The Feminist Movement in the Gaming Community

Lots more online outrage this week, and while there are a lot of issues I’d like to talk about, the Feminist movement in the gaming community has been on my mind for awhile now. This is a very divisive issue in both the video gaming and table top communities, and I wanted to discuss a few mistakes I see being made in the Feminists’ efforts to change things for the better.

This is a must read.

This really is a must read.

Before jumping in let’s discuss general argument technique for a moment. I subscribe heavily to the methodology of Dale Carnegie, the writer of “How to Win Friends and Influence People. He touches on a number of points throughout his book, attempting to teach the reader how to achieve their goals by winning people over to their way of thinking. Chiefly amongst the techniques he teaches is this: YOU CANNOT ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS BY WINNING AN ARGUMENT. I may be phrasing that wrong, but the gist is that even if you prove someone completely 100% wrong, you will have put them on the defensive. They will be bent against you, and in the end you will have failed to get what you wanted. This doesn’t mean you don’t assert your opinion, it just means you must be mindful that if someone believes in cause or idea then you have to exercise restraint in attempting to bring them around to your way of thinking.

I’m not going to parrot the whole book here, merely stating that to lay down the groundwork for my overall point. In my opinion Carnegie’s technique is some of the best advice on how to win hearts and minds, and many folks in all walks of life would have much more success if they took the tenants from his book and practiced them in their daily lives.

Now, one of the worst things you can do is go on the attack against the other side, slinging insults at them as you go. Unfortunately, we see this all to often in many sensitives debates, such as Marriage Equality and abortion. This is no way to get what you want, no one is going to magically come along to your line of thinking when you’re calling them a bloody moron.

I read this article a friend of my posted the other day entitled “Every Misogynistic Argument You’ve Ever Heard About Video Games”. This article made my blood absolutely boil, and the sad part is on a basic level I agree with the author. He correctly believes that the gaming community has a misogynist mindset, and that girl gamers are often treated poorly by the game developers and the gaming community at large. The part I don’t agree with is the way he asserts this. The way he gets his point across is the problem. Here is an excerpt:

“Get over yourself. Your greasy ponytail and Penny Arcade t-shirt don’t mark you as a Sex Symbol just because Big Bang Theory is popular now. For the love of God, look at yourself in a mirror and objectively ask yourself, “if I was someone else trapped on a deserted island with only Stephanie Meyer books to read, would I sleep with me?” I think we both know the answer to that question.”

This is no way to change hearts and minds. In fact, if you’re looking to hurt your cause, then well done, because that’s actually what you’re doing. Even people who are flat out 100% wrong will stick to their guns if faced with someone flinging insults like that at them. I read over most of that article the first time I looked at it. I was trying desperately to find points that was actually a well made, or well asserted, and all I could find were some half way decent points backed up by generalizations and insults.

Not all feminist advocates in the gaming community are this bad. Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency is generally pretty good about asserting her opinions in a level headed manner on her Youtube videos and blog posts. She has several series of videos on a variety of topics, and while I don’t always agree with her, at the very least she gets me to listen even if I object to some of the points she makes.

The only issue I have with her is I feel that she occasionally, like many other blog authors, will bait the community as a whole in an effort to prove her point by saying “GOTCHA!” when they respond just as she intended them to. For example, after Microsoft announced the new Xbox at E3 she made a sort of snarky post on Twitter.

I understand her frustration here as a female gamer. I think she’s right in that there could be more female protagonists in the current and upcoming generation of video games. The above post could have likely been worded a little better, however, as the gaming community had quite a lot to say in response. She posted the worst of the responses on her blog “Twitter vs Female Protagonists in Video Games”.

Were the responses justified in saying what they did? No. Did she perhaps put them on the defensive by the way she worded her post? Yes. Was she perhaps baiting the community into responding the way she knew they would? I think so, but I can’t be 100% certain of that.

I don’t want you to misinterpret what I’m saying. I am pretty much on the side of the folks that say we need to take a healthy look how we treat women in gaming. The point I am trying to make here is the same point I make to folks in the Marriage Equality and abortion debates. You cannot rush in guns blazing and force these people to see your side of things, and then make fun or lash out at them when they refuse to see the light. That doesn’t work. This requires a softer touch than that.

