Skip

These women fulfill the same function as vending machine beverages
June 16, 2014 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Anita Sarkeesian has released the third video in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. It's an exhaustive (and exhausting) look at how women have been used as background decorations in video games for the last three decades. [previously]
posted by Ouverture (208 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 


Thanks lodurr! I'm a bit new at this whole MeFi thing:)

Looking at all of these examples that I've personally played, I don't remember even one example where the portrayal of women as background/sexualized objects as a positive contribution to my experience of that game. All it's ever done for me is give me something to eyeroll/groan at for a second.

My greatest memories have been all about gameplay; the dodging and weaving in The Binding of Isaac or jumping out of a helicopter in Battlefield and shooting a rocket to blow up the jet tailing me. I think about the perfectly timed counter with Marth that changed everything in a match I was badly losing.

When I remember my favorite moments in gaming, I remember the amazing interplay between complex gameplay systems and mechanisms.

And when I see objectification in games, I see money and effort wasted and lost. Those dollars and hours could have gone to create better gameplay.

Then again, I am not in that highly sought after target demographic.
posted by Ouverture at 12:29 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


I only posted it because I can't do youtube at work these days, and my first thought was 'why doesn't she do transcripts?' But rather than complain about it, I decided to check, and sure enough...
posted by lodurr at 12:30 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


as for the whole 'target demographic' argument, it's always struck me as rather odd. Kind of like saying 'we've decided we don't care about any users except these, and we're going to compete like hell for them instead of trying to get some of those other users who might be easier to get.'

IOW, i've always felt it had to be a cover for something else....like, SEXISM? [cue feminist churchlady /]
posted by lodurr at 12:33 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


Hmmm. This one seems a bit weaker than usual in its choice of games which illustrate her points. Consider that she is lumping Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea in with the Saint's Row series(!!!) in terms of portrayal of the commodification of women. That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned. I mean it's right there in the clip she plays.

I really appreciate this series of videos but I wish Sarkeesian would be more careful with her examples. Some of them are spot on, some of them are sorta correct, and a few are off base.

Again: I understand that her point is that such portrayals are ubiquitous to the point that it is hard to separate nuanced portrayals from gratuitous objectification. Absolutely true. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't even try to make that distinction. Neither television nor film critics would get away with that and we should aim to get there as well.

(THANK YOU FOR THE TRANSCRIPT LINK!)
posted by Justinian at 12:36 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


To put it another way, gratuitous violence is absolutely par for the course in our visual media. But that doesn't mean we can't tell the difference between Hostel Part II and The Godfather.
posted by Justinian at 12:37 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned.

to play devil's advocate: I might make an argument that such things are a form of pandering. Players get to feel virtuously titillated, but they still get their decorations. Kind of like the way Tarantino makes these incredibly violent movies that are incredibly popular with people who love violent movies and argues that they're commentaries on violence, so they shouldn't be subject to critique for being incredibly violent movies.
posted by lodurr at 12:41 PM on June 16 [38 favorites]


... if someone who plays Bioshock tells me that's a bad reading I'll take their word for it. But it seems like a plausible argument, so I'm tossing it out there.
posted by lodurr at 12:42 PM on June 16


Well, that's uh... what's his name's... point that there is no such thing as an anti-war film because portraying it on film is inherently glamorizing. I understand that argument but don't really agree with it.
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Truffaut! Truffaut! I know!
posted by Justinian at 12:43 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


There are big differences between Bioshock and Saint's Row, but the key issue is that when it comes to the portrayal and representation of women in video games, we've got 99 Hostel Part II for every 1 The Godfather.

But when the ratio is that stark, the very few exceptions to the trend ultimately get subsumed by the trend itself. Released in a culture where women are so consistently and continuously objectified, Bioshock is consumed no differently than Saint's Row. The only difference is plausible deniability.

However, thanks to so much awesome discussion and criticism in recent years, I think we're reaching a point where games will open up like movies did.
posted by Ouverture at 12:44 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


I definitely agree with that. Like I said I simply wish Sarkeesian would pick her examples more carefully to forestall just the sort of nitpickery criticism which will allow people who are biased against her argument to ignore it because she gets some examples wrong. You know they will.
posted by Justinian at 12:45 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


The kind of nitpickery criticism I am making... the metaness is hurting my brain.
posted by Justinian at 12:46 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I see ratings and comments have been disabled for that video. Smart move, but also sad.
posted by peripathetic at 12:47 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned.

So, uh, yeah, I don't play this kind of games, so could you tell me if that game allows me as a female or male PC to hire a rentboy, too?
posted by sukeban at 12:55 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Entire segments of the internet have devoted themselves to sending deluges of rape and death threats her way every time she puts something of hers on the internet. I can see her and others not wanting to have to see that.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:55 PM on June 16 [17 favorites]


I saw that clip from BioShock as being used as an agreement with the point she was making, not a counterpoint (in her commentary at the time she is talking about commodification, which is what the audio in the BioShock clip is also expressing).
posted by jzed at 12:56 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I'm really just starting to watch this, but I'll say that the bikini babes in game ads and as used in those early video arcade games is basically reason #1 I grew up with the idea that video games were not for me.

(That said, there is one Atari ad in the collage where I'm pretty sure the woman is just meant to be a person playing the game, not eye candy. She's wearing a knee-length skirt and a blouse with a high neckline.)
posted by Sara C. at 12:58 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Surprised there was no mention of Dead Island, considering Deep Silver's widely-publicized bona fides (NSFW) when it comes to treating women -- or rather, their dismembered torsos, albeit with eerily/miraculously untouched bosoms -- as literal background decorations. Here's our previously on that whole to-do! Whee!

The 'Links & Resources' section here is definitely worth checking out. This is especially true if you're interested in how gaming companies' aesthetic decisions -- like, say, making your female NPCs into irreducibly hypersexual objects, to be groped, fucked, tortured, violated, and/or otherwise summarily discarded once they've been used for their intended purpose -- have deleterious effects that can echo out well into the off-screen world. F'rex, from a paper titled 'Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment':
A significant interaction indicated that men exposed to stereotypical content made judgments that were more tolerant of a real-life instance of sexual harassment compared to controls. Long-term exposure to video game violence was correlated with greater tolerance of sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance.
There's also a great deal of research supporting the idea that representations like those discussed in the OP actively work to convince women to objectify, mistrust, and even hate ourselves. So before anyone takes a step down the ol' "lol, why is she even acting like this is a problem?! it's just a video game!" road: Here you go.
posted by divined by radio at 1:04 PM on June 16 [18 favorites]


I love these videos. I'm surprised how often I think back to points she's made and examples she's curated. I'm really looking forward to watching this one.
posted by painquale at 1:06 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point.

Something being the point of a game, or not, isn't really the point, though. As a kid growing up with gaming culture, I was turned off by this stuff and in a lot of ways -- to the extent that it's omnipresent even in games that are for an all-ages audience -- and as an adult it immediately takes me out of the game and makes me wonder if I could be doing something else with my time.

If it's there, it's there. I'm not likely to say, "but this objectification of women is OK, because the overall work has some good themes."

Besides, I just recently watched a Let's Play of Bioshock Infinite done by two feminists where they consistently mocked all the examples of this. It was like a 10-minute video, too, and it came up CONSTANTLY. So, yeah, this critique is definitely accurate for Bioshock.
posted by Sara C. at 1:08 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


She makes a nasty good point: objectification in games is even more problematic than it is in other media because game players are encouraged/required to actively participate.

This video is surprisingly deep philosophically. The whole video is explicitly structured around this paper by philosopher Martha Nussbaum. If anything, Sarkeesian's analysis of objectification ("instrumentality, commodification, interchangeability, violability and disposability") is conceptually tighter than Nussbaum's.

Sarkeesian's video is well grounded in the feminist philosophy scholarly literature, presenting that material so casually and accessibly that the viewer may not notice how much knowledge she's dropping. This is better media criticism than we deserve.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:09 PM on June 16 [43 favorites]


game players are encouraged/required to actively participate.

I was pretty shocked at the number of games where the hookers say that the player is hot and she'd "give [him] a freebie just this once".

That cannot be a coincidence.
posted by Sara C. at 1:12 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


I don't game, but this was both engrossing and gross. Really well put together.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:19 PM on June 16


I wish I knew more about where Sarkeesian gets her videos and images. The most frequent complaint I see about Tropes vs Women on my Twitter feed is that Sarkeesian doesn't ask for permission to use fanart or "Let's Play" videos that other people have created -- nor does she provide credit for those materials when they appear in her videos -- and it seems to be a reason for some folks to dismiss the entire endeavor.

And not, like, jerkbro gamer dudes. Today I saw a (woman) friend of mine had posted, "Wonder how many people she stole gameplay footage from this time, since she doesn't, y'know, play these games to examine the media in full." And it just made me so sad. For a not insignificant subgroup of my online acquaintanceship, Tropes vs Women has become just another internet venue that steals people's content for its own purposes. And it frustrates me that I can't really say anything in Sarkeesian's defense, other than, "Well, I like what she has to say so it's worth it!"

Of course, all of that said, I realize that at least some of this reaction boils down to, "Women must be completely perfect in the way they present their objections or we'll reject their entire message."

I just wish that people didn't have such a convenient, beside-the-point way to dismiss the content of what Sarkeesian and her production team are saying.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:21 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


I have seen people online complain that she used people's playthrough videos w/out attribution; I can't watch this at work, does she give credit for where she got them?
posted by emjaybee at 1:21 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Tsk, Narrative Priorities got in ahead of me.
posted by emjaybee at 1:22 PM on June 16


Then again, I am not in that highly sought after target demographic.

I'm just older than the target 18-35 demographic, though I otherwise hit the key white/male/etc points, and I find this kind of imagery pretty eye-rolling. How stunted do they think their audience is?
posted by Dip Flash at 1:24 PM on June 16


Is taking a screenshot of a video game "content creation"?
posted by Sara C. at 1:25 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure about the in-game footage, but Sarkeesian apologized for accidentally using fan art without credit, and the artist responded.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:25 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Mbrubeck, thanks -- I had missed that!

Sara, I don't know how much you've encountered "Let's Play" culture but it is a Thing. People take it really seriously and spend enormous amounts of time putting the videos together.

It honestly seems more like an etiquette issue than a legal one -- Fair Use may cover all of this, but it's certainly not engendering good will in the community.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:28 PM on June 16


I would think that fair use is fair use, whether it's an unattributed 5-second clip of an old movie or somebody's Let's Play video. It's not like Sarkeesian is passing any of the visuals off as her own work, outside of how she juxtaposes them with her voiceover.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:28 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


My view of Bioshock -- based on having watched some playing and read some stuff -- is that it's at best trying to do a version of ironic sexism (or racism, depending on the game). But in the end it's full of sexist and racist imagery and tropes.
posted by jeather at 1:28 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


and it seems to be a reason for some folks to dismiss the entire endeavor

Wow, that seems like a really thin veil for a critique that is really saying "I don't like what she has to say and I can't formulate a good argument against her saying it so I'm going to do my best to nitpick it into oblivion."

That's really lame. Sure she should give credit where credit is due but to dismiss something like this out of hand shows a depressing lack, or willful disdain even, of consideration for the subject matter at hand.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:30 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned.

I believe she addressed this in an earlier video using Spelunky as an example, in which you 'save' the helpless damsel around and carry her to the cave exit. Much in the same way South Park has 'Token', just because you're pointing a finger at the trope doesn't absolve you from using it. Wearing your objectification on your sleeve doesn't absolve you from still casting the characters in an condescending station.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:32 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The idea of "stealing" Let's Play footage is interesting, since the videos themselves are made without permission from the game designers/developers/actors whose work they feature, and LPers have to fight off takedown notices from game publishers. And then some of them are making the same argument against transformative reuse of their own videos?
posted by mbrubeck at 1:33 PM on June 16 [32 favorites]


Is taking a screenshot of a video game "content creation"?

I'd say yes, because a play-through is a performance. It's creating content in the same way that an actor repeating Shakespeare's words creates content.

It is fair use for her to use a short clip (therefore she does not need the play-through maker's permission) but the play-through should be cited. We shouldn't be derailed by this quibble, but there's no good reason for her not to give credit where credit is due.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:33 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


I don't know how much you've encountered "Let's Play" culture but it is a Thing.

I actually just a couple weeks ago pitched a Let's Play oriented reality series to a network. I was told they weren't interested in that type of content because of the massive headaches it would create in terms of the video game companies. There wasn't any concern about the degree to which making a Let's Play video is in itself IP.

Also, while I hella respect that Let's Play videos take a lot of time and effort to make, there are two different things to talk about there.

1. A good Let's Play isn't just footage of gameplay. To the extent that Let's Play is IP owned by the creator of the video, it's for the piece as a whole, not just "I turned on my webcam".

2. I've worked on documentaries before where it's been part of my job to capture archival footage using my computer. It's pretty clear to me that, when I do this, said footage does not then become my IP that I own, and which the filmmakers must acquire from me. I'm just the hired hand who hit apple shift 3.

If Anita was using entire Let's Play videos including in-game commentary and the likeness of the creator, I would cry foul. But using screen grabbed video doesn't seem problematic to me at all.

Fan Art is a totally different thing, though, of course.
posted by Sara C. at 1:35 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Consider that she is lumping Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea in with the Saint's Row series(!!!) in terms of portrayal of the commodification of women. That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned.

I haven't watched the video yet (nor part 2), but I can see this point. The Saints Row games (or at least, the third one, which is the one I've played) are pretty gleefully amoral. It's like an intentionally distorted funhouse version of crassly profit-focused urban culture. The Saints will do anything (including sex trafficking) to make money.

It's fascinating to me, as a (male) gamer who tries to be conscious of sexism, to consider the Saints Row games from this perspective, actually. From the player perspective, it's actually one of the most progressive treatments I've ever seen -- the player character is completely customizable, can be male or female, and can wear any clothing in the game. The NPCs treat the player character identically no matter their gender, and the female NPCs aren't there to be love/sex interests (unlike in, say, the Mass Effect games).

But then you find yourself on a mission where you're "rescuing" prostitutes from a rival gang -- so your sidekick (who constantly refers to women, collectively, as "pussy") can pimp them out for himself. It can be pretty jarring, even within the game's premise of unbridled amorality.

I see a lot of this sort of thing in big-budget games -- it seems that half the developers try sneak in something positive, while the other half simply don't care.
posted by neckro23 at 1:35 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


I'm part of a closed, professional-only game developer forum, and the use of unattributed Let's Play captures was one of the big (entirely irrelevant, IMO) sore points. I think they fairly conclusively proved that she is using some pre-captured Let's Plays rather than capturing everything herself. To me it doesn't matter one iota, and I did a lot of urging of people to ignore this and focus on the message, but it, predictably, didn't go all that well.

