“We haven’t even begun to solve the problem.”
June 23, 2019 1:18 PM   Subscribe

The Anita Sarkeesian Story: A Look Back at 10 Years of Feminist Frequency [Polygon] “For our interview, Sarkeesian and I are sitting in an apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District. I want to talk to her about her life and her work. I want to find out more about her background and her formative years as a political activist and cultural critic. I want to find out why her non-profit orgaization, Feminist Frequency, is dramatically scaling back its operations, exactly 10 years after its formation. But first, I want to talk about her achievements.” [Previously.]

• Anita Sarkeesian: "No more excuses for the lack of women at E3" [Games Industry Biz]
“The E3 gender breakdown is just one part of a much larger conversation, and Sarkeesian acknowledges that large systemic issues like this can make it seem impossible for anyone to feel like they can contribute to its solution. "But it's the people reading this article right now that need to fix it," she concludes. "Too often we look at it and think, 'yeah, but I'm not a bad guy, I can't do anything about it' or 'Well, what can I do in my space?' "From a base level, you can just speak up for people being marginalised in your work space. You can bring up these issues in your next creative meetings, work to advocate the hiring of a more inclusive staff. There's so many things that can be done and I think too often we feel like the problem is so big, we don't have a role in it. But all of us have to participate in it."”
• Anita Sarkeesian talks about exposing gaming’s most toxic trends with sheer data [Ars Technica]
“When I ask, "Why stay in this toxic relationship with games publishers?" Sarkeesian immediately laughs with a loud, "I don't know!" After collecting herself, she offers a firm statement: "Because we love media, and we have very limited options." She proceeds to talk about loving stories and entertainment in ways that inspire online communities, fan fiction, lengthy videos, and other heartfelt attachment. Suddenly, she's in a rapid-fire conversational zone, recounting her most positive connections not only with games but with fellow fans, then with the zeitgeist of gaming. Then she pauses. "I keep saying words hoping I'm going to get to the word I want to say because... sometimes, it's not about, like, fun, right? It's not about enjoyment. It's about validation. It's about connection. It's about being seen. It's about imagining new worlds." To this, Sarkeesian begins talking about the power of storytelling and shared cultural values in entertainment—about mythologies being handed down as much for fun as for building cultural values and lessons—before remembering the Feminist Frequency series' anecdote about "transmisogynoir," about older games offering only one kind of negative story about certain communities. "My brain immediately just went to like, 'God, is it better to not be represented than to be represented like that?'"”
• Female Representation in Videogames Isn't Getting Any Better [Wired]
“So, let's take a closer look at this year's results. Of the 126 games we tallied from the E3 events held by Microsoft, Nintendo, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Square Enix, and EA, as well as the annual PC Gaming Show, a paltry six centered exclusively female protagonists, while almost five times as many, 28, centered male characters. [...] More and better representations of women remain an essential part of the change we hope to see in the videogame industry, but we can't focus entirely on the games themselves. It's also crucial to look at the actual human beings who represent the industry, who get to come out on stage at E3 and be a face and a voice for what the future of gaming holds. This year, across the events we surveyed, women made up a mere 21 percent of speakers and presenters. That's not great, but it's also worth noting that the ratio was especially bad at some events. Of the 15 speakers at Square Enix's event, only two were women, and only two of the 17 speakers at Bethesda's press conference were women.”
posted by Fizz (19 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
 
But it looks like she’s about done with YouTube. “When I go and speak at schools and colleges, students tell me they want to do what I do. But you can’t do it on YouTube anymore. You need to go and figure out what the next YouTube is. Ten years ago, YouTube was new. It was the platform to talk to people through.

“What’s the next one? What is the new way that you talk to people? Digital video is a really difficult place to navigate right now. I don’t think it has a shelf life, as it stands.”
There are no unalloyed good things on the internet anymore (perhaps there never was), but one sliver lining here is that the barrier to entry to competitors to youtube is much, much lower with various and assorted cloud services.

