof”, it’s not hard to see what the supporters of this “war on games” idea really think. There are tweets, Facebook rants and blog posts all over the place written by people who support this concept and who have a variety of reasons why the support it.

One of the main complaints is one in regards to invisible privilege. These arguments are usually about pointing out how many women there are in games and that the push for equality is pointless because things are already pretty good, women are represented so why keep pushing? I mean come on, there’s like Samus, Lara Croft, Peach, Zelda… That uh… One girl from that one game? Anyway, the thing is that no matter how many women you name off, it’s never as many as there are males in games when comparatively looking at a collective of games. It doesn’t stop there either as these people also disregard the push for equality of race and sexual orientation in games because “who cares?” I typically see this type of argument placed before me by white, straight, cisgendered males. I know it’s hard for some people to see the other side when they have privilege. As a white person, I cannot directly relate to the struggles that other races and people of color deal with. Likewise, I don’t expect these men to immediately and inherently relate to the struggles that women deal with. Privilege is hard to see through and I get that, but at the same time it’s not impossible. Choosing to not taking into consideration that you are privileged and that maybe other people besides you should be represented is just selfish. Take a step back and realize that simply because your demographic is most often represented in games doesn’t mean that other people’s demographics shouldn’t be recognized because “oh well, I got mine”. This type of argument is typically outrageously transparent, they will say they do think of others and that “that’s not what I meant” but it is and they need to know that it’s alright to admit mistakes. It’s understandable to realize that you weren’t really thinking about it from someone elses perspective, someone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgendered male. Constantly ignoring other people’s perspectives in order to perpetuate the “war on games” myth is ridiculous and selfish, so this argument is moot.

diversityingames

Another issue within this overall dispute is the one that begins with statements like “that darned she-beast Anita Sarkeesian blah blah blah”. People tend to like to pick one person out of a group with whom they don’t agree and use them as a target for all hate and vitriol they wish to push at said group. Basically, in this scenario, people don’t like her opinions or critiques so they use her as the main target to attack all feminists and “prove” that there is a “war on games” since, you know, Sarkeesian is apparently trying to ruin games. Sarkeesian is one person and while I personally have a lot of respect for her I can understand why some people dislike her opinions and/or critiques. Regardless of what you think about her or her opinions though, making her into a target by saying she alone is the problem because she dares to critique video games for their problematic sides in relation to sexism is not right. That’s like me saying that all Russians must be hate-filled, homophobic ass-hats because I dislike Vladimir Putin’s opinions. It’s just ridiculous. Here’s the thing, people often accuse her of cherry-picking issues for her critique videos, claiming that she only picks issues that benefit her argument without looking at all sides of the issue as a whole. Yet these same people, and many others, do the exact thing when they cherry-pick her as a person to vilify because it suits them and their decrying of the “war on games” instead of looking at all sides of the real issue (plus, there is no “war on games” so…). It’s all very hypocritical and nonsensical, so I find this argument to also be moot.

Something else that is part of the argument for the “war on games” is a general disrespect for women as a whole. There are people out there who basically dislike women and only want them around for stereotypical gender role activities such as being in the kitchen, cleaning the house and making babies. Sadly enough, some of these people are gamers. They see women trying to push for more equality in games and it makes them angry that a woman dares to even try such a thing. These people are often the ones who argue that “this is a mans world” and “there is no place for women in video games”. These arguments are obviously extremely flawed as they aren’t really even arguments at all, rather just bias hate of a gender as a whole. When this type of mindset is made clear while trying to prove a point, that point looses all credibility due to the negative bias expressed. I’m not going to listen to some argue a point against the Marvel cinematic universe once they state that they really dislike all the Marvel theatrical movies, so why would anyone listen to opinions on women in games from someone who obviously dislikes women? It’s yet again a moot point.

