Despite the fact that today pretty much everyone plays video games in one form or another, there's still that hardcore group of gamers that discuss and debate topics that rarely, if ever, reach the more casual player who likes to play Candy Crush on the subway. Sometimes those insular conversations do gain broader attention, but it's usually not something good.
This time, a week of particularly ugly online comments, YouTube video rants and harassing tweets culminated with someone tweeting a series of increasingly disturbing threats to Anita Sarkeesian, a video blogger and pop culture critic. (Read here. Warning: NSFW)
When director/writer Joss Whedon defended Skarkeesian, he received this message.
How did it get to the point? Sadly, this kind of abuse is nothing new for Sarkeesian.
The onslaught of hate that some within the gaming community have brought down on Sarkeesian started back in the summer of 2012, when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video series explaining some of the problematic tropes of video games when it came to the portrayal of women. She initially set a goal of $6,000, but when the campaign drew negative attention from gamers, it also brought more funds.
Nearly 7,000 backers pledged a total of over $150,000 to Sarkeesian's campaign to explore why a rapidly expanding medium has such a troubled history and continuing relationship with half of the world's population.
When Sarkeesian's YouTube channel, "Feminist Frequency," began rolling out "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" in March 2013, the hate only grew. Many gamers claimed that Sarkeesian's critiques of games, both past and present, misrepresented the entertainments they loved, that the often misogynistic and violent examples she used in her videos weren't honest portrayals of the games.
The unfortunate thing about all of this is that in reality, "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" is exactly what the medium and its biggest fans need. Thanks to advancements like Oculus Rift, electronic gaming is on the verge of cultural revolution, where literally anything is possible, yet we're stuck with the same regressive imagery. "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" explores what established these sexist gimmicks and lazy storytelling mechanics and explains why they're destructive.
And the entire series thus far has been well-researched, thought-provoking and level-headed.
That's because, despite what angered gamers say, Sarkeesian isn't attacking anything, except for outdated and harmful ideas. Every video opens with a disclaimer, no doubt in response to the venom spit at her even before the series launched, that when you engage with any piece of culture — be it a book, movie, TV show or video game — it's possible to enjoy it and acknowledge its flaws. A lot of the rage appears to stem from Sarkeesian asking more of gamers, suggesting they actually think critically about what they use for mindless entertainment.
If you try to get to the bottom of people's main criticisms of Sarkeesian's work, you get the feeling that her main detractors haven't watched her videos closely or at all. Like any good argument, Sarkeesian addresses likely counterpoints in her videos, often completely invalidating those complaints.
My recommendation, whether you're a casual gamer or a diehard, is to sit down and watch "Tropes vs Women in Video Games." Sarkeesian is doing the world of video games a service by asking us to engage with the medium in a way that's comparable to its potential. Not only will you learn something, but it may change the way you look at video games and the people around you.