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But It's Worse in Games Because They are Interactive
by Krystian Majewski on 06/18/14 08:58:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


FeministFrequency recently released a new Episode of their Series "Tropes vs Women". This time, they discuss Women as Background Decoration, especially the prevalence of female Sex Workers in Videogames. As always, the critical perspective is welcome and the accumulation of examples is seriously disturbing.

I noticed that throughout the episode, the show makes a common argument which continues to struck me as questionable.

Sexual objectification is, of course, ubiquitous in mass media of all forms but since video games are an interactive medium, players are allowed to move beyond the traditional role of voyeur or spectator. Because of its essential interactive nature, gaming occupies a unique and potentially more detrimental position vis-a-vis the portrayal and treatment of female characters.

Variations of the above argument are also common in the criticism of violence or racism in videogames. The idea being that detrimental aspects of media are especially harmful in videogames because of their interactive nature. Here is why I find this argument debatable.

Great Resposibility Without Great Power

To begin with, the argument is used almost exclusively to argue AGAINST videogames - to justify harsher restrictions, a more scrutinous treatment. If the argument was true, the opposite should also be true. Games ought to teach more effectively. Games ought to makes us more virtuous by portraying morally positive themes. Games ought to convey stories in an even more griping way. Games ought to make art even artier.

However, this argument never seems to be made. Even in the Games for Change movement, the understanding is that games need to be specifically designed for tease out the positive effects. Meanwhile the negative influence seem to be always there whether intended or not.

When listing the positive ways in which games influence people, even the most avid games proponents seem to come up with tamely pragmatic ideas like "improved hand-eye coordination" - as if our society was suffering under an epidemic of bad hand-eye-coordination.

It would be ridiculous to claim that interactivity made games the overall superior medium. So why do we seem to accept the flip side so easily - that interactivity makes games overall the more dangerous medium?

My Medium Could Kick Your Medium's Butt

In fact, we can distill a universal form of the argument and apply it to any other medium.

"Negative aspects in [medium X] are especially harmful because of [what makes medium X distinct]"

  • Literature - Literature is the most harmful of all media because literature engages the imagination of the reader. Problematic content is not merely perceived but actively re-constructed in the mind of the reader. There is no way for the reader to distance themselves mentally from the material. Problematic ideas are confabulated with the reader's personal memories and experiences and have therefore an easier time to take hold. By analogy, horror authors know well that the most terrifying monsters are the ones that we merely imagine ourselves.

  • Cinema - Cinema is the most harmful of all media because of its overwhelming, immersive visual nature. Through editing, pacing, camera perspectives, sound and special effects, cinema creates a reality that surpasses the real - a hyper reality. Every moment is orchestrated and fine-tuned to be more intense and vivid than reality can ever be. Visual communication is also a non-verbal communication - one that happens subconsciously. The openly desired result is a surrender of critical thinking called "suspension of disbelief". As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth more than a thousand words. And a movie is a 1000 pictures in rapid succession.

  • Theater - Theater is the most harmful of all media because unlike cinema, it actually happens. The events on stage are not the result of special effects and clever editing, they physically happen between real human beings. This difference is what Walther Benjamin calls "Aura". The inherently Auratic nature of Theater makes it the most authentic of all media. Its negative effects are the most intermediate because there is no screen to separate the audience from the portrayed events.

  • Music - Music is the most harmful of all media because of its engrossing and seductive nature. Nietzsche singled out music as the art of Dionysus, the god of madness and ecstasy. The loss of control and disregard for ethics is inherent to what music is. Music works on humans in insidious ways they often have no control over. Pop music is capable of making us remember and repeat the most trite lyrics over and over again, without being able to stop. Music is also capable of crossing cultural boundaries. Its potentially harmful and subliminal messages can be universally received and internalized by all humans.

... and so on. Of course, all of the above statements are true. That's because the initial argument is actually as a kind of tautology. Of course each medium has their own, uniquely effective means of communicating ideas. If the ideas are problematic, they will be communicated in a way inherent to that medium. It is no excuse to single out a specific medium. You could just as well single out any other medium. It is also not practical to measure and compare the effectiveness of different media. They work in inherently different ways. Apples to oranges.

I think games are often singled out here because of different reasons. Maybe because they are just the newest kid on the block? Maybe because they are so popular with younger audiences? Maybe because games don't offer enough positive counter-examples? Whatever the reason is, the "because they are interactive" argument seems more like an a-posteriori rationalization. It should be contested and never is.

