Feminism, tropes vs women, and what we learn from the trolls

"Women, listening to anti-suffrage speeches, for the first time knew what many men really thought of them."
– Rebecca West

Check out the second video in Anita Sarkeesian’s series on Tropes vs Women in Video Games, it’s really very good.

She shows multiple examples of the tropes she discusses to hammer home how common they really are. There is no doubt that there is a pattern here. There’s also much food for thought, particularly around how common the plot twist is where a male protagonist has to use violence against a woman in order to save them. And yes, she does note that you can find a rationale for any example in isolation but when you look at them all together, there is a larger context.

Doone notes that these tropes are harmful to men also, and I agree. Also, why shouldn’t the death of a man provoke as much emotion as the death of a woman in games?

It will surprise no one to learn that the Youtube page was targeted by attacks (it got flagged up so much they took the video down and she had to appeal). That the Kotaku comments went about as well as you could expect. I find that my reaction to the vile torrents of abuse that feminist writers attract is pretty close to West’s observation from the quote at the top of the page – I never knew so many men hated us so much. Or so passionately.  That’s why it is so important to keep talking about these things.

Speaking of suffragettes, ironically next week is the 100th anniversary of the day Emily Wilding Davidson threw herself under the King’s horse at Epsom, a martyr for the suffragette cause. The Guardian has a really strong piece discussing what activists today can learn from the suffragette movement (and damn those women were hardcore.)

We need those who refuse to see any conceivable option but victory. Women like the one who wrote to the Daily Telegraph in 1913. "Sir, Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual. 1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom. 2. Give women the vote. Yours truly, Bertha Brewster."

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74 thoughts on “Feminism, tropes vs women, and what we learn from the trolls

  1. I look at it in a similar vein to what happened when Obama was elected President. A lot of the racism that was simmering below the surface crawled out into the open where it could easily be observed.* That some men hate this so much that they crawl out from under their rock to try to destroy her work speaks even more loudly than the work itself.

    *Note that I’m not saying that everyone who is against Obama is a racist. However, where I live in the U.S. you can hear quite a bit of racist invective about him if you’re at a bar or a restaurant. And these people aren’t bothering to hide it, either.

    • Better out in the open where it can be confronted than waiting to spring at an opportune moment. I’m rather more concerned with the potentially ricin-tainted letter that was sent to the White House.

      And as an actual liberal and civil libertarian I’m not close to an Obama booster.

  2. The new femfreq video made me shudder to watch. I don’t usually react to singular incidents in games anymore (which is wrong) – it takes a greater lens bringing them together, showing just how frequent and repeated the same sexist tropes occur and instrumentalize female characters. then it’s a very powerful message.

    As for the open hatred displayed by some, I have a very hard time dealing with it. I don’t know how I would react in her situation. it’s such a profoundly wrong sentiment that I’m unfortunately still stuck at the bafflement stage whenever I see it. same for situations as described by Redbeard; all I want to do is scream out loud “are you fucking kidding me?”.

  3. I’m somewhat at a loss for how to react to these sorts of things. I’m on the sidelines. I’m not a woman, nor am I an excessively sexist or misogynist man. There’s no way for me to have any real impact on the issue.

    I kinda just want it all to go away because it’s unpleasant to deal with angry, arguing people, no matter what their position.

    What do you think someone in my position should do/feel?

      • I have no idea what this means. Demand more what?

        Should I tell people that they’re evil to believe these things I don’t agree with? Make a big fuss? Wish them harm and shame?

        I don’t understand the call to action here. It seems as though we’re just being yelled at that we need to get mad and be angry. What is the benefit?

      • Michael, perhaps you should be telling game studios that you want more than the victimization tales that they are peddling as ‘dark & edgy’ shooters? Even for something as mindless as an FPS there are motivations beyond dead wife and kidnapped daughter.

    • Ravious gave an excellent reply: learn and demand more.

      I know how it feels to feel paralyzed in the face of vitriol. I think this probably true for most of us. But just know that while you might shrink and quietly go away to avoid all the pleasantness, the problem definitely won’t. It really requires us to engaged. Just do what YOU can, find your voice, and don’t walk away from it no matter what.

    • You sound as though you want to do something? Or rather, that you feel you should be doing something?

      I think her aim was just to raise awareness, to make her point so clearly that no one could say “I don’t believe it.” Watching the video and spreading awareness of it is helpful and positive. So is speaking out if someone you know makes a hateful statement, even though it can be hard to do. Just an “I don’t agree” is enough.

      This isn’t going to go away though. Like the letter to the editor I quoted at the bottom of the post, there are only two ways to make it stop. Either stop all women (and allies) from gaming/ commenting … or the industry needs to change.

