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Anita Sarkeesian and violence against women in video games

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More than a year has passed since I have commented at any length on feminism and the issue of gender equality because frankly, the blog/YouTube wars and constant bickering between feminists, the men’s rights crowd and those who are somewhere in between made my head hurt. As such, I’m a little bit behind the curve in becoming aware of this Anita Sarkeesian person, who seems to have made quite a stir in the atheist and gaming community with her long-form videos about misogyny in gaming such as this one:

I recently became aware of her because of a recent interview she conducted with Stephen Colbert. While I have not watched all of her videos, I have watched “Damsel in Distress” parts one and two, in which she claims that the majority of action and adventure video games depict women as merely pawns or objects in male-centric narratives. Men, in her view — and she provides example after example — take the lead role in most of the games, with any females taking a backseat as secondary characters or love interests that the male character must rescue from certain doom because the females are disempowered, weak and incapable of saving themselves. In the first video in this series, Sarkeesian mainly focuses on two of Nintendo’s largest franchises, “Super Mario Bros.” and “The Legend of Zelda.” I was never as into Zelda, so I will focus on her critique of Mario Bros. As she recounts the story of the game, the princess, Peach, is captured by the villain, Bowser, and Mario must go through eight grueling levels to save her. Sarkeesian thinks that Mario, Zelda and other longstanding franchises that began decades ago could and should have been modernized to more robustly include strong women characters into the narrative.

First, as The Amazing Atheist pointed out, (and my linking to him doesn’t imply that I agree with him on every point) Mario and most of the other games she talks about follow the monomyth narrative structure, in which the protagonist begins the story in his or her everyday life, something unusual or bad happens and the hero goes on an adventure to right a wrong. Or, as Joseph Campbell put it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

True, a majority of the action and adventure games that follow this structure feature a male protagonist and a female character that the male must either protect or rescue from peril. Like Mario, as in more modern games that follow this structure, the male typically goes through all sorts of dangerous challenges to protect the female because he either loves her or she is an important person.

Obviously, high-profile exceptions to this pattern exist within the gaming industry, but since they go all but unnoticed by Sarkeesian, I will briefly mention some here.

In many cases, like “Assassin’s Creed Black Flag” and “Red Dead Redemption,” female characters guide players through certain parts of the game and are imperishable parts of the storyline. Annie Stoakes, a cattle rancher and important character to the central story of “Red Dead,” competed in a gun duel tournament against male opponents. The game’s Wiki page had this to say about Stoakes:

Annie’s father did not adhere to the gender roles of the day: He raised his daughter to be a successful, independent rancher in a violent, male dominated society.

In “The Last Of Us,” the main character, Joel, lost his daughter 20 years before the main storyline begins. Through the early part of the game, he is accompanied by a female ass kicker named Tess, who helps him escape Boston. Through most of the rest of the game, Joel partners with a quick-witted and emotionally unflappable teenage girl named Ellie, who becomes an ass kicker in her own right.

In her two videos, Sarkeesian paints the impression that there are virtually no strong female protagonists in video games, now or in the past. While there are certainly fewer males than females in leading, playable characters in video games overall, which is probably because of the demographics of people who play action and adventure games and the demographics of those who development them, Sarkeesian conveniently fails to mention some prominent females that did actually command lead roles.

Metroid, which was another of Nintendo’s most popular franchises, follows the protagonist Samus Aran. In the first game in the series, players did not know until beating the game that the main character was, indeed, a female. This goes unmentioned in Sarkeesian’s analysis. More modern games that have featured woman in prominent and empowered roles, including the following:

  • Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider”
  • Chell, “Portal”
  • Aveline de Grandpre, “Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation”
  • FemShep, “Mass Effect”
  • Joanna Dark, “Perfect Dark”
  • Jill Valentine, “Resident Evil”

This doesn’t mention the countless number of strong female characters in the Final Fantasy series and other role playing games over the years. For more examples of lead female roles, see here:

In two videos that cover almost 50 minutes of content, Sarkeesian concedes that there has been a “moderate increase” in the number of lead female roles in video games recently, but can only be bothered to specifically mention two titles, “Beyond Good & Evil” and “Mirror’s Edge,” in 30 years of development. Also included in her list of games that disempower and objectify women was “Dante’s Inferno,” which I thought was a head-scratcher since the game is based off Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” one of the greatest works of literature of all time, and in the game, the main character literally claws through the terrors of hell to save his love, Beatrice.