It's not trivially cheap, and it's still all part and parcel of an industry which never dealt with the harassment, death threats, and actual offline violence because doing any of those things harms their engagement metrics, but still, you don't need 8 figures to get a competing video streaming service.

There are alternatives starting to show up, like Nebula, which is the kernel of a creator-led service, and has a fair number of creators well known to the Mefi community (Lindsay Ellis, Wendover, CGP Grey and a ton more).
posted by tclark at 1:36 PM on June 23, 2019 [9 favorites]


Representation alone will never cut it, it is the milksop being offered instead of real change.

These kinds of problems will never be fixed by education programs and videos, not even if we give it another century.

Perhaps if something was done with the how's and why's of the money flowing around the industry, some quotas or the like but I don't expect to see a liberal program address that.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 3:04 PM on June 23, 2019


I can only speak for what I've seen amongst the devs in *shock circles: Sarkeesian changed everything. Prior to her, gender was thought of more in terms of "don't be deliberately shitty" when it was thought of it all. Now? Identity and positionality are very much front-and-center considerations at all times in terms of characters, narrative, and worldbuilding. What does this say about our characters? About the world they live in? What messages are we sending? Who are we centering and why are these characters presented this way? This also extends to hiring decisions and how personnel issues are handled by leads and department-level producers long before they rise to the level of HR.

Virtually every level designer and writer I know got nailed by one of her callouts - including my own work, extremely front and center at the start of one of her videos - and the whole thing was very much a communal wake-up call where a lot of us started asking ourselves why we built certain scenes in that way, and not finding a lot of satisfactory answers we began talking about how we can do things better.

This doesn't magically change everything. Half of the time we're going to get it wrong and yield a problematic impact despite good intent. This is a learning process. Developer demographics are glacially slow to change, breaking glass ceilings is a long and frustrating process: my wife is part of the cited 21% of speakers at this year's E3, and it's been a hell of a slog for her to get there even within a studio that has been actively trying to change for the better, and a management team that usually has her back (and a husband who is a lot more aware of the need to support her not just during crunch but outside it as well).

So while on the one hand I am perfectly willing to accept that the process of change is proceeding far more slowly than anybody would like, within the greater FPS-RPG hybrid community* the need for that change is absolutely recognized by the vast majority of management and workers alike, and it is very much actively in progress. Given both the internal momentum that we have to overcome and the reality of having among the longest dev cycles in the industry (5+ years is common) it may be a while before this shows externally. But it was absolutely Sarkeesian who kicked it off.

*Western European/North American studios only. Things are more regressive elsewhere, I'm told, but that's all secondhand to me.
posted by Ryvar at 3:04 PM on June 23, 2019 [58 favorites]


These kinds of problems will never be fixed by education programs and videos, not even if we give it another century.

The thing is though, Sarkeesian's videos, commentary, speeches, advocacy HAS made a huge difference. She talks about how the industry has shifted (and gaming companies have attempted to co-opt her academic research, pretending that they were making strides) when in reality they were not. It's BECAUSE of her work that we've shifted this criticism to the mainstream.

The criticism was always there, from LGTBQ, black people, other minority groups that have been traditionally excluded from circles, Sarkeesian opened up the doors a bit and let the rest of the world peek inside. There's still a shit-ton of work to be done, but her work and her advocacy have changed so much and I made this post because it's worth acknowledging.

I'm so glad she did this for all of us and I'm sorry to hear that she suffered so much as a result of it. Cheers to her and all the good work everyone else is continuing to do, in the name of making gaming a better and safer environment.
posted by Fizz at 3:32 PM on June 23, 2019 [22 favorites]


Any person who cannot:

1. Draw a passibly accurate diagram of the female reproductive system

And

2. Tell me who Laura Mulvey is and why she's relevant to discussions about female representation in video games

has absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the conversation about this medium at this point. I realize this excludes almost every man currently working in the industry, but hey, my bakery is hiring.
posted by East14thTaco at 3:34 PM on June 23, 2019 [3 favorites]


Representation matters, and I think we ought to honor her for that, as well as sticking around and sticking through the endless and epic harassment. And still delivering her content and our lessons. And for remaining available and accountable and accessible.

