video games

Anita Sarkeesian: One Brave & Controversial Woman

The CDEP Symposium certainly was very interesting and quite informative. I came out liking and also gaining more knowledge on Anita Sarkeesian and what she goes through because of her “controversial” statements. Being a person that loves to play games, not a gamer, I came out with a different perspective on games that I played previously. I played them to have fun, not really paying any mind to the hidden controversies that they may hide. I also came out with a perspective of just how vulgar and disgusting some individuals can be on one woman who expresses her opinion and yet at the same time plays those very same games she talks about; she doesn’t judge or criticize the people that play but rather the game itself and how women are portrayed in them.

Anita started her talk by talking about a game that was in development, Dinosaur Planet, for the Nintendo 64 (one of my favorite consoles!). One of the main protagonists was a female, named Krystal- she was a strong hero that was capable of fighting even the strongest of foes. The game was in development, but unfortunately never got released on the market. The game designers joked about making Krystal a damsel in distress rather than a hero and soon enough the Star Fox game came along and Fox ended up being the hero and saving the would have been heroin. Fox had now gotten all of her attributes and even her own weapon while the only thing that Krystal was given was more provocative clothing.

Anita was able to shed some light on just how the female protagonist would have been given the lead but was canned and was made into a character that needed all the saving from the villains and the man would be there to help aid her in escaping. She was rather the prize for the male for being able to beat all of the enemies rather than being her own brave self. Back then, the white male was the main audience for game designers and they had to modify things that would be pleasing to that audience no matter what.

Nowadays, however, there has been a major shift in the gaming industry, but it has certainly been a slow shift. The concept of female characters still being portrayed just  like Krystal was is an issue and many women do voice there opinion on that. They voice out that the female character should not be subjected or portrayed liked that but rather with an equal role. Anita still plays video games and does not bash the players who play them but rather the games way of showing the female. Many of those gamers and those involved in Gamergate, though, see her as a threat- as she said they made me into a folk demon or rather “a Disney villain”. People attack her and threaten her by the things she says; they defame her by putting her face on porn pictures and by making fake accounts with her name to bring this negative light.

These people are relentless and do these harsh acts because of what she says. Rather than listen to what she has to say, they go in for the attack. Going back to the whole talk about Krystal and her portrayal, Anita does not say that the game is wrong and that all who play it think the same way about women but rather that women in video games seem to be belittles- they are given a certain role to fulfill. Those cowardly males that don’t bother to even acknowledge her voice simply think that the way to get rid of her is to frustrate her, give her a bad reputation, and to send negative information to everyone. Anita, however, does not let this get to her; yes it is brutal but she learns that even though this all goes on, she is still able to say what she would like about the gaming industry. She is not defaming the gamers or those who play video games, but rather critiquing the industry itself.

Questions:

In class, we spoke about what if that person that is behind that computer screen was brought out to a street corner. Personally, what do you think they would do? Would they still rant and use vulgar language to talk about Anita?

What is your personal view on how women are portrayed within the gaming industry? If Krystal had stayed the main protagonist in that would-be game, would people have received her with open arms or with hostility?

Digital Ethics & Policy Symposium 2014

The 2014 Digital Ethics and Policy symposium brought to light many ethical problems that take place in the digital world. I started the day various speakers and stayed through till the keynote speaker Anita Sarkeesian. This keynote speech gave insight on the power online platforms have on harassment, slander, and much more. Anita gives us a look at how she is affected for simply stating her opinion on video games.

Anita Sarkeesian is known for being one of the main supporters of “GamerGate,” which is a controversy that concerns misogyny, sexism, and harassment in video games. Since stating her opinion, Anita has been the victim of shameful and disgusting harassment by gamers. From what I understand, Anita believes that these games act out this way because they feel threatened by women gamers and what their presence can do to influence the games. She has been unfortunately harassed through direct threats online, being superimposed on pornographic images, and much more. This online community has the idea that if they bring her down through these threats and harassments, she will give up her fight for equality in video games.

However, Anita is almost fueled by these negative comments. What this has done is expose her work and research to a larger group of people. It has essentially made her the face of women equality in video games. She also tackles the main idea of digital ethics. Why do these things happen? Why are they allowed to happen? There is no clear answer to these questions. Loopholes in the legal system along with the community the internet allows users to build, plays a big part in allowing these people to continue their agenda.

Cyber civil rights is being affected by these people online who believe it is “okay” to do these things with no consequences. Anita then spoke about ways to change these things and help improve cyber civil rights. Some of the suggestions she gave included: having a sharable block list, allowing friends of targets to report harassment, option to block any accounts that been recently created, option to block any user who has also been blocked, and blocking anonymous users. These are just some of the simplest changes that can be made in order to stop the harassment and violation of digital civil rights.

Overall the Digital Ethics and Policy symposium was very insightful. It was interesting to see the various views on digital ethics and what can be done to ensure that they are not violated. The event ran smoothly and the speakers were very knowledgeable on their topics. There was a lot of information I was exposed to that gave me a better idea on how communities online can have an impact either negatively or positively on various things. I did wish that Anita had been available for a public Q & A as opposed to the private Q & A. At times the event seemed like it would focus on one particular topic without expanding and giving a more thorough explanation of things. However, I did find the event informative and useful in providing insight on the digital world.

CDEP Symposium: Anita Sarkeesian

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Finally, after all the talk about her, I got to see Anita Sarkeesian speak in person! She has been the topic of discussion in a few of my classes so I had been excited about this event for a while.  This being the second session of the day I went to for the symposium, it was much more crowded than the first one I went to! The whole room was filled and it was nice to see many of my fellow students there.  There were good security measures taken (check in, metal detector), so I felt safe in the crowded room even after all the buzz from her cancelled speech at a previous school.