I do wish she had taken more time to credit the original Let's Play capturers, but honestly, I imagine the number of grievances of this type she's being asked to consider in the name of bad-faith shouting down of what she has to say make it more difficult than you might expect.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:35 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


it sounds like the complaints of 'stealing' source back to one instance of use without permission or attribution. So to me, it looks like an excuse to not engage with the argument.
posted by lodurr at 1:36 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Martha Nussbaum! This is good stuff.

Consider that she is lumping Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea in with the Saint's Row series(!!!) in terms of portrayal of the commodification of women.

I didn't think I'd agree with you, because Bioshock had a lot of nonsense voyeurism in it (Elizabeth wearing Lady Comstock's bodice, for instance). I was thinking of that sort of stuff. But you're right... that particular clip shouldn't have been included with the others. Even if it is an instance of the trope (I haven't decided yet), it's very debatable and borderline. The trope's definition said that background women are included to make the world seem gritty, edgy, or racy, and to titillate straight male viewers. That is pretty arguably not a description of that scene, which seems pretty clearly intended to make a philosophical point about agency and sexuality in a libertarian utopia.

I wonder whether it's a defect of her definition that it is so dependent on the designer's intent rather than on the effect on the player.
posted by painquale at 1:37 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


In a legal sense, does it stop being fair use because she's pulling small samples from another derivative/transformative work rather than the thing itself? If official art of Daphne from Dragon's Lair illustrates the sexism of her design, why doesn't (accurate) fanart serve the same purpose? And why is it presumably okay for her to use that official art without credit or permission, but not the fanart?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:38 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, to be clear, I do actually see the attribution issue as a derail from more important conversations. What's frustrating to me is that they don't take another couple of hours to just attribute all of their sources and skip the derail entirely.

(If Sarkeesian is worried that people whose material she's using will demand that it be taken out of the videos, then she should probably be making an effort to find sources for content that aren't the Let's Plays of random hostile internet folks. I would happily volunteer my time to help gather footage for her, and if she's concerned that the footage won't be high enough quality, then she should probably be paying a small staff to record it for her.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:39 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Also, I think that the fact that she's using unattributed Let's Plays gets so much traction, in part, because it evidences the fact that she isn't playing all (any?) of these games herself. And people object to her criticizing content out of context in games with which she has only a passing familiarity.

And to be absolutely clear, the people who are raising these objections in my life aren't guys. They aren't asshole gamer dudes. They're women who love video games and want the criticism of those games to be well-informed. To them, it's like writing an essay to critique the themes of a movie you haven't actually seen.

I have mixed feelings about this myself -- no one has thousands of hours available to play all of these games in their entirety. But I agree, at least, that if she doesn't already have a staff of some sort with personal experience with the games she's playing, she probably should. I think that's what people assumed the Kickstarter was funding.

It's a complicated set of frustrations.

I personally find the Tropes vs Women videos to be incredibly interesting and valuable. I'm sad that some my women friends who are deeper into gaming than I am don't agree.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:46 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


Are there any games with playable prostitute characters, or with "hooker with a heart of gold" storylines?

One thing that really strikes me about all of this is how one-note cliche "use/pimp/kill hookers" it all is. I mean at least in the movies, yeah, you get lots of icky T&A and objectified women, and then the occasional Pretty Woman or Klute. Not that those are feminist films or anything, but, within the medium as a whole, there is a chance that some stories will sometimes feature a story about this from a slightly different perspective.
posted by Sara C. at 1:49 PM on June 16


Now that I think about it, setting my above comment aside, I wonder if some small percentage of the objections she's getting that say "Stolen content! Foul Play! Fear! Fire! Foes!" (or some such) isn't really coming from hard-, hardcore gamers or fanboi/gurls* who are the ones doing things such as speed-, 100%, complete, blindfolded, or whatever-runs of games....

Which, I admit, may make up a decent portion of the Let's Play Community, I wouldn't know.

That doesn't make their dismissal of the subject based on that angle valid, of course, but it does make me feel slightly less icky about that subset of people's viewpoint if it's coming from the roots of obsession... I mean devout loyalty rather than pocket-sexism. Or something...

*Is fangurl even a word in this regard? As a compatriot to fanboi it seems well neigh letter perfect. I am a *insert modern culture term here* noobie in many regards, this may well be one of them. Google says I'm just weird.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:49 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


[A] reviewer may fairly cite largely from the original work, if his design be really and truly to use the passages for the purposes of fair and reasonable criticism.[Folsom v. Marsh]

If she had footnoted the Let's Play clips she's using, what she's doing would be fair use. She is using those fan-made clips without attribution, creating the impression that she made them herself. That's plagiarism.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:50 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


people object to her criticizing content out of context

Maybe this is more true with some of the other entries in the series, but you really don't need a ton of context to see that sexually objectifying women is video games' stock in trade. You don't have to play through an entire video game to understand that "me love you long time" is objectifying.
posted by Sara C. at 1:50 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


consider the Saints Row games from this perspective, actually

...which is particularly annoying since they could easily make those activities equal opportunity completely amoral . C'mon guys, a snatch level where you're stealing gigolos isn't that difficult.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:53 PM on June 16


Of course. But the Bioshock Infinite-related objections above are pretty indicative. As are things like, "But you kill EVERYONE and take their money in GTA, why are you using that part of the game as an example?"

The argument seems to be, "I 100% agree with what you're trying to do with these videos but you're undermining your own point with bad examples."

I PERSONALLY am more on the side of, "This shit is gross, the context doesn't matter." But I also don't play very many video games.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:54 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I'm not a gamer, but my husband is, and I'm often in the room doing my own thing while he plays. When he was into Red Dead Redemption, I liked the Westerny vibe and the soundtrack of the game, the latter enough to acquire it and enjoy it on its own.

I never really listened to the conversations the characters were having and was truly shocked to discover the examples given from this game as some of the most egregious. I probably sat on my couch knitting or surfing the web as my husband placed pixilated prostitutes onto railroads! I had no idea! I can't believe he did this!

I'm very happy this series exists and I'm always shocked when the evil gets hurled her way. I'm very much an outsider looking in but I always learn so much. This time I learned a ton..
posted by danabanana at 1:55 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


I agree, at least, that if she doesn't already have a staff of some sort with personal experience with the games she's playing, she probably should.

And then we'd be hearing criticisms of her for getting her staff to do it.

She might as well change her name to Anita Fucking Sarkeesian and have done with it, for this is how the Internet (male and female parts alike) tends to deal with uppity women.
posted by howfar at 1:55 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Does anybody really think that if she carefully captured the video from every single game completely by herself with no help from anyone that everyone would gladly accept her videos? Wouldn't they just find some other reason to hate her and ignore what she says?
posted by hydropsyche at 2:02 PM on June 16 [36 favorites]


RE: the Let's Play whining;

Frankly, she is doing the people who created the video's a great service, by shielding them from direct association with her works. If she were to cite, ask permission, etc, etc, etc, and the video creators were to give consent, they would be seen as "enabling" her feminist critique of gaming, and thus, they would be on the receiving end of a whole bunch of internet hate.

Maybe on her next video she will give attribution. Then they'll have something worth complaining about.
posted by daq at 2:04 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


No doubt, hydropsyche.
posted by emjaybee at 2:05 PM on June 16


Is she actually representing the footage as "hers" in that way, though? If she used a clip from the trailer of, say, Duke Nukem Forever, even without mentioning it specifically as such, I doubt anybody would be accusing her of plagiarism.

And going back to the Daphne thing, she's clearly not claiming to have created hand-drawn character art.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:08 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Does anybody really think that if she carefully captured the video from every single game completely by herself with no help from anyone that everyone would gladly accept her videos? Wouldn't they just find some other reason to hate her and ignore what she says?

I think it's ungenerous and unhelpful to assume that every single person who doesn't like her videos is a misogynist asshole looking for excuses to keep women down. There are people in the middle and they have interesting, thoughtful things to say. I asked a friend of mine on Twitter to email me her thoughts, and they were passionate and well-considered. I'm personally trying to create a space in which people can be critical without being tarred with the same brush as women-hating internet scum.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:09 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


If she's actually watching the Let's Play videos, that seems like a fairly good substitute for playing the games.
posted by smackfu at 2:15 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


I agree. I have no idea if she watches them in their entirety, or asks for links to specific clips to use. I'd love to know more about her research process, actually.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:17 PM on June 16


This thread could be included in academic work about derailing tactics. I am actually sorta impressed with how little the actual content has been talked about.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:20 PM on June 16 [51 favorites]


It's a derail about the underlying logic of other derails and whether they are deliberate derails or intellectually honest (though tangential) arguments. This day we have truly put the "meta" in MetaFilter.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:22 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I think it's dangerous and unhelpful to assume that every single person who doesn't like her videos is a misogynist asshole looking for excuses to keep women down.

But I betcha there's a lot of misogynist assholes who are more than happy to pick up the "Anita Sarkeesian is a content-stealing [bad word for women]!!" brickbat, regardless of whether or not it's fair use (although I can't see how it wouldn't be). And I'd be tempted to ask whether any actual specific Let's Players have identified the clips she's using as their own recordings, but on the other hand OMG classic derail.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:23 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


So many derails get couched in "intellectual honesty" that I find myself side-eying it any time it gets brought up. There are always Very Important Intellectual Things that have to get settled before we get down to work.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:24 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I'm not assuming everybody who dislikes her videos is a misogynist asshole. (I am assuming the misogynist assholes are, you know, the people who send her rape and death threats after every video.) What I am saying is that the criticism of her centered on whether or not she takes every single screen-shot herself is a derailing tactic to avoid having to address her criticisms of video games. I don't think you have to be a misogynist asshole to not want to actually examine video games and to prefer to derail the discussion rather than confront difficult things.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:24 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Can someone link to sources that document repeated instances of non-attribution? Because what I'm seeing so far is one link, someone reporting a discussion in a private forum, and a lot of angels dancing on pinheads.
posted by lodurr at 2:25 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Unless there's a claim that the video clips in question are not, in fact, actual gameplay footage of the games mentioned, this discussion about attribution seems more than a little tangential. Maybe we could actually discuss the content?

Personally, what's most jarring about a lot of the examples is just how contemporary they are. I've been a gamer all my life, and so sure, it stings a bit when she (rightfully) points out examples from my childhood that contain heretofore unexamined sexism. However, it's all the more gross and disturbing when she presents what feel like unbelievably regressive examples, and I see they're from games that were published literally in the last 6-12 months.

Just. Ugh.

Gamers and game companies, I say to you as a fellow gamer: we can do so much better than this.
posted by tocts at 2:26 PM on June 16 [18 favorites]


Does anybody really think that if she carefully captured the video from every single game completely by herself with no help from anyone that everyone would gladly accept her videos?

No, but this is a pointless derail of her own making. Plagiarism actually is morally wrong and she is plagiarizing. She does not need to ask the Let's Players for their permission (it's fair use if footnoted), but the Let's Players deserve credit for their work. There's no good reason not to give it to them. Full stop, no excuses, she actually is in the wrong on this point.

Non-attribution isn't just morally wrong, it's distracting even to people (like me) who love her work. Look up the thread - pretty much all mefites think Sarkeesian's awesome (because she is) but here we are, comment after comment, talking about her non-attribution instead of talking about one of the best pop-media commentaries I've ever seen.

Can we go back to talking about the content of the video? If we have to continue the derail, how about we self-limit to one more non-attribution comment each. Recognizing that I'm part of the problem at this point, I'm done - promise.

Now back to reading the Nussbaum Sarkeesian's citing.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:26 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


I just assumed the other topics were because everyone agreed with her that "background women" was a pretty terrible practice, and didn't really feel the need to watch 30 minutes of her saying it. Is there someone around here who thinks this stuff is just fine?
posted by smackfu at 2:27 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Is she actually representing the footage as "hers" in that way, though?

No, and she cites the fact that her use of the footage is fair use.

Most likely she isn't approaching the video game companies for clearance, either.

I think it's ungenerous and unhelpful to assume that every single person who doesn't like her videos is a misogynist asshole looking for excuses to keep women down.

You don't have to be a misogynist asshole to not want to hear that the media you like is sexist. I'm a dyed in the wool feminist, gender studies minor, president of my college chapter of Feminist Majority Foundation, creator of a feminist web series. And yet when I heard about the "Under My Thumb" Trader Joe's thing, my first impulse was to find a way to excuse it. Because I like the Rolling Stones, and I like Trader Joe's (their music selection does suck, though). So I found a million ways to not think about the subject matter of the blog post, which is "Hey, wait, so why is sexual violence towards women so omnipresent in our culture, anyway?"
posted by Sara C. at 2:27 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


I think it's ungenerous and unhelpful to assume that every single person who doesn't like her videos is a misogynist asshole looking for excuses to keep women down.

But misogyny is not a thing perpetuated by misogynist assholes, any more than racism is a thing perpetuated by racist assholes. These are structural problems endemic in our society, and the constant demand for female and feminist voices to show impossible levels of authenticity and integrity is a structurally mediated, if not constructed, phenomenon. The people saying it are not all assholes, but misogyny is still a significant part of what they mean, even if it's not what they intend.
posted by howfar at 2:30 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


Well, I'm as guilty of feeding the derail as anyone so here, regarding the actual content:

The footage in this video is horrifying. I've played Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and I'm familiar with BioShock and Red Dead Redemption, so I'd had the experience of being grossed out but completely unnecessary cheesecake in those contexts. And I had heard descriptions of how prostitutes and strippers and the dead bodies of such featured prominently in some games. But I had never actually seen those portrayals myself, and wow. WOW.

She put a warning right there at the beginning of the video and I was nevertheless surprised. It made me feel physically ill. Some of those animations -- particularly involving dead mostly-naked women being dragged around on the floor -- are going to haunt me for a while.

I'm glad she's shining a spotlight on this crap. I have seen these games defended as harmless fun, and I can't get my head around that at all.

What's fun about stabbing an almost-nude woman and stuffing her into a trunk?

I'm always wary of being accused of "sex shaming" but this isn't sex. It's violence, and it's completely bizarre.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 2:31 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Plagiarism actually is morally wrong and she is plagiarizing.

Let's Play creators who have a problem with Sarkeesian's use of their gameplay footage are welcome to supply evidence that they clear their videos with the game companies in advance of posting them online.

If she is plagiarizing, they are plagiarizing.
posted by Sara C. at 2:32 PM on June 16 [21 favorites]


I just assumed the other topics were because everyone agreed with her that "background women" was a pretty terrible practice, and didn't really feel the need to watch 30 minutes of her saying it. Is there someone around here who thinks this stuff is just fine?

I think that does have a lot to do with it; I don't think anyone here is intentionally looking to derail. Mefi doesn't really need to debate whether women deserve to be treated like garbage, so we talk about citations and research methods and influences.

I apologize if I contributed to a derail, I saw the same tweet and had wondered if I was missing something.

She's doing good work, in my opinion.
posted by emjaybee at 2:35 PM on June 16


I might make an argument that such things are a form of pandering.

