Your wife is brutally murdered and you have to rescue your daughter (x5)
May 28, 2013 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Anita Sarkeesian has uploaded the second video in her Tropes vs. Women in Games series. The video was temporarily removed after "her harassers abused YouTube's flag function to get the video removed".
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (224 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
Without information no one outside of Google's ever likely to have, it seems hard to draw any conclusions about the degrees to which this is a story about harassers abusing flags or YouTube stupidly overreacting.
posted by Zed at 6:09 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can only imagine that the people doing this are of extraordinarily limited intelligence, but you'd think even they might eventually notice that the primary outcome of their attacks is consistently to bring more attention to Sarkeesian's ideas and lend more persuasiveness to her arguments.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:11 PM on May 28, 2013 [49 favorites]



I can only imagine that the people doing this are of extraordinarily limited intelligence, but you'd think even they might eventually notice that the primary outcome of their attacks is consistently to bring more attention to Sarkeesian's ideas and lend more persuasiveness to her arguments.


I've been on a massive gaming binge lately, and reading the comments on any gaming site makes me want to burn my XBox. Someone on FB compared Anita disabling comments to the Bosnian genocide.

From my POV, if we call this stuff out games will develop as an artistic medium. The developers of Project Eternity specifically said they'd have less sexulized female characters and equal gay and lesbian characters in their next game (then again, they're already pretty good with that).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:14 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


(I'm not expressing any doubt that Sarkeesian's harassers would do such a thing and did, mind you -- they've certainly done much worse. But I think how YouTube deals with their flags is probably another slice of this pie.)
posted by Zed at 6:17 PM on May 28, 2013


the degrees to which this is a story about harassers abusing flags or YouTube stupidly overreacting.

Given that the video is back up, clearly it doesn't violate any YouTube content policies (which is a pretty reasonable guess without even seeing it honestly) thus we are left with 'harassers abusing flags'.

That YouTube seeks to quickly respond to flagged videos is the system working as designed. I don't know why you'd characterize it as an "overreaction".

At any rate, I like to many other people don't get why so many people are trying to silence this woman. Even if you disagree with her, what's the big deal?
posted by GuyZero at 6:20 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Flags just lead to human review. Sounds like that easily identified it was OK and put it back up --- based on the tweets, it was down for an hour or a couple hours? Not ideal, but doesn't seem like a huge deal on that side.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:20 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


CIS, I agree with you completely. Mainstream video games lack the culture of reflection and criticism that allow art to flourish. I would reserve judgement on the form as a whole - I suspect that there are certain qualities of narrative and depiction that are inherent to video-game depiction, although perhaps not pertaining to the depiction of femininity. I believe that the unsophisticated portrayal of women, however problematic, is no more unsophisticated than anything else depicted by these games - violence, masculinity, how exciting life should be, etc.

But then again - mainstream video games are extremely expensive and risky enterprises, so it should come as no surprise that the LCD is catered to and doted on. They are somewhat like blockbuster movies in that while their may be someone at the helm making artistic decisions, their power is diminished by the sheer scale of the project.

However, I would reserve judgement on the form as a whole, the 'underground' video game scene is so vast at this point that it really has to be considered separately.
posted by Teakettle at 6:20 PM on May 28, 2013


General reminder not to read Kotaku's comment section unless you want to weep for humanity.
posted by naju at 6:21 PM on May 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ah, thank you. Went to watch it earlier and got a black screen with a "terms of agreement" dealie. Knew exactly what happened and was a little miffed. Glad it's back. Although, I would understand if someone flagged Sarkeesian's dry eye-rolly humor.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2013


The developers of Project Eternity specifically said they'd have less sexulized female characters and equal gay and lesbian characters in their next game....

Will it be on a big sandboxy map with a lesbian character like punching things with a power fist? Because, if so, there goes another 500 hours...
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:26 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


The automated function presumably takes the content down, and then the appeal is looked at by a human. That many flags probably usually indicates obviously obscene or infringing material, hence the rapid takedown.

What the flaggers have probably achieved is an note on the Feminist Frequency channel saying that all flags have to be viewed by a human before a takedown happens - i.e. a tiny addition to Google's labor costs.

So, well done, I guess!
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:29 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Watching the video, cripes, the people doing the background "writing" for video games sure are lazy.
posted by GuyZero at 6:30 PM on May 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


CIS, I agree with you completely. Mainstream video games lack the culture of reflection and criticism that allow art to flourish. I would reserve judgement on the form as a whole - I suspect that there are certain qualities of narrative and depiction that are inherent to video-game depiction, although perhaps not pertaining to the depiction of femininity. I believe that the unsophisticated portrayal of women, however problematic, is no more unsophisticated than anything else depicted by these games - violence, masculinity, how exciting life should be, etc.


However, I would reserve judgement on the form as a whole, the 'underground' video game scene is so vast at this point that it really has to be considered separately.


I don't think its quite as simple as that. Fallout: New Vegas has various complex portrayals of women in the game, and that was released by Bethesda. Apparently, in the end of Dragon's Dogma (releaesd by Capcom), the 'damsel in distress' is whichever character you've interacted with the most. So usually its the male blacksmith. And the video points out that Ico (and probably Shadow of the Colussus), games generally coded as 'indie', use a very obvious Damsel In Distress (and the developers even said they couldn't make Wander a woman, since woman are weaker).

Conversely, Cliffy B from Epic Games spoke out in favor of Sarkeesian but Gears of War 2 still has a really egrigous example of the the 'kill a woman at the behest of a man' in the middle of it.

I also think the whole 'save a woman's oul' thing points out just how WEIRD games and their tropes are. I don't even blink an eye at that plotline. I kinda feel like Shadow of the Damned was short changed, because I WANT to believe that all the horrible anti-feminist tropes in that were being subverted by Suda51. But given that your girlfriend is pretty much so evil that when she touches you you die, I'm not sure how much credit to give them.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:30 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]



Watching the video, cripes, the people doing the background "writing" for video games sure are lazy.


It might be because of people like me, who treat story in videogames like the story in porn - unless its very good or very bad, I ignore it and kinda resent it.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:31 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Watching the video, cripes, the people doing the background "writing" for video games sure are lazy.

This is so true, you don't even know.

I gave up on a lot of TV/Movies/books because of eye-rollingly bad writing, but held out on videogames because at least the gameplay would be distracting from the horrible.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:34 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am reminded of Eco's essay on the plots of porn movies. I am sure there are brilliant video games, but I'm also sure there's a brilliant snuff film somewhere. And lord knows there is brilliant pornography.
posted by Teakettle at 6:34 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


A friend commented that Damsel in Refrigerator trope should really be the Orpheus trope, though perhaps it should be the Eurydice trope.
posted by jeather at 6:36 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Actually, the Gears of War 2 example is probably the best thing I can point to of what makes me somewhat uneasy about that video. Sarkeesian makes the point more than once that she believes that there is no excuse for the use of these tropes, particularly the Euthanized Damsel version, and specifically has an aside that there is no allowing for narrative and that the larger social context is all-important. And...that bugs me.

A lot of great art (not that any of the games she mentions are Great Art) involves addressing the very same kind of sensitive issues (Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, and Platoon and Vietnam, for example), and can often lead to a greater cultural understanding of the issues discussed. Again, none of the games here do that (and most are as reprehensible and deserving of scorn as she portrays them), but to say that narrative can never justify touching a sensitive issue, like violence towards women, is problematic at best and hurtful to discourse at worst.

For example, the Gears of War 2 bit with Dom and Maria mentioned in the video. Gears of War 2 goes out of its way to show how horrific being captured by the Locust is, even for a short time. One of the biggest and toughest characters in the game gets captured, and even though it's for a few hours, he's so scarred by the experience that he kills himself once freed. Also, if you were to swap the genders of Dom or Maria in that scene into any permutation you like, it would still have a narrative foundation to stand on. Lambasting that scene as an example of a particularly toxic trope and saying that narrative cannot justify it just seems...just a bit much to me.

I'm not saying that "I AM A WRITER TELLING THE STORY I WANT TO TELL" is a blanket excuse. You'd better damn sure do your legwork and even then, you'd better do the scene right and not drop the ball at the goal line. But part of the purpose of art is to touch that third rail and take some of the voltage out, or at least share what it feels like to be standing on it every day. I do believe that games can handle any subject matter you throw at them, and I love what Sarkeesian is doing with the series (I'd rather have her go a bit too far than not far enough, honestly), but for something that does so much else so right, to have that rigid "Violence Against Women: DO NOT TOUCH" attitude makes me a little sad.
posted by Punkey at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2013 [19 favorites]


General reminder not to read Kotaku's comment section unless you want to weep for humanity.

Humanity doesn't deserve weeping, just some time to reflect on their thoughts and try to view the world through someone else's eys. Well, that, and the ability to dial it back from 11 when discussing anything online.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:45 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]



For example, the Gears of War 2 bit with Dom and Maria mentioned in the video. Gears of War 2 goes out of its way to show how horrific being captured by the Locust is, even for a short time. One of the biggest and toughest characters in the game gets captured, and even though it's for a few hours, he's so scarred by the experience that he kills himself once freed. Also, if you were to swap the genders of Dom or Maria in that scene into any permutation you like, it would still have a narrative foundation to stand on. Lambasting that scene as an example of a particularly toxic trope and saying that narrative cannot justify it just seems...just a bit much to me.


I think the problem with that is context, though. I watch serious art films and war films, and I've played both Gears of War games. When I play GoW, I set in the couch with a beer and get into the flow of the shooting. I take (or took) the plot very lightly, and didn't care beyond 'kill aliens'. Even after that shocking scene, the game still mostly consisted of Dom and Baird and Cole joking around and duels with dudes with double chainsaw.

That goes double for Borderlands 2. Most of the discourse around it is about loot and big guns, but they threw in that unpleasent serious plot at the end (okay, for the last 3rd). It does get points for having the first 'damsel' be not only a dude, but a PC from the previous game. Still, The Sirens bugged me. That and the fact that there were 3 male PCs in both games that were defined by their skills, but the women had to have magical powers to compete.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:50 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow, there doesn't seem to be any mention that...

1) Most of the games shown as examples are Japanese in origin, not American. You'd think that would play into a cultural analysis. It's as if we're discussing French cinema without bothering to mention that, you know, it's French cinema made for French audiences with characters speaking French before it's dubbed in English.

2) The damsel in distress trope is nothing new in Western art. In fact, it's several thousand years old. It'd be remarkable if the trope didn't exist in games. Saying the trope is "alive and well" is like saying "literature exists."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:52 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sarkeesian makes the point more than once that she believes that there is no excuse for the use of these tropes
[...]
but to say that narrative can never justify touching a sensitive issue, like violence towards women, is problematic at best and hurtful to discourse at worst.


There are ways to touch on these sensitive issues without (ab)using the tropes. I would argue that "Avenge my wife's death and find my kidnapped daughter" doesn't really justify itself.
posted by jeather at 6:53 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Punkey, that's not her attitude. At the end of the video she says that it would be absurd to completely remove violence against women. It is just that we need to be mindful of the context and approach it with intelegence and nuance.
posted by Groundhog Week at 6:55 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


General reminder not to read Kotaku's comment section unless you want to weep for humanity.

A good personal friend of mine is a major writer for Kotaku. They're as embarrassed of those people as the rest of us are. I myself have been boycotting them (and the rest of Gawker) for maybe four years now?

I kinda feel like Shadow of the Damned was short changed, because I WANT to believe that all the horrible anti-feminist tropes in that were being subverted by Suda51. But given that your girlfriend is pretty much so evil that when she touches you you die, I'm not sure how much credit to give them.

Suda51 is not a creative genius or even a decent human being. I have (another) close personal friend who worked at Grasshopper for over half a decade, was the person who pitched the idea for one of their more recent games (can't say which one, gotta protect his career), and has long since moved the fuck on from that blight of a company. Trust me: if you think they've been ironic, they haven't. Games like Shadow of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw were not created, by and large, by a team of people intelligent, aware and liberal enough to be poking fun at themselves or their own culture in the way we all like to wish they were.
Also, almost all the awesome shit in all your Suda51 games was actually the idea of one of his underlings, not the guy himself. As far as I know, he hasn't personally done anything worthwhile since Killer 7.
If you want to get a good look at the nasty state of the Japanese gaming industry, you should listen to what Inafune, of Mega Man fame, has to say about it. Shortly before Soul Sacrifice was released, he was quoted as saying that Japanese devs make weaker products due to arrogance and a lack of willingness to learn from and accept ideas from the west.
That "arrogance" thing is a huuuuuuuuuuge component to pretty much all the major players in the industry, all the way from Suda51 to Hideo Kojima. If you want "nice people," look for the indie games developers, not the major names driving their nice cars around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Hrm, I wonder if Miyamoto's a douchebag too...
posted by GoingToShopping at 6:56 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Watching the video, cripes, the people doing the background "writing" for video games sure are lazy.

Lazy, incompetent and worst of all, simply not valued. Because design is so beholden to technology and visual, there's very rarely the sense of the auteur in games.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yess yes yes yes yess... so glad this is here.
posted by odinsdream at 6:57 PM on May 28, 2013


2) The damsel in distress trope is nothing new in Western art. In fact, it's several thousand years old. It'd be remarkable if the trope didn't exist in games. Saying the trope is "alive and well" is like saying "literature exists."

OH WELL LETS DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT LATER GUYS.
posted by odinsdream at 6:58 PM on May 28, 2013 [54 favorites]


Groundhog Week: I think that message at the end runs counter to her points made earlier about narrative.

jeather: I think that hardly any of them even come close to justifying it. Even Gears of War 2 is problematic. My issue is not "Why is my favorite game in here" but that she discounts narrative entirely.
posted by Punkey at 6:59 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


OH WELL LETS DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT LATER GUYS.

You're missing the point. How can you have a discussion without acknowledging the terms of the discussion? It's like trying to discuss the evolution of fish without talking about water.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:01 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


2) The damsel in distress trope is nothing new in Western art. In fact, it's several thousand years old. It'd be remarkable if the trope didn't exist in games. Saying the trope is "alive and well" is like saying "literature exists."

Hmm. Racism was alive and well in literature for thousands of years too but it seems to have fallen out of fashion lately. Utopianism and idealism were also common themes in ancient literature but they've been displaced by more utilitarian and pragmatic forms. They still exist but they're ridiculed usually as being pop and trite. Supernatural phenomenon have also decreased a lot recently to a point that it's often regarded as genre and explaining natural phenomenon as result of gods (like Apollo's arrow causing plague) was something that was even questioned by Thucydides.

And, as far as I'm aware, there is no such thing as the canonizing of tropes, only the accidental or purposeful reuse of them in order to shore up a story. From an artistic standpoint, which if video games want to be considered art at all, the whole idea is to either break free from traditional tropes or to present them in new light, not to reinforce the same ones that a lot of people vocally object to on moral and ethical grounds. Literature is not the unchanging, monolithic institution that you think it is and anybody who has studied literature will tell you so.
posted by dubusadus at 7:02 PM on May 28, 2013 [21 favorites]



Lazy, incompetent and worst of all, simply not valued. Because design is so beholden to technology and visual, there's very rarely the sense of the auteur in games.


Suda51, Shinji Mikami, Miyamoto, CliffyB, Garry Pitchford, Gabe Newell, Peter Molyneux, Phil Fish...

Games like Shadow of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw were not created, by and large, by a team of people intelligent, aware and liberal enough to be poking fun at themselves or their own culture in the way we all like to wish they were.

Lollipop Chainsaw constantly emasculates the male characters and mocks their sexism.


Also, almost all the awesome shit in all your Suda51 games was actually the idea of one of his underlings, not the guy himself.


Tim Rogers?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:03 PM on May 28, 2013


she discounts narrative entirely.

Well, I disagree. As she points out, any given narrative can make an in-world argument for whatever sexist trope it uses. But the creators chose that particular world/narrative. (This is called Watsonian vs Doylist.)

She's not discounting narrative, she's discounting in-narrative rationalizations for sexist tropes.
posted by jeather at 7:05 PM on May 28, 2013 [33 favorites]


Also, if you were to swap the genders of Dom or Maria in that scene into any permutation you like, it would still have a narrative foundation to stand on.

