In the below essay, UC Davis undergraduate student Melanie Manzana offers an insightful commentary on feminist criticism of video games. A Technocultural Studies & English student at UC Davis and an intern for the Davis Feminist Film Festival, Manzana wrote short stories, novels, and stage plays throughout high school and is now interested in writing for technology-based mediums. She wrote the essay in response to the “Perfect Page of Prose” assignment for Dr. Andy’s Technocultural Studies 191: Writing Across Media.
Feminism and Video Games as an Art
In 2012, Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian began a Kickstarter to fund a video series critiquing tropes and roles of female characters in video games. Rather than sparking discussion of women’s roles in video games, Sarkeesian’s videos prompted an online harassment campaign, with many gamers sending her offensive material or using her image in inappropriate or violent contexts. These incidents are not limited to purely feminist critiques of the industry as a whole. In a review of popular 2013 game Grand Theft Auto V, Gamespot reviewer Carolyn Petit criticized the game’s portrayal of female characters as limited to “strippers, prostitutes, long-suffering wives, humorless girlfriends and goofy, new-age feminists we’re meant to laugh at.” Despite the review being positive in aspects related to gameplay, the less-than-perfect rating led to an online petition to fire the reviewer, fueled by claims that political stances should not factor into reviewing video games that are meant to entertain.
Such rejection of feminist critique indicates that many gamers believe video games are only for male audiences. Even though a 2013 sales review by the Entertainment Software Association showed that 45% of games are female, video games still perpetuate misogynistic elements and tropes. The experiences of Sarkeesian and Petit exemplify what vocal criticism of video games from a feminist standpoint leads to: personal attacks rather than critical discussion of social justice analysis.
Critics such as Roger Ebert claim that video games don’t explore human nature, and therefore cannot be considered art. While Ebert made such claim in 2006, games have had time to develop as a medium, and now have a community of creators and critics of its own. However, because critics who write from a feminist viewpoint often face ad hominem attacks from gamers, criticisms related to social issues remain ignored. Gamers that reject criticism unrelated to entertainment value cannot expect the video game medium to develop as a serious art form. Art has been analyzed and critiqued for centuries; if gamers wish for the gaming medium to be considered art, video games must be examined, contemplated, appreciated, and criticized regardless of the opinions of the industry’s current target audience.