Have you ever noticed that web articles pointing out the sexism in games often do so with titillating images in the guise of examples of sexism in games?

"Here's a closeup of a female character's butt. Isn't that ridiculous? Here are some boobs. Sexist! Here's a lady in bikini armor. Scandalous!"

"Gee Bob, that's terrible. Show me more!"

I know illustrative examples are often helpful but often I think it crosses the line into "more people will click on this if there's T&A."
posted by Foosnark at 2:37 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I definitely agree with that. Like I said I simply wish Sarkeesian would pick her examples more carefully to forestall just the sort of nitpickery criticism which will allow people who are biased against her argument to ignore it because she gets some examples wrong.

Another way to put that would be: she sometimes exaggerates. Another way would be: she's sometimes wrong.

It is permissible to admit that, you realize.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:42 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I just assumed the other topics were because everyone agreed with her that "background women" was a pretty terrible practice, and didn't really feel the need to watch 30 minutes of her saying it.

It's like the #yesallwomen tweets. Everybody agrees that violence against women is wrong, even people who deny that much of it exists in our society. Being bombarded with story after story after story of harassment proved to be a powerful way of making people realize how broken our culture is. You occasionally saw men tweeting in with statements like this: "I started reading these because I have a daughter. Now I'm reading them because I have two sons."

I find the philosophically serious analysis of objectification she's doing fascinating, but the real power of the video comes from the nausea inducing barrage of pixelated butt after pixelated butt after pixelated butt.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:45 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


stoneweaver: This thread could be included in academic work about derailing tactics. I am actually sorta impressed with how little the actual content has been talked about.

On the other hand, an academic work that included material from unattributed sources would be immediately dismissed. So, while I'm not suggesting we necessarily dismiss what she has to say, it's a pretty significant problem with her work. Even if you ignore plagiarism / author credit issues, it introduces accuracy concerns. A Let's Play run from the internet could easily be running a modded version of the game.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:46 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Is it just me, or did this thread just turn into a derail about proper citation of video footage, similar to how several folks upthread have described it in hostile gaming forums?

I realize it's not being used in this thread to justify a dismissal of her work, but the comments about the video plagiarism issue seem to have crowded out the comments about the content, style of delivery, relevance to the video game industry / fans, etc. I guess nerdy nitpicky quibbles can be distracting to substantive discussion, even when the interlocutors are mostly supportive and well-intentioned.

and yes, my comment is contributing incrementally to this crowding-out, meta-wise.
posted by LMGM at 2:47 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point. Which is that Ryan's Rapture is a Randian dystopian nightmare where everything is commerce and morality be damned.

to play devil's advocate: I might make an argument that such things are a form of pandering. Players get to feel virtuously titillated, but they still get their decorations.


I don't want to press this point too much, but I think the scene is kind of a hard case, and there's something interesting in how it's difficult to categorize.

It's not that it gets a free pass simply because it's trying to make a point about prostitution. It also seems to me to go out of its way to be hardly titillating at all. The women are dressed in the same clothes that a lot of other women in Rapture are. You can't interact with them in any way. They aren't posed particularly provocatively. The prostituted women are in a room where you can listen to all sort of people discussing sex and morality in an academic way, and they're displaying both gay and straight relationships. (I don't think there are any male prostitutes, but there is pornography featuring men.) Sex is for sale in a way that seems deliberately matter-of-fact.

I think that the game designers knew that they an Ayn Rand fantasia would certainly have prostitution in it, but they didn't want to be particularly prurient, so they went out of their way to be as staid as possible in their presentation. They tried to be responsible and respectable.

And yet: these are still NPCs of female prostitutes, there to be viewed by the player. Should they be covered by Sarkeesian's definition of of the trope?

I was tempted at first to think maybe not, but here's the problem: no matter how much the designers tried to distance themselves from needless objectification, they're still making a video game. The medium is full of such sexist garbage that it biases the way that players will interact with their virtual environments. Probably the first thing every player does is go up to them and see if you can interact with them (you can't). That's not obviously something you should want to do or be able to do... but given that in other games you can hit the "use" button when near women, you try to do that here. Gamers have been conditioned to perceive prostitutes on sight as things that can be used.

So really, there might be no responsible way to represent prostitutes in-game. The well has been poisoned.

(This is one reason I think a better definition of the trope would appeal to effects on the gamer rather than the designer's intent. The designer might not have intended to have the player try to use the prostituted women, and even tried to actively frustrate the player's action... but the designer doesn't have the power to overcome the cultural baggage that is associated with a prostituted NPC in a video game.)
posted by painquale at 2:52 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Ignoring the derail, while I'm well aware of casual misogyny in video games, I had never before considered that the sexualization and objectification of women in video games is in many ways worse than in other media. Instead of just passively viewing objectification, you're encouraged to actively participate in it. You don't watch women get murdered in some action movie, you actually do the murdering yourself.

Super gross.
posted by zug at 2:55 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


I too think the citational debate is a derail.

And I found the content compelling for its accessibility, which generally excuses its tendency to oversimplification. I agree the sheer barrage of images is what makes the argument go down so smooth, even as anyone who knows the subject is thinking "but wait, that's a little different," a lot of the time. It's meant to inform and educate a general audience, not enter a nuanced scholarly debate.

Great post, I learned a lot from watching it about a subject I would normally intentionally avoid. I sort of knew the argument already, but the critique was effectively relentless and memorable.

I am, incidentally, involved as a consultant on a game development project by a major commercial shop that is directly responsive to this critique, and aims to provide an entertaining and exciting but positive interactive experience for (especially indigenous) girls and a strong female lead character that is still appealing for (fairly young) boys to occupy. Some people in the industry are thinking about these problems, but the tension with making money is pretty intense. A more sustained and intersectional critique would examine money and violence as vectors that intersect powerfully with gender in the game world, but not exclusively. But this did its job just fine, and convincingly for this non-gamer, at least.
posted by spitbull at 3:15 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


The Bioshock thing is kind of derail-y in itself, isn't it, considering that's 10 seconds of a 30 minute video? As far as that clip goes, are those prostitutes portrayed with their own agency at all - or are they background props? Are they just interchangeable background commodities for the Randian political points the game is making - one that allows for complex male characters to engage in that struggle and dialogue, while the women are wallpaper to illustrate those points?
posted by naju at 3:15 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


These videos always remind me that we're in the dark ages of gaming. Truly embarrassing retrograde sexist stuff that wouldn't have even passed anyone's muster in the 1930's, ending up in AAA huge-budget blockbuster products. The level of technical polish compared to the utterly crude, locker room crap on display is so striking. The entire industry is in crisis mode. Tear it all down and replace it with something better.
posted by naju at 3:24 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


I thought this video really was significantly different than her previous two because, while those critiqued aspects unique to female game characters, this video focused on aspects unique to NPCs many of whom are female.

There are a few parts that are unique to female NPCs, but the majority of the argument - about objectification - is about NPCs in general, not unique to female NPCs. I will discuss that.

Yes women NPCs are more frequently sex objects and sexualized and sex workers etc. I accept that. But I think that that the argument that women NPCs are frequently ONLY sexualized and prostitutes is a much better, and much more accurate argument, than her current argument, which seems to me to be that female NPC's sexualization is an aspect of objectification, which is unique to female NPCs.

All these apply to male NPCs as well:
  1. instrumentality - you can drop a male corpse as well as a female corpse to distract guards. You can hire male thieves as well as female courtesans to distract guards.
  2. commodification - while Male NPCs frequently don't give you a BJ for health boosts, their interactions can be no more in depth. Secondly, and this really pissed me off because I thought it was a huge, surprising oversight on Sarkasan's part, if you kill a dude, guess what: money pops out! Just like ladies!
  3. Interchangeability - the issue here is not that women are interchangeable because most of the male NPCs are as well. The problem is that there's so few women NPCs that are not interchangeable.
  4. Violability - Can't think of a single kill move that can be used against female NPCs that's not used against males as well. Her argument is that "Well, when you use them against women, it's worse." I think that only holds true in combination with other, elsewhere discussed issues.
  5. Disposability - wow you can hide female NPCs bodies - you can also do this with male NPC bodies.

TLDR: big fucking surprise that NPCs don't have good writing. But most the issues she identifies are not issues that are specific to female NPCs, make a lot of her video invalid.
posted by rebent at 3:30 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Actually, I am surprised when "NPCs have bad writing" because NPCs are most of the game that you're playing against, and at some point they have to stop optimizing your frame rate and learn how to write most of the game you're playing against. Techniques for fleshing out minor characters and making even a short walk-on interesting have been known for rather a long time, and we'd like them to use a few of them.
posted by Mogur at 3:43 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


The Bioshock thing is kind of derail-y in itself, isn't it, considering that's 10 seconds of a 30 minute video?

Whether the clip should be included in the video is deraily, yeah, but the borderline cases are interesting in themselves, so I tried to spin the subject off into something that engages with the content of the video.

As far as that clip goes, are those prostitutes portrayed with their own agency at all - or are they background props?

I don't know. In a sense they're just background characters with no agency, but in that sense so is every other NPC. Sarkeesian focusses on different criteria for her definition so that it applies more narrowly. I think the definition is pretty good:
The subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players. Sometimes they’re created to be glorified furniture but they are frequently programmed as minimally interactive sex objects to be used and abused.
Her definition applies the trope to female NPCs who (1) titillate the straight male gamer, (2) provide environmental texture, and (3) are intended by the game designers to do both of those things. The Bioshock case is an interesting one where you have prostituted women as NPCs, but I think it's arguable that (1) and (3) don't apply. It's be interesting to think of other cases where not all criteria apply. As I said above, I'm not sure that (3) should be included, because then you just end up in interminable debates about what the designer intended. And if you get rid of (3), I think the Bioshock scene would count as an instance of the trope. But there might be other reasons to keep in the criterion about designer intent.
posted by painquale at 3:47 PM on June 16


Long-term exposure to video game violence was correlated with greater tolerance of sexual harassment and greater rape myth acceptance.

Honestly, I completely agree that sexism exists in games, and games should do more to be inclusive and have better representation for women. But, I don't know if I want this aspect of the 90s to come back, where violent games are seen as a bad social influence, except this time they're misogyny simulators instead of murder simulators.
posted by FJT at 3:53 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


This video is surprisingly deep philosophically. The whole video is explicitly structured around this paper by philosopher Martha Nussbaum. If anything, Sarkeesian's analysis of objectification ("instrumentality, commodification, interchangeability, violability and disposability") is conceptually tighter than Nussbaum's.

Exellent. Thanks for linking Nussbaum's paper, justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow.
posted by homunculus at 3:56 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Important difference: Murder is considered a Bad Thing by society. Sexism is pretty much just accepted as standard. It's easy to reinforce things that are accepted, and rather difficult to get people to go against social taboos.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:57 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


Which I should expand to say: I'm categorically against dismissing the idea that media impacts our beliefs and behaviors. It's important that we examine these things instead of just lumping into a bucket of "This argument is sorta like That argument, therefore false." There are enough differences between the arguments in this case that it doesn't make sense to do that.
posted by stoneweaver at 4:01 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


But, I don't know if I want this aspect of the 90s to come back, where violent games are seen as a bad social influence, except this time they're misogyny simulators instead of murder simulators.

I think physical violence and misogyny are two very different things though. Violence takes a whole lot more effort (and has real legal repercussions) than simply being a person who holds misogynistic or racist attitudes. This is especially true right now, where so much misogyny and racism is implicit as opposed to explicit.

Moreover, vocally criticizing things misogyny or racism will never lead to our precious games being taken away or something; it will just lead to less shitty games.
posted by Ouverture at 4:02 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


>Murder is considered a Bad Thing by society.

Actual murder is, but portrayals of murder are what video games are all about.
posted by Catblack at 4:10 PM on June 16


On the other hand, an academic work that included material from unattributed sources would be immediately dismissed. So, while I'm not suggesting we necessarily dismiss what she has to say, it's a pretty significant problem with her work.

This isn't academic work, and the effect of the citation derail is to pull the conversation away from sexism and toward look-at-the-uppity-woman-doing-it-wrong, just like always.

But, I don't know if I want this aspect of the 90s to come back, where violent games are seen as a bad social influence, except this time they're misogyny simulators instead of murder simulators.

Games are subject to criticism just like any other form of culture or art. Sometimes criticism devolves into pseudoscientific moral panic, like the anti-game and anti-hip hop fad of the 90s. That's a problem of bad criticism.

The fix for bad criticism is good criticism, not no criticism. By and large the people objecting to games or hip hop in the 90s were from outside the cultures they were critiquing, and were eager to impose uninformed government censorship. Neither of those are true here: the people pointing out misogyny in games are gamers, and they are calling for more, better games.

Actual murder is, but portrayals of murder are what video games are all about.

Murder in video games is different from murder in real life in that nobody really gets dead. Misogyny in video games reflects and reinforces the culture of misogyny in real life, which has consequences up to and including death for real people.
posted by amery at 4:26 PM on June 16 [12 favorites]


: "Let's Play creators who have a problem with Sarkeesian's use of their gameplay footage are welcome to supply evidence that they clear their videos with the game companies in advance of posting them online.

If she is plagiarizing, they are plagiarizing.
"

This is not how fair use works. They aren't taking credit for making the games, and their use of their game footage to provide commentary is well within the bounds of fair use.

Saying Let's Play videos are plagiarism is like saying that movie critics that plays clips from the movies they discuss are plagiarizing.
posted by mullingitover at 4:28 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Saying Let's Play videos are plagiarism is like saying that movie critics that plays clips from the movies they discuss are plagiarizing.

Or, for example, showing clips of gameplay of a video game you are discussing?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:33 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


Hey, guys. Monopoly got rid of this years ago. What game are you playing?
posted by breadbox at 4:36 PM on June 16


Catblack: Actual murder is, but portrayals of murder are what video games are all about.

Well, that ignores the huge number of games that aren't about killing anything, like tetris. But really, most games that involve killing don't involve murder specifically. Usually you are in a situation where you are either fighting in a war, or defending your life. Most people wouldn't regard killing in that way as being murder exactly, and it's certainly not as morally unambiguous. And in a lot of the games that allow actual murder, it's either not rewarded, or at least not required, and often the game world will define you being evil if you do it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:36 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Narrative Priorities: "Wonder how many people she stole gameplay footage from this time, since she doesn't, y'know, play these games to examine the media in full."

I believe one of the advantages to her getting so much in her kickstarter was that she was able to purchase a wider variety of games and thus broaden her critique to lesser known titles. I have also, frankly, assumed this was why it was going so slowly - she or someone else she pays must be playing these games and getting the footage; I'm not sure how to prove otherwise, given that games usually control camera angles, making footage functionally identical. I find the presumption that, barring evidence, she must not be playing these games because she is Not A Gamer and an Outsider Is Invading to be on par with the usual "girls don't play video games" tropes that permeate geekdom.

Justinian: That's, like, the opposite of Bioshock's point.

