Women as Background Decoration (Part 2)

August 25, 2014

This is the second episode exploring the Women as Background Decoration trope in video games. In this installment we expand our discussion to examine how sexualized female bodies often occupy a dual role as both sexual playthings and the perpetual victims of male violence.

The Women as Background Decoration trope which is the subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players. Sometimes they’re created to be glorified furniture but they are frequently programmed as minimally interactive sex objects to be used and abused.

In part 1 we discussed the concept of Sexual Objectification and looked at a specific subset of non-essential female characters which I classify as Non-Playable Sex Objects.

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anitasarkeesian/15034097635/

LINKS AND RESOURCES

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE

Assassin’s Creed 2 (2009)
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
Bioshock (2007)
Bioshock 2 (2010)
Dead Island (2011)
Dishonored (2012)
Dragon Age: Origins (2009)
Fable 2 (2008)
Far Cry 3 (2012)
God of War 3 (2008)
Grand Theft Auto IV (2008)
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
Hitman: Blood Money (2006)
Kane & Lynch (2007)
L.A. Noire (2011)
Mafia II: Joe’s Adventures (2010)
Metro: Last Light (2013)
No More Heroes (2008)
Papo & Yo (2012)
Prototype (2009)
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
Saints Row (2006)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
The Darkness II (2012)
The Witcher (2007)
The Witcher 2 (2011)
Thief (2014)
Watch Dogs (2014)

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Women as Background Decoration (Part 1)

June 16, 2014

In this episode we explore the Women as Background Decoration trope which is the subset of largely insignificant non-playable female characters whose sexuality or victimhood is exploited as a way to infuse edgy, gritty or racy flavoring into game worlds. These sexually objectified female bodies are designed to function as environmental texture while titillating presumed straight male players. Sometimes they’re created to be glorified furniture but they are frequently programmed as minimally interactive sex objects to be used and abused.

Sexual objectification is the practice of treating or representing a human being as a thing or mere instrument to be used for another’s sexual purposes. Sexually objectified women are valued primarily for their bodies, or body parts, which are presented as existing for the pleasure and gratification of others.

Press Image for Media Use: https://www.flickr.com/photos/anitasarkeesian/14431537812/

LINKS & RESOURCES

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE

Out Run (1986)
Chequered Flag (1988)
Snatcher (1988)
Super Off Road (1989)
GP Rider (1990)
Rise of the Dragon (1990)
Quest for Glory II (1990)
Sunset Riders (1991)
Eliminator Boat Duel (1991)
Lucky & Wild (1992)
Cruis’n USA (1994)
Rave Racer (1995)
Need for Speed: Underground (2003)
Ridge Racer 2 (2006)
Need for Speed: ProStreet (2007)
MX vs ATV Alive (2011)
Forza Horizon (2012)
Mortal Kombat (2011)
God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)
The Witcher 2 (2011)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011)
Yakuza 4 (2011)
Hitman: Absolution (2012)
Mafia II: Joe’s Adventure (2010)
The Darkness II (2012)
Dishonored (2012)
Fallout: New Vegas (2010)
Metro: Last Light (2013)
Just Cause 2 (2010)
Sleeping Dogs (2012)
Fable II (2008)
Watch Dogs (2014)
Max Payne 3 (2012)
Far Cry 3 (2012)
Binary Domain (2012)
Shellshock: Nam ’67 (2004)
Fable: The Lost Chapters (2005)/Fable Anniversary (2014)
Grand Theft Auto 4 (2008)
The Godfather II (2009)
Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Hitman: Blood Money (2006)
Red Dead Redemption (2010)
The Saboteur (2009)
Assassin’s Creed IV (2013)
Saints Row (2006)
Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea (2013)
Duke Nukem 3D (1996)
Dragon Age: Origins (2009)
Fallout 3 (2008)
Saints Row: The Third (2011)
Killer is Dead (2013)

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The 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award

April 1, 2014

I’m honored to be the recipient of the 2014 Game Developers Choice Ambassador Award. The award honors an individual or individuals who have helped the game industry advance to a better place, either through facilitating a better game community from within, or by reaching outside the industry to be an advocate for video games and help further our art.