      • It’s not often that I think anything Gevlon says makes sense, but in this case he’s spot on. However, I would say that it’s not just a matter of NOT buying the stuff you disagree with – it has far more impact if you make a point of buying the products you DO like. That changes the offending company’s reaction from a puzzled “Hrrm, our sales are down, but we don’t know why” to a desperate “Holy cow! Look how well our competitor is doing! We gotta get us some of that!”

  4. @Syl That’s why I don’t like Sarkeesian. It feels like her agenda is to inflame rather than to start a vehicle for great discussion. She does not feel balanced in any way, and it makes me wonder who her audience is intended to be. It’s a very hard subject to tackle so when she pulls out stuff like “surely the trope would be gone by now”, it makes her look one-sided.

    However, @Redbeard is completely correct. The response speaks louder than the work, and the topic of the response is definitely a good vehicle for discussion on how things are wrong. It is far more disturbing how some people want to portray themselves than any of the video game samples done by Sarkeesian.

    • I watched both of her videos and didn’t find an agenda in them outside of ‘look at these things – they are real and pervasive – and we need to acknowledge they exist before we can have a meaningful discussion.’

      At least that’s what I got out of it – the fact that the comments seem to be slanted about 80% negative with half saying that this is not real and an illusion because there are a handful of games that do something different, while the other half make hateful comments about her and ignore the content – to me shows that perhaps the audience honestly doesn’t know that these things are real.

      Don’t look at the man behind the curtain. The emperor has clothes! – other such cliches that speak to the public tendency to ignore things we don’t want to see.

      A starting point is to acknowledge that this exists – it’s pervasive and in some cases (such as the fox girl game that became a star fox game and the heroine turned into a bikini wearing helpless princess instead of the badass main character) they are actually pretty disgusting when exposed.

      Not every game needs to be different – but ignoring the feminist message for a moment – think back on the past decade of gaming and ask yourself how often you see ‘need new IP – need new ideas – same old same old – *another* FPS – industry needs a breath of fresh talent’ – really think how often you pick up a game and unless it’s a *perfect* design you quickly get bored because it’s more of the same.

      Now ask yourself if ‘the same old tropes’ helps or hurts this pattern.

      • @Ravious
        As Delurm said, I don’t think she has any other “agenda” than to show things. this is up to her after all and I assume that she starts with all the examples because too many would still claim that no issues exist and that she’s making stuff up. so I can see why she does it. discussion and alternatives should definitely be part of the topic as next steps, I expect her future videos to tackle some of that (it’s a series right). and even if they don’t, the discussion can be held by others.

        I find it a bit of a dodgy argument that ‘she never talks about solutions’, as if somehow that was her job or as if her videos only deserve merit if they provide us with fool-proof answers and guides on how to proceed from here. some critics just want to provoke critical thought.

        So to answer your question, I think her primary audience right now are still gamers at stage # 1 – denial.

    • See, I think that’s the great thing about what she is doing. These issues deserve a spotlight, and she is giving them that spotlight. Setting them up in a way to show just how much of an issue it is. Raising the issue in an eye-catching manner is the only way to actually get it any attention. And the completely ridiculous response by assholes on the internet serves as a massive underscoring of the point. In a lot of ways, inviting that response does more to further the cause than any sort of “let’s all be calm and rational and level-toned” discussion would. A casual observer of the exchange will look at this and think, “Do I really want to associate with the people that respond like childish assholes? Hell no.”

      Do I feel uncomfortable when I watch these videos? Yes, I do. But that’s the entire point. It’s evoking a response from me, and is effective at doing so. It drives me to be better, and it drives me to call out bullshit where I see it, and do my part to work for change.

    • @Ravious I think it possible you dont like her for other reasons as well. Just to be clear, I’m not trying to call you out. But as others have remarked, her crime is that she’s being vocal about a serious issue? And what do you mean by balance? Are you referring, perhaps, to her tone (in the context of “who is her audience” you make it sound like she should speak on the subject differently for different people, which isn’t the case). What do you mean by one-sided?

      Again, forgive me if this response seems aggressive, I’m genuinely curious on the answers to these! Thanks for indulging me.

      • I guess it feels like her tone in the first half is… I dunno. The “damsel in distress” is a legendary trope across all media. It won’t go away without significant cultural upheaval. And then coupling with it by claming “the majority of these titles contain crude, unsophisticated, male power fantasies”… she lost me as receptive audience until I took a break and came back.

        I like evidence. I think the second half of part 2, for example, is great. “Let me show you things” is fantastic.It lets the viewer come to their own conclusion.

        But, then for a half-hour video seeing so much negative makes it a hard pill to swallow. I don’t play those types of games, and I was appalled. And, I kept thinking “is there no light in this dark world?” My knee-jerk reaction is that it gets to the point where it feels unfair to the whole video game genre as a whole. It’s too distilled to prove a point, and negative begets negative.

