Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
The Most Dangerous Woman in Videogames - Anita Sarkeesian

Bob Chipman | 7 Nov 2013 09:30
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Metroid Cosplay - Samus Aran

At one point, she offers up a direct challenge to the famous counter-argument that "sex sells." "Sex doesn't sell, objectification is what sells, is her contention, supported by the rather obvious evidence that even vaguely honest depictions of relationships and human sexuality are rarely at the heart of these controversial characters and their games. "Sex in stories," she's quick to point out, "is not the problem." It's objectification, and the dehumanization that can't help but follow - even in the classics of our shared nostalgia.

Speaking of nostalgia, though, she's loathe to spare any: There's NES-era Samus Aran in her pixelated "Hey! It's a lady!" bikini - held up for decades now as one of the Golden Age's best stabs at gender diversity - juxtaposed with its later-gen progeny in the form of cheesecake alternate-costumes or Splatterhouse's collectible nudes. Less amusing still is a subsequent digression into Women in Refridgerators.

But the still that brings the room into stunned silence comes as a preview for an episode yet to air focusing on the medium's frequent exotification of women of color. Seeing them all together - a lineup of black and tan women in animal skins, bone necklaces or headdresses with no discernible root in any authentic "tribal" or "primitive" tradition - it sort-of says it all even before she points out the most obvious issues like animal-skins reinforcing the "animalistic" conception of nonwhite peoples, or climate and materials becoming excuses for plunging necklines and bare midriffs.

The talk concludes (simply too much ground is covered to include it all here) after a brief, moderated Q&A session during which hegemonic masculinity comes up ("does gender-stereotyping hurt men, too? Of course!") as does the million dollar question: "What can be done, really?" Her answer, it turns out, is to keep learning about these issues and looking for them - not necessarily to toss this or that game or character out entirely, but to recognize the room for improvement and seek it out.

But the sight of the evening comes after the event itself has concluded (I'd been asked to hang around with my aforementioned mutual fellows for some friendly shop-talk) and Sarkeesian finds herself surrounded by a large group of audience members seeking advice, autographs and - really, just mutual acknowledgment. A guy would like his DS autographed, several folks are seeking photos. A group of young women from the schools new-ish Game Design program are there, too, beaming excitedly and almost tripping over one another to declare their own commitment to get into the medium renewed and refreshed. How can you not feel good about that?

Because make no mistake, as innocuous as Tropes vs. Women turned out to be in comparison to the rage that preceded its debut, there is a status quo in gaming and it does seem recognize that a tipping point has been reached and that its time as the status quo is coming to an end. For whatever reason, the relative progress that the last few decades saw for diversity and broad-mindedness in film, television and music had been able to bypass gaming for what seems an unnaturally long time - allowing it to become a kind of "last bastion" of certain anachronistic views of gender and power-dynamics that had been allowed and encouraged to recede elsewhere. But that time is coming to a very discernible end, which is why those who'd rather it not change at all are screaming so loud and fighting so violently.

Because the young women and men paying rapt attention to this particular lecture represent the future of gaming and of so-called "gamer culture," and it's a future that looks radically different from the way the medium has looked up to this point. And while Anita Sarkeesian may or may not be the tip of the spear when all is said and done, she's been made a tangible symbol of what progress means and looks like in gaming - and if that progress is something you somehow consider a threat then... well, yes, in that respect she is The Most Dangerous Woman in Video-Games at this particular moment...

...even if, behind all the digital fog, the reality is simply one more young woman who loves video-games but simply wants what others have and take for granted and what she concludes that games won't allow most women to do: Love them unconditionally.

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