Is this Necessary?

Going back to the original Feminist Frequency video - what also strikes me is that the argument is actually not necessary to the line of reasoning there. Yes, the series looks at the problematic portrayal of women in videogames. It is not necessary to reason why it does so. It is the premise of the series.

A frequent argument against the Feminist Frequency series is that sexist tropes exist in other media. The obvious answer is that just because other media use those tropes, it doesn't mean it is ok to use them in games. But conversely, if sexism is clearly harmful in other media, it shouldn't be necessary to emphasize that it is harmful in games.

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Kyle Redd
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Sarkeesian makes a number of claims in the video that she supports with phantom "studies" (particularly in the last 5 minutes) that she never actually cites, either in the video or in the description. Instead she just gives Fox News-style evidence like "Research has consistently shown..." Well, what research are you referring to, exactly?

Katy Smith
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She does list her sources. You have to go to the feminist frequency site, not just the youtube channel:

"The Sexual Objectification Spillover Effect
Objectification by Martha Nussbaum
How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence by Karen E. Dill
It’s time to leave the brothels and strip clubs behind when real victims fuel your narrative by Ben Kuchera
Sexual Priming, Gender Stereotyping, and Likelihood to Sexually Harass: Examining the Cognitive Effects of Playing a Sexually-Explicit Video Game
Effects of exposure to sex-stereotyped video game characters on tolerance of sexual harassment
Objectification leads to depersonalization: The denial of mind and moral concern to objectified others
Sexualized avatars affect the real world, Stanford researchers find
The embodiment of sexualized virtual selves: The Proteus effect and experiences of self-objectification via avatars
The Afterglow of Construct Accessibility: The Behavioral Consequences of Priming Men to View Women as Sexual Objects
Sexism in online video games: The role of conformity to masculine norms and social dominance orientation"

Kyle Redd
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Thank you for that. I've skimmed through a couple of them so far ( and Both of them seem to have very weak support, if any, for what Sarkeesian is claiming. The basic conclusions seem to be along the lines of "Being exposed to sexualized women in games primes male subjects for sexual thoughts or activity in the immediate aftermath." That is hardly a damning discovery.

I will continue to look through them as I get time. If anyone else finds specific evidence in any of the studies that suggests this type of game content causes significant long-term damage to players, please post it here.

Junxue Li
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Great article! Your point actually is "each medium is especially harmful in its own way, if the message communicated is problematic. " In this light, you actually agree with the argument which you think you're against all through the article.

Fabian Fischer
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Well, I think he argues against video games being (potentially) MORE harmful than any other medium by showing that every medium is (potentially) EQUALLY harmful. Seems like a consistent structure to me.

I agree with the article by the way. You can make awful things in any medium. Books aren't good (or bad), because they're books. Same with movies, games etc.

The only thing that's "worse" about games is that the art of game design is still in its "cavemen ages" (and has been severely held back for decades now by a focus on technological spectacle). But we'll eventually get to where literature, music, color theory and also cinematography already are. Also, it doesn't really have anything to do with sexism. Well, maybe in a way. Maybe in that developers feel that they need to go for that cheap instant-gratification stuff (compliments, HD graphics, sexism) to make something financially viable. Because they don't really know how to actually make good games, as in good interactive systems.

Wendelin Reich
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Great food for thought!

But here's a follow-up question: HOW/WHY does interactivity have a unique/distinctive potential for conveying harmful messages? Is it because of immersion, or "presence"? Is it because games co-opt your sense of agency and fool you into seeing yourself as the producer/recipient of harm? Or is it because the current technological state of most games (3D, first-person) is so obviously lagging behind reality that you never forget you're interacting with pixels, rather than people, and are therefore willing to go much farther than you would otherwise (e.g., during the torture scene in GTA V)?

I really would like to know...

(PS: sorry to see your excellent article already being hijacked by the anti-Sarkeesian crowd; I guess it was inevitable.)

Fabian Fischer
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Well, any game is, in a way, a teaching tool. We have a mental model of the game world, we interact with it to test that model, we analyze the results, we compare them against our mental model, we update the model, and so on. It's really a scientific process after all. For a detailed explanation refer to Raph Koster's "A Theofy of Fun for Game Design".

