Help Fund Tropes vs Women in Video Games

May 18, 2012

NOTE: The Kickstarter campaign has ended. Thank you everyone for all your support!
See the final results here.

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak about developing female characters in video games at the BUNGiE offices in Bellevue, WA (you probably know BUNGiE as the developers of the Halo series). It was a great experience engaging with creators and developers in the gaming industry so I decided it’s time to dedicate an entire series to female characters in video games.

Because last year’s Tropes vs Women series was so successful, I’m bringing it back with Tropes vs Women in Video Games… And this is where you come in! I’m gonna need your help to make this new series come to life. Check out my Kickstarter Project – Tropes vs Women in Video Games and please donate any amount you can!

UPDATE: Wow! I’m honored and excited by all the positive feedback and support. Thank you all so much! First, we reached our initial funding goal in less than 24 hours! Next, we achieved our first set of stretch goals in under 1 week! Now we have met our second set of expanded goals in just 2 weeks!

Latest News: OMG! 1000 backers! (oh and about all that harassment stuff)

Kickstarter doesn’t have the means to include subtitles on their videos so I’ve included a full transcript here

Have you ever noticed that, with a few notable exceptions, basically all female characters in video games fall into a small handful of clichés and stereotypes? I’m Anita Sarkeesian and I run the video web series Feminist Frequency. As a pop culture critic I look at movies, TV shows, comic books, and of course video games. In addition to being loads of fun to play, research has found that gaming can improve problem solving skills, teamwork, creative thought and multi tasking; and improve hand eye coordination and enhance perceptual and cognitive abilities.

Unfortunately in addition to all of these benefits, many games tend to reinforce and amplify sexist and downright misogynist ideas about women. In this particular project, which I’m calling Tropes vs. Women and Video Games, I’m going to create a series of five videos that look at and deconstruct the most common and the most stereotypical representations of women in games.

Video games are an integral and growing part of our pop culture today and as with all pop culture media the gaming industry is playing a role in helping to shape our society, either by challenging or more often reinforcing existing values beliefs and behaviors. This new video series will primarily focus on tracking five stereotypical representations of women throughout the history of video games. I’m going to look at the damsel in distress, the fighting f- toy, the sexy sidekick, the sexy villainess, and the most common trope in video games women as background decoration.

Last year I released a successful video called Tropes vs. Women where I looked at the reoccurring patterns of the way women are portrayed on the media.

CLIP
“A trope is a common pattern in a story, or a recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. A trope becomes a cliché when it is overused.”

Some of the tropes I looked at were the manic pixie dream girl, the smurfette principal, and women in refrigerators. Those last two are extremely common in video games as well

CLIP
“You’ve probably guessed by now that this trope was named after the only female smurf in all of smurfville”“but one day the evil wizard Gargamel decided on a devilish plan to sabotage smurfdom and how will he do that yes that’s right by creating a female smurf.”
“That’s it! I’ll get them through their hearts; I will send them a smurfette”

What I try to do in my videos in give people the language to understand and talk about issues of gender and sexism using accessible examples from popular culture. Feminist Frequency videos have been used in middle school, high school, and university classrooms. They have been integrated into the curriculum of media studies gender studies and law school programs. Parents have even reached out to me saying that they used my videos to spark discussions with their kids about representations of women in the media.

CLIP

“So what happens when something in Heartlake city catches on fire? I guess you’d have to call the boys to put it out. Similarly, what happens in someone in Lego city gets hungry? I guess you’d have to call the girls to bake them something”

Each video in this new series will be between ten and twenty minutes long with well researched, indepth analysis. As with all Feminist Frequency videos these will be available online for free for everyone and anyone to watch share and use.In each video I’ll also be sure to showcase some inventive and interesting games that manage to avoid these harmful tropes.

As you might imagine, this project requires and enormous amount of research. Because I’m not just looking at a handful on games, or just the worst offenders, but at hundreds of games and at hundreds of different characters across all genres. This is an incredibly ambitious project because of the scope and scale of the research and production involved, so please donate any amount you can to bring this series to life. Thank You for watching this video and for supporting my work. You can follow me on twitter at @FemFreq, and you can check out examples of my previous videos at Feministfrequency.com

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21 Responses to “Help Fund Tropes vs Women in Video Games”

  1. Hello, I like your videos and am looking forward to your thoughts on women characters in video games. I was hoping that if you get the chance, you could do an episode about positive female characters in video games. I know it’s slim pickings but there are some, (Jade from Beyond god and Evil/ April from the Longest Journey maybe, it’s been a long time I can’t remember her to well.)Great videos looking forward to more!

