So yesterday and today I listened to / read what I felt were two extremes about the views of women and video games. Yesterday I watched Anita Sarkeesian’s third installment of Tropes versus Video Games and then watched and read some of the responses to the videos. The interesting thing that I notice about the responses against the videos is there seems to be this idea that because I do not see or experience any problems than a problem does not exist. I also find it funny that everyone talks about how Anita’s videos do not use enough academic reference and research, but they use that to say that her thesis is wrong. Even though there has been a large history of discussions of female representation and the subtle effects on the perception of reality, but that is a different discussion.
Then today I read an article on the Mary Sue discussing Xbox response to a women being threatened with rape on Xbox live. The story is horrendous and reading the transcript I am so happy that someone called this particular person on the crap they were spouting. I think things are moving in the right direction, but if we stop talking about it are we just ignoring that there is obviously still an issue? The Xbox response is also extremely disappointing because it feels very shoved aside. I understand that it can be difficult to deal with complaints, but considering the woman has a recording that the man sent to her, it seems pretty clear to me. There is such a thing as friendly trash talk, but people tend to go so much further than they would if people were really present.
So how do we balance these viewpoints? I understand that the way that Anita presents her information is sensational and oversimplified, but she is trying to create something that can be basically understood by the lowest common denominator (which in America is sadly really low). There are also people who have not experienced these horrible situations and I am so grateful that they have not had to. I personally have not experienced it, but I have friends who have. From both sides it feels like it is all or nothing, which really is not the case.
I think the problem from both sides is that there is an oversimplification of the ideas being presented. Looking at representation in the media and its effects spans so many different ideas and areas and there are so many little things you can look at to explore the subtle meanings in a piece as well as understanding the narrative as a whole. There is a discussion of – do we need the damsel in distress to make the story work or does it feel added in to create a superfluous motivation? Then, what does the female character look like? This is important because culturally certain items and looks have meaning that need to be considered.
Now the other layer that needs to be addressed is how often something is used and what they look like in each instance. Do we see a consistency with damsels in distress wearing dresses? Are the majority blonde? Are they all well endowed? There are so many questions that need to be asked and it would take a lot of time to explore all those video games. Representation in movies is usually where you start because those tend to be a set length that you can watch over and over again. This is not even mentioning the cultural significance of what was happening around the time of the creation of the video game / story because that will influence what is coming out.
Defend What We Love
The other side of things is that when we love a specific show, game, movie, etc. we feel a connection to that media. Which means that any criticism against them media we feel is a criticism against ourselves. I completely understand because hearing people criticizing Buffy the Vampire Slayer will honestly make me kind of upset. It can be to such a level that you feel that they are insulting you personally, which really they are not. There is a level of media criticism that is subjective, but it should make you think and question. The problem is to do that, we have to disconnect our feelings toward a product and the criticism.
It is similar to doing film criticism. There are plenty of movies that from an artistic or critical perspective I can look at and break down the pros and cons as well as understanding problematic representation, plot holes, etc. At the same time I can also just have fun enjoying the movie as well. There are a lot of people I know who have trouble doing that, which can be problematic with other people criticizing things that they love. It can either ruin something for them, which is sad because if you enjoy it you enjoy it or you so vehemently defend something that you do not even want to listen to another perspective.
We need to be able to have a discussion. People blame Anita for shutting down comments and if you cannot stand the heat then you should not post. At the same time I fully appreciate if you have a group of people just posting nasty, mean, personal attacks then how much would you want to put stuff out? I appreciate people who are making level-headed responses to her videos and I think they point out some important issues that I agree are problematic with her videos. At the same time I appreciate the undertaking because I do feel that we do not look at representation in video games thoroughly enough. We only look at how video games will make people violent horrible people instead of looking at the other qualities.
The other piece I think that is important is just because you do not experience something personally does not mean it is not still a problem. Also, even though there are horrible people online I think most people are not out there trying to cause a stir. They are just trying to get their point out there in hopes that it makes people think.