I less and less think that the ironic showing of things like objectification actually functions as a deterrent. It more and more seems like it's just a way to continue to express the objectification while protesting that it's wrong in smaller letters.

I also think this exists on a continuum. If you start looking, objectification of women exists everywhere someone says, "Well, you know, sex sells," when what they mean is that the bodies of thin, white women are interchangeable with the concept of "sex" and are often used as window dressing for products aimed at heterosexual men.

I was particularly interested in her throw-away line about women self-objectifying ourselves. I don't think it's within the preview of her videos, though maybe it is since so many women engage in it and are gamers. One of the interesting/depressing effects of this self-commodification of our own bodies is that then what women do and say is then discounted based on appearance AND we are blamed for doing it to ourselves.

I'm reminded of a complaint that came out about a woman who did videos on YouTube having too low-cut a top, and that was a) not feminist b) indicated she was unintelligent c) indicated that she was contemptuous of men and d) was ruining everything. Based on Sarkeesian's commentary on how practicing objectification of women can lead all of us to objectify women even when we are not sexualizing ourselves, I'm now left to wonder if she really did have a low-cut top - or if she just had breasts, and thus was presumed to be sexualized and an object.

It's made trying to be a sexual person, express sexual desire, and find myself sexually desirable like a minefield, since it's nearly impossible to separate out my own internal desire from how that desire is supposed to look. It's something I think a lot about in the photography I make for my blog, where sometimes my self-representation is not wearing very much clothing, and often the poses and angles are titillating - including the odd panty shot. One of the people I follow on flickr represents himself as a very old man, usually with naked or half naked women - and it's an interesting reflection on how female bodies are expected to be synonymous with sex while male bodies can be deliberately unattractive.

I'm also been thinking about it with regards to the phenomena of Super-Normal Stimuli; one of the fascinating effects of having environments where one can more fully change one's virtual representation, since difficult to achieve phenomena like the thigh-gap can become exaggerated (along with exaggerations of pouty lips and discontented expressions common to fashion photography). Virtual realities, from video games where one has a limited palette of options to places where one can literally become anything, offer us a unique opportunity to examine what we believe and how it affects us (I got a bit into it in this post, but I'm still wrestling with all of these ideas overall).
posted by Deoridhe at 4:53 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


I finally got the chance to watch it and ugh, the intentional brutalization stuff. I guess I knew you could kill women in GTA and other games, but I didn't know they begged you not to in the process and you heard their cries of pain. I've never seriously played any of the newer quest/sandbox games, and this isn't making me eager to. (I don't like the killing men, either, but in the clip she showed they weren't cringing and begging you to stop while wearing underwear).

Looks like the Part 2 shows how that's gotten even worse.

How does anyone play this stuff without feeling like they mucked up their souls?

(related; I guess this is a relic of the limits of technology, but all the "sexy" women struck me as very Uncanny Valley and unappealing; do dudes really find that interesting? Maybe that weirdness wears off when you play for a while, or maybe the "sex" is supposed to be blank, mechanical, violent and pointless so who cares.)
posted by emjaybee at 5:08 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


emjaybee: How does anyone play this stuff without feeling like they mucked up their souls?

Because you can do that kind of thing in the game doesn't mean you have to. Usually games that allow this kind of thing also allow you to play a better sort of character. I'm not sure about GTA specifically, but it's certainly possible in games like Fallout and Skyrim. If you don't want to be a horrible murderer of innocents you are totally free to be a stalwart hero of the land who never, ever does that sort of thing.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:21 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I don't usually play AAA games, but Watch Dogs (the new hotness) looked pretty fun to me, so I picked it up. I was appalled by the rampant racism and sexism. I'm never buying another Ubisoft game.
posted by painquale at 5:33 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


For some reason open-world games set in contemporary settings are extremely prone to that sort of racism and sexism. I can only assume it is the Grand Theft Auto influence. Because you get a lot less of it in something like Skyrim. Not necessarily none but far, far, far less.

GTA's influence on modern videogaming has been a cancer.
posted by Justinian at 5:52 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


How does anyone play this stuff without feeling like they mucked up their souls?

I would suspect the ones who do engage in it either believe the women deserve it for being prostitutes/sexual (this is a very common cultural trope with real world consequences - there is a reason why successful serial killers target prostitutes and runaways, and why many rapists target drunk women; societally we all believe those women "deserve" what happens to them) or believe that it isn't real, and thus compartmentalize the brutalization of sexualized women as "a game." If what Sarkeesian said is true, this actually means they are internalizing the prejudices with even less oversight.
posted by Deoridhe at 5:58 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


I'm categorically against dismissing the idea that media impacts our beliefs and behaviors.

I go back and forth a lot on whether or not our media consumption significantly impacts us. I remember the controversies involving Mortal Kombat and GTA/Hot Coffee when I was younger, and thought it was ridiculous for politicians and parents to want to censor games, instead of focusing on "real issues". And I was convinced back then that it was just censoring, and it was also a silly use of censorship because games didn't cause any sort of delinquent behavior.

I think for me (and a lot of gamers) this experience kind of formed the belief that any virtual depiction of anything in media is okay, as long as it's for adults. So there is not only a dismissal that media could be a social bad, but also the counter-attack that this sort of discussion is a violation of the first amendment.

But I think now that I'm older, though I'm still not sure what the affect of games are, I'm at least now smart enough to know accusations of censorship are outright hyperbole. Having more women or minorities in games is not going to control content. There will always be more than enough violence, sex, and grittiness in media available for everyone.
posted by FJT at 6:19 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Have the commenters who are complaining actually watched this? Because it's GREAT.
I don't care that she uses gameplay of others. It's reporting. It makes her point stronger. The complaints about her use seem very beside the point.

I'd love to show this in mass communications classes. My only concern is her vocabulary. It's a bit academic and advanced for lower division college students. I wish there were a more "pop" version.

If I win the zilliion dollar lottery I'm funding her future efforts.

Anita Sarkeesian, just in case you see this thread, you have a fan and supporter. Carry on.
posted by cccorlew at 6:53 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


societally we all some people believe those women "deserve" what happens to them

FTFY.

For the record, I absolutely agree that sexist attitudes are rampant in games, especially AAA console titles, and that it needs to change. I'm glad that Sarkeesian is taking such a thoughtful, thorough, and high-profile look at the subject.

But I also agree that her examples are often poorly chosen, and don't actually demonstrate what she says they demonstrate. We (meaning the general MeFi community) know that the basic idea is legit even if some of her specific points are sloppy, but the people who need to be convinced don't.

"Players are often permitted to knock out, pick up, carry, and throw around inert female bodies." Example given: a player waving around a dead prostitute in Fallout: New Vegas. What she fails to mention is that New Vegas allows you to do the exact same thing to any dead NPC, whether male, female, animal, robot, or mutant. Nor is it ever suggested to the player that, hey, you might want to kill these prostitutes and throw their bodies around. The example doesn't illustrate anything about the (quite valid and important) point she's trying to make.

"And, depending on the game series, the programmed options for interaction can include assault, mutilation, murder, and everything in between." Example given: a player tossing around an unconscious female NPC in Dishonored, and killing another female NPC with a knife. The problem here is the same thing: these mechanics are in no way exclusive to female NPCs in Dishonored. The game lends itself to a stealthy playstyle (sneaking around and knocking NPCs unconscious), or a guns-blazing playstyle (killing everything that moves)—but in both cases, the mechanics are exactly the same for both male and female NPCs.

Those are just two examples that jumped out at me—but I haven't played all of the games she cites, and there may be others:

When the player kills this prostitute in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, is it really a "programmed option" that the developers deliberately put into the game, or is the player just exercising their option to kill any NPC? I mean, if someone builds Auschwitz in Minecraft and populates it with villagers, does that mean that Mojang are Nazis? The developers aren't the ones who put that content into the game. The players did.

"Some games explicitly incentivize and reward this kind of behavior by having murdered women drop bundles of cash for the player to collect and add to their own stash." Example given: players shoot female bystanders in GTA4, GTA5, and Saints Row: The Third; in each case, the dead woman drops cash. I assume (please correct me if I'm wrong, but Jesus I hope I'm not wrong) that shooting any bystander in these games, male or female, will produce cash drops.

I presume that one of the primary intended audiences for Tropes vs. Women is the gamers who play these games—who, it's been noted, are often somewhat...resistant to the idea that their beloved pastime contains some really fucked-up, noxious shit.

There's sadly no shortage of overtly sexist (and outright misogynist) content in many of these games—but by picking these weak examples, Sarkeesian is basically inviting those gamers to dismiss her out of hand.

The production quality of TvW is great, and Sarkeesian is undoubtedly smart and well spoken, and she's shining a spotlight on an important issue. I just wish she wouldn't undermine it ten times per video with stuff like this.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:59 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]


I think a lot of it comes down to laziness. The game designer wants a place to be gritty, so they throw in the prostitutes. Kudos to Sarkeesian for showing just how common this is.

Which isn't to say it's not sexist too. If you don't try to come up with something original, you'll grab something half-consciously from the culture, and the culture is sexist.

It can probably be justified in a few games, but it's hard to think of a case where it really needs to be there. E.g. it's quite possible to critique Objectivism without implying that it leads to prostitution.
posted by zompist at 7:01 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


I know what you're saying, potato, but I'm not sure the kill-em-all option actually reflects well on games. In many games you can't kill bystanders-- e.g. in Borderlands 2 you can't kill anyone in Sanctuary. Would the game be improved if you could?
posted by zompist at 7:12 PM on June 16


There's sadly no shortage of overtly sexist (and outright misogynist) content in many of these games—but by picking these weak examples, Sarkeesian is basically inviting those gamers to dismiss her out of hand.

I am disturbed by your focus on what she did wrong and critiquing how she did it rather than moving to support her if you agree with her. How about making a list of all of these "overly sexist" things which are even better and more perfect than what she used and then sharing it with the world to support what she has to say? If you are worried that gamers like you will dismiss her, then make the arguments that you think gamers like you will hear and bolster her.

Personally, I think her point about how violence is gendered through the sexualized objectification of women is a very important thing and makes even similar treatment of male versus female NPCs read differently, but clearly you aren't convinced. If you agree with her otherwise, though, then why not back her up with what does convince you?
posted by Deoridhe at 7:22 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


I'm not sure the kill-em-all option actually reflects well on games.

I'm not arguing that it does or doesn't. I'm saying that it has nothing to do with whether a game is sexist or not, which is the point that Sarkeesian is trying to make.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:22 PM on June 16


.. these mechanics are in no way exclusive to female NPCs in Dishonored ...

While this is all true, it's still a bit Anatole France - "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread". Even if a game's core mechanics are gender-blind, they are still manifest in our own reality where the context is not so undifferentiated.

The "equal options for male and female NPCs" is also much less of a defense when the male NPCs are mostly Regular Humans and the female NPCs have a bunch of scantily-clad strippers and/or prostitutes.
posted by 0xFCAF at 7:28 PM on June 16 [20 favorites]


Deoridhe, I thought I made it abundantly clear that I do support the basic message. Which is precisely why it pains me to see it represented less honestly than it could or should be.

If I were involved in a conversation with a bunch of dudebro gamers, where the question was "does this woman have any valid point or is she just crazy", I'd be like "yeah dude, she absolutely has a lot of valid points, you should listen to her".

But that's not the conversation we're having. All of us here are already convinced that the issue is real. So I'm talking about how the message could be communicated more effectively. I'm on your side.

The "equal options for male and female NPCs" is also much less of a defense when the male NPCs are mostly Regular Humans and the female NPCs have a bunch of scantily-clad strippers and/or prostitutes.

Yes, but the problem there is the design and characterization of the female NPCs, not that the game rewards players specifically for battering women (because, at least in the examples I quoted, the games don't).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:35 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


So really, there might be no responsible way to represent prostitutes in-game.

There might be -- represent them as human beings. Let their NPC dialogue reflect what it's actually like to work as a dancer or as a prostitute. Hire actual sex workers as consultants to write the dialogue.

Stella is fully clothed when you meet her - she's not working tonight. One of her Johns is a middle-tier mafioso and she'll help you take him down in exchange for a cut of the loot. During lulls in the action she talks about the delusions that Johns have, and the way she's treated by them, and what she has to do to screen clients and protect herself. She talks about the lack of police protection for sex workers, and that could easily turn into a side-quest: track down the bad date who put her friend in the hospital (if we're going to have violent revenge fantasies we could at least pick realistically monstrous villains).
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:38 PM on June 16 [24 favorites]


Is there a place online anywhere like Commonsense Media for games aimed at adults that rates games by social justice or feminism? I'm wondering if work like Sarkeesian's will be able to make the social life of a game be considered in reviews. I just bought Driver: San Francisco for my kid and it was a hassle to have to comb through gaming reviews to figure out if this game involved stabbing sex workers and other grossness or not. A lot of gaming reviews just gloss over this crap because it's irrelevant, but I'd like to know if a game I buy for my teenagers is going to end up involving rape, thanks.

And I just got my eldest to sit down and watch most of this (we skipped the middle section because his friends arrived) and discuss it. We talked about how GTA is so much fun to play but at the same time, really gross and violent especially to women, and how his gaming girlfriend doesn't get the same range of NPCs to see in her gender and how unwelcoming that can be.

He says he wouldn't let a game influence him to feel women are less or sex objects. I asked if he could honestly say the same if he'd just played a game about viciously and graphically killing little kids and dogs, then saw his baby sister and our pet dog. He said he'd feel sick. Then why don't you feel sick after a game like that where women are killed? Huh.

He's a pretty feminist dude already, but he had never given a thought to the NPCs before or why his girlfriend doesn't like the same games as him. Thanks, Sarkeesian!
posted by viggorlijah at 8:02 PM on June 16 [15 favorites]


Is there a place online anywhere like Commonsense Media for games aimed at adults that rates games by social justice or feminism?

I've been wondering along similar lines, after the recent thread about the design of non-human species in video games.

I don't have kids, so I was interested in having a resource like this for my own sake—when I'm considering whether or not to buy a game, knowing whether it's progressive/regressive/neutral in this area could certainly tip the balance.

I even considered building such a site myself, but I don't have the spare time and cash to review even a fraction of the games out there. You'd need either a community of trusted reviewers, or a site based around community contributions (with some workable mechanism for keeping the trolls at bay—good luck with that).
posted by escape from the potato planet at 8:22 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


I almost think these videos would have been more effective with just the clips without a voice track. The evidence is powerful, especially when the clips are piled together in such quantity that you can't call any individual example of sexism a fluke or an outlier.

But much of her actual argument is weak. The segment about the ways the player can kill female NPCs or pick up money from their corpses is outright lying by omission, given that all those game mechanics apply to all NPCs. If this kind of violence is "intrinsically permitted" specifically because of the objecthood of women as she claims, and not the objecthood of all non-player characters, she needs to actually make that argument and not take it as a given.

