Friday, 20 September 2013

Anita Sarkeesian is Not a Real Gamer

I should've written about this sooner but, for the very first time, I can legitimately say, "I have a lot going on in my personal life right now", which is the blog-writer's way of saying, "college is time-consuming".

So let's get right into it with this: Anita Sarkeesian is not a real gamer. In her own words.

Back in 2010, Anita gave a lecture at Santa Monica College in California, where she stated, "I would love to play video games but I don't want to go around shooting people and ripping off their heads. It's just gross". So there we have it. In her own words, Anita states she doesn't -- or didn't, at least -- play video games. In spite of the photo of herself playing a Nintendo game as a child that she likes to show at every opportunity.

The video above became popular enough to gain 140,000 views (and counting). I'm a bit out of the loop so I don't know how this happened or who linked to it but I'm pleased it has received so much attention. In fact, it was popular enough for Anita to actually make a response (of sorts) to it.

A bunch of other tweets followed these that were in a similar vein. If you want to read them all, Anita helpfully posted the tweets to her Tumblr account, for reasons I'm not quite clear about. To clear the air, perhaps? Regardless of the reasons, it's silly that even while Anita herself said she wasn't a gamer and the original uploader of the video made it very clear he didn't hold any malice towards her, she still feels the need to blame "angry gamer dudes" (and games themselves, later on). I suppose it's natural to want to go on the attack when you're against the ropes.

It's worth noting that Anita may be telling the truth when she says she fell in and out of love with gaming. It's possible but we just don't know and the video footage of her saying "I would love to be a gamer" is greater evidence against her being a gamer than her word is for her being a gamer.

So what does this prove? Well, as the creator of the original video said, no, the fact that Anita isn't a gamer doesn't disprove or debunk her arguments in any way. People with no prior involvement in a subject can still research and investigate it. So if her arguments could be acceptable one way or the other, why go as far as to pretend to be a gamer?

My theory is that it adds legitimacy to her claims. Critics of Anita, like myself, have compared her to Jack Thompson in the past because of her insistence that video games have some non-descript influence on real-life behaviours and attitudes. However, Anita's arguments have been accepted and praised by mainstream sites and publications while Jack's were condemned and ignored. There are a few reasons for this; Anita doesn't make claims as outlandish as Jack's, for example, and isn't as aggressive in her delivery. There's still plenty of hostility and condescension but no claims that video games are "murder simulators". Her view is also politically correct, while Jack was openly homophobic. That's a big reason for it.

Anita being a gamer is certainly a factor here though; let's say someone was in her shoes who admitted to not being a gamer. "Feminist gamer criticises sexist tropes in games" is going to be given more coverage than "feminist criticises sexist tropes in games, in spite of having never held a controller in her life".

I've already ran into comments on Youtube defending Anita, obviously, although I suspect the ones I've seen are trolls. Naturally, I haven't seen any mainstream gaming sites pick up on this -- although the number of views for the video suggests that somewhere with a large readership reported on it -- and I doubt they will. They'll just quietly file it alongside the misquoted studies and use of other people's footage to continue to portray Anita as a figure who can do no wrong.

Still, at least we know why Anita doesn't like her lectures to be filmed now.

In other news, I've been doing a bunch of gender issues-related things at college. Today, we dealt with the stereotyping of certain groups in games. It wasn't at all in-depth, unfortunately, and men weren't mentioned. It was just basic stuff and the reason we were told not to do it, rather than because we should care about offending people, was because large-chested female characters simply aren't used in a portfolio when trying to get a job in the games industry. The same goes other things, including T-Rexes, for reasons that we haven't been told yet.

Also in college, a prick ruined GTAV for the entire class by revealing parts of the story. Just thought I'd mention that.

Oh, and I found an eyebrow-raising Jade Raymond quote from Develop magazine that I'll write about next time.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

News from College!

Hey all. I know I updated a lot last month so I'm sorry that things have slowed down this month. This is actually the first time I've even logged in for a week.

