I wish everyone in this world could be truly happy. This is really something I want, especially when it comes to video games. I wrote a snarky little article two weeks ago where I painted this picture that people who attach themselves to the video game industry constantly feel the desire to be unhappy despite living in an age of amazing games. Amid my attempts at wit, I included a picture of Anita Sarkeesian, better known as the creator of Women vs Tropes in Video Games. I included her more as an aside to how so many people become so furious because she dared to say something negative about video games, but it just reminded me that I too find fault with a lot of her arguments. However, what I don’t have a problem with is her deciding to have an opinion. I want to give my thoughts on her series’ missteps, but I also want to emphasize just how easy it is to disagree with someone without utterly hating her. So here’s my article where I do just that.
If you haven’t watched Anita’s three-part series on the damsel in distress as it appears in video games, watch it here, here, and then here. If you don’t feel like watching it, then that’s perfectly fine. That does also mean you can’t disagree with her because you have no clue what she’s actually saying. Watching her form her thoughts and one-sided opinions into a video isn’t going to somehow ruin you one way or another. All it does it allow for discussion. At least anywhere but on the videos themselves since comments were disabled but that’s something to bring up later.
Were I to formulate my response to Anita into the most concise critique, it would be simply thus: I am profoundly disappointed. All that hype, promise, and above all money has lead to a really bland video akin to hundreds of other YouTube video series that have a strong opinion but no real ambition to say anything new.
Sure, Anita says things that are challenging, but that isn’t hard to do. Anyone can say something that challenges something else, but that doesn’t instantly make it true or even worth listening to. You have to be ready for the fight and you have to be ready to make people take your side through your abilities as a filmmaker. Anita is not a bad person for having an opinion and wishing to affect change, even if it is extremely naïve that her videos would do any sort of good, but I still don’t have to agree with them just because the subject matter is something “gamers don’t like to hear.”
Here’s where my disappointment comes from: I 100% agreed with Anita’s initial notion that the video game industry has relied on tropes for far too long. I was extremely excited to hear her takedown of something deserving of a clever response, much the same way I get excited whenever there’s a new Mr. Plinkett review or something. I assumed that she had the ability and the dedication to a project this large. And I was entirely wrong, based on her very first video, which I’ll sum up with the following analogy.
“Some times, there are speed limits on roads.”
“Did you know that some roads have speed limits?”
“I did know that, yes.”
“Did you know that people know that some roads have speed limits?”
“Here is a road that has a speed limit.”
“OK, is that a bad thing?”
“Not all roads have speed limits though.”
“But we’re not going to count those roads.”
“Come back next time when I tell you about more roads that have speed limits.”
“You didn’t tell me anything about the roads we saw today…”
“Thanks for watching.”
“Come back! I didn’t see anything!”
Essentially, I was hoping for a solid video that was ready to take some heat, and when you purposefully remove comments on the videos, you’d expect with some rationality that the reason must have been that what was being said would be utterly radical and put her in danger of people on YouTube getting angry. But then the videos come out and nothing revolutionary is said beyond a great big “pthbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb…”
Again, I agree that you can find fault with the video game industry for favoring tropes and tired conventions in games, but as soon as we get to the point where we’re rifling off examples from games that no one has found relevant in years is the point where your argument also stops being relevant.
I don’t want to go game-by-game and grief Anita on her choices, partly because we can go directly to Duke Nukem Forever and her argument falls in rags around her. Her videos are under three assumptions: That video games have displayed sexism in them (which is true), that we didn’t know this (which is not true), and that we are OK with games that glorify abuse to women (which is a half-truth). With a straight face (granted, she only makes one face), Anita tells us that Duke Nukem Forever displays women in a very sexist manner and treats them as less than people, to which everyone who plays video games responds with, “WE ALREADY AGREE WITH YOU THAT DUKE NUKEM FOREVER WAS A DISGUSTINGLY MISGUIDED GAME!”
