During one of our frequent conversations on Facebook, Nerd of the Sands made me aware of the latest video by Anita Sarkeesian on female tropes in video games. As a female gamer, I have always enjoyed her videos. Women make up 48% of habitual gamers and it’s ridiculous to me that there is still so much animosity towards women in the industry. I can’t tell you how many horror stories I’ve heard from female gamers and especially from women aiming for a career in video game development. Even without those stories, you need look no further than the comments Sarkeesian gets on her videos to see what a loud minority of gamers think about women. With all that said, I couldn’t make it through Sarkeesian’s latest video.
Titled “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2,” this latest video (what I saw of it) goes into how women are objectified as part of the scenery of the game. As dead bodies, they are often displayed in provocative positions. To push the story forward, they are often attacked, beaten, raped or killed. Rape and sexual assault are my top fears. I find it hard to watch scenes where people are literally raped before my eyes. The constant footage of women screaming, being attacked and/or killed was too much for me. When I closed the video, a question came to me. Did those images bother me because I don’t play games like that or did they bother me because I’d never seen so many back to back?
The video opens with a clip from Assassin’s Creed, a game I do play. The fact that women make up the majority of beggars and harassed citizens in the street has not escaped my notice. Keep in mind, it is not the violence alone that bothers me. Video games often involve overcoming some dangerous, dire challenge. They are action movies you can play. Fighting is part of the experience. The fact that women are the victims of violence doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that men are not equal victims of violence.
I’ve been looking at the games I play this week. With free time limited, the titles I play don’t move far beyond Final Fantasy and Assassin’s Creed. In middle school and high school, there was an awesome demolition derby game I loved along with a Crash Bandicoot game. I don’t feel like violence against women was ever used in excess to move any of those stories forward.
Let me clarify that, in real life violence against women is unacceptable. I’m sorry, I have to amend that again. In real life, violence against anyone is unacceptable. Unless you are currently in danger, there is no need for violence (and, of course, the actions of the one threatening or attacking you are unacceptable).
In a video game, I anticipate that many of my challenges may involve violence because of a villain’s violent act towards my characters. Never have I felt like women are unjustly targeted (with the exception of those background Assassin’s Creed victims. I’ve only played the first game, though).
Here’s an example. My favorite video game is Final Fantasy IX. The game opens with plans to kidnap the princess. Tables are turned when the princess then demands to be kidnapped and takes control of her situation. While she has a lot of feminine qualities, she is also one of the strongest people in the game. She’s determined, she fights and she’s a key character. Any violence against her does not mark her as a background character because she plays a significant role in the plot.
Since I couldn’t finish Anita Sarkeesian’s video, I’m not sure what her key arguments are. I’m sure she makes some points I agree with and some I don’t. Nonetheless, I am happy she is here to start this much needed conversation.
I don’t think violent video games make people violent, but I do think they can perpetuate stereotypes. For example, a person who plays a video game where it is seen as normal to beat a woman accused of infidelity might be more likely to think a woman beaten in real life for that accusation has gotten what she deserves. Another possibility is that people who play games where most violence is against women already have opinions on women that justify that violence to them. My boyfriend loves war games, Battlefield being his favorite. Women are not being beaten and killed in that game – everyone is. Everyone is wearing similar armor. Female bodies aren’t laying provocatively on the ground.
While I think Sarkeesian is starting a welling-meaning and important discussion, I’m doubting her examination after watching this video. I’d been wondering if the games I’ve been playing have objectified, belittled and abused women without my notice. While Sarkeesian appeared to have endless examples, I found it hard to find many in the games I play. What KiteTales has to say about Princess Peach and Zelda moved me.
Yes, there are issues we should discuss when it comes to gender representation across all media, including video games. However much I like Sarkeesian’s videos, I’m starting to think she is only choosing games that support her theory. I’d give her arguments more weight if she discussed games working against her theory.
I’m am left wondering about KiteTales video. When we play games like Mario or Zelda, how much of out impression of non-playable female characters is based on our own ideas of gender roles? If a character is non-playable, does that erase any ability they have to play a significant role? What is more concerning, how women are treated in video game worlds or the lack of video games that feature women as main characters?