Avoiding the Video Game Feminism Trap
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Today, I'd like to talk a bit about the issue of feminism in video games. I bet half of you have started groaning. (I can hear you from here.) I’m sure that number will increase once you know that a woman is writing this. Perhaps I shouldn't begin in this way, but I'm trying to inject a bit of levity into the situation. I'm almost sure what I just wrote isn't happening. Though, if what I worry is happening is true, perhaps some of you are.

I fear feminist articles examining gender in video games are on the cusp of becoming associated with sensationalism: "We need more hits this month! Write an article about women in games to get our hits up." Debates and criticisms in the comments mean more page views, and the issue of gender in gaming is too important to reduce to that level.

We should be focusing on quality. If a video game feminism article is written, it should be well thought out, researched, and present a clear viewpoint or showcase of an important and valid issue. Those writing these articles should examine all sides of the issue, cite multiple sources, and, if possible, consult major figures in the gaming industry of both genders to provide a balanced view of the issue.

Most important, we shouldn't just be writing pieces criticizing games and the industry for not being inclusive or derogatory towards women. As I just said, balance is key, and it isn't just about balance when presenting an argument. It's about balancing the kinds of articles video game journalists put out. A popular practice in any industry is to present a positive, then a negative, then another positive. It's used as a technique to soften a harsh blow, but I argue that it could be useful when writing video game feminism articles to prevent them from coming across as "nagging."

Of course, any article addressing the current state of video game feminist theory would have to mention Anita Sarkeesian and her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games videos. While I don't agree with the method she chose to fund and promote her series, I do think that they are necessary, and will prove helpful to people looking to learn more about gender issues within gaming. Hopefully, these videos will cover both positive and negative examples of female characters in gaming.

Anita’s first video, Damsel in Distress, was well researched and presented. The only downside is that it already covers a female video game trope that has already been covered extensively, but the fact that it has received over a million views and generated so much discussion is a definite plus. The concept of the series as a whole is sound and at the very least generates a discussion among people, whether or not they agree with her ideas.

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I do have two issues with Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Woman in Video Games series. The first is how she funded and promoted it. If it were me, I would have pitched the series idea to a prominent gaming site (cough, Cheat Code Central, cough), and called in some favors from more A/V-inclined friends to help with the recording and editing instead of begging on Kickstarter to fund something I would have probably done for free anyway. This didn't have to be a lavish affair to be an insightful and informative series.

My second gripe with the project has to do with the tropes she is examining. I would have included more positive installments in the series. Of the twelve entries, only one is positive. Video 11, the second to last video, is "Positive Female Characters." With a project of this scope, I feel at least a third of the videos should have highlighted female characters of which people can be proud.

Then there's Patricia Hernandez, who's also well known for her articles exploring video game feminism. I'm of the belief that she gets more grief than she deserves. After all, this is someone who has written informative and important articles on gender in gaming, like "Faith In Humanity Slowly Depleting: This Jerk And His Supporters Find Joy In Harassing Women Gamers, which exposes how some people are trying to bully female gamers, "It's Time We Put The Bald Space Marine Away. It's Time To Make Games For More People," a well written piece on avatar identity options, and, what I feel is probably her best work, "Gaming Made Me: Fallout 2". Even with the articles that aren't as well thoughtful and important, you can tell that she cares about her work and is a respectable gamer. As a fellow writer, I can tell that even though some of her work may prove unpopular, at least she believes in what she is writing.

However, there are times where she ventures into the danger zone of video game feminism. A good example was a recent article titled, "Why Were There No Women Presenters At The PlayStation 4 Event?" I honestly didn't see the issue. There weren't any women there because the people holding key positions in the development of the games displayed weren't women. It isn't the first time it's happened at a press conference, and it probably won't be the last. It isn't a sign of gender bias. It's just a reflection of how the industry is, and such an article felt like something being written for hits, rather than to address a more serious issue.

A follow-up article to her PlayStation 4 event one, titled, "The Lack Of Women Presenters At The PS4 Event Is Bigger Than Sony is an act of redemption and presents a more valid argument and assertion than the original piece. In this case, it would have benefited the movement more to have only published the latter of the two articles, and expanded upon it to name two or three female executives or developers who would have been qualified. A few quotes from these women wouldn’t have gone amiss.

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Then there's something like her unnecessary comment on the gender of people in the Major League Gaming Rank Leaderboards in her "Misunderstood Bro Culture And Their Obnoxious First Person Shooter YouTube Videos" article. Hernandez is supposed to be focusing on "bro culture" and their YouTube videos. Yet, once she gets to the segment discussing Major League gaming, she includes a random aside about the MLG player rankings saying: "which, if you note, has not a single woman on it in the upper echelons." It's not only out of place and unnecessary, but feels like a cheap shot to perhaps get readers, like the bro culture boys club she's talking about, riled up. If you want to do an article about the breakdown of MLG competitors by gender, then fine. It would be an important subject, but an insertion like this feels like grasping at straws and searching for a fight that isn't there.

On the plus side, we also have sites like GamingAngels. The site is fully staffed by female video game journalists who present a balanced assortment of articles that are appealing to people of both genders. They have insightful criticism, positive articles about strides forward in the industry, and interviews with important women who are involved in the industry. Any time I read worrisome articles that only depress and frustrate me, I can count on GamingAngels to provide more positive reading material.

We should be talking about gender in video games. It's an important issue, after all, especially as more women start to identify themselves as gamers. (Even if they only play "casual" games.) The only way the industry will change and become more inclusive is if we call attention to the ways it is disappointing us. Even more important, however, is that we don't get carried away in our discussion of the issue. If we do, we'll come across as nagging, negative, and pandering for hits. The important thing is to make articles count. We have to be insightful, highlight the companies and games that are getting it right, and avoid falling into the sensationalist trap.

Jenni Lada
Jenni Lada
@JMariye

Contributing Writer
Date: 05/21/2013

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