Saturday, 16 November 2013

Frost/Sarkeesian

Well, the college debate was more-or-less a letdown. It's my own fault for building it up so much in my mind.

There were a few problems. Firstly, I went to two debates; one on Monday and another today. The session on Monday didn't even have what I would describe as a debate; the students actually had to come up with points for both sides of the argument rather than just one and consistently had to back up their arguments with quotes and articles they found online. The problem with this is that it led to very few people expressing their opinions; the one person who mentioned Anita Sarkeesian being a victim of online abuse also happened to be one of the two people who I know for a fact can't stand her. More than anything else, it seemed like a few people knew what the "right" answer was and wanted to stick to it very rigidly for fear of being berated. This course is about preparing students for the games industry, after all, so expressing an opinion that the industry doesn't share could only be bad news. That's the theory, at least.

Today's debate was quite a lot better on that front. At the very least, there was a side arguing for and against, so it was more like a real debate, and we were allowed to draw on our own experiences (even if none of us did). Luckily, I was on the side that was of the opinion that plenty of female portrayals in games were already positive, arguing against the idea that they were overwhelmingly negative. Unfortunately, having so many people in a class at once, all of whom needed to give an answer at some point, it wasn't as in-depth as it could've been. I still spoke more than most people -- in fact, it was mainly me and one other guy debating with two girls -- but I didn't get to make all the points I wanted to. Plus, the debate only lasted twenty minutes or so. We didn't even mention the industry, instead focusing only on the games.

Even so, I feel like there was more I could've done if I'd just spoken up. The one point I'm very pleased I made was about Gears Of War (which I haven't played since the first game). One of the girls argued that the series had negative portrayals of women because for the most part, the women were "breeders". One of the few who wasn't was only a soldier because she couldn't have children. I made the point that in a post-apocalyptic environment, it could be argued that it's logical and sensible to keep women out of harm's way, so it makes sense in context. It could be justified by the setting. I wish I had pointed out that the women were being kept safe from battle while it fell to the men to put their lives at risk protecting them. The value of the women's lives was automatically higher than that of the men, so what did that say about men and male characters?

We were allowed to mention men but the debate was still ridiculously one-sided, including in the PowerPoint presentation our tutor showed at the beginning; we had a ton of examples of negative female portrayals, including trailers on Youtube, mention of #1ReasonWhy with the most cherry-picked sexist responses to the movement that could possibly be found, but only a single slide about male characters. Our tutor seemed open to discussing them but it's clear who the focus was. This was a "Women in Games" debate, after all, rather than "Gender Issues in Games". I wanted to make a point about my own experiences when it came to male character designs but I didn't speak up. Same goes for a few points about Lollipop Chainsaw. I could kick myself for that but I don't suppose it's a big deal in the grand scheme of things; it still wouldn't have been a particularly in-depth discussion and nothing would've been gained from bringing it up.

Since that was a disappointment, let's talk about something a bit more fun; comparing Anita Sarkeesian to Richard Nixon.


I've seen the 2008 film Frost/Nixon a few times now and when it aired on one of the BBC channels a few weeks ago here in the UK, I watched it again. I must've had gender issues on my mind because I couldn't help compare the situations of Richard Nixon -- played by Frank Langella -- and Anita Sarkeesian.

I should point out that although Frost/Nixon is based on a true story, it alters characters and events to make the film more dramatic. Which means that the Richard Nixon I'll be comparing Anita to is actually a fictionalised version. Coincidentally, it's also an opportunistic, money-grubbing version ...

... Only joking. There is a serious comparison to be made here, honestly. For one thing, it's interesting to examine why, in the face of overwhelming criticism, Nixon agreed to confront his controversy head-on while Anita avoids it at all costs.

Almost everything I want to say comes from this clip, featuring Nixon and his aide, Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon), talking backstage about why they want the interviews with David Frost (Michael Sheen) to take place. Sorry I can't find the clip on Youtube, so that link will have to do. The background is that Nixon, disgraced by the Watergate scandal, is reduced to public speaking at social functions rather than being involved in politics. It's a role he's very uncomfortable with, as he feels it "reduces the presidency to a series of banal anecdotes" ... but he makes it very clear that he doesn't want to talk about Watergate without good reason to do so.

This evasion of the controversy -- the main reason everyone was interested in Nixon -- reminds me of the way that the majority of Anita's publicity comes from the abuse she received rather than her web series on video games. The most high-profile and mainstream interviews only mention video games as an afterthought. These include her TEDxWomen and The Conference talks and her interviews with CNN and ABC's 20/20. Meanwhile, Anita doesn't allow her talks on video games to be filmed. Yet while Nixon agrees to have a sit-down interview with David Frost, Anita has never confronted her criticism in the same way.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that Richard Nixon was more moral than Anita Sarkeesian for agreeing to face his critics. He wanted the interview with Frost for the same reason Anita doesn't want an interview with her own David Frost, whoever he or she may be; both Nixon and Anita make their decisions for self-serving reasons. In Nixon's case, he feels a successful interview with Frost will allow him to weave his way back into the political sphere:

Richard Nixon: Still, now, the fact it's come together, now, that's a good thing, no? 

Jack Brennan: Mr. President, it's fantastic. Frost is just not in your intellectual class, sir. You're gonna be able to dictate terms, rebuild your reputation. If this went well, if enough people saw it, revised their opinion,
you could move back East way, way earlier than we expected.

Nixon: You think?

Brennan: I'm certain. 

Nixon: It would be so good to go back to where the action is. You know? The hunger in my belly is still there, Jack. I guess it all boils down to Watergate, huh?

So the entire point of Nixon agreeing to an interview with Frost is because his reputation was damaged and he wanted to restore it. That, if anything, shines a light on why Anita has never had to face her own critics; how many mainstream gaming websites have mentioned that Anita has any flaws that need to be addressed at all? Beyond phrases such as "the Tropes Vs Women in Games series isn't perfect but ... [insert reference to Anita's abuse here]", I can't think of any mention of the issues off the top of my head. Nixon damaged his reputation and needed to do something to repair it. Anita, on the other hand, is not portrayed as a disreputable individual. Her career hasn't suffered any setbacks whatsoever from the cherry-picked and one-sided arguments she presents, the comment-blocking and removing dissenting opinions on Facebook and the use of content that isn't hers without asking permission, referencing or crediting the original uploaders.

Basically, by closing off every avenue available to help Nixon achieve his goal, he was given an incentive to go down a path he would prefer not to; talking about Watergate. Anita has every avenue open to her and is encouraged to go down every single one, so she has no incentive to face the critics. She doesn't have a David Frost she needs to go face-to-face with.

In other gender issues news, I have to provide a link to a truly excellent artist called Europa-Phoenix, who draws some very impressive artwork about men's rights. His blog has only just started up but it's certainly one to watch. I'll put a link in the sidebar.

Also, this is my fiftieth blog post! I think it's kind of corny to write lengthy speeches but I'll say that I don't think I could've predicted the blog would survive this long back at the beginning. It only started because I needed to voice an opinion that I didn't think was being voiced elsewhere and honestly, I'd be happy if even a dozen people visited over the last year. This blog has been a good outlet for some of the feelings I have about a lot of things and I'm pleased that I've barely received any hostility for writing them down too. Looking forward to writing more in the future.

Feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail at themalesofgames@gmail.com

2 comments:

  1. It is very interesting to read the point of view of someone who is going to work in the video game industry. I'll read your next articles with pleasure. I wish you the best in your studies!

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    1. Thank you very much! I'm happy to have you as a reader, Europa Phoenix, and I'll be following your blog very closely too.

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