I know that many of my fellow classmates found themselves writing about this project, but I too couldn’t resist the urge to lend my voice to this debate. Here are the basics of the project. The digital history initiative titled Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is a multi-faceted analysis of the over-sexualization of women in video games. The mini-series titled “Damsel in Distress” is a 11-part video blog (vlog) hosted by Feminist Frequency on YouTube.
The goal of this project is to address the misrepresentation of women in video games since the late 1970’s. The project’s director Anita Sarkeesian is an acclaimed media critic and journalist whose work has been featured in a variety of major publications throughout the United States such as The Boston Globe, Wired, The New York Times, and Forbes.
Major funding was provided by the public through Kickstarter. By the end of this project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games received 6,968 backers, raising a grand total of $158,922.
My Interest in the Topic:
I myself am a long time gamer, someone who remembers playing “Duck Hunt” on my father’s Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1996. Back in 2009, prior to the launch of this project, I remember hearing about Anita Sarkeesian on a podcast hosted by the IGN Corporation. Interested in the topic, I brought this up with my then high school friends, all of whom are gamers themselves. When asked about the image of women in video games, my questions were met with immediate dismissal by some of the members of the table. I was legitimately interested in what they had to say on the subject, considering the varying political backgrounds we ascribed to at the time. I received the most stereotypical gamer response, which came in the form of a counter-question: “Why do you care? What are you, some sort of [insert derogatory term]?”
Naturally, I was drawn to this project given my experiences. However, I don’t want to delve deeply in the material itself because others have done so already. I’ll make a few points here and there, but my focus is not on the content itself, rather the form it takes and the audience it addresses.
There are several different ways we can interpret the audience for this project. The first, and most obvious answer, are video gamers themselves. This is an incredibly broad term that fails to encapsulate the nuances of each individual behind the controller. However, we can break this category down into several working parts. Given that the subject matter deals with the negative & positive portrayal of women in video games, Sarkeesian could be targeting female gamers to raise awareness of this issue. This message is not exclusive to female gamers alone however. Based off contemporary marketing trends, video game publishers like Electronic Arts & Activision consider the ideal target audience to be young teenage/early adult males. Considering that this is the dominant audience in the eyes of publishers, this project may be addressing them directly in addition to female gamers.
As stated in the “About” section of their website, this video series “largely serves as an educational resource to encourage critical media literacy…” (Feminist Frequency). This statement indicates that the primary audience is not limited to video game players alone, but anyone interested in the critical analysis of pop culture. This project is does not exist in an isolated bubble, rather it’s a part of an on-going discussion regarding the portrayal of women in all forms of media. Therefore, the intended audience could be anyone with a vested interest in video games, film, music, literature, theater, art, etc.
The last audience addressed by this project are video game publishers & developers. Since they are the ones responsible for funding, producing, licensing, marketing, & profiting off of video games, they need to be held accountable for their actions. One could argue that the depiction of women in games is a form of expression, however we must recognize the potential damage caused by this freedom. Decades of misunderstanding creates the potential for a reoccurring narrative. If people are exposed to the same ill-advised depiction of women for years, will this have a negative impact on their understanding of women in general? As it stands, there is little accountability on the part of developers and publishers for the content they create and share, with most of the backlash falling on gamers themselves.
I love the concept of this project; it’s a digital assessment of digital media. Starting off with the videos, the content is innovative and artistic. Using a bright array of colors and sound video editing, the web series feels like a genuine, high quality documentary (which it is). The combination of on/off screen narration is supplemented with snippets of game play, which can help users identify with the subject material even if they lack previous exposure to it.
In my opinion, the most overlooked yet fundamental element of the videos are their form. If we compare the style of Sarkeesian’s videos to that of Scott Bromley’s “Internet Rabbit hole” via Rev3Games, or “X Play” with Adam Sessler & Morgan Webb from the mid-2000’s, we see little difference in the construction of the video itself.
This is critical for our understanding of this project because it caters to the audience. By emulating the already established, and accepted style of video production within the gaming industry, it feels like this web series was made by gamers for gamers.
In addition, the website is constructed in a standard blog format. Using a simple layout with accessible hyperlinks to all her videos, the website is both sleek and efficient. The information is presented in a clear, concise, and visually appealing manner. If any of the rumors regarding my supposed generation are true, us “millennials” demand instant gratification when using the internet. If I cannot access want I need in less than 5 seconds, I’ve lost all interest. The WordPress format works wonders here because it embodies a “less is more” philosophy. All of the basic information can be accessed from the upper navigation bar, with side links to each video segments.
For comparison, I urge you to quickly Google “the worst website design” and compare her design to any of the entrants on that list. You see what I did there?
I know I didn’t address the content itself in this review; I didn’t consider it necessary when so many others have already done so. For the most part, I completely agree with everyone else on this matter. Sarkeesian’s work is bold and direct; it demands the attention of the audience and forces them to confront the ugly truth of video games.
If I were to critique anything regarding Sarkeesian’s work, I would say that her source list is regionally limited. Yes I understand that she references 183 various titles throughout the series, but we need to pay attentions to the origin of these games. If we look at the first episode, Sarkeesian references a total of 64 games. Out of this total, all but 6 games were produced by a Japanese company. Of the 6 non-Japanese developed titles, 3 of these were produced for a Japanese entertainment system.
To me, this creates a conflict of understanding for her audience. Are we critiquing Japanese game development, or the gaming industry as a whole? Are both mediums equally accountable for the actions of another? These questions remain largely unanswered, which in return has sparked a wave of negative responses towards her work—see TheAmazingAtheist for further details.However the issue over the comments section isn’t that simple. I highly doubt Sarkeesian intended on establishing this so-called “unwillingness” towards challenge. Rather, the primary reason why Sarkeesian disabled this functionality is due to the constant wave of harassment she received for her work—see Jim Sterling’s Jimqusition. I can’t fault her for trying to defend herself against such reckless hate.
Overall, I think Sarkeesian’s digital humanities project succeeds. Since our primary focus is on the mechanics of the project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games takes full advantage of the digital platform, constructing itself in a way that is both recognizable and appreciated by gamers and a young audience alike. The message is simple; we need to fix these issues before they do any more damage. There is no accountability at the top of this hierarchy, and without intervention, this form of media will continue to pass on the tropes of women forged in a bygone age.