As you probably know, I've started my games development course at college and, to be brutally honest, I hate it. What little I've done so far has been a mixed bag; playing with 3ds Max and Maya has been pretty good but the more academic side of things leaves me feeling cold. The course tutors have outlined the projects for the year and workload is overwhelming. I shouldn't have a problem writing essays, given the length of some of my blog posts, but I inject a lot of myself into this blog and when I have to cite references, I just link to other places. Plus, there's no strict deadline. It doesn't translate very well to a course where we have to examine market trends in the gaming industry and give examples of different ways digital art is used. Maybe it's just because I'm older or because I have little patience for hand-written notes and using "Harvard Referencing" to cite sources but I'm certainly not as passionate about the theory rather than the practical. If I feel like it isn't helping me improve my skills of creating content, it gets a thumbs-down from me.

There are a few little things to say about gender issues but nothing major yet. First of all, the number of boys on the course obviously outweighs the number of women but by how many, it's hard to say. There are over two hundred students on this particular course, each doing different levels and in different groups, so I couldn't begin to give you any numbers. What I do know is that my own group has three girls in it, out of a class of seventeen. However, two of the girls -- a pair of sisters -- have been absent for the last two days and, although I don't like to assume, I suspect a pair of sisters both being absent at this early stage means they decided the course wasn't for them. They are the only people in my group that did this.

I'd also like to say that I am not knocking either their ability or willingness to stay on the course. Partly because, as I mentioned above, I hate the course so far and have thought about dropping out myself already but also because they were the two people in the class I got on best with. In fact, I'm switching groups next week -- all the timetables are pretty screwed up and, living over an hour away from the college, it wasn't practical to stick with the group I'm in right now -- and the possibility of the two of them coming back was actually one of the reasons I was tempted to stay with my group. Unfortunately, if I'm to survive this course, switching timetables was a must, but I want to make it clear that I'm not saying that their leaving (if they have left) is representative of either women's or even their own lack of enthusiasm in the games industry. The course is just a pain. I'm only pointing it out because people tend to obsess over how "male-dominated" certain fields are or how sexist the games industry is but maybe the reality is that people just decide the course isn't for them.

So it's fair to say I haven't been making too many friends and no conversation about gender issues in video games has cropped up yet. In fact, aside from a wide-ranging discussion in a particularly laid-back substitute class today, games haven't come up much at all. However, while flicking some subject briefs for a class I had today -- Understanding Industry, an academic and homework-heavy class that I suspect I'm going to really hate -- I came across what looks like the lesson plan for the entire year. Listed for the week of 2/12/13 and 13/1/14 are a pair of lessons titled "Ethics - Games Debate". I'm going to take a wild guess and say that one of them will be about violence and the other will be about gender issues, based on something the tutor mentioned in the class; when talking about current trends she casually threw out, "maybe a current trend is about having more females working in the industry". At the foot of another brief, when giving an example of how to use Harvard Referencing, the book she happened to use was "Feminist Film Studies: Writing the Woman into Cinema" by Janet McCabe. It could be coincidence but possibly not.

Unfortunately, that means I have to wait until December (at the very least) to actually voice my opinions about gender issues in games in a real-life forum. By then, I'll be neck-deep in essays and probably as stressed as I can possibly be, so I certainly have to suffer through a few things to get to that slight improvement. And I do mean slight; as optimistic as I am that I can talk about this with a new audience, the drawbacks of the course are keeping me from jumping for joy.

Update: As it turns out, the two girls didn't drop out, which I'm happy about. We chatted a little, they seem nice, they're still the two people I find easiest to get along with at the college. Unfortunately, now that I've switched groups, I won't be able to spend time with them as often.

Having said that, the group I'm in right now seems okay too. Remember "Understanding Industry", the class that I said I suspected I would hate? Today, I had my first "real" Understanding Industry class and I really enjoyed it. The students were split into four groups and each given a different market trend to discuss and brainstorm. Believe it or not, the market trend that my particular group was asked to discuss was Diversity.


We didn't get to go as in-depth as I would've liked but I had all the information I needed at my fingertips. The class was so varied that I heard the names "Pewdiepie" and "Anita Sarkeesian" within fifteen minutes of each other. The female tutor even raised a point about portrayals of men, which I was pleased to hear.