The award was presented to me by Neil Druckmann, creative director on the 2014 GDC Game of the Year, The Last of Us.

Full transcript available below.

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Ms. Male Character – Tropes vs Women

November 18, 2013

In this episode we examine the Ms. Male Character trope and briefly discuss a related pattern called the Smurfette Principle. We’ve defined the Ms. Male Character Trope as: The female version of an already established or default male character. Ms. Male Characters are defined primarily by their relationship to their male counterparts via visual properties, narrative connection or occasionally through promotional materials.

Press Image for Media Use: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anitasarkeesian/10932165865/

LINKS & RESOURCES

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Pac-Man (1980)
Crazy Otto Enhancement Kit Prototype (1981)
Ms. Pac-Man (1982)
Bubble Bobble (1986)
Adventures of Lolo (1989)
Super Monkey Ball Series
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz (2012)
Where’s My Water Series
Where’s My Water: Allie’s Story (2013)
Giant Boulder of Death (2013)
Rogue Legacy (2013)
Ms. Splosion Man (2011)
Ice Climber (1985)
Sonic the Hedgehog CD (1993)
Bit.Trip Runner Series
Bit.Trip Presents Runner 2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (2013)
Bomberman Series
Super Bomberman 2 (1994)
Mortal Kombat Series
Super Mario Bros. Series
New Super Mario Bros. U (2012)
Bare Knuckle III (1994) [Japan only]
Super Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Bros 2 (1993)
Kirby Series
Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (2011)
Super Punch-Out!! (1994)
Scribblenauts Series
Scribblenauts Unlimited (2012)
Army Men: RTS (2002)
Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)
Sonic Lost World (2013)
Bully (2006)
Mega Man Series
Mega Man 9 (2008)
The Wonderful 101 (2013)
Gauntlet (1985)
Crazy Taxi (1999)
EarthBound (1989)
Call of Duty: Black Ops II Zombies Mode (2012)
Pac-Man 2: The New Adventures (1994)
Donkey Kong Series
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (anticipated 2014)
Angry Birds Series
Angry Birds (2009)
Angry Birds Seasons – Hogs and Kisses (2011)
Mario Kart Wii (2008)
Mass Effect Series
Mass Effect 3 (2012)
Thomas Was Alone (2012)
TowerFall (2013)
Knytt Underground (2012)
ScaryGirl (2012)
Ittle Dew (2013)
Lili (2012)
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Damsel in Distress (Part 3) Tropes vs Women

August 1, 2013

This is the third installment in our three part mini-series exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this episode we examine the rare Dude in Distress role reversal and then take a look at the use of “ironic sexism” in retro inspired indie games. We conclude with an investigation of titles that attempt to subvert or deconstruct the traditional damsel narrative.

Watch The Damsel in Distress Part 1
Watch The Damsel in Distress Part 2
Watch “The Legend of the Last Princess” mini animation

For more examples of the Damsel in Distress see our Tumblr for this series: http://tropesversuswomen.tumblr.com

LINKS & RESOURCES

For more info on Ironic Sexism:

For more on gender hacks:

For more on Fat Princess:

Other links:

Some games mentioned in the video that we recommend:

Damsel in Distress Trope Series by the Numbers
Number of episodes: 3
Minutes of video analysis: 73
Games referenced: 192
Total views so far: 2.2 million

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

48 TOTAL GAMES REFERENCED IN THIS EPISODE
Those with Spoilers are marked with an asterisk (*)

Super Princess Peach (2006)
Balloon Kid (1990)
Kya: Dark Lineage (2003)
Primal (2003)
* Beyond Good & Evil (2003)
Aquaria (2007)
Spelunky (2012)
Donkey King: Pauline Edition (2013)
Wind Waker: Gender Pronoun Mod (2012)
Zelda Starring Zelda (2013)
Gish (2004)
* Castle Crashers (2008)
* Eversion (2008)
Machinarium (2009)
Super Meat Boy (2010)
Frobot (2010)
I Must Run (2010)
Flying Hamster (2010)
Rochard (2011)
Sideway: New York (2011)
Zack Zero (2012)
Bean’s Quest (2012)
Hotline Miami (2012)
Labyrinth Legends (2012)
Sang-Froid: Tales of Werewolves (2013)
Gunman Clive (2013)
DLC Quest (2013)
The Other Brothers (2013)
Fist Puncher (2013)
Fightback (2013)
Tiny Thief (2013)
Knightmare Tower (2013)
Guacamelee (2013)
Adventures of Lolo (1989)
Cloudberry Kingdom (2013)
Hoard (2010)
Dokuro (2012)
Fat Princess (2009)
Fez (2012)
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP (2011)
Where is my Heart? (2011)
Rayman Origins (2011)
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (2011)
* Earthworm Jim (1994)
* The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)
* Braid (2008)
Thomas Was Alone (2012)
Donkey Kong (1981)