If you want people to listen to your arguments, you must bring up something that we have to think about. You cannot just feed us the usual examples that we all tell each other and expect us to be OK with a $160,000 video series passing this off as revolutionary. Talking about Double Dragon as an example of misogyny only makes us go, “Yeah, and when was the last time anyone talked about Double Dragon?” More than half of the games Anita mentions elicited the following response from me: “Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that game from a few years ago. No one liked it and no one played it.”
When you are formulating an argument toward like-minded individuals, they may ignore poor examples being used as a whole, but if the goal is to change the mind of people who actively dislike your opinion, you can’t lob them easy shots for them to lock onto and smash back, like bringing up the Bionic Commando remake and expecting anyone else to be stunned that the protagonist’s arm is made of his dead wife when all we have to say back is, “Yeah, we all thought that was stupid, too, and we didn’t play that game.”
The flip side is when Anita does bring up games people both liked and played, specifically the Mario and Zelda games. Princesses Peach and Zelda are touted as the prime examples of poorly treated female characters, but then when she makes a whole segment out of Super Princess Peach, she uses it as a chief negative example primarily because Peach’s abilities in the game are all tied to her emotions, which Anita remarks is just a game built on PMS jokes.
I can’t even begin to understand why the core game mechanics being tied to Peach’s emotions is somehow a bad thing, especially since it’s incredibly sexist to say that a female who does cry/feel joy/explode with rage is somehow a bad example of a female character. Emotions aren’t a negative thing unless you assign them a negative role, and within the game they are celebrated and valuable and important. If you ask anyone who actually played Super Princess Peach why they played and enjoyed it (rather than the usual douche bags who joke about it being “gay because it’s for girls”), they aren’t going to say, “Hah, because it’s got a really funny joke about how women are super emotional.” No, they’re going to say, “It was a fun game with some interesting mechanics and I really wanted to play as Peach in her own game,” because when it comes down to it, people aren’t enjoying a game based on one joke.
Left out are any of the Mario RPG titles, most notably Super Mario RPG, as well as the Mario Kart games and Super Smash Bros. This is where I have a real problem because these are the games that show what people really think about Peach as a character. Ask someone if Peach is great in Super Mario RPG and they’ll say, “Hell yeah, she keeps my party alive and can inflect some serious damage with her frying pan.” Ask if Peach is great in Mario Kart and they’ll say, “Hell yeah, she’s got great acceleration and handling.” Ask if Peach is great in Super Smash Bros and they’ll say, “Hell yeah, she has two of the fastest Smash Attacks in the game and she has excellent horizontal recovery.” What they don’t say is, “Yeah, I like Peach because she reminds me of my own male power fantasies to dominate women and earn them as prizes.”
Most frustrating is that Super Mario 3D World isn’t mentioned in even the 3rd part of the series despite it and Peach’s equal footing to the boys being common knowledge for everyone to see since E3. At least mention that positive things are happening. Failing to do so only makes you come off as close-minded and stubborn, which is exactly what you’re accusing a lot of gamers of being. This is frustrating to see since the point of these videos is to be above it all rather than just the opposite extreme, or at least that’s what the Kickstarter description lead us to believe.
Also, where is the mention that Peach isn’t kidnapped in Super Mario Bros. 3 until the very end, after Mario has already had to save seven male monarchs? After she’s been sending help to he and Luigi between each successful mission? After Bowser has been pushed to his limit and been forced to bring the fight to his home where Mario has to plow through his personal army, navy, and air force? That’s actually a fairly complicated characterization of Peach, Bowser, and even Mario, what with Peach representing the only real stability the world has left until Bowser goes for broke. And yet none of it is brought up and discussed, not even in relation to what the Mario games could be doing currently to add depth. That is disappointing.
Even crazier, why isn’t Super Mario Sunshine mentioned? Bowser Jr. kidnaps peach halfway through the game because he believes Peach is his mother. Peach is not a damsel in this situation, at least not to Bowser Jr. She is vastly more important than just some piece to bait Mario with. On some level, this is Bowser Jr.’s attempt at finding that comforting stability (the thing that Peach best represents), though that’s yet another discussion we’re not having because it’s easier to look at the recent New Super Mario Bros U to see that “Yerp, I guess Peach is a helpless damsel again.”