Now, if we agree on that, we find that game designers are in an incredibly powerful position to affect people's ways of thinking. That can be good. Good strategy games can help us in becoming more efficient thinkers and learners for example. Dexterity games train our motor skills (there's a study that showed how surgeons who regularly played video games were working faster and made significantly less errors). Games can really make us better.

However, there's also the other side of the coin. In this talk "Design Reboot", Jonathan Blow e.g. asks the question: What does World of Warcraft teach? His conclusions:
- "You are a schlub who has nothing better to do than sit around performing repetitive, mindless actions."
- "Skill and shrewdness do not count for much; what matters is how much time you sink in."
- "You don't need to do anything exceptional, because to feel good you just need to run the treadmill like everyone else."

Now, those "lessons" are at best useless, at worst actively harmful to the quality of life of the player.

Bioshock is an example where the game fails massively to make ANY meaningful points. Exploit the Little Sisters or not, you will always get roughly the same amount of resources (because it has to be a balanced game after all, and ethical storytelling and gameplay do really not work well together). It doesn't make sense ethically, and it doesn't make sense gameplay-wise. It doesn't make us "more caring human beings" and it doesn't train efficient reasoning or resource management.

Now, by extension games could also be used to teach other devious things. Back to sexism. Even though I think it in many cases, especially when it's "just" graphically, doesn't really affect players all that much. Especially, the more a game is about the actual game (interaction), the less it can be harmful in that way. Players will just see the characters as mere representations (e.g. League of Legends). They have a mechanical meaning first and foremost, not a "humanistic" meaning. It's different in story-heavy games, but arguably for the same reasons that it is in movies.

David Serrano
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@Wendelin Reich

"HOW/WHY does interactivity have a unique/distinctive potential for conveying harmful messages?"

Because operant conditioning can be, and frequently is applied through interactivity. And operant conditioning is a scientifically proven and highly effective method for teaching, learning and modifying human behavior.

So if the intent is to convey or deliver a harmful message, unfortunately the interactivity of games and gamification make them the most effective vehicle to do so. Because the response to the message can be constantly monitored and positively reinforced, negatively reinforced or punished as needed. And the message can be delivered under the pretense that it represents a harmless form of play.

Of course, this does not mean everyone who "plays" it would by default agree with or embrace the message. But the interactivity would without question increase the likelihood of "success."

Guilherme Tows
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"Games ought to teach more effectively." Except there's basically zero interest to convey factual educational information in games.

"Games ought to makes us more virtuous by portraying morally positive themes." Except positive themes in games are usually vague comic-book ideas of "saving the world" and "destroying evil" that don't quite scale to normal human experience.

"Games ought to convey stories in an even more griping way." Except writing stories is hard and people will just play the games regardless.

"Games ought to make art even artier." Except there is no monetary return in art and when choosing between a game that champions artistic integrity and ethical behavior, and a game that sells 10% more to the pre-estabilished demographic, guess which one will be put on E3.

Fabian Fischer
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Teaching is not just about facts. More here:

In regards to your other points: Games aren't (by far) the best medium to make a point about morality. Game, as it has been demonstrated numerous times, are not a storytelling medium ( All games are "art" (but that is not a value judgment).

Theresa Catalano
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I think there ARE games that portray morally positive themes, beyond childish fantasies like "saving the world," and "destroying evil." For example, look at the game Persona 4: it's themes are all about friendship, reaching out to people, and accepting yourself for who you are. Those are all positive moral themes. And there's plenty of other good examples if you look beyond the typical modern AAA spectable game.

Michael Joseph
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"It would be ridiculous to claim that interactivity made games the overall superior medium."

oh but we do see this claim being made too.

Christian Nutt
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As someone who reads basically every piece of content posted to Gamasutra, I can verify this =P

RJ McManus
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And arguably more frequently than the reverse argument, contrary to what the author of this article suggests (and I'm not sure whether he's been living under a rock, or if he is just being willfully ignorant to support his argument). That's exactly what makes this kind of meta-discussion so dangerous with regard to these issues; you could always post this sort of claim, no matter how out of touch with reality it may be. Of course, I'm now meta-discussing meta-discussion, but at any rate, I've found that the further you delve into meta-discussion the less actual evidence plays a role.

Anton Temba
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The stuff Anita speaks is true, but the problem is that they are things that are noticable only in the long term.

Unless a person has the experience and has been around for a longer time, its very difficult for them to take any of this seriously and will most likely brush it off with the classic phrase "its just a game".