I strongly disagree with that, for two reasons, first being that the whole thing about why humans are being tortured is never explained or justified in any way, from what I remember. It just happens. But more importantly, this classic "women in refrigerators" territory - Dom's wife suffers to advance Dom's character development, not because her story matters a damn.
posted by mhoye at 7:08 PM on May 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


I would argue that "Avenge my wife's death and find my kidnapped daughter" doesn't really justify itself.

I actually see this as primarily a different trope. It's the "Rationally I know that reacting to things with violence is a terrible approach and people who do that usually make the world a worse place, but at the same time we love violence so very very much, it's just so exciting and stimulating, that I really want some loophole by which I can just go nuts and be super violent and yet somehow not be a bad guy. I want that loophole so bad that I'm not going to look very closely at whatever can fill that role".

Awful things happening to loved ones in just the right kind of highly unlikely way as to "force" the protagonist to be violent to save someone (or prevent future victims), is a time-honored way of maintaining our polite fiction that we can do these really nasty (but so very exciting!!!) things, and not be the villains because of it.
The narrative doesn't justify the deaths and kidnappings because that's not the purpose of it. It's just for manufacturing a handwaving-away of inconvenient truths, so we can pretend violence is ok here, freeing us to revel in it.
posted by anonymisc at 7:10 PM on May 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Even in a world where there is a lot of sexism and there are a lot of sexist dudes, I am consistently amazed by the amount of nerdrage and keening wails directed at Anita Sarkeesian. I want to airlift HOBBIES and CHILL PILLS over the homes of those who feel the need to harass her.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:11 PM on May 28, 2013 [18 favorites]


Well, I disagree. As she points out, any given narrative can make an in-world argument for whatever sexist trope it uses. But the creators chose that particular world/narrative. (This is called Watsonian vs Doylist.)

Wow, that is so great.
posted by odinsdream at 7:13 PM on May 28, 2013


>the whole 'save a woman's oul' thing

where is this owl-saving game I would play it forever.
posted by scruss at 7:26 PM on May 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


where is this owl-saving game I would play it forever.

Does this count? :D
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:38 PM on May 28, 2013


To this day, the only video game I don't dimly regret playing was Marathon. So much mystery in those terminals.
posted by Teakettle at 7:42 PM on May 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants: "And the video points out that Ico (and probably Shadow of the Colussus), games generally coded as 'indie', use a very obvious Damsel In Distress (and the developers even said they couldn't make Wander a woman, since woman are weaker)."

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to defend sexism in games, but just in the interest of clarity Fumito Ueda mentioned one other reason alongside the strength one: "Early in development, the main character in The Last Guardian was female, but the team ended up going with a boy. The reason: they thought it would be more realistic that he would have enough grip strength to be able to climb around, and because they wouldn't have to worry about camera angles with a girl who wears a skirt."

If I recall correctly the same thing was considered for Shadow of the Colossus. Obviously women can wear pants and climb things too, but there you go.
posted by Corinth at 7:42 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sarkeesian makes the point more than once that she believes that there is no excuse for the use of these tropes, particularly the Euthanized Damsel version, and specifically has an aside that there is no allowing for narrative and that the larger social context is all-important.

I read her stance a bit differently. As already mentioned, she's explicitly stated that she's not trying to say we shouldn't ever show violence against women. I think she's just trying to point a flashlight at the trends and habits that (sometimes) lazy writers can unwittingly fall into. I think that's a pretty noble goal.

It reminds me of Gloria Steinem's reaction to American Psycho; she was opposed to the release of the book because of its portrayals of horrific violence against women. My immediate response was that, as is required for parody to exist, simply depicting something does not mean you support or condone it. While we can't really go beyond the implied author and know what was going on in B.E. Ellis' mind (or Cliffy B's, or anyone else's), we can and SHOULD stop and notice long recurring trends in the media we consume.

So much of what we do and who we are is based off of unseen assumptions and learned biases; white privilege is a very very real thing in America right now, but how many white dudes do you know that are actually actively aware of the fact that a black man doesn't have the luxury of knowing he hasn't been pulled over solely due to race when a white cop flashes his lights? Our knapsacks, they are ALL invisible!
posted by GoingToShopping at 7:49 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am reminded of Eco's essay on the plots of porn movies. I am sure there are brilliant video games, but I'm also sure there's a brilliant snuff film somewhere. And lord knows there is brilliant pornography.

Seems out-of-date. Porn that drags its feet is designed for the theater or the VCR. Now you can make your movie a half-hour long and get right to the acrobatics. The writing's still terrible, of course.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:52 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It turns out it's hard to do proper reading on a treadmill, so sorry for the reply lag.

jeather, that is exactly what I was thinking she might be doing, but she never (to my mind) makes it explicit either way. That's why I'd much rather she have said what she said, because the core message, that people need to think about what the hell they're writing, is so well-stated. But at the same time, this is (again, to my mind) left open, and so it makes me a bit uneasy, because people do make statements to that effect, and having something more explicit saying "Hey, if you want to touch that live wire, be sure you know what the fuck you're doing" to cover that base would have been nice.

Honestly, I'd still prefer how it was presented to an overly softened version. If you create that taboo and it sticks, it means that only two kinds of people will reach for it: assholes, and people who have a good way to handle it. Like high-tension power lines, only the suicidal and the incredibly-prepared will climb out on them.

Edit: Also, the whole "look at how horrible all of these things are" theme is, in fact, the point of this installment. Next time is supposed to be more positive, and might even show some well-done or at least more-excusable examples.
posted by Punkey at 8:00 PM on May 28, 2013


Suda51, Shinji Mikami, Miyamoto, CliffyB, Garry Pitchford, Gabe Newell, Peter Molyneux, Phil Fish...

These names don't sell copies of games. These names are completely unknown to 90 percent of the gaming audience. Seriously, don't even try to argue it, because you'll belie a misunderstanding between the size of the audience and the volume of the vocal minority of the other 10 percent.

Now contrast that with the recognition of these names:

Spielberg, Scorcese, Tarantino, Coppola, Hitchcock...

Joss Whedon probably has higher name recognition among gamers than people that actually make games.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:02 PM on May 28, 2013 [11 favorites]


I wonder if ENTITLEMENT is as much a problem as sexism. In most of the games I've played yesterday, the Hero is awarded things - money, power, sex - just for Being The Hero. In Dragon's Dogma, the princess falls in love with you instantly. In Skyrim and other RPGs like it, everyone just walks up to you and start talking about how you're the Greatest and Most Important Person Ever. Seems like that might lead to certain mindsets
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:14 PM on May 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Ugh, I really dig this girl's ideas but I can't stand watching this video for more than 2 minutes at a time. She is just painful to watch.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:14 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I've started to wonder about other unrealistic tropes in movies, games and literature.

Specifically, head trauma and bowel movements.

Head trauma in movies, games and literature almost never has the intensity of consequence encountered in real life. As EMTs have known for years, and the NFL only seems to be finding out now, each concussion is serious, and getting knocked on the head hard enough to knock you out will often alter the course of your life.

The problem with bowel movements in movies, games and literature is far more insidious for its absence. No one in modern life really knows what a normal bowel movement really is, because no one has really seen one. Some people live years of misery without knowing it because they simply have no idea what a normal poop is like. Parenthood can therefore be a nightmare. ("Am I supposed to be mining poop out from my daughter's labia? Will we both need therapy?")

Anyhow, I really like these videos. I would love to see video games branch out from all this bullshit. It is, of course, the case that male power fantasy is mostly about violence against men. That is beside the point, though.

Part three could actually be awesome.
posted by poe at 8:14 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it's a given that Damsel in Distress is one of the "ye olde" tropes. I mean, who doesn't recognize that one? So is it really, truly that important to point out all the myriad literature and myth versions since the beginning of time? I doubt it. It's the kind of thing that falls under "common knowledge" and thus doesn't require any additional citation, in my opinion.

I don't play as many games as I used to but I was genuinely surprised by the sheer number of games referenced. Eye opening, and pretty depressing. What's also interesting (to me, anyway) is that at first this is squarely a discussion about the trivialized nature of violence against women in games, and then that could logically lead to a broader discussion about trivialized violence in gaming in general. Recent discussions about Bioshock Infinite come to mind...
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:15 PM on May 28, 2013



I think it's a given that Damsel in Distress is one of the "ye olde" tropes. I mean, who doesn't recognize that one? So is it really, truly that important to point out all the myriad literature and myth versions since the beginning of time? I doubt it. It's the kind of thing that falls under "common knowledge" and thus doesn't require any additional citation, in my opinion.


I think part of the idea is to start with something fundamental and easy to understand to ease gamers into the series. Doesn't seem to have helped.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:18 PM on May 28, 2013


Joss Whedon probably has higher name recognition among gamers than people that actually make games.

Well now you're just being an ass to an entire medium of art and expression. And it's not as if those directors have been freed from scrutiny by way of their fame or that they are the only directors in the world. There are plenty of auteurs in games who have little name recognition in the same way that there are plenty of auteurs in film that have little name recognition in the same way that they are plenty of writers who have very little name recognition, ad infinitum, per every medium of art and expression. Halo and CoD and their ilk are the DaVinci Code and Rainbow Sixes of the gaming world. A minority of people choose to read Emma Goldman or Saul Bellow and yet that does not somehow free literature from feminist criticism and a minority of players choose to play thoughtful and intelligent games and that does not free games from the same analysis.

That the audience for video games is younger and carries with them a lot of preconceptions doesn't mean that in 10 years there will be a Kubrick or Hitchcock in video games, cognizant of the dialogue that's happening about games now. There are plenty of serious video critics out there; have a google at Ludology or take a gander at the Critical Distance blog. It's not the best criticism and a lot of it does tend towards pathos more than logos but it's still so early since the development of video games. The critical body is in its infancy and its already adopted a hell of a lot faster than in film. Hell, even Plato felt that the written word was a travesty that would lead to the degradation of the art of persuasion and the values of memory and that was long after its introduction. Look how far we've come.

On a side note: just because something doesn't sell games does not make it unsuccessful or not a cultural touchstone. I don't know how you go through your day but the perspective that economics rules all mediums is a weird anti-philosophy that seems to have more values in common with egoism than with the centuries of humanism that so many people have worked so hard to establish and it doesn't have much of a place insofar as discussions of ethics and morality are concerned.
posted by dubusadus at 8:20 PM on May 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell, part one details more of the historical context you are talking about.
posted by jzed at 8:27 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Haha, as if Inafune isn't a massive asshole himself. And the indie devs aren't any better, either (how could anyone say that with a straight face when Phil Fish and Jonathon Blow exist?).

Gaming is a lot like being a fan of metal or rap or k-pop in that there's a tacit understanding that the people who excel at that craft are the kind of people who care more about booze than art and harbor irrational hatreds of at least three different ethnic/sexual/cultural categories. Which is not to say that their assholishness should never be pointed out, but if you're the type who ties up their political identity in compassionate & conscious consumerism, you're better off pirating their works or not getting involved in the first place.

As for the topic of this post itself, I tried watching this but the presentation style just turns me off. A shame, because this is a topic I'd love to be more discussed. Seems like it'd be better in the format of a blog post or article series, where it can go into the depth it deserves and allow the reader to fully digest the topic, rather than being held captive by the video.
posted by NEW Eccentric Girl at 8:28 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So many terrible Japanese console games. I, if I'm being honest, spend way waaaay waaaaaaaay too many hours gaming and I've played virtually none of these games. I guess that's a good thing?
posted by Justinian at 8:28 PM on May 28, 2013


Hey! I caught a glimpse of Dead Space! I played that!
posted by Justinian at 8:30 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Haha, as if Inafune isn't a massive asshole himself. And the indie devs aren't any better, either (how could anyone say that with a straight face when Phil Fish and Jonathon Blow exist?).

Well, I haven't heard any stories about Fish (no idea who that is, actually, I'm a consoler) or Blow. Share some stories about Inafune? He seems like he's been a bit more responsible in calling the egos out on their shit. As for the comparison to music, especially metal, I don't really think that's completely valid. Two of my favorite mainstream rockers, Trent Reznor and Maynard James Keenan are demonstrably "nice guys" who respect themselves, their art, and their fans, and they don't ride the coattails of their bandmates. I don't think it's fair to suggest that racism, sexism and bigotry go hand in hand with the great minds of ANY kind of art form, or even with success itself.

I'm curious though, amongst the devs I know, assholes are the exception, not the rule, and plenty of them are what you'd call "successful." Can you give some links or examples of Blow, Inafune, and Fish?
posted by GoingToShopping at 8:46 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Phil Fish did this thing on Twitter where he made fun of people who were angry that the only pre-order incentive for Fez on Steam was a 10% discount. If you miss the hamburger aspect of the whole thing, he comes across as very full of himself - I don't have exact quotes, but he was saying things along the lines of you ingrates, I should be charging a hundred dollars for this masterpiece.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 9:03 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm just glad she got to the wifearming. Easily one of the best worst videogame plotlines of all time.
posted by graventy at 9:13 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


A friend commented that Damsel in Refrigerator trope should really be the Orpheus trope, though perhaps it should be the Eurydice trope.

Except Orpheus isn't motivated by revenge. His story is more of a quest. Plus Eurydice isn't killed by Hades (or any villain), her death is accidental.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:17 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can 'wifearming' be a thing? I want to use it in my daily conversations.
posted by naju at 9:19 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


It could be the name for when a female character is literally turned into an object (instead of metaphorically), like Jane in Ender's Game, the title in the Love and Monsters episode of Doctor Who, or the many sexy holograms in games.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:29 PM on May 28, 2013


You could also make wife-arming the thing Penn Jilette wanted, where we send a pink handgun to every woman in america. That would alter the course of violence against women, but maybe not for the better.
posted by poe at 9:35 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


It almost doesn't matter how good her videos are. No video could make her point more effectively than the astonishingly ugly response she's provoked.

Just like how the comments section for every Rock Paper Shotgun article about sexism proves conclusively that articles about sexism in games are still necessary.
posted by straight at 9:36 PM on May 28, 2013 [34 favorites]


I really dig this girl's ideas but

Come on, really?
posted by ODiV at 9:40 PM on May 28, 2013 [38 favorites]


The problem with bowel movements in movies

Slight derail, but gawhd I hate it when this comes up. Not for the reason that it is a completely false idea about the necessity of it dictates reality somehow, but for the simple fact it is juat completely false. I watch a fair amount of movies and not only do scenes take place in bathrooms all the time, scenes of people on the crapper are not at all uncommon. I just rented Wanderlust last month and there's like a 5 minute scene with Paul Rudd taking a dump. I could sit around and name a bunch of other movies that contain crapping scenes but that would be about as pointless as naming movies that include people grabbing a drink of water or chewing gum.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 9:57 PM on May 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


As a bit of an aside, I'd also like to point out that the Gears of War official canon comics have rape camps. That the good guys run.

Also, this was the best selling comic in the world for a while there. So, yeah. Wonderful.
posted by themadthinker at 9:58 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Even in a world where there is a lot of sexism and there are a lot of sexist dudes, I am consistently amazed by the amount of nerdrage and keening wails directed at Anita Sarkeesian. I want to airlift HOBBIES and CHILL PILLS over the homes of those who feel the need to harass her.
The reaction was really bizarre. It was like a ton of guys were CONVINCED that FEMINISTS were going to RUIN VIDEO GAMES and that this was like the first charge over the hill or something.

It also seems like there are a lot of guys out there who sincerely hate women. I think people use the term 'misogynistic' to mean thing just thinking about things from the male perspective, not considering what women want, only thinking of them objects, whatever. But in reality there are just a lot of men who like actually, literally just lothe women. Presumably due to an inability to get laid and I would imagine an extremely small penises.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 PM on May 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


The female-character-in-an-object thing is done in Tales of Symphonia, too.

If I recall correctly, though, Jane the AI became a human, rather than a human going into an object. Sort of a similar deal to the awakening of EDI. Not that there aren't problematic aspects of that, too.