        I think I might have more to say, but still processing.

      • “Damsel in distress” is an interesting trope as studied over the millennia. You would think that it would have a different interpretation now than it did for the Hellenic Greeks, the Tokugawa Shogunate, or the Victorian English but it doesn’t seem to have evolved much. Actually, looking at some of the source material for the Sleeping Beauty myth and comparing it to these games we may be reverting to a more primitive world view.

      • What I found most disingenuous among the arguments on Kotaku were the complaints that she didn’t allow comments and/or feedback. It doesn’t take a genius to know why she didn’t allow them, but because she didn’t she’s somehow exposing the fallacy of her arguments.

        Really? Because she doesn’t want the comment section bombarded by the haters trying to take her down she must have a flawed argument?

        If you really have a comment on her video, here’s a hint: MAKE YOUR OWN VIDEO IN RESPONSE. Write up a blog post. Offer to write a rebuttal on a gaming website. But don’t sit there and whine that “she won’t let me comment on her post!”

        These people need to really grow a pair. And in their case, I think that saying is pretty spot on.

      • Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying. Let’s pile on more hyperbole and just say “all damsels in distress scenarios are bad”.

        Except they aren’t, and that’s where I find her imbalanced. Her positive video games had absolutely nothing to do with a “damsel in distress”. They were either “strong female player character” or “death of a loved one”. Those are both safe because they don’t undermine her view.

        HL2 ep2 immediately came to mind as a positive video game where in a violent video game a strong female NPC has to be saved by the male PC. Refusing to acknowledge facts like that makes me feel like she is not being balanced, and I am all the more skeptical of every other opinion-like “fact” she says.

        I don’t expect her to give solutions, but this is not black and white either.

      • People who need to have their egos soothed before they’ll listen to a rather clear argument are just going to take away the bits they like and ignore the more pressing issues, plus it derails what she actually wants to say.

        In feminism 101, this is called What about the Menz. And honestly, if a lot of women are saying this is important, maybe you should listen and stop demanding arguments that will make you feel better about yourself.

      • My inner libertarian says yes, the sexist dudebros DO need their fair argument – if only so we can see what a load of crap they are talking, and then point and laugh at them. Same stance I take with neo-nazis, flat earthers and Marxists, freedom means they have the right to speak (unless they are explicitly exhorting their listeners to perform illegal acts) and I have the right to laugh at them.

    • Why do you think, in a circumstance like this, that Sarkeesian’s argument needs to be “balanced”? Do you think the comment from the Bertha Brewster was “balanced”? “Balanced” doesn’t change positions like those exhibited by misogynists. It doesn’t eliminate the hate. Balanced discourse works when you have opposing viewpoints based on reason. There is no reason here – only fear and loathing. Meet that with fact and aggression.

      • Because her intended audience, believably, is not just “fear and loathing”. I would hazard a guess that many, many people watched her video being neither a misogynist or a feminist. An imbalanced approach will often be met with by skepticism.

      • @ Ravious – I think Spinks is having a similar discussion with you on this, so I won’t write a lengthy response (in an effort not to repeat what’s already been said) but, ultimately, this is about meeting aggression with aggression – not about trying to have a reasoned dialogue. I don’t disagree, in a honey vs. vinegar sort of way, that she may cause some to react badly to her argument (such as you) who are utimately sympathetic to her cause, but often the best way to work through initial resistance is adopting an aggressive stance; it’s the interaction her opponents understand (since they use it), and those who support her argument are (hopefully) understanding of her reasons for adopting her posture.

  5. Definitely a problem, though I’d extend it beyond the feminist boundary to any non- male, white, heterosexual, muscular, low-IQ character. Much too broad a topic area so I can understand dividing it for analysis.

    I do have to question, though, how much of the internet drama is just internet drama. Ignorant attention seekers doing it the best way they can, by being as vile as possible because, hey, it’s the internet and there are no consequences. I remember reading a piece a while back that interviewed younger teenagers who hijacked twitter accounts and the like. They flat stated that they used the homophobic and racist slurs they did because they received the most attention. I’m not sure they were aware enough to even understand the impact of what they spewed onto the net.

    This is one of the joys of reading older letters to the editor, as the one you cited in your post. You know that these were real people who accepted accountability for the positions they stated in a public forum. Kind-of ironic given that I’m posting under a pseudonym.

      • Ultima VI and VIII let you choose.

        Fable has had the option (along with being bisexual if desired)

        Dragon Age I and II along with Mass Effect II and III (although 2 was only lesbian).

