Random Encounter #5 – Tropes Vs Me

Is there a sexual sickness at the heart of geek culture? Olivia squares up against the latest controversy, and the gloves are coming off…

Recently I’ve been trying to write something on this Tropes vs Women in video games debate that’s being raging on the Internet. For those not in the know, Anita Sarkeesian, who runs a popular YouTube series called Tropes Versus Women, recently asked for funding to produce a series that looked specifically at video games. While Sarkeesian received the funding she needed (and then some), she also provoked a backlash of the most poisonous kind. Every aspect of her online presence – her YouTube channel, Facebook profile, Twitter account and her own website, to name but a few – was flooded with misogynistic comments, threats of death, sexual assault and violence. There were event attempts to have her YouTube channel shut down by flagging her videos as ‘terrorism’.

Bear in mind that Sarkeesian has not actually said anything yet. She hasn’t produced a single video on how women are depicted in video game culture. She simply asked for the funding to do so.

My reaction to all this? Well, of course, on a personal level I am saddened, and angry on Sarkeesian’s behalf. Nobody deserves this kind of hate for simply expressing an opinion, and hardly a controversial one at that, but my main response throughout this whole affair has been one of weariness. Because this keeps happening.

Anita Sarkeesian

In the same week, Crystal Dynamics, makers of the new Tomb Raider game, debuted a demo that showed the main character, Lara Croft, attempting to escape sexual assault. Executive producer Ron Rosenberg said that players would want to ‘protect’ Lara throughout the game. The trailer shows her beaten, broken down, destroyed. The problematic yet powerful heroine of my childhood is no more – in her place is a scared and frightened girl, designed to appeal to the paternalistic urges of a white, male, heterosexual player.

Classic Lara Croft. Feminist icon?

This is the only mainstream game at the recent E3 convention that featured a female lead character, by the way. The only other woman I’ve seen in recent days on the cover of a game? Aveline, star of the upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation. Which is for a handheld console, the Vita, and is simply positioned as a promotion for the upcoming Assassin’s Creed 3.

Outside of video games, I have seen comic books fans criticising new, female fans of the Avengers movie for not wanting to read the comics (why would they, when the medium universally treats them with derision and disrespect?) and tried to sit through Game of Thrones, which seems to believe that the most significant way of changing a woman’s character is to rape her.

The new-look Lara

This all tells me that pop culture, the things I enjoy, are not for me. They never were. The characters I identify with, despite their problematic elements, are not put there for me, though they share my gender. They were placed there to be looked at, to titillate the male player, the male reader. I don’t go looking for these things. I don’t enjoy being offended by them. It’s simply everywhere I turn. And if I say anything about it, or even mention that there might be something to discuss, the reaction I can expect is immediate, violent, and poisonous. And so my reaction: a great, and sometimes bone-deep weariness. I’m getting tired of tropes versus women, because too often the tropes are winning.

Starfire, as seen in DC’s 52 reboot

Olivia will be back with another Random Encounter next month. Meanwhile, click here to read past instalments.

2 thoughts on “Random Encounter #5 – Tropes Vs Me

  1. This is a disturbing trend. The hate directed at Anita Sarkeesian (I’m guessing her name is Armenian?) is totally abhorrent. Reminds me of the campaign against Jade Raymond over Assassin’s Creed back in 2007. There aren’t enough strong female characters in games. Hope this trend can change.

  2. Agreed, although I’m not convinced that Lara Croft ever qualified as a “strong female character”. She was definitely designed by blokes! I haven’t seen the new Tomb Raider demo yet, so can’t really comment on the new depiction of the character, but she looks a lot more human in the publicity stills.

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