Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Mighty No. 9's Feminist Community Manager Controversy

A sudden upswing in work to do over the holidays means this will probably be the last blog post until January. I do my best to update this blog three times a month but that's going to be tricky this month. I also have a completely different blog post half-written but just finding out about this story today made me switch topics. This one's a lot more interesting.

There's a funded project on Kickstarter by the name of Mighty No. 9, which is being developed by a company called Comcept and billed as a spiritual successor to the Mega Man series. You can see why too; not only are the character designs and gameplay practically identical but it has Keiji Inafune -- director behind Onimusha, Dead Rising and Mega Man itself -- heading up the project.

Recently, Comcept appointed a new community manager called Dina Abou Karam. Her job seems to be to listen to fan feedback and forward it to higher-ups at Comcept. She's also posts blogs and updates on the game, manages the forums and basically acts as a go-between for the fans and developer.

The trouble is that Dina being appointed raised a whole host of questions amongst the many, many backers of Mighty No. 9. Firstly, Dina presented a piece of fan art of a gender-flipped version of Beck -- the male protagonist of MN9 -- and stated:

"As someone who cares about gender representation in games, please make Call [the game's female character] a playable character, or even better, make Beck a female bot alltogether [sic]! It shouldn't and won't affect gameplay! I started on some Mighty No. 9 Fan Art myself as a way to promote this Kickstarter/express my wish:"

Other than that, Dina tweeted that she was "never a Mega Man player" but she supported MN9 because her friends and boyfriend were working on the game. Here's some screenshots of some of the entire situation:

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The tweets were later deleted.

So what's the big deal? Well one of the reasons that fans of Mighty No. 9 and the Mega Man series are so frustrated by these developments is because they've been waiting a long time for a new iteration of the Mega Man series (and yes, this counts, albeit in a different form). There hasn't been a new Mega Man game since 2008 and none on a console since 2004. The fans have had to put up with cancellations of games like Mega Man Legends 3 and Mega Man Universe. A Western port of the iOS game Rockman X-over was cancelled because of negative feedback.

This video -- "Mighty Number Nope: The Dina Disaster" by a Youtuber called InternetAristocrat -- gives a more detailed account of why fans would be frustrated than I can and provides screenshots from the backers-only MN9 forum. It goes into detail about the social justice causes Dina is interested in according to her tweets and mentions that she stated her favourite Mega Man game is Mega Man X ... after saying that she wasn't a Mega Man player.

Basically, it's understandable that the fans would be angry that a non-MM fan made suggestions that Comcept change the game to suit a personal ideology -- and be hired following it -- when that's not what the backers agreed to when they donated. They have a right to be angry over someone being hired who has been forceful when expressing her political viewpoints in association with the game (and the video by InternetAristocrat shows that Dina herself stated that she was hired because her boyfriend worked for Comcept). It's not what they paid for. Nor is it the person they want speaking on behalf of the backers/the Western audience. Here are some of the responses when Dina was announced as community manager:

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I should point out before I go any further that yesterday, Comcept released a statement saying that none of Dina's views actually effect the game in any way. Their statement can be viewed on Gameranx -- more on that site later -- but here's the important part:

"Will the community manager be skewing things the way they would personally like to see the game? Will the community manager ignore views that don’t match with their own personal ideals? Will the community manager lose the community’s desires due to unfamiliarity with the type of game we are making? Will the community manager be creating their own robots and levels and programming, or changing the game in any way, from what the core creative team wants?! A lot of these or similar questions have been raised.

The good news is that the answer, in all cases, is no."
So all of the comments in this blog are outdated by now, when people weren't sure just how much influence Dina had, but I haven't seen any other updates on the subject since. Not sure what the response has been to Comcept's explanation.

I've never played a Mega Man game but personally, I think the backers who want a refund are completely justified, even with Comcept's clarification (and as clarifications go, it hits all the right notes).

There's a good reason why companies keep their business and personal lives separate -- in fact, in InternetAristocrat's video, it's stated that Dina deleted her tweets about never being a Mega Man player for that exact reason -- and the backers donated to this project in good faith. I don't want to sound overdramatic but Dina is an unknown quantity in this situation. It's fine to have feminists on development teams -- in fact, it'd be pretty hard to avoid and ridiculous not to -- and it's even fine to have people on a development team who are not fans of previous games in the series. Lord knows that having developers who are fans of the series doesn't always work; look at the Ninja Theory's DmC. However, that's not what the backers paid for. The Kickstarter page itself says the following [emphasis theirs]:
"Every aspect of development—art, level design, music, programming, etc.—is being handled by veteran Japanese game creators with extensive experience in the genre, and with Mega Man in particular, all the way up to and including the project’s leader, Keiji Inafune himself!"
Moreover, this is specifically someone who was hired following a suggestion of her own, game-altering ideas based on a personal, political agenda and who got her foot in the door due to her boyfriend putting in a good word for her in spite of being unfamiliar with the series. There's no real reason for her to be a part of Comcept any more than any of the other thousands (I assume) of bilingual Mighty No. 9 fans out there.

My issue with this entire controversy is Dina's initial suggestion of, "even better, make Beck a female bot alltogether! It shouldn't and won't affect gameplay!" It's odd how if you said this about making Lara Croft or Samus male, all you would get is funny looks. Unusually, I've actually heard this suggestion before, about Link from the Legend Of Zelda series. I also heard the exact same thing when Peter Capaldi was announced as the next incarnation of the Doctor in Doctor Who. So why is it that when pushed for a reason why this should happen, the only response I ever see is "why not"?

If the only reason why you should change a character's gender is "why not" or "because we can", then there's a problem. You could apply that to any characteristic and make the same claim. "Why shouldn't the character be from Paraguay?!" Again, you could also say the same thing about gender-flipping female characters or making every non-white character Caucasian.

The reason "why not" is because these are established characters -- or at least characters with an appearance more-or-less figured out in the artist's mindset prior to drawing them on a page -- and even in the case of a character who can change his appearance, such as the Doctor, doesn't it do more to establish new strong female characters rather piggybacking on the success of a one who has been male for half a century? What would that bring to the table except for tokenism?

Look, there are actually some quite plausible reasons for switching a character's traits during development, such as if the writer adds something to the mythology that would make it awkward for the character to be [insert race/sex/sexuality here]. Or perhaps it conflicts with something that was already there and needs to be changed to suit it. However, regardless of the reasons why, I would think we could all agree that two fans who "care about gender representation" are not a good enough reason to alter the character designer and game director's creative visions.

Having said all of that, hopefully Comcept's clarification puts a few minds at ease. It's probably the best thing they could've done and maybe it will do the trick.

Anyway, one of the wonderful things about this entire controversy is that even though the typical parties have come out of the woodwork to express their frustration with the "misogyny" towards Dina -- do me a favour and take a look at the comments pictured above. See any hatred of women? -- mainstream gamers don't seem to share that viewpoint. If you visited the Gameranx article above, you might've noticed that Ian Miles Cheong (yes, that one) disabled comments. It's hard not to believe he didn't do that because of the backlash against his previous article on the subject, the blatantly clickbait-titled "Be Respectful and Considerate - Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter Explodes With Misogynist Rage". Some of the comments are very satisfying to read, calling out Cheong for casually, and unprofessionally, making the Mighty No. 9 backers out to be misogynists.

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And my personal favourite:

When a game journalist -- even one as biased as Cheong -- actually starts throwing around the term "misogyny" simply because people object to having the rug pulled out from under them on a product they paid for, game journalism really has hit its lowest point. I live in the UK and tracts like Cheong's are quite reminiscent of the snidely aggressive articles we see in the pages of tabloids like the Daily Mail.

