Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
The Most Dangerous Woman in Videogames - Anita Sarkeesian

Bob Chipman | 7 Nov 2013 09:30
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Whatever one thinks of her videos it's immediately apparent that this evening's scenario - standing at the podium, holding students at attention to a breezy yet info-packed PowerPoint-style presentation - seems to be her and her material in their natural habitat. Those who've critiqued (and I'm one of them) the occasionally "dry" point-point-point-point delivery and pacing of the TvsW videos might, I think, feel more positively about this "live show" version; where she has the freedom to pause for a laugh, slip into an amusing tangent or joke around with the audience (for example: simply tossing an "Oh, come on!" exploitative image onto the screen and letting it hang without comment plays much better when there's a live audience to laugh it.)

The meat and potatoes of the presentation would be, at first, familiar ground for anyone who's already watched what exists thus far of the series - the College lecture-circuit is, after all, the pop concerts of Academia - even incorporating clips from the inaugural episode. There's more biographical detail here, though, and you can feel the generational divide in the auditorium when she describes having to campaign to her parents to let her get a Gameboy because "that wasn't a toy for girls" ("It's right there in the name, even!") and the younger students can hardly conceive of such a time.

So too resonates the fleshing-out of her broader mission statement: To reclaim Feminism as a mainstream movement by wrenching it away from the arcane stuffiness of older Academia (I'm paraphrasing, since direct-recordings were not allowed as is standard practice for such presentations) and the angry-killjoy stereotypes foisted upon it by the Backlash Era of the 80s and 90s; and to do so by using the familiar language of movies, games and television - pop-culture, she opines, is what pedagogy is.

The agreeing nods of women (and more than a few men) in attendance are noticeable at this, and why not? These girls are living in the curious generational niche that, statistically, agrees with nearly every tenet of classical Feminism yet just as statistically bristles at actually adopting the label. That she explains this in-between clips of feminist icon bell hooks being projected on a huge screen behind her - a screen that moments earlier held images of Princesses Lala, Daphne and Peach and will later display everyone from Juliette Starling to Vinyl Goddess - virtually defines surreal.

Clearly, though, what hits closest to home is an abbreviated recap of the unexpected fury that greeted the announcement of the initial Kickstarter, back before anyone had heard of her or the series. It's easy to get jaded about The Internet's ability to gin up bile; but seeing a selection from the now infamous torrent of "ironic" sexist insults and graphic rape-threats that greeted the mere proposition of doing a feminism-centered video critique of gaming narratives projected in a semi-public setting on a huge screen is quite a sight. There are gasps among the students, but not that many - after all, cyber-bullying of this stripe is reality for women in tech fields, to one degree or another.

She's also quick to not make it "just about her," noting that while it was encouraging that members of the gaming press rallied to get YouTube to reverse a falsely-generated "flagging" or her work, some others not as visible didn't have as happy of endings; a lead-in to retellings of the harassment campaigns directed at Carolyn Petit and Jennifer Hepler.

Fortunately, that unpleasantness quickly gives way to more amusing examples of the medium's frequently embarrassing use of its female characters. The anachronistic 90s "tough broad" advertisement for Perfect Dark gets big laughs at the expense of an era/aesthetic not even nostalgia can defend; an archetype she calls "The Fighting F*ck-Toy" that encapsulates characters that offer an illusion of "empowerment" but in fact merely combine the mostly-male audiences desire to gawk at women with that same audience's desire to be the hero. But even more eyerolls are generated by the introduction of Wonder Pink, the lone heroine of WONDERFUL 101," a brand new game of this year.

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