        Jade Empire

        The Temple of Elemental Evil (although you play a party in that game it lets you choose one of your characters to have a gay relationship)

        Bully

        Although in all of these cases the main character (yourself) can *choose* – there are none where that choice is pre-determined that I’m aware of.

        Many more have openly gay sidekicks, and or companions – but those are the ones that stick out as letting the ‘main’ character have the choice.

  6. I think when you claim yourself with any “ism” you set yourself apart, and undermine your idea of equality. You close yourself off, and become trapped within the doctrines and you start to think only your way is the right way. I think Feminism’s rhetoric is one of superiority, and not one of equality, also I think it has a little bit of envy, and hate mixed into it to. I think the modern male is lost in these day and ages because he doesn’t know where he fits into society anymore. He is filled with images of what the media says he is, a crazed rapist spewing forth obscenities. With the breakdown of the traditional family, and no classic male role models, we as males are adrift. This feeling of not being anchored to ideals of what a man should be, and Feminist rhetoric of what males are. How can I not blame them to turn into that which the feminist themselves hate. Hate begets hate, and In essence we are creating our own monsters.

    • “How can you blame men for hating women? They’re just so darn uppity.”

      PS: I don’t think all men are anything, much less crazed rapitsts, just like all women aren’t all anything. I just think you in particular sound like someone who has put no critical thought into this subject at all.

      • You are misquoting me, I never said such a thing, did you actually read what I said? I think not.

      • I’m pretty sure that we call that “paraphrasing”. And it sure is how your post read. In fact, I’d encourage you to take a step back and reread it yourself.

        When I read it, my mind went down this path:
        1. “Women sure do like to call themselves superior to men.”
        2. “It’s probably because they’re jealous that men are so awesome.”
        3. “Men are totally not as dominant in society as they should be.”
        4. “Fucking women, why do they get to make me feel bad about myself?”

        So, basically, exactly what Liore said. You may not thing you are being an ass, but your words sure tell a different story.

    • Hmmm…I’m going to go with the idea that you are media saturated and not a troll – though hate begets hate is a bit too Jedi codeish for me.

      The basic argument seems to be “evil feminists stole my manhood so I’m going to perform a virtual vivisection to recovery that lost virility.” That rather seems to violate your rule of not setting yourself apart. By creating this monster group of man-hating feminists you are de facto creating an ideological opposition group. So, which is it? Are identity groups bad or are they only bad when they question your privilege?

      • Maybe a touch media saturated. Though it’s probably more a knee jerk response. If say you loved cupcakes, and I said you’re cupcakes are evil, and try to take away your cupcakes. Would you fight to keep you’re cupcakes, or would you just give up cupcakes?

      • That’s the point. This isn’t a debate about cupcakes, it’s a debate about the fundamental treatment of other people. Reducing the discussion to that level is basically saying that the power relationship between a man and a woman is one of owner and possession. I will never accept that as a legitimate position. While I fully understand, likely being a lot older than most everyone here, how that often unconscious application of privilege is empowering it is fundamentally destructive to other people.

        You need to understand that people who have the dominant position in a relationship are the ones who need to surrender some of that power.

    • Before you start talking about superiority, lets take a moment to remember that until the 1970s it wasn’t even recognised that rape could take place within marriage, up till then women had no right to say no to their husbands. Domestic violence was largely used for comedy value and no one really had much understanding of the idea of consent. This was also an era where my mother just accepted that she earned less than the guys at her office doing the exact same job, because she was female.

      (How’d you like THEM cupcakes?)

      We have come a long way since then, from a standing start. And by we I mean our societies, not just women. And yet we still live in a world where Fox News pundits are shocked and appalled that women are the breadwinners in 40% of US families.

      But I agree that we really don’t do a good job of showcasing male role models, either in games or generally. It’s not that aren’t any, there are PLENTY of good men and always have been.

    • “Hate begets hate”

      ‘hate’ has been there already and pretty clearly directed in one direction, for centuries in institutionalized manner. so I guess what you’re saying is women nowadays have every reason to be angry. makes sense.

  7. Pingback: A Open Letter to Feminists | A High Latency Life

  8. A. I don’t say women, I say feminists. There’s a difference.
    B. If you are going to insult me, do use spellcheck.
    C. If you paraphrase, don’t use quotes.
    D. Women don’t make me feel bad….they make me sammiches…

    Ok joking there.

    • I just wrote this on Theervis’ recent blog post, but I figured it made sense to post here as well as a follow-up to this discussion:

      I kinda get where Theervis is coming from. I wasn’t exactly impressed by Sarkeesian’s video either. I dislike social arguments that don’t offer a specific call to action because the audience is forced to answer the question “what now?” And often, as is the case with Sarkeesian’s series (so far), the “what now?” sounds a lot like “1) men are monsters & 2) don’t ever play video games again.” Which sucks balls as a takeaway.