In other words ... it's just a typical day on a gaming news site. Feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at

Sunday, 1 December 2013

The Marketing Double Standard

In advertising, much like in sitcoms, it's not uncommon for men to be portrayed as bumbling, useless figures while women are the down-to-earth, intelligent beings who make all the right decisions and often have to clean up whatever mess the man in their life has made. There's an entire series on Youtube called Misandry In The Media that shines a spotlight on commercials featuring stupid, hapless, perverted, irritating male characters and the women who have to put up with them.

Even though commercials for gaming don't fall back on the same sexist portrayals of men as often as other products do, it does occasionally still crop up. Last year, I mentioned how mind-boggling it was that Ninja Theory used male genital mutilation to advertise Heavenly Sword at E3 2006 (in the appropriately-named "Groin" trailer) in a way that no game developer would ever dream of doing with women:

Over the last couple of weeks, the double standard has cropped up again. The Xbox One has given us a couple of very clear examples of how acceptable it is to mistreat men while being unacceptable to use negative portrayals of women.

It started with a light-hearted letter on the Xbox website, supposedly for people to customise and send to their significant others to persuade them to buy an Xbox One. It's only available in the US, so I haven't been able to view the letter itself, but I believe it can be viewed here if you're in the US and want to check it out. For anyone who can't, here's a screenshot:

Left-click for larger view.
Immediately, this letter faced a backlash on Twitter and from journalists, who believed that the letter pandered to stereotypical viewpoints about women; lines like "you'd rather knit than watch me slay zombies" and "did I mention how beautiful you are" indicate that this is supposedly a man speaking to a woman.

... Except it doesn't. The letter uses completely gender-neutral terms and any words or phrases with green text can be customised with different ones. "Beautiful", for example, can be changed to "handsome" instead. Both the sender and the recipient can be either male or female, in other words, so it's astounding that so many journalists reporting on the letter -- some of whom even acknowledge that the letter is customisable, making their outrage all the more baffling -- immediately believe that this is a man sending the letter to his female partner when it could be addressed to either sex, from someone of either sex:
"What was intended to be a cute, customizable form meant for men to convince their girlfriends to buy XBox One consoles instead brought Internet ire to Microsoft."
- Michael Thomas, Digital Journal - "'Sexist' Xbox One ad forces Microsoft to rewrite"
"Microsoft put together an online letter template to help men ask their significant others for Xbox One consoles — either as a holiday gift or requesting permission to get the system for the household.
The ad tries to be cute with the thinking an 'explanation (and a little sucking up)' will get the woman to budge. But some see the effort as sexist and enforcing gender stereotypes."
- Samantha Murphy Kelly, Mashable - "Microsoft's 'Sexist' Xbox One Ad Stirs Controversy"
"Microsoft changed the default language Wednesday on a fill-in-the-blanks form on an Xbox website, which appears to give men talking points to sell women on the merits of the new Xbox One videogame console."
- Shira Ovide, Ian Sherr & Evelyn M. Rusli, Wall Street Journal - "Xbox Changes Wording of ‘Hey Honey’ Letter After Sexism Complaints"
"Microsoft has created the most insanely sexist ad for the Xbox One after presumably binge-watching Mad Men and missing the point entirely.
Or at least that's the only explanation I can come up with for its comically regressive US web-based ad for Xbox One that assumes its audience is full of males attached to sneering harpies who like to knit, love fitness, and hate video games.
The ad in question suggests that men want an Xbox One, but their female significant other will chide them for it. To counter this oppressive, domestic force, Microsoft has written a letter to your stereotypical shrew explaining the benefits of Xbox One to women who never lived past 1912."
- Jeffrey Matulef, Eurogamer - "Microsoft slammed for sexist Xbox One ad"
"“Man,” you may have said recently, “I wish my girlfriend/wife/mistress would let me buy one of those cool new Xbox One consoles.” “If only there was someone who could talk to her about it for me,” you may have exclaimed! Well good news, gamer guy: Microsoft has a shamelessly sexist open letter you can email to the non-gaming lady in your life."

Some articles are less reactionary than others but it's hard to believe so many of them take the stance of "it's sexist against women". As marketing campaigns go, I can't see it being particularly successful -- is the customisable letter going to persuade anyone any better than a list of the Xbox One's features would? -- and, honestly, the idea of poking fun at a partner not being interested in gaming is a silly way to sell a games console. Having said that, Microsoft made an effort to make the letter gender-neutral. There's nothing to say that it's not a female gamer sending this to her male partner who would "rather knit than watch me slay zombies" (which I think is too over-the-top to be taken seriously anyway). So it's an example of dumb advertising but Microsoft at least took steps to avoid offending people, something they made clear when they apologised and changed the letter.

If only the same could be said for their "His & Hers" Xbox One commercial:

In this video, a man is watching sports on the Xbox One. His girlfriend enters the room, uses the Kinect's voice commands to switch to Dead Rising 3, to the man's protests, and then orders him to get her a beer. He complies but finds that they're out of beer. His girlfriend orders him to go to the store. He does so. The "joke" is that the girlfriend can command her boyfriend as easily as she can with the Xbox One's voice recognition.

Basically, Microsoft have fallen back on the same sitcom stereotypes that I mentioned at the start of the blog; a useless doormat of a boyfriend with the same "yes dear" attitude that sitcom husbands typically have when confronted by their by-the-numbers "strong, independent" wife. However, and I can't quite believe I'm writing this, the advert has been praised for subverting stereotypes.

Before I get into that, let's read some of the Youtube comments from that particular video, shall we?

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I apologise for that picture being so large that it won't fit on the blog unless resized but basically, the vast majority of comments on that video imply that the only people who dislike the video are stupid, illiterate, fat, ugly, whiny, sexists, virgins, "butthurt", "fucksticks" and/or "dudebros".

Man, we're so lucky that gaming is a boy's club, aren't we? Who knows what kind of abusive, sexist things would be said about men if it wasn't!

Basically, their interpretation is that the commercial subverts stereotypes because it's a woman telling a man to get back in the kitchen and get her something, in the same way that women face online abuse by people who tell them to "get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich".

I'm sure that was the intention, just as I'm sure the commercial was intended to subvert stereotypes. It doesn't work, in as much as the man in this particular relationship is as stereotypical as the majority of men in both sitcoms and advertising but, as is always the case, the woman's portrayal is the important one. The man is irrelevant.

So let's say that by having a woman tell a man to get back in the kitchen, the commercial attempted to subvert stereotypes. Do Microsoft truly think that making misandric jokes about men is somehow making a point or striking a blow against sexism towards women? Or are they just running the risk of normalising "get back in the kitchen" jokes for the sake of a very petty commercial? By using sexist advertising to market their product, feminist critics of the games industry have lost what little weight the "women are often faced with 'get back in the kitchen' jokes while playing online" argument had; I know for a fact that, when faced with that argument in the future, I'm going to respond with, "so what? Microsoft used that same 'joke' against men to help sell the Xbox One". It's Heavenly Sword all over again. When anyone points to the website Fat, Ugly or Slutty for examples of the ways women are mistreated online, there's an entire comments section of a Youtube video we can point to for examples of men being described using phrases like "fat little man-dodos", "14-year-old virgins" and "man tears". The commercial hasn't made any strides towards equality.

For all the misandric comments about "man tears", there are actually very few people criticising the commercial, leading me to suspect that the comments section of the video is heavily-moderated. However, I did manage to find this comment thread:

Left-click for larger view.
In this particular comments thread, one feminist Youtuber says that they are offended by the commercial because it doesn't promote gender equality. Others tell them that they are not a feminist.