I have always admired Sarkeesian. Thanks also due to Mulvey and her predecessors, with every kind of respect I can muster. It is such hard work to dedicate one's life to challenging the dominant kyriarchies.
posted by kalessin at 4:01 PM on June 23, 2019 [5 favorites]


Very interesting article! It's sad that Feminist Frequency is scaling back. The reason is a bit buried: their videos used to get millions of hits, now they're getting tens of thousands. Social media is way more fragmented. Plus the donor money has dried up. I hope she finds good ways to continue doing her work.

The data from E3 (from the Wired article) suggests that things are moving in the right direction, though too slowly: male-only protagonists (ugh) are way down, and a choice is becoming the norm.
posted by zompist at 4:53 PM on June 23, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm still baffled by the "she's not a real gamer" attempt to counter Sarkeesian's arguments which has become the more polite talking point in the comments of pretty much any article about FF. Gaming keeps bragging about making more money that the movie box office, but it still can't comprehend that criticism can exist in and of itself. Or the "she's cherry picking you can do gross physical violence to men AND women in this game" argument as though that is somehow a good thing.

But the thing that really gets me isn't all the creeps that come out of the shadows to yell at Anita, but the people who should have had her back and didn't. The Hank Green's of the world who seemed more concerned about Anita calling one of her harassers a garbage human while speaking at VidCon than about the fact that his org let her harassers set up in front row seats at her talk. The people at gaming companies that shrugged off her critiques only suddenly start paying lip service to diversity years later.
posted by thecjm at 5:01 PM on June 23, 2019 [24 favorites]


It undermines neither Sarkeesian's efforts nor representation as a concept to say they are not sufficient alone, and I don't see how it serves us to pretend that they can be, even if they're most of what we have right now.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:07 PM on June 23, 2019


The only problem with Anita Sarkeesian is that she's right.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:42 PM on June 23, 2019 [17 favorites]


I'm still baffled by the "she's not a real gamer" attempt to counter Sarkeesian's arguments which has become the more polite talking point in the comments of pretty much any article about FF.

Her first video opens with a discussion of Dinosaur Planet, which is a deep enough cut that you had to either be researching games thoroughly or be a fan of Rare during the N64 era to even know it existed. Combine that with an early photograph of her at home, with 4 consoles around the TV and a Sunflower plushie, and it seemed obvious to me that this was someone from the inside trying to bring back hard-won knowledge to a medium she loved, and not some outside interloper who wanted to make the boys feel bad about their toys.

The only problem with Anita Sarkeesian is that she's right.

The big issue with the backlash is that it makes it difficult to have actual discussions and critiques of Feminist Frequency's videos. I think there's a couple of poorly-chosen examples and mistakes in the videos, and Sarkessian was anti-sex work a few years ago, but when there's a big backlash like that having good-faith objections can very easily get corrupted by people who have bad-faith objections.
posted by Merus at 7:28 PM on June 23, 2019 [14 favorites]


Weird proto-fascist movements like Gamergate don’t really need reasons fir their witch-hunts.
posted by Artw at 8:06 PM on June 23, 2019 [7 favorites]


I want to work at a game studio that meets East14thTaco's requirements. I'm not actively looking right now, or actively working in games, but I have in the past and I meet those requirements. Let's rock.
posted by Alterscape at 8:35 PM on June 23, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's appalling, of course, that Sarkeesian had to endure this bullshit.

But, like...it's pretty fucking satisfying that she more or less won. The games industry – and gaming culture – still have a long way to go. But without the harassers, her videos would've accumulated a couple thousand views and been forgotten.

The harassment campaign not only raised the profile of her work, à la the Streisand effect – but also proved the exact problem she was talking about, in abundance.

