Origami Girl

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

In which I respect Princess Peach

I just got back from a holiday in Spain and I was intending to put up some pictures of my time there. I was going to revel in images on sunshine and delight. However, on my day off I decided to spend some time watching YouTube videos and saw Anita Sarkeesian's new video in her tropes vs. women series, and it left me itching to tell the Internet my opinions. So rather than talking about Spain I wanted to respond to it here.

Anita Sarkeesian is a YouTuber, a popular culture critic and a feminist. She ran a successful kickstarter to fund a series of videos analysing tropes of women in video games.
During her Kickstarter campaign she recieved abuse from people who felt that her tropes vs. women series was somehow a threat to them. In a sad sentence I can say that she received the kind of torrent of hatred that is typical for women who loudly express opinions on what is often pereceived as a male-only topic or space. (See Caroline Criado Perez or Janelle Asseline)

However, I feel that there is a situation where those criticising her tend to be those who want to continue to heap abuse or who are unable to engage with her work without opening the gates to agression towards her, either from themselves or from commenters who feel that any problems in her work, are justification for hatred.

But the truth is, the videos bother me. I want to respond to just a couple of things. I don't make YouTube videos, so I'm going to keep this as short as possible, but I would love to discuss it more with you if you're interested.

My key problem is that her video game series has each video making a point and then seeking out examples that back it up. Where examples don't back up her point she tends to dismiss them as somehow not important. I found this a bit frustrating and frankly inaccurate in her Damsels in Distress video in particular.

Her point in this video is that the Damsel in Distress motif  reduced women to be motivations for male characters, rather than women with agency. She backs this up in particular with Princess Peach's repeated kidnapping plot device. However, she talks about Peach not being a playable character, then says 'except in...' and lists a few games from the Party series, oh and maybe a few other games: the Mario Kart, Mario Party, Super Smash Brothers, Sports etc games. But Anita then dismisses these as not the 'core' games. At 8.10 Anita says, 'Mario Madness... is the only game in which she is a playable character' She also ignores the Paper Mario games in which Peach is a playable character AND in a story game. This is a very selective look at evidence - recognising that there are some counter points and then dismissing them all as irrelevant, and not looking any further into Peach's overall role within the Mario universe. 

Anita should be able to make the points she wants too with accurate evidence.

Another example of selective evidence is in her most recent video. Dragon Age is used as an example of a game with the trope of sexual-objectification-background-women. However, Anita dismisses the fact that men are also available as prostitutes in the game as 'not being the same'. She then ignores everything else about Dragon Age. In my opinion, women have a lot of power in that game, including sexual power rather than sexual submission. They exist in every role the men can. Dragon Age can be criticised, but picking out one scene of prostitution in it as pandering to straight-male fantasy labels the game in a way that is simply inaccurate. 

So much of what she is talking about is really a problem in games. I found myself unable to play through Prince of Persia because of the camera focus on women's body parts and overall objectification. But just because she might be making a true point doesn't mean I think she is doing it well.

I also dislike the way a swell of positive women in games are ignored to make her points. More so than that, I think she emphasises the weakness of women in games. When she sees Peach as passive regardless of her position as a respected ruler of a land, her special powers and her courage in the face of trial, Anita is in fact reducing Peach to nothing more than a stereotyped damsel rather than allowing her to be an interesting female character in her own right. In Paper Mario 2 Peach is kidnapped, but not rescued by Mario. She gets up on her own after disaster strikes and explores her prison for a way out before joining the party as an essential member of the puzzle-solving team.

So, dwelling in each video on these negative portrayals without talking about Portal or Dragon Age or Chrono Trigger or Neverwinter and their positive aspects, actually seems to put women further out of gaming rather than inviting them in. As I wish her prominence was doing. I would have liked her to praise Paper Mario 2 and point more people in it's direction than demanding that Peach put on some dungarees before she can gain respect. 

Finally, what I would also like to see in her videos is more interaction with other games or women in the games industry. It would be particularly interesting to hear from designers and developers and advertisers involved in the process. It's amazing what you can get if you ask, and I think that would a really interesting documentary which would also bring a platform and a voice to other people who's views are worth hearing.

I'd also like to recommend this response which I think stays calm and rational throughout and raises a lot of good points, not just about her work, but also delves into why the negative response to it. I thought it was pretty interesting.

And to just finish off I'll leave you with a picture of me by the sea, as a hint of my next blog to come. 

Do you play many video games? Do you watch the tropes vs women series? What are your thoughts on them? 


  1. Oh lordy, not Anita again!!!! I've been having nightmares of this girl! There are so many things wrong with her videos and with her "common sense", which is absent. The truth is Anita took the money from Kickstarter made some boring repetitive videos and spend the rest of the money, probably on a big ass Holiday or something... She knows shit about games.
    I like this post, I like you! You're the kind of person the world needs, the kind of person who thinks! :D
    Btw, I liked thunderfoot's response to her videos, he makes great points. If you're interested you can check it out :) : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJeX6F-Q63I

  2. I had no idea that there were so many perspectives on this. You are a natural born writer!

    Also thanks for your kind words on my hair. Hopefully one day I'll have a cut as great as yours!