I'm really sick of the "this is an old trope so it is okay" argument. It's total bullshit. If you want your medium to be seriously considered as an art form, you have to actually innovate, and if one of the aspects you want respect for is storyline you have to give the storyline it's due and make it more interesting than a 13-year-old's fanfiction. Part of that is not shoving 50% of the human population into a handful of roles.

I think there's an in between of games that are attempting to subvert the trope in some way, even if they don't always succeed. The bit in Jade Empire where Dawn Star is kidnapped by Nathan Fillion and you have to rescue her is sort of great because she spends the whole time taunting him and basically manipulating him into anger and weakness, but she still gets thrown into a bag and stolen and you still have to rescue her.

I'm a big fan of how this is handled in Dragon Age: Origins. (Some spoilers for that game ahead.) The protagonist and the super adorable fighter swordguy Alistair (a love interest for female protagonists) get kidnapped and end up in their underwear in jail. You have two options: break out of jail with Alistair or play as two of the other characters, who then raid the fortress and free them. (The latter comes with really excellent funny dialogue.)

And man, I could think of a fair few of the whole "no, Protagonist (TM), please kill me to end my suffering and/or keep me from becoming/staying a monster" scenes from other games too. I'd realized that was a trope but hadn't really thought of how it happens almost exclusively to women. That one happens at least twice in Tales of Symphonia, I believe, and I think maybe more on sidequests. Symphonia is an interesting case study for these because they really try to turn tropes on their head when they can in that game but almost all of the gender ones are untouched.

And yeah, delmoi, there are a ton of them. They gather on the internet in comment threads. Apparently. I doubt it's a small penis thing though-- usually these guys aren't getting laid because they are total assholes who absolutely fail to see women as human beings; no one gets to the part where the dick is even looked at.
posted by NoraReed at 10:20 PM on May 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I loved the first installment of this series and just a few days ago was wondering if the second was out yet. What I got out of this episode: modern mainstream games are so much worse storywise than I ever imagined. Not just in their treatment of women, but their treatment of, well, anything at all. Wow.
posted by zsazsa at 10:31 PM on May 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


In general, I like these videos, but I think they would be more effective if she referenced quantitative studies whenever possible to back them up (not necessarily in the video, maybe as an accompanying document appendix pdf) . maybe the studies don't exist and need to be kickstarter-ed.

Also: citing Passage does not help her argument, blergh.
posted by Bwithh at 10:34 PM on May 28, 2013


Wow, this bit about gears of war is pretty f'd up:
This brings us back to the picture at the top of this post. Who's that redhead in the COG armor? That would be Alex Brand, a character from the Gears of War spin-off comic books. She's rumored to be a new character in Gears 3, which would make her the first female to actually see any action in these games -- and the first to wear some real armor, unlike Anya's crisp business casual skirt-suit (the female uniform doesn't include pants?).

Here's where it gets a bit weird. Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski spoke about this issue in a recent article about female characters in GameInformer. Apparently, the reason why we never see any women in Gears is that they're all busy ... having babies. Because the Locusts killed so many humans that the women need to spend all of their time procreating. Instead of fighting

...

So, why is Alex Brand in the story at all? Well, it turns out that it's because she's sterile. She can't make babies. So she's allowed to fight.
Talk about retrograde attitudes.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 PM on May 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


That goes double for Borderlands 2. Most of the discourse around it is about loot and big guns, but they threw in that unpleasent serious plot at the end (okay, for the last 3rd).

She pretty well misreads that situation.

Angel is a damsel, but she's Jack's damsel, not the PC's. As far as the PC is concerned, she's just a computer until she isn't. And as far as the PC is concerned, there's never any hint of saving or protecting or anything like that -- Angel is just a target. One that asks for it, like Shooty McFace, but still.

For Jack, she's the damsel that triggers his not really development as a fuckhead and gets him to fuck up hard enough that you can kill him (even gets him monologuing). Hey, in lots of ways you can read Jack as kind of a stereotyped video game hero... that's what heroes do! They show mercy.

The other damsel is Roland again, who is killed for no other reason than to get Lilith to go apeshit in stereotypical revenge fashion. Which is dumb, because she's instantly captured. Later, she actually references the trope, better dead than a damsel.

I mean, it's still a stupid bro-ey game where your psychotic PC kills just about everyone they meet with BIG BIG GUNS!!! But within that context, it can be surprisingly sensitive to tropes like that.

That and the fact that there were 3 male PCs in both games that were defined by their skills, but the women had to have magical powers to compete.

Gaige! The only character with skills beyond mayhem. And she's not particularly sexualized!

In sum, Borderlands 2 is a land of contrasts.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 PM on May 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Come on, really?

The meanings and connotations of words and slang varies by region, culture, and time. I think it's uncharitable to stereotype and assume the worst interpretation. (I know there are people who use the word diminutively, consciously or unconsciously, but my personal experience is that I know more people who speak that way (of both men and women) with nothing being implied, consciously or unconsciously.)
posted by anonymisc at 10:36 PM on May 28, 2013


One of the problems in most ( but not all) game genres is that story writing just isn't considered very important, or if it is important, it isn't given much depth at all.

A female veteran game writer speaks about her frustrations
posted by Bwithh at 10:38 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That and the fact that there were 3 male PCs in both games that were defined by their skills, but the women had to have magical powers to compete.

Gaige! The only character with skills beyond mayhem. And she's not particularly sexualized!


I hope not! Isn't she like 16? Anyway, she's a DLC character - you need to pay extra for her. What struck me as odd while playing the game was that you have 3 male characters defined by their skills and gear and one female character in each game defined by their magical powers - by being these unique Sirens that are part character, part plot devince, and part McGuffin. I admit that Gaige and Mad Moxxi and the crazy redneck mechanic lady and Jack's girlfriend are all badass, but they're NPC. Why can't we play as the gun toting sherrif or Mad Moxxi?

I hope one of her videos addresses Vanquish, and its ultimate villian: Evil Hillary Clinton.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:39 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the problems in most ( but not all) game genres is that story writing just isn't considered very important, or if it is important, it isn't given much depth at all.

That's what makes some of this stuff even weirder. There doesn't need to be a story, and I'd be perfectly happy if every attempt at 'drama' was surgically excised from Gears of War. I don't need to think about rape camps or the horrors of war while I'm playing a glorified shooting and chainsawing gallery.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:40 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Talk about retrograde attitudes.
posted by delmoi at 10:35 PM on May 28 [+] [!]


I haven't played the game but the wiki linked earlier says the birthing camps/fate of women in the game world is depicted as dystopian : "Alex attempted to tell people about what was going on in Jilane, but people either did not listen to her or did not care. When she learned that Jilane had been overun by the Locust, she cried, and was unsure if it was from grief over the women who had died or happiness that the farm was gone.[2]"
posted by Bwithh at 10:41 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


In general, I like these videos, but I think they would be more effective if she referenced quantitative studies whenever possible to back them up
That's the biggest criticism leveled against her, that what she's doing isn't SCIENCE or something, because it's not an all-encompassing quantitative study.

But all she's saying is "Here are some tropes that exist, and here are some examples of the use of those tropes" She isn't saying that those are the only plots in all video games, but rather they just that they are there, and how they are problematic.

It's sort of like complaining that The Hot Zone is unfair because it doesn't portray all the viruses that aren't as bad as Ebola.
posted by delmoi at 10:53 PM on May 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


But all she's saying is "Here are some tropes that exist, and here are some examples of the use of those tropes" She isn't saying that those are the only plots in all video games, but rather they just that they are there, and how they are problematic.

She's saying more than that. She's saying that these are dominant or very widespread tropes. I'm not a quant person; I'm a qualitative/cultural studies person whose eyes glaze over at the mention of "scientific" statistics. I think she's making arguments about systematic problems, or common symptoms of systematic problems rather than special Ebola-type ( to borrow your analogy) extreme cases. I'm not suggesting that quant data should replace or be prioritized over her current analytical approach; Im saying it could do a lot to help support her approach for wider audiences
posted by Bwithh at 11:05 PM on May 28, 2013


I think she's making arguments about systematic problems, or common symptoms of systematic problems rather than special Ebola-type
Can you point to any specific statements from her video to back that interpretation?
posted by delmoi at 11:19 PM on May 28, 2013


Are you really arguing she isn't doing this because she believes these tropes are a systemic problem rather than a rare one?
posted by Justinian at 11:23 PM on May 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm asking for evidence for the claim she isn't. Shouldn't be that difficult if it's true, right?
posted by delmoi at 11:30 PM on May 28, 2013


I am glad beyond words that these videos are getting produced. I've only played a few of the games referenced in this second installment (God of War and Max Payne series, Dishonored) and I have always taken their use of the Damsel in Distress trope at face value without giving it much thought.

Watching this video is simultaneously difficult and enlightening: I feel substantial shame at not seeing long ago how egregious the use of the trope has been and continues to be, and thrilled that after watching the video I am now able to recognize, pay attention to and criticize it, and demand more from the people who deliver us our video game entertainment.

There is one and only one concession I'm willing to make to the outraged dudebros who harass or belittle Sarkesian: being aware of problematic aspects of games makes you occasionally enjoy gaming less, when your immersion is interrupted by you being aware of (and hopefully annoyed by) the use of a sexist trope. This is a fact, and I understand the anger. Likewise, I understand the somewhat amorphous fear of feminist thinking "ruining games", probably through a reduction in cheap titillation and/or games suddenly becoming All Serious and Dealing With Issues instead of providing the player with their usual fix of male power fantasy.

But I say "understand", not "accept". There is nothing remotely acceptable in the status quo. The dudebros need to get over themselves. They are not entitled to their blithe ignorance of the issues involved. If the price of getting this knowledge out there to positively influence the role of women in future video games is some degree of reduced gratification in that part of the gaming population, then that is a price well worth paying.
posted by jklaiho at 11:31 PM on May 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


It's sort of like complaining that The Hot Zone is unfair because it doesn't portray all the viruses that aren't as bad as Ebola.

To continue your analogy, does she want people to wash their hands regularly and do something about the 36000 deaths a year due to flu, or does she want them to adopt some sort of handwaving freakouty response that has little to do with epidemiology and disease prevention, but let's the doomsday preppers believe that all their careful planning has paid off when everyone in North America doesn't contract hemorrhagic fever?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:33 PM on May 28, 2013


I, if I'm being honest, spend way waaaay waaaaaaaay too many hours gaming and I've played virtually none of these games. I guess that's a good thing?

Yeah, pretty much the only game I have played from the video is Grand Theft Auto. Am I just not as much of a gamer as I thought or is there something weird going on about the games ending up on this video?
posted by Authorized User at 11:33 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne, just to clarify, are you making the argument that she shouldn't be criticizing the treatment of women in video games (or the Damsel in Distress trope in particular) because there are more serious issues in the world that she could or should be paying attention to? Because that's how I'm reading your "36000 flu deaths" response.
posted by jklaiho at 11:37 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


To continue your analogy, does she want people to wash their hands regularly and do something about the 36000 deaths a year due to flu, or does she want them to adopt some sort of handwaving freakouty response that has little to do with epidemiology and disease prevention, but let's the doomsday preppers believe that all their careful planning has paid off when everyone in North America doesn't contract hemorrhagic fever?
I don't know, why don't you watch the fucking video and see what she has to say?

Then maybe you'd be able to provide some of the textual evidence I was asking about.

(It's not like The Hot Zone said any of that stuff about Ebola. It was just a book about a gross disease and the scientists who were studying it.)
posted by delmoi at 11:39 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm asking for evidence for the claim she isn't. Shouldn't be that difficult if it's true, right?

I believe she has a Masters in Sociology, and considering she is using a critical perspective standpoint I don't see how she isn't talking about systemic problems.

Can you clarify what stance you believe she is taking, if not that?
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 11:46 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I just not as much of a gamer as I thought or is there something weird going on about the games ending up on this video?

I wasn't just snarking in my comment you replied to here. A lot, lot, lot of the games in her video are crappy Japanese console games. Unless you play those you won't have seen many of them.

The major exceptions were Dead Space, Dishonored, GTA (primarily console, but not Japanese)... ummm...
posted by Justinian at 11:53 PM on May 28, 2013


Isn't demanding to see quantitative proof in conversations about sexism one of the classic derailment tactics?
posted by happyroach at 11:53 PM on May 28, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh, Borderlands 2! Except I believe she's mostly wrong about it.
posted by Justinian at 11:58 PM on May 28, 2013


As a bit of an aside, I'd also like to point out that the Gears of War official canon comics have rape camps.

Didn't Karen Traviss write those comics? Not trying to make excuses for the inclusion of rape camps, but I do find it interesting. Did she put in the rape camps because she felt like she had to prove her chops? She's a novelist, but I haven't read anything other than her Gears of War books (not bad for military scifi except she really harped on the the "military = good, civilians = bad" theme and was, I thought, unfair to the Stranded. If the government of a country decided to nuke the rest of the world/kill all my family/friends in order to save itself, I would be hard pressed to regard the soldiers defending that government with any fondness.). The rape camps are referenced in the novels as well, so it's likely that this is something she came up with. (Think it's the second novel? Been a while since I've read them.)
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:59 PM on May 28, 2013


No, I'm trying to figure out why one would argue the phenomenon isn't a widespread issue, or if it's not, and one really has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find it, why it's worth discussing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:04 AM on May 29, 2013


There are meaningful degrees between "widespread" (however one decides to define it) and scraping the bottom of the barrel. It would be disingenuous to claim that problematic portrayal of women in mainstream video games, past and present, would be rare or hard to find. I may not have played more than five or six of the games in this most recent video, but that does not mean that many (or most) of the rest would not be well-known in gamer circles. I, for one, recognize most of them, and I'm not a connoisseur of obscure games. And remember, this is a video mainly concerned with just ONE problematic trope in its various forms. The larger whole is easily forgotten.

As I see it, the back-and-forth happening right now is in response to delmoi's analogy. This is an annoying phenomenon that happens here all too often: arguing over one commenter's attempt (often an analogy) of clarifying his/her view of the source material that is being discussed, and that getting conflated with the discussion of the source material itself, until suddenly the line between the two becomes blurry and the discussion loses any coherence it may have once had. This is rapidly happening now.
posted by jklaiho at 12:19 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Max Payne series (MP1 deserves its place, MP3 less so, I think), Alan Wake, Duke Nukem 3D and Forever, and Gears of War 2 are AAA American titles that show up.

Honestly, I'm surprised she didn't take a swing at the Halo series in this one. It certainly deserves it.
posted by Punkey at 12:21 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's also the videogame version of Dante's Inferno, which was a AAA game published by EA, a Castlevania game (huge, well-loved franchise), Bionic Commando (minor IP, but by a huge company, Capcom), Ico ('prestige' game), Borderlands 2 (massively, massively popular game), and a few that I didn't catch (I was, ironically enough, trying to avoid spoilers).


Honestly, I'm surprised she didn't take a swing at the Halo series in this one. It certainly deserves it.


I feel like Cortana is part of another creepy trope.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:25 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but she spends most of the second and third games as a Damsel in Distress, and they flirt with the Euthanized Damsel pretty heavily in Halo 3. The whole sad progression of Cortana from Halo 1 to Halo 3 is rather depressing.
posted by Punkey at 12:29 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The systemic problem is the representation of gender in games, part of a wider systemic problem of the representation of gender in media and culture more broadly, which is turn part of a broader systemic problem of gender relations and gender roles more broadly, aka the patriarchy. The tropes Sarkeesian is highlighting are an example of these systemic problems, and I'm sure she'll cover some overs as the series moves on.

I am glad beyond words that these videos are getting produced. I've only played a few of the games referenced in this second installment (God of War and Max Payne series, Dishonoured) and I have always taken their use of the Damsel in Distress trope at face value without giving it much thought.

This is a good point, we need to be prodded from time to time to take note of these things. I had a bit of a jolt when Dishonoured came up, cause I hadn't really thought about it either, and I research and teach game studies for a living. I think I'm a bit like CiS and often don't take too much notice of the plot, kinda busy working out how to sneak up on some poor guard.