Still, any effort into raising awareness towards this issue is worth it regardless if its noticed or not.

Alan Barton
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Without condoning ... or condemning ... I'll just say ...

Its worth reading that above link, because it puts this article into a historical perspective. Its a very old subject and marketing tactic, which is far wider than just the games industry.

Joshua Wilson
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Comments and arguments like the one she tries to make fly in the face of other research done (and any game developer should know this) that people seek out media that reinforces their own beliefs or fantasies. Media itself does not make someone do something or believe something they wouldn’t already have done or believed.

In other words a game cannot make someone sexist or violent. But a sexist person is likely to engage in sexist behavior if the game provides it and in that way it could either be reaffirming or simply a satisfying release for them but those feelings would be there regardless.

Any argument that tries to push this angle is primarily about censorship of ideas that conflict with that person’s ideology and you see this argument most often pushed by the extreme ideologist.

A game is just a game, a movie is just a movie, a book is just a book - and what that means is it's just fantasy. Which is healthy. If someone cannot make that distinction then they are not a mentally healthy person and require real help and intervention.

That’s a fact that’s often pushed aside because it’s easier to try and deflect problems and censor media then deal with real issues (mental health, childhood upbringing, gun control, etc).

And that doesn’t mean games can’t be meaningful in a positive way. Healthy people are reflective and empathetic which means if you pose a difficult situation to most people they will think on it or it may stick with them.

I think the better argument to be made is to try and make sure the portrayal of prostitution in video games is reflective of how it is in real life so people understand what it means for these woman to be in this situation and perhaps be more empathetic in real life. But it has to go both ways too because there are some positive sides/stories to prostitution/sex work.

Michael Joseph
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When it comes to childhood upbringing, how do you separate the media children are exposed to from their upbringing?

"Media itself does not make someone do something or believe something they wouldn’t already have done or believed."

The world of marketing disagrees with you... But even if your position is that advertisers actually agree with you but they exploit people and help bring out what is already in them... it's still a good argument for not doing that! It's hair splitting territory at that point to determine what the media brings out and what the media creates.

Besides, history is full of people who have been transformed by creative works... be it religious writings, books, films, poetry, dance, etc. There is a reason that even ancient conquerors would attempt to collect and burn all copies of books that would undermine their rule and their legacy. They knew even then that the pen is mightier than the sword.

Joshua Wilson
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"When it comes to childhood upbringing, how do you separate the media children are exposed to from their upbringing?"

Parents are the filter through which children should see the world and what they see should be properly contextualized. If you have good parents your view of the world will be healthy, if you have bad parents it will be unhealthy. Which is why that's a far more important issue to try and deal with.

But with that said, even kids in unhealthy situations turn out ok because THEY make the choice to believe in what they WANT to believe in (what they know is right) and will often engage with media that reinforce those beliefs to give them comfort and strength (of course that extends to more than just children)

Advertising is not media, at least not the form I was talking about. Advertising specifically uses manipulative techniques to push a very specific agenda and it's effectiveness can I think, again, be taken back to whether or not you identify with the message. Most advertising just irritates me.

Axe is a perfect example. I do not identify with those ads, or the sexism that seeps from them, so I don't buy those products and find the ads annoying. To say the least.

If you had a game that was specifically design to push sexism then you might have a point but I haven't seen a game like that and I think most people would - again - not even engage with it unless they were already sexist. I know I wouldn't and it certainly wouldn't change my views on the issue if I did.

And my points should not be misconstrued to say or imply that sexism does not exist. Obviously it does and therefore many people will identify with it and any media that contains it. My contention is media does not create sexism.

And I don't think censorship is "hair splitting territory"

Joshua Wilson
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"Besides, history is full of people who have been transformed by creative works... be it religious writings, books, films, poetry, dance, etc. There is a reason that even ancient conquerors would attempt to collect and burn all copies of books that would undermine their rule and their legacy. They knew even then that the pen is mightier than the sword."

People are not magically "tranformed" by creative works. Creative works can, again as I said to begin with, reaffirm what they already believe. Which is why some current day neo-nazi scum will hold up Mein Kumpf as their own personal bible. Because it reinforces the stupidity they already believe in.

Clearly Hilter didn't need Mein Kumpf to write it in the first place, just as they don't need it now to hold the beliefs they do. It's just reaffirming what they already believe.