Lastly, a very standard argument brought up within the “war on games” discussion is the “but things are just fine the way they are” argument. In contrast to my first point about males having a hard time sympathizing with the females (or people in general with minorities) wanting to be represented in video games, this point is as simple as the saying “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. These individuals are afraid of change and it’s mostly because they don’t understand what the change is and what it means for video games. I feel as if these people assume that when other people say they’d like more minority representation in games that they really mean they want all games to be thrown in the trash and remade with female characters instead. Or even that people want all future games to be full of female characters and no males. Both are vastly incorrect and I feel like I shouldn’t have to say that, it should really be as obvious as it sounds. Sure, we want change but that isn’t a bad thing if it’s done in the right way. More minority representation means more stories, more characters and more quality (again, if done properly). It’s a way for everyone to get something out of games as opposed to some people feeling alienated within a culture that they live in. Change isn’t bad and wanting it shouldn’t be so taboo among the gaming community. I find this to be another moot point as it again encourages selfishness and doesn’t really have a lot of power behind it, it seems more like fear of change or a general misunderstanding rather than an actual issue.

It's not as if we want gaming to be like Paradise Island.

It really isn’t this extreme people…

Basically, in the end, there is no “war on games” led by the feminists within the game community. Advocating for more representation isn’t a declaration of war, it’s a declaration of humanity. It’s the year 2015 and it’s time we stopped acting like females are few and far between in the gaming community. Fairness and equality should never been such and uphill struggle but it seems that it always is. No, feminists aren’t trying to ruin gaming for you. On the contrary, we are trying to make it better for everyone. For me, it’s impossible to comprehend the egotistical ideals behind the “war on games” concept, the innate need for preserving segregation and infighting. To be so adamantly against diversifying games is beyond me. I feel as if over the past few years, game developers have really taken on the task of adding diversity and we’ve seen some really great games come from the success of that task. All we are asking for here is some basic equality. It’s not a war, it’s not a fight, it’s a plead for fairness. So you tell me, is that too much to ask for?

6 thoughts on “There is no Feminist-Led “War on Games”

  1. Hi Kelly,

    I like the site. I’m someone who tends to fall down on the other side of this issue, although I find your writing very reasonable on the subject so thought I’d try and reach out.
    Have you considered that maybe a lot of the heat and anger generated on this subject is largely coming from HOW it’s been conducted as opposed to the actual content of what’s being said? I think you’ll find that a lot of people are more receptive to some of these ideas (though not all) when they feel it’s been conducted in good faith.
    A huge amount of the hostility to Anita isn’t really about her actual criticisms. A lot of people haven’t even bothered watching them to even know if they disagree. The hostility has come from the way the entire gaming press gave an outsider to the industry (who doesn’t even play games) this huge platform that made her very wealthy for almost no reason, despite the fact that plenty of feminists within the industry had already made all of these same arguments but were given no voice. They’ve then failed to give even a single article to the thousands of criticisms of her work (just look through all of the female gamers who critique her work on youtube for example, some of whom DID work in the industry previously like Liana K. How many sites promoted her position?). This has been largely run as a 1-way lecture that people simply haven’t been allowed to question or criticise. That rightfully causes aggression and whether it’s ultimately true or not, it has all fit the pattern of a coordinated attack. When we all saw there was collusion going on between certain media folks last year, it naturally added to this suspicion.
    Please try and imagine what this would be like done in reverse. If a male critic went into a female-dominated industry like romantic novels and made a lot of very strong criticisms but then simply didn’t accept any responses but just kept on writing criticisms that were inexplicably getting a lot of air-time, would the reaction really be any different?

    Hope to hear back from you.

    Like

    • Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to read my opinion and respond in such a polite way.

      To address your response, I see your point and understand it but I’m not really sure this particular discussion about Sarkeesian is applicable to this article in particular. Anita Sarkeesian isn’t the only part of the “war on games” and therefore I tried not to spend a lot of time talking about her. I was intending to use her as a largely known example of one of my points within this article and while that section primarily focused on her, she is far from the only person within the industry who is facing this kind of adversity from those who say there is a “war on games” led by women and feminists. As far as this particular article goes, she was merely an example of a piece of a larger discussion. I will address your comment which is mostly about her, though I do want to make it clear that this article is about a lot more than Anita Sarkeesian.

