What’s (Not) Wrong with Critical Fandom


By Kristin Bezio

(Originally posted in Playing at Leadership)

About a week or so ago, I received a new comment on an old TLF post on Anita Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Videogames” project. The original post was written before Sarkeesian actually released any of her videos (there are subsequent posts on TLF that talk about each video once they were released), and has garnered more attention than any other post I’ve made at TLF, which bothers me a little if only because it’s since been dated by the release of Sarkeesian’s videos (Post #2, Post #3, Post #4) and I’d like to see people follow the conversation, not react to the original post. But that little complaint aside…

This most recent comment bothers me quite a bit, and I was having trouble figuring out why, exactly, since it’s a far cry from the kind of internet troll harassment that people talking about Sarkeesian’s work usually get (i.e. no threats or demands for sandwiches). However, there are several things about it that bother me.

First, the assumption that “No one has yet come to the realization that this anita sarkiseen woman has done it for the attention and the money? Thanks internet for giving this woman a free ride in cash and picks with universities” is irrelevant. Yes, Sarkeesian is making money with this series. So what? People make money doing what they do for a living. This is what she does for a living. The idea that somehow her publicizing her work and speaking about it in public is a sign of corruption is ludicrous. I talk about gender and games, I publish about games, I teach about games, and part of the reason I get paid is because of that. It’s my job. Sarkeesian may be self-employed, but talking about “Tropes vs. Women” is nevertheless her job and she should get paid for it, irrespective of whether or not anyone agrees with her opinions.

Second, this sentence: “Woman like Anita are a waste of time and nothing more than a media-eyelight eyesore forcing their way on how games should be.” Any sentence that contains the phrase “Wom[e]n like…” should immediately set off warning bells, since it presumes that the gender of the person doing something is relevant (hint: it usually isn’t). In addition, the idea that anyone’s opinion on “how games should be” shouldn’t be made available to the general public is absurd. Anyone who plays games or wants to play games is allowed, by virtue of being human, to have an opinion about what they think “games should be.” That doesn’t mean the industry is going to listen to them, but they’re welcome to declare their opinion anyway.

Third, the commenter claims that “This is why innovation in games is getting more stale and less appealing to because of those like Anita, who believe the game world should be the real world and reflect their wants and needs.” Um. The game world does and should reflect the real world and reflect the “wants and needs” of the people who play in it. That doesn’t mean that all game worlds are going to reflect the “wants and needs” of Sarkeesian, but that there ought to be game worlds that do – as well as game worlds that do not. Gaming is a new medium in the grand scheme of media, so it’s still (slowly) playing catch-up on this one, but other forms of popular culture (tv, movies, books) already reflect multiple worlds and worldviews, and it’s not only appropriate and desirable, but inevitable that game worlds will, too. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Finally, this:
‘Selfish americans are what is the true underline issues, not guppy-politics on how the smallest inch of mesh fabric on a female game model is a derangement to all the poor and unfortunate real-life woman out there. We waste so much of our money, time, and attention on things like optional video-games that don’t matter in the whole-run where us as a nation is actually going. Instead we’re like brainless sheep, following the face of random feminist women or anyone that tickles our ears with their ideas and agendas. We have become color-coded followers of the popular social “norms” of those who just want to ram their ideals quiet frankly, up our butts. I surely do miss old america, the new america is nothing more than a joke.’

This commenter clearly has no concept of how popular culture reflects and shapes society, and I’m fairly certain I’m not going to be able to convince him (presumably) that it does, since he appears to be one of those people who doesn’t realize that his opinions about the universe have been constructed by his life-long exposure to media (including games) and society. Clearly his opinions were plopped into his brain by Truth Itself. That aside, the commenter claims to be above the rest of us who “waste” our time and money on games, yet has obviously decided to “waste” his time reading and then commenting on a post about gaming because he clearly does consider it important.

I am also curious what, exactly, “old america” is supposed to be. America in the 1950s when women were meant to stay in the kitchen providing for their husbands and children, and suffered from severe depression as a result of oppressive social norms? The 1850s, when slavery was still legal? Or maybe 1776, when the Founding Fathers chose to create a nation based on the very principles of free speech that the commenter seems to think apply only to him and not to me or to Sarkeesian?