She could've just mentioned that these are things you can do to any NPC, and given an argument for why that doesn't matter, but instead she chose to present the facts in a deceptive way. That's insulting, and bizarre given that the objection is sure to come up, as it already has in this thread.
posted by hyperbolic at 8:27 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


Actual murder is, but portrayals of murder are what video games are all about.

The fact that so many people, including many game developers, think this is a big part of why so much of modern gaming is absolute goddamn trash.

I saw a bit of criticism on Twitter that I of course can't find again (if anyone has links please share!) about her use of the phrase "being prostituted" and the use of passive voice in how she talks about the women in games, and though while I understand why she did that-- they are literal objects-- I can see why they'd find that particular phrasing problematic.
posted by NoraReed at 8:41 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Hyperbolic, my son made that same argument and my answer to him was that it seems different to beat a fully-clothed man to death and rob his corpse vs beating a woman in a bikini to death - plus in the gameplay clips I've seen, the women NPCs tend to die fast with barely any fighting and beg or scream while the male NPCs fight back and die with a few groans and shouts.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:44 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Yes, but the problem there is the design and characterization of the female NPCs, not that the game rewards players specifically for battering women (because, at least in the examples I quoted, the games don't).

I think the point is that the combination of female characters designed to titilate and the ability to abuse any NPC, and therefore the ability to abuse half-naked women, creates something even worse than the poor character design by itself would be.

A murder simulator is one thing. Her point is that a murder simulator in which many/most/all of the female characters are designed as sex objects ends up creating something even more gross than the objectification all by itself found in other media.
posted by straight at 8:48 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


viggorlijah, that's a fair point. I agree that the sexualized character models make things worse than if it was just violence alone. The clips in the video can be a bit deceiving, though. A couple of them are from Deus Ex, a game that uses the same randomized death/takedown animations for men and women, regardless of whether they're hardcore mercenaries, police officers, janitors, office workers, or prostitutes.
posted by hyperbolic at 8:55 PM on June 16


There is a point in the video where she discusses killing/interacting with male NPCs as a game function. You need to watch again if you missed that. What her point is is that most of the time male NPCs don't offer you a blow job and flash you first.

I also liked the bit where she noted just how often characters have to walk through redlight districts past lines of hookers, brothels, and women's bedrooms or locker rooms to complete their quest. So even if you never strike a female NPC, you are basically forced to be a gross creep (or act exactly like one) just to win. Like that one mafia game where you learned gameplay by staring at a woman's boobs. You don't do that to male NPCs, do you?

It's really odd and offputting if you think about it. To men, you can ignore them, help them, or hurt/kill them. To women, first you must have a degrading sexualized conversation or encounter, then you can ignore them, help them, or hurt/kill them.
posted by emjaybee at 9:21 PM on June 16 [21 favorites]


im so so glad for these videos and anita's hard work.

as a person who makes a living in the games industry (yet hates the culture of it), it has been extremely gratifying to witness the gradual effect they've had on the dialogue. every time one of her videos drops there are huge, heated but ultimately rewarding threads on game development forums and game scene social media. at first a lot of it was negative (sometimes justifiably so, as she has had a weak argument here and there), but you can really see the tone shifting over time and people really starting to understand this perspective and why its important.

i mean generally these are just well-meaning dudebros making games, oblivious that some of the stuff they put out is harmful. they can be very clever about coding or art, but there is nothing that correlates between social awareness or empathy and a career in making videos games. they just need to be exposed to a greater awareness of what this stuff means to people, and despite all the defensiveness that you see on the surface, anita seems to be the person for the job. its elevating the dialogue about all this stuff and you can see it happening. not that its "mission accomplished" or anything, but i think the smaller games of the next 5 years will show a lot of progress in this regard.

actual 'gamer culture' itself though? thats a cess pit that i have no immediate hope for.
posted by young_son at 9:54 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Even as a mysoginistic asshole, I've still absolutely no idea how you can think this is not fair use or transformative. It's is absolutely and categorically a different piece of work. No way are you going to watch this and think you're watching a Let's Play Video. No way can this replace said Let's Play Video.

Expecting citations for it to be considered fair use is nonsense, but given the amount of YouTube videos where people rip an album, and leave a note saying "This music is the property of Bryan Adams. I just copied it and put it on YouTube", then I suspect that people actually believe the citation-required nonsense they're spouting.
posted by zoo at 11:07 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]


But that's not the conversation we're having. All of us here are already convinced that the issue is real. So I'm talking about how the message could be communicated more effectively. I'm on your side.

Yes, I know you're "on my side." You claim to have this increased and better knowledge of what to say than Sarkeesian. SO SAY IT. Write up an article that says, "Here is a bunch of examples of sexism in these games that Sarkeesian missed. Everyone should pay attention to them. She's right."

Instead you're sitting here and letting your perception of the perfect get in the way of what you say is the good while saying that you're on my side. It's really frustrating.
posted by Deoridhe at 11:38 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I've never seriously played any of the newer quest/sandbox games, and this isn't making me eager to.

I adore sanbox style games and think they're the most interesting idea in video games right now. And yet I hatehatehate this element of it, don't understand why all this casual misogyny is necessary, and frankly would spend a lot more money on games if they didn't tend to be this disgusting. I also feel like there are a lot more creative possibilities when you leave this shit behind. There are so many games that are not getting developed so that we can have more games where you murder prostitutes.

(FWIW in GTA I just don't engage with prostitutes at all. There are still other misogynistic elements of the game, though. It's just totally unnecessary in a way I don't understand at all. Are there people who go to focus groups and say they'd stop buying AAA titles if they took out the hooker murdering?)
posted by Sara C. at 12:10 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know you're "on my side." You claim to have this increased and better knowledge of what to say than Sarkeesian. SO SAY IT. Write up an article that says, "Here is a bunch of examples of sexism in these games that Sarkeesian missed. Everyone should pay attention to them. She's right."



Thats a good idea, and if I get the time I might do something along that lines. I've only read the transcript and not watched the video, but I think escapefromthepotatoplanet has a point.

To elucidate. Her argument conflates various things, some of which I think are fair, some of which are less fair. I think its fair to say that there is a tone, an assumption, that there will be this kind of treatment of women in games. The sheer proliferation of it is exhausting. Its also frustrating (and she doesn't say this) that these games, which are supposedly meant to be gritty and realistic are actually fairly unrealistic. A lot of these games seem to just populate areas with sex workers who make exactly the same kind of comments to the player.

That said, it is true that there really is little incentive to murder these women when the option exists. The game usually punishes you for doing so, and you get little reward (the cash drops in GTA are indeed there for killing civllian and sex worker alike, and are not really worth it). There is something to be said about the unreality of being able to kill anyone, but thats a point with quite low consequences (in Deus Ex, for example, while you will have to fight off more people, if you succeed you can continue the game with no consequences in the plot).

I think the murdering part matters, because it does cloud an issue in a way it doesn't need to be.

Its also worth noting that in some cases the games do actually engage with these issues. Bioshock has already been covered, but Deus Ex has a subplot on this. In Deus Ex you live in a near future where cybernetic enhancements exist. These can make you stronger, faster, even smarter. Where this refers to sex workers, there is a sub quest where you encounter a sex worker who is being compelled to use enhancements. You can choose to assist her if you wish. This is actually an attempt to engage with the kind of dilemmas women might face in such a society.

I don't think these subplots excuse laziness in other areas: most of the sex workers you encounter in Deus Ex do not have the inner life this particular npc posesses, and some definitely exist purely for titillation.

I await part 2, but I was expecting more examples of "background" npcs other than sex workers, which is a particular trope appearing in a subset of games. I'm fairly confident that there are women who exist to be attractive and nothing else in games that don't have sex workers
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:16 AM on June 17


Jonathan Cooper @GameAnim · 15h
New Tropes vs Women features ME1 stripper mocap I directed. Would I do this again knowing what I know now? No.
http://twitter.com/GameAnim/status/478595109198786560
posted by ShawnStruck at 2:18 AM on June 17 [10 favorites]


I had a pretty visceral reaction to a lot of the scenes where the player character was hurting NPC women - specifically because the women were shown in various states of undress, begging for their lives, screaming in pain or trying to get away.

I'm sure there are examples of male NPCs doing the same, but I highly doubt it is degrading in the same terrifying degree. It doesn't just paint women as disposable targets (because I can accept that all NPCs are disposable targets to some degree), but as extremely vulnerable disposable targets with their (fantasy) bodies on full display for the player. And it's completely gross to me that it's clear that this has been programmed into the games not for shock value, but because the designers assume some of their target audience will enjoy the stalking and assaulting of helpless women.

It's also pretty gross how even players who choose not to play out the highly sexualized violence the female NPCs invite will still be invited to participate in it.

As a bonus, the juxtaposition between these clips and "Women are too hard to animate" makes me want to beat my head against a wall. Player characters really can't be women because it's just so hard to animate them, but strike down a stripper and drag her body through the room and you'll see how her boobs jiggle enticingly you...! (Not the same company, not the same game, but - really?)

I have immense respect for Anita Sarkeesian, and I'm so glad she's opening this dialogue with all of us, and with all of the industry.
posted by harujion at 2:44 AM on June 17 [11 favorites]


And it's completely gross to me that it's clear that this has been programmed into the games not for shock value, but because the designers assume some of their target audience will enjoy the stalking and assaulting of helpless women.


I dunno. I mean for me the reactions of npcs are a significant disincentive to attack them. In Deus Ex if you start shooting every npc will cower and run from you (unless they are armed in which case they will attack). I certainly found it off putting enough to not want to kill an npc, so I don't know that I could speak to authorial intent on that one. In GTA and Saints Row the npc reactions do come across as more "comic" than in Deus Ex.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 2:49 AM on June 17


Yes, but where the reactions might be a disincentive for some, the fact that you can gain things in-game by killing prostitutes of all things (the "dastardly" achievement in Red Dead Redemption, the cash in GTA) indicates that the game designers might not have intended for these NPCs to exactly escape unscathed?

I mean, that's looking at very specific examples, but overall the impression is that the lack of ample opportunities given to violate scantily clad NPC women, and the lack of in-game repercussions when doing so aren't doing much to dissuade people playing from exploring some pretty horrifying scenarios.
posted by harujion at 3:35 AM on June 17



consider the Saints Row games from this perspective, actually

...which is particularly annoying since they could easily make those activities equal opportunity completely amoral . C'mon guys, a snatch level where you're stealing gigolos isn't that difficult.


Not that it justifies ANY of the appalling sexism, but I'm sure I remember some of the "hos" in Saints Row 3's snatch missions being male. I also remember finding some of that game's objectification of women quite jarring, given that I was playing as a female character, and several of the other members of my gang were female.

Again, not trying to derail. Just saying that even WITH male gigolos, her point still stands.
posted by Sedition at 4:34 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


you can drop a male corpse as well as a female corpse to distract guards.

Yes, a fully clothed male corpse that doesn't include the male equivalent of boob-jiggle physics (cock flop physics?)

You can hire male thieves as well as female courtesans to distract guards.

Yes, fully clothed male thieves who are implied to be outsmarting / outwitting the guards, as opposed to using their magical breast powers to render male guards unable to function. (And of course, women can't be thieves, because their only skill or power is sexuality!)

while Male NPCs frequently don't give you a BJ for health boosts, their interactions can be no more in depth.

So if I'm understanding why you feel this is so critically important to point out: NPC interactions in general can be relatively shallow, and therefore the fact that female NPCs are further burdened with unnecessary sexualization compared to male NPCs isn't really notable.

Got it.

Secondly, and this really pissed me off because I thought it was a huge, surprising oversight on Sarkasan's part, if you kill a dude, guess what: money pops out! Just like ladies!

Money may pop out of any NPC you kill, but only female NPCs take the player's money for upgrades, which are given to the player via a sex act, and can then be killed to get the money back. In games that do this, it is frequently the case that vending machines are treated with more bodily security than women -- both take money for upgrades or health, but at least the vending machine can't be destroyed to take the money back.

This also ties into violability (see below) -- men and women both may drop money when killed, but women are being depicted (via clothing, implied or stated occupation, reactions, etc) as more viable targets for violence.

Interchangeability - the issue here is not that women are interchangeable because most of the male NPCs are as well. The problem is that there's so few women NPCs that are not interchangeable.

You seem to be re-stating Sarkeesian's argument as if it refutes itself. This is the whole point: a lot of games include female NPCs primarily (sometimes only) as background decoration, while those same games include male NPCs that are just decoration (e.g. bouncers, club-goers, etc), but also include tons of characterful, non-interchangeable male NPCs.

Violability - Can't think of a single kill move that can be used against female NPCs that's not used against males as well. Her argument is that "Well, when you use them against women, it's worse." I think that only holds true in combination with other, elsewhere discussed issues.

So you think it only holds true in combination with other issues, which are in fact present in these games. So you think it holds true, then? What is your argument here? It's like saying "well, technically, that's only flammable in an environment containing oxygen".

Yes, in a theoretical set of games where women weren't being overwhelmingly depicted as powerless sex objects using visual language and cultural signifiers that imply they are more valid targets of being violated, the fact that you can kill women wouldn't be a big deal. Please let me know when you find that theoretical set of games. Meanwhile, over here in the real world, we have games that are in fact depicting women this way, and thus, are presenting women as more violable than men.

Disposability - wow you can hide female NPCs bodies - you can also do this with male NPC bodies.

The concept of disposability isn't referring to the fact that bodies can be hidden. It's referring to the fact that women are depicted as being able to be tossed aside once used, because they have no value in the game other than as an object to be used. You know, for example, like, paying one for upgrade sex, and then killing them with no consequences. Or just ogling them, and then killing them with no consequences. And again, yes, you can kill male NPCs, but the way they are represented is very different, and invites a very different sort of interaction from the player.

In general, the "but you can do this to men too!" argument is not very persuasive, because it elides the very real difference between treatment of men and women in gaming that is precisely the point being made.
posted by tocts at 5:19 AM on June 17 [29 favorites]


Obligatory, not so much because I expect the actor playing Lana Kane to offer a strong critique of Lara Croft, but because it's going to be part of the larger conversation.
posted by lodurr at 5:25 AM on June 17


I can't get over the fact that basically the entire big-budget gaming industry exists to create masturbatory tools. I don't mean in terms of sexual titillation, though there certainly is that - but the games are masturbatory in the sense of providing ways for straight cis males to stroke their egos, reassert their cultural dominance, and generally feel good about themselves and their place in the world. It's not just power fantasy, it's a reification of their status quo cultural supremacy. The media arguments around things like censorship, whether violence or sex is harmful to children, etc. seem to miss this completely. These games are harmful not because of any salacious or adult content divorced from context - they're harmful because their very reason for existence is predicated on immersing the hetero white male ego in a bubble bath of reassurance that they're still on top of the food chain and always will be, and can do whatever they want when it comes to reestablishing their dominance. Maybe it's time we look at games like Watch Dogs not as mindless entertainment but as actual, blatant tools of toxic cultural propaganda. (With Watch Dogs in particular, too, there's definitely a disturbing racial component as well, so we can also say that game strokes WHITE male gamers in particular.)
posted by naju at 6:08 AM on June 17 [17 favorites]


I mean I can only think of a handful of games where the underlying theme isn't "make men feel like sexually desirable badass gods." That's a problem, right? Like, there's the Studio Ghibli-related Ni No Kuni which is about kindness and stuff. The Dark Souls games mostly make you feel powerless and insignificant. A few Nintendo games don't have any obvious toxic messages. Uh... what else?
posted by naju at 6:19 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


I mean I can only think of a handful of games where the underlying theme isn't "make men feel like sexually desirable badass gods."

