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Not A Game: Fighting Misogyny In The World Of Video Games
December 15, 2012
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Anita Sarkeesian is a fan of video games. She loves to play them, and she thinks they can help people develop skills like problem solving, multitasking and working in a team.

But she's always had a problem with one aspect of video games: the way they portray women.

"It is no secret that the video game industry boasts some of the most sexually objectified, stereotyped and downright oppressive portrayals of women in any medium," she says in her TEDxWomen talk at the Paley Center for Media in Washington, DC.


Earlier this year, Sarkeesian decided to do something about it. She wanted to create a series of videos exploring the way women are represented in the gaming world, and she created a Kickstarter page to seek funding.

The immediate response to her funding request was terrifying. Sarkeesian became the target of what she calls "a massive online hate campaign."

Her social media streams were flooded with threats of rape, violence, sexual assault and death. Her Wikipedia page was vandalized with sexist language and pornographic images. A campaign was launched to report all of her sites and social media accounts as fake in order to get them knocked offline.

There was even a video game created, inviting people to "beat up" an image of Sarkeesian. It showed a photograph of her which players could attack until it was bloodied and bruised.

The campaign was well organized, and featured many participants working together for a common goal. They would even get "points" of a sort - bringing their "achievements" back to message boards where others could praise them.

In fact, Sarkeesian says many perpetrators who engaged in attacking her online referred to their actions as "a game."


Who were the players in this so-called game? Sarkeesian believes many of them were adult men - a large segment of the gamer population.

The first goal of the attacks, she says, was to discredit her and her project. But, she continues, the "larger, implicit goal here is that they're actually trying to maintain the status quo of video games as a male-dominated space."

Sarkeesian's point is this: this is NOT a game.

She describes the misogyny and harassment she faced as a Cyber Mob - a coordinated and large-scale attack against a single target. And she says similar attacks have been carried out against other women online.

But there is a bright side to this story.

Sarkeesian's original Kickstarter goal was $6,000, enough to finance five episodes of her video series.

It turns out that there are a lot of people online who are interested in seeing video games deconstructed from a feminist perspective. She ended up raising $158,922 from 6,968 backers. That's more than 26 times the money she was originally seeking.

She is making 13 videos instead of the five she originally planned. She has received countless messages of support online, and been invited to speak at video game studios around the world.

And Sarkeesian sees change on the horizon in the world of gaming. She foresees a future "where women, without fear of intimidation, without fear of threats or harassment, can be full and active participants in our digital world."

Here's the original Kickstarter video she put online:

And although this kind of attack appears to have come from gamers, misogyny in the video game world isn't confined to the people who play the games, according to this article by Tasneem Raja, interactive editor at Mother Jones. It also affects women who work in the industry.

"Thousands of women working in the video game industry are coming forward with stories of vicious sexism they've faced on the job," Raja writes.

Women in the industry (and their male supporters) shared some of their negative experiences on Twitter on November 26, with the hashtag #1reasonwhy (as in "one reason why I don't feel comfortable working in the gaming industry").

You can read more about the #1reasonwhy hashtag right here.


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