Feminist Frequency: Tropes Vs. Women in Games Episode 2 Review

The views expressed in my Rants section do not represent any of my employers. They are my views and mine alone.

I know that the Tropes vs. Women in Games web series is already a hot button topic. The second episode getting uploaded onto Youtube was probably the biggest news story in the video game industry today,  and people just love to either defend the feminism inherent in her videos or complain about it.

I’m not here though to talk about the issues presented in her videos. I think that they are issues that need to be discussed, whether or not you agree with them. The state of women in games is a prevalent topic for a reason: because people maybe have a problem with it. You can counter that argument all you want because everyone is entitled to their well-versed opinion. But again, that’s not what I’m here to discuss. My opinion on sexism in gaming is irrelevant.

What I need to talk about though is Sarkeesian’s lack of real showmanship and presentation. The videos themselves are awful and not because people may disagree with the content. They are just awful videos.

I didn’t have much of a problem with episode one, although I had low expectations. It was an introductory video to the series and was meant to be used as a base for the topic. Most pilots for TV shows are kind of boring and flawed, aren’t they? The creators are testing new ideas and trying to gain their footing. A great first episode of anything is a unicorn with three horns. However, the second episode contains a lot of things that most video makers should avoid. It shows that Sarkeesian just doesn’t know how to make a good video or present ideas in this format, and a lot of that comes down to her writing. Whether or not she can write is a matter of opinion, but reading the transcript of the latest episode (which you can view here), I get a better understanding of what bugged me so much about the video: her writing is very dry.

I’m not too versed in Sarkeesian’s credentials before Feminist Frequency, but she seems like an academic at heart. Her writing reads like sociological discourse—complete with citations and examples—although she has a tendency to repeat herself too much (count how many times she starts out a statement with “so.” It makes it seem like she’s reading off a list, not presenting an argument). There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this style, although she’s going to isolate a lot of viewers who want to learn and not have to deal with lists upon lists upon examples upon definitions. If she ever becomes a professor one day, I pity her students. Nobody is going to learn when all they receive is a dictionary.

Going through the transcript again, it also becomes so apparent that she over-utilizes game examples out of context. I get the feeling that she is trying so hard to pad out of her video with examples, which have a tendency to detract from the point rather than enhance it. Her clip montages go on for a long time, and by the end, the audience has completely forgotten what the original point was. I get that there is a large use of “Damsel in the Refrigerator” in games, but do you really need seven examples?

Then there’s using clips out of context. I know she is trying to make a statement about tropes and has no qualms about using evidence out of context, but if we, the gamers, can see that she is doing that, isn’t that ultimately detracting from her argument? If her audience is gamers (and I know for a fact she knows this since she wants to educate us), then why does she make obvious oversights just for her sake? Writers are generally manipulative people, but usually we’re a lot better at it. Most of us have played Borderlands 2 and can say that Angel is not much of a damsel, so using her as an example is disingenuous.

Sarkeesian also seems to think that her views have elevated her above the games she is citing. Her obnoxious laughter after the Bionic Commando spoiler is not only nonsensical (did you really have to put that in there? Is that your attempt at humor?), but immature. I haven’t played Bionic Commando, so I don’t know the emotional impact that the realization that your wife is now a part of your arm has, but Anita, it’s not doing you any favors to knock down video games on such a shallow level. If you’re trying to educate us about tropes and women in video games, then why do you act like this is pathetic? You’re insulting game designers, gamers, fans, and everybody else by acting like a caddy 13-year-old who didn’t like Bionic Commando’s outfit. You can be the adult and maybe explain to us why you didn’t like his arm piece instead of just laughing at it? Maybe you can insult something by explaining why you don’t like it?

Making an argument consists of two parts: evidence and tone—she’s missing one of these. Can you guess which one?

Ultimately, Sarkeesian comes off like she is talking down to her audience due to her direct slandering of games for abiding by certain tropes. She is allowed to disagree with how prevalent tropes are, but points she makes later should have been more frequent throughout the video. Nobody is going to get to the meat of the argument if all they see in the first 15 minutes are lists and insults (did I mention that this video is 25 minutes long? Because it is).

“Although the narratives all differ slightly the core element is the same, in each case violence is used to bring these women ‘back to their senses.’ These stories conjure supernatural situations in which domestic violence perpetrated by men against women who’ve “lost control of themselves” not only appears justified but is actually presented as an altruistic act done ‘for the woman’s own good.’

That’s a decent argument Anita. Why did I have to get through twenty nearly identical examples to get there? It’s probably a more exact number but I lost count.

Her constant debasing of video games, shallow insults, and superfluous examples without getting to the core of what could be a very good argument make her no better than the people she is trying to appeal to. People can disagree with the state of sexism and video games, but normal people (Internet trolls don’t count) can usually at least accept a statement like this one as intelligent:

So to be clear here, the problem is not the fact that female characters die or suffer. Death touches all of our lives eventually and as such it’s often an integral part of dramatic storytelling.  To say that women could never die in stories would be absurd, but it’s important to consider the ways that women’s deaths are framed and examine how and why they’re written.

If she had said that in the beginning, she could have had a great video on her hands. It’s a little too late when your audience sees you in such a negative light. The mark of a competent writer or debater is someone who can appeal to a core audience with the correct tone and a solid argument.

Sarkeesian’s obvious manipulation of tropes does little to help her point, and creates a backlash not only against her as a narrator, but against what she is trying to do. Is she contributing to an important debate? Yes. However, we could probably find better people to do it. Maybe people that can make a proper argument to start, and then turn that into a good video actually worth watching.

Then maybe we can move on.

4 thoughts on “Feminist Frequency: Tropes Vs. Women in Games Episode 2 Review

  1. Hmm…That makes me wonder if it would have been more presentable if it had been presented as a paper instead of an attempt at doing a web series.

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  2. You make several good points, however, I think you might have a misunderstanding of what the term ‘damseled’ means.

    ‘Damseled’ (as in, to be turned into or become a damsel.) It is something that is done TO a character, not who/what a character is. In short, ‘damseled’ is a state of being, and is subject to change over time. As such, yes Angel is ‘damseled’ in Borderlands 2, because she loses the power to control her own fate/actions without the assistance of a hero character (the ‘hero’ also does not have to be male).

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  3. Just put it this way, if she has to start off with so much “out of context” dishonesty, it just shows how weak her argument is in the first place that she has to resort to such things. But obviously bringing this up is sexism…or well the only way for her to nullify criticism of her weak scholarship is to smear anyone who criticizes her.

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