Yeh, I'm sure that was the point of including all the 'freebie' lines. Sarkeesian's delivery style is so dry that it's easy to miss when she does intertextual stuff like that.
posted by lodurr at 6:40 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


I wonder how different the reception to this series would have been if it had been presented by a man? I can't help to think that it would be quite different from this:
I'm no stranger to a bit of sexist backlash, but I was surprised by the level of vicious and misogynist hate I received, which included a loosely organized campaign of death threats, rape threats, and attempts to collect and publicly distribute personal information such as my home address and phone number. I continue to be subjected to sustained, daily harassment even now, a year and a half later. My detractors have worked together to flag my YouTube videos in attempts to get them taken offline. They have created hundreds of slanderous videos spreading misinformation about me and my project, and they regularly fabricate fake quotes and attribute them to me in an ongoing effort to discredit my series.
posted by harujion at 7:04 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


I think a lot of it comes down to laziness. The game designer wants a place to be gritty, so they throw in the prostitutes. Kudos to Sarkeesian for showing just how common this is.

I don't know. The only big title game I've played recently is Skyrim, which seems to treat male and female NPCs with a certain amount of respect. But there is a substantial Adult modding community whose objective is to put the sexism back in, starting with the "better women" mod, because the existing characters aren't "beautiful" enough.
posted by sneebler at 7:24 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Yes, in a theoretical set of games where women weren't being overwhelmingly depicted as powerless sex objects using visual language and cultural signifiers that imply they are more valid targets of being violated, the fact that you can kill women wouldn't be a big deal. Please let me know when you find that theoretical set of games.

Fallout 3/NV.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:25 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


the fact that you can gain things in-game by killing prostitutes of all things (the "dastardly" achievement in Red Dead Redemption, the cash in GTA) indicates that the game designers might not have intended for these NPCs to exactly escape unscathed?

It depends on the game. In GTA or, God help the poor NPCs, Saint's Row, yeah... most NPCs exist as objects to be shot i r run over or punched into goo. Other sandboxy/rpg games, though, just set up a string of rewards/achievements for more or less any path you choose. Save Megaton and get a reward, murder everyone in Megaton and et a different reward from different people.

Some games also rewards or achievements that kinda aren't. Kill more than one child in Fallout 3, even accidentally, and you get the Childkiller perk, which hurts all future interactions and puts bands of heavily armed bounty hunters after you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM on June 17


My fiancée is starting to really enjoy watching me play videogames. Last night we both sat down and watched this latest video and I spent most of it cringing in embarrassment at the clips while she went "holy shit, this is a real and accepted thing?"

It turns out that I didn't own a single one of the two dozen titles Sarkeesian flashed the box art on the screen for, but it felt like a pretty lame excuse to point that out defensively. It does, however, seem to pretty definitively indicate that none of these bullshit elements are necessary to any of these games' experiences because I play plenty of brainless, big budget make-you-feel-powerful AAA games where these problematic portrayals are not necessary nor included.

(Aside: surprisingly, I noted two nights ago that Killzone: Shadow Fall--a standard space-nazis-must-die masculine shootybang as any of them--at least passes the Bechdel test.)
posted by whittaker at 8:09 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


For gamers who agree with Sarkeesian, the main worry about including better-handled examples like Bioshock Infinite is the categorically dismissive tone it gives the entire video in regards to any discussion of the topic at all. Several intelligent and sensible Metafilterians have wondered whether the "well is poisoned" in regards to discussing prostitution in video games, almost as if it is inherently impossible to discuss the issue in the medium.

What makes this attitude worrisome is that now- and I mean right now, this year- games have become easier to make for a wider demographic than ever before. Game creation tools are not just more powerful, they're cheaper and easier to get- the previously thousands-of-dollars Unreal Engine is moving to a low-cost subscription model, and engines like Unity, Blender, and the RPG Maker series continue to develop in both power and accessibility. Not only that, the increased number of female gamers leads to an increased number of potential female game makers and developers. (This doesn't apply to the gender divide only- older gamers, gamers of different racial and sexual preferences, and so on are both larger in number and more likely to become game creators.)

Criticizing the current market is necessary and important. But shutting down the entire potential of the medium, especially when 1) some people within the industry are taking criticism to heart and trying to make a difference and 2) the industry itself is undergoing a sea change in both consumption and creation, is premature. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater, no matter how nasty the water is.
posted by Maxson at 9:13 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


From my experience, nearly all of the game systems that can enable this kind of problematic brutality are the result of design inattention, not intention. Of bureaucratic momentum, not bro-child misogyny.

Hookers are included in an open world because of course there are hookers; they were probably lumped in with a dozen other ambient npcs in the planning phase and nobody not directly responsible for implementing them ever thought about it again.

A contextual violent beating into kidnapping mechanic was included with cars with big trunks because it was needed for a mission, and the designers decided to make it something you could do all the time since intern Steve stayed late after work animating it and making it fit in the existing animation framework (he's such a keener, that Steve. We should extend his stay by 6 weeks so he can clean up the new mocap for the DLC. It'll be a good experience for him and I sure don't want to do it.)

The fact that it's now possible to partake in a fully functional sex worker serial killer simulation is happenstance. What's more, even if feedback saying this possible interaction is gross and offensive, it'll likely be deferred since it is too late and too risky to remove (the VO is done already, we'd need to rework the mission that uses it if we remove it, the combat scripting doesn't support excluding characters by type, we'd need a disengagement animation, which would require retooling the whole combat system etc etc).

That's why these videos are so good and so necessary. It helps change the conversation from it being a slightly embarrassing oversight after the fact into a serious problem to be avoided.

Gamer culture won't be fixed by this series, but it can do enormous good for dev culture.
posted by Reyturner at 9:35 AM on June 17 [6 favorites]


Several intelligent and sensible Metafilterians have wondered whether the "well is poisoned" in regards to discussing prostitution in video games, almost as if it is inherently impossible to discuss the issue in the medium.

I think it would be absolutely fine if we went through a "cooling off period" for a decade or more where certain topics were considered too toxic to touch in video games. We have a 50+ year tradition in video games of using scantily-clad women as sex objects. In the current video game culture it currently may very well be impossible to include a scantily-clad woman for any reason without it serving to reinforce that tradition.

I suppose you could argue that a given video game does something so worthwhile that it is worth the collateral damage of reinforcing the tradition of sex objects, but I think you're increasingly going to get more push back and criticism about whether that is true.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Criticizing the current market is necessary and important. But shutting down the entire potential of the medium, especially when 1) some people within the industry are taking criticism to heart and trying to make a difference and 2) the industry itself is undergoing a sea change in both consumption and creation, is premature.

The video game industry was $79 billion in 2012, $93 billion in 2013, and is expected to hit $111 billion by 2015. Nobody is shutting down the medium. Critics of games are instead calling for more, better games that represent and involve the majority of humanity that games and the culture surrounding them have so far largely excluded. If anything, this is a call for the medium to live up to its potential.

People who object to criticism of games as if it were a demand for oppressive government censorship are stuck in the 90s fighting a 20 year old battle that nobody else is having. Growing up I remember us gamers wanting games to be an accepted part of culture on the basis of their merits, like film or television or novels. We got what we wanted: games are normal, everyday things now, and they get taken seriously. Criticism like Sarkeesian's is what getting taken seriously looks like.
posted by amery at 9:52 AM on June 17 [14 favorites]


And while some developers might be tempted to actually throw out the baby with the bathwater, "Well, if we're going to get criticized for how we handle female characters, maybe it's better to just not have any female characters," that's increasingly not acceptable.

Yes, we're going to demand female characters, and no it's not acceptable for them to be designed primarily for the straight male gaze.
posted by straight at 9:54 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


I think it would be absolutely fine if we went through a "cooling off period" for a decade or more where certain topics were considered too toxic to touch in video games.

I respectfully disagree, mainly because I feel that the gaming market itself is continuously shifting for the reasons I gave earlier (more varied playerbase, more varied game creator base, easier access to gaming construction tools).

There is a tendency to focus on AAA games as the only games worth talking about, but this is much like deciding to ban explosions in all movies because yet another terrible Transformers movie is coming out. Treating "videogames" as the two-dozen-or-so AAA titles that come out every year isn't representative of the medium.

On preview: The industry is getting bigger, yes, in all directions- more indie games than ever, more Kickstarters than ever, more variation than people thought was possible even five years ago. I was specifically commenting on the statements that the medium may be inherently unable to discuss certain subjects.
posted by Maxson at 9:55 AM on June 17


Metafilterians have wondered whether the "well is poisoned" in regards to discussing prostitution in video games, almost as if it is inherently impossible to discuss the issue in the medium.

Thanks for the comment, but let me make a slight correction (I was the one who used that "well is poisoned" phrase). I wasn't wondering whether the well is poisoned in regards to discussing prostitution in video games. I was wondering whether the well is poisoned in regards to actually including prostitutes in video games.

It seems like it should be possible to responsibly have prostitutes in a game in order to add pathos, social texture, etc. Books and movies manage to do this, so why not games? But I was hypothesizing that players have been so conditioned to approach NPC prostitutes as objects to be used, there's just no way to portray prostitutes in a game without immediately triggering a harmful and objectifying reaction in the player.

Bioshock Infinite is a case where the designers were mostly thoughtful about the prostitutes. Rapture is a hyper-commoditized world in which there would be certainly be prostitutes... the designers would be deliberately avoiding them if they didn't put them in, and the world would feel underdescribed without them. So the designers tried to include them in the least titillating manner possible. But it's still the case that the first thing players are going to try to do is use the prostitutes, just because that's how prostitutes in games typically work. The designers can't overcome that player impulse.

It's not that bad discussions have poisoned our ability to discuss these things. It's that the bad games have poisoned all the other games.
posted by painquale at 10:00 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


painquale, this effectively argues that the existence of bad games on this topic makes good games impossible because some people will get the wrong message from them. I'm reminded of an article noting some soldiers watching Apocalypse Now and revelling in the explosions, even though the movie itself had a strong message. Anti-war movies can still exist without being "poisoned" by pro-war movies.
posted by Maxson at 10:10 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Some games also rewards or achievements that kinda aren't. Kill more than one child in Fallout 3, even accidentally, and you get the Childkiller perk, which hurts all future interactions and puts bands of heavily armed bounty hunters after you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:37 AM


You aren't thinking of vanilla Fallout 3: In that, like Skryim, children are unkillable unless you mod the game.

Which brings me to my point: Alright, stage 1 is realize you have a problem. That has been done for a while. Stage 2: Identify the problem. I think that is what the video above does, though I agree with several people above that there are some problems with it. However, lets say that is a problem.

Stage 3: Fix the problem. How do we fix it? Just removing prostitutes seems shallow; They are a part of the real world, they are going to wind up in games. Now, I think replacing them with other ways of making the world gritty in a lot of cases is a good solution.

For example, Sleeping Dogs (Which I've almost beaten, and while very fun has a lot more sexism then she shows-- Every female NPC but one talks about how sexy you are, if you want multiple very useful unlocks you have to cheat on your girlfriend (Not that you can tell if you are, as you only ever go one one date, so it isn't clear if it was a one time thing or not.), and there is a stalk your girlfriend to see if she is cheating on your mission (Though she calls you on your shit for doing it at least, and then dumps your ass).
Anyway, they have prostitutes, but even in the bad parts of town there are no homeless. I can't speak to GTA or Saint's Row, but there are no homeless even around the super poor parts of town. So, what if instead of making a region filled with prostitutes to show it is poor you use fully dressed homeless people?

Idea 2 to follow once I can charge my laptop.
posted by Canageek at 10:10 AM on June 17


Just a reminder: There are four factors used to determine fair use under US law. Attribution is not one of them.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:22 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


If nothing else, now I want there to be a thoughtfully designed, independent game where you play a sex worker. Maybe by the people who made Gone Home or something.
posted by naju at 10:28 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


tocts: Yes, in a theoretical set of games where women weren't being overwhelmingly depicted as powerless sex objects using visual language and cultural signifiers that imply they are more valid targets of being violated, the fact that you can kill women wouldn't be a big deal. Please let me know when you find that theoretical set of games. Meanwhile, over here in the real world, we have games that are in fact depicting women this way, and thus, are presenting women as more violable than men.

You know, I don't play every major AAA game, but I really don't think women are being overwhelmingly being depicted as powerless sex objects in them. Many if not most games allow a female player character (nearly all of them in which the player character can be customized and isn't one specific person for storyline reasons). If there isn't a female player character option, there's usually at least one allied female combatant. Sometimes there are women among the enemy ranks, too, as hostile soldiers or warriors or spellcasters.

When I think of games that do present women this way, really all I can think of is GTA, and I'm not even sure that's accurate for GTA. Certainly it wasn't true of the Saint's Row series.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:29 AM on June 17


If you can choose to play as a female character but the female NPCs in the game are all sex objects, prizes, damsels-in-distress, etc., I'd still call that “overwhelming.” A customized main character is not a cure-all.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:32 AM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Idea 2 to improve them: What if you made scantily clad women unkillable? Like the kids in Fallout 3 and Skyrim? That would mean no loot for violent actions against them, thus no incentive to attack them, and it would be very clear that you aren't supposed to attack them.

Note: I'm throwing these out as ideas for others to poke holes in. I'm far, far from an expert, but I hate it when people go "This is a problem" without anyone suggesting a fix, improvement, etc.
posted by Canageek at 10:34 AM on June 17


painquale, this effectively argues that the existence of bad games on this topic makes good games impossible because some people will get the wrong message from them.

That's a little different than what I'm arguing. I'm not making a claim about whether the poisoned games are overall good or bad; I'm claiming that the representations of the prostitutes are poisoned by the bad games and that (most? all?) players will have a harmful reaction. I'm not making a claim about "the message" that players take from the games. And I guess I shouldn't say that I think it'd be impossible to non-problematically represent a prostitute... just that the poisonous games have made the task a lot more difficult --- extremely difficult. You could make an anti-prostitution game (just as you can film an anti-war movie), but you can't do that just by having prostitutes in the background as NPCs who create atmosphere.

Anti-war movies can still exist without being "poisoned" by pro-war movies.

I think I can accept this while also thinking that representations of prostitutes that would not be harmful in a vacuum have been poisoned by the harmful representations.

