Author: mmadhavan1

Anita Sarkeesian and the Silencing of Women Online

Anita Sarkeesian during an episode of Feminist Frequency

I first heard Anita Sarkeesian’s name when I was a sophomore in high school. I was just beginning to take an interest in feminism and joined a number of online communities that discussed the topic, such as Jezebel. A friend of mine who played video games told me about Anita Sarkeesian and her YouTube series, Feminist Frequency. My friend was a feminist as well and told me to check out the series. Although I have never been much of a gamer, I still was enlightened and inspired by her videos. By analyzing video games, she highlighted all the frustrating things I was beginning to notice about the society I lived in. While it made me extremely mad to realize how much sexism was present in the gaming world and all of society, it inspired me that Sarkeesian was not cynical, bitter, or hopeless about these things. She truly believed that by being critical of these aspects, a positive change could be made. A similiar theme emerged in her keynote speech on friday, where she discussed the vicious backlash she has faced online from angry gamers. From her speech, I realized that the world of gaming has become a subject that women are still being silenced on and the internet has become a powerful tool in this silencing. But Sarkeesian also explained how we as a society can change the world of gaming for the better as well as make the internet a safer and less oppresive place.

She began her speech with a clip from her first episode of Feminist Frequency, about the trope of the damsel in distress. She makes the specific disclaimer that it is possible to enjoy media while being simultaneously critical of it. The damsel in distress trope, she explains, keeps women from being heroes in their own right and makes them entirely dependent on a male hero. Additionally, they are usually placed in a sexualized role. It would be easy to say that these are “just video games” and don’t really matter in the big picture. But as Sarkeesian points out, the video game industry makes millions of dollars each year and is actually bigger than Hollywood. The demeaning representation of women in games is indicative of much larger problems in the gaming industry and in society. Astra Taylor writes that “…the Internet reflects and often amplifies real world inequities in striking ways.” The same concept can be applied to video games. Their content is a reflection of the attitudes of creators and consumers. Placing women in marginal and sexualized roles in games just shows that our society views women as sexual objects and ignores their individual merit. We can see this inequity in the gaming industry, through the experience of game creator Zoe Quinn. Because she received a positive review from a gaming journalist, she was accused of sleeping with him. Her merit was reduced to her sexuality. Sarkeesian notes that there is a common assumption that if a woman succeeds in a male dominated field, she must be cheating or not deserve it somehow. The sexist content of video games and the lack of female characters also reflects how we see female gamers. Specifically, we ignore and demean their role as gamers. Sarkeesian notes that women are essentially told that games are “not for us.” When she was a child, her parents didn’t want her to have a Gameboy, because as the name implied, they were for boys. The marketing and content of video games is aimed solely towards straight males. This completely ignores the large number of female gamers (and as Sarkeesian points out, is a bad business practice.)

While Sarkeesian’s arguments and viewpoints may seem perfectly rational to most, a segment of the gaming community has decided that her videos are an attack on video games and gaming culture as a whole. They see her attempts to reform the gaming industry as ruining or “stealing” the gaming world from men. This has resulted in a terrifying and vicious digital vendetta against Sarkeesian. In her speech, she used her experience to explain how women are discredited, silenced, and attacked on the Internet. Women who speak up about feminism have faced violent backlash even back when they were protesting for basic voting rights. But the anonymity of the web makes it a new and powerful tool in attacking women. Sarkeesian has faced rape and death threats, hacking of her personal information, sexual harrassment in the form of lewd false images, impersonation, and slander. A number of conspiracy theories propose she has stolen money, brainwashed people, or even faked her own death threats. This is all because she made videos criticizing the misogyny in gaming culture. (This response certainly serves to reinforce her point.)