And dictators burn book because they don't want people to have incompatible opinions and beliefs reaffirmed. But even without books people will still believe in liberty, freedom, etc.

Michael Joseph
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In other words, the media can impact upbringing.

Children aren't owned by their parents, but obviously parents have a responsibility to guide their children into adulthood. The larger society has that responsibility to all it's children as well especially in an age where media power and influence is drowning out the voices of over worked parents.

The very last point I'll make is that when we are talking about communication, it makes little difference whether it's done face to face, face to page, or face to screen.

Joshua Wilson
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I don't know what points you're trying to make. I never said parents owned their children. And I never said media could impact a children's upbringing but of course children are substantially more likely be influenced by something if they don't understand the context i.e. if they don't understand something is not real.

But that is not a justification for censorship and I SPECIFICALLY said that childhood upbringing was a issue worth addressing.

But that's entirely different from the point I made which is that media does not create a view of the world, such as sexism.

Simon Walklate
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Using marketing is a weak argument at best. Comparing something like buying a breakfast serial to doing something morally repugnant (which is what video games are often being accused of and the article is referring to) is ridiculous.

What it comes down to is right and wrong and normal mentally stable human beings have a moral compass that prevents them from doing these things. No amount of shooting people in video games is going to convince me to go and gun down real people. Any media just gets blamed for acts by minority individuals who were mentally unstable at best to begin with.

Michael Johnson
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I actually think interactivity does mean something extra. If most people want to learn something better, doing that activity helps. I think this extends partially to a virtual environment. Does NASA build simulations to help with teaching astronauts? They certainly do. I have always strongly believed in the positive power of video games to engage people, and put them in the action. The potential for players to learn is there, and it is superior to other mediums in my opinion. Gaming combines the strengths of other mediums, so naturally it will have high potential in this way. Which is more impactful? Audio or video, or a combination of both plus a process which takes someone through all the steps and records and rewards their progress? That answer has to be clear.

However, that applies for something I am trying to learn. A video game after I reach a certain age isn't going to change my morality, to change who I am and cause me to be an a-hole to people and treat women like dirt. This isn't evidence that I can hold up to the world as proof, but knowing many gamers, I just don't see this affect them. I can get my kicks killing hookers in GTA(IF I wanted), and still be shy and kind and given chills by the look of a real woman. Yes, video games objectify the hell out of women. Males do get titillated and enjoy looking at virtual female bodies and thinking about having sex with those bodies. That does not influence sane guys to believe that is how to act in real life in my own experience knowing gamers. Just like violence in video games is thought to transfer to atrocities in real life, I see the same logic in that video. The evidence that the in-game behaviors transfer is very thin.

From a psychological perspective, I think young people might be in a different category developmentally. In that case, it really is less about objectification of women, and more about parents actually making knowledgeable choices about what they want their children to experience. I think it is always worth mentioning, that these games are art, and they are so much more than the few events highlighted in the video. We know this, but not everyone does.

Alan Barton
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@"Just like violence in video games is thought to transfer to atrocities in real life, I see the same logic in that video."

Most people can't imagine why someone would commit an atrocity in real life, so they look to fictional accounts and assume they are the reason why. Its an easy visually similar assumption to make, but one which is fundamentally wrong because it overlooks the fundamental importance of empathy towards a victim during the horrific act of an atrocity in real life. Horror in real life isn't like the safe Stanley Milgram trust in authority and obedience to authority. During a real life horrific atrocity, no one in authority is saying to the attacker that they have to behave that way and its safe to behave that way and saying there will be no legal repercussions to the attacker behaving that way and saying everything will be ok. Its not like that at all. In a real life horrific atrocity, the victim is right there in front of the attacker and the attacker isn't thinking about authority, because they are, at that moment in time, taking on the role of the authority over their victim. The attacker wants to inflict the atrocity, because the attacker gains from their attack in some way.

Therefore, if you really want to find why atrocities occur, you have to find the people in society who lack empathy towards other people. They are not copying atrocities, they choose to inflict atrocities. (At best a lack of empathy for other people is profoundly Narcissistic and at worse, its an act with absolutely no empathy what so ever, which is psychopathic. The Narcissists and psychopaths are the real reason for atrocities throughout history, but then as their kind so often lie, cheat and fight for positions of authority over others, they will not want their kind highlighted as the true cause of the problem, so they will constantly lie to misdirect and blame other reasons). Which is why society never really solves this problem. Its an endless battle to break through a wall of lies and misdirection with them and all too many people believe the lies and so are fooled by them.

