Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games: Let’s Get Real, Okay?

Surely, you’ve seen the video up on YouTube by Anita Sarkeesian called Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games that she fundraised on the popular Kickstarter site, yeah? You haven’t? Take some time out of your day and give this video a spin and then come back here; I’ll go ahead and wait.

Oh, you’re back? Okay.

We’re going to skate to one song and one song only, okay?

Now, if you’ve watched the video or have even heard about it, you know that in it, Anita (we’re calling her that; I’m not typing her full name out a thousand times — you know who I mean) has taken that $100,000 and put together a very, very meager video that addresses her idea that video games are a feminist’s wet dream when it comes to needing a cause to stand behind, taking a few examples from the small handful of video games that she picked specifically for this cause. Just this one. Absolutely not intentional, right?

Women in Video Games: You Can’t Open a Dialogue with Comments Disabled

Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games: Let's Get Real, Okay?I’d like to point out that the comments are disabled. Yes, Anita stated that she had a huge backlash due to what she was doing for the video and that people were angry for, it seemed, no reason. She disabled comments because they were possibly going to be negative (and, yes, she was right about that), but also because they would’ve painted truth to the portrait she was putting to canvas. A bit of research into Anita proves that not only did she take marketing classes that taught her how to do this very thing, but she actually posted links to her Kickstarter on popular “trolling” forums just to watch the flames kick up. It was all meant to paint a huge target on her back so that the trolls would do what they do best and then she could claim victim.

Yes, I believe Anita ran around antagonizing people in order to tell a sad story to people about how cruel the Internet was to her and gain favor for her Kickstarter campaign. I think these videos were meant to show she would do something with the money she earned, but I don’t, even for a minute, believe that she spent $100,000 on anything that would benefit her audience. No, in fact, I believe she confused people more.

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while or maybe followed my career through the years, I’ve had my hand in a few female empowerment gaming movements. I was never the poster girl for feminism and I’ve stated as much on one of my podcasts when this same topic came up on our show: I don’t buy into the hype. Why? Because that’s all it is. It’s a bunch of conspiracy theories birthed from truths and that gets nobody anywhere. Yes, as a woman I realize we make less on the dollar than men do for the same job and I realize we’re all still objectified and none of it is easy to swallow. I would never diminish the fact that us women have complications with equality. Never.

However, before I will ever claim I’m a feminist or a misogynist, I am a realist.

Women in Video Games: I Am a Realist

Read that a few times, and say it out loud. Let it get in your mouth and swirl it around: I am a realist. This means that I don’t need to be preached to about my self worth because I’m proving that every single day and that’s what we should be teaching our daughters. We don’t need someone making videos and pointing out that Princess Peach was a damsel in distress because — guess what — we knew that. We shouldn’t be shamed for playing the games that use the trope because we, as humans, developed it and for good reasons.

In video games, we made an actual linear story entertaining the notion that a male hero could save a female “damsel in distress” because it was the easiest to pluck up from when it came to world-renowned stories. If you pick up your book of fairy tales, any one of you will find that it is rife with these stories about how the male figure saves the female and her life of misery will be turned into one of riches and splendor. What we also find out is that there are stories about absolute urchins with hearts of gold who want to marry a princess because they can treat her right in comparison to the other arranged royalty she could marry and then they will both be rich and loved forever. These are stories. Tales that were written in a time when it was what every young boy and girl wanted: to be rescued.

Women in Video Games: Rescue Me

Let’s be honest, ladies and gents: shit was bleak back then. Nobody had the freedom they do now and stories used to reflect what it was like for a soldier to come home from battle to his “princess” and know he fought the good fight for her. That’s the origin story to this abashed “feminist fuel” that Anita points out. Rather than use that Kickstarter money to research her ideas, thoughts, and claims, she presents us with that video. She states that these tropes all come from somewhere but doesn’t actually take any real time dissecting why, their origins, and possibly the psychology that goes into why we clutch our chests and hold these stories so close to us. Every single book you will ever read will have some facet of this in it and it’s not for no reason — so why didn’t she make the video about this? Instead, she chose to make a video that oversimplifies a concept and then tears through the gaming industry to make its men look like insensitive morons.

A video I could, in my eight years in the gaming industry and my 30 years in being a gaming enthusiast, could rebuke.

