Anita Sarkeesian, Why Do Gamers Hate You?
In her web docu-series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” Anita Sarkeesian attempts to examine and critically analyze the most commonly found tropes and stereotypes of female characters in video games to ultimately showcase how sexism exists in gaming. In the first of her twelve part series, Anita discusses how the game Dinosaur Planet was originally set to star and center around Krystal, a magical wolf girl tasked with traveling through time to save her world, only for the game to scrapped and changed into Star Fox Adventures in which Krystal was reduced to a damsel in distress. In her own terms, Anita also gives her clear definition of what exactly the damsel in distress trope means. Her video also examines the classic Super Mario and Legend of Zelda games and attempts to illustrate how both the characters Peach and Zelda are victims of misogynistic writing and portrayed as helpless characters. In her closing statements of the final moments of her first installment, Anita states that the frequent use of women as damsels in distress has larger ramifications that affect our social beliefs and encourages backwards thinking.
To the unknowing viewer, Anita Sarkeesian’s “Damsel in Distress: Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” the first installment of Sarkeesian’s documentary may seem like a well researched and thought out presentation on exposing sexism in video games, however despite good intentions and an interesting concept, all Sarkeesian has managed to “prove” is that she ruined the potential for respectful and open dialogue on gender in gaming. Anita Sarkeesians’s “Damsel in Distress” video does a poor job of presenting sexism in gaming by illustrating how unknowledgeable she is about games, how she unfairly discredits information to push forward her agenda, and how she lies to viewers through omission. Sarkeesian’s failure to see anything beyond clearly defined black and white terms and projection of her thoughts makes it difficult for many gamers to respect her work or even take her efforts seriously.
Sarkeesian likes to pretend that she is a frequent gamer and has claimed to be thoroughly researching games in great detail in countless interviews and videos, but unfortunately in her video, ”Damsels in Distress” she illustrates her lack of knowledge about games. Showing her ignorance in regards to games, Anita presents entirely incorrect information about her own examples. The video makes a big fuss about women as used as metaphorical “balls” tossed between male protagonists and villains in a battle for ownership and cites examples of this. In her montage of women treated as “possessions” she never presents any games in which women are treated as objects metaphorically thrown between male characters. In the large majority of the games she cites, female characters are captured because the villains are trying to harm or capture the beloved ones of the player character for their own nefarious reasons not because the female character is treated as an object of ownership by the male protagonist and villain. In her montage of these games she even cites Kid Icarus 2 in which the main antagonist is female. She must have either simply made assumptions about from clips she’s seen or never paid attention to storylines because had she done enough research or even played that games she would know how or why the women in these games are not treated as “objects”. For someone who has said, “I have been a fan of the Mario and Zelda franchises for most of my life…” Sarkeesian successfully proves that she has not played most if any of the recent games she’s cites. In the video she wrongfully discusses how the character Zelda, from The Legend of Zelda franchise, is portrayed as an inherently weak character throughout the series of the game but had Sarkeesian played any one of the Zelda games in the last 10 years she would know that the main reason that Zelda is targeted and captured is because she is often the most powerful person standing in the way of Ganondorf’s nefarious plans. She even fails to mention that Zelda is imbued with the essence and power of a goddess further illustrating her lack of understanding and knowledge of her own example.
Sarkeesian makes it clear that she sees the damsel in distress trope to be misogynistic but in her quest to further her agenda, Sarkeesian unfairly ignores and discredits information that works against her theories. In the video there is a large section in which she discusses the character Princess Peach from the Super Mario Series and how she is one of the worst representations of women in gaming. To make her point she states that Peach has been captured in thirteen of the fourteen games which she deems to be the core games. Thirteen out of fourteen seems to be a large percentage initially but she chooses to ignore the fact that Peach is in forty-three different Super Mario games and most of which she is a playable character. On top of this, Sarkeesian has no authority in what is considered canon. She didn’t have any input in making the series so how would she know what the developers have deem to be unofficial if they themselves have never discussed alternate universes within the Super Mario franchise. Sarkeesian makes it increasingly clear that in order to pursue her agenda she will discredit and ignore facts to make her points. In discussing Peach as a poor character, she states that her first appearance as a playable character in Super Mario Bros 2 was purely by accident and thus irrelevant to the story’s canon. She states that because the game was originally inspired by the game Doki Doki Panic 2, in which the game had four playable characters,Peach was simply there to fill a space. Once again one cannot suddenly determine that Peach was an accidental character in a series based on one’s inferences about a topic. If that were the case then why weren’t characters like Boo or Yoshi used instead? By this logic one could say that Boo and Yoshi weren’t playable characters because they were accidentally excluded. In the article “ Why Does the Gaming Industry Have a Problems With Female Protagonists”, notable game writer, Rhianna Pratchett discusses how developing games “…are not about taking risks…”. Sarkeesian fails to recognize the amount of time and money it takes to develop a character: developers don’t accidentally decide to create characters on whims.
Credibility as an author is detrimental to the success any authors critiques, but Sarkeesian’s video ruins viewers ability to believe Sarkeesian and she prove she is not about lying through omission to trick her audience. From the very top of the video Sarkeesian omits information to make her points seem more valid. One of the first examples she presents to discuss women being reduced to helpless damsels is the history of the game Dinosaur Planet and how it was changed to become Star Fox Adventures. The entire time she discusses Dinosaur Planet she makes it seem as though the game was solely centered on Krystal and fails to mention that game was to be centered between both Krystal and her brother, Sabre, who happened to be similar in character design to Fox McCloud of the popular Star Fox series. She tries to paint it as though the game creators threw away Krystal’s game because she was a female character and that the new version of Krystal in Star Fox Adventures was redesigned to be more sexualized and weak, however the reality is that due to the popularity of the Star Fox series and the similarity of Sabre and Cloud, Nintendo decided that it would be more successful under the pre-existing franchise rather than releasing an entirely new series. Also in Sarkeesian’s video she states that the new game robs Krystal and the player of using her to further paint how Krystal’s alleged new weakness was derogatory towards women. She fails to mention that Krystal is playable character for a brief amount of time and that she has to guide Fox as he is incapable of figuring how to use her magical staff.
As someone who has a distinct personal preference for games with thoughtfully developed female characters, I too wish for an increase of empowering female characters in games. Anita makes some interesting points but fails to support any of her claims. Her attempt at an expose has not only enraged the gaming community but has made it increasingly difficult to facilitate dialogue between gamers in regards to gender in gaming. Her difficulty in seeing anything beyond black and white terms and projection of her own thoughts make it hard for most gamers to take her seriously. She thinks the solution is to just make games with strong characters but if she’s really trying to change people’s perceptions her focus should be on developers making quality games with female leads not just female led games for the sake of having them. Her black and white thought process coupled with the fact she makes a number of factual errors her video doesn’t make a great case for what she’s trying to say. Anita deserves respect for trying to point something out for the benefit of games but her lack of gaming knowledge, projected interpretations and misrepresented information frankly make her seem annoying and off putting. Regardless of how well intentioned social critics like Anita Sarkeesian are, at the end of the day no one wants to take advice from a “noob”.