Mar 25, 2022 - Technology

Sarkeesian reflects on 10 years of “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games”

Anita Sarkeesian attends The Women's Media Center 2016 Women's Media Awards at Capitale on September 29, 2016 in New York City. Photo: Mike Pont/WireImage via Getty Images

A decade after its creation, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” creator Anita Sarkeesian believes the series has had an essential, undeniable impact on the games industry.

Driving the news: Reflecting on her work and its impact during a Game Developers Conference talk on Thursday, Sarkeesian says that making those videos today might be “not impossible, but harder,” as there are fewer examples and “the pattern is less egregious.”

  • “The past 10 years have been a grim reminder of how ubiquitous and pernicious racism, sexism and transphobia can be in this industry, but they are also encouraging proof that real progress is possible.”

Catch up quick: In 2012, Sarkeesian Kickstarted a video series critiquing different tropes in video games, such as damsels in distress, or women as rewards.

  • Sarkeesian and her work became an instant target for abuse and harassment for criticizing video games’ misogyny and otherwise poor treatment of women.
  • During GamerGate, Sarkeesian was one of several women specifically targeted with death threats, rape threats and bomb threats at events she was speaking. She said that abuse has continued for the past decade.
  • Sarkeesian has continued to be a prominent critic and force of change; she’s since won major awards for her work, including a Peabody.

Sarkeesian said in her talk that “Tropes” helped create conversations: ”it illuminated patterns of problems that had been had been staring people in the face for decades that many of them had never even noticed before.”

  • Developers have approached Sarkeesian over the years to express their regret and ignorance over including harmful stereotypes, she said.
  • “I am not here to be your feminist priest and grant you absolution,” Sarkeesian said. ”But I am here to tell you that you can be better and you can do better, and that's how change happens.”

“Tropes” and Sarkeesian herself have come “to symbolize so much for so many people in so many different ways,” she said.

  • “In one hand, I hold trauma and fear and anger. And then on the other hand, I hold tremendous and enormous pride at the contribution that ‘Tropes’ has made to the shifting tide of games culture.”
  • “The nightmare that some gamers felt — I was ushering in a world in which devs lost their 'uncompromised artistic freedom' and sometimes actually had to tell stories about women as real human beings — I guess that came true. We won.”

What’s next: Although progress has been made, Sarkeesian said, the industry itself is nowhere near equitable.

  • “It was never just enough to talk about in-game representation,” she said, pointing to ongoing revelations of abuse and worker mistreatment in games.
  • “This industry is drowning in trauma, abuse and harassment…As an industry, we are not OK and we haven't been OK.”

And that abuse doesn’t stop with major CEOs at companies like Activision Blizzard.

  • “Clearly, this industry is not yet prepared to truly reckon with these powerful men and the harm that they cause,” she said.
  • “It's happening in small studios, too, because this isn't fundamentally a problem of money, it's a problem of power.”

“The struggle is bigger than any one of us,” Sarkeesian said, “and involves everyone who cares about creating a better, safer, more inclusive gaming industry and gaming culture.”

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