 

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Full IGN interview with Anita Sarkeesian

June 6, 2013

A few months ago I was interviewed by Paul Dean for an article at IGN entitled “Tropes vs Women in Video Games: Why it Matters”.

Our conversation touched on a wide array of topics, including my experiences with games growing up, heroic women of the 1800s, and how I’ve responded to the organized harassment campaigns against me, among other things. Most of this didn’t make it into the IGN piece, so we’ve published the full interview for you to read here:

Paul Dean: First of all, can you explain what Feminist Frequency is? How would you describe the site, and the work you do, to someone who had never encountered it before?

Anita Sarkeesian: Feminist Frequency is a video webseries that primarily explores representations of women in pop culture such as TV shows, movies, comic books and video games.  Mainstream popular culture has become, for better or worse, our dominant form of storytelling especially in Western cultures and these stories do have a profound influence on our lives, perceptions, values and belief systems — even if we don’t always like to admit it.  So my goal with Feminist Frequency is to explore the tropes, stereotypes and patterns that are most often associated with female characters in mass media.  Not all tropes are problematic, of course, so I focus specifically on deconstructing recurring patterns that tend to reinforce or amplify preexisting regressive notions or attitudes about women and women’s roles in our larger society.

The power of pop culture stories should not be underestimated and there is an enormous potential for inspirational stories that can have a positive transformative effect on our lives. If there is one thing I’d like viewers to take away from my videos, it’s that being a fan isn’t an all or nothing situation. It’s possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of some of the more problematic aspects of that same media.

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Damsel in Distress (Part 2) Tropes vs Women

May 28, 2013

TRIGGER WARNING: This video contains a handful of graphic scenes involving violence against women. Parents should preview the video first before sharing with young children.

VIDEO DESCRIPTION
This is the second in a series of three videos exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this installment we look at “dark and edgy” side of the trope in more modern games and how the plot device is often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women. Over the past decade we’ve seen developers try to spice up the old Damsel in Distress cliche by combining it with other tropes involving victimized women including the disposable woman, the mercy killing and the woman in the refrigerator.

Watch The Damsel in Distress Part 1

LINKS & RESOURCES

For more examples of the Damsel in Distress see our Tumblr for this series: http://tropesversuswomen.tumblr.com

DEFINITIONS
The Damsel in Distress: As a trope the damsel in distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must then be rescued by a male character, usually providing an incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest. This is most often accomplished via kidnapping but it can also take the form of petrification, a curse or demon possession. Traditionally the woman in distress is a love interest or family member of the hero; princesses, wives, girlfriends and sisters are all commonly used to fill the role.

Damsel in the Refrigerator: A combination of the Women in Refrigerators trope and the Damsel in Distress trope. Typically this happens when a female character is killed near the beginning of a story but her soul is then stolen or trapped and must be rescued or freed by the male hero. Occasionally time travel or some other form of resurrection may be involved in the quest to bring the women in question back from the dead.

Disposable Damsel: A variant of the Damsel in Distress trope in which the hero fails to save the woman in peril either because he arrives too late or because (surprise twist!) it turns out she has been dead the whole time.

Euthanized Damsel: A combination of the Damsel in Distress trope and the Mercy Killing trope. This usually happens when the player character must murder the woman in peril “for her own good”. Typically the damsel has been mutilated or deformed in some way by the villain and the “only option left” to the hero is to put her “out of her misery” himself. Occasionally the damsel’ed character will be written so as beg the player to kill her.

