‘Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games’ Wraps Up With A Final Episode

‘Tropes Vs. Women In Video Games’ Wraps Up With A Final Episode
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The final instalment in feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian’s look at the depiction of women in video games ran today, focusing on how games depict women (and men) as sidekicks. The 11-minute episode concludes two eight-episode seasons of possibly the most controversial series of cultural criticism about games in the medium’s history.

Sarkeesian announced the project five years ago, trying to draw $US6000 ($8033) on Kickstarter and instead pulling in nearly $US160,000 ($214,207) from just under 7000 backers. From the start, Sarkeesian made clear her intent to explore how women are depicted in games. For all the financial support Sarkeesian and her project received, she also received harassment and fierce criticism, much of it from people intolerant of even her generally mild critique of video games, and hawkishly scouring her work for possible errors or missing counter-examples.

In a new blog post discussing the conclusion of the project, she describes the whole saga as “simultaneously awful and wonderful, and the journey is one which I will most certainly never forget”.

Two years ago, we covered Sarkeesian’s’ talk at New York University, where she laid out which changes she wanted to see in video games, and also clarified her history with games and the idea of thinking of herself as a “gamer”.

Today’s final video focuses on the “lady sidekick”, with special attention paid to BioShock Infinite‘s Elizabeth, and how she plays (or doesn’t) in the base game. The general idea is that games have a propensity to include women in support roles that involve helping and offering encouragement but not really having much agency or character themselves. It’s no shock that Resident Evil 4 takes some lumps in this one, but there’s also praise for the The Last of Us: Left Behind and more recent Gears of War games. And for those who tend to respond to these videos with questions about how men fare under the same tropes, she tackles that, too.

Gaming has changed in many ways in the last five years since Sarkeesian’s project began. Women do seem more present in games — as protagonists and enemies — and in game development — AAA and indie. Sarkeesian’s project, if nothing else, helped propel a lot of discussion about women and games, about what matters and what doesn’t. And she got it all done before Valve could even release Half-Life 3.


  • My biggest criticism of the video is that she doesn’t really suggest ways to redesign or improve the game to combat these stereotypes. Sure, these stereotypes are obvious if you just even look into it more deeply for more than a split second, but I personally don’t play video games to make me think, I play them to kill my brain.

    I have listened carefully to all of this video and I think I understand where she is going with her point, so I have come up with a few ways the original game can be redesigned to improve the overall experience to address the issues brought up in this video while still appealing to gamers like me :

    – Give Elizabeth the ability to wield a rocket launcher made up of 8 rocket launchers, Elizabeth wrecks the room by launching rockets which also launch 4 cluster bombs per rocket. The 8×4 (whatever number of rockets that is) gives Elizabeth the ability to go on a ‘Monster Killing Spree’, wrecking faces but with a 15 minute debuff to immersion and lore.

    – Instead of a beautiful dress designed to blend in with the Bioshock Infinite world, make sure Elizabeth is exclusively equipped in the best designer-label Cyberpunk gear, including full camo, giant black army boots and some sort of eye piece and short, slicked haircut. Elizabeth will also occasionally ask you to interact with her once she dons this outfit, asking if her headshotz were ‘elite’.

    – New content and story – The Broken Arrow. The series delves deeper into the hidden past of Elizabeth Queen: once billionaire socialite of Starling City, who spends five years shipwrecked on the mysterious island of Lian Yu. After learning to survive and become stronger than the average woman, she returns to Starling City, she is reunited with her mother, Moira Queen, her sister, Thea Queen and her friend, Tommy Merlyn. The first story arc focuses on Elizabeth rekindling her relationships and spending her nights hunting down and sometimes killing wealthy criminals as a hooded vigilante, following a list of names she discovered in a notebook belonging to her father.

    These simple ideas solve both the female sidekick stereotype as well as giving everyone more content.

    But stay tuned for the next patch which rolls these changes back, because Anita will then make a video saying that Elizabeth is too simple, and has real thoughts and feelings that should be explored more deeply within the 5 hours it takes to finish the game and that girls don’t just want to shoot big cluster bombs, kill bad dudes and have fun.

    • I find her videos poorly researched, full of cherry picked or shallow examples inside games that sometimes even subvert the very “trope” she is complaining about, and overall underwhelming in terms of presenting a logical or intellectual argument.

          • Wait, I know what’s wrong…

            I find your opinions on certain issues being discussed different to my own, thus I deduce that we may have differing viewpoints on political identities, sexual experiences and familial persons that place us in diametrically opposing positions which cannot be overcome through any means whatsoever, thus we will have to resort to a lengthy exchange of disparaging remarks regarding personal issues and behaviour in an attempt to demonstrate dominance or superiority over each other. You may consider this paragraph my metaphorical first shot across the bow in this discussion which is certain to simultaneously escalate in intensity and degenerate in quality.

            Hrmmm… nope, still feels weird somehow.

            Top work mate, glad to see it’s possible to amicably agree to disagree.

          • In response to your well thought out argument, I feel obliged to point out several grammatical indescrepencies that will hopefully derail the conversation by correlating them with your intellectual capabilities. And, to continue the appropriate escalation trajectory, I will now invoke Goodwin’s Law followed by the suggestion that your mother and I have engaged in innappropriate sexual conduct.

            [I hope the Internet gods have been appeased by this and any rifts we created in the space/time/internet continuum are repaired].

            PS. No grammar errors were actually found (or looked for).

  • Did she look at how games have to portray that “strong women” must use their sexuality as a tool? It’s one thing I am so sick of, where females have to be drop dead gorgeous, dress skimpy and have every facial expression be a “come hither” look. And that includes Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad as well as Bayonetta. It gets to the point where it ruins the story just so teen boys (and those with the minds of teen boys) get excited.

  • The only problem I see with this one is the fact that it kind of demonises a bit the role of healer/support for women… but in reality there are thousands of women happy to fulfil such roles in real life, such as nurses, teachers, carers, etc. Not every woman needs nor wants to be a badass, musclebound warrior capable to go match or even defeat similarly strong or skilled men.

    I think that a better way to fix this issue is not by forcing every female role to be the now tropey in itself “strong woman hero that takes no shit from men” but rather by showing that the role of healer/guide/support/etc. is AS important and vital and potentially heroic as the badass fighter role, and hell, that that is true /regardless/ of gender (so recognition is also given to male in those roles).

    I believe that, say, a gaming nurse would feel much better about playing a woman being heroic by doing caring things for others (like she herself does) than by playing the gun-toting/sword wielding Lara Croft clone of the week.

  • The fact that people still take her serious is kinda pathetic seeing as she is the biggest scammer of our generation and that everything that comes out of her mouth is just bullshit….what you know its true and the fact that it took her do long to make this shit( 5 years, just let that sink in 5 YEARS) shows that she gives no shits if there’s no money in it.

    • “biggest scammer of our generation”
      Except Star Citizen exists… Well, not really, so I think you get my point.

  • Gets $160,000 to make 12 videos, takes 5 years to actually do it. Makes a couple more than promised but also misses a few of the ones originally promised. Makes some interesting observations but frequently takes content out of context to make it appear more sexist than it actually is.

    I don’t object to her videos per-se but the fact that she got so much money upfront and took so long to deliver material that is A: Not actually quite what she said it would be when people donated for it (although this is kind of understandable given the stupidly long time it ended up taking) and B: Still feels like it could’ve used more research rubs me the wrong way.

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