I talked to my first years about the first video, and for some there was definitely a vibe of defensiveness, that they felt that they were being told that their favourite hobby, and one their identity is quite invested in since they want to make games, was bad, and therefore they are also bad. Some talked about how they felt that videogames were constantly being looked down upon, etc. There were a few that were just out and out misogynists sadly though.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:37 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, and if you wanted to study gender in games quantitatively, I suppose you could do a content analysis, but they are very few and far between in the study of games, partly because it is an incredibly boring research methodology.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 12:40 AM on May 29, 2013


I think that Dishonored is an edge case, though. The Empress wasn't killed because she was a woman that was important to the main character, she was killed because of her position of power. That's a role that could be filled by either gender. Yes, it's still a woman that is murdered to advance the plot of a male protagonist, but if you gender-flip the scenario it wouldn't be remarkable at first glance. Of course, then they have to go and have Corvo and the Empress being secret lovers in the nighttime and Emily having been their secret love child and all that and that 100% ruins it, but still.
posted by Punkey at 12:41 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like Cortana is part of another creepy trope.

The Cortana arc comes to us from Marathon and it's just something that AI's do in that universe. Durandal, the first named-for-a-sword AI that went rampant in a Bungie game, was male.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:42 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh yeah I guess I missed Max Payne there. Irrelevantly, it's not actually American. I'm sure many of the games I have played have used damsels in distress extensively and it's slightly personally disappointing that very few games that I have played are being looked at here. I had the same issue with the first video that was almost all Nintendo titles and I wished that the second installment would be more personally relevant.
posted by Authorized User at 12:44 AM on May 29, 2013


Not talking about the Rampancy problem that Cortana faces (although that is part of their flirtation with Euthanized Damsel), but the fact that she is captured (or volunteers to be captured, they're functionally similar in Halo's case) and becomes the Woman of Affection Held Hostage, which is the definition of the Damsel in Distress. They make no bones about it in the third game, especially: Master Chief's primary personal motivation for saving Cortana is because he's in love with her. They even have the whole "the Pure Object of Affection, shining in blue light, is menaced by the Dark and Twisted Evil Bad Guy" cutscene.
posted by Punkey at 12:46 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think that Dishonored is an edge case, though. The Empress wasn't killed because she was a woman that was important to the main character...

This would make Max Panye an edge case as well since his wife was killed because she knew too much about Project Valhalla due to documents sent to the DA's office where she worked by Alfred Woden. (In other news, there's a Max Payne Wiki. Who knew.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:54 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would argue that the fact that it requires a visit to the Wiki to learn plot developments that are only unveiled towards the end of the game, and the way that the game handles the event, beating you over the head with Payne's emotional-fucked-up-ness every 30 seconds, makes Max Payne much less of an edge case. Context matters a lot with stuff like that, Dishonored makes it about the usurpation of power pretty quickly (and Corvo fulfilling his duties, both as a bodyguard and as a man protecting a woman, another reason why I don't entirely disagree with its presence), while Max Payne bases a three-game series about Payne shouting "MY WIFE AND DAUGHTER ARE DEAAAAAD".
posted by Punkey at 1:00 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why do people keep going back to the fiction to justify these things? The fiction isn't some real, objective reality - it was written by the same people writing the game. Whatever the fiction says, Max Payne's wife died to fuel it's noir pastiche. Especially since most of these justifications are hidden in places that normal players won't even find them.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:04 AM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Exactly. Sarkeesian addresses this very point. Probably all of them are edge cases if you look at them individually. They do follow an internal logic. But that's a distraction from the meta-analysis which seems to indicate (anecdotally, not necessarily quantitatively) that there is a strong and recognizable trend of women being used in video games in such a way that collectively cultivates certain ideas about about them (i.e. they are more valuable in crisis/death, it is the hero's duty to save/kill them, etc...).

The fact that there are "mitigating circumstances" for most of the examples in the video doesn't dilute the fact that there are a significant number of games still relying on these lazy, problematic tropes for no good reason other than, as Sarkeesian puts it: "They probably just didn't give it much thought".

This leads to a final point, which is more of a guiding principle: games criticism is not about fostering guilt for enjoying games with shitty lazy tropes, games criticism (and all art criticism) is about examining the impact of art, our reactions to it, and why that may or may not be a bad thing. And then thinking about how those things collectively impact our culture as a whole.
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:06 AM on May 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


I think that the fiction matters to a point when you're arguing about the messages being given, seeing as the fiction contextualizes the messages. You can't divorce the message from the messenger that's telling it, not entirely. The underlying message does matter, and can and usually does matter more than the fiction that's delivering it, but to say that we should extricate the message and evaluate it in a vacuum fundamentally changes it, which doesn't do a favor to the thing being studied or our efforts to examine it.
posted by Punkey at 1:16 AM on May 29, 2013


It's definitely a broader issue in media than just in games. I'm watching Tarantino's (mentioned upthread as a true artst and filmmaker recognizable to the masses) Django Unchained as we speak comment and you can't get any more blatant with the Damsel in Distress trope, can you?
posted by Justinian at 1:18 AM on May 29, 2013


Justinian: No, you cannot.

And to continue from above, that is why I think Dishonored is somewhat less guilty than Max Payne. Both are, if you bore all the way down through the fiction in the game, pretty similar: Corvo is fighting to avenge his dead lover and save his daughter, Payne is fighting for revenge for his murdered wife and daughter, and both had Bad Things happen to the women involved for reasons beyond simply being involved with the main character. However, Max Payne makes it clear from the start that Payne was acting out over the murder itself, and only reveals that his wife was the real target and not him towards the end of the game, and that revelation changes very little about his motivations. On the other hand, Dishonored mostly bases everything around the Empress being killed in a coup attempt and her daughter being a pawn in that coup attempt, only bringing out the more personal connection further on down the line. One is about a man avenging his murdered wife and daughter, the other is a man avenging his murdered ruler he was sworn to protect. The details around Dishonored's story certainly put it closer to Murdered Damsel territory, for sure, but the context still matters.
posted by Punkey at 1:21 AM on May 29, 2013


It seem there is some basic misunderstanding to what she is doing here. "Damsel in Distress" is not a lens in which she is dissecting this stuff, but rather a convenient label applied to what comes out of her deconstruction.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 2:01 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or, in other words, critical deconstruction offers a framework to contextualize the narrative in order to better understand the dynamics.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 2:23 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sarkeesian makes the point more than once that she believes that there is no excuse for the use of these tropes, particularly the Euthanized Damsel version, and specifically has an aside that there is no allowing for narrative and that the larger social context is all-important. And...that bugs me.

She has to. When you're looking at larger trends in any medium or artform you cannot look at the internal justifications for why this particular piece of work just has to feature a rape, or a damsel in distress, because you can always make up a reason/excuse for why it has to be there.

But if you zoom out from the individual work and look at a class of works, a genre, then you start to see patterns and you can examine them. Seeing Paksenarrion being sexually assaulted in Sheepfarmer's Daughteris one thing, but having it be repeated in Divided Allegiance and then noticing that actually, almost every Elizabeth Moon novel you've read features some sort of sexual assault or rape to up the stakes for the female protagonist, well, why is that?

Let me also repeat something I quoted in an earlier thread, Kameron Hurley on how easy she herself fell into the usual sexist patterns:
I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.

I was writing a scene last night between a woman general and the man she helped put on the throne. I started writing in some romantic tension, and realized how lazy that was. There are other kinds of tension.

I made a passing reference to sexual slavery, which I had to cut. I nearly had him use a gendered slur against her. I growled at the screen. He wanted to help save her child… no. Her brother? Ok. She was going to betray him. OK. He had some wives who died… ug. No. Close advisors? Friends? Maybe somebody just… left him?

Even writing about societies where there is very little sexual violence, or no sexual violence against women, I find myself writing in the same tired tropes and motivations. “Well, this is a bad guy, and I need something traumatic to happen to this heroine, so I’ll have him rape her.” That was an actual thing I did in the first draft of my first book, which features a violent society where women outnumber men 25-1. Because, of course, it’s What You Do.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:05 AM on May 29, 2013 [19 favorites]


Btw, for those wanting more context to the video, Feminist Frequency has posts up for both the first and the second video with transcripts and further reading links. (Found via one of the regulars in MetaChat)

There's also a Tumblr; there's always a Tumblr.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:09 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What I also think is important is that if your favourite game uses these tropes, that doesn't necessarily mean your favourite game sucks. It may be a symptom of bad or lazy writing, but there can be other things making up for it. You don't have to stop loving it, just be aware of what it's doing.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:24 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sarkeesian says basically exactly that at the start of the video - that it's possible to love something while also being aware of its problematic elements.

Not that that will stop the angry contingent from being convinced that her goal is to destroy all video games, of course... but, as has been said, she couldn't ask for better viral marketing, so I guess the worms fertilize the soil.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:43 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think that Dishonored is an edge case, though. The Empress wasn't killed because she was a woman that was important to the main character...

There is some in-game reason, sure, but the game exists because the main character needs to go off on a quest, and this is all set in motion because she was killed. It's not (from my very basic knowledge) an edge case. The in-game (Watsonian) reasoning isn't the point, the point is that the creators chose (Doylist) this plot.

Except Orpheus isn't motivated by revenge. His story is more of a quest. Plus Eurydice isn't killed by Hades (or any villain), her death is accidental.

But the story -- wife dies, goes to hell, and this sends her husband on the important quest to reclaim her soul -- is pretty much the same. The wife's death is a catalyst for the husband's story.

if your favourite game uses these tropes, that doesn't necessarily mean your favourite game sucks

Yeah, it's cool to enjoy something even knowing it has problems. Nothing is perfect.
posted by jeather at 4:25 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why a woman is killed is not the point. The point is that a woman was killed who was somehow important to the protagonist, a man, who will avenge her.
posted by graventy at 4:29 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Nice one, trolls! I would never have known about this video if you hadn't tried to get it taken down.
posted by duffell at 5:03 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Orpheus isn't exactly a fridge narrative, because Eurydice's death is not being avenged but rather undone. It's more like a "rescue the girl" narrative, but with mystical overtones - a woman is kidnapped and her kidnapping becomes the motivation for the hero's journey.

So, Eurydice is held by Hades - who is both a person and a place. Persephone is likewise held by Hades, and Hermes is the direct agent of her recovery, although he is doing so at the behest of her mother Demeter.

So, Orpheus and Eurydice, although highly mystical and unusually non-violent (the arete - singular excellence - Orpheus uses to pass the obstacles in his path is music rather than martial skill), has broadly the same beats as Holly Gennaro and John McClain. If you swap the wife/daughter role, as you often can, it's also the story of John Matrix in Commando. The damsel has been taken away, the agent who is now holding her will not release her voluntarily, so the hero has to go and get her. Although the studios would never have gone for the Orpheus/Eurydice bummer ending...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:14 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stay classy, dudegamers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:21 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


My problem with the mouth-breathing troglodytes who harass Sarkeesian is that they give her shitty video a veneer of legitimacy.

There are few things that are more pedestrian (while trying to sell themselves as something else) than cultural criticism of low-brow popular culture like video games and comic books. News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.
posted by gertzedek at 5:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.

Eh, people still study religion, don't they?
posted by Legomancer at 6:00 AM on May 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of

So, putting aside the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old (no, seriously), your argument is that since videogames are only for kids, misogyny is no big deal? Because hey, those kids will "grow out" of these games, and not be in any way influenced by them?
posted by tocts at 6:02 AM on May 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


There are few things that are more pedestrian (while trying to sell themselves as something else) than cultural criticism of low-brow popular culture like video games and comic books. News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.

This is a terrible argument. First, cultural criticism of popular culture isn't dependent on one having not "grown out" of the media in question. While I'm Sarkeesian is someone who enjoys video games, she doesn't have to be to be interested in studying them as cultural artifacts. It's 2013; pop culture is the culture. If you're going to study the culture in 2013 you study pop culture. Secondly, the fact that you've decided that "low-brow" culture is something "educated people are supposed to grow out of" doesn't make it true; plenty of educated, intelligent people play video games. The fact that you've decided to sneer at them doesn't make that fact any less true.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:03 AM on May 29, 2013 [23 favorites]


tocts: "So, putting aside the fact that the average gamer is 30 years old"

When I said "grow out of" I didn't mean it literally. I am pretty sure many of the apes who are attacking Sarkeesian are well into their 30s.

Bulgaroktonos: "plenty of educated, intelligent people play video games."

And they don't read too much into them, because they know they're made for teenage males (and others who behave like / would like to be teenage males).
posted by gertzedek at 6:13 AM on May 29, 2013


I'm sure an educated person could offer a convincing argument why "educated" people are supposed to grow out of low-brow pop culture like video games etc. You might want to address in your answer the French school of comics and the lack of respectability of cinema for some time after its inception.

Anyway, I think its wrong to put Persephone or Eurydice in the same sentence as the women in the refrigerator trope unless someone would like to argue that the hero saving his wife after pressing X a few thousand times symbolises the rebirth of nature. In other words, the context is different.
posted by ersatz at 6:18 AM on May 29, 2013


And they don't read too much into them, because they know they're made for teenage males (and others who behave like / would like to be teenage males).

But why? WHY are they only made for teenage males? (as a collary: why do we assume all teenage males are a) assholes and b) straight)?

You present this as axiomatic: video games are and must always be for (a particularly dim subset of) teenage males. But there is no reason why this has to be true.

And I think Sarkeesian's stance, and many other people's stance, is that this position is both illogical and unjust...not just to people who aren't asshole teenage males, but to the artists who make video games.

I'm not a gamer, but a casual look shows me that there is amazing stuff being made in video games. Stuff way more interesting than you would expect if it only needed to communicate violence and T&A.

The unwillingness of those who create games to allow more than violence and T&A is what keeps them in an artistic ghetto, not something intrinsic to gaming itself.
posted by emjaybee at 6:21 AM on May 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


And they don't read too much into them, because they know they're made for teenage males (and others who behave like / would like to be teenage males).

Again, factually untrue. I'm well educated. I play video games. I read things into them because 1) refusing to find intellectually interesting content in culture because I've decided it's low brow is a profoundly dull way to go through life, that cuts me off from interesting analysis of 90% of the media I encounter 2) the content of video games obviously does affect the sensibilities of people who view them in the same way all media does, and 3) the idea that "video games are made for teenage males" is obviously untrue. The average gamer is older than that, and games exist across a wide spectrum in terms of complexity of plot and message. This is like saying that movies aren't worth analyzing because Michael Bay movies are dumb. There are video games that are meant to be taken very serious as dramatic works, the equivalent of Oscar bait movies; they're not where I'd like them to be, personally, but that's not a problem that's solved by writing the whole medium off.

This is also only addressing if "analyzing" video game is worthwhile. If your concern is sexism, then why would any mode of communication be not worth talking about? I don't need to take commercials seriously as art to be concerned that they're full of sexist content; people still see them even when they're not art.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:22 AM on May 29, 2013


Bulgaroktonos: "This is like saying that movies aren't worth analyzing because Michael Bay movies are dumb."

Michael Bay movies aren't worth analyzing. And to this day I haven't seen a single (non-indie) video game with a plot that rises above the average Michael Bay movie. This overanalysis of trashy culture is masturbation. The same thing happens with mainstream comics: people spend hours discussing the clothing and poses of female characters in Marvel and DC comics when there's no glory in that battle. It's as futile as debating misogyny and the usage of the word "nigger" in hip hop. Certain things belong in certain cultural settings, and if you're offended by them to the point you can't enjoy them anymore, then maybe it's a sign you should move the fuck on. There's plenty of fish in the sea and lots of more worthy endeavors for your mind, trust me.
posted by gertzedek at 6:34 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


And they don't read too much into them, because they know they're made for teenage males (and others who behave like / would like to be teenage males).

Not to pile on and turn this into gertzedek vs. the world, and I am struggling to find a nicer way to say this, but this statement is just amazingly lacking in any real thought.

Nobody, not even the well educated, is immune to being influenced by the media they consume. This is not to say that there's a direct correlation between media input and action; however, there is always going to be some effect. You don't get to just choose to not be affected because you're so smart and obviously better than others who are too stupid not to know better.