Violence in fictional media has become an easy to use, powerfully emotive straw man target, which distracts away from the true cause.

Larry Carney
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You make a very interesting argument that I rarely see discussed, which is that as the average gamer is an adult at least in their mid twenties the ability for the media they consume to be a factor in their psychological development is far less greater than younger gamers.

What I wonder is then who the argument Ms. Sarkeesian is making is targeted towards. The teen-and-under demographic? If so, perhaps it is rather futile: I am not commenting on her ideology itself but rather just what her efforts themselves seek to do. If other popular entertainment and general interpersonal behavior of this age group are any indicators to go by, I think she might be tilting at windmills in an effort to get younger gamers (or younger people in general) to view the opposite gender beyond their cloud of hormones.

Shannon Rowe
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Yes, interactivity matters somewhat because it involves the player actively contributing to and deciding to perform the various atrocities through their game avatar. For all the other types of media, the viewer is merely in the position of observer. Merely watching "The Human Centipede", for example, while disturbing in its own way, is still a passive media experience, as opposed to say deliberately going on a woman- or minority-killing rampage in Postal 2.

That said, I don't believe games are any more likely to affect most people's real world tendencies towards violence than other harmful media. If a person is already deranged, then yes, games could arguably be feeding their madness, but if it wasn't games then they would just be seeking out something else to get a similar crazy buzz.

Arnaud Clermonté
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As a donor to Anita's project and a programmer on Deus Ex : Human Revolution,
I am very disappointed by her latest video.
Some of the things she says are simply false.

She claims that the player is always encouraged to assault the hookers.
That's not the case at all. In Deus Ex, when you approach a hooker, the on-screen prompt invites you to talk to her. You can kill her if you want to, but the game never invites you to do so.
The on-screen prompt for killing ( or knocking out ) npcs only appears for hostile npcs, all of which are male IIRC. ( with the exception of one female boss, but you know the saying: "don't mention the bosses" )

There isn't even any reward for killing hookers. The player can't buy their services and they have no money on them. I re-played the game 2 days ago just to be sure, and out of the dozen hookers I found in and around the brothel in Hengsha, none of them had any loot whatsoever, with the exception of the one who gives me a quest, but attacking her makes me miss out on the quest reward which is more valuable than the loot.

She also claims that the hookers never have any story to say, again that is not true, even though most hookers have basic one-liners where they just offer their services ( which happens to be precisely what actual hookers do here in downtown Montreal ), a couple of them have a proper story to tell which even leads to offering a quest to the player.

It would be interesting to get the game metrics to find out how often hookers get attacked by players, and how that compares to other civilian npcs casualties, unfortunately I don't work for Eidos anymore so I don't have access to that information.

Arnaud Clermonté
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Also she claims that the only purpose of female npcs in games is to be killed by the player, when we developers know that the reason we place civilians ( male or female ) in urban environments is simply because it just wouldn't be an urban environment if there were no civilians there.

Theresa Catalano
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It reminds me of something that happened with Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. He was accused of exaggerating certain things, and in response to that he said something along the lines of "I just wanted to bring more attention to an important issue." Of course Global Warming is a real issue, but by exaggerating things about it, he gave fuel to the fire of the other side, and sabotaged his own efforts.

Anita seems to be making exactly the same mistake. She is clearly making exaggerations all over the place for the sake of bolstering her arguments. Perhaps she thinks that this sort of inflammatory approach is bringing more attention to the issue, and she may be right about that, but I think it's in a very negative way. Unfortunately, people on Anita's side of the issue now have to concede that her critics have a point. Personally, I think she is doing more harm than good for her cause.

Ian Richard
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That drives me nuts. If someone states a good case that makes me question my beliefs... I'll start independent research fully willing to change my mind.

But when the data doesn't match the claims they end up reinforcing my original beliefs. Whether it's flat-out lies or just exaggerations they are doing alot of damage for their cause.

For the love of god Anita, we have plenty of evidence without you twisting the truth!

Theresa Catalano
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I mean, I can understand how this happens. Reasonable people often don't seem to get as much attention as the crazy ones. You might call this the "Glenn Beck" phenomenon... Anita is very much the Glenn Beck of feminism, the person who goes on crazy nonsensical rants pointing at chalkboards. Unfortunately this type of person often seems to get more attention than the sane ones.

