Using Threats as a Springboard

Anita Sarkeesian hasn’t had the easiest time in recent months. Between death threats, rape threats, and all other kinds of horrendous personal attacks, she has been constantly harassed and discriminated against for daring to call out the misogyny inherent in video games. During her talk at the Digital Ethics Symposium, Anita went into a fair amount of detail about the situation she currently faces, instead of delving into the research and work that caused this furor.

Honestly, that was the refreshing part. Video games, while a large source of revenue for the companies that create them, aren’t really that important. Yes, they do provide a forum for people to interact, learn, and explore, but they pale in comparison to interacting in real-world scenarios, and the issue of misogyny in games, while definitely something to address, isn’t as important as misogyny in the physical world.

At this point, I don’t think people can deny that women are portrayed in most video games as objects, designed to titillate the (predominantly) male players. The bridge here is that Anita isn’t really saying that video games are misogynistic, and that’s it. No, instead the discussion should (and has) shifted into the way women are treated in a larger societal context. We live in a society where an entire industry has been male-focused and male-dominated since its inception – the Gameboy has a decidedly masculine name, and is one of the foundational pieces of the video game industry and history.

This focus on males as being the primary targets of video gaming is two things: sexist, and not that smart. We have moved out of the age where it was socially acceptable to treat women like second-class citizens, and both genders need to be treated equally. That’s an established fact, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree with that. The “not that smart” argument is that video game creators are essentially ignoring an entire market for their games by ignoring women. There is no other industry that has such a willful disregard for an entire part of the worldwide population. If Apple decided to just market to men, they would have gone out of business quite a long time ago.

The interesting part about what has happened to Anita is that she has actually accomplished what she set out to do – show that the way women are portrayed in gaming and in video games is horrible. The sad part is that she had to sacrifice so much to do it. I did enjoy when she described the outrage towards her as a “sexist hyper tantrum.” Yes, the threats against her are very real, and need to be treated as such, but it does need to be said that the people who issue such statements should not be given the credibility that they are currently receiving.

Anita noted this – because of the anonymity of the spaces we inhabit on the Internet, people can create situations like this and post threats with impunity. There is a fundamental lack of oversight and responsibility in these spaces, and we clearly aren’t able to police these spaces effectively enough to make them safe.

Hopefully she is able to continue doing her work and research, and use her publicity and attention as a way to effect system change. For being a figurehead for this movement, she deserves nothing less.



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