Anita Sarkeesian speaks to HPU about the misrepresentation of women in video games

By: Jodi Guglielmi

As a part of High Point University’s Communication Week, award-winning media critic Anita Sarkeesian spoke to students and faculty about the dangers of the different negative misrepresentations of women in pop culture.

Focusing specifically on the portrayal of women in video games, Sarkeesian started a web series called “Feminine Frequency” in which she breaks down the different stereotypes that women are often represented as.

“In graduate school I realized that feminism wasn’t engaging and accessible to everyone. I made my web series to explore privilege and oppression in an area that people weren’t really talking about,” explained Sarkeesian.

While Sarkeesian has gained a large following and is now considered a well-respected video game critic, not all of her feedback has been positive. In fact, her road to open and honest discussions about feminism has been anything but easy. 

She brought up examples of threatening, sexually objective, and outright ridiculous messages that people were posting on her YouTube, Twitter and Tumblr accounts.

Despite giving most of the games a “nine out ten” for graphics and playability, her criticism of the portrayal of women has been enough to have people spam her email, impersonate her Twitter account, and flag her YouTube videos so many times that they are taken down.

However, the threats didn’t cause her to waiver. Seeing that there was “already a pre-existing hatred for women’s movement,” as she called it, fueled her fire even more.

The audience was captivated by her ability to persevere and stay dedicated to her work even when facing adversity.

“I was so impressed by her confidence and strength,” said HPU junior Taylor Sheetz. “You could tell she was really passionate about her work.”

Sarkeesian then went into detail about her web series and the different types of stereotypes that she is trying to expose and break. She explained that the biggest misconception people have is viewing the world of video games as a “boys club.”

“Let’s get honest, most games openly ignore women or are openly hostile towards us,” said Sarkeesian.

Using real footage from video games as examples, she identified the damsel in distress, smurfette principle and fighting fuck toy. She explained that women are treated exclusively as either a source of sexist and ironic humor or as a means of reward. No matter the case, they are being exploited in a degrading and humiliating way.

Sarkeesian explained that the root cause of this problem is that video games are targeted at a very specific demographic. With the perception that video games are a male dominated arena played almost exclusively by straight white men, they have the luxury of not having to think critically about the games.

“The problem isn’t that women are in video games. The problem is the male fantasy that they are made to fulfill,” said Sarkeesian.

Sarkeesian explained that the solution to breaking the contemporary misrepresentation of women in video games is rather easy. Simply portraying women as real people, wearing real clothes and having real personalities would do it. She’s not asking for a rewiring of the system, instead she only wants to fix one glitch in the system.

“She was able to break down the culture of video games in a way that was both understandable and realistic,” said HPU junior Jacob Blackwell. “She had a lot of insight that I know I hadn’t even thought of before. She really changed my outlook on video games.”

At the end of her speech Sarkeesian opened the floor to questions. She went into even more detailed information and spoke candidly on her thoughts about topics expanding beyond video games.

Sarkeesian continues to post “Feminine Frequency” videos and is currently working on new theories and ideas that she hopes will further move the video game culture in the right direct

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