She was first introduced and then got right into her speech, aided by a powerpoint to go along with it.  She gave a quick overview of Feminist Frequency, which challenges how women are portrayed in video games, and the current state of the gaming industry.  She talked about how the gaming industry is changing to include people of all age, race and gender, straying from the young white male domination.  Yet, many young white males are extremely angered by this and by Anita’s views and have gone to extremes to try and “defend” their gaming worlds.  They have formed a cyber mob, specifically called “gamer gate”, that fight against her and other women like her who stand up for women and their portrayal in these games.

Before the speech, I knew she was being harshly harassed via online, but I didn’t realize how bad it was until she showed examples and told us herself.  They assault her on twitter, get her websites taken down, give out her personal info, flag her pages, threaten her violently and sexually, use pornographic images against her.  She showed us examples and I was shocked at just how graphic some of the harassment was.  She then went into detail about the conspiracy theories (white washing, brainwashing, con artist, etc.) and impersonations made about her.  People make these up to taint her reputation and to try to get others to accept it as fact and see her as some evil “villain.” And not just her either, it’s an effort to discredit all women and to try to break them down so they can’t have say  in the gaming industry.

Some of the things seem crazy to any normal person, but there’s plenty of evidence out there of all these people who believe these things, and that is frightening.  Anita, at the end of her speech, tells us ways that we can help to stop this kind of stuff. There needs to be more of a call for enforcement of cyber civil rights and cyber laws, because crimes online need to be taken more seriously.  We need to listen & believe victims of these cyber crimes, because as anyone there could see, they are very real.  The systems we currently have online to deal with these issues is a joke and isn’t enough.  In a world where our online identities become more and more apart of us, we need to start taking much better precautions.  We all need to help fix this situation, because as Anita said “you can’t be neutral on a moving train” and I completely agree. Women have come a long way in the real world and the virtual world is a big part of our world now, so we need to continue to make forward progress and not let this push us back.

 

How would you compare feminist struggles in the real world vs the virtual world? What were your reactions to the harassment of Anita based on what she showed us, if you attended her speech?

 

Feminist Frequency Is Brought To Loyola

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?

Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian (third from left) gladly took a photo with my friends and I (second from left).

By Sarah Erickson

Escaping the Real World

The whole idea of LambdaMoo was super interesting to me first because I had never heard of it before our class, and it was already on all of our laptops.  Secondly I was so interested because of how much I enjoyed it. I felt like a real gamer, hunched over my laptop weaving my way through this virtual home. I totally understand how people can spend hours a day on this. The whole software of LambdaMoo seems super dated, I was so used to images and high def graphics when on the computer. But LambdaMoo made me think much more about what I was doing and where I was going within the game. It took me some time to understand how to communicate with other users and interact with actual objects. During my time on LambdaMoo I got seriously lost and confused and stuck in the closet AGAIN. I began communicating with another user who helped me get out of the closet and even gave me a code to a compass of the house to help me navigate better. Although the user continued to follow me throughout much of my LambdaMoo adventures, which was slightly stalkerish, which is elevated by not being able to see all the users your interacting with and who are even in the room with you. My favorite part of the game was the intro descriptions that you were given after entering a different room or area. They were very detailed and helped me imagine the room or area as if I was staring at it on the screen. Although I had never perviously heard of LambdaMoo, after playing I began to understand the attraction to virtual worlds and being able to explore. It truly becomes an escape from the actual world.

Where in time is new media?

I can’t recall my very first encounter with a computer, but the most vivid memories of my early computing experiences feature one woman—Carmen Sandiego. I spent hours hunting that devious thief throughout all sorts of historical periods, never managing to catch her in the end. For anyone who did not moonlight as a pint-sized sleuth in their childhood, I’m referring to Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time, a 1997 reboot of a 1989 point-and-click adventure game. (A cursory Google search shows that it’s still available for purchase on Amazon, so if anyone has a spare PC running Windows 98, you’re all set to join in the fun.)

Where it all began for me: my first great computing love.

 
This was probably about the same time my oldest brother got his original Playstation, the very first video game console in our house. Of course, being the youngest sister, I wasn’t allowed to use it without explicit permission and supervision by my brothers (and Crash Bandicoot is just not as fun by yourself anyways). So, after extensive whining, my parents got me Carmen Sandiego, something I was able to play on my own with little assistance.

Although at the time I didn’t think much about it, looking back at these experiences now I can see how astounding new media truly are. In The Network Society, Jan van Dijk characterizes new media as being integrated and interactive. Integrated refers to the structure of new media; at the most basic level, data is combined as text, images, and sound into one medium. Carmen Sandiego was the first video game I ever encountered, but what I viewed as a toy was really a sophisticated piece of software. The interactivity of the point-and-click style game, despite being limited in comparison to today’s understanding of the term, provided me with hours of entertainment.

Reflecting now on how enthralled I was then by such a relatively simple piece of technology makes me think about young children today who have grown up around all this new media their entire lives. In the late 1990s and early 2000s I was generally aware, despite being young, that things like AIM, iPods, and cellphones were new, exciting types of media. I wonder if kids today have that same kind of feeling. Does a 6-year-old playing on his mom’s iPad realize that the new iPhone is “the next big thing”? Are they even aware that there was a time when we weren’t constantly surrounding by new and evolving technology?

Then again, haven’t we always been surrounded by new media in some way? All things were new once, from smartphones to cassette tapes to telegrams; maybe kids today aren’t as different as I thought.

 

Hannah Otto