    Pyr Reply:

    I think it would be interesting to look at the Metroid series. While in the hands of Nintendo and Retro Studios, the titles totally worked against any kind of cliché. It went so far that many fans were very surprised to see that the main character – of which you only see a space suit for most of the game – is actually a woman. It was a really clever move by the original developers to actually make people think about why they figured Samus was a guy in the first place.

    Now, things changed. The developers of Ninja Gaiden made the most recent title in the series and said they would include more “story”. What they did was include more video scenes where we see Samus as a powerless, weak girl. Totally stereotypical all of a sudden.

    Eryn Eton Reply:

    I thought about Samus, but with the other M controversy I wasn’t sure if I should or not. That and there wasn’t really any characterization of Samus up until Other M. We were left to impose whatever characteristic on her that we wanted. I mean the only time she showed personality is when she spared the last baby Metroid and that can be interpreted in may ways some good some bad.

    Pyr Reply:

    I understand what you mean. And overall, I think showing weaknesses of main characters is something more games need to do; I just felt it was way too stereotypical in Other M.

    On the other hand, I was surprised to see so many “strong female characters” at this year’s E3. I’m talking about “Tomb Raider” (the E3 trailer looked *amazing* in my opinion), “The Last of Us” and “Beyond: Two Souls”. I’m really curious to see how these games turn out to be.

  2. [...] here to see the original: Help Fund Tropes vs Women in Video Games | Feminist Frequency Game Review Guide1030 E. Hwy 377, Ste 110 Pmb [...]

  3. I can’t pledge right now since I have no income whatsoever, but I’m really looking forward to these videos! I love video games but there are so few that don’t disappoint me in how they portray (or DON’T portray) women. My favourite is probably Mirror’s Edge, Faith kicks some serious butt (I also like that it’s a game where you can use guns but are rewarded for not doing so).

  4. Here’s some interesting yet depressing points about one of the games mentioned on the video. Skullgirls’ animator is female, but the game’s male thiry-something designer and his companion tried to defend the game’s breast physics by using the first fact. The character designer, called o_8 on deviantart (whose pictures mostly consist of underage girls sexualized), tried to brush off any criticisms by saying that at least the characters were strong. That does not change the fact that his characters are, first and foremost, his sexual fantasies, and characters second. This is a huge problem with most of these female character designs, object first and character second. Having a personality and not being a damsel in distress or a background characters does not excuse their offensive designs. Could you imagine someone designing a black woman with large white eyes and huge red lips, then defend such a design by saying that she has a kind and gentle personality and is not loud and sassy? The planned male DLC characters, on the other hand, fit the usual fighting game quota of being powerhouses first and foremost, while being fully-clothed. It is even more depressing because one female character in the game, Peacock, manages to have appeal through her character, not her appearance, first and foremost. However, she is the only non-sexualized female character. Everyone else, even the amorphous monster, has a panty shot in their animations and official art. The story mode is even worse, as the main character is groped, but just as she is fighting off her attacker, her panties are shown. The princess gets her breast poked by her own sister, and the circus performer is seen in a playboy bunny outfit on an ugly old man’s lap in her ending. The creator says that he does not mind if his female character designs put anyone off, as he is content to have a niche following, who post the most disgusting things on their forums such as the following:
    1. Parasoul got her ***** poked.
    2. So about the breast sizes (given to the readers on the official website)
    These kind of people revel in objectification. This game is supposed to be an American version of those all-girl fighting games from Japan that appeal to lonely male otaku who like to look at panties.

  5. Hi!
    I really love your work and i’m looking forward to your thoughts on women in games!
    As a girl who love video games, I can easily say that the way women are portayed in it rarely fail to disappoint me. (to quote the previous comments: Jade from Beyond god and Evil , and Faith from Mirror’s Edge were nice exceptions though :) )

    it seems that the manic pixie dream girl is also extremely common and popular in video games , especially in some japanese ones. I’ll take all the ‘the pure white-dressed woman’ who suffer from a huge lack of personality or the ‘cute positive school girls’ who are ‘the light to the tortured male protagonist’s darkness’ for example.

