I don’t think Anita Sarkeesian knew what she was getting into. Sarkeesian is the thirty-two-year-old feminist who has gained notoriety through Feminist Frequency, a website and social movement that criticizes violence and misogyny in video games.
Sarkeesian has become a lightning rod in the gaming community. After raising over $150,000 on Kickstarter in 2012 to launch a video series, Tropes Against Women, which analyzes video games, Sarkeesian experienced online harassment from gamers, including death threats. The attacks on Sarkeesian are disgusting, sad, and intolerable, and media have spent a lot of time covering her experience of harassment.
What the media hasn’t covered in detail is the fact that gamers have absolutely demolished Anita Sarkeesian’s arguments.
Her first argument is also the most general: that video games are violent and misogynistic. Over a year ago I became the video game reviewer for the Catholic News Service, a media organization that, as you might expect, does not approve of violent and sexist video games. Playing games every week and reading the gamer media, I discovered that the gaming industry is as diverse as American culture itself. There are games about war and stealing cars, but also games about puzzle-solving, heroic quests, and making friends. There are games that are anti-war and games that are artistically stunning, and games about just living life. One of my favorites is still the first game I reviewed, OlliOlli, which allows players to do fun skateboard runs.
In short, saying “video games are violent” is about as accurate as saying “books are violent.” There’s just too much diversity in the field to generalize. Almost anyone can find a game tailored to his or her taste, and any trip to the local GameStop store will reveal the cornucopia of options.
Yes, some games are violent. Some are misogynistic. And responsible people can have discussions about the effect that too much gaming has on the human soul and psyche—as well as what good games do. Yet Sarkeesian’s arguments are overly broad, deceptive, and full of specific errors. Gamers have pointed this out in great detail, and are still caricatured in the media as unintelligent, pajama-wearing mouth breathers.
One of the sharpest gamers to respond to Sarkeesian is a kid who calls himself Mr. Repzion. Mr. Repzion in a lifelong gamer, and on his YouTube channel he has posted several responses to Sarkeesian that are detailed and well researched. (They also contain occasional bad language.) Repzion was particularly exasperated at the errors Sarkeesian made when she recently attended E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Also notable is gamer and YouTuber AlphaOmegaSin. He has posted lengthy and rigorously detailed videos highlighting Sarkeesian’s mistakes. When a self-appointed social justice warrior recently accused Nintendo of being racist because the hand that appears on one of their video games is white, AlphaOmegaSin justifiably went nuts.
Other old-school print and online journalists and critics have also destroyed Sarkeesian’s arguments. When Sarkeesian said that the game Doom 4 shows the brutal sawing in half of a body, journalists responded that the violence was against a fantastical demon, not a person, and only lasted a few seconds. When Feminist Frequency objected that part of the game Fallout Shelter involved impregnating women, people who had played the game pointed out that the sex was consensual and was in fact only a minor part of a game about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world.
Critics have noted that even games that give the option to play as male or female are not enough for feminist Sarkeesian. One journalist got so frustrated with Sarkeesian’s drive-by criticism (she doesn’t allow comments on the videos she posts to her site and she often goes on blocking sprees) that he offered $10,000 to a charity of her choice if she would simply debate him. The offer is still on the table.
Social justice warriors like Sarkeesian usually win by following a pattern: raise an issue, shame critics by appealing to emotion, bully, express a lot of rage and personal hurt, guilt opponents into acquiescence, then move on to the next target. But gamers’ cogent counterarguments have made Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency irrelevant. Gamers keep gaming, and game makers keep making games. The controversy is ebbing, and soon the name Anita Sarkeesian will be a footnote in pop culture history. As for me, I’m looking forward to playing Dark Souls III.