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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sexist trolls, meet Streisand Effect

Not the kind of video game troll
I'm talking about
It's now nearly the end of the funding period for Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarter project "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games," and it has raised more than $100,000 over its initial goal. I don't want to detract from the validity of the idea itself or her ability to present it, but can't help but guess that a big chunk of that is from people who are sympathetic to the harassment she's had to deal with. Misogynistic trolls have in this case performed a Westboro Baptist Church-like function in drawing attention to something they hate through sheer petulant anger, and managing to help it flourish in the process. You're probably familiar with the WBC, but maybe not the fact that a lot of their protests (which they announce in advance) have been the occasion for fund-raising for gay rights groups that would not have otherwise received that money. In the same way, Sarkeesian's project has received far more attention than it probably otherwise would have due to the douchebaggery of its opponents. That's great for the project itself, which has become significantly more ambitious in light of the ballooning donations, but it has also elicited some interesting reflections from feminist observers.

Becky Chambers at The Mary Sue:
The comment I have seen repeated most often in conjunction with these stories is something I have wondered myself: What can we do about this? That’s a difficult question, and though I don’t have the faintest idea of what to do about the internet at large, I believe the climate within the gaming community, at least, could slowly be improved through the joint efforts of both developers and gamers. 
Developers, you are free to tell whatever stories and portray whatever characters you want. You have no fight from me there. But when you create a character, think about the message you are sending. Think about the example you are setting for your fanbase. Think about hatefests like the ones detailed here, and consider how your work might be encouraging them. Take, for example, the uproar against the Hitman trailer. Rob Fahey at GamesIndustry expertly tackled this one last week in an article entitled “Can’t We Discuss This Like Adults?” 
Let’s be absolutely clear that it’s [sexualized violence] which is the issue. It’s not the fact that there are nuns in the game who then turn out to be sexy nun assassins in suspender belts. You want sexy nun assassins in your game trailer? Be my guest. It looks ridiculous, and I don’t see them getting much assassinating done while wearing those heels, but if you think your target audience is the demographic slice of people who get turned on by poorly CG rendered assassins in habits and stiletto heels, go for it. Nor is the issue the fact that Agent 47 commits violent acts against women. He’s a hitman, assassins are attacking him, he kills them. That’s not the problem.
The problem is the interaction between those two things. The thought process of the creators of this trailer is naked for the world to see. Gamers like sexy women. Let’s have sexy women, and let’s make them sexy nuns because that’s edgy. You know what else is edgy? Having the dark anti-hero kill women, rather than the usual faceless male soldiers and thugs. That’ll get headlines. Let’s do that.
…The imagery is deliberately powerfully sexual. It’s also deliberately powerfully violent. Square Enix intended both of those things to be present in the imagery. I don’t think (wishful, perhaps) that they quite intended their interaction to be so horrific. In a society where 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence, Square Enix just released a video of violence against women presented as sexy and fetishised. That’s the issue. 
A few days after that article was posted, Hitman developer IO Interactive apologized for the trailer, tellingly stating that they were “surprised” by the negative reaction, because all they had intended was “to make something cool.” 
So, developers, consider your audience, and consider the social climate you’re wading into. Make your mark, but do so wisely. Remember the lessons of Spider-Man: With great power comes great responsibility. You can ignore that, if you want. That’s your right. Only you can decide where the line between censorship and consideration lies. It’s a hard question, but it’s one that you need to ask yourselves with every game you make.
Alyssa Rosenberg at ThinkProgress:
But the whole incident is a reminder of how deeply some men are invested not simply in the structures that provide them tangible advantages, but in the conventions that let them wallow in culture that indulges their worst, stupidest impulses. And if folks are willing to fight this hard against someone doing criticism of culture, there are others who will do worse to preserve the laws that give them privilege in the world. Culture in this area, as in so many others, is a canary in a coal mine. And women who complain about online harassment aren’t being oversensitive: they’re trying to stop an ugly cycle before it spirals out of control. Both psychologically and substantively, it’s key to our ability to do our work. 
Jessica Coen at Jezebel:
We received a tip about this story last week and, to be honest, I shrugged. We didn't cover it. My job involves reading hundreds of emails and thousands of headlines every day and, ultimately, making a call on whether or not I should assign the story to one of the site's writers. I usually make that call pretty quickly, for reasons having to do with gut instincts and knowing that if I don't make a decision about something right away, it could be ages before I get to it again. 
So, yeah, I didn't even blink. And now, upon further reflection, that reaction makes me feel a little queasy. Not because Jezebel potentially missed a good story (though that concern is always there, even in my sleep), and not because I decided not to assign coverage. Rather, I'm queasy because of why I shrugged: I read about Anita Sarkeesian and my immediate reaction was, "This crap happens every damn day. Nothing new here. Nothing to see. Move along." 
Ugh. 
Anjin Anhut at How Not To Suck At Game Design:
Misogyny in games is everywhere and almost as old as popular games are. I love games, I work in games, I play games, games are awesome, powerful and wonderful. But the way the games industry and community treats roughly 50% of the human population is a giant festering ugly tumor, right in our favorite cultures’s face. 
Considering the damage misogyny in games does to pop culture and to society at large (games are a large cultural force now), I find myself always flabbergasted at the consorted and massive efforts from gamers to keep things as disgusting as they are, whenever someone speaks up against it. 
Instead of joining forces with people, who care enough to make games better for all of us and, yes, help women get a better standing in society, gamers get defensive. They play the victim, rationalize, become offensive and even resort to hostile attacks and vandalism. 
This is not helping. It is generating additional damage to our culture, in fact. Whatever the aspect of games, the community or themselves it is, they get so protective about… they are completely poisoning and deforming it, by their own misguided actions defending misogyny in games. 
Alex at the border house:
It’s nice that the number of backers doubled once news of the harassment campaign started getting around. But the video game community needs to do more. It’s well past time for the video game community to own up to and condemn the fact that there is a subset of us dedicated to organized mob harassment of people who criticize games in any way, but particularly when it comes to social issues like misogyny, racism, and homophobia. It’s time to stop rolling our eyes about how awful gamers and nerds are. We are gamers and nerds, and this is our community. If you know someone who is involved in this sort of thing, tell them that it’s not cool. Condemn this sort of behavior on forums, on Twitter, wherever you have a voice. If you don’t feel safe doing those things, then don’t (safety is most important), but if you can, speak up. This is a perfect way for allies who want to do more to do so. Let harassers know they are the ones who aren’t welcome in video games, not the people who make thoughtful criticism out of love for the medium. Games don’t belong to them, and the community has no need for people who harass and try to silence criticism.

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