(Someone else made the same point about anti-war movies above. Is this a relatively common discussion point in these debates?)
posted by painquale at 10:37 AM on June 17


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: If you can choose to play as a female character but the female NPCs in the game are all sex objects, prizes, damsels-in-distress, etc., I'd still call that “overwhelming.” A customized main character is not a cure-all.

But that's the thing, they're not all like that, at least not most of the time. At least not in any of the games I can remember right now. There are generally loads of women in all kinds of roles in anything Bioware or Bethesda makes, for example. Or in any MMORPG. Maybe people are singling out and remembering the problematic roles and not thinking about the rest?

That's not to say there aren't games that are really problematic on this front; some that occur to me off the top of my head are the GTAs and The Witcher (I hope the sequels got better, because man, the first one is awful in this regard). But it's not all of games and I'd hesitate to say it's even a large proportion of games.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:43 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Canageek: Idea 2 to improve them: What if you made scantily clad women unkillable? Like the kids in Fallout 3 and Skyrim? That would mean no loot for violent actions against them, thus no incentive to attack them, and it would be very clear that you aren't supposed to attack them.

People with invincible plot armor (particularly ones that can still fight you) can be game-breaking and immersion-breaking, like the kids in Fallout 3 were (you can render the game unwinnable by making a bunch of kids hostile at one point, and they can shoot you without retaliation). Maybe a better solution would be to give those women weapons and/or magic. Certainly Fallout and Skyrim are dangerous places and in Skyrim magic is pretty easy to pick up by anyone, so it would be totally believable if any random woman in the world could pull out a knife and start shooting fire at you if she was in danger. And that removes the whole 'cowering in terror' aspect of it, which feels like the creepiest part.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:54 AM on June 17


I'm claiming that the representations of the prostitutes are poisoned by the bad games and that (most? all?) players will have a harmful reaction.

Properly representing a prostitute in a game is, as you say, extremely difficult. However, gamers in this very thread have said that they took the representation from Bioshock Infinite well; that's why it became a point of contention. More people are not just playing games, they're making them, and they have very different points of view from the ones presented in the video. This very discussion could lead to the production of an antidote from this poison.

Anti-war movies are often mentioned because they are examples of how a troubling topic must be present in a medium in order to properly discuss it, no matter how biased the environment may be. An anti-war movie will likely show war, and some people will just ogle the big bangs, but that shouldn't destroy its message. While prostitution in gaming has been handled badly, refusing to handle it at all means that fruitful representation will be lost too.
posted by Maxson at 10:56 AM on June 17


One of her points that I really liked was that all this effort spent on brothels and titillation could be spent on more interesting game aspects since resources are finite.

I remembered Fallout 3 having some strong women like a party member that fought hand-to-hand and the head warrior of the Good Guys; it's been years since I last played it so I thought I'd run some overall numbers based on the wiki. The wiki only mentions named characters, so the following is incidental to the points of the video, but I thought it might still be interesting. There are 9 prostitutes (one of the ten listed on the wiki doesn't exist in-game) , all female, and a brothel with a Madame (and presumably unnamed NPCs).
There are 110 named female characters (as well as 7 with random gender and 1 genderqueer) so about 9% of the female characters are prostitutes. The expansions have another 33 women and 1 person of random gender, so about 7% of the named women NPCs are prostitutes. In comparison to pre-apocalyptic USA although stats are hard to get, there are estimates of 1,000,000 prostitutes. The US census estimate for 2012 is 313,873,685 people and 50.8% women i.e. 159,447,832 meaning 0.6% of the female population engage in prostitution.

I wonder how easy it would be to pull the data of total number of unnamed female NPCs and unnamed prostitutes from the editor.

Fallout is one of the better sandbox games out there, but I think it's fair to wonder why even one of our better games has more prostitutes than the American average by an order of magnitude.
posted by ersatz at 11:32 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Speaking of perfect as the enemy of the good, an as-yet unmentioned reason why I too wish she'd chosen examples that didn't undermine her point - devs are listening to her, and the sloppiness lends an undertone of "you're damned if you contribute to the problem and you're damned if you don't". That doesn't inspire to action, it tells you that people don't really care what you actually do, bad things will likely be assumed of you regardless. It disempowers change. But maybe devs are not her target demographic. Also, devs have to have a thick skin and can take it; while not at the level of feminist critiques, they get their own share of internet/gamer hate :)
posted by anonymisc at 11:32 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]


Are there any games with playable prostitute characters, or with "hooker with a heart of gold" storylines?

A few games have plotlines where you can help characters get out of prostitution. I can think of the Fallout games and weirdly enough even Witcher, which is very sexist, has a FedEx quest where you can reunite a character with her lover (who might also be a werewolf IIRC).
posted by ersatz at 11:37 AM on June 17


Based on insider comments, I think dev-culture change is well underway and her series (and the kickstarter harassment fiasco around it) informs a big part of that. It's unfortunate that in the AAA space it takes a long time to see the decisions made in early concept planning arrive on store shelves.

There's a reason Neil Druckmann--writer and creative director on The Last of Us chose to introduce her at the GDC awards and emphatically tweets about her videos.
posted by whittaker at 11:39 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


ersatz: Fallout is one of the better sandbox games out there, but I think it's fair to wonder why even one of our better games has more prostitutes than the American average by an order of magnitude.

That's easily explicable in-game by Fallout being post-apocalyptic, in a much more brutal and dangerous world where more people would be forced to turn to prostitution. It's also easily explicable in game design terms when you consider the loads of 'normal people' who don't make it into RPGs (i.e. all of the turnip farmers or factory workers) as they are not interesting enough to be worth coding in. It's the same reason that the bandits easily outnumber the people they'd be expected to rob in Skyrim.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:40 AM on June 17


all this effort spent on brothels and titillation could be spent on more interesting game aspects since resources are finite.

The focus on games being made for the "male gaze" overshadows another omnipresent gaze - videogames are always set in exotic places - from space to Cairo to docks to brothels. Put all those exotic places on a list, compare against a list of which people are and aren't exotic to those places, and it's apparent that there is what I'll take a stab at calling the "suburban gaze", though someone probably has a better term elsewhere.
The fascination with the seedy underbelly comes from demographic inexperience and fascination with the forbidden other side of the tracks.
posted by anonymisc at 11:48 AM on June 17 [4 favorites]


It's still a choice to put prostitutes in a game. As mentioned above by others, homeless people, children, babies, old people, overweight people, short people, people of various ethnicities, disabled people... of the myriad kinds of people you pass by every day on the street, a huge proportion of them are never represented in most games. And yet prostitutes are in so, so many AAA games. It's mind-boggling. They are such a small societal group. Their ubiquity is due to choice.

And it's a choice by the devs to let anyone get killed in their game. If the character you play has the agency to do anything morally reprehensible, that's something that's consciously created by the devs. So what if it breaks the immersive quality of a game if you aren't allowed to murder certain characters? No game in this day and age represents but a tiny portion of human sensation and experience. No game is even remotely realistic, no matter how much money and time has been pumped into it. It's 'unrealistic' for you not to murder an NPC, but you can, in the likes of Skyrim, approach an enemy, pause the action as it is rearing up to strike you, drink 15 potions, switch out your armour and change your weapon, unpause the action and begin combat. That doesn't break immersion? That is not ten times as stupid as not being able to kill a defenseless NPC?

It's a choice, for the devs and for the players choosing to spend their money on these games. It's the norm. I'm glad that someone is questioning why it's the norm.
posted by picea at 11:53 AM on June 17 [7 favorites]


Also, I'm curious about the Bioshock example. In the clip it's the pimp doing all the talking. Can you engage the prostitutes in conversatoin themselves, or are they just mannequins on an animation loop?
posted by picea at 11:56 AM on June 17


Maybe a better solution would be to give those women weapons and/or magic.

That defeats the purpose, because then you've just got a magic yoni, not a realistic female character. If you "give" female NPCs a "privilege", it will just perpetuate the idea that women are different, special, etc.

(Spend some time arguing with a Men's Rights Advocate if you dont' know what I mean. They'll go on endlessly about how the glass ceiling actually gives women privileges, because that way they get all the cushy low-level jobs.)
posted by lodurr at 12:19 PM on June 17


lodurr: That defeats the purpose, because then you've just got a magic yoni, not a realistic female character. If you "give" female NPCs a "privilege", it will just perpetuate the idea that women are different, special, etc.

(Spend some time arguing with a Men's Rights Advocate if you dont' know what I mean. They'll go on endlessly about how the glass ceiling actually gives women privileges, because that way they get all the cushy low-level jobs.)


Fine, give everyone in the game some kind of weapon or special ability for defense. You'd be an idiot to not keep some sort of defense about you in any of these worlds.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:30 PM on June 17


That's easily explicable in-game by Fallout being post-apocalyptic, in a much more brutal and dangerous world where more people would be forced to turn to prostitution. It's also easily explicable in game design terms when you consider the loads of 'normal people' who don't make it into RPGs (i.e. all of the turnip farmers or factory workers) as they are not interesting enough to be worth coding in. It's the same reason that the bandits easily outnumber the people they'd be expected to rob in Skyrim.

Oh, in Skyrim they're probably looting the infinite Draugr caves for a living. More seriously, Fallout is largely about normal people and, furthermore, prostitutes are often a special npc class with a single line of dialogue to buy sex from them. Apart from all the good points Sarkeesian makes, this is also boring, which is the cardinal sin of entertainment. When you can interact with them as a character, which happily also helps alleviate the factors of objectification significantly (instrumentality, commodification, interchangeability, violability and disposability), they become more interesting and better parts of the game. You can see that in Fallout itself when you can engage with them.
posted by ersatz at 12:51 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


PS And FWIW I think that you should have the choice whether to hurt innocents or not, so that you can decide on your character's morality. This shouldn't be taken as a carte blanche to have representations of women through the male gaze, destined to cower in fear and skimpy underwear because reasons. Can we get more women producers, designers and marketers, please?
posted by ersatz at 1:11 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


I think there are lots of female 'marketers.' Probably even product managers. I'm sure it's more complex than that. I'd ask, who are the creative directors? Who's approving the marketing strategy? Who's driving the overall product strategy? If you're a product manager, you've got to work within a larger system, and if you're not producing a plan that conforms to the expectations of the organization you have to function within, you may not be there long.
posted by lodurr at 1:29 PM on June 17


Thank god that Youtube comments are disabled on that video.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:33 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Idea 2 to improve them: What if you made scantily clad women unkillable? Like the kids in Fallout 3 and Skyrim? That would mean no loot for violent actions against them, thus no incentive to attack them, and it would be very clear that you aren't supposed to attack them.

Clint Hocking, the lead designer for Far Cry 2 was talking on Steve Gaynor's excellent Tone Control podcast about how they dealt with animals. It wasn't meant to be a hunting game and they really didn't want players shooting zebras and dragging ragdoll animal corpses around. So what they ended up with is that if the player shoots or even just touches an animal, it drops dead on the spot and leaves a completely non-interactive corpse. There is no blood. It's utterly boring. And as a result, when the game came out, they didn't get a bunch of YouTube videos of players abusing animals.

So one idea for discouraging certain kinds of gross behavior from players? Make it boring.
posted by straight at 1:33 PM on June 17 [10 favorites]


That's easily explicable in-game by Fallout being post-apocalyptic, in a much more brutal and dangerous world where more people would be forced to turn to prostitution.

I think that's that's the problem. Games want to show a world that is more gritty and dangerous in order to draw a more mature (or mature aspiring) audience. Game makers rely on shorthand and lazy methods to show this, like using bad language, drug use, violence, and yes, sex and prostitution. Which is why games made by completely different companies and different teams still all look like Frank Miller was the lead designer.

I think in all the examples shown, prostitution plays an unimportant or minor part of the game. Most of the time prostitution is just used as a prop to show how mature a game is. I don't think there's any game where people walk way thinking, "This game would be better with prostitutes!" With that in mind, I think there really isn't a good reason to have prostitutes in a game. And designers should develop other methods to show how a world is gritty.
posted by FJT at 1:40 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


Anti-war movies can still exist without being "poisoned" by pro-war movies.

That is a controversial claim.
posted by straight at 1:42 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


(also from that thread)
“I’ll never forget the experience I had escorting the late Samuel Fuller, the much-decorated World War II hero and maverick filmmaker, to a multiplex screening of Full Metal Jacket, along with fellow critic Bill Krohn, in Santa Barbara 13 years ago. Though Fuller courteously stayed with us to the end, he declared afterward that as far as he was concerned, it was another goddamn recruiting film — that teenage boys who went to see Kubrick’s picture with their girlfriends would come out thinking that wartime combat was neat.” — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Movie Wars
posted by straight at 1:50 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


Heh. went to see Full Metal Jacket with my brother, who kept saying "it's just a war movie." Took me a bit to get what he was saying, but that changed my thinking about war movies.
posted by lodurr at 2:00 PM on June 17


Wow, that's an outstanding thread.
posted by painquale at 2:02 PM on June 17


People with invincible plot armor (particularly ones that can still fight you) can be game-breaking and immersion-breaking, like the kids in Fallout 3 were (you can render the game unwinnable by making a bunch of kids hostile at one point, and they can shoot you without retaliation). Maybe a better solution would be to give those women weapons and/or magic. Certainly Fallout and Skyrim are dangerous places and in Skyrim magic is pretty easy to pick up by anyone, so it would be totally believable if any random woman in the world could pull out a knife and start shooting fire at you if she was in danger. And that removes the whole 'cowering in terror' aspect of it, which feels like the creepiest part.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:54 AM on June 17 [+] [!]


That was another idea I had, that I forgot to write up. First: I don't get why people complain that it is immersion breaking, and if they aren't supposed to be attacked, then who cares if you break the rules and your precious immersion is broken. (The only time I've been annoyed by this, is when in Fallout 3 you lot raiders and they suddenly put on more cloths. Thus it is the one time I've used a nude patch (and I used it on both men and women). Anyway, meh?

The problem I see in giving them weapons, is that late game you don't care of the prostitute has a .32 pistol, you are in power armour and have a BFG. What if they are both invulnerability and a weapon, so they can actually fuck you up if you attack them?

Or just make them like the chicken's in Zelda? If you attack them, something bad and immersion breaking will happen to you, so that you know the dev team does not approve of your shit?
posted by Canageek at 2:22 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Canageek: The problem I see in giving them weapons, is that late game you don't care of the prostitute has a .32 pistol, you are in power armour and have a BFG. What if they are both invulnerability and a weapon, so they can actually fuck you up if you attack them?

Well, there's the game-breaking issue that occurs if you hit them by accident in a firefight and they go berserk on you with their unkillability. But also, why should they have invulnerable magic armor because it's 'creepy' to attack them, while all of the other innocent people in the game don't? Is it somehow not creepy to murder all of the other poor civilians in the game?

