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Gaming vlogger Anita Sarkeesian is forced from home after receiving harrowing death threats

Anita Sarkeesian at the Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade and Museum in Minneapolis in 2013. (Alex Lazara/Courtesy of Feminist Frequency)

Anita Sarkeesian is a woman who dares exist on the Internet and have an opinion that some men find objectionable.

As such, she’s been threatened with rape, death and has had all manner of unrepeatable epithets hurled at her in e-mails, on Twitter and in comments under the videos she produces — all because Sarkeesian critiques video games. Sarkeesian is the creator of Feminist Frequency, a Web site that analyzes patriarchy and misogyny in pop culture with a special focus on gaming.

Since launching a successful Kickstarter for her “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” video series in 2012, this sort of harassment has become a regular part of Sarkeesian’s life. At the end of May, trolls threatened to rape her and kill her. They created a game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian.” Some even sent Sarkeesian illustrations depicting her being sexually assaulted.

But this week hit a new low: The attacks were so menacing and so personal, Sarkeesian was forced to call the police and leave her home. Someone let her know they’d tracked down her home address and the names and address of her parents. The individual threatened to kill them, too.

When Mother Jones asked Sarkeesian why the backlash to her videos was so intense, Sarkeesian explained:

The gaming industry has been male-dominated ever since its inception, but over the last several years there has been an increase in women’s voices challenging the sexist status quo. We are witnessing a very slow and painful cultural shift. Some male gamers with a deep sense of entitlement are terrified of change. They believe games should continue to cater exclusively to young heterosexual men with ever more extreme virtual power fantasies. So this group is violently resisting any movement in the direction of a more inclusive gaming space.

Sarkeesian’s 30-minute videos on tropes in gaming tend to be densely packed with examples across a wide breadth of games supporting her arguments. They’re also filled with context explaining how male characters are not treated the same way.

On Monday, she uploaded a new video, “Women as Background Decoration: Part 2,” which is embedded at the bottom of this post. In it, Sarkeesian discusses the way the rape, maiming and murder of women is uniquely used as background narrative or character development. She talks about the way violence toward women in video games is sexualized in a way it isn’t for male victims.

“These women and their bodies are sacrificed in the name of infusing mature themes into gaming stories, but there’s nothing mature about flippantly evoking shades of female trauma,” Sarkeesian says in the video. “It ends up sensationalizing an issue which is painfully familiar to a larger percentage of women on this planet, while also normalizing and trivializing their experiences.”

Sarkeesian has spoken at TedX Women. High school and college teachers have used her videos to discuss media criticism. She heavily annotates her source material to invite debate and discussion, but she’s met with name-calling and threats of violence. Even “Avengers” screenwriter Joss Whedon, who is also the creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Firefly,” took notice.

“Games don’t just entertain,” Sarkeesian posits in “Women as Background Decoration.” “Intentional or not, they always express a set of values and present us with concepts of normalcy. So what do games that casually rely on depictions of female victimhood tell us vis-a-vis their place in society?

“The pattern of using women as background decoration works to reinforce the myth that women are naturally fated to be objectified, vulnerable, and perpetually victimized by male violence….It’s so normalized that when these elements are critiqued, the knee-jerk response I hear most often is that if these stories did not include the exploitation of women, then the game world would feel too unrealistic or not historically accurate.”

Soraya Nadia McDonald covers arts, entertainment and culture for the Washington Post with a focus on issues surrounding race, gender and sexuality.



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