It seems increasingly evident that Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist critic of alleged sexism in video games, wants to ban men from having sexual fantasies.
Male sexual fantasies have been the main focal point running through Sarkeesian’s video series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” In her latest video, Sarkeesian explores what she calls the “Women as Reward” theme in gaming. Sarkeesian defines this trope as follows: “When women (or more often women’s bodies) are employed as rewards for player action video games. The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable, or as consumable, and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players.”
So, when guys play video games, they like to fantasize about enduring hardship and making it through difficult obstacles to be rewarded at the end (or sooner) with the attentions of a gorgeous, sexy woman? And this is a problem? Like most feminist zealots, Sarkeesian strings together an indictment without carefully unpacking the language she uses. Sarkeesian assumes the accuracy of her definition of male sexual fantasies. The error of that assumption undermines her entire argument.
Sarkeesian assumes that video games portray women’s bodies as collectable, tractable (easy to control), and consumable. In reality, the male fantasy can be an expression of the exact opposite. Rather than representing women as a reward that a man can control, a woman, and particularly a woman’s body, can represent his greatest challenge and most intoxicating opportunity for genuine freedom. Sarkeesian is absolutely right on one count: men do fantasize about consuming women. We dream about consuming their beauty, their tenderness, their spirit, and their goodness in the hope that it will make us better human beings, not to mention good fathers and best friends.
To Sarkeesian, a woman in a bikini might represent someone much more complex than it does to the average male. H.L. Mencken probably put it best:
The allurement that women hold out to men is precisely the allurement that Cape Hatteras holds out to sailors: They are enormously dangerous and therefore enormously fascinating. To the average man, doomed to some banal drudgery all his life long, they offer the only grand hazard he ever encounters. Take them away, and his existence would be as flat and secure as that of a moo cow.
There are no doubt some guys out there with disturbing fantasies about violence and control. Why does Sarkeesian assume that it’s all of us?
Because Anita Sarkeesian is a zealot. Even some of her supporters are beginning to see this. Gamer Aymaro supported the Kickstarter campaign that allowed Sarkeesian to create her “Feminist Frequency” series, yet after seeing one of Sarkeesian’s more recent video offerings, Aymaro was disturbed. In an online forum, Aymaro (sex unknown) left the following comment:
Having watched the last “DLC” video [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcqEZqBoGdM], I have the impression that Anita is trying to criticize the male fantasies at their core rather than their application to video games. I mean, most of the paid add-ons she mentions have no gameplay value at all, no meaning either: is it wrong for males to pay for just some eye-candy?
Reinforcing stereotypes is bad, I get it, but is there a place at all for such stereotypes? Would male fantasies change for the better if they didn’t include any trace of objectified women? And is that even possible or conceivable? These questions are more about liberalism than video games, but I don’t think they should be dismissed even if it means going beyond the scope of the video series.
It is indeed about liberalism, which in 2015 seeks to control our money, our education, and our private sex lives—and now even our fantasies. Sarkeesian recently reviewed the game “Assassin’s Creed,” giving it positive marks for its cast, which includes women, transgender people, and “people of color.” “Assassin’s Creed” is set in the 19th century, long before the era of political correctness and visible transgender people. No matter, says Sarkeesian:
While it might seem unrealistic to imagine women, people of color, and trans folks who are treated and respected as full human beings in 1868, realism is not really the goal in a game where assassins and templars have been waging centuries-old war over artifacts created by an ancient civilization, and were you can leap from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral into a pile of leaves and walk away unharmed. The inclusion works not because of realism but because of believability and internal consistency.
In short, you’re allowed to have fantasies—as long as they’re the right kind of fantasies. A woman in a bikini is forbidden, driving fast cars is out, but a trans man in 19th century London and people of color in 15th century Ireland are great. All this may be a difficult thing to learn—or rather unlearn—but don’t worry, your social justice superiors are here to help.
“Because male entitlement is a learned attitude,” Sarkeesian says in one of her videos, “it can, through education and conscious effort, be unlearned, and game systems are part of that transformative process.” Yes, the wrong kind of fantasies will be forbidden. It’s a small price to pay for progress.