I think Julie De Santos hits the nail on the head here, before being quickly dismissed by people claiming she "misses the point". My criticism of this commercial and the Youtube comments honestly has nothing to do with the content but rather the reactions to it; the blatant double standard where an explicitly misandric advertisement is praised while an implicitly misogynistic (if that) letter promoting the Xbox One is decried. Microsoft gave an apology for one but not the other and I'm sure nobody is guessing which one. Where's the consistency? Where's the backlash against the "His & Hers" Xbox One commercial and the comments to it?

The only article that I could find even mentioning the "His & Hers" advertisement was from Gameranx, in a piece that praised the commercial while pointing out how the makers of the customisable letter were guilty of "not getting it".
"[On the customisable letter] However, despite the lack of gender specific pronouns, many have noticed that the structure still comes off as a stereotype: the ole "gotta ask the ball and chain" trope that permeates heteronormal relationships. It's almost as if the initial ad was rejected and key phrases switched in the interest of not coming off as sexist. A noble pursuit, to be sure, but one rather clumsily executed in this case.
This attempt at gender neutrality seems to follow a new strategy for Microsoft, who recently released a commercial that adequately challenged some of the general preconceived notions about the target audience for the Xbox One. Entitled "His and Hers," the following ad features a woman gamer who kicks her boyfriend off the couch while he's watching sports to play a video game.
It almost boggles the mind how a company that came up with the advertisement above could also be responsible for the former ad copy. But gotta give 'em props for trying."
- Ian Miles Cheong, Gameranx - "Is This Xbox One Ad Sexist?"

Little wonder that this particular article was written by Gameranx editor-in-chief, Ian Miles Cheong; someone who, back during the #1ReasonWhy movement, posted a link on Twitter to his Tumblr, featuring a very misandric poem by Carol Diehl, which suggested everything from men being unable to know what it's like to be raped to being oblivious to the feeling of having the appearance of their private parts mocked.

On occasion, I've defended game journalists for the lack of coverage about certain issues if I feel like they're not significant enough to be covered but this isn't like a few sexist comments on an obscure Facebook page that aren't a big enough issue for journalists to cover. This is an advertisement for a major next-gen console. I would expect some coverage for it beyond Ian Miles Cheong's brief praise. It isn't like I think this issue deserves special treatment but the fact is that a lot less significant gender issues in gaming have been given a lot more coverage because, typically, they involved women as the victims and not men.

Take Carolyn Petit as an example. Back when the backlash occurred over the 9.0 score she awarded to Grand Theft Auto V, some people started up a petition on called "Gamespot Staff: Fire Carolyn Petit". That particular petition was taken down incredibly quickly and a new one started up that, as of this writing, has a grand total of 46 signatures (and several people only signed it to comment on how stupid it was). It's a far cry from the 22559 comments currently on Gamespot's review of Grand Theft Auto V and not what I'd call indicative of any kind of sexism in the gaming community.

Left-click for larger view.

So why is it that this particular non-issue was covered by sites such as MCV UK, Las Vegas Guardian ExpressChaos Hour and System Wars Magazine? A couple of months ago, I criticised a video on Youtube by Jamin Warren and PBS Game/Show that compared Anita Sarkeesian to Rosa Parks. In that particular video, Warren brought up the petition as a reason why "we need Anita Sarkeesian's feminism". While these aren't sites or videos I regularly read people discussing online, they still covered the subject. That's more than I can say about this.

Likewise, something I'm fairly sure I've never written about is the "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" game that sprang up around the time of her Kickstarter campaign. Some of you may have heard about it, since it's one of the subjects constantly brought up whenever the abuse Anita suffered is mentioned. It's been talked and written about by Anita herself. Basically, it was a game hosted on where the player clicked on a photograph of Anita repeatedly until her face became more and more bruised. Given that it's had such a long-lasting legacy when the subject of sexism in the gaming community comes up, you wouldn't think it was made by just one person and taken down from Newgrounds within a day. Does it make the motive or feelings behind it any less despicable? No. Is it undeserving of the reputation it received? Yes. I'm not going to link to any sites because I don't particularly want to give them traffic but just type "Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian" into a search engine and you'll find articles on it by the Huffington Post, New Statesmen, Destructoid and more.

Then there's an article from The Wire, titled "Gamers Can't Handle the New Female Head at Xbox" by Rebecca Greenfield. Greenfield's justification for this claim? A handful of comments from gamers, several of which aren't even sexist.

So again, I don't think the "His & Hers" commercial deserves special treatment. However, because of the blatant double standard when it comes to male portrayals, it isn't receiving even basic treatment. Misandric marketing combined with single-minded journalism focused only on politically-correct articles leaves us with a sexist commercial I'll be surprised if anyone covers.

The odd thing is that the "His & Hers" video posted above was actually a mirror. The one on Xbox's Youtube channel has more views, more comments and yet a lot less sexism in the comments section. I've no idea how that worked out the way it did.

Finally, although I know that engaging with Youtube commenters is a fool's errand no matter what, there is one from the comments section above that I'd like to mention, from a Youtuber called Nimbose:
"What's funny is that some of the guys who hate this commercial are probably those who tell women 'shut up and get me a sandwich' on a daily basis.
Hmn.  Looks like someone can't take what they dish out."
That final line, about not being able to take what they dish out, is the part I'm interested in. Using that same logic, does that mean it's now open-season on making "get back in the kitchen" jokes, since Microsoft have done it with the Xbox One? It's been "dished out" towards men ... so presumably, male gamers can "dish it out" towards women as they please from now on and female gamers won't be allowed to complain because Microsoft already insulted men in the same way? Or at least any complaints will be met with, "well, it looks like some people can't take what they dish out".

I'm guessing that won't happen.

Abusive online comments towards women aren't going to end because a console manufacturer created an advert featuring an insulting portrayal of men. If anything, it'll just encourage more abusive comments and, as long as the "His & Hers" advert goes uncriticised, all the misandric advertising has done is remove any way of defending against the "get back in the kitchen" comments! If nobody steps up to criticise the advert that shows men getting back in the kitchen funny, why would anyone step up to criticise the "get back in the kitchen" jokes aimed at women that the online trolls find funny? If you're willing to promote the sexist advertisting double standard -- criticising the letter, not criticising the commercial -- why would anyone bother to help women?

Simply put, if nobody criticises the "His & Hers" advertisement in the same way they did the customisable letter ... I don't know how gaming can ever be referred to as "a boy's club" with a straight face and it's clear why blogs like this one need to exist.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Ms. Male Character - Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games

The next Tropes Vs Women video is up, so let's take a look at it:

In this episode, Anita talks about three particular tropes that she feels are harmful towards women:
  • The Distaff Counterpart - A character that is basically the female equivalent of an existing male character.
  • The Smurfette Principle - When there is only a single female character in an otherwise all-male cast.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics - Female characters have characteristics or items that indicate that they are female -- such as bows in their hair or makeup -- while male characters have none.
Funnily enough, I've actually been critical of the Distaff Counterpart on comic book forums before, just because I think it diminishes any real creativity. I think original female characters are more interesting and having unique powers (in the case of superheroes) is a greater incentive for a new audience to pick up the book than simply using a "name" character. In all honesty, that's probably not the case and is just a personal preference because otherwise, why would Distaff Counterparts/legacy characters exist if not to sell more products? That's the reason in comic books and it's more or less stated in Anita's own video that it was also the reason for Ms. Pac-Man.

However, in spite of the fact that I have a personal distaste for Distaff Counterparts, I find that Anita's representation of them in her video doesn't paint a fair picture. In fact, for once, I feel like I'm being critical of Anita because I want her to do better when critiquing a subject I dislike, rather than being critical of her because I disagree. I've noticed other supporters of better female portrayals in video games take this stance so it's interesting to find myself in the same boat.