Sarkeesian does not seem like a person who is interested in presenting a fair picture of the video game market or even the entertainment market. Unlike Sarkeesian’s uneven presentation of the problem — and misogyny and violence against of women in video games is a problem, just as it is in real life — the video game industry has produced a number of strong, empowered female characters. I would be interested to know that if the roles were reversed and a large number of video games suddenly came out with female characters victimizing males and that somehow spoke to a larger problem in society, would Sarkeesian come to the defense of disempowered males? I should hope so, but for some reason, I’m not sure.

Of course, I wouldn’t care if she didn’t; I would just like to know if she’s at least willing to be consistent.

Last, I couldn’t help but wonder why Sarkeesian’s critique was limited to video games. If the problem of disempowering and objectifying women is prevalent in video games, it is certainly prevalent in movies and television, and perhaps it’s prevalent in the entertainment industry because it is, most unfortunately, prevalent everywhere. The problem, then, is not violence in video games, or even violence in movies and TV, but violence, abuse and objectification of human beings, male, female, gay, lesbian, black or white. Assholes and abusers will probably always exist, so I’m not here to offer a particularly optimistic view on stamping out all three of those anytime soon, but in this case, video games provide yet another example of art imitating life, not the other way around.

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Written by Jeremy

November 14th, 2014 at 12:44 am

On alleged racism in the WWE

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WWE has taken a beating in the wrestling community recently for at least three incidents of alleged racism or stereotyping against some of its former top stars, including Alberto Del Rio, the original Sin Cara and Ricardo Rodriguez. Sin Cara said WWE created a bad environment for Latinos to work and claimed he was subjected to numerous incidents of racism from WWE employees, noting that the company higher-ups could be “very racist:”

(There) are different cases. I have never complained about anything. … Sometimes the “gringos” are very racist, sometimes (managers) made ​​racist jokes.

The company’s Chief Operating Officer and on-air head of The Authority heel faction, Triple H, allegedly nicknamed Rodriguez “Bumblebee Man” after the character on The Simpsons, according to reports from Rodriguez.

Del Rio’s case is perhaps the most serious incident that has come to public light so far. Del Rio, whose real name is José Alberto Rodríguez, reportedly overheard a racist joke against Mexicans come from a WWE employee named Cody Barbierri. According to Del Rio, he told the employee, “Say that again to my face,” to which the employee smirked and did not apologize. Del Rio slapped the man and was subsequently fired after previously being told he was just going to get a three-week suspension with no pay.

Here’s Del Rio’s recent account about what happened:

Apparently, the employee threatened to sue the company over the incident, so Del Rio was fired. The employee in question is apparently no longer with the company.

One isolated incident is one thing, but three Latino workers having problems with the company in such a small window of time could be a bad sign, especially since WWE trips over itself to promote its Be A STAR anti-bullying campaign. STAR stands for show tolerance and respect. And Vince McMahon doesn’t exactly have a glowing record of anti-bullying himself, drawing heat for mocking former announcer Jim Ross’ bell’s palsy in front of millions of people on RAW.

Pro wrestling fans know that WWE has pushed certain Latino stars to the top, most notably Rey Mysterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero, but pushing Hispanic wrestlers has always been more about making money by tapping into the large Latino demographic than seeking diversity in the company. Mysterio, who has been injury prone as of late, became famous way back when WCW was around and only later transitioned to WWE. As his star was fading, WWE had hoped that Del Rio and Sin Cara were going to be the next big Latino stars. While Del Rio reached the upper midcard and had some main event matches, Sin Cara was mostly a failure.

