Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Women Are More Innocent (and more on Anita Sarkeesian)

Women aren't as evil as men. Everyone knows that! Although in case you didn't, game developers have a helpful way to educate you; if there's a female villain in a game, she's the most likely of the bunch to switch to the heroic side or she'll have been hypnotised or brainwashed into being evil instead. One of the two.

Although I try to avoid referring to TV Tropes too often -- I'm a fan of the site but I know Anita Sarkeesian is criticised for taking it at its word a few too many times -- but it has some information on this on the "High Heel Face Turn" and "Females Are More Innocent" pages. The "Sorting Algorithm Of Face Heel Turning" is also worth a quick look ("face" and "heel" are the professional wrestling terms for "good guy" and "bad guy" respectively, in case you didn't know).

The "High Heel Face Turn" trope gets the basic point across but I think it's missing something; going by the definition on that page, the female villain would have to be the lone female on a team of villains to qualify. Not that it's incorrect or any better when it's only a single female villain rather than several but I can think of a game series where all the female villains either switch sides, aren't as villainous, are coerced into being evil via brainwashing or repent how evil they are shortly before death. If you don't want to be kept waiting, I'm thinking of Metal Gear Solid.

Let's start with some others though. Back when I blogged about Batman: Arkham City, I wrote the following:
"There are barely any bad women in the game. Catwoman is an anti-hero. So is Talia Al-Ghul and her all-female army of assassins. Poison Ivy keeps to herself. Harley Quinn is the closest thing to "evil" a woman gets in the game and she plays the comic relief role."
Meanwhile, Mr. Freeze is the closest the game has to a male villain switching sides. He's a lot like Poison Ivy, in that he wants to keep to himself. Even so, he acts pretty selfishly; while Poison Ivy only attacked when Catwoman entered her territory, Mr Freeze shattered a vial of a cure that could save Batman from the illness that plagues him throughout the game purely out of spite. Well, leverage supposedly -- he wanted Batman to help get his wife back but there was nothing to suggest Batman wouldn't have done so anyway -- but clearly spite.

One of the traits that is always present in Mortal Kombat's messed-up canon is Kitana shaking off her brainwashing and joining the good guys. She's raised to believe that she is the daughter of the villain, Shao Kahn, but it doesn't take long for her to find out the truth; that Shao Kahn killed her father, forced her mother, Sindel, into marrying him and adopted Kitana himself. Kitana switches sides, as does her best friend, Jade. Jade was only siding with the villains to keep watch over her best friend. Depending on the timeline you look at for the Mortal Kombat games, Sindel may follow suit and join the heroic side too (but in that particular timeline, so do Ermac and Smoke ... and Raiden turns evil. It's a bit of a mess as the series continues). Kitana and Jade's side-switching is a mainstay of both the old and new Mortal Kombat timelines though, so it looks like there's no way of keeping them evil.

Even in games where the male and female villains are evil for the same reasons, there can be subtle differences. Take the first Mass Effect game, for example. Saren (a male Turian) and Matriarch Beneziah (a genderless Asari but physically female, like all Asari) are both evil because they're in the thrall of Sovereign, a massive ship-slash-AI with mind-controlling powers. Even then, however, Beneziah is given a more sympathetic backstory than Saren.

Then there's Metal Gear Solid, a series where all the female villains have excuses for being evil. In Metal Gear Solid 2, Olga Gurlukovich switched sides because her daughter had been taken from her by the real bad guys (which is an oversimplification but for the sake of this blog, a longer explanation isn't needed). Fortune also turned against at least one of her former villainous colleagues, going so far as to save the good guys' lives before dying of a gunshot wound. In Metal Gear Solid 3, we had The Boss. Long story short, she was never evil. She posed as being evil but the actions of one of the villains led to her plan spiralling out of control and she eventually had to be killed. In Metal Gear Solid 4, there's an all-female team of villains called the Beauty & The Beast Corps. All four women share the same backstory; they all suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Their fragile mental state was exploited and they were each given hi-tech suits to make them deadly soldiers. They're tragic figures more than anything else (or they would be, with a bit more character development).
Sniper Wolf from Metal Gear Solid is the only female villain who didn't either switch sides before dying or get her start by being coerced or brainwashed. Even she is given the noble death that she wants and isn't as much of an extremist as some of the other MGS villains. A few other male villains receive treatment along the same lines as Sniper Wolf -- Vulcan Raven, for example, and Grey Fox is probably more of a tragic figure than anyone in the B&B Corps -- but none along the same lines as, say, Olga or Fortune. Even characters who are supposedly doing good things resort to extremist tactics to do so; this turned out to be Revolver Ocelot's schtick by the end of the series.

