Women and video games seem like they exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. A Google search of “girls video games” results in questions on Yahoo! Answers like “Do girls really play video games?” and “Why do girls hate video games?” These questions aren’t entirely baseless. Popular video games, with their hypersexualized portrayal of women, or lack of them altogether, don’t seem like they would attract a female audience. Shopping for video games on Amazon show a clear difference in games marketed towards women and towards men. Games that target women (or girls, to be more specific) are typically for small children, and involve activities like grooming horses or playing house. While boys and men have games for various age groups, games for women are a nonexistent category, and girls get to play princess dress up.
There is nothing wrong with princess dress up, but women should have the same range of video game genres that men have.
Last year the Entertainment Software Association released a report saying that women made up nearly half of all gamers, at 45%. It’s a significant number, especially since women in video games have consistently been portrayed as everything but actual people. Usually, they’re used as prizes or something to save, and are dressed in extremely revealing outfits. Often, they are also the reasoning behind male protagonists rushing off to murder everyone.
In 2012, Anita Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter project to get funding for a video web series called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” on Feminist Frequency, a YouTube channel where she examines the portrayal of women in TV shows, comic books, advertisements, and other forms of media.
In the series, Sarkeesian explains and criticizes the stereotypes that video games use in their characterizations of women, such as “the Damsel in Distress,” and traces both the history and the consequences of the stereotypes.
In response to her Kickstarter project, a video game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” was created. The game, which allowed the player to repeatedly punch her in the face, was quickly removed. She also received comments such as “I hope you get cancer,” and was called, among other things, a Bolshevik, a Jew, and “an enemy of the west,” all of which were screencapped and posted on her website. Despite the abuse, Sarkeesian had an extremely successful campaign, and raised nearly $160,000 dollars.
She posted the first part of the series in March 2013, focusing on the Damsel in Distress trope. She also started the tumblr blog Tropes vs Women that highlighted the Damsel in Distress trope in video games even more.
By taking on the overwhelming misogyny in video games, Anita Sarkeesian opened herself up to nearly endless abuse from people in the internet, ranging from rape threats to death threats. Speaking about the abuse at TedxWomen 2012, Sarkeesian explained that “it’s not just boys being boys, it’s not just how the internet works, and it’s not just gonna go away if we ignore it.”
Rather than backing down and allowing herself to be silenced, she continues to post videos and more frequently, twitter updates that explain the continued need for feminism in the modern world.
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