Feminists need to examine their tactics if they want to see a change, because otherwise they are just hurting the very cause they feel so strongly about.

Terra, the heroine of Final Fantasy VI. We could use more characters like her.

Terra Branford, the heroine of Final Fantasy VI. We could use more characters like her.

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Posted in Gaming, Politics
22 comments on “The Feminist Movement in the Gaming Community
  1. David says:

    General agreement.

    It’s interesting, I can sit through that girls video just fine, but the tweet was pretty stupid. Granted, tweets, statuses and things that that are absurdly easy to read into… but knowing that should make you especially careful about what you say.

    My attitude is… if you are trying to champion some kind of equality or right, you are implying you have the moral high ground. So you had better act like someone who has the moral high ground and not be a jerk. End of story. Frankly, feminists do a terrific job of painting themselves in a corner as people bitching about things which are more accidental than intentional, full on sexism. I don’t call Japanese people racists or imply that they are because they can’t process my remittance paperwork within 40 minutes or because their children are (relatively) culturally insensitive.

    As I was watching that video, I cringed at the Legend of Zelda commercial – “Save the girl or play like one”. I thought that me cringing actually shows how far we have come as a society. I wouldn’t have cringed as a kid. I would’ve been like… “Heck no I’m not gonna play like a girl!”

    Sometimes I wonder if feminists get in a misogynist echo chamber though… in part because they are misunderstood, and more likely because there are lots of idiots out there, I am sure her stuff gets awful comments from guys all the time. Do these feminist people allow that to determine how severe the issue is? When you champion a cause, there’s a risk of myopia setting in. I know- I’ve gone through culture shock twice now. Still aren’t over it here in Nippon, to be honest.

  2. Greetings,

    I would respectfully disagree.

    The most disconcerting aspect about dealing with feminists in regards to gaming is the entire notion that there is a defined ‘strong’ female protagonis; I tend to find that whenever you argue for a protagonist based on their sex then you completely erode any themes that could effectively be conveyed regardless.

    While some could argue that the state of gaming as a community/culture/industry is perhaps miysogynistic it complete side steps the fact that games are not necessarily the cause for such sexism but a reflection of the prevailing sentiment surrounding the games itself. Feminists from observation seem to be attempting to utilize games as a way to curtail the perceived rampant sexism in most societies.

    I digress, interesting read and, apologies for any mistakes or errors in my writing.


    • No problem, and I sort of feel the same way. The issue is when we fall into the same tropes and character archetypes over and over. The whole “Your Princess is in another Castle” thing has been done to death, and to the detriment of the gaming community I think.

      I think if developers thought about more original/new storylines we’d find a larger amount of untapped potential that would be able to hold the attention of most any gaming audience.

      I am not a fan of an author changing a main character to female just to meet some sort of unsaid quota, however.

      • David says:

        See, that’s why the video was OK but the tweet wasn’t. I found that girl’s video to be fine, she kept her tone in check except the one point where she couldn’t help but whip out “regressive garbage” – probably some special epithet Women’s Studies majors use or something =p .

        The tweet touched on where I encounter the most problems with feminists- which isn’t so much when they talk about the problem, as it is when they talk about either what solutions they have (if they have any valid ones) and when *other people who don’t believe what they do* fail to meet their expectations. The bottom line is, lead by example, or shut up. Maybe not shut up, but don’t complain about people who don’t have the passion for feminism that you do not prioritizing and contemplating affirming roles for females in games. Why not encourage women to start their own gaming companies, or get into gaming careers and make a difference there? They would say, “well there’s already an established culture, blah blah blah…” Well, you know what? There’s already an established culture in E. Asia that says, “It’s OK to treat foreigner teachers with way less respect than your local teachers.” And I don’t get to go into my job crying about how I’m treated different. I just deal with it, do my job, and try to convince kids who don’t know how to respect people who are different that I’m as human as they are. And that is what this is all really about; humanizing other people. We need to do it more.

        It’s interesting that she harped on Nintendo so much. While the Starfox story in particular was a bit sad to watch, although I can understand the Starfox re-branding because everybody already knows who he is, thus more games will sell.