Speaking of Anita, even though there hasn't really been any "real" discussion of her work yet, I did manage to sneak in a quick minute-long conversation about her with another guy in the class. All I really said was "I'm surprised you've heard of Anita Sarkeesian. I didn't think she was that well-known". This was based off a few posts and comments I've seen around the internet that more or less just said "I've never heard of her". This young man, on the other hand, summed her up with the following (paraphrased) sentence: "it's clearly a business that she's running but she's saying 'I don't know what I'm doing'. I just think 'yes you clearly do, you lying f*cking b*tch'."

As always, I'm not exactly condoning abuse but considering it wasn't publicly aimed at Anita, we weren't having an in-depth discussion about her and we're talking about informal, earthy teenagers here, it makes sense to let this one slide. He was one of the people in my group and actually raised plenty of good points about diversity, so if I was ever under any doubts that someone being anti-Anita doesn't make them anti-woman, that would have reassured me. This gentleman also said that he'd watched most of Anita's other Youtube videos and couldn't see where the money went. One other person -- the only girl -- in the class had also heard of Anita Sarkeesian but I didn't have the opportunity to speak with her about it.

As for the lesson, I'm sure some of the essays will frustrate me and when I have to deal with non-gender-related topics, I'll struggle. For the moment, however, this particular lesson seems tailor-made for me. Let's just hope I don't get so wrapped up in being a know-it-all that I end up missing crucial pieces of information and gaining fewer marks.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

I sense an incoming Metal Gear Solid backlash.

Earlier today, Hideo Kojima -- creator of the Metal Gear Solid series -- tweeted about wanting some of the characters of MGSV redesigned to be more "erotic". He cited appealing to cosplayers and selling more figurines of the game's characters as the reasons why he wanted these redesigns.

I suspect we'll be seeing some vexed responses to this in the next few days. Personally, I'm delighted.

First of all, I love how different the attitude towards sexualisation is in Japan compared to the West. When I wrote about Dragon's Crown, I brought up how the most sexualised characters broke my immersion in the game. From what I hear, the only mention of the exaggerated character designs in Japan was joking about how big a deal was made of it outside the country. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any Japanese articles saying that directly (obviously because the Japanese language isn't my forté and English isn't much use at finding Japanese articles in search engines) but I'd like to read some of them first-hand if I get the chance.

I'd love to be able to have that same nonchalant attitude towards sexualised characters in the media that they have in Japan. Logically, I can see why people would argue that living in a culture with so much fiction featuring sexualised women would lead people within that culture to have a lower opinion of real women; women being sex objects in games could lead to people viewing them as such in real life. Having said that, I completely disagree. If anything, I think that Japan's line between fiction and reality is more distinct; Dragon's Crown's art style can be joked about because it's clear that a sexualised, anime-esque mermaid doesn't represent real women in any way. The connection hasn't been made between reality and fiction in the same way it has in the West, so it's easier to view sexualised characters purely as entertainment.

That's just a guess, so don't quote it as if it's fact. The point is that I see the integration of sexual characters in everyday media to be a far healthier attitude than trying to stamp it out because we dislike it. There are times when I don't think it'd be appropriate but providing it fit in with the setting/art style and wasn't aimed at kids, I think it'd be fine.

Luckily, Metal Gear Solid isn't a series that has ever had to worry about a Dragon's Crown-level of controversy but it's odd to see so many people in the comments section on Gamespot condemning Hideo Kojima for his decision. I'm surprised at that and, even though I don't like to play the "they've probably never played the game" card, I feel it's appropriate in this case; for those of you who don't know, the Metal Gear Solid series has always had a light-hearted, almost Benny Hill-esque approach to eroticism. From figuring out which soldier is female by staring at their behinds to distracting lustful guards with non-nude erotica magazines, the Metal Gear Solid series, more often than not, treats eroticism as being funny. So why this response to Metal Gear Solid V?