      But then again, I’m a feminist.

      In an effort not to group people unnecessarily, I like to phrase things reflecting my personal beliefs and reactions, and not try to involve others. “Sarkeesian’s video made me feel like the bad guy, and I wish she had done more to create space for good guys to identify with her cause and feel like an ally.”

      I wonder if some of the negative commentary directed at Sarkeesian and her supporters comes more from this angle than because of Spinks’ hypothesis about hidden/repressed sexism. I don’t think that I’m going to go home tonight and beat up my wife “because she was asking for it,” and my decision to play God of War tonight instead of Mass Effect III isn’t going to factor into the rate of domestic violence in my household (my decision to play either game instead of doing the laundry, on the other hand…). But after watching “Tropes v. Women,” I felt like I couldn’t take Sarkeesian’s side. I can’t help but feeling like the villain, when in fact I want very much to be part of the solution. So… Mass Effect III instead? Donate to Refuge? Throw myself at my wife’s feet and beg for forgiveness? Live my life normally, but keep this idea in the back of my mind?

      The answer is probably a little bit of all of that, and also different for everyone. But I wish Sarkeesian did a better job of addressing that, because until I figure out which one is best and do it, I’m still feeling like the villain.

      Anyway, thanks for keeping the discussion going. It’s all worthwhile in the end if we can learn from it, amirite?

      • I don’t understand why it made you feel like the bad guy (unless you designed one of those games, in which case you might be the guy who could question your assumptions a bit more deeply.)

        I’m just a woman who plays computer games, and what I took from the video was omg all those times I felt uncomfortable about how women were portrayed in the games I was playing I wasn’t just being over-sensitive or paranoid. I was right. I just didn’t really have the faith or vision to think that things could ever be any different. Now I do.

        Also, I agree totally about the discussion. Thanks to everyone who has shared their views, I aim to keep things civil but I haven’t needed to yet, even where those views obviously differ.

      • Anita does in fact start hinting at the call to action she is after with these videos. Near the end of the latest one, she illustrates several games that do ‘female + death’ well, without resorting to the tropes she talks about. The clear (to me) implication is that we need to have more of those types of games made, and to do that those games must be a) lauded as loudly, and as far and wide as possible by popular and critical reviews and awards; b) supported financially by consumers; and c) used as examples when demanding that developers avoid the tropes Anita discusses.

        Outside of gaming? Being aware of the tropes and praising the avoidance of them in other media is a good start, as is making thoughtful choices about what you teach the children in your life (if there are any) through the media you share with them.

  9. Unfortunately I went and watched a few of the response videos to Anita’s. I can’t help but feel sad that so many people won’t see the forest for the trees. Her aim, as far as I can tell from her explicit statement of that fact, is to expose how pervasive and systemic these tropes are in the gaming industry. Yet people try to claim rebuttal by focusing on the tiniest details (like with the Double Dragon scene in the first video, the response was “well what else am I supposed to do? Just let her be abducted?!” I mean, seriously, that’s your argument?) that often entirely miss the whole point of the series. On one comment section to a response video there was a whole section of comments where people just raged that she would dare suggest that their IDOL, Shigeru Miyamoto, was in any way sexist!

    It is these kinds of reactions and examples of the intelligence, ability and willingness of people to debate (or the lack of) that make me appreciate the enormous task ahead of gender equality activists. And it exhausts me just thinking about how hard it will be.

  10. I have an issue with the whole “she’s not presenting a solution” argument: she’s only released two videos so far, out of a planned 12 or so (I forget the exact number). It’s early days yet.

    • My bigger issue with ‘she’s not presenting a solution’ is that it is begging for a reason to dismiss the entire argument.

      If she had a solution in her first video – people would rip that solution apart over any detail that they don’t like/isn’t feasible – and then use that same argument on every video she posts – people use her *thesis* from school to do the same thing already.

      The only way to have a discussion about what *can* be done is to first get people to admit there is a problem.

      It’s like an intervention – you can’t begin to heal until you can admit there is a problem. If you stage an intervention and can’t get the person to admit they have a problem then it has failed. You can’t go to therapy and get an answer on your first session – the goal is for the therapist to direct your conversation until the point where you begin to *see* what you are doing wrong – only at that point can the patient stop and accept any kind of corrective action.

      We (as the gamers – and the industry) are *just* starting to open our eyes to the issue. Not everyone is on board. I knew there was sexism in gaming before these videos and I hadn’t associated just how bad it was.

      This same thing is what happened when I realized how much this happens in the real world – when I saw people talking over women at meetings for example – now I can’t *not* see it. I used to think racism wasn’t as bad as it is – then after Obama got elected – well lets just say it’s much worse than I ever imagined.

