Am I The Problem? A Reaction to Tropes Vs. Women in Videogames

The following is a reaction to Feminist Frequency’s Tropes vs. Women in Videogames series.  It is written by a white, cis male, which I recognize is possibly the worst thing to be in writing any critical response to the series as presented so far.  I am not denying the points the series makes, and I am certainly not denying the industry’s huge problem with gender, stereotypes, and women in general.  Sexism is real, and it is entirely possible for someone to not be sexist and still benefit from its deeply entrenched roots in modern society.  I have no doubt that I benefit from sexism in ways that I cannot enumerate, though given the quality of my life and the fact that the most recent major event in it was getting a type of cancer that it is physically impossible for someone of the female sex to get and the subsequent loss of my ability to procreate, I will admit I find it hard to see exactly how I benefit.

I am going to be honest about my reaction to the series and it is my sincere hope that nobody hates me for it.

Tropes vs. Women in Videogames makes me feel like a bad person.  Really, really bad.  Downright evil, and no, I’m not exaggerating for comic effect like I normally do.  I know that this is likely not the case and that part of the point of the series is to target people like me, straight men who consider themselves feminists and make us uncomfortable with the state of affairs.  Well, it succeeds.  Forgive me if this is oddly disjointed, most attempts to play hop-scotch in a minefield are.

The series, if you haven’t seen it, is presented as a very matter-of-fact lecture, and seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, which, given the deranged and disturbing response to Ms. Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter I entirely understand.  Many of the people most in need of education on this subject have not exactly shown that they are capable of understanding complex, nuanced subjects such as this.  Honestly, I’m impressed they’ve managed to attain even a limited grasp of human language.  While I understand that I am not the lowest common denominator that lashes out and makes threats if someone dares to challenge something that I like, I do feel like I am being patronized and talked down to while watching the videos.

Maybe I need to be talked down to, though.  Again, I’m serious, maybe I am part of the problem.  But am I?  How broadly do you define the problem?  I’ve supported dozens of the games specifically called out in her three installments on Damsels in Distress.  I’ve supported them with my money, and I’ve enjoyed playing them, and I haven’t really given a tremendous amount of thought to the implications of this.  I’ve also played and greatly enjoyed Beyond Good & Evil, the game most praised by Ms. Sarkeesian in her series for its general excellence in both quality and positive portrayal of women.

“Isn’t it enough for a game to just be fun and well made?” I thought to myself at one point.  Well, that depends.  If games are just toys, diversions, distractions with no deeper meaning, I’d say yes, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  If no one will ever take them seriously, it is enough for a game to just be fun and well made.  That’s not true, though.  Perhaps the hidden point of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is that games not only are art, but they have always been art.  There was no magical threshold crossed in the mid-90s or early millennium that transmuted them into art.  The ideas presented in games have always mattered, even if the creators did not necessarily have that intent at the outset.

Still, I wonder, “Am I the problem?”

If Ms. Sarkeesian’s method of presentation bothers me, and if I am bothered by the implication that my taste in games does include, but is not limited to games called out as problematic, is that not my conscience telling me that I am a bad person, and deserve to feel bad for it?  Especially considering that while after viewing and carefully considering her points, I have no intention of more carefully vetting the games I buy for their portrayal of gender?  I will certainly be more aware of it, yes, but if some future game employs this trope to some extent and is otherwise excellent, will I still buy it?  Yeah, probably.

As you can tell I am, in many ways, a deeply insecure person.  Is it a good thing for the world that I won’t even theoretically be able to reproduce?  Would the world be better off without me?  Am I even a man anymore?  These are common refrains.  Experience shapes and forges us all, and my experiences have directed my critical gaze more inward than most.  I’m not a stranger to being on the wrong side of debates.  I’m sure I’m still on the wrong side on a great many things, life is about learning and adapting, becoming better in the process.  In recent years I’ve found myself arguing out of ignorance on the topic of rape culture, something that the modern, more educated variant of me is rather ashamed of.  Likewise, while I respected transgenderism, until Lana Wachowski’s brilliant and revelatory speech on the subject, I held some rather ignorant views on it.

Open and intellectually honest debate is of course worthwhile, and that’s what I’m attempting to do here.  If I’ve failed, I apologize.  I’m trying to respond in an honest fashion.  I do not consider myself a sexist, I consider myself a feminist.  Have I been a bad person, though, in not speaking out more, not doing more, not attempting to in some way repay those whose oppression I benefit from?  Is my patronage of certain media harmful, and if so, aren’t I morally obligated to stop supporting it, even if I otherwise enjoy it?

I don’t know.  Maybe there’s more point in the question than the answer.

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The Things I Have Done

To make my citadel less dude-centric and friendly for a female of the human race to stay in, over the past three days I have done officially more cleaning than I have in the past six years, easily.

I began by thoroughly de-trashing the premises.  The journey took me deep into the Underbed, where artifacts from strange aeons long past were recovered and thrown out.  It was not perfectly cleaned, due to the fact that the bed frame has seemingly assimilated various objects and I cannot dislodge them without extreme measures.  Swords and axes would be employed.

