Why is Feminism Such a Sore Spot Among Gamers?

I hate discussing gender in video games. I lose so much faith in humanity every time I’m foolish enough to open my mouth or to click on a thread with the word ‘feminist’ in it. The slightest mention of it is enough to get an avalanche of attacks from gamers who are desperate to believe that the industry, as it is now, is perfect. This is why I haven’t posted anything to do with gender roles or sexism for quite some time. However, I’m breaking my silence in order to finally highlight a major frustration: that many gamers respond with hostility to any mention of the word feminism.

Oh Lightning, how many names have you been called based on your gender alone?

Yesterday, the third instalment of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women was released to the public. As what happens every time feminism or sexism is brought up concerning video games, it has led to a massive backlash from the the internet gaming community. Sarkeesian has quickly become a very polarizing figure with plenty of people ready to run to the streets to defend her, while another segment will consistently send rape threats across twitter. Her videos are meant to highlight what she perceives as sexist tropes in video games, particularly the damsel in distress trope that is prevalent in an alarming number of games. I don’t think her videos are perfect. She has a tendency to jump to conclusions and she cherry picks her examples (As do we all). However, I think the broader purpose of the videos is very admirable, if not up for criticism. The problem isn’t the intelligent criticism, or any disagreement. The problem is the death threats, rape threats, and general misogyny coming from the community. This is something that the gaming media has focused on quite a bit, rightly, in my opinion, because there is a major problem with the community here. Of course, this does not represent the entire community, otherwise this article wouldn’t exist, but I’ve never seen the word feminism or sexism used in reference to gaming without it being a problem.

By the way: creating these memes doesn’t help your point when trying to attack Sarkeesian. It just makes you look like a dick.

This Kotaku article on the subject takes the counterpoint by criticizing gaming media for focusing on the negative commenters and blowing the entire affair out of proportion. I wanted to link to the article because, although I don’t agree with its conclusion, it is very well written and makes some solid and intelligent criticisms against Sarkeesian. It likens much of the abuse that Sarkeesian received to Youtube commenters, which isn’t entirely inaccurate. For those who aren’t aware, Youtube is a cesspool of trolls and aggression where a Sesame Street video is likely to spur on some racist chatter. However, Sarkeesian is only the most recent example, and, most of the time, the gaming media is not there to point it out. If you look at any gaming site that isn’t specifically dedicated to feminism, you’ll find a disheartening discussion every time the word feminism, feminist, or sexist gets brought up. This isn’t even a new trend. People have been getting their backs up over these problems for a very long time, and it isn’t limited to Youtube-style shouts of ignorance. These are often people fighting tooth and nail against any possibility of there being a problem. I agree with the author of the article in that not all gamers are sexist and to portray all white male gamers as misogynist pigs is equally as offensive as labelling all women as weak frail little princesses. However, the segment of the gaming population that has a major issue with feminism is one that should be examined and not ignored as some sort of creation of sensationalist media. I’ve been around for far too long to believe that to be true.

Don’t be fooled by misogynist pig’s adorableness. This guy’s a real asshole.

So I want to take some time to muse as to why this is such an issue among gamers

Firstly, I feel there is a fundamental problem with how the internet works in anonymity. I’m not talking about the famous Penny Arcade anonymity equation, but the fact that everyone is treated by everyone else as if they are in the same age, social, racial group, etc. This is a problem when it comes to feminism and how people react to that word. A twelve-year-old may not understand what feminism is and his reaction to the word will be drastically different than a twenty-five-year-old. In real life, we can choose to dismiss certain opinions or at least distinguish them based on a huge multitude of factors. However, on the internet, there are generally two kinds of people: those who agree with you and trolls, with no way to mitigate a frustrating or ridiculous opinion without assuming it comes from a troll. This can lead to a disproportionate number of bafflingly sexist opinions, which would, in real life, hold no sway over anyone, and it may be a possible explanation to the explosion of anti-feminist feeling among gamers.

So incredibly true.

Of course, that brings us to one of the most fundamental problems with how much of the online gaming community deals with feminism – what is feminism? I have heard many definitions across various forums, groups and comments. These range from ‘feminism is a doctrine for women who want to be superior to/insult men,’ to ‘feminism is a doctrine used by people who are too politically correct to justify the stick up their ass.’ In reality feminism really means one thing: equality of the sexes. A woman declaring herself a feminist who’s driving purpose is female supremacy is as much of a feminist as I am a tomato. The fact that many gamers (And I do mean many) confuse these two definitions is a major problem, and a possible explanation why so many people fight so hard against the very mention of the word.

Sweet tomato eases the pain.

Then there are people who don’t see any of the anti-feminist or sexist arguments as a problem. These are the people who recognize problems but sweep them under the rug for various reasons. Whether it is based on intent (The developer wasn’t trying to be sexist), ego (It doesn’t bother me so it can’t bother anyone), or any number of other reasons, some of which are perfectly legitimate, these gamers often rely on the old chestnut that any talk of feminism or sexism is political correctness gone mad. As I mentioned, sometimes this opinion is perfectly valid, but not always, and I see this get thrown around at pretty much any mention of political correctness no matter how minor or major. The problem is that when people freak out and make a huge deal over tiny things, the people who don’t care for whatever reason, see it as a trend of political correctness, instead of seeing a potential problem. This line of thought is so often joined with a lack of empathy and inability to see outside of one’s own privilege. The backlash against political correctness is another possibility as to why gamers are, on average, opposed to discussion about sexism.

The presence of political correctness shouldn’t derail an entire argument, but it so often does.

My own personal theory lies in the history of gaming as a form of entertainment. As gamers we are, unfortunately, used to having to justify our existence to people. Sometimes it’s to your parents, who, if you were born in the 80s, likely see video games as a child’s toy and not a legitimate hobby. Other times it’s to society, and society has a knack for using video games as a scape goat. The recent attack of video games as the source of increased violence in the United States and various other countries is one such scapegoating. Video games have also been accused of ‘promoting the gay agenda,’ ‘brainwashing youth,’ and ‘secularization.’ Gamers see these accusations and many have had to make their own excuses to their family, friends, significant other, etc. As such, we, as gamers, are used to having our hobby come under constant attacks from people with a political agenda. When someone like Sarkeesian comes along and makes bold statements, it triggers the same reaction within us as if someone was telling you that you’re going to commit a murder because of your fascination with Call of Duty. In this case, feminism ins’t actually the problem. I don’t believe the bulk of gamers are sexist in any way. In truth, I think that we’re just so weary from defending what we love, we get really knee-jerky when it comes to outside attacks, and sexist accusations are often seen to come from without.

You wouldn’t believe the mushrooms I’ve killed since I played this game… I’m a monster.

That being said, in reality, there are many reasons that many gamers have such a problem with the discussion of feminism, and not a single one of my ideas could possibly apply to all people. I had hoped that this sore spot for feminism would fade over time; however, it seems to be on the increase. Every mention seems to fill up threads, which is very disheartening. It seems like a large portion of gamers are in denial. I watched a video refuting Sarkeesian earlier today, and he stated with an overabundance of confidence that the damsel in distress trope exists because it’s easy as part of the hero’s journey, and it’s most commonly men saving women because men are the ones who play and design video games. There are several fundamental problems with his argument, but I’m going to leave you with that to figure out on your own. I’ve spent enough time digging my own grave today.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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