      That’s the problem with deeply ingrained social behavior – even if there are changes you get a superficial veneer that covers the deeper problems – and the deeper problems actually influence our interaction – but because they aren’t ‘in your face’ and people want to assume the best intentions from others – it’s easy to dismiss things.

      Only when you can see the pattern of behavior – that’s when you can start to see just how bad it really is.

  11. Well I watched it, and my continual response was something like “ok, and?” I never actually saw or heard any arguments for anything, but merely a list of games that do this or that and “isn’t that terrible?” Terrible storytelling perhaps, but beyond that is there a point here? Especially silly was when she said that game characters saying something akin to “Now I’m going to take something from you [by killing wife/girlfriend/etc]” implied ownership of the wife/girlfriend/etc in question. Little known fact: in English possessive language does not always denote ownership. This is why we can say things like “My school has a gymnasium” without implying we have a deed to the property.

    The best parts were those that focused on violence, because those spoke for themselves. Games today really have you doing some gruesome things.

    • Traditionally women were pretty much viewed as property and there is a theory that the reason men traditionally feel the need to protect their women is more about property rights than any bonds of affection. That’s probably what she meant the game was reinforcing — ie. something valuable that belonged to you has been taken away –>> REVENGE!!!

      (I will note that I think in any healthy relationship, both people probably want to protect each other.)

  12. Pingback: Addendum to Tropes vs Women: some games not mentioned | Welcome to Spinksville!

  13. Why do women commonly refer to their boyfriend/husband as “My Man”, that denotes ownership, and property…See it swings both ways.

    As for your theory, god forbid that we men just want to save the girl because someone is hurting her against their will.

    • That’s a logical fallacy. One statement in any context can be understood in a variety of ways. “I am going to kill you” can be friendly (said as a joke), serious (said as a threat of serious consequences), frustrated (how could you have lost the keys again!), or deadly (I am really going to commit murder). You can’t tell without the rest of conversation and surrounding information.

      In the games, does the protagonist ever think about the murdered spouse/girlfriend/whatever as anything other than something that was taken from him and a motivation for revenge? You would expect there to be a grieving process, some thought other than “you have wronged me, so I will kill, your family, your family’s friends, their friends, and the guy who sold you a sandwich last Tuesday.” Lacking any depth the motivation is no different than if the antagonist had killed the protagonists goldfish, stolen his harmonica, or dinged his new ‘vette.

      Looked at from this perspective it isn’t about “saving the girl”, it’s about establishing my position of dominance over the antagonist.

      • How can you say the statement “my man” is a logical fallacy. My which denotes possession, such as my car, my radio, my television…and man which denotes a person of the male gender. There is no context needed. Tell me an instance where my man does not mean my man.

      • It’s not about hair splitting on language, it’s more about the historical context (I know you don’t want to keep getting back to that but it really is a thing here) where for hundreds of years, women weren’t considered to be full people in the eyes of the law in many/ most countries but had to get permission from their husbands or fathers to own property, go to court, get married/ remarried, couldn’t testify against their husbands in a court of law and .. yeah to all intents and purposes were controlled by men. (Or you could say that the men had responsibility for them and for anything they did — kind of like a dog.)

        Of course this has changed and like I say, I hope in any decent relationship you’d want to protect people you are close to. But we are left with this whole legacy of stories about men going on revenge sprees after something happened to their wife — partly fueled by anger at someone who took or ruined their property (we see some of this in honour killings, plus a need to keep face in front of the community when a woman belonging to you does something wrong). Or in other words, you can protect someone and look after them without the killing spree thing.

    • The issue isn’t just caring for the loved one who was killed/abucted. If it were, you would see the Damsel trope being used with all family members, not just women. All the developers need to do is change the gender of the victim, and this whole trope becomes a non-issue for gender equality activists. Is there even ONE game out there that has you out for revenge after someone killed or abducted your brother, or son, or husband? I can’t think of any, so I’d welcome some examples.

      So if it isn’t just about the motivation to save a loved one, then what else is there? The next most obvious motivation is to strike back at those who *took something of yours from you*. If the reason that only women are being used as Damsels is because male Damsels wouldn’t engage the player’s sympathy enough, then what about women provides that extra motivation? Could it be that it makes you react more strongly when a female is taken from you than when a male is taken? Why would that be, if not for a feeling of ownership?

      • Some games that have you trying to rescue someone else.

        Darksiders 2 -Death trys to rescue his brother War.
        Baldurs Gate – You have to take revenge against your foster father being killed.
        Silent Hill 3 – A female lead finding who her Father Killer is.