Online communities such as 4-chan allow angry gamers to gang up on Sarkeesian without fear of being caught. They can abuse and humiliate her without ever coming in actual contact with her. They can easily spread a large amount of misinformation and rumors, making them appear as truths. They make Sarkeesian out to be a radical and irrational man-hater in order to discredit her and feminism as a whole. The sexual nature of the attacks on her also reflects an attempt to humiliate and demean her into nothing but a sexual object. And Sarkeesian reminds the audience that she is far from the only case of backlash against women. When Jennifer Hepler criticized Grand Theft Auto for being sexist, she was harassed into leaving her job at Bioware. A simple tweet from Adria Richards led to death threats. There is a trend of zero tolerance to women expressing their views online or taking aim against sexism. Anything that attacks the status quo is met with violent resistance from those invested in it. The idea of gaming changing is highly threatening to the people attacking Sarkeesian and as she says, they would rather believe ridiculous conspiracy theories than confront their views.

While all of this is highly angering, Sarkeesian still seemed calm and collected as she discussed her experience. It was so inspiring to see that everything she faced has not made her give up. She says that although there are days she feels like leaving gaming altogether, she still loves and enjoys video games. Sarkeesian believes that the industry is changing and beginning to recognize the role of female developers and gamers. Much of this backlash is just an angry reaction to the larger changes occuring in the video game industry. She also sets forth ways in which the online harassment and assault so many women face can be combatted. Laws need to be updated to include gender based hate speech and cyber civil rights need to be established. Harassment, stalking, and invasion of privacy have extended to the web and the law needs to better address this fact. The internet can be a tool of harassment and assault against women but it doesn’t have to be. The same is true of the sexism in video games. The most important thing we can do, Sarkeesian notes, is listen to and believe women about their experiences rather than silence them. That is what will ultimately create a more equal and respectful world online and in gaming.

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LambdaMoo

The first thing I experienced using Lamdamoo was an overwhelming sense of blindness. There are no images or visual cues, just white text on a black screen. There were only words to set the scene of a closet or living room and I had to imagine these things for myself, as if I were reading a book. In fact, Lamdamoo was almost like a “choose your own adventure” book, with different commands opening up different chapters. At one point, I ended up in some sort of office with someone warning me about a cranky editor. Having just come from a house, I felt like I had walked into an entirely new story. It was difficult not being able to see where I was going or visualize how all the different areas were connected. I found myself struggling to put together a mental map of the world I was in. When I heard that Lambdamoo was a virtual community, I suppose a part of me expected it to visually mimick the physical world. I certainly was not expecting a game with no graphics at all or with a large amount of reading.

This definetly affected the sense of community I felt playing the game. It was harder for me to imagine myself in this space with other people when I couldn’t see them or what they were doing there. I had no visuals of who these people were, like avatars or profile pictures. They were completely anonymous aside from their user names. It definetly reminded me of how anonymous the internet truly is. You could talk to people on Lamdamoo with absolutely no clue as to who they were in the real world. It reminded me of the commercial we watched in class about how the internet meant the end of gender, race, and age. Modern online communities make these physical traits fairly noticeable with pictures, stats, and avatars. But in Lambdamoo, you couldn’t judge people based on these demographics. It really was an anonymous community.

The lack of directions and clear commands also made it difficult to navigate and understand this world. I didn’t know the scope of what I could do in each space. The text would tell me what was around me but didn’t give me specific directions on what I was supposed to or how to do it. Almost every command I typed was not understood. I suppose I could have looked up directions online, but I almost felt like this was cheating. I felt like part of the fun of the game was trying to figure out how to play it. I kept getting stuck in different places, not knowing how to proceed forward or make anything happen. All of this made the world of Lambdamoo feel very mysterious and foreign. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced anything like it.

