Screen Critics Sam discusses the issues around video game feminist Anita Sarkeesian and offers his opinion on the recent controversial events at VidCon.
VidCon, a place where YouTubers and video content creators gather to express and share ideas with the occasional meet and greet, is a great idea to have several online personalities in one space for conversations. 2017’s VidCon took place last weekend, and for anyone who follows the more prominent YouTube channels at VidCon, will know the unfortunate events that transpired at both the Women Online panel and Cyberbullying panel centered on self-proclaimed feminist and YouTube personality, Anita Sarkeesian. Let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding one Anita Sarkeesian, the events of VidCon, and the moral dilemmas facing modern feminism that ultimately plays into why Sarkeesian is generally not received in a positive light.
Tropes vs. Women in Video Games
In 2009, Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic and blogger, launched a website titled Feminist Frequency which primarily focused on debates surrounding the representation of females in popular culture, all within a feminist mindframe. In 2011, Sarkeesian shifted her attention towards science fiction when she, in collaboration with Bitch magazine, launched the video series Tropes vs. Women. While the series was admirable for its goals and ambitions, it was rather inconsequential as it didn’t have a solid enough platform to catapult into the forefront of media criticism. It was only when Sarkeesian took to Kickstarter to fund her next venture, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, that really caught the attention of many curious fans. Sarkeesian amassed over $150,000 on her project, but complications set in a little early.
Originally intended to be released in 2012, the series finally launched in March of 2013 and began gaining plenty of attention and criticism, mainly for Sarkeesian’s inaccurate subjects either taken entirely out of context of purposefully skewed to fulfil a certain criteria. The Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series was the starting point for what would eventually lead to the notorious GamerGate incidents that saw Sarkeesian, and several other outspoken feminist personalities, targeted and harassed online by anonymous individuals.
I have mixed feelings towards Tropes vs. Women in Video Games and the GamerGate fiasco as a whole. The one thing I can appreciate about Sarkeesian’s initial idea for the series is its bold tackling of the subject matter regarding the depiction of women in video games. I do believe there is plenty to openly discuss about how certain video games do intentionally paint women in a overtly sexual or undermining manner, and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games was the ideal launching point for that discussion to happen. However, it’s one thing to open the floor to discussions around the topics, but to ingenuously misconstrue or misrepresent video games to suit certain agendas is exactly what Anita Sarkeesian evidently did – one of her biggest critics being YouTube personality, Sargon of Akkad, who was among the many to bring to light the inaccuracies surrounding her research.
Following the launch of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, every episode in the series came under intense scrutiny and criticism from individuals of the YouTube community – many of which are gamers – who pointed out Sarkeesian’s intentionally one-sided, out of context arguments that ultimately twisted its subject matters to suit the agenda she tried to push as a thematic “problem” or “issue”. I don’t condone discussions on video games if the person isn’t entirely a gamer themselves, but that also begs a level of understanding and comprehension of the art to really engage on a critical (and credible) level, which Sarkeesian seemed to have but abused that knowledge entirely in her attempts to lament controversy over mostly inconsequential or otherwise completely removed topics from the issue of females in games.
Sargon of Akkad, while not Sarkeesian’s biggest or necessarily vulgar critic, certainly provided the most authentic and valid criticisms of her work, dissecting not only the points made in her videos but also shining a light on her past as well; particularly the contradictory statements she has made. Sargon, along with a handful of other YouTube personalities and critics of Sarkeesian’s work, were given the collective title of “shitlords” following the backlash she received from the gaming community.
This leads into the events of last weekend, where Anita Sarkeesian, on a panel about the presence of women online, verbally lashed out at Sargon of Akkad who sat quietly in the front row merely observing and not engaging in any hostile manners. Sarkeesian denounced him as a “shithead” and “garbage human”; something that the VidCon hosts and creators, John and Hank Green, infamously sided with Sarkeesian for, stating Sargon’s… presence… as a sign of harassment, and even going as far as implying that Sargon, along with the other YouTubers in attendance, are not welcomed at VidCon in the future – something that I cannot see any logic or reasoning in at all.
However, the controversy didn’t stop there. The very next day, at (ironically) a panel for Cyberbullying which featured Sarkeesian and gaming YouTube personality Boogie2988, more drama unfolded as Sarkeesian lashed out against Boogie’s retort for “promoting love” and not the “get angry and fight” mentality that she unabashedly called for. This infuriated me for a number of reasons. Boogie2988 seems to be one of the more genuinely kind-natured YouTubers who has had a history of anxiety problems and his own harsh criticisms for his noticeable weight, so when Sarkeesian incited what is essentially bullying against Boogie, the irony was spread very thick on the entire situation.
I’d like to leave by voicing my own opinion on the entire debacle and on Anita Sarkeesian as a person. While her efforts to bring to light the empathetic approach to females certain video games do promote were admirable and were probably done with the best intentions, it’s simply unfortunate that Sarkeesian herself turned out to be a very unfavourable person; given the exposing accusations and eye-opening criticisms on her series.
The issue prevalent with modern feminism is how its mainly used as a device to instigate hate against men and empower women instead of promoting equality. This may be seen in the more Social Justice Warrior aspect of “feminism”, but the truth is very far removed from what is idealistically perceived as feminism now and how it systematically undermines those who speak out against it. We’ve seen Sarkeesian don this practice and use it to her advantage at the expense of others… and her own credibility, funny enough. Thus, double standards should come into play here regarding the events that transpired at VidCon and probably in a more general light given her critically flawed arguments in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. If the shoe was on the other foot, would Sargon have received the same backwards treatment from the VidCon creators? Would Sarkeesian have cried harassment then too? The questions are endless when the answers only make more logical sense from a different perspective, and perspective, Sarkeesian sadly has none.