Today Anita Sarkeesian put out a tweet noting that the XboxOne demo at E3 failed to feature any games with a female protagonist. A bunch of people on twitter sent horrible @replies which Anita documented because they “exemplify the male privilege and male entitlement endemic in the gaming community today.” As someone who writes for games (including an upcoming title featuring a female protagonist) I feel slightly compelled to give my take on the situation (which to be honest is nothing new.)
Lots of people I know both inside and outside the gaming community have been sharing this story around social media, usually accompanied with some comment of outrage at the things being said. The messages to Sarkeesian run the full gamut from “women don’t play games” to “make your own damn game” to just calling Sarkeesian a c**t. I don’t have the time or space to deal with the usual arguments in the mix (some other people already have) indeed I don’t know if I have anything useful to say here apart from join the chorus of people pointing out that this has to stop.
So here’s the deal: None of this surprises me. None of it. Indeed, none of it really angers me anymore. This kind of response is just the background noise to talking about feminism (or racism, or homophobia or anything not StraightWhiteMale) in gaming. The predictability of this response is what lead Sarkeesian to disable YouTube comments pre-emptivly on her “Tropes vs Women in Videogames” series. Which lead to (predictably) people claiming she was “silencing debate” (because telling somebody to “go make a sandwich bitch” is a valid debating tactic.)
It’s this unwillingness to engage, unwillingness to critically examine our own culture that motivates me to invoke Lewis’ Law: The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism. Lets be clear here, Sarkeesian was just pointing out the lack of female representation in the current lineup of games. She was not claiming every game needed a female lead, or that games with male protagonists are bad, or that everyone is evil and bad for not including more women. She was just expressing disappointment that a major gaming console had failed to include any female lead games in it’s demo lineup.
And some people couldn’t handle it.
There is a part of gaming culture (perhaps even a majority part) that is so wrapped up in it’s own little world of privilege that it can’t even deal with the possibility of having one game with a woman in the lead. And why do I find this response so expected, so ordinary, so normal?
Because these kinds of responses are the product of a culture that devalues women and their voices.
How could we improve this? Why don’t we try including more female (and POC and queer) characters and stories in our media. Like, I dunno, making a couple of games with a female protagonist?
Why does it matter that XboxOne had no female lead demo games? Because people are still so violently resistant to the idea that such a thing is possible. We should have a variety of stories in our media, and that isn’t going to happen unless we keep pointing out that it isn’t.
We need a new normal. A normal where this background noise stops being expected and starts being an outrage.
Because right now it just feels like another day of being a woman on the internet. So we ain’t done yet.
A blog post with a sample of the replies Anita Sarkeesian received can be found here (tw: language)