Tom Hughes
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"I re-played the game 2 days ago just to be sure, and out of the dozen hookers I found in and around the brothel in Hengsha, none of them had any loot whatsoever"

This must be the first time someone has killed a dozen hookers to prove they weren't misogynistic.

Mark Velthuis
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Gotta say, it's a much better video than her previous ones in my opinion.

There's a few things that still bother me about this issue.

* The part where she dismisses men trying to distantiate themselves from these things by not participating in them, by saying "they are still designed for this purpose". To me, this comes across as "every man is sexist when they play a game that someone else put a sexist feature in".

* She claims that violence and sexualization are intimitely connected. This is contradictory on multiple parts.

For one, I personally feel no desire for violence when looking at something or someone that I enjoy looking at. And while everyone is unique, I find it hard to believe I'm the only male with this particular trait.

But the strangest thing is this : Many researches have pointed out, and also a generally accepted conclusion in the whole games industry, that violence in games does not encourage violence in real life. So how is it possible sexism in games would encourage sexism in real life ?

And another thing I'm curious about : sexualization. Many people claim this is a problem. But if this is actually the case then I wonder why in both the WoW and FFXIV guilds I've been in, both roughly containing 50% females, most of them still ran around in sexy clothes when possible (especially in FFXIV's bikini season, tho to be fair, the men ran around in their mankinis during that time aswell). In case of FFXIV, some were actively trying to get the largest breast size that didn't look horribly deformed. This makes me wonder if sexualization itself is actually the problem or if it's something else that makes it a problem.

One of her points that I heavily agree with is the use of women in advertisements aimed at men. Sure, sex sells..... on its own. But even if I were to ignore how degrading this is for women, I feel heavily insulted when someone thinks they can sell something to me just by showing a good looking female, and so should everyone else. And you'd think the last thing people want to do to potential customers, is insult them. Also there are some studies that claim sex doesn't sell at all, but actually quite the oposite. Some claiming the sexual stimuli makes people forget what the advertisements were actually about (both for males and females), others would argue that while it may attract a part of the target group, it can repel an even larger part of it.

Jakub Majewski
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I have not watched the video, and I probably would disagree with a lot of what Anita Sarkeesian says in it. But I do want to chime in on the question you pose:

"Many researches have pointed out, and also a generally accepted conclusion in the whole games industry, that violence in games does not encourage violence in real life. So how is it possible sexism in games would encourage sexism in real life ?"

Well, there is a difference. Violence and sexism are two completely different phenomenas, and cannot be compared at all - violence is an act, while sexism is an idea. In this regard, presenting sexism in games can encourage sexism in real life, in the same way that presenting any other idea in games can persuade someone to adopt that idea. Needless to say, this has nothing to do with games being games, because the exact same thing happens in other media.

(I do think there is an argument to be made that games do work differently, and are potentially more powerful in portraying ideas, but that's beside the point)

Chris Hendricks
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Your observation of how an argument could be made that any form of media is the most harmful because [X] is a good one. It's a question I've had myself, and you answered it well. Thank you.

However, I question this line of reasoning: "If the argument was true, the opposite should also be true. Games ought to teach more effectively. Games ought to makes us more virtuous by portraying morally positive themes."

I would very much like that to be true. However, in games, it is far easier to enable the player to do actions that are destructive than actions that are edifying or morally positive. People have been killing zombies and squishing goombas for a long time, but what positive things are easy to implement? Building and construction, I guess?

Mark Velthuis
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Survival (the gathering kind, not the hunting kind), cooking, farming, taking care of animals, exploration. To name a few :)

I guess some of those could roughly be considered building and construction. On the other hand "Killing stuff" has been implemented in a large variety of ways and after 30 years, I find it's still an enjoyable thing to do in games.

Thing is, destruction is something most people don't do in real life, or at least not without bad consequences. So you could consider that an experience that's relatively unique to games.

Theresa Catalano
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There's definitely lots of exceptions. I mentioned Persona 3 & 4 earlier... sure, there is combat against monsters in those games, but they aren't really about that, they are more about building friendships. Puzzle games aren't about destruction. You never hurt anyone in Phoenix Wright... you are solving murders and bringing criminals to justice. You're not hurting anyone in Mario Kart, or other racing games. Or music games... you're not hurting anyone in Project Diva.

