As some of you may know, Anita Sarkeesian's Kickstarted project, "Tropes vs Women in Video Games," just kicked off with its first episode yesterday (it's present in yesterday's Worth Reading). For those who might be unfamiliar with the series, Sarkeesian received a whole bunch of money from the internet to make a series of videos which examined gender and portrayals of women in video games.
Here's the first episode, which I recommend everyone watch:
The video breaks down the trope of the damsel in distress, all the way from ancient myth, to early films of the 20th century, up to Pauline in Donkey Kong and modern games. It's an insightful, even-handed examination of the trope, and provides an excellent explanation of the subject-object dichotomy which lies at the heart of the trope.
Now that a lot of the controversy over the project has faded away, I think this is a great time for the videos to start rolling out. I'm an English major by nature, and critical theory in literature and film was my bread and butter in undergrad. I've been seeking out critical theory in video games for some time now, and while there are many excellent resources for the academically inclined (Game Studies is a fantastic, open-access journal with 12 years worth of articles on the subject), there's still a distinct lack of feminist critique in video gaming.
It should be said that criticism is not used in a context you might be familiar with. In Clint Hocking's excellent article, Ludonarrative Dissonance in Bioshock, he points out that "...game criticism is for game developers and professionals who want to think about the nature of games and what they mean. Game reviews are for the public – for people who play games – and they are intended to help those people make decisions about which games they should buy." Hocking's article, the entirety of Game Studies, and Sarkeesian's web series all are not meant to constitute purchasing advice or subjective opinion of games. Instead, they are purely academic in scope, and concerned with examining games on a deeper level than "is it fun?" and "should I buy it?". Hocking himself loved Bioshock, but his article is a thorough breakdown of the fundamental flaws of the game's narrative when compared to its mechanics and gameplay.
Keep in mind that criticism and reviews are both valuable resources, and each have their place. I don't expect to see articles like Technology Trees: Freedom and Determinism in Historical Strategy Games popping up on Giant Bomb or Kotaku anytime soon, but anything that deepens my understanding and appreciation of the video game medium is alright with me. I've been an avid gamer all my life, and only in the last couple of years have I really thought to understand my hobby on a deeper level and play and think about games in a conscientious, thoughtful manner.
I don't expect all of you to see the value in Sarkeesian's video series or the critical theory of games, and that's okay! It's not for everyone. But when someone looks down on gaming and tries to censor, downplay, or remove it entirely, I want to be able to point to something like Game Studies or Tropes vs Women and say that "yes, this all has merit, and there's more to it than you realize."