Finally. Finally the end of the fall semester! It was a lot of work, but it was incredibly satisfying, and I look forward to the winter term. The final tally, as I am pretty sure it stands is three A’s and an A-. I am ambivalent about the A- and find it a disappointing affront to my perfectionism, but I am trying to tell myself what everyone else keeps telling me – an A is an A. <sigh>
One of my final grades was my research paper for Composition II – it was to be a 5-6 paper with numerous resources, including at least one print reference. Once again, I decided to use WoW is the basis for my topic, and narrowed it down to sexism in video games. This tends to be a heated topic in the WoW community at times. In fact, it is a topic that has popped up again recently with the announcement of the new Warlords of Draenor expansion. It seems to pop up with every introduction of new content. Apparently, every time Blizzard gives us new content it is merely seen as another way to show how little regard they have for the female community, despite their continued growth of the female characters present in the game and the introduction of new female characters.
I feel that being true to my opinions is a very important part of being true to myself. So for that reason, I do not shy from stating them. Enjoy my last argument paper.
Feminism and the Anti-Video Game Front
In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed into law, granting women the right to vote, and signifying the first solid step toward their equal rights. There was a long road of more than 70 years between the beginning of the women’s rights movement and that most momentous achievement. Then, women’s rights were about making women equal to men, but somewhere along the line I feel the message and the mission became skewed as a portion of the women’s rights community identified themselves as feminists. According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is defined as the belief of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, and this in itself is not a bad thing at all, since it is still at the heart of the purpose behind the women’s rights movement. However, in her book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina Hoff Sommers further defines feminism as split into two groups, the “equity feminists” – those who believe in the definition given above – and the “gender feminists” – those who are more gynocentric and misandric. (Sommers) These gender feminists are becoming so common they are viewed by many these days as the embodiment of the present women’s rights movement. It is this particular group of man-hating feminists that taint the honorable goals of women’s rights and have led to my emphatic decision that I never want to be identified as a feminist, because I am about equality for both sexes. I feel feminists are on the wrong track. They seem more interested in female superiority than equality, going so far as to redefine the roles of women in modern society, and I find this to be most obvious on the video game front.
One way to illustrate the way these feminists skew the lines between what is right and what is sexist is by listing their own ideas of the examples of how women are represented in sexist ways in video games. There is an unwritten list of the Dos and Don’ts of writing women into a video game. That is right, whenever you write something, be sure to remember the rules and regulations that are set for how you can write that story. Be sure your story is feminist-approved. I have seen this argued over and over in regards to my own favorite video game, World of Warcraft. This line of opinion that has been crossed and turned into demand more times than I can count is best explained by one of the bloggers I respect most, John Patricelli, known better to the WoW community as Big Bear Butt:
Is it that we have characters in the game world, characters that we love? Is that what leads some of us to think we’re entitled to a say in the way the story will be written?
Do people think that we’re all working together to build the most epic story ever told? A story written by committee?
You want more awesome stories with these characters? You think there is a way it SHOULD have been written, characters that SHOULD have been created?
WRITE THEM YOURSELF, IF YOU KNOW SO DAMN MUCH. (Patricelli)
Patricelli goes into detail of how we could approach such authors as Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Robert Heinlein, telling them how we think the story should have been written, how it would have been better, but then he points out, as consumers this is not our place. It is the place of the creator. If we disagree with the creator, we have the freedom to avoid and not patronize these creations, or even to create our own. Video games are no different than other forms of media, and we have no place and no right to limit the speech of the people or their creations. Yet the gender feminists of the world, and especially those of the video game world, think they have this right, that their opinion and their mission give them superiority over the domain of other artists. They even have their list of how not to portray women in video games.
The first item on the list is that a woman should never be cast as the Damsel in Distress. This is both the most objectifying and the most common of the ways women are represented in video games, according to such gender feminists as Anita Sarkeesian. She began a Kickstart program back in May of last year, and her goal was to fund a series titled “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” She reached and surpassed her goals in record time, and an initial project goal of $6000 eventually became almost $160,000. (“Tropes”) This fund raising proves there is curiosity among many others and that there are those who may agree with Sarkeesian. Her first mini-series is on the Damsel in Distress, and has received much positive and negative feedback, much like her entire project from its inception. Sarkeesian is a self-proclaimed feminist, and she goes into depth about the use of video games since their start to cast women into a secondary and objective role, following in the steps of other popular media. (“Damsel”) World of Warcraft has one particular quest that is looked to as an illustration of Sakeesian’s point, and it became the source of much debate in the community soon after its appearance in the game. The quest is The Farmer’s Daughter and its follow-up Seeing Orange, and in them you are tasked with rescuing Mina Mudclaw from her kidnappers. It is innocuous enough to start, as a hero it is your job to save people all the time, but then you find Mina and discover these Virmen, who look like giant rabid rabbits, have been making her do “horrible, horrible, silly things. All involving carrots.” While there is nothing openly salacious stated throughout the questline, the ideas presented certainly set the mind to thinking. (Baribeau) But do such insinuations automatically make it sexist? I think that is taking things out of context.
