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Friday, April 20, 2018

And its importance in online spaces

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There have been many pieces and articles talking about the #MeToo movement. I think the movement's credibility and exposure are good platforms for discussions to take place. One of the things that appeal to me is that movement has a hash tag. For me, this meant that #MeToo primary wanted to use the internet, or rather reclaim the internet back from mostly cis straight men who do a lot of damage with the net's anonymity.



Online safe spaces are nothing new but their violations have also been nothing new; what is new is that the blanket of the internet's anonymity allows many male citizens around the globe to bully, harass, stalk and troll women and women's issues.

I think the #MeToo movement took momentum at a time it was really needed as an online base to help women reclaim their agencies. The viral harassments of Anita Sarkeesian and Zoë Quinn happened online and it led to much understanding that online spaces were attempting to be usurped by men.

Anita Sarkeesian is a French-Canadian Feminist media critic who is also founder of the website, Feminist Frequency. In 2012, Sarkeesian started a kickstarter program to gather money to make a video series called "Tropes vs. Women in Video Games." The sort of harassment and name calling, and crude caricatures that were focused on Sarkeesian was really awful. There were racial slurs, rape and death threats directed towards her just because she critiqued the representation of women in certain video games.

Criticism is nothing new. John Berger has an excellent book and series on criticism called Ways of Seeing (1972), which talks about how art and photography can have influences on us or show us a particular mindset of people. He wrote in the book:

"A man's presence suggests what he is capable of doing to you or for you. His presence may be fabricated, in the sense that he pretends to be capable of what he is not. But the pretence is always towards a power, which he exercises on others.

By contrast, a woman's presence expresses her own attitude to herself, and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste - indeed there is nothing she can do which does not contribute to her presence... One might simplify this by saying : men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at."

What Sarkeesian was saying was nothing so novel. The medium of video games as a platform for such a criticism was new and I appreciate Sarkeesian's academic caliber to highlight it. If one looks back in retrospective, even Disney games, which were popular and possessed anthropomorphic animals excluded female characters. I played The Lion King (1994) as a child and though there were some side stages for Timon and Pumba, there was no narrative to play as Nala, who is such an important character in the franchise. 

Even with absence and exclusion, female characters are usually meant to be eschewed and not given importance. Sarkeesian touched on such tropes in games where the female characters are over sexualized, passive and meant to be rewards or motivations for the male protagonists. Even if the character is not over sexualized her passivity and her low importance in a video game is a manifestation of a cultural trope. Sarkeesian's critiques can be viewed on Youtube and they are good research.

Zoë Quinn's case was also similar. She was attacked because some ex-boyfriend, in a fit of rage, stated that she had sexual relations with a reviewer to get her game, Depression Quest (2014), to be recognized. These were false allegations and had no veracity, and were merely the ramblings of a man's ego. This started the Gamergate controversy, where people claimed they wanted authenticity and ethics in games but in actuality did not want people of color or women in gamer spaces.

Gaming spaces where to be seen predominantly for men and boys and should be preserved that way.  Especially, certain cis straight White gamers who do not like women gamers or seeing people unlike themselves in games aside as "rewards" or "exotic sidekicks."  I played Depression Quest and it is just a game where you play a non-specified gendered person named Sam, who is dealing with depression. It can be quite illuminating how Sam processes certain scenarios in their life. It was made by Quinn and friend Patrick Lindsey as understanding their own experiences with depression. The game is supposed to be educational and informative.

It seems traditional gamers may not like these types of games but critiquing it as not am "authentic" game and harassing Quinn are not ways to go about it. Both Quinn and Sarkeesian had to leave their homes for their own protection and law enforcers had to look at Sarkeesian's case. In both Quinn and Sarkeesian's cases their personal information was leaked online (doxing), which made them targets for extremists who want "game purity" to stay.

We might natural scratch our heads and want to understand what is this "game purity"? When we are playing ludo or even snakes and ladders do we think it is inherently superior to playing tag? There has always been a market for games like Depression Quest and criticism has been around for a while. It just took some immature men online to have no foreknowledge of such matters to think that these women were "invading their online spaces" or "gaming" spaces when nothing such had happened.

Indie games are games that function like Depression Quest, where the objectives and rewards are not always aligned with the generic form of achieving power or women or even enlightenment.  Indie games can also be horror games, where the male or female protagonist is literally vulnerable and helpless. Outlast (2014-2018) is an Indie horror game, which is like this and is R rated for violent and disturbing imagery.

The male protagonists are always way over their heads and against corporations, "supernatural" forces, scientific experiments gone wrong and cults. I once commented online that it was nice to see a vulnerable male protagonist in a game whose professions are also based on realism (in the first Outlast you played as a journalist). I also liked that game showed that men can experience pain and that it was good to illustrate that.

Some random commentator likened me to another feminist game critic and started mansplaining me on how men in war games face pain and all of that. I was thinking when I play as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider franchise I don't find her vulnerable in the sense she cannot fight back and can easily die. That game is designed with different parameters. Knowledge on such things is important before one is quick to want to, as they say, go witch burning.

I am happy the #MeToo movement has such a predominant presence online because the internet, with its social media and gaming devices, can also be places of exclusion and harassment of women.  Commentators, under the guise of anonymity, can make misogynistic statements and use such hatred as a way to belittle women and their contributions, their progress and their identities. If online harassment is viral than you need a 'viral' movement to counteract its insidious qualities.


The writer works as a copy editor in The Asian Age

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