        Honestly, I never, ever took Mario that seriously. Mario is intentionally trope-ish. Mario is not a philosophically deep game. Mario is a continuation of a game that was made in the 90’s before being politically correct or worrying about tropes was a big deal. Frankly, compared to how most recent games treat women, Peach has it good. A lot of studios would have her running around in a pink two piece with a thong bottom by now.

      • I feel like there really is no excuse given Kickstarter and other crowdfunding enterprises, along with the ease of disseminating information nowadays.

      • Greetings,

        With respect David I take issue with the entire notion about starting up female gaming companies and scholarships; there have been notable attempts to do so and I feel this only exacerbates the issue.

        The entire framing that feminists use relies on an emotional narrative; the idea that there is a deliberately conceived movement of oppression that stems directly from videogames into all other aspects of our lives. By engaging them in this we inevitably reinforce their stereotypes and waste our time.

        I would propose un-engagement; to completely and irreversibly ignore their shrieks until there is viable alternative to prevent a standard heroine to the industry that be pumped out with the standard male heroine.

        If they want to be part of the main stream by all means, but this will not make games any better.

        Apologies for any errors/miskakes/offence caused.

  3. Alex says:

    Hey Pete, as usual a well-written and thoughtful post. Remember you talking about that book and haven’t thought about it in years, must get around to reading it. Good reading on the links, too. Ironically, it’s so hard to find good material on the internet these days now that it’s dominated by Google–I can spend an hour scouring Youtube or Facebook for something worthwhile, and when I realize I’m disappointed, I struggle to think of a place to go to read or watch good stuff ON THE INTERNET. Keep up the good work.

    Obliged to point out…it’s “tenets”—

  4. David says:


    I actually totally agree with you. What I was getting at re: “make your own company / games” is that, at the very least, don’t complain about other people’s choice of expression, make your own. I really dislike how much of a rubber ruler people apply to art. Art is, by its nature, subjective. The same piece can be declared trash by one person and treasure by another. It amazes me how people who quite often believe morality to be subjective will go on to argue with someone else about how their art (expression) is “wrong”. Even people who believe in objective morality often struggle to define something as broad as “art”.

    I also agree that they [feminists] do create an emotional narrative that may or may not have to do with what is actually going on in game designers’ heads. It’s like how a conspiracy theorist puts all the events on the shoulders of a single actor who either doesn’t exist or who was merely a piece of the puzzle; it’s an oversimplification at best. I was being slow to make my point, but in the Japan tangent I was trying to say that rarely are people actually bigoted; their are just either unaware of themselves or ignorant, something like that.

    I, too, hate the idea of a politically correct hero and a politically correct heroine being put into games for their own sake. It’s really just as bad as having stupid tropes be your meat and wine as a writer.

  5. M says:

    I see nothing wrong with the tone of the tweet originally cited. The writer succinctly identifies a major omission on the part of a big company. She doesn’t name-call, she doesn’t pick at individuals, she’s not nasty. She’s questioning a legitimate issue and she uses sarcasm and 140 characters as a device. So why can’t feminists use sarcasm?

    And if that tweet generated the kind of personal name-calling, calls to “shut up,” and broad insults to women’s intelligence and capabilities that you linked to, then the case that there’s rampant sexism in the gaming world makes itself. Not to say that any individual gamer is necessarily sexist, or that gamers en masse are more sexist than other groups, but that there is a solid structure of sexism within the gaming community that regularly causes harm at both macro and micro levels.

    I’m also not sure about this “emotional narrative” interpretation of feminism that’s come up in the comments. Feminism is a [kind of limiting] word used to describe women or men who question the male-centric social/political/cultural structures around us, and who call for greater inclusion of female voice/opportunity/etc. Since it’s fundamentally a conversation about power, it requires shifting the male paradigm and loosening male power, which is always when the male outrage happens. Some self-professed feminists may rely on emotional narratives to do make their case, but some use logic, scientific research, economic studies, social analysis, etc.