The Possibilities of Big Data

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A scale model of Chicago at the Big Data exhibit

Before going to this exhibit, I had never heard of the term Big Data or knew anything about what it meant. It is interesting that when I first heard the term, I assumed it must be something bad or corrupt. So many terms like “big business” and “big agriculture” are used negatively. At first, I was expecting to see something which was critical of how data was being collected or used. I thought it would involve people or corporations exploiting personal data for profits, something Facebook has been routinely scrutinized for doing. As Dannah Boyd points out, technology tends to be in the hands of corporations seeking to maximize profits. I was definetly surprised when I learned that the exhibit showcased the possibilities of Big Data to improve city life for everyone. Of course when I first began exploring the exhibit, I felt alarmed by how much data is really stored and collected for use by others. We tend to think of the messages we send and what we do on our new media devices as being confined to our screens and those of the people we communicate with.

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Some examples of our new media usage which are collected as data


Seeing this graphic especially made me realize how so much of what I think is just pointless information that just floats into cyberspace is actually something valuable which is organized and stored. I would have never believed that someone’s tweets about long commutes or uncleared roads could actually result in action taken to resolve those problems. There is definitely an amount of creepiness associated with your posts on social media being seen by someone other than who it was intended for. In the case of the article I linked earlier, we can easily imagine how having Facebook employees reading your personal messages for advertising purposes would be invasive and unwanted. But what if your data is being read for the purpose of improving life for you and everyone? Is it still an invasion of privacy or is it worth it in order to build a better city?

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This display discussed buildings in Chicago which play a role in Big Data and digital networks

I was also intrigued by how the seemingly invisible data we produce is still grounded in the physical world as shown by this display: The quote “It’s where the internet happens” is particularly telling. New media is not entirely removed from its surroundings and the physical world. You never think of data really traveling through the physical world, and the fact that it can be tracked to a single building in the city is very eye opening. It also can be alarming to remember that what we send out on new media goes through intermediaries and not directly to a source. Again, the sense of a third party being involved in your interactions can be off putting. But in seeing this part of the exhibit, I felt more intrigue than alarm. I found it amazing how architecture and technology are beginning to intersect. In next week’s reading, William J. Mitchell writes that architecture “…serves as the constructed ground for encountering and extracting meaning from…digital information through global networks.” The physical city of Chicago and its buildings and neighborhoods support a continuous flow of data. It is almost a layer of the city itself. It makes sense that this data which the city is filled with should go back to improving that very city.
Big Data obviously offers both utopian and dystopian possibilities. On one hand, it could lead to corporate exploitation or even government surveillance. On the other hand, it could make our lives more convenient and even improve society for many people. After leaving the exhibit, I was fascinated by all the possibilities of Big Data for the city of Chicago, but still somewhat wary of the negatives ways data is being used. Do you think Big Data is more likely to create a utopian or dystopian reality?​

A Reluctant Tweeter

I didn’t start using Twitter until last November, less than a year ago, long after it had become popular. I wasn’t unaware of the platform or opposed to it before that but I never saw the appeal. A lot of people at my school used it, but none of my close friends did. One tendency of mine regarding social media is that I only really care about being connected to people who I am close with in real life. I don’t see the point of “following” people I barely know and being updated about their lives constantly. I would occasionally use my sister’s twitter to read tweets from comedians or joke accounts, just because I thought they were funny. When I came to college, a friend managed to talk me into opening an account. I followed some joke accounts and my circle of friends at college. I have probably only tweeted about 7 or 8 times since I joined Twitter. I mainly just scroll through my news feed looking at other’s tweets. I rarely see anything of interest to be honest, which I why this assignment was the first time I had opened my Twitter app in about a month. I have never really used Twitter as a news source, unless I happen to see an interesting article linked on my feed.

I found this tweet which contained almost 4 layers of information from Jimmy Fallon regarding tonight’s show.

