Since I was a little unsure of what to write about for this first blog, I wanted to write a little about my research into feminist gaming theory. I’ve always been interested in video games, but never really considered it a possibility for real academic study until I watched a number of videos by Anita Sarkeesian. I showed the one below to a comp class that I taught a few years ago.
For those that haven’t heard of her, Anita Sarkeesian was a feminist media that, after receive positive feedback for a video series on tropes in media as a general topic, created a Kickstarter campaign to focus this study on video games. She easily met her goal, but was met with severe backlash from many male gamers who saw her indictment of some of their favorite games as an indictment of their lifestyle. In reaction to her newest video series, she received countless death threats. Nevertheless, she persisted.
The goal of a feminist gaming theory is to recognize that the gaming industry has created a culture that is inherently problematic in its approach to gender and sexuality. Alex Layne and Samantha Blackmon sum up the problem by explaining that for “a long time in the gaming community, little support has existed for traditionally marginalized Others, and more specifically women, who have attempted to modify the norm.” Layne and Blackmon’s essay, the “concluding” essay in an Ada special issue about feminist gaming studies, ends with a call to feminists to examine the texts and paratexts of video games to explore “important feminist ideas and enact creative resistance.”
But, what exactly might a feminist gaming theory do? For the most part, scholars are still trying to figure that out! However, as you can see from Ms.Sarkeesian’s video, video game analysis often looks similar to a literary analysis that you might be more familiar with. The differences lie in the ways that the media can be presented. What we find in many video game analyses (including and especially feminist gaming analyses) is a preoccupation with how the game and the player interact since this interaction is the primary difference between traditional written texts and video games. Layne and Blackmon’s essay, for example, uses the game Mass Effect 3 as an example. In the game, the player can choose either a male or female avatar. While the advertising and canon story for the game support a male protagonist, the act of choosing a female avatar and making choices within the game to support the female protagonist effectively changes the narrative of the game, but not necessarily in a more fair way. However, they point out that the real modification of the narrative comes from the way the player interacts with the game and by extension with the world and not necessarily the way the game interacts with itself. In their words, “Acting against or for perceived female traits is play that is not only in conversation with the game, but with societal norms, player context, and game context.”
Ultimately, this is the aim of a feminist gaming theory. Just like with traditional literary texts, game theorists seek to look at the results of cultural production and interpret how we interact with those products.