This isn't to say that you won't find male villains switching sides or female heroes crossing over to join the bad guys. These few examples aren't the be-all and end-all of female turncoats either. All the games listed do have examples of male characters either switching sides or being coerced into being evil ... but often, the subtle differences between the male and female villains send out different messages. On its own, a female villain switching sides wouldn't matter very much but it raises questions when male and female villains are evil for the same reasons -- like Saren and Beneziah -- but the woman comes across more sympathetically than the man. It's hard not to wonder if there's a motive when, in a game with an even split between male and female villains -- like Arkham City or the Metal Gear Solid series -- the male villains are more evil than the female ones. There's no real reason for it and it can feel like a slightly insulting gesture.

Anyway, onto other things; there are two big important pieces of news this week. Firstly, the blog has a banner! It doesn't fit properly! I'm too lazy to fix it!

Secondly, a blog called Vicsor's Opinion rooted out something surprising about Anita Sarkeesian's damsel in distress videos; none of the game footage shown in the videos were recorded by Anita herself. They all come from Let's Play videos on Youtube and the owner of the blog, Vicsor, has comparison screenshots to prove it. He also made sure to contact some of the owners of the channels hosting the Let's Play videos and posted a reply on his blog to confirm that Feminist Frequency did not contact them to request permission to use their videos in her series.

So what does this mean for Feminist Frequency? Well it doesn't confirm anything except for the fact that Anita didn't use any of the $158,922 she received from Kickstarter to invest in a capture card. It throws up a lot of questions about how the money is being spent, however; we don't know whether there's been any investment in audio/video equipment at all, given that there's no visible or audible change in the quality of Anita's videos. The only difference is a new introduction logo. We also have to wonder if the many months in-between Anita's videos are spent playing games or simply watching Let's Plays. I know it sounds cynical and before this information came out, I wouldn't have even suggested it but hey, who's to say now that it turns out Anita didn't use her own footage?

This is just another addition to a long line of Anita's screw-ups. Questionable money-making methods. Flawed, occasionally sexist arguments with cherry-picked examples. Complete bastardisation of a study to fit the point she wanted to make. And now, stolen footage.

Anita's supporters may think I'm being too harsh. Maybe she doesn't own the games she took footage from. Maybe some were too old to get hold of and it wasn't wise to invest in dated games and consoles. Maybe they were released after she went on the initial spending spree that produced this famous picture. Even so, none of those points explain why she didn't ask permission to use other footage from other people's Let's Play videos. The only explanations for that is that she was either hiding behind "fair use", she didn't think she'd get caught or she arrogantly didn't think she had to ask permission. It's also worth mentioning that on Feminist Frequency's Kickstarter page, Anita states that she plans to reward large donations with a DVD featuring all the episodes of her Tropes Vs Women In Games series. It isn't clear whether she actually plans on selling these DVDs -- personally, I doubt it, considering how large a donation it takes for just one to be given away -- but even giving them away will probably be difficult if even one person takes offence to Anita using their footage in her series.

You know what else this means? Any one of the people whose footage was taken has a legitimate reason to flag Anita's videos as inappropriate and have them removed. I don't believe their case will be watertight but as far as I can see, they may have a chance with factor one of the fair use guidelines. Time will tell.

As always, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at