The second rule is that women should not be objectified in video games. Anita Sarkeesian mentions in her series that the Damsel in Distress trope is one of the most obvious objectifications. She states it most poignantly with her proclamation that when women characters become damsels, they “are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” (“Tropes”) Basically, turning a woman into a prize to be won and turning her into an object, instead of a person. I agree with this statement, but not with the all-encompassing manner she uses it to label every Damsel. Taken to its extreme, objectification is blamed for violence against women, but that excuse nullifies the responsibility of the individual person. There is an interesting counter-argument to Part 1 of Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress series by a contributor named Thunderf00t. In it he explains some of my same issues with the Damsel series. First of all, he argues that Sarkeesian takes a loving relationship and turns it into something objectifying, saying that even if someone you love – a girlfriend, a sister, a daughter – is kidnapped, saving them is turning them into a prize. His second point is that Sarkeesian states the video game industry is a “patriarchal conspiracy out to subjugate and objectify women,” when in reality, the gaming industry – like many others – is about making profit. Many industries are lazy in this regard, and simply regurgitate what has worked in the past. (Thunderf00t)
The third item on the list of how to write your video games, as dictated by feminists, is that women should never be portrayed as evil or the bad guy. That, of course, would be setting women into a bad light, and that would be sexist. Apparently, this means that only male characters should be portrayed as bad guys. An example of this also comes from World of Warcraft. The game has a long history and an enormous community base, but it also has its critics, many of whom are from the ranks of those who play WoW. The argument that WoW is lacking in strong female characters has been a topic of debate for a number of years, and is widely opposed by those feminists who choose to play. There is often an argument pointing to the faction leader Sylvanas, a banshee who leads the undead race, as a strong female character, but her position alone is apparently not enough to soothe angry feminists. Instead, they point to the fact that Sylvanas has an evil streak. True, over the years she has shown a great deal of aggression towards those who would stand in the way of her goals, but to me, this just illustrates her as a strong character, a woman who would not let adversity break her. Instead, the feminists apparently see this as a reason to backlash against Blizzard, the creators of World of Warcraft, and use it is the basis of their argument for the sexism that exists in WoW.
Rule number four is to not write women characters as sidekicks, because being second-fiddle to a man is degrading. I actually had a very hard time of finding good examples of this in video games, specifically in WoW. The first female sidekick I found is the fairy Navi, from Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Navi helps Link in his quest every step of the way, and without her, he “would have just been a man in a silly green hat.” (Cooper) I consider her to be integral to the story and Link’s quest in that game. The second female sidekick, one from WoW, is Li Li, niece of the famous wandering brewmaster, Chen Stormstout. Li Li accompanies her uncle on his journeys through Pandaria, and is a tiny voice of impatience the entire way. She is an interesting character, but has the characteristics of the young child she represents, with a barrage of endless questions and naïve musings. I do not think the sidekick role to be degrading, merely another facet of writing stories.
The last rule of writing women into video games is that women should never have romantic interests. It seems falling in love casts women automatically as the weaker sex. Well, I find this to be the most blatant example of feminist misandry. I fail to see how it is impossible for a woman to be strong and independent as well as committed and respectful of a romantic partner. Another strong female character in World of Warcraft, who is forever shot down and denied such a title by the critical feminists, is Jaina Proudmoore. She has shown much strength and growth over the course of the Warcraft storyline, but this is always downplayed by her romantic interests. She was originally involved with Prince Arthas Menethil, who later went on to become the Lich King through a course of actions that Jaina denied to follow. She has also had other minor interests throughout the course of the story, and each time, the feminists jump up and argue that Jaina is a flat female character who is constantly acted upon by other characters and has no agenda but those forced upon her by others.
The recurring theme of feminist angst seems to be simple, as Erinys of The Harpy’s Nest sums it up, “Just like their Victorian counterparts, all [WoW’s] fleshed out female leaders are defined not by their own abilities but by their relationships with the men that surround them.” By Victorian counterparts, Erinys is referring to the historical themes of Victorian literature in regards to women’s roles – the Angel of the Hearth and the Fallen Woman. These two specific archetypes characterize the female character as the Mother, the Angel, or the Guide (Angel of the Hearth) or the woman who has given into seduction and a life of sin (Fallen Woman). (Erinys) I find these, just like the “rules” outlined above, to be very generic and misleading labels. Feminists talk about the stereotypes that women are pigeonholed into, but what about all of the wild assumptions and exaggerations that are made? This is clearly a case of what is referred to in psychology as confirmation bias, meaning that we have a tendency to favor information that confirms our own beliefs. If looked at hard enough, from enough angles, you could turn anything into favoring or confirming your own biased opinions, and I really think this is the case with much of the so-called sexism so evident in video games.
If feminists focused on what they say they want – equality – instead of what they really seem to be working towards – superiority – I would find a more moral basis for standing behind them. Instead, I have come to detest the entire movement and what it means anymore, and have instead decided to follow my own path. It is a path that has brought me some backlash from the community, mostly from my own gender, but I stand my ground and continue on my own path, rather than letting some feminist agenda dictate it. I imagine this statement of my opinion would yield similar response, but how can things change unless someone speaks up?
Baribeau, Tami. “[WoW] Rescuing Mina Mudclaw From a Rape Joke.” 12 October 2012. The Border House. Website. 26 November 2013.
Cooper, Matthew. “10 Brilliant Video Game Sidekicks.” Sabotage Times. 28 June 2013. Website. 26 November 2013.
Erinys. “Check Mate: Jaina and the Fall of Theramore.” The Harpy’s Nest. 8 May 2012. Website. 26 November 2013.
Patricelli, John. “Massive Offensive Rant: The Story Belongs to Blizzard.” The Big Bear Butt. 14 November 2013. Website. 26 November 2013.
Sarkeesian, Anita. “Damsel in Distress: Part 1 – Tropes vs Women in Video Games.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube. 7 March 2013. 26 November 2013.
Sarkeesian, Anita. “Tropes vs Women in Video Games.” KickStarter. Website. 26 November 2013.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1994. Print.
Thunderf00t. “Feminism versus Facts (Re Damsel in Distress).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube. 14 March 2013. 26 November 2013.
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This paper includes content referring to worlds and characters in World of Warcraft.
Awaiting the Muse by Jamie Roman AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/.