While I don’t use Twitter much, I am not opposed or disapproving of this form of media. Twitter is an incredibly useful tool for quickly sharing information and news. It is an easy way for news sources to share stories and update breaking ones. While this speed of news sharing can lead to innacuracy, it does allows people to be better aware of what is going on in the world. Overall, I think its a very convenient tool. And I think Dibbel makes an interesting point that Twitter is a way to capture “the fleeting thought.” I think its great and valuable for a person to be able to share and document their fleeting thoughts. Yes, some of them will be mundane and shallow, but as Shirky notes, any new media brings both intellectual and throwaway material with it. My uninterest in Twitter is mostly due to me having other direct news sources and that I guess I just don’t really care about my friend’s fleeting thoughts. (Sorry guys.) Which leads to my larger opinion- our interactions with media like Twitter reflect who we are more than they shape who we are. Twitter doesn’t make people share useless and shallow thoughts or updates about their day. It’s just a very convenient platform for people who enjoy sharing that kind of information with everyone they know. Most people I know who update Twitter constantly love talking about themselves in real life too. I’m a pretty reserved and private person, so I don’t update social media profiles very often. I don’t see the value in sharing that with people. I disagree with Carr that Google or any other new media makes us “stupid.” Tools like Twitter can be used in a variety of ways which are dependant on the user. I have a friend who uses Twitter solely to get updates on financial markets. Others use it to link to long form news articles. I think it is easy to forget that we do have control as individuals over how we use new media and how it affects us. We don’t have to let Twitter impact our brains negatively. This article offers some tips on how to not be consumed by Twitter

Do you think our personality and tendencies in real life influence how we use new media and the extent to which we use it? Does new media change our tendencies and even our personality? Are there more positive possibilities of new media like Twitter or do the consequences outweigh the potential positives?

Growing up on the Internet

I first used a computer when I was about five years old and my usage was supervised and restricted by my parents. I was not allowed on the internet, nor did I have much interest in it at the time. I used the computer to play the few (educational) games my parents bought me. Thinking back now, I realize that these games were crudely designed and worked extremely slow compared to contemporary video and computer games. But at the time, they seemed like magic to me. As a child, I could not understand how pictures, sounds, and entire games could fit in a little disk. I didn’t recognize the difference between a physical computer disk and the media which was on it.

I imagine that my reaction to CD games would be quite different if I were an adult at the time. While it may have been relatively new to everyone, my age and mental capacity meant that I had a distinctly different experience of this new media. I also had no memory of a world without that technology, the way adults would have. As far as I was concerned, computers were just a fact of life. In a way, they weren’t anymore new to me than anything else in the world. Gitleman and Pilgree note that new media must be considered in its historical context. I think this is true on a personal level as well. We cannot analyze our experiences with new media without considering the context we experience them in. Our age, beliefs, or culture all affect how we interact with new media. Everyone experiences new media in a personalized and distinct way.

When I first began using the internet was when I began to experience a distinct sense that what I was using was “new” and that it was a change from the past. I began playing interactive computer games which allowed me to communicate and play with other users. While I used to see the computer as an object isolated from the rest of the world, I now understood that it could actually be a way of communicating and connecting with people. And unlike the telephone, you could connect with a large number of people. It was my first experience of what you could call “social media.” Never before had I been connected with a group of people, without knowing them or seeing them face to face. New media changes how we think about human interaction and communication. This is especially true for children who are still forming their social selves. Having grown up with the internet, our generation learned about human interaction in a way that was different than any other generation before. The rules were different. It was quite easy (and potentially dangerous) to develop a friendship with someone you had never met before. Gintleman and Pilgree state that while new media has potential, it also carries an amount of risk. I had online friends as a child, but I was acutely aware of the risks involved. Growing up with the internet meant that I had to be protected from a whole new set of dangers. I think this greatly affected how I thought about strangers and friends. I think the social development of children can change dramatically with the introduction of a new media form. Each generation experiences different forms of media at different times in their life. The new media they experience in their youth can greatly shape who they become.

Meghana Madhavan

Discussion Questions:

1. How does age or generation shape our reactions to new media? Are younger generations more open to new media than older ones?
2. Can children be adversely affected by new media? Should we encourage or discourage new media usage among young children?

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html?pagewanted=all This article takes an interesting look at some of the more subtle effects that social media can have on kids and their friendships