I think several points Anita makes at the end of her video point out one of the pitfalls that she fell into during her damsel in distress videos; either failing or refusing to acknowledge the differences in gaming between retro games and the modern era. In the case of the damsel in distress, it was praising games like The Secret Of Monkey Island without pointing out that games with Monkey Island's clever writing and narrative were the exception, rather than the rule. Game developers at the time didn't have the luxury of being able to create complex stories in every single game. Using the damsel in distress plot device gave the player a simple and understandable idea of why the character they played as was on their quest.

In this case, Anita does not acknowledge the reasons behind the female characters she praises being free of "gender signifiers" -- her term for Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, as well as a term that I actually prefer -- and the (usually) retro ones she criticises for having them. Let's use Ms. Pac-Man as an example; unlike TowerFall, Ms. Pac-Man didn't have the freedom to create female characters in a brand new setting. She was created because Midway wanted a follow-up to Pac-Man, which Anita mentioned herself. Therefore, she was limited in the designs that could be used and still remain recognisably part of the Pac-Man universe. Plus, unlike Thomas Was Alone -- another game Anita praised for featuring a positive female character without any gender signifiers -- Ms. Pac-Man didn't have a narrative that would allow for the development of a deep female character, much like Elaine in The Secret Of Monkey Island compared to other, more "regressive", examples of the damsel in distress.

Basically, there were limitations to making a female character in 1982 who was intended to be a successor to the most popular game character in the world (at that time). There's only so much you can change when the character has to be as recognisable as Pac-Man himself and with both the storytelling and graphic limitations of the time period. I don't feel that's highlighted in the video above.

It's a similar story with other games Anita mentions, such as Ice Climber (1985), Bubble Bobble (1986) and Adventures Of Lolo (1989). Another aspect that stood out to me was the divide between examples used from Japanese games and Western games. When it comes to the heavy focus on Japanese games, I'm not saying that the cultural differences excuse poorer representations of women or any other group. However, to avoid mentioning those cultural differences is to refuse to paint the whole picture. In previous episodes, Anita has singled out Shigeru Miyamoto and, in Pac-Man's case, it's Toru Iwatani's turn to be painted with the sexist brush. Here's Iwatani's quote that Anita took issue with:
"When you think about things women like, you think about fashion, or fortune-telling, or food or dating boyfriends. So I decided to theme the game around “eating” — after eating dinner, women like to have dessert."
It's understandable that Anita would dislike the blanket stereotyping but the cultural differences between the West and Japan aren't delved into. In fact, it's glossed over in a sentence by being described as, "Iwatani's regressive personal or cultural notions about women". I can't help but feel like this dumbs down what was, in fact, a major attempt to garner a female audience for video games. Iwatani reached out rather than pushed away. Isn't that something Anita wants?

And make no mistake, it worked. Pac-Man's success and popularity amongst female gamers was one of the reasons why a female character was the protagonist in Ms. Pac-Man, according to Midway employee Stan Jarocki.

Electronic Games Magazine (May 1982). Left-click for larger view.
"Pac-Man was the first commercial videogame to involve large numbers of women as players," says Jarocki. "It expanded our customer base and made Pac-Man a hit. Now we're producing this new game, Ms. Pac-Man, as our way of thanking all those lady arcaders who have played and enjoyed Pac-Man."
In spite of my own feelings about Distaff Counterparts, there is a reason they exist; they work. They can be hugely popular in their own right, earning the ability to stand on their own two feet. To use superheroes as an example, Marvel's Carol Danvers -- better known as Captain Marvel, formerly Ms. Marvel -- is a far more prominent hero than her male predecessor, also known as Captain Marvel. In the case of Ms. Pac-Man, she was as capable as Pac-Man when it came to eating dots and ghosts and in an enormously popular game herself, to the point that she either matches Pac-Man's cultural relevance or is ridiculously close. So to have Ms. Pac-Man so passively dismissed and her contributions diminished with the following quote is only disheartening to see, regardless of Anita's claim that, "it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable or enjoyable":
"Ms. Pac-Man’s visual properties are simply an extension of Pac-Man’s original design; she actually kind of is just Pac-Man with a bow. Her simple narrative reinforces the fact that she really only exists in relationship to Pac-Man. She is both his love interest and also the mother of his child."
Later on, Anita also provides this statement:
"Ms. Male Characters typically aren’t given their own distinctive identities and are prevented from being fully realized characters who exist on their own terms. This has the, perhaps unintended, effect of devaluing these characters and often relegating them to a subordinate or secondary status inside their respective media franchises, even when they are, on rare occasions, given a starring role in a spin-off or sequel."
I don't know about anyone else but I feel like the only person devaluing characters such as Ms. Pac-Man is Anita. Prior to that particular quote, Anita was talking about Dixie Kong, star of Donkey Kong Country 3 and a playable character in fifteen games, and it's clear that the quote is aimed at characters such as her and Ms. Pac-Man. Dixie Kong was the start of her own title, having to save two male characters who were damsels in distress and why exactly is she receiving criticism? Because she wears pink. Because she has a ponytail. Because she's a Distaff Counterpart to Diddy Kong, according to Anita (which isn't actually true; they have similar designs but only because the two are similar in age, size and, y'know, they're apes. The two do not share abilities or similarities in their design more than that, in the same way the Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man do). So who, exactly, is devaluing the female characters here?

Truthfully, I'm having a hard time figuring out why, exactly, Anita takes issue with gender signifiers in games. Unless they lead to what she describes as "personality female syndrome" -- a series of characteristics that Anita believes stereotype women, including being, "vain, spoiled, bratty and quick to anger" -- I don't exactly see the issue. I thought I did but then this segment of the video completely threw me off:
"Now just to be clear, there’s no inherent problem with the color pink, makeup, bows or high heels as design elements on their own. And of course people of all genders may choose to wear any of them from time to time in the real world and there is nothing necessarily wrong with that either.
However, when designers choose to use the Ms. Male Character trope and its associated visual stereotypes to specifically distinguish female characters from the rest of the cast in a fictional context, it has a few negative consequences.
One repercussion of constantly relying on feminizing signifiers for character design is that it tends to reinforce a strict binary form of gender expression. The gender binary is an entirely artificial and socially constructed division of male and female into two distinctly separate and opposing classes of human being. The gender binary also erases the continuum of gender presentations and identities that fall outside of the rigid masculine/feminine false dichotomy.
And within that strict binary women are “marked” while men get to remain largely “unmarked”."
In other words, Anita dislikes signifying a character's sex through certain clothing or accessories because (A) it singles out women as something different from men and (B) it automatically excludes people who don't identify as male or female, or who do but choose not to conform to gendered clothing.

The main reason this stood out to me is because, as understandable as it is to want more representations of genders outside the "gender binary" -- which simply means "male or female" -- I don't understand why it falls to gaming to show those representations. Gaming can but isn't Anita criticising the "entirely artificial and socially constructed division of male and female into two distinctly separate and opposing classes of human being" actually a criticism of society's attitudes instead?

Let's use Ms. Pac-Man as an example again. I'm not normally a person who says that Anita needs to provide good examples in addition to negative ones but in this case, I would love to hear an alternative solution to giving the character lipstick and a bow to show that she is a female character. Again, bear these factors in mind:
  • It's 1982 and there are "only a few pixels to work with" (Anita's own words).
  • The character has to look different from Pac-Man to avoid Ms. Pac-Man seeming like a knock-off.
  • The character has to look similar enough to show that the game is part of the same series.
I think it's reasonable, albeit not ideal, for a character designer to draw on real-life examples of women to create a female character in this case. Given that women are far more likely to wear bows and lipstick than men, it is completely fair for a character designer to use those elements for his/her female character. And that is so obvious that I can't believe I had to write it down.