    And the feminist voice should be able to express itself in whatever tone best suits the occasion. A nice, friendly, “Hey guys, would you like to hear my thoughts about this,” doesn’t get heard when the default response is “shut up.” Sometimes humor or sarcasm or plain old yelling are necessary to start a conversation — especially in our over-saturated media environment. But just like any spectrum of human beings, there’s always a range and it’s no more fair to categorize all feminists as being “jerks” or “bitching about things” than it is to say that all gamers are lazy couch potatoes. (Or whatever your least favorite stereotype is.) Of course there will be people whose approach you don’t like. Especially public figures. So what? There are lots of other day-to-day feminists who are smart and creative and worth paying attention to.

    I have a theory that sexism is even more deeply ingrained and insidious than any other “ism,” because EVERYONE has some sort of significant relationship with a woman at some point in their lives. Which means there isn’t an “other.” Most other bigotries, such as those related to race, sexuality, age, etc., rely on a strong sense of “other,” or “us/them,” which allows the bigotry to thrive, but also makes it marginally easier to identify and confront. On a macro level of sexism, you can see the ways that the entire system is oriented with a male bias. (e.g. Studies showing that women make less on the dollar than men with the same job.) But on a micro level, it’s much harder for the average person – male or female – to see their complicity in the system because they’re so accustomed to the status quo. (e.g. An individual making a hiring decision might not even be conscious that they’re offering less money to a female hire. Doesn’t mean that individual is a sexist pig, but their lack of awareness still makes them part of the sexist system.) It makes the constant drone of the feminist critique all the more important in identifying and challenging that structure wherever it is present.

    (BTW, being deliberate about including female protagonists in a game doesn’t mean the female characters would have to be sanitized or boring. Game companies are full of creative people, right, who should be able to be a bit less stereotyped about their constructs…)

    • Greetings,

      What is particularly disjarring is the mentality that somehow the concerns of sexism in the industry is solely in the minds of feminists. The sheer scope of this assumption is astonishing and it implicitly assumes that male gamers see women primarily as inferior beings.

      Is there sexism withing the gaming market? Undoubtedly, however, is it the responsibility of video games to combat this sexism? I would say blankly no. Games are a reflection of norms and interactions; the moment they attempt to impose ideas is the moment a game stops becoming entertaining and becomes a waste of money and time.

      Feminists can express themselves in whatever way they wish, the issue remains regardless, is that they have not really caused any sort of change? Have female characters been strengthened? Have companies started hiring more women due to the feminist complaints? Considering the gripes that feminists make in regards to gaming the answer seems to be an equivocal ‘No’.

      There have been attempts to set up a parallel system of video game and, that is fine but video game companies are driven by profit maximization; the moment that feminists argue that female leads should be incorporated into the mainstream they need to provide a clear description of what a female lead is and consequently is not.

      As for the notion of female leads, well that is topic that needless to say we will both disagree on.

      Apologies for errors/mistakes/offence caused.


  6. M says:

    Sounds like the word “feminism” is your sticking point. In my opinion, anyone, female or male, who is concerned about sexism in any industry and works toward a solution is inherently “feminist” whether that label means something to them or not. So there are people who overtly call themselves “feminists” and have a public agenda related to gender. And then there are people who wouldn’t call themselves feminists but who nonetheless behave in ways consistent with feminist objectives of equality and respect. Common parlance has turned the word into something negative, but in art critical discourse it’s merely a framework for analysis.

    In this case, it doesn’t assume all male gamers see women as inferior. It says that the complex system of cultural norms attached to the world of gaming (and really the rest of society) contains a strong male bias in ways that regularly omit or demean women. Although the system is made up of individuals, there’s a mass effect that happens, where the system becomes bigger than the sum of its parts. And the system isn’t going to change itself without a whole lot of those individuals on the inside identifying problems and trying to effect changes. The system will resist, people will push harder for change, small changes will happen gradually, there will be lots more resistance, until you reach critical mass that causes widespread significant change. You don’t get to the end result (e.g. reduction of sexism) without a lot of small, frustrating steps along the way. And maybe you never get all the way there, but that doesn’t make the effort worthless or mean that the cause isn’t important.

    And it’s all a cycle, right? The games might merely be a reflection of sexism inherent in broader culture, but if all games unquestioningly participate in that sexism, then they’re also partly responsible for perpetuating the broader cultural problems over time.

