Saturday, 26 October 2013

The moral duty of the game critic, part 1: obligations of the occupation

I'm going to make this as short and sweet as possible.

I am not a games critic. Right now, I'd probably describe myself as your stereotypical broke, stressed out student who certainly doesn't write enough for someone who endeavours to make a career out of writing (I've started early with the honesty on this one).

However, I do spend a lot of time looking at what actual game critics have to say about games, gaming culture and the industry. Mostly because it's bloody interesting and enlightening, but also because it inspires me; it gives me a broader perspective on a multitude of issues, opens my mind up to ideas and opinions I perhaps hadn't yet considered, and gives me ideas for my own writing.

Yes, this is the part where I talk about Anita Sarkeesian.

"How 'bout that patriarchy?"
Anita Sarkeesian is, as you may well know, a self-proclaimed feminist pop culture critic, and is probably most well known for her (extremely) successfully funded 'Tropes VS Women in Video Games' Kickstarter project, which criticises the commonly sexist portrayal of female characters in video games. She is also a Canadian-American, which is something I did not know existed. So there you go.

Anita still continues to receive a lot of negative responses to her videos. Most of these criticisms are laughable at best, so I tend not to pay much attention to the plethora of 'ANITA SARKEESIAN EXPOSED' response videos floating around YouTube. This is because most of them are slack-jawed yokels whose main beef with Feminist Frequency is that Anita is discussing video games whilst also possessing a pair of breasts.

Recently, however, I've seen a few anti-Anita criticisms of a different nature. That is, the suggestion that while pointing out the sexist flaws in games culture is a notably brave feat, Anita isn't actually doing much to fix the problem at all.

I have to admit, this argument threw me a little. Why? Because it's something I hadn't considered before.

I'm a big admirer of Anita's work. I applaud her wholeheartedly for doing what she does and facing the awful backlash that she's had to put up with. And I completely agree that something needs to be done about the ridiculous roles women frequently play in video game narratives. Which is what I thought Anita had been doing the entire time- dissecting stereotypes, questioning the system, smashing that institutionalised misogyny!

Or, maybe not. Perhaps Anita really is just all talk and no action. Sure, she's produced some excellent videos. She's compiled a lengthy list of resources on her website for anyone interested in learning more about the wonderful world of feminism. She even offers her videos to be freely used in any school or university curriculum. But why isn't she hosting rallies? Circulating petitions? Collaborating with developers to make the kind of games she thinks the community is so desperately lacking?

Just the other day, I was watching an interview with Russell Brand. He was defending his decision to not vote based on his disillusionment with the current governmental system. Jeremy Paxman, the interviewer, was dissatisfied with Brand's argument. He suggested that while it's all well and good that Brand can provide a rather extensive list of reasons why it's high time for a revolution, it's all pretty pointless if he can't at least propose a viable alternative or action plan.

Whilst I usually steer clear of the comments section on any video of a somewhat controversial nature, I decided to forgo my own personal rule and actually found a little gem of wisdom:

I think some people have a bit of a sullied view of critics. Contrary to popular belief, some people can make a living out of providing critiques of whatever the hell they want, and no, they don't have to adhere to the old adage of "I'd like to see you try and do better". They don't have to make something better than what they're displeased with. They don't have to design an easy-to-read Twelve Step Plan to Success Through Alternate Means. And they certainly don't have to design the games that far too many developers are too lazy to even attempt.

What critics are obligated to do is write something that makes people sit up and pay attention. I mean the kind of arguments that cause people to re-think what they think they know. In my opinion, if you've managed to write something  that inspires people to really think about what you're discussing, then congratulations. Job done. Go home and have yourself an ice cream sandwich. You've earned it.

So there you have it, folks. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be writing two more posts on the topic of game critics, so stay tuned for more inane garbled thoughts from my perpetually coffee-addled brain.

-The Pixel Pixie

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