On the Feminist Frequency Tumblr, the only solution, if you can call it that, was a gender-flipped version of Pac-Man and Mrs. Pac-Man that shows how the two characters would look if "Pac-Woman" became "Mr. Pac-Woman".

Personally, I don't think it's as "downright absurd" as Anita believes, not least because Pac-Man is a tricky character to take seriously in the first place. He -- or she, if we're talking about Pac-Woman -- is a yellow circle with a mouth. Putting a top hat and bow tie on it doesn't propel this light-hearted, cartoonish character into the realms of absurdity. What little ridiculousness there is only comes from the fact that, if anything, "Mr. Pac-Woman's" clothing looks very outdated. However, this still isn't a solution. It's just a gender flip.

I'm anxious to move on from this topic but I want to mention the idea that women are "marked" and men are "unmarked". I don't think Anita ever actually asked why it is done but she certainly, and probably unintentionally, provided an answer to that question:
"There are a few optional design accessories for men like neckties or baseball caps but they don’t hold the same significance. They are not ubiquitous or strictly enforced, and are never really used to “mark” men as “not female” in larger fictional universes dominated by women."
First of all, I find it quite funny that Anita singled out Dixie Kong earlier in the video when both Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong wear a necktie and baseball cap respectively -- again, they're apes. It'd be tricky to tell the sex of those characters without gender signifiers -- but doesn't this quote sum up why gender signifiers aren't used as often for male characters? Certainly not because men are considered the default and women a deviation (which I'll come to later) but because there are so few gender signifiers available for male characters. Traditionally-male clothing is no longer restricted to men. Women are far less likely to receive odd looks if they went out in public in a man's suit than a man would if he did the same in a pink dress, with pigtails and makeup. The reason being that they still are items and fashions predominately associated with women. If Anita wants to take any steps changing society's perceptions on that score, I'll be right alongside her, but it's silly, pointless and actually rather petty to lay the blame of gender signifiers at the feet of video games. That goes for modern games as well as retro games.

In other words, women are more likely to have gender signifiers because they actually have them. Not because they need to be "marked" and singled-out as something different from "the norm".

Also, I actually find that turn of phrase bordering on offensive; I'm sure it was completely unintentional but think about other oppressed classes throughout history who have been marked -- literally -- as something different from what their oppressors considered "the norm" or ideal. I feel like it was a very poor choice of words to use when describing how hard female characters have it in video games, of all things.

One thing that I'm sure had everyone marvelling was Anita's analysis of Mass Effect 3's advertising. Let's deal with the mistake that even the non-Mass Effect fans probably picked up on:
"Still, the female version has a dedicated fanbase who frequently refers to her as “FemShep”. And although this is meant as an affectionate nickname, it does further highlight her designation as a Ms. Male Character. She is the one with the qualifier attached to her name. She is “Female Shepard” whereas the male version simply gets to be, “Shepard”."
This is completely untrue. Although I hate to fall back on phrases that make it sound like Anita makes these kind of research mistakes all the time, this is a typical example of the lack of research that people criticise her videos for. It certainly is astounding that Anita can trawl through obscure mobile games and retro games to find examples but can't spend two minutes on a forum to find out information on a nickname for the main character of a AAA game.

For those of you who don't know, the male version of Mass Effect's Commander Shepard does have a nickname. Several, in fact; "MaleShep", "ManShep" and "BroShep" are all commonly used while "ShepLoo" and "VanderShep" are both used to refer to Commander Shepard's default male design, named after the Dutch model he was modelled after, Mark Vanderloo.

 That's not all. Prior to this, Anita discussed the marketing of the Mass Effect series:
"In mainstream advertising of the franchise, the male commander is used almost exclusively. His image is front and center on the box covers for all releases including the special editions. He is the one featured in the TV commercials, teasers, trailers, web banners, street posters and print ads and his face appears on most of the magazine covers. All of this positions the male Commander Shepard as the default protagonist of the series.

That is how Bioware is selling the Mass Effect experience. Nearly everything about the advertising campaign explicitly tells players that Commander Shepard is a man and by extension associates the official storyline with the male version of the hero. This marketing strategy contributes to the fact that only 18-20% of players choose the female option (despite the fact that Jennifer Hale’s voice acting is widely praised as being far superior)."
First of all, although the 18-20% statistic is apparently true, there's nothing to say that the marketing strategy is the reason for the 80% of players or so choosing to play as the male version of Shepard. Much like in previous videos, like assuming damsels in distress are considered property rather than people, this is a case of Anita reaching a conclusion that isn't backed up by any factual evidence. One may not neccessarily lead to the other but Anita is arguing as if that is the case.

Secondly, I take issue with the fact that Jennifer Hale's voice acting was considered "far superior". There are certainly people who make that claim but she also has her detractors (typically on the exact same forums as her supporters. There's always a healthy mix of opinions). I'm as big a fan of Jennifer Hale as the next person, particularly for her performance as Bastila Shan in Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, but I wasn't a fan of her Mass Effect role. I agree with those who say her vocal performance as Commander Shepard was too butch. Trying too hard to be "badass", to fit a tough space marine persona rather than just a person. Meanwhile, Mark Meer -- the voice actor for the male version of Shepard -- had a voice that fit a wide range of races and facial features, as well as being suitably authoritative. Plus, he was widely praised for upping his performance in Mass Effect 3.

Then there's the advertising campaign, which focused only on the male version of Commander Shepard. To be more specific, the default male version of Commander Shepard, created using Mark Vanderloo's likeness. I certainly find it unusual and rather silly that BioWare -- creators of Mass Effect -- actually paid for a real person's likeness in a game where a character's facial features can be customised and that was the appearance focused on in all the marketing ... but since that's the case, why does Anita focus on the fact that he's male? Why not mention that non-whites are similarly ruled out or, for that matter, that the character customisation feature isn't shown off as much as it could be and is therefore rather poor marketing for not showing off an aspect of the game? The thing is, when only one of these points are argued -- "women aren't focused on" -- it sounds less like "not everyone is being given an equal share" and more like "it shouldn't be a male character". Something that is equally as exclusionary.

Plus, it has to be said ... the male Commander Shepard is the default protagonist of the series. "VanderShep" is the version of the character that players see when starting a new game. So criticising the series with the statement, "all of this positions the male Commander Shepard as the default protagonist of the series" doesn't make much sense. That's the case. Plus, for all I know -- or for all Anita knows -- having a default protagonist could help sell the game. I wouldn't want to make assumptions about why mainstream audiences bought Mass Effect.

Anita continues:
"During the advertising of Mass Effect 3, Bioware made a little more effort to include female Shepard with items like an alternate reversible slip cover for the game box (which features the male version by default) as well as a special web only trailer but these gestures feel like an afterthought or niche specialty marketing and hardly what I would call a substantial or equitable inclusion."
This dismissive attitude when a developer makes a positive change in order to cater to women is reminiscent of Carolyn Petit's criticism of female characters being added to Aliens: Colonial Marines. All it does is send the message that the developer may as well not even try to cater to a feminist gaming audience because it's impossible to succeed. Much like Petit, Anita is creating a no-win situation by complaining about an effort BioWare made to appeal to feminist gamers in the first place. It also brings to mind the way Anita shrugged off Princess Peach's appearance as a playable character in Super Mario Bros. 2 in her damsel in distress videos because she was only in the game "by accident", since it was a makeover of Doki Doki Panic.

