She said, he said: Pixel Enemy comments on Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games Part Two

Tropes vs. Women in Video Games part two is out, and Anita Sarkeesian continues her critical look at the ‘Damsel in Distress’ theme that plays out in a number of video games. In the second part, Sarkeesian examines what she calls the “dark and edgy” side of the trope in more modern games and how the plot device is often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women.

Sarkeesian breaks down the ‘Damsel in Distress’ trope into three sub-categories:

* The Damsel in the Refrigerator: The female character’s death (at the hands of others) is a driving force for the male protagonist to seek revenge through violent means.

* The Disposable Damsel: The hero fails to save the female in peril either because he arrives too late or because it turns out she has been dead the whole time.

* The Euthanized Damsel: The most nefarious of the themes, in which the damsel has been transformed or dehumanized somehow, and is ‘saved’ by the protagonist performing some sort of ‘mercy killing’.

In the 25-minute video (which was temporarily taken down due to hundreds of user flags), Sarkeesian attempts to make the case that the aforementioned plot devices are often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women, and subsequently concludes that violence against women in society is exacerbated by the prevalent nature of the trope in modern video games.

Pixel Enemy’s Zarmena Khan and Rob Newberry watched the video and had the following comments to make about what is certainly one of the most contentious and hotly discussed issues in the contemporary video game industry.

She Said (Zarmena Khan)

Before I say anything about this topic, I’d like to mention that I find personal attacks against Sarkeesian absolutely abhorrent. It’s immature to lash out at her for expressing her views.

Now, as a female, I find numerous flaws in Sarkeesian’s arguments. Part Two of her documentary series flashes numerous games in an attempt to prove her point. I doubt that she has actually played any of them because she’s grossly misrepresenting their themes. Instead of an in-depth discussion of a particular story, she has chosen to pick out specific clips that show females being objectified, and as a result, viewers are being misled.

Let’s talk about real life first. Women are sometimes considered a male’s weak spot. In a lot of cases, they are. A father is typically overprotective about his daughter, and a man is typically protective of his girlfriend/wife. This doesn’t have anything to do with masculinity, rather a natural male instinct which we can’t change. Consequently, women become easy targets to hit a man where it hurts the most. Video games often depict what already prevails in a society.

I want to discuss two games in particular that Sarkeesian has mentioned in her documentary.

In Max Payne 3, one could argue that the underlying message is that a man is lost without a woman. If Sarkeesian has played the game, she’ll notice that Max is continuously haunted by his past. The loss of his loved ones has caused him immense pain which he can’t seem to get over. In God of War, Kratos seeks to break free of the bond that caused him to kill his own wife and daughter (which he was tricked into doing), and wants justice served. Kratos, like Max Payne, is continuously haunted by the past and can’t seem to get over the loss of his loved ones. Again, I could argue that these games depict men as weak creatures who are lost without the women that were once in their lives.

I’m currently playing Tomb Raider and in my role as Lara Croft I’ve rescued my friends, some of whom are males. The game has received universal critical acclaim and sold extremely well, which proves that gamers love variety. Yes, I agree that violence in video games (in general, not just against females) can be curbed to a great extent, but the issue isn’t as grave as it’s made out to be. Video games have, in fact, matured over the years. Games like Heavy Rain are a classic example of that.

In a nutshell, Sarkeesian is making a mountain out of a molehill. There are women who choose to lend themselves for objectification in the mainstream media, which is a more serious issue than video games which aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

He Said (Rob Newberry)

I gotta agree with Zarmena – I think a lot of this is taken out of context. It’s very obvious Sarkeesian doesn’t play these games, or she’d mention the fact that you can play either game in the Borderlandsseries as a woman, and Dishonored can be completed 100% non-violently. Besides those outlying issues, I think the first two videos in her series point to a bigger issue that I have – Sarkeesian really doesn’t give us guys much credit as critical thinkers.

I grew up with two amazing sisters, and an outstanding mother. All of the female relations in my life (aunts, cousins) are incredibly empowered people who have gone on to have rich, full existences in their private and professional lives. I’ve also been lucky to have some great women in my life as personal relationships, and Zarmena is a great colleague at Pixel Enemy who I respect tremendously. These women have affected my life in untold ways, and let’s assume for a moment that Sarkeesian is right, and video games contribute to the problems of domestic violence; she gives absolutely zero credit to the amazing women out there who are countering this message on a daily basis in just about everything they do.

I’m not totally sure what Sarkeesian’s intentions are. I don’t agree with the link she tries to draw between domestic violence and video games. To me, attempting to hint at a link is the same as the loathsome politicians who point to video games as the cause of school shootings. There’s just no evidence to support these claims. She seems to know she’s going to generate a lot of attention by being critical about something people are very passionate about…what males are very passionate about. But, really, just about every industry out there that tells a story in any capacity (games, movies, story books, fairy tales, music, art) has similar tropes.

These tropes (that word has been ruined for me forever) are more than clips to illustrate an agenda. These video games we enjoy and love are stories, and they contain relationships within. Game players need to feel a sense of involvement in these stories or the experience will be as two-dimensional as Space Invaders. By creating relationships between men and women in the games, the designers and writers are bringing people into worlds of realism and fantasy – and we need to make sure we’re giving enough credit to ourselves, the players, that we know the difference.

I’m starting to think her audience are people who don’t play games. There’s always going to be an audience out there steeped in ignorance who will completely buy into a flashy video.

Kony 2012 anyone?

The Final Word

Rob: I gotta admit, I don’t like these videos very much. The condescending tone of them rub me the wrong way for some reason, and maybe I have to reflect on why that’s the case. I’ve seen some better video responses to Sarkeesian that feel better researched, and I don’t think she is really onto anything groundbreaking here at all. That being said, I think it’s fine to take a critical look at something, as much as it’s totally okay to ignore it.

Zarmena: Sarkeesian has every right to make a documentary on anything that she pleases. She could talk for two hours about underwater basket weaving if that’s what floats her boat. But I just don’t understand why she has to jump on the latest bandwagon of bashing video games