Also, even if they can't fight back effectively, it does turn them from helpless victim to unchallenging mob that drops nothing useful, which might help put them into the boring category listed above.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:30 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


That is a controversial claim.

An excellent point. As stated earlier, some people will always take away the wrong message from any production, no matter how blatant or well-crafted the statement. But it's hard to make the claim that the best anti-war movie is no such movie at all, leaving the Netflix movie selection entirely full of aggressive patriotism and dehumanized enemy targets.

Similarly, the video game Spec Ops: The Line has been played as a straightforward "shoot the faceless enemy over and over" but has also been described as an eye-opening criticism of the eternally forgiven protagonist. Some people never get the message; that doesn't mean the attempt is fundamentally flawed.
posted by Maxson at 2:31 PM on June 17


I haven't played that game, so I can't speak to it as its own example, but bringing the analogy back around to the original question, what you're describing sounds a lot like lampshading/ironizing a movie/book/game's overt sexism as a way to both have and eat one's cake (where nine times out of ten you've in fact eaten that cake and your plate is now empty).
posted by nobody at 3:08 PM on June 17


(I should probably have left at least books out of it, or else lowered that 9/10 figure, but changing it now seems like misuse of the edit window)
posted by nobody at 3:11 PM on June 17


The focus on games being made for the "male gaze" overshadows another omnipresent gaze - videogames are always set in exotic places - from space to Cairo to docks to brothels. Put all those exotic places on a list, compare against a list of which people are and aren't exotic to those places, and it's apparent that there is what I'll take a stab at calling the "suburban gaze", though someone probably has a better term elsewhere.

Sarkeesian talks pretty explicitly about exotic settings starting around 5:20:

"In some games sexual objectification is fused with the exotification of impoverished women of color. In Far Cry 3 and Max Payne 3, for example, straight white protagonists explore shantytowns located in the global south populated by prostituted women. The sexually subservient “Asian prostitute” trope also permeates urban environments in games like Binary Domain and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These women speak in broken English and their minimal dialog is designed to invoke shades of ‘sex tourism’ style exploitation. Scenarios like these are part of a long racist tradition of representing women of color as mysterious and hypersexual creatures who exist as an “exotic spice” to be consumed by the white or western man."
posted by naoko at 3:14 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


what you're describing sounds a lot like lampshading/ironizing a movie/book/game's overt sexism as a way to both have and eat one's cake

That's been done, but it's not what I'm saying. The original statement I was responding do was this one:

So really, there might be no responsible way to represent prostitutes in-game. The well has been poisoned.

The idea that there will never be a way to responsibly represent prostitutes in a game strikes me as extreme. That was the entire thrust of my original post, and remains my point. It no doubt can be extremely difficult to do properly- a statement I fully agree with- but a blanket dismissal, especially as more and more diverse games come from more and more diverse game creators every day, is premature.
posted by Maxson at 3:22 PM on June 17


As stated earlier, some people will always take away the wrong message from any production, no matter how blatant or well-crafted the statement.

But the issue is not really people "not getting" the author's intent in an anti-war or anti-sexism movie or game. The issue is that, even when attempting to be anti-war or anti-sexism, the author may end up actually glamorizing war or sexism in a way the author himself doesn't quite realize.

For instance, the Bioshock devs (and players), being steeped in sexist video game culture, could very well just not have seen the ways in which their attempt to subvert or critique sexism fails and is simply yet another example of the problem Sarkeesian is documenting.

And some would go so far as to claim that it's not possible to create a movie or game that only "mentions" war or sexism without actually portraying and thereby glamourizing war or sexism. It's possible that any experience that appears in a movie or game is inherently glamorized to some extent.
posted by straight at 4:19 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


The issue is that, even when attempting to be anti-war or anti-sexism, the author may end up actually glamorizing war or sexism in a way the author himself doesn't quite realize.

Then they get called out on it, and rightfully so. That's what's going on in this thread, and that's a good thing.
posted by Maxson at 4:27 PM on June 17


The original statement I was responding do was this one

Ah, got it. I lost that thread. Weighing in on that, and taking a much broader view of what games are capable of, of course the well of all games hasn't been so poisoned (I mean, on one extreme, it would be terrifically easy to imagine a Twine game handling prostitution well, and I bet a few have already), but it does seem fairly unlikely that a blockbuster 3D manshooter will manage threading that needle any time in the next 10 years? (That said, I haven't played that Bioshock:Infinite bonus content, but the main game was so awful w/r/t race despite what looked like maybe good intentions that I'm skeptical of this getting things perfectly right, especially in a way that could overcome the genre conventions the game is steeped in.)
posted by nobody at 4:27 PM on June 17


I saw your edit, straight, after responding. Some may go so far as to claim that is impossible, but in that case, it is fundamentally impossible to make any movie or game about war or sexism without falling prey to glamorization. That sounds extreme to me.

The benefits of the message may outweigh the harm of glamorization, as well- I know that personally, Full Metal Jacket definitely got its anti-war message across without making me think shooting people is fun. That's some careful balancing that must be done by all content creators regardless of medium.

it does seem fairly unlikely that a blockbuster 3D manshooter will manage threading that needle any time in the next 10 years?

Perhaps, but I'm not that pessimistic. As others have mentioned, the discussion has been generating awareness. The average AAA game takes 3 to 4 years to go from concept to release, so at minimum we're looking at two cycles of completely new games. Here's hoping.
posted by Maxson at 4:37 PM on June 17


Just got around to watching this, and holy shit, it made me sick. Though I had heard of most of these games, I was mostly pretty ignorant of the content.

The only game of this type that I'm remotely familiar with is Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and that's from watching someone else play it. Some players get really, really defensive when you point out the real-world effects of these games, like you're calling them rapists and murderers. How do you address the "not ALL gamers" type of argument?
posted by desjardins at 5:05 PM on June 17


Also, I'm curious about the Bioshock example. In the clip it's the pimp doing all the talking. Can you engage the prostitutes in conversation themselves, or are they just mannequins on an animation loop?

They're just on a loop. It's during a sequence where you're walking through the underwater city and you can eavesdrop in on various conversations, but you can't really interact with anything.

I wonder why they decided to have a pimp rather than having the women address you directly. Did they think it would be less icky that way, or did they not give it any thought?

It no doubt can be extremely difficult to do properly- a statement I fully agree with- but a blanket dismissal, especially as more and more diverse games come from more and more diverse game creators every day, is premature.

I don't think it's premature. It's not certainly true, but... the fact that there are probably hundreds of games involving prostituted women and no one can really name a single one that is not icky (despite some trying to not be icky)... that's some pretty strong evidence that it is currently beyond the capabilities of game designers. At least there are existing anti-war movies to point to as counterexamples. There are no anti-prostitution games to point to as counterexamples. Sure, it might be possible, but I guess I'll believe it when I see it.

And straight is right... I didn't really mean for my claim to apply to Twine games and Telltale-style games, which is why weakened it in the follow-up comment. But I have a pretty high degree of belief in it being impossible for a third-person action game to represent prostitutes non-ickily, at least given the surrounding culture of other third-person action games.

Here's a practical difference between our positions: I think it's almost certainly a bad idea for third-person action developers to include prostituted women in order to try to "get them right." No. Chances are too good --- almost certain --- that they'll fuck up and just make things worse. All the games up to this point have. The slate needs to be wiped clean. No more prostituted women in games. If you're a developer and you're making a game, unless you're making a game explicitly about the perspective of a sex worker, you have a moral obligation to take out the prostituted women.

How do you address the "not ALL gamers" type of argument?

I wish I knew. Anita Sarkeesian tried to address it when discussing the third person effect, but I don't think people who make the "not ALL gamers" argument will find that line of defense very compelling.
posted by painquale at 5:22 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


As straight pointed out, there are games out there that can handle the topic. This is another example of AAA titles incorrectly being treated as the only games worth talking about. Transistor came out recently and has been making waves; Star Citizen made maybe too much money from crowdfunding and is making splashes even in alpha. Gaming continues to expand in formats, funding, and demographics; ignoring the social maturity that happens as a direct result of that expansion is selling the entire medium short. This is the problem with broad strokes, and is one reason why gamers who agree with Sarkeesian can have some issues with how she handles them.

The slate needs to be wiped clean. No more prostituted women in games.

In the end we appear to have been working under different ideas of what a game is; you've now decided to focus on third-person action games, and I have no intention of making the claim that that genre is capable of doing everything under the sun (it isn't). There isn't much more to say beyond that. If you accept that Twine-style and adventure-style games have a chance of handling such topics, then IMO we have reached agreement.
posted by Maxson at 5:57 PM on June 17


I'm still having trouble grasping why the games are like this in the first place. I mean, obviously there are plenty of actual abusers and murderers, but are there really that many straight dudes who fantasize about abusing and murdering women that the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry feels the need to cater to them?

I'm not really sure I want the answer to that.

The multi-billion dollar movie industry has been increasingly catering to the lust for sex and violence for decades, but I just can't think of that many movies where you're really supposed to relate positively to a guy who abuses and murders women. Maybe I'm naive, maybe I've just been successful at avoiding those movies, but gaming feels qualitatively different since (as Sarkeesian pointed out) the player is the protagonist: you're supposed to identify with your character.

I've had it explained to me (by a gamer) that it's fun to "live" in a world with no consequences and that it's an exploration of the dark side that everyone has. Really? Do most people have that dark side? Do most people secretly want to be the bad guy?

I'm not sure I want the answer to that either.
posted by desjardins at 6:24 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]


...are there really that many straight dudes who fantasize about abusing and murdering women that the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry feels the need to cater to them?

I honestly think the answer to that is no and that the only people who will miss it are the assholes who are against ceding any ground to criticism.

A majority of the examples of misogynistic violence in the video are the result of the wide possibility spaces of the games allowing the player to act out misogynistic violence. The violent systems, for the most part, aren't being made to cater to these lusts. However, not enough is being done to remove those possible interactions when they emerge, either due to apathy, ignorance or genuine technical hurdles (the third case being very rare).

Naturally this can't be used to explain the pervy set dressing that is being put there in the first place.

I agree that these possibilities being present in the game are tacit endorsements of that behaviour regardless of how they found their way in and that the issue needs to be taken seriously by developers.
posted by Reyturner at 6:59 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


the player is the protagonist: you're supposed to identify with your character.

I don't think it's quite that simple. When I play games, I'm super aware of who I am. Most of the time i either imagine that I'm inhabiting the role of the character and pretend to be them OR on rare occasions a rough approximation of myself (if there are reasonable decisions to be made). But I admit I'm a special case. Most video game characters don't look nor act like me. And when given the opportunity to make a character, I usually design a role to inhabit. For example, in Saints Row 3, I made avatar look like Korean pop star Psy. For Mass Effect 1, I made my character to look like David Suchet's version of Hercule Poirot.
posted by FJT at 7:49 PM on June 17


Hookers are included in an open world because of course there are hookers

What the everliving fuck, dude?

Hookers exist, sure.

But if you think they exist in the numbers and prevalence that video games suggest, you are... I just... what

A lot of the pushback in this conversation gives me the creeps and makes me feel pretty hopeless about men as people. I mean, at best, my hope is that the folks pushing back on this particular video just didn't watch it at all and are making a bunch of assumptions about its content based on the fact that they already hate Anita Sarkesian. And that's, like, the most charitable read I can come up with. Which I'm sharing because I feel like it's unsportsmanlike to suggest that the folks arguing the "not sexist!" side are all open misogynists who think it's normal to rape, murder, and traffic in women.
posted by Sara C. at 8:23 PM on June 17 [7 favorites]


That sentence was written to sound sarcastic. My point was that half the problem is the thoughtless inclusion of sexist imagery.
posted by Reyturner at 8:43 PM on June 17


Which folks have actually argued "not sexist"? I mean, I see people quibbling with certain examples used in the beginning, but I haven't really seen it become an entire side denying that sexism exists in games.
posted by FJT at 11:02 PM on June 17


Here's a thread about this video from the GirlGamers subreddit:

http://www.reddit.com/r/GirlGamers/comments/28ahxq/women_as_background_decoration_part_1_tropes_vs/
posted by I-baLL at 11:07 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I think when talking specifically about violence against women in video games, its useful to seperate games like GTA and Saints Row, which it could be said incentivise said violence, and games like Deus Ex and Dishonoured, which do not. That is, there is no particular reward for murdering sex workers in the latter games, and indeed you will be punished (by calling armed npc's attention to you) for doing so. They also shriek in horror, which I at least find disturbing.

I perhaps am spending too much time engaging with the flaws in this video without agreeing with its central thesis, which I basically do agree with. It is super creepy how many sex workers turn up in video games when they don't need to. Fable in particular really didn't need them, but that was always a light hearted game that sometimes inexplicably dived into darkness. The amazing thing about these games is how many sex workers are just hanging out on the street in every city you go to in these games. I'm aware that this is an actual thing that happens, but has never occured to me, for example. I somehow manage to avoid being propositioned by a dozen sex workers on my daily commute, which seems impossible for some protagonists.

I think the inclusion of sex workers has been inspired by GTA3 doing it first, with their idea of you being able to "do anything" in an open world. Its sort of been taken up by a lot of games unthinkingly. As I mentioned in my previous post, I think Deus Ex makes a little bit of an effort to engage with some ideas of what sex work is like in it, but it still has women who are apparently blown away by how attractive the protaganist is.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:17 AM on June 18


"As I mentioned in my previous post, I think Deus Ex makes a little bit of an effort to engage with some ideas of what sex work is like in it, but it still has women who are apparently blown away by how attractive the protaganist is."

I don't remember the sex workers being "blown away by how attractive the protagonist is"in Deus Ex. I remember them propositioning the main character for sex (which makes sense in a brothel) but I also remember them asking the main character for help in rescuing a kidnapped sex worker who is being forced into getting augmented by her bosses. You can rescue her and, if i remember correctly, get the brothel back to the sex workers.
posted by I-baLL at 8:11 AM on June 18


Yes, in some of Sarkeesian's examples, the actions a gamer performs against women can be performed against men, too. However, in these "equal-opportunity" examples, aren't the instigators of said actions almost exclusively male? And yes, there are examples of the interchangable woman-as-player-character, but the number of such games is far less than the established male protagonist.

I'm not saying male-on-male violence is okay, but it's not one of the governing themes of Sarkeesian's video series, which is a collection and demonstration of tropes that specifically target women. The "Women as Background" trope is just one of the many anti-women themes used in video games. I don't really believe that Sarkeesian intends for this series to state that video games are bad, but rather to make people aware of just how prevalent misogynistic tendencies have woven their way into the medium (and perhaps, progress the movement to curtail or remove them).
posted by CancerMan at 10:17 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]




I'll just leave this here.

?? why?
posted by sweetkid at 2:04 PM on June 18 [1 favorite]


...I actually played Wartune for a while as a female character. Now I feel dirty.
posted by Deoridhe at 7:20 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]




« Older “bordering on a sense of alarm” toward the...   |   Yep, That's Beer. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post