Sarkeesian isn't focusing on games because of anything related whether they are low-brow or not (which is a separate debate entirely). She is focusing on games because they are one of the primary forms of media being consumed today, and the depiction of women in that medium is an important factor in how our society considers and treats women.
posted by tocts at 6:35 AM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


There are few things that are more pedestrian (while trying to sell themselves as something else) than cultural criticism of low-brow popular culture like video games and comic books. News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.

George Orwell would be fascinated to know that low-brow/young adult cultural artifacts are of no critical interest.

Sarkeesian's video is simplistic, yeah, but that's because she's trying to open a discussion at the 101 level, not because there's no depth to the subject or because she can't hack that depth.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The same thing happens with mainstream comics: people spend hours discussing the clothing and poses of female characters in Marvel and DC comics when there's no glory in that battle.

"No glory in that battle?" What a bizarre turn of phrase, I have no idea what you're getting at with that. The point of discussing the clothing and poses of female characters is that those poses are actively harmful in that they skew the perceptions of the men who read comics and turn women off reading comics that they might otherwise enjoy. I don't see what "glory" has to with that battle; it's basically a practical exercise to point out sexism in popular culture. Since most of the world doesn't share your view of what types of media are worthwhile (Michael Bay movies, video games and hip hop are all pretty popular), discussing sexism in those forms of media is a way of discussing sexism in the broader culture. Again, this is 2013, pop culture is the culture; it might offend your sensibilities, but absent a time machine there's not much you can do about it. The fact that media meant for adolescent boys is not only misogynistic, but misogynistic in the particular ways that it is, is interesting and troubling; that's worth talking about.

Conversations like this one are a way of pointing out that misogyny. Maybe it's misogyny within parts of society that you don't care about, but that's argument for you not participating in the conversation, not for it not being had.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:44 AM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


There are few things that are more pedestrian (while trying to sell themselves as something else) than cultural criticism of low-brow popular culture like video games and comic books.

But surely the casual dismissal of entire media as low-brow or the endearingly stupid belief that there is such a thing as high or low-brow culture and that it is possible to draw a clear line between the two, are two of them.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:48 AM on May 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


And to this day I haven't seen a single (non-indie) video game with a plot that rises above the average Michael Bay movie.

If you argue from a position of ignorance, you will surely argue poorly.

That said, you're right so far as it goes that actual writing and character development get short shrift in many games. But they do in many movies, books, tv shows....

That's because writing good characters and motivations is hard and game designers have multiple competing goals for their limited budget in time and energy. And even things that are widely regarded as well written (Community, Arrested Development, Mad Men, etc.) will have specific failures or fall back on tropes, too.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:49 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "That said, you're right so far as it goes that actual writing and character development get short shrift in many games. But they do in many movies, books, tv shows."

The keyword there being many, not all. Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?

But - I don't want to hog the thread. I'll just show myself the door.
posted by gertzedek at 7:06 AM on May 29, 2013


Mainstream comics have been showing pretty solid plotting since at least the 1980's - Moore's "Watchman" and "Miracle Man", Miller's "Dark Knight", Gaiman's "Sandman", etc. Spiegelman's "Maus" won a Pulitzer.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:10 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


And they don't read too much into them, because they know they're made for teenage males (and others who behave like / would like to be teenage males).

So it doesn't matter if video games promote sexism, because the only people who take them seriously are teenage boys and . . . it doesn't matter if teenage boys are sexist?

This isn't cultural criticism purely for the sake of aesthetics. It's political.
posted by ostro at 7:20 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


And to this day I haven't seen a single (non-indie) video game with a plot that rises above the average Michael Bay movie.

Yay! Roger Ebert has returned from the dead!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:21 AM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


The keyword there being many, not all. Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?

I disagree with your premise. There exist well written videogames and comics.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:23 AM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Lewis's Law writ large.
posted by KathrynT at 7:26 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd suggest BioShock Infinite as an example of a recent game that has a plot and characterisation more sophisticated than a Michael Bay film - although it would make for a fascinating entry in Tropes vs Women in Video Games pretty much all on its own...

(A recent games podcast did raise the question of whether, if the interactive elements were removed, BioShock Infinite was actually a more sophisticated narrative than, say, Sucker Punch. I've been losing sleep trying to work that one out.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:39 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


One observation she makes that I think needed a lot more examination is that many of these tropes wouldn't be needed if violence wasn't the player's only way of interacting with the world.
posted by charred husk at 7:42 AM on May 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'd suggest BioShock Infinite as an example of a recent game that has a plot and characterisation more sophisticated than a Michael Bay film

Hell, your average football simulation game has a more sophisticated and understandable plot than a Michael Bay movie.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:46 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?

You've expressed disdain for comics and videogames, and declared that educated people (read: smart people, like you) don't partake in them. You give the distinct impression that your own depth of knowledge of the content of both of these mediums is severely limited due to your own pre-conceived notions about their worth.

Why, then, do you think that you have any factual basis to assess whether either contains works that are decently plotted? Have you even considered the possibility that you are attempting to make broad statements about complex topics which you have at best a cursory understanding of?
posted by tocts at 7:47 AM on May 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


Haha wow, someone on metafilter really busted out the (super racist!) "rap hates women and uses bad language and therefore I can just dismiss it out of hand."

So you know, keep in mind that rap is a huge, diverse space and anyone that says that Jean Grae's songs are universally "lowbrow" is clearly ignorant.

Further, of course, the project of splitting culture up into high/low is inherently and necessarily a project of marginalization. It's also just lazy! To say that there are zero examples of good writing in all of gaming or comics is to say that you have no idea what you're talking about but feel comfortable rendering your opinion anyway. You can only hope that eventually you'll be embarrassed by these opinions. Remember that many, many now "classic" works were at first derided as lowbrow trash.

Further, even if you could split culture up into those categories, things like games and comics shape culture as much as they're shaped by it. Improving them is improving society.

You're basically wrong here in a multitude of ways that tessellate into a larger geometry of wrongness.

Husk, I wonder if in part that's kind of an artifact of how many games are a single protagonist's adventure. Compared with stuff like the civ games or crusader kings 2, where violence happens but isn't the sole or primary interaction. And CK2 even has identifiable people!
posted by kavasa at 7:49 AM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I have only flagged a YT video once, where (the closest thing to a spoiler tag I could think of - Not Safe For Anyone text description) which I thought SO didn't not need to be a public video site.
posted by Samizdata at 7:49 AM on May 29, 2013


"News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of."

What makes you think that educated people are supposed to grow out of video games? Educated people, back in the day, didn't grow out of other games. I live in a retirement community and their social life often revolves around games. A brief glance at the calendar this week (off season, so it's pretty light) shows bridge, mahjong, pool and poker. In season, we'd see more card games. Probably also a few board games.

Newsflash: video games were not a thing 50 years ago when these folks were in their 20s & 30s. They got together and played card & board games.

The big name games today suck. I mean, sure, some of them are pretty great. But the stories and actions haven't changed much over the years. Fight fight fight. Save the princess. Fight fight fight. There is definitely room for that and they, obviously, sell, but there is a market for something else. The indies are exploring those things, which is great. And as they prove there's a market, the big names will start exploring more.

The form is still very young.

And it's showing great promise, not just as entertainment, but in helping seniors remain independent longer. I take an 80 year old with dementia to play "Brain Games" (it's even covered by Medicare!). I've also talked to seniors about non-violent video games (they don't tend to like the violence aspect) which can help keep their reaction times sharp… so that they can, hopefully, remain comfortable behind the wheel for another year or two.

If the form stays at the fight fight fight save the princess fight fight fight level, then yes, perhaps we should grow out of it as we age. That would be a shame.

Personally, I hate bridge. I would be a much happier 80 year old if I could kick back with my buds in the community center and play some video games instead.
posted by imbri at 7:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.

Even if this were true (and, empirically, it's completely false), are you saying educated people should only care about educated-people stuff? That "we" have no stake in the rest of the culture? That's the sort of parochialism that educated people are supposed to grow out of.
posted by straight at 8:22 AM on May 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


"I think that Dishonored is an edge case, though. The Empress wasn't killed because she was a woman that was important to the main character, she was killed because of her position of power."

Not an edge case. If the role of Assassinated Monarch could have been played by either gender, why did the designers choose female? Likewise, her offspring could have been either gender, so why did they choose daughter? Because that's the trope, and it's the way they figured they could best engage the assumed audience of straight white males.

I mean, it's a great game, but yeah, it totally falls into the trope.
posted by frogstar42 at 8:31 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?

Games are about their mechanics. You could give chess a plot about overthrowing an evil king or saving a forest, and it would still be chess. ...and it would still be worthy of the attention of Serious Adults, because it has interesting game mechanics. Video games are just the most recent incarnation of a medium that has been a part of human culture for thousands of years and that has, for most of its existence, not contained any sort of narrative.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:42 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


...that's not to say, though, that the sexism lurking in the narratives with which games are saddled isn't problematic. It absolutely is. That's one of many reasons why I wish developers would just stop making me wade through their terribly written, sexist plots.
posted by IjonTichy at 8:45 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was like a ton of guys were CONVINCED that FEMINISTS were going to RUIN VIDEO GAMES

Sadly, the objectification of women is a selling point, something some gamers actively want in their games.

I'm hoping they're right to feel threatened, that these kinds of discussions might actually shame some developers and reduce the number of games that feature that kind of objectification.
posted by straight at 8:47 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


This overanalysis of trashy culture is masturbation.
...
The keyword there being many, not all. Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?


tocts:You've expressed disdain for comics and videogames, and declared that educated people (read: smart people, like you) don't partake in them. You give the distinct impression that your own depth of knowledge of the content of both of these mediums is severely limited due to your own pre-conceived notions about their worth.

Why, then, do you think that you have any factual basis to assess whether either contains works that are decently plotted? Have you even considered the possibility that you are attempting to make broad statements about complex topics which you have at best a cursory understanding of?


This, this, this a thousand times.

Not to mention that we've been doing passive consumption of media a long time but the whole active participation thing is rather new on the scene. Plays, books, tales by the camp fire, opera, symphonies, paintings, sculptures, movies, whatever. All those are, for the most part (I'm looking at you cosplayers), consumed and enjoyed in a manner that's passive on the part of the audience.

Video games aren't like that. It's hard to create something that's enjoyable, successful, and approachable in this young format (compared to the aforementioned list). That's not to say it hasn't been done. Some off the top of my head are Beyond Good and Evil, Portal, Bioshock, FF3, Chrono Trigger, and many others, especially indie games like To the Moon.

Don't get me wrong, that's a personal list, and only as valid as my claim that I like Stephen King, Asimov, Herbert, Toliken, Douglas Adams and other authors that are 'mainstream-ish' and what some might call trashy. But that doesn't mean that I don't also appreciate the writings of Thoreau or Goethe or Plato, who I'm sure someone somewhere has also called trashy for that matter. Go figure.

gertzedek:There's plenty of fish in the sea and lots of more worthy endeavors for your mind, trust me.

Anyway, every time I see someone drop this line I mentally translate it into "I know what's best for you better than you do so you should listen to me." It never really makes the person professing to be all knowing look so good, no matter the topic or their familiarity with it. Not to mention it's a crappy way to approach anything where you want to be listened to.

Sorry for this but it seems some people take the whole 'sexism in video games' issue, which is a very real issue that needs attention like this, and run with it into a crazy-land of all video games are trashy and masturbatory and 'OMG you peon-rube-boor why don't you go play chess or go to an opera and learn what's good for you". Too bad...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:58 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that Dishonored is an edge case, though.

It's a mistake as seeing this as a slam on any particular game. Obviously, it's possible to create a worthwhile story that uses this trope. The question is not whether any particular use of the trope is good or bad, but why the trope is so ubiquitous and whether we can change the culture so that roles of women in our stories aren't so limited and so negative.
posted by straight at 8:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The way mainstream games communicate plot in general is pretty terrible and is often destructive to the gameplay. Designers seem capable of creating a non-linear game with open mechanics but then the plotline has to be linear as hell. Open world games often have frustratingly linear story missions, for example, because the developers can't think of another way to communicate the story they've come up with.

Also, games, as high-immersion experiences, are excellent opportunities to show rather than tell the story, but all too often the opposite is what we get. It's sad that even games where the linear plot and story fit together well (the HL games, Prince of Persia: sands of time) stand out from the crowd.

Games are too often derivative of the worst aspects of other art forms (film, television, comics, novels), not only for importing tired misogynistic tropes, but for importing a whole bunch of other tired junk. The "assassinated emperor with framed lackey" plot from Dishonoured is just as tired without the gender issue.

Occasionally somebody does get the idea that games can excel when made to communicate through interaction in a way that other genres of entertainment can't. And then you get a game like Journey.
posted by selfnoise at 9:00 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing is - I actually really like the trope of rescuing your beloved, or avenging your beloved. My problem is the fact that most of the time, you don't get a chance to play as a woman who has lost her husband or child (Or wife, but then it's still damseling I guess).

And I think her analysis fails to account for that - it suggests that this can only happen with women, for men, and that there are no people who want these stories. Her call is to destroy these stories, not to equalize them.

I would play the shit out of stories where my husband was murdered and I had to rescue my kid, or my husband was murdered and I had to rescue his soul from hell, or what have you.
posted by corb at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The way mainstream games communicate plot in general is pretty terrible and is often destructive to the gameplay. Designers seem capable of creating a non-linear game with open mechanics but then the plotline has to be linear as hell. Open world games often have frustratingly linear story missions, for example, because the developers can't think of another way to communicate the story they've come up with.

The folks at Idle Thumbs have, I think, a wise take on this issue. They've been saying that maybe it's too much to ask developers to solve the structural problems of mixing narrative and gameplay and produce a worthwhile story all at once and that we should start by focusing on just getting better writing into games.

But looking at films, I'm not optimistic. It's ridiculous how films (and games) will put an astonishing amount of work and skill into the visuals and pair those glorious images with such incompetent, lazy, ugly writing.
posted by straight at 9:10 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


gertzedek: The keyword there being many, not all. Why are there well written movies, books and tv shows but no decent plot to be found on mainstream video games and comics?

I don't think anybody is saying that mainstream games are free from from entrenched problems. I've read many a long, well-researched treatise on it (a good example would be the People's History of the FPS on RPS) but the problem here is that you would lump all video games into a synecdoche. If you did this for books it would be equivalent to saying that all literature is represented by the ones who sell the most books at which point every well-read person in earshot will start coughing blood. Yes, there are issues with who is being widely read and what themes are being expressed thereof and there are people who devote their lives to the advocacy of good books.

But to address the point that most popular games have terrible plots: this is true. It's very true. But have you seen Metropolis? Have you watched early, less known examples of film? Their plots are terrible! Even up to the 70s we had movies with ridiculous ass plots, horrible characters, and some of the worst exposition. There is a particular level of artistic stagnancy that exists in the genre of popular video games and it's a huge issue and critical gamers often recognize this. This is, as I see it, an issue of demography and one that is liable to change once the population ages. Paradigms are already shifting in this respect; there have been plenty of games produced by huge studios released in the past few years that have decent plots. Sure, they're not amazing nor are they pushing any boundaries (I'd argue that they're much closer to a well-written YA novel but that's for another time) but it's a shift nonetheless and it's becoming more and more common. I would not be surprised if in the next decade the Citizen Kane of games were released if it hasn't been done so already.

Her call is to destroy these stories, not to equalize them.

My impression from watching the video is that her thesis is that women are highly overrepresented as victims in games. The thing she maybe wants to remove (though I think her point is to make this not the norm instead of complete removal) is this paradigm that the players must do violence to non-agent actors as a result of the plot (the damsel in the refrigerator aspect). I'd agree with this; violence in games is a ludic crutch and modern games like Dishonored and Deus Ex have been handling this by offering alternative options of progress (non-lethal options) and making them a win condition that ties into character development and player ethics. It's not a perfect solution but it's a viable one and one that's getting increasing representation within video games.
posted by dubusadus at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


And I think her analysis fails to account for that - it suggests that this can only happen with women, for men, and that there are no people who want these stories. Her call is to destroy these stories, not to equalize them.

I don't think that's a reasonable takeaway from Sarkeesian's videos thus far, or what she's got planned. In fact, the end of this current video states outright that the next video will include an analysis of games that reverse this trope, with women as the savior, though she does imply there aren't many (because, well, there aren't).