Yes, it is true that people who are in extreme poverty should care more about food than videogames. But the vast majority of Americans are not – fortunately for us – in that category and do choose to dispose of our time by playing games (I’d imagine, the commenter included). And since we do, it is not only our right, but our responsibility as socially conscious and conscientious individuals to make sure that medium represents our viewpoints and does positive work toward the shaping of our sociopolitical ideals. Popular culture shapes our world in far more ways than we even realize, and taking responsibility for demanding that pop culture be accountable to its audience is a vital part of our society’s ideological formation. Yes, there are other very important concerns: education, poverty, crime, etc., but games (like any other popular media) impact the abstract ones: racism, sexism, homophobia. And if we can use games to change our society to become less bigoted, then that is a laudable and valuable goal.

Do I think that Anita Sarkeesian is the best person to do that? Probably not. But she is doing it, or at least trying to, and the very fact that her voice is out there and public has perhaps done more in the last few years for starting the conversation about gender equality in the gaming industry than a lot of other, less controversial and less public voices. Ultimately, I guess my stance has changed since that first TLF post: I’m a feminist gamer, and I’m all about Anita Sarkeesian.

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Comments (4)

I disagree with that poster, but I do understand some of the underlying sentiments (much like how I understand Sarkeesian’s underlying points but disagree with everything she says).

The “Sarkeesian does it for the money” is a valid point if you compare her to Glenn Beck. He also does what he does for money, and in the process, he also makes the world a worse place to live in. Sure, he has the RIGHT to do it, but he shouldn’t be celebrated for taking the most populist position possible and then creating a business and a personality cult around it.

There is an abyss of difference between people like Sarkeesian/Beck and you. You – and your compatriots on this site – have something important and well thought out to say, and you SHOULD make money from saying it. Sarkeesian seems to have started with “I want to make money, what should I say to make money?”. Also known as ‘the George Lucas creative process’.

She should be lambasted by gamers and feminists alike for ruining what could have been a constructive discussion, much like gun owners should disown Ted Nugent and car owners should tell Jeremy Clarkson to shut up. [full disclosure: I own neither guns nor cars]

Getting a teenage gamer boy to sit down and talk about depictions of women in video games post-Sarkeesian is as impossible as starting a civil discourse on gun rights with that video of Ted Nugent waving two machine guns around and screaming about assasinating the president.

“Old America” means back in the days where Cowboy George Washington fought the islamofascist Mexicans at Pearl Harbor in his Camaro with his M16 and everything was better and Lord Baby Jesus ruled supreme. Jeez, what’s so hard to understand about that?

You can’t blame Sarkeesian for the challenge of talking to men about sexism in games. Talk to any woman who has ever brought up sexism and you’ll learn that there is often a visceral, defensive reaction against it. I don’t think it is fair to compare her to Glenn Beck, especially if you lean left. She’s not crazy and she’s not spinning insane conspiracy theories. And she’s hardly in it for the money. If you want to get rich, writing about feminism is not the way to do it. My issue with Sarkeesian is that she doesn’t spend enough time defending her very valid points, and instead just piles on examples as if Princess Peach wearing pink was equally sexist as the recurring theme of having to kill your girlfriend in games. I’ve enjoyed Kristin’s thoughtful criticism of Tropes Vs. Women, but her beyond her most of the criticism is “nuh-uh! games are not sexist! You’re dumb and wear lipstick!” Instead of bitching about her, I’d like to see someone do a better analysis of sexism in games, maybe one that could potentially convince male gamers that maybe the fact that most female characters are victims and/or sex bombs is a tiny bit of a problem.

“Any sentence that contains the phrase “Wom[e]n like…” should immediately set off warning bells, since it presumes that the gender of the person doing something is relevant”

Boys and girls are raised quite differently, to really say gender means nothing is to ignore those differences as well as the biological ones that run even deeper than those. Might as well say that no group’s values, norms and relative experiences matter. The Black experience doesn’t exist! It’s a myth like the female experience and the male experience! All humans are identical!

That’s how ridiculous that sounds.

[…] featured comment is in response to a cross-post here about another comment from TLF. It suggests that by pointing out the problematic nature of the phrase “wom[e]n […]

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