These are just a few examples... point being, death and destruction aren't quite as ubiquitous in video games as some people say. There's a lot of games out there with morally positive themes. You just have to look past the modern FPS boom to see it.

Vasily Yourchenko
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I am befuddled by the idea that the "skin" of a game dictates which skills it imparts. Tetris improves your reflexes and spatial cognition whether the blocks are presented as disaster relief packages to be shipped to help African drought victims or political dissidents to be stuffed into the incinerator. Extensively playing either take on Tetris is unlikely to make you more or less moral, nor will it qualify you for either role.

Whether a game portrays heinous or virtuous behavior as long as the mechanics are identical the player will learn the same set of skills from them. Each game can send a different narrative message, but saying something is hardly the same as teaching it. Most forms of traditional media send their messages in a very similar way, so I do not believe games to be any more or less suited to "teaching" morals.

Edit: Having reread my post, I noticed I came off as more caustic than I intended. My apologies. My intent was never to offend.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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Feminist debates always remind me of the time I was playing Dead Or Alive while my sister was around. She asked "Don't you find it strange that these men are hitting these girls?" To me the girls are strong beautiful fighters, their skill is what I identify with. Even when playing a male character I see the female characters as equal skilled opponents with their own strengths and weaknesses. But realistically i see them as the vessel that the mechanics of the game rest on. Someone who doesn't play video games or maybe someone who already has a poor view toward women may not see it that way. My sister was slightly unnerved by it even though the game doesn't evoke that reaction from me doesn't discredit or negate her reaction to it.

Whatever kind of research you want to throw at games and how much they influence people don't forget that context is everything. Games like other forms of media can be abused, I wouldn't doubt it if their are males out there who use video games to satisfy their lust or sexist views towards women, but those issues are usually defined by their interactions with people in the real world. The question i think we should be asking first is; If a person has a mental condition or poor views towards women do negative influences from video games exacerbate the problem?

This debate in particular comes down to the psychological concept of priming, which is currently hotly debated even among respected researchers. I think its important to take a step back before we start attributing an arguably weakly study psychological phenomena to a new and ever evolving medium who's immediate effects have yet to be sufficiently studied. That being said I still think its wise to be aware as a designer/developer or any creator for that matter of the influences you'll have on people, if the theme, plot, or mechanics of your game can be done without invoking an offensive reaction, its probably wise to avoid it.

Larry Carney
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Kudos. A quite objective blog which deals only in the merits of the arguments raised, which is something rather lacking in the debate around this and related subjects.

Eric Finlay
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I disagree. This blog doesn't deal with the merits of the interactivity argument, it just raises a straw man argument based around the unique features of other forms of media.

Larry Carney
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".....It just raises a straw man argument....."

Well, I did say that it dealt only in the merits of the argument made in the original video, no? ;)

Eric Finlay
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Two straw men don't make a right?

Ian Griffiths
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The interactive nature of games also allows the user to choose inaction, particularly in open worlds. In such instances a game can sometimes be though of as a limited extension of one's imagination, they allow almost any action permitted within the rule-set of the game. This doesn't always imply that the creator condones those actions.

Even in the cases where players are rewarded for objectionable content, this could be a way for the creator to allow the player to reflect on those actions. It's unlikely that this is actually the case in any of these games however, we shouldn't fall back on the lazy assumption that interactivity itself is what makes objectionable content more pernicious.

Dan Felder
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Players spend MUCH more time simulating running, athletic movement and other forms of exercise in games than they spend killing people or objectifying women. By mainstream critic logic, gamers should be extraordinary exercisers - because playing a game that glorifies exercise and athleticism should be at least as effective as glorifying violence. After all, we have tons of social pressures in favor of exercise and tons of social pressures against committing violent crimes.

Strange we seem to think gamers don't exercise much.

"Games can't get you to exercise, but they can get you to kill people".


Eric Finlay
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I can't say I understand what your point is. You never actually refute the idea that interactivity makes games worse, you simply state that interactivity is specific to games and that other media forms have their own unique features. It's completely beside the point.

Theresa Catalano
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I think he does a decent job of refuting it. The point of bringing up the other media is establish that it's a tautology. You could just as easily single out any other media and claim that it's more effective because of their unique features. That does make some amount of sense.

But I important part to me is just that the idea that interactivity makes video games a more effective method of delivering ideas is unsupported. So there's really not much to refute. It also frankly feels a little arrogant to me.