Additionally, I'm not sure how much clearer she can be (given that she basically starts and ends the latest and I think also the first video saying this) that her criticism is coming from a standpoint of "I enjoy many of these games, but aspects of them are problematic". She isn't calling for there to never be a damsel in distress. She's instead calling for us to examine why it is so frequently the only role women play in videogames, and whether that is appropriate.

The thing you've got to remember about any discussion about overuse of tropes is that the point of discussing them is not to say "nobody should ever do this", but instead to say "this is done too much, and in ways that are inappropriate". To draw a parallel, there's nothing wrong with the villain in a movie being black, but there is a serious problem if the only time black actors are ever in a movie is when they're the villain.

Similarly, there's nothing wrong with a single instance of a damsel in distress examined in isolation, but when viewed within the greater context of videogame narratives and the extreme prevalence of women being relegated to this role and only this role, it is seriously problematic.
posted by tocts at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Isn't demanding to see quantitative proof in conversations about sexism one of the classic derailment tactics?
Although I'd agree that this particular conversation (or the vast majority of similarly casual conversations) about sexism doesn't need to be based on statistically-rigorous footing...

If we pigeonhole requests for objective and quantitative data as a thing that misogynist men do and feminist women avoid, isn't that itself a pretty misogynist attitude? Even exposing my daughter to "Math class is tough"-Barbie would be an improvement over a fifth column that tries to justify anti-intellectualism for women.
posted by roystgnr at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The folks at Idle Thumbs have, I think, a wise take on this issue. They've been saying that maybe it's too much to ask developers to solve the structural problems of mixing narrative and gameplay and produce a worthwhile story all at once and that we should start by focusing on just getting better writing into games.

But looking at films, I'm not optimistic. It's ridiculous how films (and games) will put an astonishing amount of work and skill into the visuals and pair those glorious images with such incompetent, lazy, ugly writing.


I think the best approach for a developer is to recognize that most of the existing work on game narrative functions as a negative example. Then, start over from the beginning and only add the amount of story that is vital to the game. Games that serve the stories tend to have compromised gameplay and stories that would be better served in another genre. Stories that serve games tend to be rare, but a lot more valuable and engaging.

I mean, you CAN incorporate a ton of story and lore in your games in a somewhat thoughtful manner. It's possible. It's just a huge, expensive pain in the ass, as Bethesda can attest. Maybe that's worth it to them, but it's probably not for most games.

It's kind of like cooking. Even if you like a particular flavor in food (the "story" flavor), just adding a ton of that flavor to what you have isn't going to taste good. You can add a ton of cinnamon to your pudding, and even if it's premium viennese cinnamon it's going to taste pretty gross after a while.

This is also a great way to get rid of mysogynistic tropes, because as watching the video reinforces they are essentially never a necessary part of the game. Heroes really do not need a negative motivation to act. Just something interesting out there on the horizon (and here we return to Journey again) is more than enough.
posted by selfnoise at 10:15 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Here's something else to consider - one of the handicaps that video games have to deal with is that we, the audience are one of the actors. Imagine you're playing King Lear, but know jack-all about the play and Lear's motivations. If you're really making this a decent game (as opposed to another YAWN linear first person shooter with all the drama injected via cut scenes) how are you going to convince the player that the right choice is to piss all over Cordelia and be all lovey dovey with Goneril and Regan (who, to quote the bard, are "about as likable as a deep-sea angler fish in an SS uniform"). And if Lear doesn't piss all over Cordelia, what are you going to do for act I, scene III?

If you want there to be an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement in your drama, and you want some illusion of free will, and you have a vague understanding what it means that games are a pre-rendered medium, you should pretty rapidly have an understanding that there is a limit to how complex you can make a game plot. It's easy to point and say "everything you are doing is terrible" but if that's the beginning and end of the dialog, you're not so much a critic as a troll.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


how are you going to convince the player that the right choice is to piss all over Cordelia and be all lovey dovey with Goneril and Regan

You don't; you play out the consequences of pissing all over Cordelia versus pissing all over Goneril and Regan. Either where there's no clear right thing, and it depends on the motivations you assign to your character, or where there's pretty clearly a right answer but it generally has a price.

Like anything, 90% of the time it will still be crap. Sometimes it'll be pretty good if kinda dry -- Fallout: New Vegas's choices here make sense and have reasonable consequences but are kinda boring and impersonal. Sometimes it'll actually be kinda touching, even if it's still pretty clunky -- the "good way" the Geth/Quarian thing gets resolved is like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then, start over from the beginning and only add the amount of story that is vital to the game.

That's how you got DooM. The booklet with the game contained the backstory - in three sentences. Beyond that, there was no exposition or plot.

Which is fun, as far as it goes. And of course, it avoided the usual storytelling pitfalls. But it's not an engaging thing beyond the gameplay. Or you take HL - which is just basically an interactive movie. Sure, there is some choice in saving this scientist or what-have-you - but the outcome is predetermined and you move along the story like a railcar in a funhouse.

I have an expectation of smarter and better storytelling from my games - and games like Dishonored or Deus Ex have largely delivered. There is room for criticism, though, and I think Sarkeesian makes a bunch of excellent points about that as well as stepping up the level and intelligence of the criticism itself.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:31 AM on May 29, 2013


It's easy to point and say "everything you are doing is terrible" but if that's the beginning and end of the dialog, you're not so much a critic as a troll.

For clarification, can you specify who this is directed at? I'm trying to be charitable and not make assumptions, but my first read of it comes off pretty badly.
posted by tocts at 10:32 AM on May 29, 2013


I think the main point of the Damsel in Distress trope is that throughout the "exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement" the questions remain, "Why does the storyline have to revolve around a woman's capture or killing in order to start the exposition or action? Why does a woman have to be rescued or killed in order to justify the climax?" These often relegate women into the role of an object to be possessed, which seems to reflect some attitudes in the real-world.

It's already been stated that writing is hard, and whether through laziness, lack of creativity, or executive/marketing decisions, we seem to fall back on the same pervasive tropes that victimize women. It's easy to say "women don't need to be in these roles" and Saarkesian indicates that the third video will feature some games that reverse gender stereotypes, but let's be honest, men don't often go through life thinking they're objects to be possessed and fought over, or trivialized. In addition, throughout much of the medium these games continue to use women in this manner. Why is that? Why does it feel like it needs to be that way?

We also need to remember that this is the second video in a series. It's not the be-all-end-all of the discussion. Each time we come up with a "Well this game doesn't do that" or "Why aren't we looking at that game?" it's like we expect this video to be the final say in Saarkesian intends to show.
posted by CancerMan at 10:40 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


For clarification, can you specify who this is directed at? I'm trying to be charitable and not make assumptions, but my first read of it comes off pretty badly.

The same attitude you were calling out at 9:47 this morning.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2013


The same attitude you were calling out at 9:47 this morning.

Thanks for the clarification. I had originally read it as a response to Sarkeesian and others talking about how women are depicted in games, which didn't feel right but I couldn't tell.
posted by tocts at 10:57 AM on May 29, 2013


I have an expectation of smarter and better storytelling from my games - and games like Dishonored or Deus Ex have largely delivered.

I haven't played Dishonored, but I didn't think the story-telling in Deus Ex (neither the original or Human Revolution) was any better than an average Sci-Fi movie or a below-average science fiction novel. It wasn't as good as the stories that happen spontaneously when I play Minecraft. I'd usually much rather have something like Doom with no story or the original Half Life with a story implied by the environment.

I just don't understand the desire to shoehorn a mediocre movie into a videogame. It's like riding a roller coaster and having them show you bits of Avatar during the slow climbs up to the top of the hills. (Although it's usually worse -- they stop the roller coaster and make you watch a movie clip, and then you get to start climbing the hill.)
posted by straight at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Borderlands 2 with every ounce of my heart, but Sarkeesian is not wrong about Angel. She's arguably the most powerful being on the planet when you encounter her, but all she does is ask you to kill her in order to stop Jack, rather than stop him herself.

The worst part about these videos is the end of each one, in which YouTube says, "Since you watched that, maybe you'd like to see a bunch of enraged gamerdudes bellow into their laptop cameras!"
posted by Legomancer at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think we got derailed from discussing the more interesting part of gertzedek's argument by his claim that no video games have ever been well written (and perhaps implicitly that no one ever will be). I think most of us agree that some video games have been well written and that the video game as a medium is in its infancy and that games like Journey give us a glimpse of the future beauty of the art form so let's not waste our time repeating it. (as I just did...)

What is interesting is the idea that "Michael Bay movies aren't worth analyzing" because I think there is some truth to it. Would we be as interested in a series of videos that showed us clips from Transformers, GI Joe: Whatever, and The Fast and Furious 17,000,000 showing us their use of lame tropes and stereotypes? To some degree such a series would seem lazy, I already know those movies aren't great art and I have no real desire to see them. Or maybe more accurately, I don't think these movies are important to me the way something like Upstream Color or The Master (both of which would be interesting to look at from the lens of gender) are. Michael Bay isn't going to be swayed by such criticism, he likely doesn't care. He's going to keep making movies about blowing shit up because he seems to like to and I'm going to keep not seeing them because I don't. Most importantly, Paul Thomas Anderson doesn't care, he probably already knows it.

And that last point I think is why these videos are important, because I think there are an awful lot of people out there who want to make video games who haven't thought about this stuff. So to the degree that these videos make people think about the sexism in video games they are great because the ultimate goal here is more video games that treat women as people as opposed to the status quo. To that end, the more that we can focus on games that people do connect with and get something meaningful out of (as I think people have in this thread) the better. It will always be more interesting to talk about the flaws in The Godfather than in The Hangover.

But I do think that the most helpful way for us to deal with this sexism is to talk about how great games don't have it. I'm hoping that the next video in the series will do that. The solution to this problem is always more art, not less. The fact that this problem feels almost universal in video games today necessitates our demonstrating that to others, but I'm most excited to talk about and nurture and support the artists who are making games without these problems.
posted by macrael at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The worst part about these videos is the end of each one, in which YouTube says, "Since you watched that, maybe you'd like to see a bunch of enraged gamerdudes bellow into their laptop cameras!"

Weird. The only suggestions YouTube offers me is more Sarkeesian videos.
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on May 29, 2013


News flash: these are cultural artifacts educated people are supposed to grow out of.

It's as futile as debating misogyny and the usage of the word "nigger" in hip hop.


Well, that's some pretentious, classist bullshit right there.
posted by NoraReed at 11:39 AM on May 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


What is interesting is the idea that "Michael Bay movies aren't worth analyzing" because I think there is some truth to it. Would we be as interested in a series of videos that showed us clips from Transformers, GI Joe: Whatever, and The Fast and Furious 17,000,000 showing us their use of lame tropes and stereotypes? To some degree such a series would seem lazy, I already know those movies aren't great art and I have no real desire to see them.

Why would it seem lazy? The point isn't to show you that the Fast and the Furious isn't a good movie, it's to show you how movies like that use sexist tropes. The original Tropes Against Women things are, in part, about movies of the Michael Bay, Fast and Furious quality. This is really, to my mind, about educating audiences, and it's worth educating the audiences going to see the Fast and Furious, even if it's not art. The quality of the movies, TV shows, games, and comics they're talking about is basically unrelated to talking about sexism in it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:40 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I didn't think the story-telling in Deus Ex (neither the original or Human Revolution) was any better than an average Sci-Fi movie or a below-average science fiction novel

Being able to match even average storytelling from mediums that are focused absolutely exclusively on highly-crafted linear storytelling, and which have had the benefit of their craft being honed for much longer, seems to me to actually be a pretty incredible thing for an interactive experience.
posted by anonymisc at 11:44 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why would it seem lazy? The point isn't to show you that the Fast and the Furious isn't a good movie, it's to show you how movies like that use sexist tropes. The original Tropes Against Women things are, in part, about movies of the Michael Bay, Fast and Furious quality. This is really, to my mind, about educating audiences, and it's worth educating the audiences going to see the Fast and Furious, even if it's not art. The quality of the movies, TV shows, games, and comics they're talking about is basically unrelated to talking about sexism in it.

Yeah, I think it's important to understand that what you consume affects your mindset regardless of the part of the brain it's tickling, and so it's always valuable to examine the ideology of entertainment, even if it's "lowbrow".
posted by selfnoise at 11:47 AM on May 29, 2013


Why does the storyline have to revolve around a woman's capture or killing in order to start the exposition or action?

So my dad is what? Chopped liver?

In this particular case it revolves around a woman being captured or killed because we're talking about a set of stories that were chosen because they featured a woman being captured or killed in order to start the exposition or action. In Oblivion it's Patrick Stewart. Every time.

And here's something to consider about that. In Fallout 3, you actually feel connected to dad. He raised you, gave you birthday gifts, lamented your mother's passing with you and taught you her favorite bible verse. You rescue him when he bites off too much to chew in vault 112, help him get Project Purity up and running and then get a kick in the gut when he dies defending the project from the enclave and there's nothing you can do about it. There is a true sense of interconnectedness there. In Oblivion it felt like you were going on an arduous journey because a dying old man you tripped over in the subway asked you to take some magic beans to his estranged son - you felt bad, what with him dying and all, but even as you're taking up said magic beans it was pure game logic - you do this because there is a camera hovering just behind your head and, ergo, you're the sort of person that does incredibly dangerous, potentially pointless shit because someone who may or may not by delirious from blood loss and/or poison asks you to.

There is a reason why there are tropes. Rescue or avenge a loved one comes pre-packaged with a natural set of story emotions that we expect in a parent-child or spousal relationship and don't have to explain. Conversely, think about how much exposition it would take to create a narrative in any medium where the protagonist is more concerned about Larry from shipping than they are about parent / spouse / child that didn't immediately crush suspension of disbelief.

Is it a cheap shorthand? Sure.

Is there overall gender parity? Nope.

But the attitude expressed by many here is that no AAA game would ever let me choose the main character's gender, orientation (and species preference) when that is very much not the case.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The quality of the movies, TV shows, games, and comics they're talking about is basically unrelated to talking about sexism in it.

I think it's important to understand that what you consume affects your mindset regardless of the part of the brain it's tickling, and so it's always valuable to examine the ideology of entertainment, even if it's "lowbrow".

Don't these tropes play an important role in making these works "lowbrow" and low quality? That's what I meant by lazy, just that of course these works have problems like this, if they didn't they might be worth our time.

But again, I really like these videos. It's incredible how prevasive even this one very specific trope is! I'm excited to see more work in the future that is free of it.
posted by macrael at 12:13 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Borderlands 2 with every ounce of my heart

*opens the XBox*
*pops in the disc*

Damn you, Legomancer!
posted by corb at 12:37 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It also seems like there are a lot of guys out there who sincerely hate women. I think people use the term 'misogynistic' to mean thing just thinking about things from the male perspective, not considering what women want, only thinking of them objects, whatever. But in reality there are just a lot of men who like actually, literally just lothe women. Presumably due to an inability to get laid and I would imagine an extremely small penises.

I think being raised on a steady diet of mainstream trashy hip-hop (i.e., "fuck bitches get money") probably also contributes to these retrograde attitudes, but I don't think I'm allowed to point that out because it would be "racist" (because all rappers are black, obviously).
posted by MattMangels at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2013


Being able to match even average storytelling from mediums that are focused absolutely exclusively on highly-crafted linear storytelling, and which have had the benefit of their craft being honed for much longer, seems to me to actually be a pretty incredible thing for an interactive experience.

No. It's a triumph when game developers manage to do something innovative and amazing with narrative that's unique to games, like the narrative tricks hooked into the time manipulation at the end of Braid or having the game's narration respond to the player's action in Bastion.

But writing good dialogue and creating good characters is pretty much the same in any medium, and there's no excuse for games to be so much worse than books and films in that regard, particularly given how advanced they are in visuals.
posted by straight at 12:59 PM on May 29, 2013


and I would imagine an extremely small penises.