Finally, when talking about The Smurfette Principle, Anita argues that men are treated as the "default" sex:
"In a male identified society like ours, men are associated and become synonymous with human beings in general. In other words, male tends to be seen as the default for the entire species."
In all seriousness, there is some truth to this claim. Although it's more of a double-edged sword than is made out.

Let's use a real life example; political parties are always trying to gain "the female vote" by showing their support for women's issues, such as taking a pro-choice stance on abortion, pledging to stamp out the wage gap and sexism in the workplace, etc. Meanwhile, there's no "male vote". I don't think the phrase "men's issues" will ever come up in a political debate and, if it did, nobody would have a clue what it means. That's part of men being considered the "default" for the entire species. There's no need to cater to men because men are just ... there. The standard. Anything that appeals to society as a whole will be appealing to men because they don't have anything that specifically caters to them ... right?

In games, we don't care about legions of male enemies being gunned down by the player. In fact, it's not only accepted, it's expected for men to be the expendable gender. Meanwhile, we have developers committing self-flagellation over their portrayals of characters, even positive ones, thanks to criticism from the Tropes Vs Women in Video Games series, while men criticising portrayals that they feel are sexist are told to "Grow The F**k Up". Because men can't possibly be offended by portrayals because we're the default. Isn't that so?

So there's something to the idea that men are considered the default but -- and this isn't a knock on Anita -- I wouldn't expect the effects on both sexes to be covered by a video on gender issues in games. It's not an issue at the forefront of the gender issues debate, so it's not something I believe anyone would cover, regardless of their sex or involvement.

I'm hoping to read more articles on this video from others online but for the moment, that's all I have to say on it. I don't know if I was expecting Anita to change her presenting style for this video but I do know that I was disappointed to see all the flaws present in her previous videos to be back with a vengeance here; the blaming of specific developers, basing arguments off conclusions that she came to without evidence, dismissal of positive and progressive changes for women for rather shallow reasons, etc. On the plus side, she did reference a few examples this time around (although none of the gameplay videos, so it's still up in the air as to whether they were her own content or if they were taken from other Youtubers without permission or credit).

Anyway, as for what happens next ... I'm buying the Tomb Raider reboot in the near future, so hopefully I'll be able to provide another "The Sexism Of ..." blog post. I know it's a year old now but I don't often get the chance to delve into individual games anymore, so I'm looking forward to it.

Feel free to leave a comment or write to me at

Saturday, 16 November 2013


Well, the college debate was more-or-less a letdown. It's my own fault for building it up so much in my mind.

There were a few problems. Firstly, I went to two debates; one on Monday and another today. The session on Monday didn't even have what I would describe as a debate; the students actually had to come up with points for both sides of the argument rather than just one and consistently had to back up their arguments with quotes and articles they found online. The problem with this is that it led to very few people expressing their opinions; the one person who mentioned Anita Sarkeesian being a victim of online abuse also happened to be one of the two people who I know for a fact can't stand her. More than anything else, it seemed like a few people knew what the "right" answer was and wanted to stick to it very rigidly for fear of being berated. This course is about preparing students for the games industry, after all, so expressing an opinion that the industry doesn't share could only be bad news. That's the theory, at least.

Today's debate was quite a lot better on that front. At the very least, there was a side arguing for and against, so it was more like a real debate, and we were allowed to draw on our own experiences (even if none of us did). Luckily, I was on the side that was of the opinion that plenty of female portrayals in games were already positive, arguing against the idea that they were overwhelmingly negative. Unfortunately, having so many people in a class at once, all of whom needed to give an answer at some point, it wasn't as in-depth as it could've been. I still spoke more than most people -- in fact, it was mainly me and one other guy debating with two girls -- but I didn't get to make all the points I wanted to. Plus, the debate only lasted twenty minutes or so. We didn't even mention the industry, instead focusing only on the games.

Even so, I feel like there was more I could've done if I'd just spoken up. The one point I'm very pleased I made was about Gears Of War (which I haven't played since the first game). One of the girls argued that the series had negative portrayals of women because for the most part, the women were "breeders". One of the few who wasn't was only a soldier because she couldn't have children. I made the point that in a post-apocalyptic environment, it could be argued that it's logical and sensible to keep women out of harm's way, so it makes sense in context. It could be justified by the setting. I wish I had pointed out that the women were being kept safe from battle while it fell to the men to put their lives at risk protecting them. The value of the women's lives was automatically higher than that of the men, so what did that say about men and male characters?

We were allowed to mention men but the debate was still ridiculously one-sided, including in the PowerPoint presentation our tutor showed at the beginning; we had a ton of examples of negative female portrayals, including trailers on Youtube, mention of #1ReasonWhy with the most cherry-picked sexist responses to the movement that could possibly be found, but only a single slide about male characters. Our tutor seemed open to discussing them but it's clear who the focus was. This was a "Women in Games" debate, after all, rather than "Gender Issues in Games". I wanted to make a point about my own experiences when it came to male character designs but I didn't speak up. Same goes for a few points about Lollipop Chainsaw. I could kick myself for that but I don't suppose it's a big deal in the grand scheme of things; it still wouldn't have been a particularly in-depth discussion and nothing would've been gained from bringing it up.

Since that was a disappointment, let's talk about something a bit more fun; comparing Anita Sarkeesian to Richard Nixon.

I've seen the 2008 film Frost/Nixon a few times now and when it aired on one of the BBC channels a few weeks ago here in the UK, I watched it again. I must've had gender issues on my mind because I couldn't help compare the situations of Richard Nixon -- played by Frank Langella -- and Anita Sarkeesian.

I should point out that although Frost/Nixon is based on a true story, it alters characters and events to make the film more dramatic. Which means that the Richard Nixon I'll be comparing Anita to is actually a fictionalised version. Coincidentally, it's also an opportunistic, money-grubbing version ...

... Only joking. There is a serious comparison to be made here, honestly. For one thing, it's interesting to examine why, in the face of overwhelming criticism, Nixon agreed to confront his controversy head-on while Anita avoids it at all costs.

Almost everything I want to say comes from this clip, featuring Nixon and his aide, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), talking backstage about why they want the interviews with David Frost (Michael Sheen) to take place. Sorry I can't find the clip on Youtube, so that link will have to do. The background is that Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate scandal, is reduced to public speaking at social functions rather than being involved in politics. It's a role he's very uncomfortable with, as he feels it "reduces the presidency to a series of banal anecdotes" ... but he makes it very clear that he doesn't want to talk about Watergate without good reason to do so.

This evasion of the controversy -- the main reason everyone was interested in Nixon -- reminds me of the way that the majority of Anita's publicity comes from the abuse she received rather than her web series on video games. The most high-profile and mainstream interviews only mention video games as an afterthought. These include her TEDxWomen and The Conference talks and her interviews with CNN and ABC's 20/20. Meanwhile, Anita doesn't allow her talks on video games to be filmed. Yet while Nixon agrees to have a sit-down interview with David Frost, Anita has never confronted her criticism in the same way.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that Richard Nixon was more moral than Anita Sarkeesian for agreeing to face his critics. He wanted the interview with Frost for the same reason Anita doesn't want an interview with her own David Frost, whoever he or she may be; both Nixon and Anita make their decisions for self-serving reasons. In Nixon's case, he feels a successful interview with Frost will allow him to weave his way back into the political sphere:

Richard Nixon: Still, now, the fact it's come together, now, that's a good thing, no? 

Jack Brennan: Mr. President, it's fantastic. Frost is just not in your intellectual class, sir. You're gonna be able to dictate terms, rebuild your reputation. If this went well, if enough people saw it, revised their opinion,
you could move back East way, way earlier than we expected.