Some notes I took from Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games:

  • Dinosaur Planet and Star Fox Mash-Up Wasn’t a Feminist Issue: The game was originally set to feature Krystal Fox as a hero but was then retooled completely. Anita states it is supposedly because Nintendo thought nobody would play this strong character who was a female, but in reality, the Star Fox game was not coming along as planned and the developers meshed the two together. Star Fox has always been the hero of his stories and they wanted him to have a female “princess” in his story. This was not about taking her dignity but about adapting a story into one that was already a marketing success and not letting one of their key staples to the Nintendo name have a flop. Little did they know that the game still wasn’t popular, but it had nothing to do with Krystal, Star Fox, or the feminist propaganda.
  • Princess Effin’ Peach: None of these upset me quite like the segment about Princess Peach. Why? Because she’s an easy target for feminists to come after. She was, after all, the first really well-known video game Princess. In the Super Mario Bros. series of games, Peach is often kidnapped and Mario needs to find her and save her. This goes back to fairy tales and how the everyman is worthy of the treasured princess because he is brave enough to fight through monsters and ascend mountains just to get to her. We’ve been hearing this age-old story for centuries and Disney made worldwide success telling this story for decades. However, we’re going to throw Shigeru Miyamoto under the bus because feminists need something to stand on? No dice. Princess Peach did have her own video game for the Nintendo DS and it came under heavy fire because it was absolutely marketing on the sexism that came from the Princess Peach character. Something that had been going on for years and years was now a problem because we’ve all become overly sensitized to feminist issues and who we will offend by doing what. Peach had always been seen as a high-pitched, cooing blonde with big blue eyes and sensitivity for days — but when you keep that going and make a game including those traits, people go nuts. What did they want? Did they seriously want her to brandish a sword and go fight? That was never her character in the first place.
  • The Legend of Zelda Isn’t The Problem: This game is a fairy tale put to screen and it has been since its inception. Anita takes aim at a lot of Nintendo titles that got their start decades ago and doesn’t look into the origins of why they were created or what Shigeru Miyamoto wanted to do when he conceived them in the first place. The Legend of Zelda is a fairy tale story and Nintendo put a twist on it by bringing out Sheik, later on, who was the bad-ass alter ego of Princess Zelda. The company did this because that was the character. Unfortunately, a lot of people want to turn it into a constant marketing ploy done because women mean nothing and men want to save women. Who is limiting who here? Is it possible that Miyamoto just truly wanted this story to be told because he grew up with these fairy tales? Is it possible that there is an innocence here that she’s unwilling to look into?

Women in Video Games: Are Your Blinders On?

As a female, I never felt slighted by video games and the protagonist’s goal. Not once did I ever lift my fist to the heavens and say “But I want a story about me, Candice, being the heroine! What about me?” because there were always parts of my life that resonated with both sides. Both the hero and the damsel are tropes because everyone can relate to them at least once in their life, whether they’re male or female. There are men out there who have felt weak and wished they could be saved just like there are females out there who want to pick up the gauntlet and go to war in order to save the people they love. There are games out there that feature strong women and I’m happy to state that my Commander Shepard, voiced by Jennifer Hale, took down her fair share of prejudices while protecting the Normandy. Don’t act like strong women characters aren’t there, folks. You just need to not have your blinders on.

Women in Video Games: Progress in Spite of it All

Now these are just my opinions, but obviously I feel strongly about them. I never balk about people offering their opinions either because we’re all allowed to have them. In fact, men and women have fought and died in wars so that we could have the freedom to express ourselves. If you were to come to any female 30 years ago and tell her what women are doing in 2013, she’d gawk at you. Why? Because it’s crazy. 40 years ago? 50? Whether people believe it or not, we’ve progressed pretty consistently through the years when it comes to gender equality and, even if we have a long way to go, at least we’re going somewhere.

Honestly, I believe the worst offense Anita Sarkeesian pulled with this video is that she tried to dress up her opinions as facts and took a lot of money from people in order to make an opinion video series. Civil liberties get forgotten about quite often when we express our opinions and, a lot of times, it’s because people try to dress them up as facts. She did not open up a dialogue about the way women are viewed but, in fact, she put a negative spin on something that us realists feel we need to defend. She was dishonest about her intentions and used feminism and the Internet to rally support to a cause that she felt something for but the actual end-game hasn’t been revealed. It’s a shame, too, because I would love to see a video that actually researched the origins of these tropes and the people who continue them. A chance to really see just why it happens rather than take a broken, jaded assumption and turn it into “fact” for page hits on YouTube.

I know I’m probably part of a minority on this matter, but what do you guys think? Where do you think this comes from, and do you think Anita meant well? How would you have done it better, and do you think we’re blowing up an age-old trope and turning it into something it shouldn’t have been?

Image: screencapped from Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games

Article Written by

Mouthy with a broad vocabulary and a large imagination, I come in from a rather lengthy (7+ years) stay in video game journalism. While tech, gamer and geek culture has always been my strength, I tend to be right at home with whatever topic is thrown my way. I'm a mother, a multi-tasker and a maverick. ♥

  • Sam

    I just found this article. I know it’s months late. But well written and almost perfectly mirrors my own viewpoints on the series and the whole controversy surrounding it.

  • Thae86

    I’m sorry you feel this way…but you don’t speak for all women who play video games.

  • Jacob Listerud

    “Honestly, I believe the worst offense Anita Sarkeesian pulled with this video is that she tried to dress up her opinions as facts and took a lot of money from people in order to make an opinion video series.”

    I completely and utterly agree with you. I think that this one little statement sums up exactly how I feel about Anita and her approach to her opinion.