        Few more

      • It is not uncommon to have a child be kidnapped, though children are rarely killed the way wives/girlfriends are. As for the reason why it is always a woman/child, it’s the same reason why the kidnapper is almost always male. Men are bigger, faster, and stronger than women [or children] and can easily physically overpower them, which is usually necessary to kidnap them. Don’t be fooled by Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any other geeky fantasy where some tiny girl is kicking butt all over the place. In reality, very few women could beat even an average man in a straight up physical fight.

      • @theerivs
        The Bechdel test isn’t really relevant to the Damsel trope, since as the list shows any game can pass it while still having a male-dominated cast and story, or can pass it without featuring the Damsel trope at all. Only 2 of the games on your list are actually Damsel scenarios that feature a male victim as the Damsel.

        The later examples you gave are better, I’d forgotten that Baldur’s Gate was a revenge story. While this is good, these seem to be the exceptions to the rule, given the dozens of games that are released each year. So the point still stands that this is a trope that is blatantly sexist and is nowhere near the gender equality ideal. The fact remains that there is no good reason that the Damsel *must* be female, so why are the overwhelming majority of games doing it?

        @Matt
        The physical capabilities argument is old and so so wrong. Even if the Damsel scenarios were only set in human real-world settings, in a point in history when physical power was king, then you STILL have no justification for only targeting females. Yes, individually they may be less capable of defending themselves, but which evil villain overlord would really send a single goon out to kidnap someone? I don’t care how muscular you are, you will still be overwhelmed by a group of kidnappers.

        Similarly, if we bring it to the modern world, firearms make things way more interesting on both sides. Of course it is easier for kidnappers to grab a man, since his strength won’t help him against guns. On the flipside, it really means females are just as capable of rescuing themselves as males if there are guns involved. This becomes even more the case as technological progress gets higher. So, there is no justification for the sexist representation of Damsels.

        Finally, if we take the story into the world of magic or myth, then physical strength is irrelevant. Who cares how strong you are if it is your soul that is being abducted? Who cares if you can lift a horse if the thing abducting you is ethereal,or insubstantial, or just casting entrapment spells at you? A male Damsel is no less likely a target than a female in this situation, so why is it almost always a female that is abducted?

      • Yes, individually they may be less capable of defending themselves, but which evil villain overlord would really send a single goon out to kidnap someone?

        This just underlines the point. Which evil villain overlord would send 5 women when he could send 5 men? To ask the question is to answer it. Also, it isn’t “may be” less capable, but “are”. I think feminists really downplay the huge disparity in physical power between men and women. If you doubt this, go get in a fistfight with someone of the opposite sex. Most men won’t even hit a girl, because winning such a “fight” would be nearly as embarrassing as losing it. Firearms do bring men and women closer together, but things aren’t remotely equal even now. Operating a gun requires a nontrivial amount of upper body strength. Most women, and a nonzero amount of men, would just end up hurting themselves trying to use a gun without training.

        This also involves some other patterns, like women in general not relying on physical force to get their way. This is wise of them, because they realize they are not likely to prevail in this manner.

        The thing is, you could draw a scenario where a woman is driving the action, either through being the villain or hero, but it couldn’t be just a simple 1-to-1 replacement of men with women in an existing storyline. If a woman is the kidnapper, say in the case of an actual kid, she will almost always target someone she knows and use trust to lure them off willingly. Also consider Samson and Delilah from the Bible, where Delilah utterly defeats Samson without throwing a single punch. These situations don’t make good videogames though, because (as Sarkeesian notes) games allow you to relate to the game world primarily through violence, which limits your options. That said, there is no solution yet, because modeling the physics of combat is a thousand times easier than even the simplest human interactions.

        On the other hand, you could also have a situation ala The Iliad where Achilles rampage is set off by the death of a male friend, rather than of a wife/girlfriend. But in this case still Achilles is much stronger than Patroclus. I think you always have to have that element of the strong protecting the weak, and the offense against civilization of others not exhibiting that deference, in order for these stories to have visceral power. But to do so you have to acknowledge that there are in fact strong and weak in this world.

      • This just underlines the point. Which evil villain overlord would send 5 women when he could send 5 men? To ask the question is to answer it.

        I think you are missing the point here. Your question relates to the gender of the goons, not the damsel. 5 goons are going to be able to take a man almost as easily (in the case of unsuspecting, average untrained men, just as easily) as a woman. Yet the person taken (the Damsel) is overwhelmingly female. There is no physical capabilities justification for this story choice.

        Also, it isn’t “may be” less capable, but “are”.