Nixon: You think?

Brennan: I'm certain. 

Nixon: It would be so good to go back to where the action is. You know? The hunger in my belly is still there, Jack. I guess it all boils down to Watergate, huh?

So the entire point of Nixon agreeing to an interview with Frost is because his reputation was damaged and he wanted to restore it. That, if anything, shines a light on why Anita has never had to face her own critics; how many mainstream gaming websites have mentioned that Anita has any flaws that need to be addressed at all? Beyond phrases such as "the Tropes Vs Women in Games series isn't perfect but ... [insert reference to Anita's abuse here]", I can't think of any mention of the issues off the top of my head. Nixon damaged his reputation and needed to do something to repair it. Anita, on the other hand, is not portrayed as a disreputable individual. Her career hasn't suffered any setbacks whatsoever from the cherry-picked and one-sided arguments she presents, the comment-blocking and removing dissenting opinions on Facebook and the use of content that isn't hers without asking permission, referencing or crediting the original uploaders.

Basically, by closing off every avenue available to help Nixon achieve his goal, he was given an incentive to go down a path he would prefer not to; talking about Watergate. Anita has every avenue open to her and is encouraged to go down every single one, so she has no incentive to face the critics. She doesn't have a David Frost she needs to go face-to-face with.

In other gender issues news, I have to provide a link to a truly excellent artist called Europa-Phoenix, who draws some very impressive artwork about men's rights. His blog has only just started up but it's certainly one to watch. I'll put a link in the sidebar.

Also, this is my fiftieth blog post! I think it's kind of corny to write lengthy speeches but I'll say that I don't think I could've predicted the blog would survive this long back at the beginning. It only started because I needed to voice an opinion that I didn't think was being voiced elsewhere and honestly, I'd be happy if even a dozen people visited over the last year. This blog has been a good outlet for some of the feelings I have about a lot of things and I'm pleased that I've barely received any hostility for writing them down too. Looking forward to writing more in the future.

Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Erasing Female Voices from the Gender Issues Debate

It looks like Feminist Frequency's next Tropes Vs Women In Games video will be posted soon and, luckily, it seems to have coincided with a downturn in the amount of college homework I'm receiving. Which means that hopefully, I will be able to commit enough time to creating a response to the video within a few days of it being posted. Although this means that the next three blog posts I have planned (including this one) involve Anita Sarkeesian, which is irritating -- not only do I want to avoid becoming a one-trick pony but I haven't had the time to sit down with a game and analyse its gender issues, or even watch any Let's Plays -- but at least for this one, Anita is only involved in passing. This blog will be more about an issue with feminism in general rather than gender issues in gaming; erasing the opinions of other women from the debate if they disagree with the feminist opinion.

I'd heard about the upcoming Tropes Vs Women video, so I checked Anita's Twitter a couple of days ago to see if there was a date for when it would be posted. There wasn't but there was a link to an article at The American Prospect by a feminist writer named Jaclyn Friedman called "A Good Men's Rights Movement Is Hard to Find". I know very little about Jaclyn Friedman. Her name is one that I recognise from sites about gender issues but I can't recall if I've read anything by her. I suspect I haven't because if I had, they probably would've stuck with me, just like I'm sure the American Prospect article will.

I don't want to break down Friedman's article point-by-point because it's clear that the low opinion she holds of the men's rights movement is unwavering. A few things that stand out though; men's rights activism is reduced to a couple of controversial sites rather than the movement that it is, when talking about a "misogynist backlash", Friedman claims that Warren Farrell -- soft-spoken equality advocate and former board member of the National Organisation for Women -- has been "at it since the 80s" and she also makes the statement that Valerie Solanas was "[an] extremist even in [her] day". This, however, is untrue, as the following quote from a biography of Valerie Solanas explains:
"On June 13, 1968 Valerie Solanas appeared in front of State Surpreme Court Justice Thomas Dickens; she was then represented by radical feminist lawyer Florynce Kennedy who called Solanas "one of the most important spokeswomen of the feminist movement." Kennedy asked for a writ of habeas corpus because Solanas was inapproriately held in a psychiatric ward, but the judge denied the motion and sent Solanas back to Bellevue. Ti-Grace Atkinson, the New York chapter president of NOW, attended Solanas' court appearance and said she was 'the first outstanding champion of women's rights'."
Note that this was after Solanas attempted to kill Andy Warhol and two other men.

Those couple of paragraphs barely scratch the surface and, dare I say it, I suspect there will plenty of feminist readers who will turn their noses up at Friedman's analysis of the men's rights movement. Although how many people will take her accusations against the MRM at face value if they don't know much about it?

Anyway, Jaclyn's article is more-or-less besides the point. The article seems to have been spawned because Jaclyn, as she explains in the article, took part in an interview with ABC's 20/20 about "Women Battling Anti-Woman Hate From The 'Manosphere'" -- a show that was scheduled to be broadcast mid-October but apparently never aired -- which featured contributions from A Voice For Men's Paul Elam and, coincidentally, Anita Sarkeesian. So in the article, Jaclyn describes both her meeting with Elam and different ways that A Voice For Men "attacked" her. AVFM has a different view; as well as claiming that the "attacks" on Friedman were statements and conclusions lifted from her own articles, they noted that Friedman neglected to mention that they were written by a woman, Diana Davison. This makes several of Jaclyn's claims, such as men's rights activists wanting "women, especially but not exclusively feminists, [recognised] as men's oppressors", fall flat.

It should go without saying that not everyone in the men's rights movement is male, just like not every feminist is female. It should but why do we have ABC portraying this as a petty battle of the sexes instead of a response to inequality? Why are they, Friedman and others using the term "manosphere" to describe it when many of the responses come from women? In a similar vein, why does Anita Sarkeesian describe gaming as "a boy's club" and make blanket statements about the men attacking her?

The answer is obvious; by portraying men's rights activists as a bunch of angry misogynists and feminists as put-upon, victimised women, it's much easier to dismiss the MRM. To do this, it means ignoring or silencing any women who have an opposing opinion. After all, it's much easier to make claims like, "the men's rights movements is a backlash against the loss of traditional privilege" (Miriam Smith, 2013) without those pesky women getting in the way to contest it. For example, in Diana Davison's article above, she mentions that ABC were offered the opportunity to speak with four female members of "the manosphere", which they declined.

If this ties back to gaming in any way, it's that there are plenty of examples of Anita Sarkeesian ignoring and silencing female critics:
"Turns out that there are a bunch of male gamers out there who were, shall we say, not to [sic] excited about this project."
"[...] men who harass are supported by their peers and rewarded for their sexist attitudes and behaviors and where women are silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation."
"A ‘boys club’ means no girls allowed. And how do they keep women and girls out? Just like this. By creating an environment that is just too toxic and hostile to endure." - Anita Sarkeesian, TEDxWomen, December 5th 2012.
The Feminist Frequency Facebook page tells a similar story. This is from the comments section for the Damsels In Distress: Part 3 video (blue blocks cover male identities, pink ones cover female ones):

I went back and searched for Samantha Hunter's comment yesterday and, sure enough, it was deleted. I did manage to find this gem though:

It's one thing to delete someone's comment because they criticise you. It's another to let one stay that says to the critic "you're doing your gender a complete disservice" for not supporting Anita Sarkeesian. Which was liked by another woman, no less. It's examples like this that make me believe that feminists have a lower opinion of women than non-feminists; fair enough, this is an obscure comment on Facebook rather than a big news article on the front page of a mainstream site but I think if this same exchange took place on any other website -- a man telling a woman she's doing her gender a disservice for having an opinion the rest of the group disagrees with -- feminists would leap on it for being a sexist attitude to have.

