Feminism and Video Games 101: The Solution is Both/And Not Either/Or

A crop of the cover of Anna Anthropy's book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters.

As I mentioned in the round-up about the Hitman trailer, there are a whole lot of things wrong with this blog post by Tycho Brahe at Penny Arcade, but the thing I want to focus on for this post is the argument that people should be making their own art instead of doing criticism. It’s something that has come up a lot in the past, whenever someone criticizes a game for whatever reason, but especially when the criticism has to do with oppression.

The first issue is the obvious: yes, almost anyone can make a game. There are a lot of tools and resources out there so that basically anyone with access to a computer can make a simple game, given enough time. But the idea that a game made by one or a few people on no budget will have anywhere near the influence of a AAA game with millions of dollars behind it on marketing alone is simply ridiculous.

The suggestion also ignores the fact that there are people in the game industry, who work on games big and small, who are also critical of our sexist culture in general and the way it manifests in video game subculture in particular. Some of our own writers here at The Border House also make games, and people in the industry participate in and engage with the critical conversation all the time (for example, in the comments on this terrible Kill Screen article (trigger warning)). When people are both making games and engaging in criticism, telling them to go make their own stuff is really just telling them to shut up.

The “if you don’t like it, make your own!” argument is nothing more than a silencing tactic.

What makes the Penny Arcade post especially head-desk-inducing is that Tycho links Anna Anthropy’s excellent book as part of his argument. The book encourages people to make games, yes, but it absolutely does not tell people to shut up and not criticize problematic aspects of video game culture.

The thing about changing culture, about combating the sexism and other bigotries within it, is that there is no one approach that is most effective or that should be used to the exclusion of all others. We need to use all approaches and tackle all angles in order to change the culture. This is why I don’t argue with people any more about tactics. If someone tries to tell me that I should be, for example, making games instead of writing blog posts (as if I’m not also making games!), that tells me that I should ignore them, because they have no idea how effective writing about sexism actually is. An article brings attention to an issue and can make many people more aware. A lot of articles over time will reach that many more people, the knowledge will sink in, and the culture will slowly change. I have personally seen change happen over the course of my four-plus years writing about games. There are more people than ever drawing attention to sexism, rape culture, and other problems in video games and video game culture. There are also many people in the game industry being the change they want to see, whether it’s by influencing game development to be less bigoted and more diverse, or by changing the perception of what the industry is like and who it’s for with their very presence.

We need both of these approaches because they’re working. Anyone who tells you otherwise either doesn’t know what they’re talking about or doesn’t actually want change to happen.

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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7 Responses to Feminism and Video Games 101: The Solution is Both/And Not Either/Or

  1. Blake says:

    I’ve decided to focus on the fact that someone there apparently read my post, rather than that they apparently totally missed the point ;-)

    I chose a fun picture from one of the top sellers on Steam to point out that we don’t need this kind of garbage and this wasn’t what gaming was about, so we had better stand up and say so. Standing up to say “gaming isn’t *just* about violence against women” doesn’t really make it better, any more than evolutionary biologists standing up and saying “some evolutionary biologists have good ideas” absolves them of having to argue back against all the crap in their field. I’m pretty sure we can set the bar for ourselves a wee bit higher than “it’s not *all* terrible!”

    Tycho never did offer an explanation for why the women were hypersexualized if not to sell games to the people he describes as necrophiles: it’s like he almost gets it before veering off into “I’m rubber and you’re glue” land. If only we’d never said anything he’d never have noticed, so clearly the problem is us, not that these people are marketing games assuming all gamers are creepy straight men. Eventually I hope these guys realize they are being insulted by the people who make the games, not the folks who criticize them.

  2. Laurentius says:

    I mean I am closer to understand now what editors and guest posters at Borderhouse come through. This Hitman trailer made me so angry and depressed about video games both industry and medium. I wanted to write a piece how sexist and misogynist and insulting both to men and women it is etc, but reading that Tyho’s piece at PA… Oh, man, now I understand why people who engage in such discussion often feel jaded or burn out. So deliberately missing the point, so misleading commentary, so being proud of choosing to live under the rock ( not really I know: what it really is, is the combination of privilege and ill intention ) that I feel like “ What’s the point to argue with such deliberately notorious individual ?”

    For me this trailer is extremely representative both for medium and industry and is probably unintentionally scoping how very wrong current state of them is.

  3. brian psi says:

    What the Gabes of the world don’t realize (or don’t want to admit) is that there is no clear division between criticism and art, and there are many, many artist-critics. Oscar Wilde was one, and one of his most cited essays, “The Critic as Artist” makes the not-so-surprising claim that criticism is as important as art, and not (as we tend to think) subject to it. Art cannot flourish without criticism–an informed audience is necessary to its survival and development (not to mention that people need to know what is worth their dollar and what might not be).

    Then there’s also the fact that much of what Gabe himself does could just as rightly be classified as game criticism as anything published on Kotaku or here or anywhere else. His criticism just takes the form of pictures & words. Or, um, blog posts critiquing others’ right to critique stuff.

    Oh, irony.

  4. Deviija says:

    As frustrating and upsetting as that is to hear (or read, rather), my surprise is muted because, hey, it’s Penny Arcade doing its thing again! You know, the being non-allies thing. To say the least. However, when he linked Anna’s book… I laughed out LOUD. It is so ridiculous to try and use it as a means of support for his argument. That is some hilarious spin doctoring, there.

    Anyway, I completely agree with you, Alex, on the end-note. We do need to utilize all the approaches and all the tools at our disposal to make a change in the culture. This is also another reason why having places like The BorderHouse are important. Even being an outspoken poster in comments, on twitter, on tumblr, on company forums, etc. can all be important parts of change over time. The more solidarity for x, or support for y, or criticism of z that is out there in our collective society sphere, the more awareness it brings, the more people it reaches, the more that it can make people think. It’s all important. Multi-pronged solutions to combating these culture negatives.

  5. tahrey says:

    I can’t entirely agree with his post, but it does seem to be along the lines of “this is so stupid, that I can’t even take it serious in terms of trying to be exploitative – it’s passed into the realms of parody”, and “instead of kicking up a shitstorm about things we don’t like, and trying to get them banned when there’s nothing actually illegal in it, why don’t we drown it out with better stuff?”.

    That’s the positive points about it anyway. There’s also an anti-critical vibe, and a suggestion that anything goes, so long as you can label it as art, or parody, or whatever, no matter how tasteless, offensive or artless. Hmm. I dunno. From the sound of it, the trailer (not yet exposed to it, perhaps thankfully) would have a flavour of Thrill Kill, the banned game of choice from the Playstation days (…which in the end wasn’t that outrageous, and definitely not a very good game to play). Surely we should have moved on from this sort of thing, with DNF being the last nail in the coffin? It’s not new, not shocking, not making any kind of point… and therefore not even art. It’s just porn, but without even the intended result of THAT. It’s just tasteless and offensive for the point of it. Why bother? And even, why pay it any attention (…apart from it being from a big studio and therefore able to splay itself everywhere in front of impressionable eyes, of course )):

    The problem is this sort of this still somehow seems to work. Probably the “haha boobs” teenage demographic again :-/
    Tycho’s main problem, potential failing, is suggesting that if we ignore it and concentrate on other things, it might go away. Which works for some attention seekers, but not all. Especially bullies and drama queens… they just step up their campaign instead.

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