While I still play video games and enjoy them a great deal, I don’t consider myself steeped in “gamer” culture. I peruse gaming websites to learn about what’s new and what’s good, but I don’t have strong opinions on the latest World of Warcraft expansion or the merits of playing as a Monk versus a Barbarian in Diablo III. Gamer culture seems to require a certain amount of obsessive attention to detail that—if I ever possessed it—has faded away in my dotage. Gamer culture also has a tendency to become mired in bro-centric toxicity; a tendency that became depressingly obvious this week when feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian released the latest YouTube video in her Tropes vs. Women series.
Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women series examines how video games portray women as ornamental objects, damsels in distress, and other stereotypical gender roles. The series has been ongoing for a couple years and Sarkeesian offers compelling evidence of persistent misogyny in games. Here’s the latest video, which is worth watching if you have any interest in games or feminist theory:
Sarkeesian’s critiques have provoked the kinds of responses you might expect from gamer bros: plenty of vitriol sprinkled liberally with rape and death threats. Sarkeesian had to leave her home this week after receiving specific death threats directed against her and her parents.
Gamer culture, like a lot of subcultures that flourish on the Internet, can be insular and exclusionary. That may partially explain the ferocity of the attacks; gaming has long been seen as a fringe activity that hasn’t received the same kind of critical analysis that is applied to film, books, and other media. But gaming is now a mainstream activity that has gained ample visibility in our culture. With the spread of mobile devices, nearly everyone has some contact with games. Why shouldn’t games be the subject of criticism? And not the kind of criticism that determines whether a game is fun to play, but the kind of criticism that examines games as a reflection of our values and mores. In other words, the kind of criticism that adults debate and discuss.
Unfortunately, some gamers don’t have much patience for critical theory. They perceive criticism as a trespass on their dominion and worthy of vicious retribution, particularly when the source of that criticism is a woman. They don’t want to see their favorite pastime grow up, which is exactly what will happen because of the efforts of Sarkeesian and other smart people. The attacks on her will certainly continue and they will be as ugly and brutal as ever, but they will eventually be seen as the death throes of a particularly toxic subculture that deserves no memorial.