Video game industry critic Anita Sarkeesian talks tropes at Brandeis

The founder of Feminist Frequency outlined some of the ways women are objectified in video games

Photo/Mike Lovett

In the months after snowstorms canceled media critic Anita Sarkeesian's talk at Brandeis last February, headlines regarding GamerGate, an online movement often associated with threats and online attacks against critics of sexism and misogyny in the video game industry, had faded to some extent.

But GamerGate was back in the news in advance of Sarkeesian’s rescheduled talk on Nov. 2, when the SXSW Interactive Festival announced it was canceling panels on video game culture and online harassment.

Sarkeesian, who presented the Martin Weiner Distinguished Lecture in Computer Science, told the audience in Wasserman Cinematheque that GamerGate is not something that’s going to go away.

"Some try to tell you that (GamerGate advocates) are dying out," she said. "I assure you, they are not."

Sarkeesian has been threatened with violence for her criticism of the way women are objectified and trivialized in video games. On her blog, Feminist Frequency, she explores these portrayals in a video series called “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.”

She went through some of these tropes and trends during her talk at Brandeis. Examples included the damsel in distress archetype, female characters who are solely defined by their gender, and the sexual objectification of females in video games, which includes unrealistic, sexualized body types and going into battle in lingerie and spike heels.

"There's no sugar coating this, these characters are specifically designed to arouse straight young men," she said.

During the talk, she played videos that offered examples of the contrasting styles male and female characters are presented in games. The videos showed how games often focus on female character's behind, while deliberate steps are taken cover up the back side of male characters, or keep it out off the screen entirely.

"They know how to desexualize body parts because they do it all the time with their male characters," Sarkeesian said.

Sarkeesian described video game studios as having a male-dominated culture where women are often fearful of participating, and it will take a commitment from studios if changes are going to happen.

"Studios aren't going to get better by accident," she said.

Dr. Theo Lippeveld
Jordan Pollack, Anita Sarkeesian, Mary Baine Campbell
Sarkeesian's talk was co-sponsored by the Computer Science Department, Office of the Provost, Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Chief Information Officer, English, Sociology & Social Justice Social Policy Program, Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and the Women's Studies Research Center. Professor of English Mary Baine Campbell led an audience question and answer session with Sarkeesian following her talk. Sarkeesian was introduced by Professor and Chair of Computer Science Jordan Pollack, who organized the lecture.

“Video games are a huge industry employing many computer scientists, artists, musicians, and storytellers. It is a cultural form which, like books and movies, must be studied at the University, and Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist pioneer and role model,” Pollack said.

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