I saw the episode of Colbert Report where Colbert interviews Anita Sarkeesian and I was just shaking my head that this is still garnering media attention. While I do not condone any of the death threats or harassment doled out by a small minority of people posting under the #Gamergate, I do think the media’s portrayal of the entire sequence of events is ludicrous and exaggerated.
The first thing that immediately annoys me is how easily a few disturbed individuals who happen to play games have somehow tarnished the good name of gamers everywhere. You see this kind of stuff with Muslims all being portrayed as violent extremists when the vast majority are peaceful and law-abiding. Usually the liberal parts of the media take pains to make this distinction, but those outraged by #Gamergate are mostly liberal feminists who seem very eager to engage in the same kind of broad demonization they argue against in other contexts. There are even calls for gamers and gaming companies to harshly decry the insensitive comments of #Gamergate, just like every Muslim needs to make it absolutely clear that they do not condone terrorism every time a terrorist act occurs. How about we just assume that most people believe in treating others with respect rather than asking them to verbally affirm it, as if that really does anything.
There are seven billion people on the planet, which means that in every particular demographic there are likely a few crazy people. With the internet, these people can now freely amplify the deranged voices in their head. You should ignore these people, not use them to draw generalizations about the population of which they may belong based off sharing a hobby.
But what about the death threats and harassment, how can you ignore that? Unfortunately, in the modern age, I suspect most public figures are harassed and get death threats. Life goes on because they are not dissimilar to those times you get really frustrated and claim “you are gonna kill Bob” because he let your favorite plant wither while you were gone. If you took them all seriously then anyone of any notoriety should lock themselves in a panic room ASAP. Like with all of life, we have to depend somewhat on the basic decency of the rest of humanity. The problem is that as the population grows you get more yahoos even if the percentage of the population that are psychopaths stays constant.
The irony of the harassment and death threats, including the threat of a school shooting if Sarkeesian gave her speech, is that they are mostly their to garner attention for their utterer and the media has given them what they want. On the deeper bowels of the internet we call such people drawing attention to themselves “trolls.” You do not feed the trolls. By which we mean, just ignore them and they will eventually give up and go away. I know, this isn’t foolproof, maybe some of these threats are real, but you really can’t let the terrorists win by completely altering your life. Sarkeesian backed down this time. What about the next time she tries to speak? A death threat worked last time, why not try it again? I don’t have an easy answer for Sarkeesian, but you can see why we don’t negotiate with terrorists.
As for the actual discussion about the portrayal of women in games, it seems unfairly targeted at video games. Every other media type is just as bad but since they are more established they seem to get more of a pass. Where are all the good female stars of TV shows for instance? Olivia Pope you say? You mean the woman who is easily wooed by the sleeziest, most incompetent President imaginable? I hear Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being touted as a strong female character. Apparently being deranged and unstable and getting a boob job to impress a guy is “strong.” It really sounds to me like nobody knows what they want when it comes to female characters, though I would just settle for more of them in starring roles.
Also some of the examples used by Sarkeesian and others are a bit dubious. On the Colbert Report they used a scene from Dragon Age Origins where a villain was telling his troops to commit mass rape in a village. Of course this is a game that takes place in a gritty medieval setting, a time period not known for its egalitarian treatment of women and where raping and pillaging were a common event. Why are there no complaints about A Game of Thrones where similar things happen? Oh right, because it’s a mainstream TV show now. Even games in modern times would in fact be betraying verisimilitude if the ignored the myriad inequalities of men and women in the world today. Maybe this is a worthwhile sacrifice, but seemingly calling for every game to treat women on the same footing as men comprises a seriously curtailing of creative freedom.
Also, lets be honest, the portrayal of men is equally objectifying. Comics, movies, video games, anime and fantasy fiction are full of steroid-injecting tough guys with growls instead of voices. It’s not dudes reading all the romance fantasy with covers emblazoned with hunky shirtless men. There is just as much beefcake as there is cheesecake. The “problem,” as much is there is one, is that video games are fantasy empowerment for their players and their players are still mostly male. Men want to be play powerful, sexy men and interact with and dominate sexy women and I am sure women have similar fantasies. Video games are a symptom, not a cause. It’s like blaming manufacturers for putting sugar into everything, but they only do so because that is what people want. Changing people’s view of the other sex is going to do a lot more to correct this than anything else. Though good luck trying to change their fantasies from being about power and sex.
Finally, a comment about the suffix “gate” being attached to everything. Watergate was a seminal moment in the politics of the USA as it involved an unparalleled breach of the trust we give to our government officials and the President. It was also the name of the hotel where said event occurred. Now, for reasons unknown we have taken the “gate” part of that name and appended it to every minor scandal. It degrades the original scandal and shows a frightening lack of imagination by our news media and intellectual figures while also making no sense.