One of the core misunderstandings that a lot of Anita’s Nintendo-based examples continually fall into is the assumption that Nintendo focuses their games on the story and characters at all. Shigeru Miyamoto has made it pretty clear that he wants as little story in his games as possible and instead tasks any project he oversees to find engaging gameplay first before building any sort of basic narrative second.
And worse, by telling someone who loved Peach’s character in Paper Mario: Thousand-Year Door, ”No, you’re wrong for liking her in that because she was kidnapped and made helpless,” that’s damaging in completely different ways. So many discussions we could have been having, but instead we’re stuck on how Peach and Zelda are always kidnapped and that’s bad.
Onto Zelda. According to Anita, it doesn’t matter if Zelda ultimately saves the day by delivering the final blow to the Big Bad or aids Link along his journey because if she’s ever kidnapped and shown as being helpless, everything she’s done is instantly undone. For example, we’re shown a little bit from Ocarina of Time where Zelda reveals herself as being Sheik, the most valuable ally Link has had throughout his journey. As soon as she reveals herself, Ganon kidnaps her and thus shows that she’s weak…or that her cover was blown and he’s been waiting for this chance to attack…or this was just convenient to the plot. For whatever reason, she’s now kidnapped and Link must rescue her.
Where Anita again loses us is where she claims that the reason we want to save Zelda is because she’s owed to us or in some way she’s already our possession to get back. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone (especially Anita since she didn’t seem to get far enough to notice this), but players want to rescue Zelda at this point because SHE’S OUR ALLY AND WE KNOWN SHE’S INCREDIBLY VALUABLE AND CRITICAL FOR FIXING EVERYTHING WE SCREWED UP.
More than anything, we’re denied a real discussion as to why Link is such a universally beloved character and especially favored among female gamers. I’ve talked with friends and family members about Link and from what I’ve heard, females like playing as him because he’s not a stereotypical manly man. He’s resourceful, kind, and clever. He’s softer and gentler. His ingenuity is favored over his raw physical strength. Essentially, he isn’t inherently “male” in his attitude or his interactions with other characters. We don’t get to explore this any further though because Zelda’s always kidnapped and because Anita wants to give us an example of her own game idea where…it’s just a Zelda game where Zelda breaks herself out of prison and acts exactly like Link. Nothing really revolutionary or clever. Just the same game Zelda fans have been pitching back and forth since the first Legend of Zelda appeared on the NES.
It all comes down to the money, and I know that people will most take offense to this claim. I don’t care that Anita originally asked for $6,000. She didn’t get $6,000. She got $160,000, and if she thought that was suddenly too much to handle or realized she was now going to become a target for anger, then she would have backed down then and there. $160,000 comes with a certain amount of expectation, especially when a lot of very talented Internet personalities got their messages out without asking for donations first.
But after everything I’ve said, I don’t hate Anita. I don’t even dislike her as a person. I’m happy she made her videos, especially because it made it so easy to ramble on in an angry tirade like I’ve just done and angry tirades are some of my favorite things. I will gladly watch her series as it unfolds, and you can be damned sure I’ll disagree with more of her points, but I won’t for a second disparage her for wanting to have an opinion. I’ll still remain disappointed in her efforts, but can you blame me? I’m a male who disagrees with her and am therefore part of the problem.
Here we come to our own comment section, which you’ll be happy to note is completely open and ready for any anger directed toward me. Please call me on my nonsense where you see fit and correct my mistakes. Am I being overly harsh or missing a greater point? I want to know that, and you have every right to point that out to me. I’d be equally as happy to hear some comments from people who agree with me, at least a little bit. Just don’t turn this into a forum to bash on Anita. Seriously, she gets more than enough of that elsewhere and I think we’re better than that. Bash her arguments and her videos, but leave her as a person alone. There, doesn’t the world feel like a happier place already? Nah, I didn’t think so.