      I do agree that a lot of the people who criticized Sarkeesian’s work have not watched her videos and therefore have no idea what they disagree with in regards to her opinions shared in the videos. However I do not agree that she is an outsider who “doesn’t even play video games”. I know that a lot of people who oppose her opinion have tried to create some kind of controversy about her legitimacy as a gamer and all I have to say to that is that it’s a very sexist response to her critiques and only further proves that the animosity generated towards her has less to do with what she is saying and more do do with the fact that she is a woman criticizing elements in games that a group of men have no problem with. Regardless of whether or not she plays games, which she does, she obviously knows enough about them to make legitimate critiques. People have been spending more time trying to prove that she doesn’t play games, which isn’t true, than they have actually listening to her critiques and logically responding.

      As far as other women not being given a voice, that is indeed a very bad thing as everyone should have an equal opportunity to voice their opinions on a platform. Here’s the thing though, if Sarkeesian didn’t make headline so much she wouldn’t be drowning out other people and the reason that she makes headlines is because of how many people make such a big deal about her. She is constantly being picked on which has put her on a really high platform in the media as most of the Gamer Gate coverage, and coverage about women in games, inevitably brings her up due to how much she has been targeted. What I am saying is that basically she wouldn’t have a higher platform than anyone else if she hadn’t been explicitly targeted by all the people who jump at the opportunity to send her threats, violently decry her videos and use her name as often as possible when talking about female gamers/critics/feminists. I don’t blame her for that, I blame those attacking her.

      My response to your closing question is simple: blaming Sarkeesian for not responding to comments is unfair considering the content of the comments. I’m not sure if you have read the comments directed at her on YouTube before she disabled them but they were very, very disturbing and cruel. Even I have had to delete comments or simply not respond to comments here on my teeny tiny website because they were hateful and rude, I can’t even imagine how she could deal with comments directed at her that are more vitriolic. She gets bullied an awful lot for not responding to counter criticism but I cannot in good faith blame her for that considering that for every logical, kind response she gets there are 100 death/rape threats as well as hateful and nasty comments. When these responses come at her in the thousands, it’s difficult to subject yourself to the hate in order to find the kind responses and then respond to them yourself. Also, I defend her choice to not respond to counter criticism simply because she doesn’t have to. As a writer I have always supported the option to simply not respond regardless of the content of the original comment. For example, I could have chosen to not respond to your comment, I am under absolutely no obligation to respond and neither is she.

      To answer the question more directly: No, it wouldn’t be the same. Regardless of whether or not one chooses to see it, there is male privilege within this society. This means that if a male criticizes something that is primarily directed at females it’s nowhere near as threatening to the privileged group as a female criticizing something that is directed at men is. So when a male criticizes something directed at females there usually isn’t as big of a backlash of hate and violence as there is when a woman criticizes something male-centric, which the gaming industry shouldn’t be as both men and women play games equally. If said male critiqued romance novels on the same level, pointing out sexism within the medium, and was responded to in the way that Sarkeesian (or any woman for that matter) has been then I wouldn’t blame him for closing comments and not responding to counter opinions. As far as inexplicable air-time goes, if he is getting it then that’s probably not his fault as I explained above with Sarkeesian. Basically, it’s all about gender which is why equality and feminism is so important.

      Anyway, thanks again for your polite response, I appreciate it. Have a good day!

      Like

      • Hi, Tim. I also wanted to share my views on this, but I waited for Kelly’s reply, which was a good one and pretty much sums up what I think. But I still want to say some things here.

        My personal struggle with GamerGate has been really toxic, to the point I had to step away from social media for at least one month. Last November, I was attacked because I mentioned I voted “no” for a game from a GG supporter on Steam Greenlight. If you don’t know, that kind of vote doesn’t detract at all from positive votes. It just means that Steam won’t offer me this game anymore. I knew this developer before, so I had my own personal reasons for not wanting their game.