I know, I know, honi soit qui mal y pense, but c'mon, dude.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:01 PM on May 29, 2013


MattMangels, I'd love to live in a world where the source of misogyny in our culture was limited to and no larger than what we get from hip-hop. But alas, that's just a symptom of some much larger crap.
posted by straight at 1:03 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a total derail, but MattMangels, there's a great comment here about hip hop and misogyny.
posted by postcommunism at 1:15 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's already been stated that writing is hard, and whether through laziness, lack of creativity, or executive/marketing decisions, we seem to fall back on the same pervasive tropes that victimize women.

I don't think it's laziness or lack of creativity, etc. I think people are missing the purpose of using cliches, which is to signal to someone "This is one of those, you know how it works, you don't need any further details here - please focus on those other things over there".

If you're making a two hour movie, and you want to spend two hours focused on the aspect of the story that you want to tell, you need to get the backstory and context out of the way as rapidly as possible so as not to eat into your two hours.

Because cliches are language with which you can rapidly explain and handwave away things to the viewer, you have to use mutually understood language - cliches that the viewers are familiar with, (hence, cliches are cliched). This in turn gives widely-understood cliches (such as the "victimized loved-ones as a reason for pretending extreme violence is acceptable behaviour") an added momentum borne of utility. To change the cliche, to establish a better one as an alternative to it, to create new words in the language so to speak, the utility should be factored.
posted by anonymisc at 1:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think being raised on a steady diet of mainstream trashy hip-hop (i.e., "fuck bitches get money") probably also contributes to these retrograde attitudes, but I don't think I'm allowed to point that out because it would be "racist" (because all rappers are black, obviously).

1. It is horrible, damp, passive-aggressive crapola to say something and then declare, "Oh, but I'm not allowed to say that!" Well, obviously, yes you are, and other people are allowed to think it's a dumb thing to say.

2. It's not like hip-hop predates rampant misogyny in any way.

3. I have no idea if you're a racist or not, because who the hell knows, but I will tell you that it is a really common thing of covert racists to pretend that anti-woman hip-hop lyrics are somehow different in any way from anti-woman lyrics in pretty much every other genre of music, so if you've found that you tend to get called a racist when making that assertion, that might be why.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:33 PM on May 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Regarding finding a better alternative to the victimized woman cliche)

Coming up with good excuses for someone to be extremely violent yet somehow not a bad guy is not a trivial task. (There might not even be any good reasons that can stand up to scrutiny.) One typical approach is "There is an unlikely situation such that extreme violence is the only possible way to stop someone else from being even MOAR violent". Another is "They did something so horrible that no fate is too awful for them, and since that awful thing affected [hero] awfully, them gunning revenge is really just justice that we can get behind without admitting cognitive dissonance".

Mechanically, the easiest way to the do the second is to have something horrible done to the people closest to the hero. They have to be so close to the hero that we can grant an exception to well-grounded prohibitions on senseless violence. If the hero is male and hetero, then the people that matter most to him are disproportionately likely - though not necessarily - female. In part, the sexism of predominantly victimized women flows from the sexism of protagonists being predominantly violent hetero males. There are the usual exceptions to the rule ("the Crow" movies are a series of "revenge flicks" I've seen, and I think in one of them, the son is victimized to justify Righteous Violence. War movies tend to use the war-buddy, etc)

So, replacing this cliche with a less sexist drop-in fire-and-forget widely-understood plot device... shall we unroll our creativity and take a shot at it? I don't think I'm the person to be any good at it - I'm at the point where any device that is a blatant excuse to break out the ultra-violence just has me rolling my eyes, but a new blatant excuse is part of what's needed.
posted by anonymisc at 1:58 PM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love Borderlands 2 with every ounce of my heart, but Sarkeesian is not wrong about Angel. She's arguably the most powerful being on the planet when you encounter her, but all she does is ask you to kill her in order to stop Jack, rather than stop him herself.

Naw. Whichever character you pick, you are by definition the greatest badass on Pandora, and every other organism or technological being you might encounter is just dog food.

I mean, there's all this grar about waking the Warrior and controlling the Warrior and whoever controls the Warrior will be unstoppable, and what do you do? You walk up, stare it right in its glowy lava eyes, and put that fucker in the ground. Possibly by punching it.

Why she doesn't just kill herself by hacking into her eridium injectors and turning them off? Because... uh... you have to see that... Look, I'm sure there's a reason.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:16 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


anonymisc: It *is* hard to justify violence and many people don't connect with or enjoy acting out violence which is why I think another important discussion we need to be having is about why the vast majority of story driven videogames are about acting out violent fantasies. I remember my father asking me when I was a teenager "how come you never play a game where you make peace with everyone?". I still don't have an answer beyond "because, like in movies, most video games are targeted at appealing to teenaged boys and adventure stories are what most boys in our culture are mostly raised on." I don't see any reason why we can't tell all different kinds of stories in this new immersive medium, and I can't wait for artists to start figuring that out.
posted by macrael at 2:42 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I haven't played a first person shooter game for a few years... jeez, when did they get so extreme in their "realistic" plots?
here's a grim mission playthrough from Rainbow 6 Patriots which starts with a damsel/wife-in-distress plot point but ends with (SPOILER) the twist of a husband (and by implication, damsel/wife+baby kid too? or maybe you rescue them later, I don't know) in the refrigerator type plot ending.

(found through one of the blogs Sarkeesian links to on her site)
posted by Bwithh at 2:43 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


But writing good dialogue and creating good characters is pretty much the same in any medium....

While there are games that basically show you "Saving Private Ryan" and then replace all the fighty bits with waves of Space Invaders, a lot of us would argue that's watching a movie during a video game. I suppose it's fine for a first person shooter, but Team Fortress is a great first person shooter and it's story line is "shoot the other guys".

In role playing games writing good dialog is tough because you have to deal with the fact that with every line of dialog you write, you either have to write more lines of dialogue (which means you need 10 hours of voice acting for the 2 hours of dialog your player hears) or aggressively prune the conversation tree (which is like a sharp blow to the sense of immersion). Also, there's the issue of explaining to the player that the when they pick the "aggressive" response whether that means "raised voice and righteous indignation" or if it means "grab person you're talking to by the lapels and threaten to rip their throat out with your teeth and spit it into their face"? There are a number of games that have that issue - Alpha Protocol, LA Noire and Mass Effect all leap to mind. Whereas, if you're JRR Tolkien, you only have to write one paragraph of Aragorn prank calling Sauron at 3 am to have a paragraph where Aragorn prank calls Sauron at 3am and everything is exactly as you write it to be.

Graphic rendering is just so much mathematical grinding and we've been doing amazing ray tracing stuff since the late 70's. For writing to keep up with graphics the wage paid to writers and voice actors is going to have to be halved every 18 months, or we're going to have to develop an AI that is advanced enough to improv a whole game's worth of dialog, something that most real live humans have trouble with. (Hence that "How every D&D game begins / How it ends" bit that was making the rounds on Facebook a couple months ago.)

There is an issue for games, but it's not one that can be dismissed as simply as "bad writing". There are technological and budgeting issues that also play heavily into the mix.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:58 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think being raised on a steady diet of mainstream trashy hip-hop (i.e., "fuck bitches get money") probably also contributes to these retrograde attitudes, but I don't think I'm allowed to point that out because it would be "racist" (because all rappers are black, obviously).

I'll just step around the massively reductive caricature of hip-hop there to assure you that in my travels around the gaming communities of 4chan, Reddit, etc, where gamer misogyny is freely expressed in pure undiluted form, it's very often the case that the guys espousing it are not the sort to take their cues from black culture. These guys like to talk about what kind of music they listen to while they're defending their breeding camps from zerg rushes (or whatever the hell goes on in AAA FPSs these days), and guess what? For the most part, angry entitled white dudes listen to angry white dude bands.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:09 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne, I can't help but think you're trying to dismiss Saarkesian's project and its message as something that cannot be won so why bother trying. I apologize if this is not your intent, and I also apologize if the general message appears to be that ALL games are bad because of these tropes. I think I see what you're getting at, but my lenses are colored a bit hence my hesitation.

I admit my comment about lazy writing was a blanket statement and didn't mean to say that it's the root of all evil. I really just wanted to get across that quite often game companies seemed to opt for an easy way out with no real regard for how their product might promote negative stereotypes and attitudes.
posted by CancerMan at 3:10 PM on May 29, 2013


"Hi, I'm looking for a couple orcs. Could you see if anyone there knows Eye-lick, or Kassez? Ask around, I'll wait."
posted by fleacircus at 3:29 PM on May 29, 2013


Graphic rendering is just so much mathematical grinding and we've been doing amazing ray tracing stuff since the late 70's. For writing to keep up with graphics the wage paid to writers and voice actors is going to have to be halved every 18 months

No. What makes the environments in Assassin's Creed 1000x more beautiful than the dialogue is the art direction, not the technology. Just glancing at the credits for the original Assassin's Creed, I see about 50 people credited as artists and one person credited as a script writer, which is not by itself the reason the art is so much better, but illustrates pretty well the priorities and the budget.
posted by straight at 4:31 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's how you got DooM. The booklet with the game contained the backstory - in three sentences. Beyond that, there was no exposition or plot.

I'm okay with this. Gamers play games because they're fun. I don't need some bullshit plot motivation to get me to explore a world and kill things in it. Does your game have more story than a Walter Hill movie? If so, you're probably doing it wrong.

There are rare, rare exceptions. But they're exceptions. In general, just dump me in a dungeon and point me to the treasure.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:56 PM on May 29, 2013


Gamers play games because they're fun.

Gamers play games for a variety of reasons. Don't claim your experience is universal.
posted by Justinian at 5:43 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think what sticks in my craw is that there have been a bunch of people in here saying "all games are like this" (holds up games with sexist, racist or jingoistic overtones) "when they should be like this" (vaguely gesticulate while describing an interactive experience that would be very difficult to pull off using the current mechanics and technology).

It's not that there isn't shit that could seriously use fixing, but at some point I can't help but feel that if you have a better idea, it would be a lot more effective if you did a kickstarter or something, assembled a team and put out a better game than any number of steaming piles AAA games released in the past year.

If you do I promise I'll play the shit out of it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:50 PM on May 29, 2013



I think what sticks in my craw is that there have been a bunch of people in here saying "all games are like this" (holds up games with sexist, racist or jingoistic overtones) "when they should be like this" (vaguely gesticulate while describing an interactive experience that would be very difficult to pull off using the current mechanics and technology).


Its not about ADDITION. Its about SUBTRACTION. The scene with Dom's wife added nothing to the core of Gears of War 2, which is about the cover system. Borderlands 2's plot could have been literally anything, as long as it fit the game's tone. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which had the same final twist as BL2, could have also been different. Spleunky's XBox Live port lets you replace the Damsel in Distress with a dog or several other characters. Max Payne could be motivated by the death of his partner or by being framed for a murder he didn't commit or by a million other noir tropes. Etc... none of the things pointed out in the video are key to the gameplay. She's not saying "don't make violent games". She's saying "don't make sexist games", which is much easier. Bayonetta and Lolipop Chainsaw would have been just as fun if the protagonists were fully clothed.

My go-to game for good storytelling, Fallout: New Vegas, has very few damsels in distress. Unless you count the rape victim you can counsel in an obscure subplot.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:58 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Spleunky's XBox Live port lets you replace the Damsel in Distress with a dog or several other characters.

That reminds me of another interesting Tales of Symphonia mechanic. There's a bit where one of the characters gets kidnapped/damseled and it can be any member of the party. There's an affection system that the game has that sort of dynamically picks one of the characters to be "closest" to you and you get special scenes with that character and that's the character that gets taken. So it's the one that'll pull most on your emotional heartstrings irregardless of gender.
posted by NoraReed at 6:09 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Max Payne could be motivated by the death of his partner or by being framed for a murder he didn't commit or by a million other noir tropes.

For a protagonist to be allowed to go on a murder-spree and not be seen as a murderer, merely being framed generally doesn't cut it. (And Max also got framed) Being framed is enough to dig into things, end up in trouble, defend yourself while trying to escape the trouble etc.
posted by anonymisc at 6:15 PM on May 29, 2013


I'm a big fan of how this is handled in Dragon Age: Origins. (Some spoilers for that game ahead.) The protagonist and the super adorable fighter swordguy Alistair (a love interest for female protagonists) get kidnapped and end up in their underwear in jail. You have two options: break out of jail with Alistair or play as two of the other characters, who then raid the fortress and free them. (The latter comes with really excellent funny dialogue.)

Heh, I remember that. I was impressed that the writers put so much effort into it. You can see some of the character combinations on YouTube.
posted by homunculus at 6:16 PM on May 29, 2013


I think what sticks in my craw is that there have been a bunch of people in here saying "all games are like this" (holds up games with sexist, racist or jingoistic overtones) "when they should be like this" (vaguely gesticulate while describing an interactive experience that would be very difficult to pull off using the current mechanics and technology).

I'm a gamer who appreciates story as much as mechanics. Probably more now that I'm older and have played tons of 'mechanics' games. As a female over the for the most part I've gotten used to ignoring a lot of the crappy sexist stuff and just playing if the game play is fun. It's just been a given that in most games if I want to play I will have no choice to play a male and play along with the guy oriented storylines.

However as I've gotten older I do find myself getting quite a bit more picky probably because in recent years there have been some pretty awesome games without blatant here dudebros here is your man story hero, sexism in them. I remember the first time I got to actually play a game with a kickass female character (Tomb Raider) and was so excited about it that I chose to actively ignore the dudebro boobs.

One game that hasn't been mentioned in terms of story is Dragon Age Origins. The story in that although very typical fantasy was pretty vast, with developed characters. It also did a pretty good job of making the plot not feel like you were on one rail and respond to the choices you make. I got so involved with the story that I got emotional at certain points and pretty much lost it when a choice I made ended up killing a loved character. For me it was a game that was hella fun to play where the 'story' and the actual play meshed really well together. It also allowed for both a female and male main player and adjusted itself in terms of story relationships with the other NPCs.

Unfortunately the sequel was a big let down. I have yet to play another game that deeply engaging. Some have come close but I'm still waiting for what I know is possible.

As a female gamer this sort of discussion which has gotten more mainstream in recent years is important to me. It makes me glad and although it's slow I have seen more games doing things better. It's not even just having to deal with sexist tropes in games as a female it's also that these sort of tropes in the same sort of stories have been done so much that they just get boring, which for me unless the gameplay is spectacularly better and/or different then other games makes for more boring games. I'm buying and playing fewer games now not because I don't want to play but because so many are just sort of 'meh, been there done that.'
posted by Jalliah at 6:29 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, I'm trying to figure out why one would argue the phenomenon isn't a widespread issue, or if it's not, and one really has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find it, why it's worth discussing. - Kid Charlemagne
Perhaps, like Ebola, it's worth discussing because it's interesting? I'm not really a hard-core gamer and I didn't know most of the stuff in the video, so it was interesting to me. She originally only asked for $6k to make the videos, she never claimed it was some huge social problem worthy of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to analyze.

If you're going to criticize her, you should really come up with some evidence that she holds the positions you're criticizing her for.

This is also only the second video in the series, and it focused on what seemed (to me) to be the more extreme examples of what she was talking about in the first video (the damsel thing) which featured popular games like the SMB series, etc. Presumably she'll cover other tropes in other videos.

The only 'major' game I've played recently was the Star Craft II campaign, where the plot is literally to save the universe from your psycho-ex girlfriend.

That wasn't nearly as bad as the examples in the video, but it still featured a variant of the 'save a girl from demonic possession' trope, and obviously Kerrigan had plenty of agency, and didn't have any interest in being 'saved' - come to think of it, it also had the trope of using violence against a girl you're in love with in order to get her to come to her senses.
I think what sticks in my craw is that there have been a bunch of people in here saying "all games are like this" (holds up games with sexist, racist or jingoistic overtones) "when they should be like this" -- Kid Charlemagne
No, you've repeatedly implied that you're arguing against people saying that, without pointing out a single example of anyone actually saying that. I'm still waiting for any evidence that Sarkeesian ever said anything like that despite the fact you've claimed multiple times that she must mean something like that, for some reason.

