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Feminist pop-culture critic faces off against sexist gamers

This undated handout from Eidos Interactive, shows a screenshot of character Lara Croft in the game "Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness," the sixth title in the "Tomb Raider" series.

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Yikes. If you thought the fighting in Grand Theft Auto was messy and brutal, try combatting video game stereotypes.

Anita Sarkeesian, a San Francisco-based feminist pop-culture media critic, is up against an ugly and vicious foe: sexism in the gaming world. Last month, she launched a fundraising campaign on the Kickstarter website, seeking $6,000 (U.S.) in pledges to support her production of a video Web series called Tropes vs Women in Video Games, which explores female stereotypes in the gaming industry. Within 24 hours, she reached her goal, and has since far surpassed it. By Thursday afternoon, she had raised close to $130,000.

Video games are "loads of fun to play," she says in a promotional video. "Unfortunately, ... many games tend to reinforce and amplify sexist and downright misogynist ideas about women." Female characters tend to fit into a handful of clichés, she says – the damsel in distress, the "Fighting F#@k Toy," the sexy sidekick, the sexy villainess, and background decoration.

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It appears that a certain segment of gamers feel strongly that their favourite fictional female figures should stay in those roles. Ms. Sarkeesian has received a startling amount of backlash, ranging from threatening e-mails and social-media messages to what she describes on Kickstarter as "a few more alarming incidents," which she declined to disclose. "These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen 'jokes' to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape," she wrote.

Jeez.

Ms. Sarkeesian shows no signs of backing down, though. She's vowed to produce even more stereotype-busting videos with the inflow of funds. And in spite all the vitriol, comments from her supporters – both male and female – suggest she's not in this fight alone.

A sampling:

  • “Donating a dollar simply for the privilege of being able to thank you on behalf of my 11-yo son, who is a budding gamer and frequently bemoans the sexism of the games he plays. The oft-stated excuse that sexism in video games is what (male) players want is a disservice to male gamers as well as to female ones.”
  • “You're fantastic for doing this. I can’t wait to see what you come up with, and in the meantime, thank you for your bravery and perseverance through the flood of intolerance. It’s inspiring.”

Gamers, have you noticed or been bothered by gender stereotypes in the games you play?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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