        That depends on so many factors, including training, experience, speed, height, etc. You can only judge each person individually. There are a variety of male heroes, and the one thing they seem to have in common is training (at least in the games where melee combat is prevalent). You see slim, speedy male heroes take on foes with much more strength, so why is it unrealistic to see slim, speedy female heroes in those roles? I trained in karate when I was in my teens, and I trained with quite a few women who were stronger AND faster than some of the men. It is not always the case that man > woman. There are plenty of women who have trained in martial sports who would be stronger than ‘the average man”. Basically, what I am getting from you with this argument is that because women are often physically weaker than men, women are weak and therefore are naturally the target of choice for abductions/killings. I mean seriously, to not even consider the role of training or experience is to ignore a whole lot of evidence that females can be just as capable (or incapable) of defending themselves as males are. Even without guns. So the physical capabilities justification for the Damsel being overwhelmingly female is simply wrong.

        That said, there is no solution yet, because modeling the physics of combat is a thousand times easier than even the simplest human interactions.

        No solution? The Damsel trope is sexist because the victim is overwhelmingly female. This has nothing to do with the gender of the protagonist (although a female victim/male protagonist would make up a part of the ideal range of games, it shouldn’t be the vast majority). The Damsel scenario is almost always separate from the actual gameplay. We never get a chance to intervene to save the Damsel before they are killed/abducted. It is a story device. So regardless of your gameplay mechanics, the designers have a choice of a) who the Damsel is, and b) how they are taken/killed. This is independent of the rest of the game: it doesn’t matter *how* the Damsel was taken/killed, but that they *were*. All it takes is a little imagination for writers to create a Damsel scenario for male Damsels. The gameplay can remain the same. So the Damsel storyline comes back to being about motivation. The perception that men can’t be Damsels or that women always trigger more motivation, is sexist. Not just from the in-game perspective, but from the fact that it ignores the multitudes of female gamers who want something different.

        I think you always have to have that element of the strong protecting the weak, and the offense against civilization of others not exhibiting that deference, in order for these stories to have visceral power. But to do so you have to acknowledge that there are in fact strong and weak in this world.

        Agreed. Well, mostly – there is room for the occasional tale of the strong being saved by the weak through intelligence and charisma, or simple hard work or sacrifice. And of course there are strong and weak in this world. But the message that the current Damsel trope sends, as Sarkeesian demonstrates, is that strong = male and weak = female. When games using the Damsel trope show both male and female characters in the strong role, and both male and female characters in the weak role, then it will cease to become an issue for gender equality activists.

    • First off how does women being the major breadwinners in an American family, have anything to do with tropes in video games.

      On a certain level I agree with Fox, I think in a loving human family unit there must be certain roles, such as nurturer, and disciplinarian. If these roles are not met, the children suffer. With the breakdown of the family unit, these roles are going to the wayside, such as parents trying to be friends with their children, instead of actual parents.. I don’t care what gender in the family displays these roles, but I do feel they must be met. For example in a gay marriage of two men, one must be a nurturer, while one could be more stern.

      Also statistics can be manipulated, and skewed. I could probably conduct another study to defeat the finding of the Pew study.

      • First off how does women being the major breadwinners in an American family, have anything to do with tropes in video games.

        Because these tropes perpetuate the idea that women are or should be subservient, victims or helpless without men. Yet there is a large section of the population in denial about this, yourself included. The article above shows a) just how wrong that idea is – more and more women are becoming the primary income earners for their families, and that trend looks to continue; and b) that the denial is strong, insidious and continually broadcast through media like this Fox show.

        When a ‘respected’ forum like this business show spouts off idiocy like that, it reinforces the tropes and makes them more acceptable in media, including video games.

      • Fox are probably just using the opportunity to have a go at single mothers. But yeah I agree with you, the main thing is that kids need to have their needs met. Don’t see why it should even be a story as to which person in the family is the main breadwinner as long as they’re all well and happy.

        Unless you are Fox and hate the idea that men or women might step outside their traditional roles. (Although tbh single parent families have been around forever anyway, even if just because of men dying in wars, and who did they THINK brought in the money?)

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  16. I don’t particular care for Anita Sarkeesian because she has a gender essentialist streak and issues with violence relating to that.

    Also, her older stuff was really not very good.

    So that’s pretty much the extent of my feelings on the matter.

  17. Excellent discussion, Spinks and company. There are some responders here who aren’t really engaging with the idea that they could learn something or that Anita’s arguments are strong, valid, and accurate. They are responding from the position that the tropes can’t possibly be valid “because *insert reason*, which seems an impossible proposition given it’s continued prevalence.

  18. I wonder what the solution is though. The reason that violence against people you love is used is because it is extremely affecting. Look at Mass effect 3 and your choice to stop Mordin from delivering the genophage – you’re not killing a lover, hell he doesn’t even look human, but I doubt there’s many (any?) people who can choose the darkside option there without feeling like total shit.

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