On November 7th, Loyola University Chicago had the opportunity and pleasure of having gamer and feminist, Anita Sarkeesian, as a guest speaker for their fourth annual international symposium on digital ethics. Sarkeesian runs an educational non-profit organization called Feminist Frequency in which she discusses issues in the video game culture regarding the representation and attitudes towards women. Like many other feminist speakers, Sarkeesian has gained a lot of attention from the media due to horrible and grotesque threats that she has received from people who disagree with her (specifically, gamers from Utah State University, 4Chan, Reddit, and GamerGate).
As an attendee of my school’s event, I was extremely eager to see Anita Sarkeesian and experience her presentation in person. I was interested to hear the words that have infused so much anger in some gamers that they feel the need to make horrendous threats to her.
One of the larger issues in the gaming world that Sarkeesian addresses in her Youtube videos and at the digital ethics symposium is the portrayal of female characters as damsels in distress. Many games feature female characters as scantily clad, dependent women in need of a macho male figure to save them. Sarkeesian challenges this norm by asking: why can’t there be a female hero, who isn’t sexualized, and does not need to rely on a male character? Some gamers retaliate and say that games are not for women and that they enjoy viewing these damsels in distress.
These same gamers are the ones who have used “tactics of defamation”, as Sarkeesian calls them, in order to bring her down and alienate women from the gaming culture. Sarkeesian has been a victim of impersonation hoaxes, the spreading of false information, conspiracy theories, loaded questions, and victim blaming. Despite the threats and ridicule that Sarkeesian has received, she remains cool, collected, and firm in her believes. I find these tactics of defamation extremely misogynistic and, honestly, evil. I don’t know how someone could hate another person so much that they would resort to these actions. I am pretty confident that no matter how much I dislike someone, I wouldn’t ever do something so vile.
Why does poor representation of women in video games matter? Sarkeesian and her supporters believe that video games are a reflection and window to the norms and values of society. If we can change women’s representation in video games and shift the attitudes towards female characters, we can change society’s attitudes towards women.
I find Sarkeesian extremely admirable because she has classily handled crude remarks, braved violent threats, and still manages to speak passionately and publicly about her values. It takes a strong soul to manage and continue such controversial work when in the public spotlight, and she has weathered it beautifully.
Do you agree that video games are a reflection of our current values in society? If so, what values do you see being reflected in popular video games?
By Sarah Erickson