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Thunderf00t/Criticism of Tropes vs. Women

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This is a rebuttal to some of Thunderf00t's criticisms of the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian, starting from his first response video "Feminism versus FACTS"[1] and continuing on from there.

Blow-by-blow[edit]

Thunderf00t's pointsHow they hold up to scrutiny
Women aren't portrayed as weak that often.[2]Thankfully, where there is a will there is probably a way,[3] and we are indeed seeing stronger women characters appear more frequently in some media. In video games, though, there is still a severe lack of strong female characters.[4] They are also still portrayed as the weak character often enough that Sarkeesian's point holds. Just because you have Samus gunning down Space Pirates doesn't mean that there aren't systemic issues.

Games are made to cash in on their target audience and please the consumer, not equally represent men and women to please society at large.[5]This is a rather narrow-minded understanding of the video gaming market, which by the way counts a healthy number of women (48% of the most frequent game purchasers).[6] There is no reason why a more balanced representation of men and women wouldn't also be more pleasing to consumers. In fact, more diversity would be conducive to writers creating interesting characters.[7] And really should any medium be exempt from major societal issues? (This is the equivalent of saying "most gamers are white, so we shouldn't address racism.")

Games are often shallow to the point where a simple plot like the "damsel in distress" is the easiest and therefore best option from an economic standpoint.[8]In Thunderf00t's eyes, stupidity makes money, so that's a good thing (harking back to the famous H.L. Mencken quote, "No one in this world...has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people."[9]). The use of simple tropes like saving a "damsel in distress" might also arguably be less problematic in genres which, by design, generally emphasize fun and challenge over complex stories and nuanced characterizations. But, in general, the modern gaming industry is capable of producing games with depth and originality. Over-reliance on the "damsel in distress" smacks of laziness and creative stagnation, which can be detrimental in an industry that often thrives on innovation.

In the "damsel in distress" trope, the man loves her, so that's why he goes through self-sacrifice, not because she is an objective reward.[10]While some sophisticated games do emphasize love as a motive, the shallower ones have the woman blatantly portrayed as barely more than a passive, inanimate object; as a player it is hard to care for a figure with no real characterization. It's become such a problem with films using the trope that Hollywood nearly faints every time the damsel has an actual personality.[11]

Thunderf00t poses this question in reference to the plot of the 1987 beat-'em-up game Double Dragon: "Which of the following options defines the healthier relationship: that he immediately sets out, risking his own safety, to try to protect his loved ones, or that he decides, 'She's a grown adult and can look after herself,' and then goes home to polish his car?"[12]This is a false dichotomy. Thunderf00t's argument here hinges on the assumption that the only possible responses to such a situation are to be a vigilante or an apathetic jerk who does absolutely nothing as thugs kidnap a loved one. In reality, the "healthy" response would be to call the police, who have the resources and training (and moreover the legal authority) to deal with violent criminals. But of course video games are fiction. Video games allow players to enjoy doing things they can't in reality, like pounding the crap out of bad guys. But perhaps more importantly, the problem is not the character's choices, but the situations they are placed in by the creators of the game. The problem is not that the man wants to help his loved one, but that women never get the chance to help their loved ones because they are the ones that are always being kidnapped.

"By your feminist reasoning here, hospitals — you know, the places where patients come to be acted on — are actually objectification centers where people are turned into merely objects to be acted on […]"[13]Thunderf00t's argument is an invalid use of reductio ad absurdum (i.e., a straw man). Sarkeesian's video criticizes the use of the damsel in distress trope in fiction. Fictional women are placed in distress to make an engaging story. Real-life men and women are placed in the hospital for much more boring reasons, often with no one at fault. Presumably, Thunderf00t would agree that there's no cosmic author putting humans in the hospital with the goal of increasing dramatic tension.

Sometimes the men in the trope are turned into characterless objects too, so there's no apparent gender inequality.[14]While a game being shallow to the point of characters having no depth is fine (gameplay often takes priority), the nature of the trope creates an imbalance in active roles where women tend to be more passive (replaceable by glowy objects like lamps). As for the argument that both women and men face the same problem of unreachable body ideals presented in video games... When you've got women with big, bouncing boobs and men with chiseled abs and hard pecs, you've got to ask yourself: Which one is more flattering and empowering? Who are they trying to appeal to, mainly?[15]

Men are statistically physically stronger than women, thus it is only natural to have this trope.[16]Yes, there are certain realities of present-day sex differences in humans. One should note, however, that as in the real world, physical strength in video games is but one factor in one's stature in society and combat (you still have other stats like cunning, agility, intelligence, etc.) and no factor at all when it comes to guns or other weapons. More importantly, none of that even matters, because unlike the real world, video games are an artful medium, mostly free from the physical restrictions of reality. Thunderf00t is also engaging in equivocation here, since in her video Sarkeesian doesn't question the existence of physical strength differences, but rather takes issue with the portrayal of women as "frail, fragile, and vulnerable creatures."