As a side note, I thought the editing job in the Del Rio interview above was interesting. For some reason, the producers left in “fucking” but edited out what immediately followed, which if my lip-reading skills are correct, was “racist prick.” Perhaps that was done at the request of Del Rio.

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Boehner’s all about that action, boss

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House Speaker Rep. John Boehner has balls of titanium steel, I’ll give him that. In the following speech, he has the gall to say that he and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have “worked” closely together for eight years. If by “worked” he means grousing around Capitol Hill, crying over spilled milk that their party is not in the White House and admitting that they would rather undermine the president at every turn rather than trying to make the most out of the situation for the betterment of the nation and his own constituents, he would be accurate:

He then kissed McConnell’s ass and in Boehner’s tried and true fashion, proceeded to speak for “the people,” even though he and McConnell’s inaction the last eight years have been all about them and their party and nothing whatsoever to do with the will of the nation, all the while pretending to be willing to compromise and work across the aisle. Funny how since Boehner and McConnell now have a majority in both houses, they’re now talking about action. The obscurantism is so thick that you would think that the American public would see through the charade, but after Tuesday, clearly not.

The people who vote these sophists into office deserve the government that they get.

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Written by Jeremy

November 6th, 2014 at 8:55 pm

Changeability

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Via Reddit user Swampfoot:

Credit: Swampfoot

Credit: Swampfoot

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Written by Jeremy

November 6th, 2014 at 8:20 pm

God cemetery

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That headline doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Pet Cemetery.” In any case, H.L. Mencken once asked, “Where is the grave-yard of dead gods?”

As it happens, a couple were started last year, one by the North Georgia Skeptics Society:

Credit: North Georgia Skeptics Society

Credit: North Georgia Skeptics Society

And another by Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:

Credit: Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Credit: Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Most recently, a group from Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Here is a brief post from Reddit user Agnostic Atheist:

This is our own Graveyard. It’s not as big as a good one, but it still has a few dozen. Over night, some guys slightly vandalized our signs, with grammatical errors of course. It will be up all week up until Halloween this Friday. And a few of us at a time sit at the table to explain our club and promote discussions.

god graveyard1

godgraveyard2

If you haven’t read Mencken’s essay, “Graveyard of the Gods,” it’s well worth a look.

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Written by Jeremy

November 6th, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Auto-Tuned out, random thoughts on hip-hop

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So, apparently T-Pain can actually sing and is not hiding behind that abortive invention known as Auto-Tune:

Unfortunately, artists who use Auto-Tune have been stinking up their already mediocre songs since Cher first used it on “Believe” back in 1998, and hip-hop/R&B, with a few exceptions, is still producing music and videos like this that cater to every known stereotype and cliché about black culture in America:

Seriously, I can’t think of a time between 1995 and 2010 where this video and this song, with their well-worn, low-hanging-fruit-type themes — money, alcohol, partying in the club, etc. — wouldn’t be out of place. I don’t want to cast too wide a net here, but it’s almost as if the hip-hop genre — and I recognize there are important exceptions like Jay Z, Kanye West, Mos Def, etc. — hasn’t moved on or found anything else interesting to contemplate in 20 years. If that is true to some degree with hip-hop, it’s definitely true of R&B.

Questlove, in his essay series, “When the People Cheer: How Hip-Hop Failed Black America,” was on point in his critique of hip-hop, noting in particular that when the genre became mainstream, or “ubiquitous” as he dubbed it, the genre seemed to lose part of its identity and reverted back to the same themes in which, “The winners, the top dogs, make art mostly about their own victories and the victory of their genre:”

Twenty years ago, when my father first heard about my hip-hop career, he was skeptical. He didn’t know where it was all headed. In his mind, a drummer had a real job, like working as music director for Anita Baker. But if I’m going to marvel at the way that hip-hop overcame his skepticism and became synonymous with our broader black American culture, I’m going to have to be clear with myself that marvel is probably the wrong word. Black culture, which has a long tradition of struggling against (and at the same time, working in close collaboration with) the dominant white culture, has rounded the corner of the 21st century with what looks in one sense like an unequivocal victory. Young America now embraces hip-hop as the signal pop-music genre of its time. So why does that victory feel strange: not exactly hollow, but a little haunted?

