In 2012 Anita Sarkeesian raised over $150,000 on Kickstarter to fund Tropes vs. Women, a video series aiming to tackle the many tropes attached to female characters in video games. Possibly one of the most divisive projects in crowdfunding history (second only to the ultimate potato salad), plenty of gamers have plenty to say on Tropes vs. Women and the overall Feminist Frequency group.

But why are people so split?

Feminist Frequency

Bleating Cavemen

To start with there are the chest-beating, bleating cavemen. Those who think that women gaining the right to vote is an an ugly blot in history, that the fight for equal pay is an evil conspiracy and that women should be in the kitchen making sandwiches instead of feminist critiques about gaming.

The worst of their kind have harassed Sarkeesian and her colleagues to no end, including death threats and hoax bomb plots. The reason for their vitriol is pure misogyny and if you were wondering why the comments sections on all of Feminist Frequency’s videos are locked, well, you found it.

The Anti’s

A less hostile group of Feminist Frequency anti’s are those who take a ‘no flies in my ointment’ attitude towards the group’s work. There’s no doxxing from this lot but there is a strong belief that politics and ideals (even those that just support equal respect and treatment of women) have no place in gaming.

There’s a fear that bubbles under the surface; that by picking apart the tropes and glaring issues of female representation in games, heavy censorship will occur. There are also concerns that they’ll simply be able to ‘unsee’ all of the garbage levelled at women and female characters, preventing them from enjoying the game.

Champions

A total opposite to these are those who champion Feminist Frequency’s videos, praying that some day all games will make an effort to Get It Right.

From the ridiculousness of lingerie armour to the ‘difficulty’ of animating female characters, there’s no shortage of eye-roll worthy crap and this group hopes that one day the tropes detailed in the series will seem like a blast from the past rather than the present reality.

Feminist Frequency

Progressives

And finally, you have the most interesting group of all. There are progressives who support Feminist Frequency (and the Tropes vs. Women series) in theory but have plenty of issues with them.

These are the gamers who point out pieces such as Feminist Frequency’s analysis of female protagonists at E3 2016, noting that their work left out consideration of how these female characters were being presented and instead focused on the numbers and also did not take into account games with female characters being shown at the event, although they hadn’t featured in press conferences.

These are the folks that feel that videos such as this aren’t nuanced enough and leave out critical examples.

No, the organisation can’t be perfect, they say, but Feminist Frequency is plenty problematic.

Friend or Foe?

So, looking at several sides of the debate, is Feminist Frequency progressive friend or foe? In my personal opinion it has been more of the former.

Tropes vs. Women is an invaluable tool when it comes to awareness as even gamers staunchly in support of feminism may not be conscious of tropes such as ‘Women as Reward’. In fact, Feminist Frequency’s other critiques, including its scathing review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, are well thought out and conversation-provoking, no matter which side of the debate that you’re on.

Admittedly Feminist Frequency’s work runs the risk of being too polarising to foster conversation, but it doesn’t exist to show both sides of the argument, which is why opinions on its content have been so strong. Yes, gamers remain fragmented but the fact that it has the entire games industry talking about the issues feels like some kind of victory for all of us.


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Jasmine Henry

Staff Writer at New Normative
Jasmine Henry is a games and technology writer from the UK who has been playing video games since before she could tie her own shoelaces. She is also a serial games hoarder (thanks Steam sales!) and dreams of a day when the representation of women and minorities in games is no longer debated and is simply just the ‘norm’.
  • J.j. Barrington

    If it weren’t for what seems to be completely intentional misrepresentation of both male and female characters, I’d understand.

    Well, no. I don’t think I’d get it, even then. There are honestly far more serious issues affecting women, even if you don’t want to leave the US. Gaming should just about be last on the list. The fact that Anita and crew aren’t exactly even with their analysis of gaming characters makes them hard to take seriously.

  • B68W

    How about the side of the debate where Anita is a con-artist who takes people’s money and doesn’t actually put out the product promised in the time promised but instead moves on to the next money maker? The product she does put out is bland, biased, often hypocritical, and unrepresentative of the amount of money that was invested into it.

    As for it being too polarizing to generate conversation, it is very hard to generate any conversation when all comments and rating reviews are blocked.

  • Mr_SP

    Feminist Frequency has made catastrophic missteps, and it’s impossible to take their arguments seriously. One of the videos linked here, about how women are too hard to animate, is actually completely wrong. That was never an argument presented by Ubisoft, as Anita claimed it was. The people reporting on it failed to understand how Unity differed from previous Assassin’s Creed titles. To start with, it indeed had animated a woman in combat – notably, the game’s biggest character short of Arno himself, and the plot revolves around her. She IS the plot, and the biggest reason why Arno is involved with it. The game’s structure, however, meant that they could not add female multiplayer characters any more than they could change the protagonist to a female without re-writing and re-animating the entire game, which is what Ubisoft *actually said*.

    Now, that’s the biggest failure FF has made, but it’s not the only one. It’s very hard for an open-minded skeptical gamer to take Anita seriously. Her videos show that she’s there to criticize, not explore. She has no intention of providing a balanced or detailed accounting, but jumping from one poorly thought out idea to the next. And it can’t even do that in the time frame it said it would! It’s not merely “plenty problematic”, it fundamentally fails to provide content that matches the MASSIVE media representation people like you give it.

    This article provides no detail or new information. The groups aren’t detailed, aren’t explained, aren’t justified. The games industry is hardly fragmented. They’re busy working on how to make their own stuff better.