Sarkeesian has disabled comments on her videos. This is something done by people who "peddle bullshit that can't stand up to public scrutiny."[17]Sarkeesian disabled comments on her videos on account of being subjected to death threats, rape threats, and vicious misogynistic and anti-Semitic insults in the comment sections. Not only do these kinds of comments constitute ad hominem arguments, but many of them are legally actionable.

This statement also carries the assumption that the YouTube comment section is a place where well-reasoned debates happen. At the time of recording, YouTube comments were limited to 500 characters, had very poor threading support, and placed the onus of moderation on the uploader (very few of whom actually act on it), making it a culture centered around shouting at the monitor. The Google+ integration might have brought theoretically unlimited character counts, but has done little to change this culture.

To say that anyone who disables the comment section is "refusing to stand up to public scrutiny" appears overblown. The most popular YouTuber, PewDiePie, has disabled the comment section on all his videos for a time[18] simply because of the spam and trolling. He also agrees that the comment section is a horrible place to have meaningful discussions and would rather it happen on his personal forum or anywhere else.

Even ignoring statements that are not even wrong, addressing YouTube comments is like an unending Gish Gallop where most people won't see the refutations of already-raised points. Most people simply don't have the time to wade through mountains of shit just to address the very rare good point and will either ignore or disable the section altogether. This is not "refusing to stand up to public scrutiny" any more than the president refusing to go outside and talk to every individual anti-vaxxer protesting outside the White House.

Video games do not have a "profound effect" on anything evidently looking into the mass of studies based on Gamers. Violence in video games doesn't make gamers more violent, so we can say that sexism in video games doesn't make gamers more sexist. Therefore, what's the problem? [19]It may be true that Anita has, weakly or strongly, implied that sexism in video games makes gamers more sexist by saying that the sexist tropes in video games perpetuate their counterpart tropes in society as a whole. Now, there have been multiple studies done on violence in video games that refute the likes of Jack Thompson who try to demonize video games as sources of real world violence. As for sexism, Anita does indeed link to a source where it gives a resounding Yes that over sexualized women in the media and undoubtedly games as well, influence men, unlike violence. In the description of her Women as Background Decorations PT1 video it has a link to a page where she keeps the transcript of the video and sources. Of those sources one is to a page about The Sexual Objectification Spillover Effect, which links to several studies.[20][21][22][23] Not many people have noticed this, certainly not Thunderf00t.

Anita lied about women in the strip club in Hitman Absolution.On the surface this sounds like he has a point until you remember the name of the video is "Women as Background Decoration." In this respect, the women in this scene are portrayed as eye candy and toys but nothing else (in other words, why have them there at all?). Aside, the Let's PlayWikipedia's W.svg videos he found to support his claim that they are optional are often from more professional players, which do not reflect the entirety of people who play video games. Also, Anita could have used a scene from the same game where shooting some specific hooker items from a sniper nest rewards the player with a dancing lingerie model (which can be shot) which only would further illustrate the point. Anita spent part of a speech explaining it in greater depth.[24]

Certain video games should be immune from critics because they're for kids.[25]Confusing a content rating (PEGI 7, ESRB T for the game Beyond Good & EvilWikipedia's W.svg) with target audience is rather shallow and bears no accuracy. In the words of Yahtzee in describing a different game, "... It's important to understand the distinction between "kiddy" and "fun for all the family." The latter is stuff anyone can enjoy as long as they're not the kind of slack-jawed sociopath in waiting who refuses to look at any game that doesn't have at least three police officers' worth of blood on-screen at all times."[26]

Jade has female gendered signifiers, such as an exposed midriff and pink panties.The former is explained by Sarkeesian as being an odd choice while at the same time having cargo pants, flat boots and a jacket are not signifiers of anything apart from practicality. The later is a simple lighting artifact, where a shadow can be an odd color as a result of blending of lights, especially prevalent in older generation 3D games. Explained in long terms, if you have a light on a texture that produces the color pink (ish) and then a second light that is green from a different angle, then they will try to be mixed or one will overpower the other. In this case, the pink is in an area the green light is casting a shadow, causing pink to show through.

Jade also gets into fights in the game.True, but what is missing here is that the focus of the games is not on combat.

Jade is damseled and must be rescued.While she gets captured, a side character barges in, throws her a weapon and basically says "Save yourself!" while he runs a distraction and becomes a combat squadmate, not the savior.

You could get a glimpse of Batman's butt (in Arkham City) by playing the game and changing his costume! Something she clearly didn't do!While showing footage of a costume from Arkham Knight! Okay, real answer. Unreal Engine 3Wikipedia's W.svg uses the cloth simulation physics from PhysX. But in order to get the animations of the cape Rocksteady wanted they had to hand animate all of it and monopolize one developer's year for it. In other words, it was a deliberate decision to not have the cape fly high enough to see Batman's butt.

