Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts


Tropes n Stuff

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 2:30 PM

Initially, I was going to just post this up on the weekend Internet Roundup with my own fleeting comments, but my comments began to grow and grow and eventually turned in to what you're about to read. So, here we go...

Tropes vs Women

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Blogger/activist/really smart gal Anita Sarkeesian is a gamer who would probably punch me in the face for calling her a "gal" in the first place. She loves videogames. If you don't believe me, then just watch the first entry in her videogame-minded series Tropes vs. Women in Videogames (which is a kinda-spinoff of her regular video series, Tropes vs. Women, only specific towards videogames). You'll be able to tell right away she knows her shit, and that's always good start when doing something that few people bother with:

Critical analysis of videogames.

Yeah, I's rare. And though I have some concerns of this (admitting still young) web series, it's nice to see the time and money spent to critically think about videogames rather than "oh, look at these graphics" and "here's another trailer!" videos or "this is why this game sucks" video. Cultural and sociological insight isn't exactly the first go-to subject amongst videogamers out there.

However, there's one thing that bugs me. Ok, there's a lot that bug me and I'll try my best to note them without sounding patronizing or misogynistic, starting with this:

Writing in Videogames is Still Amateur (at Best)

The issue isn't solely how women are written in videogames, at least not to me, it's how videogames are written as a whole. We're trying to discuss the representation of women in a medium that still has issues of telling stories with any sense of depth to begin with. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but when you have writers unable to really string together a coherent plot in the first place, who result to lazy plot devices and cliche to begin with (where many of these tropes stem from), then the representation of women (and men for that matter, though that wouldn't be brought up here) is just one problematic cog in a problematic machine. too. I mean, men seem to either be criminals or anti-heroes going around killing people all the time if a game attempts to go beyond a Mario standard of "go save this or go collect this thing."

Maybe that's why I liked Heavy Rain. It was nice just to see a regular, believable "man" for once who was heroic through his decisions, not heroic because he wanted revenge and was angry all the time.

There's no denying there's not a ton of strong women-being-women in videogames, but again it's how games are written in the first place that's the bigger issue issue. The guys (and it's mainly guys) that write games often aren't considering a story with a lot of interest, or they don't know how to write "roles" for women in the first place because they aren't exactly your typical writer and probably never learned a ton about writing characters at all (just look at how most characters are one-dimensional across the board. You can sum them up with a hand-jesture).

So I suppose pointing out how women are poorly-represented is like not seeing the forest through the trees to me. That doesn't mean you shouldn't point that out. No no just means that it's something that should be addressed in the video series (and probably should have been addressed in this first episode).

Lotta Japanese Examples...

Demographics have a lot to do with my concerns it as well. As great (and I mean REALLY great...that Zelda one is phenomenal) as her examples of the Damsel in Distress trope is, it's not addressing the larger sociological issue here. Especially when it comes to how women, as in the living-breathing real kind, are treated in different cultures around the world. Women are still a bit behind men, and in some cases a LOT behind men, in terms of their social status in other places of the world - such as Japan...where nearly every single one of her examples come from yet she says nothing about Japanese culture and their view of women (which, surprisingly, isn't all that great especially in women depictions across all of Japanese media like cartoons and movies) fact she should more do a video about the view of women in Japan and how that reflects in their media and less about perfunctory ideas if she really wants to say something here…that's be a really cool series.

Anyways, the lack of cultural significance seems strangely missing considering the series is about culture and society.  In fact I think the absence of bringing up the origins of when and where these games were developed is a huge oversight and I hope is rectified in an upcoming episode.

Let's face it, it's early but hey...she's got a lot to say...I have a lot to say...others have a lot to say but are probably saying it wrong and acting like assholes because they can't be critical without being hateful....more on that later.


As this is a first episode, she probably should have built a foundation first. Instead of jumping right in to a trope, going over larger issues to allow for an understanding of where she's coming from should have had at least five minutes given to it. She should probably have spent most of this time, or maybe even do a separate "intro" video, covering things like demographics and the fact that men play video games more than women. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just a fact, just like women have a strange ability to compartmentalize makeup and clothing. Seriously, how do they do that? How can they look at a brand and know what the hell it is and whether it's good or not? I have no idea. There's nothing wrong with saying that men and women are different and are good at /like different things that the other sex doesn't. It's not everyone, but it's the majority and when a creator of something is trying to appeal to the biggest market and make the most money, they'll go with the biggest market audience.

