We have talked a bit about Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. Holly talked about the original video, with a post about Damsels in Distress, and I felt the need to chime in too. Well, now all three Damsels in Distress videos are out, so there’s room for more commentary! Holly discussed the need to balance out enjoyment and criticism the other day. And I had some other thoughts to add too.
So I want to talk about three areas. One, there is a world of difference between criticism and creation, and I think Anita finally addresses this by creating a new plot – something I did in a follow-up post previously too. Second, Anita is working in a new medium by presenting in YouTube, and this impacts what we get. And third, there is not only a space for, but a need for academic study of video games, if we want to defend them and say things like “video games don’t cause violence.”
I guess I feel like I have to lay out my point like I would academically to talk about something academic? In which case, we need a thesis: there should be less negative reaction to Anita Sarkeesian. And below I’ll explore why!
One Video to Rule Them All
I like that she made it a stand-alone video as well, because it accomplishes much of what she is trying to say in her three videos in one go. I am referring to Anita’s video about the Legend of the Last Princess:
It not only answers the question of “let’s see you do better,” but it also shows exactly how easy it would be to do a different plot – and it points out many of her points all in one video.
When I discussed the Damsels in Distress, I talked about it in terms of the fact that it is lazy storytelling. Anita provides us a new plot, and I did too by talking about making a game based on the life of Merlin, living backwards. Check out my post on that here. It would be so easy to do a different plot, if so many of the plots are the same.
What’s sad is that the third video is where we finally get this take on things. If this had come sooner, or even had been the lead, I think it would have been a little different. Because it is here that Anita provides something created, rather than solely something critical. And we tend to find this easier to accept.
YouTube – Academic?
YouTube is still a pretty new thing. I talked just the other day about how it is only eight years old, and there’s still a lot of things that I remember fondly from before YouTube. But now, there’s one place we go for videos, one platform for people to share them, and that’s YouTube.
And Holly and I have started watching a lot of YouTube channels, so we’re getting to see a lot of what people are doing with the medium now. Channels like SourceFed and Philip DeFranco giving us news, channels like Geek and Sundry and How It Should Have Ended giving entertainment, and channels like the Fine Brothers and CinemaSins doing criticism and commentary.
On the one hand, what Anita Sarkeesian is doing is academic, and in the past would have belonged in an academic journal. Then again, would academia accept her arguments? After all, there isn’t a lot of serious scholarship being done on video games, not with as many video games studied as Anita looks at. But more on this below.
On the other hand, Anita is getting this discussion to the general public, something that academic journals do not accomplish. There’s not a lot of academic reviews happening on YouTube, so part of what Anita Sarkeesian is doing is paving the way for getting academic discussion out to the public. Trying to see if this works on YouTube.
Then, I guess, is the answer that it doesn’t work? Is that why she’s gotten so much backlash? Or is it her topic? Or her results?
Needs More Science!
I use the term “science” loosely I suppose, meaning academic, scientific study of something – in this case video games. Whenever an act of violence happens these days, and for years now, video games seem to get blamed. But there’s never really good scholarship to back this up.
And when there is something, it’s usually referential of only one or two games. If you tell me, even scientifically, that Grand Theft Auto is a violent game, or has bad representations of women, or something along those lines, I haven’t really learned anything new. We kind of know that about Grand Theft Auto.
Similarly, if Anita had only talked about a couple of games, or even, to keep my point going, had only talked about Grand Theft Auto, yeah, there’s some problematic representations of women and violence against women in Grand Theft Auto. So telling us that doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know – they practically use that in the marketing.
However – Anita doesn’t just hit one game. Or ten games. Or just games I’ve heard of. Or just ones I haven’t heard of. She talks about a large sample size of games, takes some time with them, gives them a chance to talk for themselves (albeit briefly, and maybe out of context), and comes to a conclusion.
So do we not like her conclusion? Maybe not, no. But the amount of evidence she has is hard to argue with. So rather than saying the study, or its existence, or its findings, and all the rest, are awful – which seems like so much of the response to the videos – we should be saying, well done for taking video games seriously.
Because if we believe in video games, we kind of have to decide on one thing or another: either video games have no bearing on reality, and do not affect violence, or perceptions of women, or anything else – or they have an impact on society, good and bad, as art, as storytelling, as influence, and things that have an impact get studied scientifically.
I think that video games being taken seriously is important, because I believe we’ll find that, much like rock and roll and comic books and countless other things before them, video games are not the root of all evil. But we won’t get to that conclusion by just saying it, and we won’t get there with lazy scholarship, and we won’t get there through lazy plots in video games, either!
So does it take things like what Anita is doing to get there? Yes. So should she be getting all the hate and vitriol she is? No. Because she’s trying, and that’s important.
In our own small part, our own small slice of the Internet, we’re trying to occasionally take a serious look at video games, fictional characters, science fiction, and the rest of geekdom. I hope we’re maybe a bit more personable than Anita ends up being, but with some grant money like she got, well, with a Masters each, we could do some academic research on games too. But for now, I say, well done Anita, for giving it a try, for taking games seriously, for trying to use YouTube, and for coming up with a new plot to show what things could look like just a little different.