Take a look at Anita's TEDxWomen quotes from above and see how they apply here; has Samantha Hunter been "silenced, marginalized and excluded from full participation?" Yes, she has, because Anita deleted her comment. Has the male commentor who responded to Samantha Hunter been "supported by his peers and rewarded for his sexist attitudes"? Well, a female commentor showed her support by liking his comment, so I'd say so.

The same applies for the abuse that Anita received. Although Anita has never acknowledged criticism against her, she has a knack for painting her abusers as men. Again, it should go without saying that this isn't the case -- how could all the abuse perpetrated against Anita be committed by a single sex? -- and women have no problem making their voices heard when it comes to insults either:

I should point out that there were far worse abusive comments on Anita's Kickstarter video than the ones made by this young woman -- in fact, there's a mix of sensible arguments and eyebrow-raising ones -- but they're still in the same boat. It would still qualify as abuse, even if it doesn't go much further than "shut the fuck up" and threatening to punch Anita.

In spite of the fact that I don't normally commend abusive comments, I have a lot of praise for the woman in the video above for highlighting a very important point; even people making abusive comments aren't doing so just because Anita is a woman with an opinion but because they have legitimate gripes with the arguments she makes.

Why is it important to have women speaking up and supporting male issues? Well in this video, Dr Helen Smith, while talking about her book "Men On Strike" -- about the increase in men who choose to avoid marriage because they feel the detriments outweigh the benefits -- has this exchange with one of the hosts:

Host: "Why hasn't a man written this book?"
Helen: "Because men can't speak up. I'm here to speak up because people will actually listen to a woman."

So you see not only the importance of the Samantha Hunters of Feminist Frequency's Facebook page but the reason why ABC turned down four female men's rights activists. It's hard to call something a "manosphere" when you have intelligent, outspoken women fighting men's corner but when you ignore those women, you're free to call it whatever you like. The flipside of the argument, of course, is that ABC and like-minded groups are all too happy to have men speak up because there's no real reason to listen to them.

I wanted to write a bit more about Jaclyn's article and a University Of Toronto protest that happened earlier this year but I think this blog has gone on long enough (and that particular protest has been analysed to death by every gender issues site there is since it came up). If you want to see more on Helen Smith, I just found out about her site today, called Women for Men, which she shares with wonderful authors such as Christina Hoff Sommers.

In other news, one of my college classes will be having that debate on women in the games industry and it'll be happening next week. So it looks like one of my next blogs won't be about Anita Sarkeesian after all, unless she comes up during the course of the debate. I plan on sitting in on one group's debate on Monday so I can see how it'll work before my own debate on Thursday. I'll be making notes and, assuming there's anything worth mentioning, I'll write about the results here. I have a sneaking suspicion that it won't be as in-depth as I'd like, as usual, but it can't be helped.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Three Recommendations

With college sapping most of my time lately, I feel like I've been neglecting this blog. I'm still aiming for three posts a month but I don't bother checking back every day, like I used to, and any hope of playing games to analyse gender issues has practically gone out of the window. Plus, except for some ongoing GTAV stuff, it feels like a slow news month for gender issues but that could be because I haven't had the opportunity to research as much as I used to. The few things I have found have been little things; the irritating, everyday branding of male-dominated industries as "problematic" and hypocritical articles wanting greater analysis of gender issues in games while branding huge chunks of the gaming audience as "abusers", refusing to acknowledge the lack of focus on one sexes' issues, etc.

We're used to that kind of thing by now and it's obviously important but game journalists aren't going to change their ways because of one critical blog post. So for once, let's focus on some people who are doing things right.

Do Videogame Stereotypes Hurt Men? - PBS Game/Show

In spite of the fact that this is the same Youtuber who compared Anita Sarkeesian to Rosa Parks, he released this video, which I think has a lot of good points to it. I saw this linked in Youtube's sidebar about half a month ago but didn't have time to watch it. I forgot about it until I checked my e-mail today and someone kindly provided a link to it.

Basically, I think the host -- Jamin Warren -- accurately sums up several points about male issues that we very rarely see reported by other game journalists (or, if they are, they're often dismissed or attempts are made to justify them). As well as portrayals, he talks about the two issues that concern me most of all; body image issues and male disposability/violence against men. He handles them well.

Having said that, if I have a criticism, it's that Jamin's arguments seem to be at odds with his previous video, "Do Gamers Need Anita Sarkeesian's Feminism?" If we want to define different kinds of feminism, "Anita Sarkeesian's Feminism" is one that is actually dismissive of male issues while Jamin seems to be in full support of them. They chime on more emotional male portrayals but clash on points about body image and disposability (or seem to; again, we find ourselves in the frustrating situation where we don't have enough information about Anita's views to say for sure. So I apologise if my assumptions are inaccurate but I'm going solely by her dismissal of the Chippendale-esque male damsel in Spelunky and glossing over important details like the final boss of Primal being the female protagonist's boyfriend, who she has to kill).

Anita's response to this video was quite interesting:

I'm not really sure what to say about this. I suppose disliking male disposability and unrealistic standards of beauty for men are "MRA type arguments" ... but the fact is that they're also equality arguments. Common-sense arguments. As far as I know, Jamin Warren isn't a men's rights activist but he was, at the very least, open-minded enough to read a Warren Farrell book -- a man who I suspect understands how "patriarchy" functions a bit better than Anita does -- and be objective enough to examine the issue fairly.

The thing is, harmful issues are harmful issues and it's a good thing that they're examined and given a spotlight in a well-made Youtube video. As far as I can tell, Anita cares less about the issues being given the spotlight and more than Jamin didn't blame them on patriarchy. I think that says a lot.

Vicsor's Opinion: Damsel In Distress

I've been following Vicsor's Opinion ever since he posted a blog featuring side-by-side comparisons of all the videos Anita took footage from a few months ago. Vicsor's most recent post is a thorough examination of the damsel in distress plot device in games and I'm astounded by how much depth he goes into.

Here it is, if you want to read it. I highly recommend that you do. It's all excellent but if I had to choose my favourite parts, I'd pick 2.1 Flat Narrative and 3.2 Damsel Saves Herself through to 3.4 Character Building and Narrative Twists. These parts, as well as perfectly stating points that we've all considered at some point, excellently deconstruct several of Anita's arguments, particularly about the high number of female characters who actually manage to escape their own . I also have to give a lot of praise for going out of his way to create a small RPG Maker game featuring a damsel who can't escape her predicament. I'd really like to play that, actually, so I hope Vicsor provides a link at some point.

There's lots to praise about the blog so I don't want to focus on too many specifics. I'm sure if you read it, you'll probably praise the same points I did. Although Vicsor's post on Anita's sources will certainly be his most significant contribution to the gender issues debate, I think his analysis of damsels in distress is his most satisfying. I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Jill Murray - The Trouble With Trying To Write Positive Female Characters

I don't have a lot of praise for when it comes to gender issues. It seems to take the same stance on feminism and gender issues as other game journalism sites, so it's hard to feel hopeful when an article about female portrayals shows up. Having said that, this interview with Jill Murray, Ubisoft Quebec's director of narrative design, is surprisingly good. She gets across all the flaws with writing female characters that have bothered me over the years, specifically that they're too often pidgeonholed into a "strong, independent woman" archetype rather than being a character in their own right. Jill doesn't cast blame on anyone, whether it's fans or other developers, so it comes across more about how writers can do things right rather than a list of what everyone is doing wrong.

When it comes to articles and interviews on gender issues, this is what I would like to see more of in future. Constructive points rather than a list of complaints. If that happened, I'd probably complain a bit less myself.

Anyway, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at