And gaming has changed for the better, and Feminist Frequency is absolutely a big part of the reason why.

Moral of the story: don't pick a fight when your side is morally and intellectually bankrupt, even if you do have the mob on your side.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:42 PM on June 23, 2019 [8 favorites]


I'm still baffled by the "she's not a real gamer" attempt to counter Sarkeesian's arguments which has become the more polite talking point in the comments of pretty much any article about FF. Gaming keeps bragging about making more money that the movie box office, but it still can't comprehend that criticism can exist in and of itself. Or the "she's cherry picking you can do gross physical violence to men AND women in this game" argument as though that is somehow a good thing.

This stuff starts fucking early, man. My daughter is five and obsessed with Pokemon and told some boys at school that Mimikyu is both a ghost and a fairy type. They told her it can't be both and refused to let her play. It's not about the level of expertise--it's about finding ways to bar entryway to a discussion or interaction because of gender. The level of knowledge thing is just an excuse. And women will always be told they know less. I know more about the Beatles than any dude I've ever met and still get talked at about them, frequently.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:40 AM on June 24, 2019 [30 favorites]


It's sad that Feminist Frequency is scaling back. The reason is a bit buried: their videos used to get millions of hits, now they're getting tens of thousands. Social media is way more fragmented.

This is not an attack by any means, since I find myself doing it too, but I do think phrasings like "[social] media is way more fragmented" are way too passive to describe what's going on here. Even the article's explicit mention of the fact that the drive to monetize content on these platforms having lead to things like YouTube basically becoming an ad hoc Bigotry News Network feels a little offhanded in proportion to how much direct blame can be laid at a specific entity's feet for all this, and I feel like we need to be noting at every opportunity that e.g. Google knows about this (and they very much do, to the extent that they have internal groups explicitly working on it in what seems like more of an attempt to placate the rank-and-file than to actually change anything, considering that the output of those groups consists of "recommendations" as opposed to actual changes in policy) and has prioritized it well below the ad dollars they're pulling in from "engagement." The decline in views that Feminist Frequency saw isn't an organic phenomenon, it's an organized group of amoral-at-best fuckfaces pulling the levers to open the Monetized Hatred cash pipe as wide as possible.
posted by invitapriore at 5:43 PM on June 24, 2019


Weird proto-fascist movements like Gamergate don’t really need reasons fir their witch-hunts.

They don't, but it had been noted that there was a significant uptick on harassment people like Anita and Zoe Quinn got when people criticised either target in good faith, or if they tried to go ham on Gamergate figures. Zoe Quinn's book, Crash Override, is well worth a read, particularly because both women predicted the Gamergate-to-fascist pipeline well before it was obvious.
posted by Merus at 12:34 AM on June 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


But, like...it's pretty fucking satisfying that she more or less won. The games industry – and gaming culture – still have a long way to go ... gaming has changed for the better ...

I think the bizarrely disproportionate freakout some dudes had in response to Sarkeesian and her project was an attempt to say, "Gaming is ours. Go away. No girls allowed." And while they definitely were able to dump a lot of shitty harassment on Sarkeesian and other people, they still failed. The number of women and minorities in video games keeps increasing. Voices criticizing video games more visible and more varied. Game developers pay more attention to the interests and concerns of women and other people outside of their sad little dude circles. Like you say, we've got a long way to go, but video games are becoming more diverse.

Sarkeesian's brave persistence was hardly the only force for change in the past decade -- there were also just a lot of diverse people showing up and saying, "I like video games too! And I have money and creative vision to support what I want to see in video games." But she and Feminist Frequency have been an important and influential voice. I admire her a lot and am grateful for her part in making video games better.
posted by straight at 2:59 AM on June 25, 2019 [3 favorites]


Also I just found out via Twitter that Sarkeesian is a big fan of Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books, which are so good that Sarkeesian liking them doubles my admiration for her.
posted by straight at 11:08 AM on June 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


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