But really, the lack of approaching from that "outside-then-in" approach may be the downfall here. If you're going to discuss a cultural phenomenon like videogames, you need to discuss the cultural and societal norms themselves. Especially of Japan, if you're going to be using that as your base examples. The biggest mistake any sociologist can do is "judge" or "determine" something from another society as it relates to your own societal norms and presumptions.  An even bigger mistake is to not bring it up at all. She kind of just jumps right in, doesn't even consider subjective or objective analysis as a passing term…

If you're going to be doing something scholarly, which she clearly is, the fact she fails to establish any foundation before starting shows an amateurish, at best, approach to the issue and undermines the points she's trying to make…which, let's not forget, ARE GOOD POINTS. Even if she's kind of cherry-picking, the points are still there. It's just she doesn't quite do it right, at least not for me, and the more I think of the failings of this episode, the more I add to my list of "I hope she addresses in a future episode."

Men Rely on Women's Own Assumptions of Women to Tell Them What to Assume About Women

Then there's a whole discussion of how women treat themselves on top of that. Oh man, it probably won't come up but considering the simplistic approach the male developers have towards video game writing, they're going to go for the simplest way to view women which, in part, is thanks to women's programming and magazines (other media…let's not forget video games rely heavily on the merging of various other things before trying to make it its own).

This is probably their thinking.

"Oh, well I see on Cosmo and that other women's magazine that women like this and do this and like to shop and stuff...and that's, like, a women's magazine too so that means it's ok to write women like that, right?"

Shit, I really want to get in to the whole female magazine thing, it was a big issue we covered in my media classes way back when. Same with how every commercial that involves laundry or cleaning products always show women in the role of "mommy" and "housewife." It's irritating, but do you know what the big point of those commercials were? The fact that the examples we were watching were originally written by the ad agency writers...who were mainly women...yeah, now that's even more irritating isn't it?

Plus, there's a strange disconnect in terms of good female role models. Ask any teen girl, they'll probably say they love Kim Kardashian or some other pop-culture woman we won't remember in ten years over an Elizabeth Cowell…

…Oh, you never heard of Elizabeth Cowell? Exactly.

So it's kind of like this: there should be more women writers either writing games or in the writers' room to provide a voice and men need to stop assuming what women want by going through other media to try and figure it out. That doesn't mean you can't have tropes, cliche and stereotypes, but what videogames lack isn't necessarily women characters and ideas, it's the female voice and input to allow a more well-rounded approach to writing character.


Anyways, I think she'll turn it around, address bigger issues, move on past the episode and really expand it.  She's smart, I think she knows and seems pretty self-critical herself.

Despite the issues I have, you know what…at least it's getting people talking. Sure, this probably isn't the best way to approach and discuss this issue for a first episode, I feel it ist saying much yet says a lot if that makes any sense, but hell, nobody else is doing this to the degree of trying to make a video series about it, so right now it is the best way. And you know what, I like the fact that someone is willing to take an initiative on anything when approaching video game issues. I'm most worried that video games and how they approach characters and themes is going to be stuck in the dark-ages. Sure, it's a young medium, but if someone doesn't call BS, even if I think there's a better way to call BS, then it's never going to emerge out of that. I mean, the community itself is already stuck there...which leads me to...

Apparently, there's a bit of backlash to this whole thing. I don't know, I've read some of the "excuses" by people trying to bring her down, and some upset she's doing it, but I just don't get why I mean...what are YOU doing, Mr. Commenter (and you know it's a Mr.)? That's right: sitting around and being assholes. Someone takes the time to do a little critical thinking and you're worried you'll start feeling guilty because (surprise!) she's probably right in that the way women are written in videogames is pretty half-assed? You're worried she's going to show a hatred for videogames even though she clearly says “Remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.” (Which is also the point of this blog entry, I'm being critical, but doing my best to not sound like a jerk because I do it because I want to see this series really nail it).

You know what the bigger problem is now? Gamer maturity. A look at posts on facebook, youtube and forums in response to the first video is a reminder that, just maybe, the community doesn't deserve to have a smart video series about the merits or demerits of videogame development in the first place. They can't even watch a video that actually might get them thinking about stuff without acting like absolutely shitheads. The sad part is, that's the people that the video needs to reach the most. Ok, the writers of the games themselves are probably the most, but ignorant gamers are a close second.

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