After death threats forced a feminist video game critic to flee her home, conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI) released a video telling feminists to “stand down,” as the outrage over misogyny in gaming culture is overblown.
AEI’s resident scholar Christina Hoff Sommers described the gaming world as “a lively, smart, creative subculture, consisting mostly of tech savvy men from all over the world but also including a small but distinct group of very cool women. If you love games, they don’t really care about your age, your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your sexual preference. They just want to game.”
During her “Factual Feminist” segment, Sommers argues that feminist video game critics are misguided in their seeming attempt to dismantle sexist gaming culture. Ignoring research showing that women make up half the gaming population, Sommers says that because most “hardcore” gamers are male, it’s expected and okay that games use imagery and story lines that appeal to them, including stereotypical depictions of women as damsels in distress or sex objects. Yet at the same time, she insists that “the world of gaming has become inclusive. There are games that fit a vast array of preferences and games with responsibly proportioned and appropriately garbed female protagonists.”
Sommers also defended gamers’ sometimes violent anger at feminists, claiming most gamers have responded to criticism with “logic, evidence and humor.”
That logic, evidence and humor was missing in reactions to feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, whom Sommers calls out as an offending feminist critic. After releasing a webisode critiquing women as background decoration in video games, Sarkeesian received numerous death threats, presumably from angry gamers. Those threats are now being investigated by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Polygon reported. While Sommers argued that Sarkeesian’s and other critics’ anonymous death threats aren’t necessarily indicative of a negative, “patriarchal pathology” in game culture, there’s been evidence to the contrary. Online harassment disproportionately affects women compared to men. The white male-dominated tech industry overall has been slow to address online threats or stalking. And when reported, the threats are often not taken seriously.
Sommers also compared Sarkeesian’s criticisms of video game culture to hypothetical attacks on women’s magazines for not being inclusive of men, seemingly missing feminists’ point that game creators overly rely on depictions of women as sexualized eye candy and objects of grotesque violence is unnecessary, and immaterial to the gaming experience. Despite evidence that women play all kinds of video games, female lead characters are rare. When women do appear in video games, they’re frequently over-sexualized, and being beaten, kicked, stomped on, or shot simply for shock value.
But public outrage over companies’ anti-women policies is growing. Game makers are facing more pressure to be inclusive as their non-white and non-male audience grows. Top game creators are beginning to openly support feminist game critics’ work. And gamers overall may just be ready for a change.