ABOUT THE SERIES
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects. This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

SPOILER WARNING LIST: Major plot points or endings in the following games:
· Bionic Commando (2009)
· Borderlands 2 (2012)
· Breath of Fire IV (2000)
· Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (2007)
· Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2003)
· Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (2010)
· Dante’s Inferno (2010)
· The Darkness II (2012)
· Dead Space (2008)
· Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army (2006)
· Double Dragon Neon (2012)
· Gears of War 2 (2008)
· God of War: Ghost of Sparta (2010)
· The Godfather: The Game (2006)
· Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
· Hotline Miami (2012)
· Ico (2001)
· Infamous (2009)
· Inversion (2012)
· Kane & Lunch: Dead Men (2007)
· The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006)
· MediEvil 2 (2000)
· Ninja Gaiden 3 (2010)
· Pandora’s Tower (2011)
· Prey (2006)
· Resident Evil 5 (2009)
· Shadows of the Damned (2011)
· Tenchu: Shadow Assassins (2009)

 

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Damsel in Distress (Part 1) Tropes vs Women

March 7, 2013

This video explores how the Damsel in Distress became one of the most widely used gendered cliché in the history of gaming and why the trope  has been core to the popularization and development of the medium itself.

As a trope the Damsel in Distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must then be rescued by a male character, usually providing a core incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest.

For more examples of the Damsel in Distress see our Tumblr for this series:
http://tropesversuswomen.tumblr.com

ABOUT THE SERIES:
The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perspective. This series will include critical analysis of many beloved games and characters, but remember that it is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of it’s more problematic or pernicious aspects.

This video series is created by Anita Sarkeesian and the project was funded by 6968 awesome backers on Kickstarter.com

 

Full transcript below the cut

TEDxWomen Talk about Online Harassment & Cyber Mobs

December 5, 2012

 

I was excited to participate in this year’s TEDxWomen in Washington, DC, an annual event organized by the Paley Center for Media. I presented a 10 minute talk about sexist online harassment, cyber mobs and both the destructive and uplifting power of online communities. In this talk, I use the analogy of an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) to explain how these types of large scale harassment campaigns operate.

After my Kickstarter project began to attract a huge amount of media attention this summer, I made the strategic decision to try and use that as an opportunity to highlight the larger problem of online harassment faced by many women in gaming spaces and on the internet more generally. To that end, over the past several months I’ve devoted a substantial amount of time and energy giving talks (like this one) and doing dozens of media interviews as well as communicating with a handful of game companies on the topic. There have been many inspirational women speaking out about online and gaming harassment issues for a long time and my hope has been that I can use my personal story to contribute to this important and critical conversation. In some ways this was a difficult decision because it means I’ve become an even bigger target and also because I’ve had to take time away from working on my Tropes vs Women video series (which frankly I’d much rather spend all of my time on). Still, I believe the trade off is ultimately worth it if by sharing my experience it can be a small part of moving us towards systemic change and a more inclusive digital world.

Also don’t anybody worry, my Tropes vs Women in Video Games series is currently in production, we’re working hard make these new videos as comprehensive and expansive as possible. And I’m pleased to say that progress is coming along nicely! As always, project backers will be the first to know of updates and details on the project so if you are backer make sure to regularly check the Kickstarter page!

Full transcript below the cut

Television Interview about Harassment in Gaming

November 3, 2012

Recently, I was interviewed for a TV segment on Canada’s Global News about my experience and the wider epidemic of harassment women face in gaming spaces. Also interviewed were Grace from the website Fat, Ugly or Slutty, Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch founder of game studio Silicon Sisters Interactive & James Portnow from the gaming web show Extra Credits.

I have selectively chosen to do media interviews like this one because I feel it’s important to use the opportunity to highlight the extreme levels of harassment many women face when gaming. While it does take some time away from production work on my Tropes vs Women project (and also makes me more of a target), I hope that by telling my story in the media it will spark wider awareness of this critical issue and ultimately be a small part of moving in the direction of systemic change in the community and in the industry.

The Tropes vs Women in Video Games project research and pre-production is going well and we are currently in the middle of working on the first video in the series! Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more news and updates.