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Anita Sarkeesian talks trolls, tropes, and the coolest new video games.

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Anita Sarkeesian is one of the most admired figures in video game culture. She is also one of the most reviled. Those who love her see Sarkeesian as an important critic of sexist tropes in pop culture media, particularly video games. Last week, in fact, she was named one of Time’s 100 Influential people.  The viewpoint of her detractors—who are many, vocal, and perhaps more accurately described as “trolls”—is a little less easy to parse, but ostensibly stems from the belief that Sarkeesian’s “radical” dissections of much-loved games will encourage censorship in the gaming industry.

 When Sarkeesian launched her website, Feminist Frequency, her goals were simple: to put forth accessible, feminist criticism of pop culture staples. In 2011, Sarkeesian partnered with Bitch magazine to create a series of videos called Tropes vs. Women, which examined problematic depictions of female characters in sci-fi. A segment of the series that focused exclusively on video games aired in 2013. It was not just an intellectual exercise: Sarkeesian is a gamer, and she wants to see the industry do better.

 But the Tropes vs. Women video game series was met with hysteria from a subset of (predominantly male) gamers. Sarkeesian was assailed with a barrage of death threats, rape threats, and otherwise vicious harassment. Undaunted, Sarkeesian continues to move forward with her efforts to make the gaming world a friendlier place for women.

 In an interview with Women in the World, Sarkeesian spoke about angry trolls, the need for more female developers, and the importance of advocating for better, more inclusive video games.

Women in the World: Why do you think the video game segment of Tropes vs. Women struck such an angry chord?

Anita Sarkeesian: Women and girls have been playing and making video games for about as long as video games have existed. In spite of this fact, for decades game designers and publishers, along with gaming magazines and websites, have catered almost exclusively to young men. Unsurprisingly, this has created a culture of men who feel entitled to that territory, and as a result anyone or anything that suggests that gaming should not be exclusively the realm of young straight men is threatening to them. They feel like their cultural domain is being invaded by evil feminist interlopers out to ruin their “fun.” So they lash out at those who suggest that games can be more diverse and inclusive.

This isn’t to say that men invested in maintaining the status quo of gaming as a male-dominated space don’t accept women gamers at all; some women can be welcomed in this culture so long as they don’t rock the boat by challenging the culture’s pervasive sexism. However, if women do “step out of line” and challenge that sexism they are viciously attacked.

WITW: The gaming population is more or less split between males and females. But the development world is still dominated by men. Do you think gaming culture would change if more women were involved in content creation?

AS: There’s no question that getting more women working inside video game studios is a huge and essential part of the cultural shift that needs to happen. Developers can’t use the excuse anymore that they didn’t feature women in their games because they didn’t know how to write and design them. Hire women, talk to women, involve women in the creative process from the very beginning.

But while getting significantly more women involved in designing games is absolutely necessary, the male-centered (and hetero-normative) culture of game design has been so deeply entrenched for so long throughout the industry that the current situation also calls for very conscious, very deliberate efforts by men and women alike to reflect on the creative decisions they’re making and to stop perpetuating sexism in the design and advertising of games. Game publishers and studios need to be deliberate and intentional within their company environments to move away from the high-school boys locker room atmosphere that has dominated game development for far too long.

WITW: What else needs to happen to curb the violent sort of online sexism that is displayed by male gamers?

AS: This is a problem the industry itself has created by selling to young straight men that gaming is their exclusive domain, and now the industry has a responsibility to address that problem and undo the damage. The silence from most publishers and games media sites in the weeks after GamerGate started viciously harassing women was deafening. Even when faced with such stark and horrifying evidence of the problems inherent in making straight men feel entitled to video games for decades, these companies didn’t want to risk hurting their bottom line by upsetting some of the people they’ve catered to and profited from.

That kind of unwillingness to clearly condemn such harassing behavior in their fan-base is unacceptable. Publishers and games media sites need to play an active, constant role in challenging and changing the culture they’ve helped create, making it clear in their forums and communities that any kind of harassment will not be tolerated. And social media platforms where much of the harassment takes place need to take responsibility for it and implement structural changes that actively discourage the use of their platforms for harassment.

WITW: Your criticism of video games has made you the target of vicious harassment. Why is it worth is for you to continue with Feminist Frequency, in spite of it all?

AS: As a feminist, I’m interested in media representations because I believe that TV shows, movies and video games have the power to influence our values, beliefs and attitudes as a society, for better or for worse. Media images and narratives can inspire greatness and encourage values of social justice, but unfortunately, they are more often (consciously or unconsciously) constructed to reinforce harmful myths about women and people of color. There is never a question in my mind about continuing to advocate for better media representations as one way to build a better, more just world. The overwhelming, intense harassment targeting women who are working for change in these male-dominated fields is just more evidence that these efforts are crucial and necessary.

WITW: What games are you loving at the moment, and why?

AS: Killer Queen: A unique custom built 10-player arcade strategy game where two teams have multiple ways they can work together to defeat the other team.

 Monument Valley: A stunningly beautiful mobile game where you play as the Princess Ida traversing puzzling environments full of optical illusions.

 The Marvelous Miss Take: A charmingly simple but challenging stealth game starring protagonist Sophia Take, who is a Carmen Sandiego-esque art thief out for justice.

 Lumino City: A beautiful adventure puzzle game created with stunning handmade dioramas. You play as Lumi, a young girl on an epic adventure to rescue her kidnapped grandfather.

Gravity Ghost: A cute little physics game about flying through the universe, bouncing off planets, collecting stellar fragments and growing your ghostly hair long.

Anita Sarkeesian will be speaking at the Women in the World Summit on April 23. To purchase tickets, click here.

Watch Tropes vs. Women here:


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