You're seemingly upset with someone for making a point they've never stated (to my knowledge) and now you're attacking "people in here" for making a point I hadn't even noticed anyone making - maybe I missed it.

It's like you can't find anything wrong with what she actually said, so you have to invent things she didn't actually say in order to criticize her.
She's not saying "don't make violent games". She's saying "don't make sexist games", which is much easier. Bayonetta and Lolipop Chainsaw would have been just as fun if the protagonists were fully clothed. -- Charlemagne In Sweatpants
She's actually just saying "here are some examples of sexist tropes in games" - the implication could be lots of things, including 'watch out or think twice about using them when writing games'. She also didn't talk much about the way characters were dressed (except the girl in the Star Fox game). Maybe she'll talk about that in another video, maybe not.
That's how you got DooM. The booklet with the game contained the backstory - in three sentences. Beyond that, there was no exposition or plot.

Which is fun, as far as it goes. And of course, it avoided the usual storytelling pitfalls. But it's not an engaging thing beyond the gameplay.
-- Pogo_Fuzzybutt
I don't really get why games need to be "engaging beyond the gameplay". I don't really get these modern games that seem more like interactive CG movies in a lot of ways, it's like the stuff where you're watching a scene and then suddenly something happens and you have to press 'X' a bunch of times to get past it. (I guess they call them quick-time events?) What's the point?

I guess some people like this but I couldn't care less.
I think being raised on a steady diet of mainstream trashy hip-hop (i.e., "fuck bitches get money") probably also contributes to these retrograde attitudes, but I don't think I'm allowed to point that out because it would be "racist" (because all rappers are black, obviously). -- MattMangels
Lol, what? I've never gotten the impression that these people expressing these feelings were anything other then the stereotypical white nerd manchilds, especially since you typically see lots of racism in the same places you see it (like comment threads on reddit).

Plus I'm not talking about indifference towards the concerns of women, or bragging about success with women in order to place themselves over other men, but actual seemingly visceral hatred. It seems more like the kind of thing that's developed through personal experience over any kind of media.

That's also a totally random derail in a thread about sexist tropes in video games and the crazy misogyny directed at it's creator.
For the most part, angry entitled white dudes listen to angry white dude bands. -- prize bull octorok
Or dubstep.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think what sticks in my craw is that there have been a bunch of people in here saying "all games are like this" (holds up games with sexist, racist or jingoistic overtones) "when they should be like this" (vaguely gesticulate while describing an interactive experience that would be very difficult to pull off using the current mechanics and technology).

It's not that there isn't shit that could seriously use fixing, but at some point I can't help but feel that if you have a better idea, it would be a lot more effective if you did a kickstarter or something, assembled a team and put out a better game than any number of steaming piles AAA games released in the past year.

If you do I promise I'll play the shit out of it.


"Maybe start a Kickstarter" or "Make your own game" is another classic derail.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread has gone elsewhere after I went to bed, but in the interest of not pissing and running I owe a response to GoingToShopping's post here.

I actually can't find good one-in-all posts on Inafune that aren't positive, but the general rumbling that's been going for the past few years is that he's a dick in his own right (again, not really exceptional in the game industry), and while Capcom did their best to antagonize him near the end he had it coming for a while. I realize that I'm not offering anything but hearsay so take it or leave it as you wish. At any rate, I can't really take his criticisms on the Japanese industry seriously, since, while he does bring up some good points about it, (a) his praise of the Western industry seems like it's primarily coming from him being so burnt out from working in Capcom for so long (a grass is greener type thing), and (b) his post-Capcom career beyond Soul Sacrifice is making a cameo in noted progressive Japanese game Hyperdimenion Neptunia Mk2 and working with Otomate on an otome dating sim.

As for Phil Fish, just google him and you'll find plenty of things about him, from telling some idiot on twitter "I won an award tonight, suck and chocke on my dick", starting a thread on the Steam forums bragging that his game hit #1 in preorders and to "boycott harder, nerds", and the infamous "Japanese games just suck" bit, where he basically picked the absolute worst way to say his point and did so at the absolute worst time. I actually didn't know about the whole "ingrates" thing until the commenter above pointed it out.

Jonathan Blow is probably the least reprehensible of the ones I've mentioned, his "sins" as such as they can be are just having an overblown opinion on the "innovation" in indie games (his own and others) and critiquing the mainstream game industry with a complete obliviousness to the fact that all his complaints apply to indie games as well.

My statement was hyperbolic for the sake of pithiness*, but it was less about bigotry being instrinsic to those mediums (though really it's intrinsic to ALL mediums and will be until/unless we live in a society where it's completely eradicated), and if Suda's dickishness and biting off his subordinates is enough to dismiss him completely, then there isn't a game developer alive in the East, in the West, in the big studios, working alone, who won't have their own compelling reason to dismiss them completely.

More than that, the question of whether these creators are assholes or not is relevant only in conjunction with their work, and barely at that. Does it matter that everyone has nothing but nice things to say about Miyamoto when he's obsessed, often to the point of detriment to his games, with keeping Mario, Peach, and Bowser in moral-essentialist and gender-essentialist roles? No. Does it change how Lollipop Chainsaw is a magical girl anime set in America with all the tropes and trappings therein if it wasn't entirely Suda's idea? Not really, partially because biting is the secret dirty lifeblood of art through time immemorial, and partially because regardless of how much of the game he was actually involved in, he's still attached his name to it thereby saying he approves of the messages and the themes within it. Is it worth examining the subplot of the mages' persecution in the Dragon Age games in light of several Bioware staff dodging the lack of POC with "it's based off of high fantasy"? Yes.

(*Also I've found way more reprehensible artists involved in metal than rap, and NIN is industrial, not metal. That aside I'm surprised that you offered Reznor and Keenan as examples of decent guys, as Reznor pioneered fighting over social media before Rihanna and Keenan has made his entire career out of calling Tool fans morons. But I digress and wildy so.)
posted by NEW Eccentric Girl at 7:07 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


kavasa: You're basically wrong here in a multitude of ways that tessellate into a larger geometry of wrongness.

My girlfriend and I were similarly boggling over the massive flood of replies and how each and every one of them managed to attack from a different angle. It's truly a rare thing on metafilter (or at least I like to think so) to see someone who is just so thoroughly wrong come in and post something so blithely. Feels kinda like Christmas?
You said it way better than I could have ever hoped to, though.

NEW Eccentric Girl, that shit about Fish is pretty amazing. I googled up Blow, and since I've played Braid, wasn't really surprised by any of his comments. It DOES seem like a pretty pretentious game, and I'm not really sure how to phrase this best, but the narrative of male/female interactions seemed a bit...quaint? Maybe conservative? Black and white? Not really sure how to describe it, but eyes were rolled many a time through my trophy hunt. Great mechanics, but I was baffled why anyone would cite the plot as something worth writing home about.

Thanks for taking the trouble to reply, btw. RE: Reznor, are you referring to the whole idiotic Manson squabble with the social media comment? Is there some other story I'm not aware of? He didn't actually take shots at Radiohead, did he? I think there's a difference between being a dick to people who deserve to be treated as such (Manson, and in my opinion Radiohead, and, yes, a LOT of Tool fans), and walking around acting like you're the most fantastic batch of baby batter to ever win the egg race. I wouldn't really compare having a hilarious little pissing match with someone you used to be friends with to, for example, sending your significant other to the hospital because of domestic violence.
Yeah, when I start thinking about "rock" musicians in the larger scope of genre and history, I really don't have much trouble coming up with massive douchebags. Ulrich, Nugent, Blythe, etc etc etc. I think I see your point now.
posted by GoingToShopping at 8:51 PM on May 29, 2013


I don't care about the personalities of the people making the games, and to the extent that I do care I'd prefer they be INTERESTING (which can mean 'douchebags' or 'assholes') because that at least means provocative work and not boring 'design by comittee'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:00 PM on May 29, 2013


To re-rail my thread, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell was sued for sexual harassment
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:04 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Stardock's games haven't been anything to write home about. The best thing to come out of Stardock is the Sins of a Solar Empire property and they only publishers not developers for it. GalCiv was decent but bland and is, I think, overrated. It's not a bad game but it's not MOO2 by a long shot. Elemental was a disaster of epic proportions which is likely to bring down the entire company. They've been working on the thing for years and spent all their money doing it and have barely managed to bring it up to mediocre status.
posted by Justinian at 10:15 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


For a protagonist to be allowed to go on a murder-spree and not be seen as a murderer, merely being framed generally doesn't cut it.

I'm actually pretty creeped out by the idea that someone would feel some sort of scruple about killing lots of people in a video game unless there is a dead girlfriend in the refrigerator to properly motivate it.

I can understand either the perspective that "killing" is fine because it's just a game or the perspective that violence in video games is a problem because art is a powerful force that shapes who we are and what we believe, but the idea that mass murder is okay if and only if it's properly motivated seems really gross.
posted by straight at 10:29 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]



For a protagonist to be allowed to go on a murder-spree and not be seen as a murderer, merely being framed generally doesn't cut it.


The 'story' is a polite fiction in an action game. But fine, how about 'they killed my male partner and then framed me'? Or 'they put me in prison for 20 years, where I went through hell, and now I'm out'? Or 'every gang member in the city/apartment block/enclosed space is being ordered to kill me, and there's no way I can escape without murdering all of them'? Or 'its literally a shooting gallery, none of this is real'? Or 'the plot of the Seven Samurai'?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:33 PM on May 29, 2013


There are games and stories that use all of those. Max Payne isn't one of them. If the protagonist is clearly a hetero male, as in Max Payne (and EveryOtherGame), then inflicting the greatest possible personal loss on him will disproportionately involve women, because the nature and importance of those relationships involve the least explaining, and as you said, the 'story' is just a polite fiction. The simplest path is well trodden.
The sexism runs deeper than people failing to bend into contortions to avoid involving women, because they've already set up the problem such that women are the perfect solution to it.
posted by anonymisc at 1:51 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm actually pretty creeped out by the idea that someone would feel some sort of scruple about killing lots of people in a video game

If you replace "video game" with "movie" (which is part of where the video games are getting these cues) , perhaps it will seem more familiar. Roughly speaking, death needs to be on the line before willfully inflicting death can be justified as something a "good" person would do.

A guy trips and spills coffee on a man's shirt. The man reacts by murdering the guy. Either the man is a baddie, or the movie is a comedy. If it's a regular drama and the man is the protagonist and he goes around killing people when nothing big hangs in the balance, a big chunk of the audience won't be able to get behind the character, because it gets too hard to ignore that he's doing more harm than good.

That said, I think you are right to be creeped out, but you should direct the creeped-outedness at movies more than games. Movies are the bigger offenders.
posted by anonymisc at 2:04 AM on May 30, 2013


Or to put it another way - if you are supposed to strongly identity with a character (game or movie), the character needs to be able to map onto the audience.
In most movies, you're supposed to identify with someone. In most games, you're not - it's just a shooting gallery, or a gemstone-matching puzzle, or whatever.
But if you inject story into a game, and your story is using those established mechanisms of having the audience identify with a character, then the rules apply, and even though many players are happy to ignore the story and play it as a shooting gallery no matter what the writing is, it will still irk many of them if the character they are supposed to be identifying with is unignorably a complete dick.
posted by anonymisc at 2:18 AM on May 30, 2013


I don't care about the personalities of the people making the games, and to the extent that I do care I'd prefer they be INTERESTING (which can mean 'douchebags' or 'assholes') because that at least means provocative work and not boring 'design by comittee'.

I actually used to feel exactly the same way, but then I grew up (that doesn't sound like what I want it to sound like, so hold on). I stopped being a kid, then I stopped being a student, then I stopped being a slacker, now I'm focusing on getting a wife/family/career/whatever. My free time is constantly evaporating and becoming more of a premium item.

Looking back, I find that it was a lot easier, in my past, to ignore certain things that now I feel like I should be paying a bit more attention to; if game A is designed by assholes and has a bunch of corrosive anti-consumer aspects (day 1 DLC, on disk DLC, sexist/racist/moronic writing, whatever whatever), and game B does not, if those are both interesting games that I want to buy, I have a hard time choosing A over B. That is to say, I find the playing field being increasingly even with all aspects other than the (previously irrelevant and trite) moral ones. I don't begrudge my buddies their copies of Dead Space 3, and I borrowed and got the platinum trophies for 1 and 2, so I'm definitely pragmatic on these sorts of things, but...I dunno. It keeps me warm at night?

We live each and every day swimming in a massive plastic ocean of consumer products, struggling to keep our heads where we can get some oxygen. I feel privileged, in a way, to be able to make these sorts of "moral" decisions, even though I know them to still be trite and inconsequential, it feels like I'm doing "as much as I can." I don't really have trouble finding games (and music, and movies, and everything else) that are both of fantastic quality and made by people whom I either know/suspect to be good people or whom I have no negative knowledge of.

In that context, I think my little (constantly expanding) blacklist is pretty rationally defensible. Looking at something like the prevalence of the Damsel Trope, I think I'd have to give up media altogether if something as prevalent as THAT were to wind up on my shitlist, but as of now, I have no trouble with not buying Konami games because of shit like this, especially considering other external factors such as the Japanese population crisis.
posted by GoingToShopping at 2:43 AM on May 30, 2013


There are games and stories that use all of those. Max Payne isn't one of them.

Actually, I'm kind of wrong about that - it would be more fair to say that Max Payne is one of them - it uses All Teh Plots - ones like you suggest, other non-sexist ones, other sexist ones, and the kitchen sink on top of that. It grabs pretty much every trope at some point and throws it into the mix. But yeah, it starts with his family being murdered.

posted by anonymisc at 3:10 AM on May 30, 2013


Rather fortuitous timing, for anyone who's still paying attention to the thread...
posted by GoingToShopping at 10:01 AM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


roystgnr: "
Isn't demanding to see quantitative proof in conversations about sexism one of the classic derailment tactics?
Although I'd agree that this particular conversation (or the vast majority of similarly casual conversations) about sexism doesn't need to be based on statistically-rigorous footing...

If we pigeonhole requests for objective and quantitative data as a thing that misogynist men do and feminist women avoid, isn't that itself a pretty misogynist attitude? Even exposing my daughter to "Math class is tough"-Barbie would be an improvement over a fifth column that tries to justify anti-intellectualism for women.
"

I think what's being pointed at is the "You’re Arguing With Opinions Not Fact" method of derailment, not any kind of "women can't handle math/statistics/quantitative science". The problem is people who take an attitude of "unless you can provide detailed, quantified, footnoted data supporting your claims of sexism and misogyny, you're just imagining it and wasting our time".
posted by Lexica at 2:31 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you replace "video game" with "movie" (which is part of where the video games are getting these cues) , perhaps it will seem more familiar. Roughly speaking, death needs to be on the line before willfully inflicting death can be justified as something a "good" person would do.
So what? It's a fucking video game, GTA sold really well even though lots of people had the character just run over people for fun.

The most popular video games are stuff like Farmville and Angry Birds. There's no plot whatsoever.
posted by delmoi at 7:34 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "
If you replace "video game" with "movie" (which is part of where the video games are getting these cues) , perhaps it will seem more familiar. Roughly speaking, death needs to be on the line before willfully inflicting death can be justified as something a "good" person would do.
So what? It's a fucking video game, GTA sold really well even though lots of people had the character just run over people for fun.

The most popular video games are stuff like Farmville and Angry Birds. There's no plot whatsoever.
"

Can I start my Two Minutes Hate now?

PLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSEEEEEEEEE!
posted by Samizdata at 1:35 AM on June 1, 2013


Sigh. It's everywhere. I've somehow ended up in an argument about misogyny in video games and whether there are lots of gamers .... On fuckin fitocracy, of all places.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:44 AM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


The most popular video games are stuff like Farmville and Angry Birds. There's no plot whatsoever."

Can I start my Two Minutes Hate now?


Both those games have a plot. "Pigs have stolen your eggs and you need to get them" and, I assume, "you have a farm and you need to make it the best farm". What more do you need? I guess Harvest Moon answers that for FarmVille.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:27 AM on June 14, 2013


How to Fight Sexism in Gaming? Get Men to Play Female Characters.
posted by homunculus at 1:06 PM on June 14, 2013


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