Episode 2 of Tropes vs Women Doesn’t Quite Deliver

It’s hard to be part of the gaming world and not be aware of Anita Sarkeesian, who came to attention when she started a Kickstarter campaign to create a series called Tropes vs. Women. The series was purported to be an in-depth look at video games and their negative portrayal of women. In fact part of what made Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter campaign so successful was a bit of a drama when Internet trolls swarmed upon her and insulted her.

Let me first say that while I disagree with Sarkeesian’s perspective and ultimate conclusions thus far in the series, this is not a look at Anita Sarkeesian herself. I will not be judging her, or her claims of being a female gamer. Instead I will just be looking at the second video of the Tropes vs. Women series.

So after all the drama has finally settled, the whole 20 minute opus was lukewarm for me. As a recap, episode one of Tropes vs Women mostly set up the concepts that she would be using in her arguments. It was an entertaining video, though I did not agree with the majority of issues that Sarkeesian raised. But it served its purpose and I was intrigued. The problem was in the follow up.

In episode two of Tropes vs Women, instead of presenting arguments to buff up her points continuing from her introduction to the series, Sarkeesian just runs down a list of different games that fit two different Damsel in Distress tropes that she mentioned in episode one: Women that the male heroes must save or avenge and Women that the male heroes must kill for their own good or as a sacrifice. It could have been an interesting discussion if she didn’t just spend so much time just listing off names of random games.

Sarkeesian does a good job showing that yes, certain tropes do occur in video games. And if anything maybe we should acknowledge that story lines have become a bit derivative. But, as someone critiquing games from a feminist perspective, Anita Sarkeesian reveals her own lack of knowledge not only of the games that she is discussing but of video game culture as a whole.

So in a way episode two of Tropes vs Women is a success in showing that developers are relying too much on these tropes to justify the bloody rampage that the players go on and that some of them may need to take a creative writing class for fresh ideas.

But she does not succeed in bolstering her original point. As a female gamer – although I was not fond of Sarkeesian and her incredibly broad generalizations – I do believe that there was a need for more female lead characters in video games. They do exist, and their games are good. However they are cult classics because for the most part games like Heavenly Sword don’t get nearly as much promotion as the new Assassin’s Creed. I wanted this video and this series to address the need for more support for female protagonists in games. I wanted Tropes vs Women to ignite a discussion so that the industry would start focusing on that just a little.

Instead for the $150,000 that she raised during her Kickstarter campaign, we have a video that looks like every other video that she has made since she started her Youtube channel Feminist Frequency.   There is a marked improvement on lighting and sound quality but not on the quality of her research. She is voicing her opinion, and that’s fine because while I do not agree with many of the objections that she raises I would never interfere with someone’s freedom of speech.

However, all she does in episode two of Tropes vs Women is list games that did something wrong in her opinion. However, there is nothing in the writing of these games or the scenes that she portrays that show some kind of misogynistic conspiracy. To her credit, Sarkeesian does state that she doesn’t believe that the developers were anti-women.

My question, and one that I believe more people including fans of Anita Sarkeesian should be asking, is what exactly did she spend that $150,000 on? To be fair she did originally ask for $6,000 and only received more funding because of her highly publicized harassment. But the videos don’t look that much better than they did before, and any research that she did was not in-depth. Anyone with access to the internet with some free time could have found the exact same information.

Maybe all the publicity has raised expectations of Anita Sarkeesian’s thesis on gaming culture to unsustainable levels. I’m not sure what I thought this series was going to be, but certainly it should have been more than Anita Sarkeesian talking in front of the camera while showing clips of cut scenes and pictures. Where was the analysis? Where are the facts supporting the whole basis of this project?

This is not an attack on Anita Sarkeesian. There are still more episodes of this series that hopefully will contain more information to back up her assertions. But at this juncture I think we’ve seen all that she is capable of. If anything, Tropes vs. Women was an interesting social experiment that lacks any satisfying resolution – unless you are a fan or have the same viewpoint of the industry as she does.

I also want to add as a side note that as of the writing of this piece the video was taken down after Youtube received complaints and then restored. There is no word on why that happened but there is speculation. It has not affected Sarkeesian, as after an appeal Youtube restored episode two to the viewing public.