    Great videos , keep on the good work ! :)

  6. http://www.ijailbreak.com/games/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games-kickstarter/

  7. Congratulations on hitting and passing $15k!

    Looking forward to seeing the results. Although I’m pretty much broke and as such can’t contribute to the Kickstarter, the video series sounds very exciting to me.

  8. Hey, thank you for an AWESOME blog and keep up the fantastic work you’re doing. You are simply brilliant.

    It would be really cool if you did something on Samus Aran of the Metroid series, because I think she’s the best female video game character by far in terms of design. She has survived for years without being over-sexualized or in any other way diminished because of her being a woman, which I think is remarkable. And she kicks ass. Seriously, you should check her out.

    Other than that – really looking forward to these videos!

  9. [...] En attendant que Feminist Frequency ait réalisé une série d’excellentes vidéos sur le suje…, je vous propose d’examiner et d’interroger quelques-unes des représentations du genre les plus répandues dans les jeux vidéos, parfois sexistes, parfois surprenantes, parfois amusantes, toujours instructives. Commençons par la plus évidente, commune à tous les médias visuels dans une certaine mesure mais élevée au rang d’art ici : le personnage féminin destiné à la titillation du joueur masculin. Les Vieras (Final Fantasy XII) sont une race de lapines sexy.(2) A ma connaissance la seule espèce qui nécessite des talons-aiguilles pour tenir debout. [...]

  10. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate what you are doing. As a Film, TV and New Media teacher it is great to see you developing such wonderful resources that can help me and my students learn about gender representation in the gaming industry. I look forward to viewing your new videos and thank you as your blog often inspires a lot of debate in my class.

  11. [...] son site, elle explique : « Have you ever noticed that, with a few notable exceptions, basically [...]

  12. Thanks for this. Old game artist recently back in the industry. Ten years of constant crunch took a toll.
    Anyways. Thankyou. This is a huge, important issue. I’be had this argument many times over.the years.

  13. I’m so glad that you’re still going strong with your project, despite that many of those people chose to exercise their first amendment rights so viciously. It’s so interesting to learn different viewpoints on gender and especially how gender portrayals are woven into the media we are exposed to on a daily basis. I can only hope that more calm and thoughtfully critical comments come your way; people need to realize that your work may be online but it’s no different from say, a radio-talk host who gets paid to talk and reveal their own opinions (be they controversial) and you need to earn a living too! I admire your determination and look forward to the series. ^_^

  14. I wish you all the best and hope your entire experience can be turned into something positive.

  15. Hey, watched all your Tropes videos and loved them. Just wanted to let you know that PZ Myers featured your vid and the harassment on Pharyngula the other day, so the word is out. So glad you’re getting a bunch of donations and hope you can make many more excellent vids in the future.

    Cheers,

    Cyranothe2nd

  16. Love your work thanks. I think what’s important is for females to move from being consumers to producers. Why are all these video game characters so sexualised? Because they are being created by men. The few women that are involved in creating video games (like in Skullgirls ) are hopelessly outnumbered and stuck working in a system that is already geared for misogyny. Women need to become more involved in the process of making these games…the industry itself needs to change

  17. I just want to say that you’re doing an amazing work! It’s so important that you keep going despite all the sexist, hateful people on the internet. I truly love what you’ve done so far. I don’t always agree with you, but you give a nuanced picture on the themes you choose and have always done a really good job with the research. I wish you all the best with your latest project! Looking forward to see the result.

  18. Hi, I hope one of the games you will cover is Phantasy Star for the old Sega Master System. A lot of gamers, especially RPG gamers continually pass over how important this game was in the evolution of RPGs during the ’80s in favour of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest . However, it was the first JRPG and possibly the first RPG to use a female protagonist, and she wasn’t objectified at all either, and I don’t think she fell into any of the other tropes you mentioned in your video. I think she is one of a handful of positive portrayals of female protagonists in games. There is also Jeanne D’ Arc for the PSP that you should also take a look at.

    In fact, now that I think about it, maybe you should make a call out for suggestions for games featuring positive female characters. That way you will not miss any of them.