        I tweeted that before sleeping. Then, I woke up with dozens of tweets accusing me of boycotting and driving that person (a woman) out of the games industry. It was already a stressful period for me, for personal reasons, so I wasn’t really in the mood for arguing with them. It wasn’t a boycott. I just replied to someone why I was voting “no”.

        I got friends who were attacked. And I know others that I don’t talk often that were also hurt too. GamerGate was very hostile from the start, which was based on a lie proven false on the same day that it spread. I got to say I was very surprised with how polite your comment was, considering how much suffering I saw around GamerGate. I avoided using the block list for months, but I needed to when I went to the GDC hashtags to read about the presentations and they were infested by GGers with the corruption argument. It wasn’t even about that specifically. I had to block because I couldn’t read what I wanted to. I am a developer and I couldn’t go to the conference, so I needed that for work.

        And actually, GDC is my best example on why this isn’t only about Anita Sarkeesian. Rhianna Pratchett created the amazing #1ReasonToBe hashtag back in 2011/2012. GDC 2012 was my first (and only) that I went. There, I saw the first #1ReasonToBe, which was amazing. And if you go to the GDC Vault, look for the 2015 edition of the panel. Smart women were there, including Brenda Romero, who is another inspiration for me as a game developer. Look for the “empty chair” segment. Women scary to speak out about harassment because of the consequences. There’s also Robin Hunicke, who wasn’t there, but helped create the game Journey and also helped coordinate the campaign for more diversity at Intel.

        Anita is just one part of this. I have to be honest and say that I don’t agree with her in some stuff. I think Elizabeth was a great character in BioShock Infinite, for example. But using the same franchise in another example, Anita called out BioShock 2 devs for their representation of women. In one of the most humbling moments in this industry, I’ve seen this devs retweet that specific video and admit what they were doing, promising to not to it anymore in their next games. By the way, the leads are all in different studios now. The Minerva’s Den lead went to make the great Gone Home.

        The thing about closing comments is just like a legendary developer once told me exactly about this Anita issue: you can have a thick skin and build a wall against hate. But even just a tiny bit, like 0.00001% will affect you. Now, imagine that multiplied by hundreds of mean comments every single day. Imagine yourself going to social media and always reading people saying aggressive and hurtful things about you, including threats to you and your family? Not only that, but suddenly there’s a “game” where people click to punch your face.

        Like Kelly said, we just want more diversity. We don’t want to stop games like GTA to be made. We just want more games that portray women as they are: human beings. More diversity can lead to more unique and cool games, which is a win-win to everybody.

        Like

      • Thanks Roberto, I appreciated the tone of your reply also.

        I would actually clarify my position that whilst I said I tend to fall down on the opposite side, I did mean in terms of the ideas themselves. I haven’t supported Gamergate itself at all (though I am friends with some who do). My position on that from the start was that an amorphous hashtag movement with zero entry requirements is just a recipe for disaster and that people should just stick to the core ideas themselves so they can’t be complicit in any of the online bullying that everyone seems to have experienced.

        What I would say in defense of the gamergate side is that a lot of the bad stuff seems largely contained to twitter. If you go into any of the various mainstream site forums that have turned pro-GG (e.g the escapist or destructoid being the 2 I’ve watched) and you just said hello and put forward your various positions politely, both of those forums would very likely treat you quite well and I’ve asked quite a few people to do that for the sake of building bridges (of course only a few do) There’s the natural kind of intimidation from being just outnumbered, but it’s definitely not nasty in either of those places.

