• Tropes Vs Women in Video Games

    by  • June 18, 2012 • People & Events • 3 Comments


    $153,442 in real US monies.

    6,721 backers. 6,721 people who said, ‘no, actually, I DO want to talk about the shitty tropes that show up in video games, and no, 4chan et all, you can’t stop us from having this conversation.’

    And that’s with six hours left to go. Who knows what the numbers will look like at the close of Anita Sarkeesian’s runaway Kickstarter Tropes Vs Women in Video Games.

    The short version of the story is this. Anita publishes a video blog picking apart pop culture from a feminist light. The videos are fun, funny, and informative while remaining highly approachable. Clearly, she dealt with plenty of harassing comments on youtube.

    And then she decided she’d talk about video games. She started up a little Kickstarter to help pay for all the games she wanted to research. No big deal, right?

    Wrong. Video game dudes took affront. MEGA angry. Their hate was epic, and their rageful attacks?

    Utterly and completely useless. Really. Go ahead. Look at those numbers up there, and rejoice to see the internet stand up and say ‘fuck this shit’ and even put their money where their sense of social justice is. It’s a beautiful thing.

    Anyway, I caught up with Anita on the intertubes to ask her some questions I gathered from the gentlewomen here at GaW. I had a baby, and she had a HUGE plate to deal with, so we didn’t get these questions asked and answered during the Kickstarter proper, but I bet if you’re reading this article, you already know all about it. So long story short, here’s the interview! Enjoy!

    1. So first, tell us in general what you’re up to with this project. What inspired you to delve into the (often dangerous) world of video games? Why Kickstarter? (I know some of your ‘critics’ are yelling that you did your other videos for free,) why fund this? And why Kickstarter/crowdfunding in particular? Has the connection to your audience through crowdfunding been rewarding?

    For this project, my goal is to talk about sexism in video games in a way that looks at gaming as an institution and focuses on the recurring patterns that we see over and over again in women’s representations.  My goal is to illustrate that this is actually a deeply systemic problem and not just an issue with a handful of games or a handful of developers.  Part of the project is also to provide some counter examples and highlight the games that have done it right in creating inspirational or positive female characters.  All of my work comes from a fan perspective which means that I try to  impress on people that it’s okay and even important to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of some aspects of it.

    Up until now, Feminist Frequency has been a side project sustained by small individual donations through my website. I also never use advertising on any of my videos, so I really like the idea of crowdfunding my projects.  The fact that my viewers can help me fund projects in advance if it’s something that they’re interested in and care about really appeals to me.  My viewers are always asking me to release more videos and do it more consistently. So crowdfunding is a great way to begin to do that, by pre-funding these larger scale video series projects that take an enormous amount of research, time and production.  This is my first time running a Kickstarter and its been an incredible experience. The people who have backed my project have been an endless source of inspiration and encouragement both before and during the current wave of harassment.

    2. Who do you see as your audience? Who are you trying to reach? Do you see yourself as more of a teacher or a critic, or possibly something else entirely? 

    I consider myself a feminist pop culture critic and my goal with Feminist Frequency is to provide some tools and some language that people can use to deconstruct the media and, maybe more importantly to understand the systems of privilege and oppression that we live in.  I chose to make online videos because I really wanted to engage with my generation, one that is increasingly speaking in an audio/visual multimedia language.

    With this series specifically, I primarily see my audience as women, fans, female gamers (as well as young women who may have shied away from gaming) who are often frustrated and annoyed at the limited and harmful ways that women are portrayed by the industry.  I also hope this series reaches some of the male gamers out there who may be uncomfortable with some of the representations of women and perhaps even encourage them to come down off the fence and speak out about sexism in gaming culture with their peers and in their communities.

    3. How valuable do you find it to create a vocabulary to discuss these topics? How much have you drawn from other forms of criticism, and have you had to create much of your own language to discuss the specifics of gaming? 

    I think having a vocabulary to discuss and deconstruct media representations is critical. I find it useful to focus on tropes because it helps us identify problematic myths and messages embedded in our media that we might not have noticed before or just brushed off as normal or “expected”. Some of the tropes I talk about have been previously identified and named by other people while others I have pieced together to try to give a name to certain problematic patterns and stereotypical representations that we see over and over again in games and pop culture.

    I started my show mainly because I found many academic feminist texts to be alienating and inaccessible to most people.  Often formal academic training is needed to even understand these theories and I wanted to make feminism engaging and accessible to a wider audience.  One of my biggest inspirations is bell hooks, a feminist author who often uses popular culture to talk about difference, privilege and oppression.  I especially love her collection of essays Outlaw Culture and her documentary Cultural Criticism and Transformation.

    I was also inspired by the work in the field of Buffy Studies which used Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show as text through which to explore questions of race, gender, sexuality and intersectionality in our culture.

    4. You’re discussing things that, for some reason, really get people’s dander up, and as I’ve seen in your recent post about harassment and this Kickstarter, this project in particular has gotten very very vile. How do you handle the hate? Do you have a good support network? (From Meg Baker in particular) we believe what you’re doing is very important, and wonderful, and we hope that you have in your life people who are as excited about what you do as we are. Its not easy to put yourself out there, what have you learned about protecting yourself?

    First, I have amazing and incredible viewers and supporters who are an endless source of encouragement and inspiration. I also have a small crew of friends that I go through the comments and messages with who help support me through that process since it can be emotionally taxing to say the least.  While understanding the increasing severity of the situation, we can also laugh at some of the absurdity too.  We also document as much of the harassment as we can and then share carefully selected bits of it online to illustrate how serious, threatening and pervasive internet harassment can be.

    To be completely honest, we also pass around clips of our favorite Star Trek Captain’s standing up to interstellar bullies. This one with Captain Janeway is a favorite of mine.

    5. And finally, and least importantly, if any of the GaW women run into you at a convention someday, will you sit down and play some analog games with us, time permitting? If so, do you know what you’d like to play?

    Yes, I would love to.  In all honesty though, I don’t know much about analog games, but I would welcome an introduction.  I’ll be on a few panels at GeekGirlCon this year and if any of you are there I’d love to play. Game choice is up to you!



    Filamena is a professional writer and game designer who isn't very good at writing bios. Having written for White Wolf, Catalyst, Green Ronin and a number of smaller table top games, she's been freelancing for several years. Interested in the indie game scene, Filamena also publishes independently with her life partner at Machine Age Productions. She's the mother of two (almost three) kids, an outspoken liberal and pro sex feminist.


    3 Responses to Tropes Vs Women in Video Games

    1. avatar
      Melody Haren Anderson
      June 18, 2012 at 16:19

      This is supremely awesome. I wish I could meet her for a game of some kind, some day.

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