Sunday, May 24, 2015

The hypocrisy of Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian is, essentially, the face of the modern feminist movement of depicting video games as inherently sexist and misogynist to the core, painting both the video game industry and gamers as lowlife scum who hate women and consider them nothing more than sex objects. Sarkeesian has been enormously successful in this task, destroying most of the credibility that video gaming has painfully gained during the past decades, devolving it back into the "stone age" of video gaming (from the non-gaming public point of view), where gamers are lonely sex-starved nerds, and games are little more than just digital porn to satisfy them. And on top of that, she has got rich by playing the victim when gamers have protested against such an egregiously stereotypical and false depiction. (There's basically nothing that gamers can do to fix this. If they wouldn't protest, all those false claims would go uncontested. If they do protest, she plays the victim and is showered with pity money and awards. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. There's no winning this fight.)

Sarkeesian has made a half dozen videos (over a span of over two years, even though her initial promise was to make over a dozen videos over a span of about a half year or so, but never mind that) hammering on this concept. Games are inherently sexist, female characters are always treated as objects for the player to abuse, and so on and so on.

Then she goes on and undermines her own claims by starting a sub-series on positive female characters in video games. But never mind that. Let's examine what she considers "positive female characters".

The first video deals with a game named "The Scythian". She describes the playable character as follows:
It’s not just in the visual sense that the Scythian lacks clear definition. We know very little about her history, and nothing about why she has undertaken the quest to defeat an ancient evil. While games often give us images of heroes who are fated to defeat evil forces, it’s rare for these heroes of myth to be women. Like many video game heroes, the Scythian is essentially a silent protagonist, a figure defined primarily by her actions, which makes her a blank slate for all players to project themselves onto. But while we don’t actually hear her speak to other characters, a bit of the Scythian’s personality does come through as her thoughts serve as a kind of narration for the story.
And if you are wondering what she means by the playable character lacking "clear definition" in the visual sense, it means that the playable character looks like this:

In other words, this "positive female character" that Sarkeesian promotes has no voice, no backstory, no personality traits to speak of, no clear motivations, and even visually with no defining characteristics (being so blocky and abstracted away that it's even impossible to tell she's supposed to be a woman at all.) She's a "blank slate" with little to no pre-defined characteristics.

In other words, according to Anita Sarkeesian, a "positive female character" is essentially a non-descript object. A puppet. A blank object with no characteristics and nothing that would make it feel like an actual person.

And then she complains that the gaming industry objectifies women...

But even putting that hypocrisy aside, the major problem with this "positive female character" is that she actually isn't. A "female character", that is. Even by her own description this character has absolutely nothing to actually make it a "female" character; it could just as well be a man, a woman, a robot, an alien, or a fantastic creature like an elf or a fairy. The character doesn't look like a woman and has no backstory, personality or any other characteristics that would make it a woman. So how exactly is this a "positive female character"? Is Anita's concept of a "positive female character" one that's only a woman in name but has absolutely no features that would distinguish her from a robot or an alien? Or a male character, for that matter.

But not to worry, Sarkeesian turns everything around in her next video in the series. In this case it's Beyond Good and Evil. It seems that this character:

is A-ok. If you have followed Sarkeesian at all, you would know that she thinks that this character is not:

Yes, she has explicitly derided even the new Lara Croft as objectionable. And yes, she goes on to describe how Jade (the protagonist of Beyond Good and Evil) is visually designed in a manner that she approves. While, somehow, apparently Lara Croft is not, as she has expressed in the past.

This video is, in fact, a perfect example of how you can spin anything into suiting whatever narrative you want. You simply have to pick&choose tidbits of the game and portray them in the light you want to promote. She has done that with games like Hitman Absolution (where she cherry-picked portions of the game and disingenuously portrayed them to make it look like the game is horribly sexist.) In this case she's cherry-picking Beyond Good and Evil to depict the opposite narrative, ie. that of a game with a "positive" female character.

For example, she describes her characterization as non-violent (which she considers a good thing), while blatantly ignoring that fighting is the main game mechanic, and encompasses a big portion of the game. Sarkeesian has in the past derided many games for having a female character being kidnapped or held prisoner and then being rescued (ie. "damsel in distress"), while in this game she actually depicts it in a positive manner! Yes, Jade gets kidnapped a couple of times and is rescued by the male sidekick... but somehow in this particular game that's A-ok, while in most other games it's not.

As said, this is an excellent example of how you can spin anything to fit your narrative. It would be perfectly possible to depict this game in the exact opposite light, by cherry-picking different things and showing them in a negative light, deriding Jade's appearance rather than praising it, etc.

And of course, since all feminists are absolutely obsessed with race, she has to mention that Jade is "of color", as one of her "positive characteristics". As if that were relevant in any way. If anything, the character is of ambiguous ethnicity, and it's not emphasized in any way (which is a good thing, IMO.) But of course, as a feminist, Sarkeesian has to consider not being white a positive characteristic.

(Btw, am I the only one who is bothered by that expression "person of color"? It feels like it's trying so hard to not be racist, while being quite racist. Also it's technically inaccurate because 1) the skin of a "white" person is actually never pure white, and 2) "white" is actually a color. Using "person of color" IMO only emphasizes the "us vs. them" mentality of white vs. non-white people.)

There are some indications that Sarkeesian has never even played this game herself. (For example she mispronounces the name of the city where the game events happen, even though it's mentioned many times in the voice acting of the game.) It's also likely that she didn't write the script for the video, at most revised it slightly (Jonathan McIntosh is officially one of the produces and writers of the show, and he's known to write most if not all the scripts.) In fact, and while this is subjective, if you watch the video, it really looks like she's just mechanically reading from a script rather than telling the audience what she has thought of herself. Yet, she has made the claim that she's a "gamer" and that she plays the games she reviews and does "extensive research" on them.

(Now, don't get me wrong. Beyond Good and Evil is an excellent game, and the characterization of the playable and non-playable characters is good. That's not the problem. The problem is that Sarkeesian, or McIntosh, or whoever is behind the video series, shows hypocrisy by treating this particular game as exceptional and extraordinary among all other games, and applies different standards to it than to other games with female (or even male) protagonists, that are in fact inaccurate and disingenuous. She also dismisses or spins around tropes and characteristics that she has berated many other games of using, such as the "damsel in distress" trope or solving problems with violence. Even here, when talking positively of a game, she picks&chooses certain aspects, de-emphasizing if not even hiding others, such as the prevalence of the combat mechanics, a tactic she has used in the other direction with other games, a tactic that works for people who have never played the game.)

And by the way, do you want to know where at least part of that half a million dollars of pity money she has got has gone (instead of being used to actually make the videos she promised)? Ok, this is just pure speculation, but consider the two images below. The one on the left is from 2012, from her kickstarter project video, before she got all that money. The one on the right is from 2015, after she has become half a million dollars richer (if not even more, as her other earnings are undisclosed.) I'm not claiming anything, but just compare the two images...

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