Its been a while. I have crawled out of my inactivity because I felt compelled to share my thoughts regarding Anita Sarkeesian’s latest Tropes vs Women video called ‘Women as Background Decoration (part 2)’. Full disclosure. I am not a fan of Anita. I am very much in favor of gender equality but hate modern day feminism. Also I have not watched all of the videos in the series because, frankly, they get my blood boiling in all the wrong ways. However, after watching this video I had to share my thoughts somewhere, and since comments are disabled on the video, I thought of using this here blog. I will not regurgitate what the video contains. In fact I am assuming that, if you decide to keep reading, it means you watched the video. For the sake of brevity and focus I will stick to two points.
Perpetrator vs victim
An act of violence always concerns two parties. One is the perpetrator – the person/s committing said act of violence. On the other hand we find the victim/s – the recipient/s of such violence. The one cardinal assumption we can make in any case of assault is that the victim is not in the situation out of choice but was rather forced into it by the perpetrator. Anyone who is the recipient of violence out of choice is automatically not a victim but rather an accomplice as in the case of two adults who agree to indulge in a sado maso relationship.
What this means is that an act of violence says nothing about the victim but says a lot about the perpetrator. The thing we can take away from all the snippets of gameplay is that the perpetrators are evil, egoistic and violent individuals. Interestingly all perpetrators are men. Using Anita’s own method of generalization one can easily accuse these games of portraying men as being violent, misogynists and lacking any sexual inhibitions. Following her logic these games cast men, not women, in a bad light.
Another point Anita repeatedly alludes to in the video is that these situations portray women as weaker. This is not exactly true. It is true that one can surmise that women are the weaker party in these particular situations. However the implication that one situation automatically applies to any situation involving violence between a man and a woman is false and an assertion that the player makes rather than the game. Sadly it is also a reflection of real life where most violence is directed from men to women. But is Anita suggesting that such reflections on real life have no place in video games?
Games are interactive
I will be the first to admit that most of the clips shown in the video felt unbearable to watch. I am quite sensitive to scenes of gratuitous violence, even in a simulated format. However the thing that shocked me most in these scenes was the passiveness of the person holding the controller. In all cases he/she just stood there watching the situation unfold to its gruesome conclusion. I appreciate that this was done to illustrate what Anita was describing. However this is the interactive nature of video games. The ability of the players not to involve themselves in a situation is what makes the medium so interesting.
This choice in how to deal with a particular situation puts the onus on the player first and foremost. These scenes do not reveal much about the developer who decided to put that situation in the game. It tells even less about the digital characters who are there solely to serve a particular purpose within the game. It does, however, tell much about the player who is given the choice to either intervene or take pleasure in watching the violent events unfold.
I feel Anita is being extremely unfair and somewhat disingenuous here. She takes select clips and situations from a game to paint a picture of videogames in general. She uses the medium’s interactivity against it – as is the case of killing civilians in Hitman or not saving victims in Watch Dogs. It pains me to think of all the non gaming audience this series might be attracting and the damage it is causing to an industry which I love so much. Calling out developers when they cross the line (and sometimes they do) is necessary and encouraged. Encouraging publishers to invest in diverse games which are not solely focused on combat and gunplay is fine. Urging developers to come up with games which appeal equally to a female audience makes sense. Creating a witch hunt and misrepresenting the industry as a whole is a different matter altogether and something I cannot abide with.