In case you aren’t a gamer or don’t really care about anything to do with the gaming world, there is some news you probably should know about. Youtuber Anita Sarkeesian has recently been targeted by internet trolls because of her web series ‘Feminist Frequency’ where she talks about the blatant sexism in video games. Her message is not an attempt to take down the industry, but to make it better and more equal for the girl gamers, who make up almost half of the gaming audience worldwide.
She started her series about “tropes vs. women in video games” back in 2012 after raising money on Kickstarter for her show, and since then it has been game on for haters. More recently, the hate has intensified and she has been the target of such threats that she has had to leave her house. How pathetic that some people cannot stand the intelligent criticism she poses, and decide to counter it with low-life actions like actual threats.
When people criticize feminism saying it is no longer needed, stories like this prove exactly the opposite, that there are still many prevailing attitudes against equality and that public dialog about it causes friction for many communities and groups. Perhaps some men just can’t handle that girls like to play video games too and want to have a more even playing field when it comes to female characters and plot lines. Why is that such a hard thing to comprehend? Last time we checked, we live in a human world with both men and women and if half the population ceased to exist, no one would survive. But we digress…
In an interview with Vice, blogger David Futrelle said the main thing he sees while tracking anti-feminism content for his blog, is that there are a lot of men who are threatened by the presence of women in typically male-dominated arenas.
“They define certain cultural spaces as being properly male only and then go after women—women in general but often individual women—who they see as interlopers invading what they feel should be their safe space. You see this in general discussions about women and tech and women going into STEM fields,” he said.
For all the negativity surrounding girl gamers, there certainly are people like Anita and a PhD student in Australia by the name of Katryna Starks who are pushing the status quo to enable people to realize how important the representation of women in games is.
Katryna, originally from Los Angeles but studying at the University of Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, is investigating how video games might promote positive female identity during play and deliver affirmative outcomes in the lives of teenage girls. Her thesis ‘Game Chang(h)er: Exploring the video game design elements that may impact the agency and identity of adolescent girls’ focuses on female gamers, a demographic not yet adequately catered for in game design.
“My research is exploring the effects of video games on, stereotype threat, agency and self-esteem in pre-adolescent and adolescent girls,” she told My Sunshine Coast.
“I’m investigating whether there are gaming elements that promote positive female identity, which may also promote positive results in life.”
One of the main aspects of her research found that many of the high end games were solely targeted at males, and that the majority of female presence in games were pretty stereotypical.
“The women in the games are often stylized in a sexist or stereotypical fashion, and the few games that are directed at females tend to have a few limited, stereotypical themes, like ponies or makeovers to look pretty. I think girls would be better served with a wider variety of themes, including more mysteries and adventures,” she said.
Katryna said there was a major gap in the marketplace when it came to games featuring strong, positive, non-sexualized female protagonists. She also said the mystery-solving aspect of some games provide the opportunity to build problem solving skills, which would be great if the presence of women wasn’t so misogynistic.
“There is a clear demand for a wider variety of such games: ones that girls want to play and that they enjoy playing. They should feel empowered and creative and be instilled with confidence when they play these games. This can give them life tools and the confidence to move forward in the world at the same time.”
So does that mean we need more female game developers who are more inclined to create the type of content that women are drawn to? Well essentially yes, but that in itself can pose another threat to the male bastion that once was video games.
Vice interviewed Zoe Quinn, who is one of those said female game developers who has received threats and hatred akin to Anita Sarkeesian. She spoke about the hashtag #gamergate which has seen the internet hatred grow into somewhat of a virtual mob with pitchforks, bent on taking down women challenging the status quo.
After detailing all the horrors she has had to put up with, including involving the FBI and being accused of sleeping her way to the top to become a developer Zoe says she will not give up her day job.
“Games as a medium and as an art form, or whatever the hell you want to call it, I totally love the potential of it, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I hope that we can stop pushing it so hard to stay the same forever.”
That’s something we believe is going to be a natural progression, the gaming world being a more even playing field. And now with research being done by Katryna Starks outlining the potential empowerment qualities of video games, we might see more and more girls being attracted to this industry the more they see characters and games being targeted at them.
It’s important not to forget how alive misogyny is and that unless we as women are willing to put up with push back, things will never change. If a powerful medium such as video games can be used as a platform to empower girls and women, we are all for it. Three cheers for women like Katryna Starks whose research might become more important than she even knows it at this moment. As for women like Anita and Zoe, please don’t give up what you are doing. You are proving an important public voice for gamer girls everywhere who need one.