Assuming Kojima's critics have played previous games in the Metal Gear series, it could simply be because Kojima is being so blatant. "I want to appeal to cosplayers and to sell figurines". Making decisions based on merchandising has left a bitter taste in the mouths of fanbases in the past, most notably for Star Wars. Perhaps it's because he joked that the CG model for Quiet -- the female sniper seen in the Metal Gear Solid V trailer -- being revealed this Friday would be "uncosplayable". Personally, I think that statement was just to create some hype for the reveal and possibly to get a rise out of people. If that's the case, it seems to have worked.

Quiet is dressed beneath the border of this picture, I should point out.

It's also very possible that they think eroticism has no place in video games; there are certainly a few comments underneath that Gamespot article that make the typical comments we saw during the Dragon's Crown controversy, such as erotica "only appealing to twelve-year-olds". There's also at least one mention of this kind of attitude preventing games from being "art".

I've never been particularly interested in the "are games art?" debate because, to me, it seems inconsequential; I enjoy games and that's all that really matters. I don't particularly care if they're recognised as art or not. Having said that, I have to wonder why featuring eroticism is enough to categorise a game as not being art. Not that I think the Metal Gear Solid V erotica -- if there is any, apart from Quiet's character design -- is going to be at all serious, in which case I have to ask why should MGSV change? If you've played the previous games in the series, noticed the light-hearted attitude towards sex (as well as other immature content like one character being the victim of constant diarrhoea jokes), then why should the next game in the series be any different?

As for erotica "only appealing to twelve-year-olds", I've often thought that an inability to handle erotica -- especially the comedic take MGS puts on it -- is a greater sign of immaturity than enjoying it. The Metal Gear Solid series is for adults, so why shouldn't adult themes be present? I can't help but feel that not featuring the light-hearted erotica in MGS would be comparable to putting your hands over a child's ears whenever you mention something sexual. Or trying to convince people that storks deliver babies. It exists, we might as well laugh at it.

I'd also quickly like to mention that Kojima stated he'd be revealing Quiet's CG model on Friday but he may not have been talking about her when he mentioned the erotic redesign; anyone who remembers MGS2's naked Raiden will know that the gentlemen of Metal Gear Solid aren't immune to comedic sexualisation either. I'd still place bets on Quiet but you never know.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see how this develops over the next couple of days, before Quiet's CG model is revealed, and the fallout afterwards, until it's engulfed (hopefully) with news from the Tokyo Game Show.

Thanks for all the comments last time, by the way. Very interesting reading.

Added on 6th September 2013 - And, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, someone has complained! Someone rather high-profile too.

David Ellis, a designer on Halo, commented on Twitter after seeing Quiet's design "our industry should be better than this" and the "industry is full of man-babies". Take a look at the article here and I highly recommend reading the highest-rated comments below. They say everything better than I could. I'd never heard of David Ellis before this article but when I was in high school, Halo was the game that everyone talked about playing online. It was the precursor to games played by so-called "man-baby" audiences such as Call Of Duty so who is David Ellis to point the finger at anyone else?

And remember, boys and girls; designing a scantily-clad female sniper who works in the middle of the desert is wrong. On the other hand, designing a needlessly large-chested and scantily-clad female character who is literally an object is just fine!

This picture is worth looking at if you want to see how Cortana became more sexualised when David Ellis and 343 Industries got their hands on Halo. A member of the NeoGAF forums also made a short and simple post about male sexualisation in the Metal Gear Solid series that didn't even mention naked Raiden. It's worth pointing to if anyone ever thinks Hideo Kojima only ever sexualises female characters.

As for David Ellis, I have no idea how anyone can be so hypocritical and yet so completely unaware, about both his own series' character designs and its "man-baby" influence. Speaking of which, it's disheartening to see just how many gamers, journalists and even developers casually throw out insults about immaturity towards people who have a different opinion to them.

I'm sorry for stating the obvious but there is nothing immature about people holding opinions different from your own, regardless of what the subject is. Insulting those people for having a different opinion, on the other hand, is very immature. That's something children do in playgrounds. If David Ellis really wants to talk about how "our industry should be better", I'd start with that.