    • M says:

      Back to the original post, all of those different and sometimes jarring feminist voices are important to the whole of push for a more inclusive community. Because again, the sum is greater than any one of the parts, no matter how grating any particular voice might be. I also prefer a more intellectual, less reaction-driven approach to sensitive issues, and I think on the whole, people could be a lot more gracious with each other. But that doesn’t mean the reactionary approach has no place in a public, spectacle-driven media landscape. Nor does it mean that because there are reactionary voices, the whole of feminism should be disregarded, as seemed to be implied in some of the comments.

    • Greetings,

      Needless to say we will disagree at this point. Your definition while large and encompassing also ignores the cultural norms that you speak of later on and that is what most gamers feel that feminists in gaming tend to skip out on.

      There is no homogenous gaming community or market; all gamers are from a diverse background with various societal factors that influence and consequently various interpretations on the idea of equality in a functioning society and what that translates to. The current feminist model of broadly generalizing the gaming market at large has led to a gradual disinclination to address the issue at large. For all the calls for female characters have their been strong inclusions? Has there been any shifts?

      The idea somehow there is a system in place that feminists need to fight is again not necessarily accurate; there is no standard industry policy in regards to female gamers and there never has been. The idea of identifiying yourself based by your sex is new and none of the previous gaming generations ever identified themselves as that. It is not there is a system against women; it is that feminists think the industry knows what feminists want and are not giving it to them.

      Again, there is sexism in the industry and, yes, it does need to be dealt with; however assuming that gamers are homogenuous and therefore, suspectible to only one method of correction is completely unfounded.

      If people want changes that is fine, when you have a clear idea of what those changes are and how they can implement then the community/market will take notice until then these calls/cries ring hollow.

      Apologies for any errors/mistakes/offence caused.


  7. My main concern regarding many of the more “jarring” feminist voices is that they just entrench a misogynist mentality in the gaming community. I think even people that are normally pretty reasonable will turn against you when you come off insulting, arrogant, or entitled.

  8. David says:

    Clarification regarding the tweet: Looking at it again, I can see how you might think that the tweet was fairly reasonable because the wording wasn’t terribly snarky or something. The problem that I have with the tweet is not so much its wording. The real problem for me is the attitude and the expectations underlying it. What the tweet implies is that there is some kind of special release schedule for appropriate female characters in video games, and that if the video game industry does not conform to this timetable, they are promoting misogyny.

    This goes back to my problem of telling other people what to create. It is religious, and pointless. I can complain about the ta-tas and sex in various HBO shows and complain about the objectifying image of women that such things promote, but I think it is better to speak with my eyes and simply not watch anymore. It isn’t my job, at the end of the day, to hold HBO to some personal moral standard, but simply to live according to my own and hope that enough people find it inspiring for there to be a change in their behavior.

    Furthermore, and this is probably the most relevant point, video games are made for money. Period. They exist to serve a customer and an audience. It is a very strange strategy to expect companies, who make their profits off of society and its inclinations, to lead the charge in cultural change, and criticize them when they don’t. They will rarely cut against the grain, because it is harmful to their very existence and the nature of commerce at large.

    There have been a number of games recently that I felt had great, nuanced female protagonists. The reboot of Prince of Persia was good, I thought. I also thought Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Half LIfe 2, Portal 1 & 2, and others feature female characters who are more interesting and less cliche. I think that games will steadily improve in this area as society changes, and those changed people start expressing themselves. There is need for discussion, but not a crusade.

    I watched her second video, which was much better in that she actually discusses the matter in more realistic terms at the end. I also watched “Feminism vs Facts (RE Damsel in distress)”. Although the manner in which it is done isn’t always great and some of the criticisms do fall short, I think there are a number of good counter points to be found there.

  9. David says:

    I actually just watched another video that was a much more fair criticism, it’s long but I’d recommend watching it more than the other video I posted:

    Damsels in Distress – Critical Context

  10. David says:

    The second one, “Damsels in Distress – Critical Context” is the best rebuttal I’ve seen, because it is rational and its focus is on a key weakness in Fem Frequency’s videos, which is a loss of context. The other videos have good points, but the first is a bit too vitriolic and the last video I posted makes some comments towards the end that I disagree with personally (re: rape being portrayed in video games which are an entertainment form).

    The points made re: censorship are also especially important.

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