I have wondered about this for years, and worried about it for just as many years. It’s kept me up at night or kept me distracted during the day. And after looking far and wide, I keep coming back to the same answer, which is this: The reason is simple. The reason is plain. Once hip-hop culture is ubiquitous, it is also invisible. Once it’s everywhere, it is nowhere. What once offered resistance to mainstream culture (it was part of the larger tapestry, spooky-action style, but it pulled at the fabric) is now an integral part of the sullen dominant. Not to mention the obvious backlash conspiracy paranoia: Once all of black music is associated with hip-hop, then Those Who Wish to Squelch need only squelch one genre to effectively silence an entire cultural movement.

And that’s what it’s become: an entire cultural movement, packed into one hyphenated adjective. These days, nearly anything fashioned or put forth by black people gets referred to as “hip-hop,” even when the description is a poor or pointless fit. “Hip-hop fashion” makes a little sense, but even that is confusing: Does it refer to fashions popularized by hip-hop musicians, like my Lego heart pin, or to fashions that participate in the same vague cool that defines hip-hop music? Others make a whole lot of nonsense: “Hip-hop food”? “Hip-hop politics”? “Hip-hop intellectual”? And there’s even “hip-hop architecture.” What the hell is that? A house you build with a Hammer?

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Written by Jeremy

November 6th, 2014 at 7:56 pm

AT&T foretells technological future

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AT&T can hardly take credit for all of these innovations, but this ad campaign from 1993-94 was amazingly prescient:

Here is a detailed look at some other early Internet ad campaigns. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the first banner ad online.

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Written by Jeremy

October 27th, 2014 at 5:18 pm

President tunes out cable news

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For all its tireless bluster, FOX News is, for all intent and purposes, wasting its time and energy trying to chastise the president or somehow influence policy. Why? Because President Barack Obama isn’t watching cable news, and that includes CNN and MSNBC. Any president worth his wait in salt wouldn’t be influenced by the media anyway, but for all of Obama’s inadequacies at this point, namely his hawkish drone program and his thus far failed promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, we can at least take heart in the fact that we have a president who still consumes publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post in written form, whether in newsprint or digital, which, I might add, is more preferable by several large degrees from a vice presidential nominee in 2008 — who would have been one heart beat away from assuming the highest office in the land — not being able to name a single publication that she reads on a daily basis.

Here is former press secretary Jay Carney talking about Obama’s media proclivities:

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Written by Jeremy

October 27th, 2014 at 5:17 pm

CNN-bola

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Anderson Cooper had the gall today to say CNN isn’t trying to stir up fear with its almost continuous coverage of this Ebola stupidity, but instead, the station is “spreading information.”

Thousands dead in West Africa. Meh. Who cares? A handful of Americans threatened: Time to put the entire CNN machine on the case!

Bullshit.

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Written by Jeremy

October 17th, 2014 at 12:09 am

Missing in action

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Where the hell is the Iraqi army we spent eight years and $25 billion training?

As World Watches Kobani Siege, ISIS Eyes Baghdad

Credit: Daily Mail; Location: The militants are understood to have had their advance halted by airstrikes yesterday at Ameriyat Al-Falluja yesterday - a small city about 18 miles south of Fallujah and 40 miles west of Baghdad. But the clashes did not force the bulk of the fighters - with many of them now having made their way to the Baghdad suburbs.

Credit: Daily Mail; Location: The militants are understood to have had their advance halted by airstrikes yesterday at Ameriyat Al-Falluja yesterday – a small city about 18 miles south of Fallujah and 40 miles west of Baghdad. But the clashes did not force the bulk of the fighters – with many of them now having made their way to the Baghdad suburbs.

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Written by Jeremy

October 16th, 2014 at 8:27 pm

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