After de-trashing I began de-junking, which is not the same.  It is the process of taking the junk that is just lying around one’s dwelling, finding a proper, logical place for it and placing it there.  In the process I rearranged many books, statues, etc.

Then I sorted laundry into various piles (pile one: wash this now.  pile two: wash this later.  pile three: wash this in six months when it gets cold again.  pile four: oh god kill it with fire).

Phase two, codenamed Operation: Proper Amount of Suction, then proceeded as I vacuumed every damn thing the vacuum had a tool for.  Two full canisters of filth were liberated from carpeting, walls, ceilings, electronics, floors, corners, and potential Deep Crow nests.

With this complete I was exhausted and slept, with four giant piles of laundry flanking me and two full 30 gallon trash bags awaiting removal.

The next day I woke up at five PM, still, mustering my willpower I did two loads of laundry, destroyed the horrific former garments, folded, sorted, hung to dry further.  Shower, sleep (on bare mattress I did not want to sweat on clean sheets thus ruining the day’s efforts.)

Today, today was the day for shopping.  Groceries were retrieved, though entirely of the “I have no money so I am buying the cheapest of soda and pizzas” variety.  The real excitement came with my intrepid roommate’s purchases, beer and fine liquor was procured.  Maker’s Mark 46, the first new bourbon Maker’s Mark has released since Maker’s Fucking Mark.  It glistens, waiting, beckoning to us.  This must be saved, however.  Saved for the revelry to come.

Of course, my preparations are imperfect, though they are extravagant by my standards.  The bedroom “walk in” closet retains its inability to be “walked in to”.  This is necessary, for it contains five computer cases, two dressers, an anomalous cardboard box full of junk I was unable to dislodge, and many more artifacts from my youth dating all the way back to two bins of Duplo blocks.  To clean that monster would require explosives and industrial tools at the minimum.  My back can best be described as an ocean of pain, and I realize there are still objects of extreme ridiculousness that must be stored.

In summation I will leave the remaining tasks in the capable hands of the Bard himself.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews
, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Old.

I am currently sitting in a foreign land, an apartment, not many miles from my own, where a good friend of mine lives… with his wife.  His pregnant wife.

I just turned 21 on Sunday so you might understand how this comes as something of a shock, my friends spawning podlings.  It is deranged and disturbing on a base level.  I am barely equipped to handle the idea that my own physiology is capable of spawning a hybrid version of myself with the aid of a host maiden.  To see friends, friends of similar age, engaging in the practice that results in this horrific merging is common.  To see them complete the horrific merger and not, I believe this is the correct term, “freak the fuck out” is unheard of.

Yet now I have seen it.  A happy married couple barely older than I, living in an apartment of their own, with a son on the way.  A boy!  A male human!  I know this is how I was produced and I’ve seen my aunt pregnant twice, I’ve held babies lovingly in my arms but they were all family, not friends.  To see it made real so suddenly is jarring to say the least.

Still, in the interest of science, I persevere.

In any case, when I arrived I found to my surprise, there is a way to make an environment more geeky than my own citadel.  There are anime wallscrolls and posters/prints covering 90% of the wallspace, and action figures/statues from World of Warcraft, Hellraiser, Megaman (lots of Megaman), various incarnations of Gundam, more manga than I’ve seen in most bookstores,

The characters I recognize are few and far between.  Comfortable icons of gaming are largely absent, a Big Daddy exists on a shelf, partially obscured.  Disgaea characters can be found among the gallery atop the mantle, as one might find flowers or commemorative plates in another scenario.

Did I mention my friend is married?

With a child on the way?

Clearly there are women out there who not only tolerate this level of geekiness, they revel in it, they thrive, they SPAWN in it.  Compared to their apartment, taken as a whole, my single room appears… normal.

Time goes on, we talk about World of Warcraft, a pastime we both share in (as does his wife, apparently) and call in another member of the old guard to throw down in some Soul Calibur.  It suddenly loses the feel of a distant experiment and the four anti-anxiety pills I had waiting in my pocket appear as if they won’t be needed.  The people I knew haven’t changed as much as their circumstances would indicate.  They have not mutated fundamentally.  I begin to question: Am I the mutant?  Am I the aberration?  One friend is married with broodling en route, the other is engaged and so content in his relationship that he doesn’t even notice when he flirts with other women.  I’ve always known him as something of a ladies man, not a predator, but a smart guy with a pretty face and a way with words.  Something I envy, to be sure, but I’m content with my own gifts for now.

Am I the mutant, though?  Marriage at 21 seems unthinkable, but clearly it is being done.  I have seen with my own eyes the evidence.  Not too long ago another friend of mine was engaged.  A former friend of mine married recently as well, as did my first girlfriend (to a contemptible prick).

We told stories of our lives and laughed, reveling in how funny everything seems now, even if it was horrific and painful at the time, at the very least embarassing (and in some cases punchassing, don’t ask).  Another epiphany:  Here we were, three barely-men of age 21 reminiscing about the good old days, when things were simpler and somehow more vibrant.

I felt old.

I am a mutant.