Feminist Frequency is looking to make a series by women and this violates its status as a charitable organization for discriminatory hiring.[27] As Sarkeesian said: "We're going to make a series not just about women, but one that is directed, written, produced, and filmed by women. Even our crowdfunding platform is founded and operated by women."[28]When the project was introduced as a series by women for women gender discrimination policy does not apply in forms of media. Oddly, a post on Kotaku In Action demonstrates how this is garbage beautifully.
guys, before anyone goes crazy, Thunderfoot is wildly wrong on this one. There are some exceptions to those hiring rules. You are allowed to intentionally discriminate if doing so is integral or an essential element to the core product.

For example Hollywood is perfectly allowed to cast roles by race, sex, ethnicity, speech patterns etc. If doing so is a needed and necessary element of the art, the story, or the depiction. Hollywood does not actually have to bother interviewing white women in order to cast the lead role in a[n] MLK biopic.

FemFreq's new series['s] stated core purpose is creating art (videos) about historical women by women. That is actually allowable and falls well within the guidelines. (Please note the NAACP is a charitable organization. And it is pretty much all black, Rachel Dolenz notwithstanding).

When the core product or project is to specifically speak from or show a woman's point of view, they are allowed to hire women and only women to do that. The only place where they might run into trouble is in regards to non core related employees. If they refuse to interview a male accountant they might have an issue. But honestly the long standing raving public looniness of MacIntosh pretty well immunized them from any such claims. If anyone claims they don't hire men all they need do is point at Twitter. Even if he isn't a current staffer his long time public presence shows that they are not discriminatory in their hiring practices.
—Lhasadog, Kotaku in Action, [29]

Feminist Frequency has violated its status as a charitable organization for talking about politics.[30]Not even close. Lhasadog of Kotaku In Action explains this beautifully a second time.
I'm not saying that Thunderfoot is wrong, but do please keep in mind that while a good scientist, he is not subject to, nor has any first person familiarity with[,] US Tax Law. he is making assumptions that quite frankly the IRS does not. What the IRS will nail for Political Speech tends to be a bit narrower than what is being shown here. They want to see where the organization itself is fully tasked to the support of a specific candidate or more clearly against a specific individual. Opposing or supporting specific policy is not always political speech under their definition. In this case Anita's videos regarding Trump appear not to have come out until after the election, so It can be argued that she or FF is not engaged in electioneering, but rather simply policy discussions as it effects [sic] their core goals. That is allowed under 501c3. I think she danced closer to the line on this than she normally does, but I don't think the IRS would call her on it.
—Lhasadog, Kotaku in Action, [31]
And somebody else later in the thread who said that it's for candidates, not elected officials.
This is what the IRS says. What do you think?

It only mentions 'candidates'. Trump is elected, so IDK. [2] and 'influencing legislation' - is she doing that?

[3]
—B-VOLLEYBALL-READY, Kotaku in Action, [32]
In other words, a one-off comment about "Fuck Trump" is not considered a task of endorsement according to IRS tax law.

References[edit]

  1. 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  2. 2 minutes 21 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)' - Thunderf00t says in response to Anita's point that there is a pattern of portraying women as weak: "Feminist Frequency's ability to find patterns that don't exist"
  3. CHANGING THE STATUS QUO: Industry Leaders’ Perceptions of Gender in Family Films
  4. Not that the games industry is making it easy for game devs...
  5. 11 minutes 10 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)' - Thunderf00t: "[...] of why these games are like they are. Because they serve a market."
  6. https://web.archive.org/web/20120612041931/http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2012.pdf
  7. Or at least that's what Rhianna Pratchett, a BAFTA-nominated video games writer with a storied history in the video games industry, says.
  8. 2 minutes 55 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  9. Frequently misattributed to P.T. Barnum, see Mencken Wikiquote
  10. 4 minutes 57 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)' - Thunderf00t: "Or a loved one to be helped."
  11. See reviews for Tangled.
  12. 3 minutes 52 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  13. 5 minutes 28 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  14. 7 minutes 50 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)' - Thunderf00t does say that this idea of objectified men that he is presenting is bogus, but he posits it as being of equal validity to the idea that women are objectified
  15. The answer is: Men.
  16. 15 minutes 45 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  17. 18 minutes 48 seconds into 'Feminism versus FACTS (RE Damsel in distress)'
  18. http://www.gamespot.com/articles/pewdiepie-disables-youtube-comments-for-good/1100-6422068/
  19. Thunderf00t argument on violence and sexism correlation
  20. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.755/abstract
  21. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103109000432
  22. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S002210311000288X
  23. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103185710220
  24. Anita Sarkeesian - Hate and heroism, relevant part starts around 11:00.
  25. Anita Sarkeesian BUSTED....AND BUSTED... and BUSTED!!!!!!
  26. [1]
  27. SEXISM of FeministFrequency to jeopardize charity status? (If that isn't a clickbait title, I don't know what is.)
  28. Ordinary Women Campaign Video
  29. https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/4dja4o/sexism_of_feministfrequency_to_jeopardize_charity/d1rjyxk
  30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzJ_sczRpA8
  31. https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/5iab2r/drama_anita_sarkeesian_massively_violating/db6mbp2/
  32. https://www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/5iab2r/drama_anita_sarkeesian_massively_violating/db6lpij/