Sexism and Misogyny Ruin the Reputation of Video Games as an Art Form

This column features stories from students exploring the intersection of creativity and technology through Hive Learning Network programs in NYC and Chicago.

Last week, the disturbing tale of Anita Sarkeesian wrote another sickening chapter. Sarkesian is the feminist activist whose Kickstarter page sought funds for a video she was making exploring the various stereotypes that female video game characters embody. She faced the wrath of a vocal and misogynist segment of the video game community. Ben Daniels, another sexist, angry, denizen of the Internet, created a game in which players could brutally assault Ms. Sarkeesian, until her face was bloody and bruised.

This is just the latest in a prolonged and sustained attack on Ms. Sarkeesian, an attack which is getting the attention of many anti-video game advocates. California State Senator Leland Yee, an anti-video game advocate who spearheaded the California law which prohibited minors from purchasing M-rated games (a law which was struck down by the Supreme Court last year), supported Ms. Sarkeesian by stating, "For far too long, the video game industry has glorified violence against women and often depicted female characters as nothing more than sex objects."

Senator Yee is correct in his assessment of the video game industry. It is an industry-wide embarrassment that for far too long has been devoid of strong, non-sexualized and real female characters. Outside of Samus and possibly Lara Croft, there have been no prominent female icons in gaming. On top of that, the majority of female characters portrayed in video games fit into a minute number of stereotypes (damsel in distress, "whore," etc.) and are almost always portrayed as objects to be desired.

This argument has already been made by people like Ms. Sarkeesian. What has not been discussed is the damage that this type of sexism is doing to the reputation of video games. Besides violence, sexual content and sexism have been the main targets for anti-gaming activists. Yee is only one of numerous activists who have made the argument that video games are an unhealthy bastion of misogyny. The disheartening part is that they are right. The prominence of sexism and misogyny in the video game industry and our culture as a whole is an easy target for anti-gamers that damages the reputation of the industry as a whole.

For years, prominent video game critics and academics have made the argument that video games are an art form that deserves as much respect as films, art, literature and music. And while I do believe that video games are an art form, it is hard to defend them as such if the art form propagates a sexist image of women and serves a community which consistently bemoans and attacks any attempt to make the industry more female-friendly and less male-centric. If the video game industry ever wants to be perceived as high art by a larger mainstream culture, it must finally address the institutionalized sexism that has come to define the medium.