        Something I was actually glad to see you separate, perhaps inadvertently, was the issues of “diversity”. I think that probably has a few different meanings but I know roughly what you’re getting at. A really important point to make, that I’m assuming you’re probably unaware of, is that agreement on this issue is actually completely differently spread than agreement on the various feminist theory points. I accept that these overlap in some areas, and certainly have in the way they’ve been presented. But for example, if you were to define the diversity and inclusiveness purely in terms of just including a more interesting range of characters so we don’t have to put up with another Nathan Drake clone, you would find quite a lot of agreement on that across the board. The friction only appears when it then changes into the debate on sexualised characters and the various other ideas about how media depictions might be harmful according to these various theories. The only leeway I think myself and many others would give on that issue is that I’d be fine with trying to keep it out of the games where it’s really out of place. But that saying that it’s a problem across the board isn’t really acceptable. As long as it’s nice and clear what games are like on the whole, people who dislike that stuff can easily just avoid it! I think the difficulty then comes into deciding roughly how you would design all of this based on the demographics for the genres in question.

        Like

      • Thanks for the response Kelly.

        Well that’s a tricky response to parse but I’ll have a go! I guess the simplest one is the claim that she was/wasn’t an outsider. The source for that is this video that was discovered: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Afgtd8ZsXzI. That seems fairly damning to my eye. I’d have thought you would’ve seen it? Not sure how that can fit with the claim she was a gamer beforehand!?

        As for your defending her right to avoid responding to criticism. I understand it must be a nightmare to pick through all of the hate to find something worth responding to, absolutely. That’s a fair point. But what I was much more trying to get at with that wasn’t necessarily just Anita hadn’t addressed any of criticism. Like you say, she’s welcome not to. But that a huge number of people in the gaming media who gave her this platform chose to avoid publishing even a single one of the hundreds of criticisms online. The very least that should’ve been expected of them would be to have either look for the various criticism themselves or to ask her to respond to them. Anything else and this isn’t really a debate, it’s a lecture. And that’s something that I think people are completely right to be angry with. The gaming media isn’t there to promote a particular point of view, it’s supposed to represent the audience as a whole (which based on the various polls like the recent one in TIME suggested that 80% of the audience was against her position, only 20% agreeing). Surely you could agree that if that sort of figure is accurate, there’s been a huge privileging of 1 particular side of the issue in the gaming media?

        I’ll side step the claim about our society privileging men. I think that’s partially true in places but I don’t think it’s true everywhere. We just covered 1 example where it’s not true. Male critics don’t have the privilege of having their responses to a video series being published on the same platform as feminists apparently. That seemed a pretty clear privilege to me!
        As for the final claim, you surely must know there’s a lot of variation in the demographics of gaming (console vs smartphone). Console AAA gaming is still largely a male pursuit with quite a bit of variation between genres (Nintendo reported about 2 weeks ago that 90% on the eshops for 3DS and Wii U were male, I can find those results if you like).

        Anyway, I guess I’ll leave it there. This does seem to be a very tough subject to make progress on. I wonder if I could ask you, should you choose to reply, if you could actually think of any of your positions that you’re willing to compromise on? I know there are a few of your positions in your articles that I’m happy to go along with but I’m getting the feeling that’s not mutual?

        Like

      • I’m only going to address two things here so first, in regards to privilege, saying that males don’t have the same platform that females do in games media is a ludicrous statement. Firstly, we are talking about one woman here so not all women have that platform (as you said previously) and secondly you said yourself that 80% of people are against her opinions, so it’s not too far off to say she is on the platform she is on due to being disliked. That’s not the same as having privilege or men not having that platform. Plenty of male critics are seen and heard, not many of them are despised as much as Anita is, making them super well known for basically being hated, so this is a moot point.

        Second, as far as your last question to me goes, sure I willing to compromise on some things but to be honest I have yet to see anyone pose an opposing view that was both accurate and worth compromising for. I have the opinions and stances I have based on facts and numerous personal experiences. In my experience it seems that males have a harder time seeing my point of view due to lacking these gendered experiences that I have encountered (such as misogyny and harassment based solely on my gender) so it’s harder for them to empathise with my view. That’s not to say no male can ever go through what I have gone through or that I’m in some way talking down to men, but in my experience men always want me to compromise with them and change my views yet are unwilling to change theirs based on countless examples of clear-as-day sexism.

        Please don’t take this as me being criticizing you or your point of view, I’m simply being general here not personal.

        Like

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