It’s one in a series by Shirrako: In “Dropping Feminist To Hell & Killing The Devil,” the player ties up the suffragist, carries her to a cave and drops her off the edge of a ledge. In “Annoying Feminist Gives Up,” the player kicks the suffragist up and down a street for more than a minute. In “Lasso, Train & Annoying Feminist,” the player ties up the suffragist, puts her on the train tracks and watches as a train runs her over (this act was an achievement — a special task in a game that wins the player bragging rights, or in some cases, special items or abilities — in the first “Red Dead Redemption” game). The player tries and fails to save their horse from the same fate.
“Red Dead Redemption 2” is set at the turn of the 19th century in the American west. The game is an open world, meaning that players can explore, and commit random acts of violence, as they please. The suffragist is one of many NPC — or non-player characters — in the game, placed in the world for a variety of reasons. In normal gameplay, the suffragist is a background character, standing on the street and advocating for the right to vote. But Shirrako, an anonymous channel that publishes multiple gaming videos a day, turned her into an anti-feminist punching bag — and went viral because of it. One of their videos, “Beating up Annoying Feminist,” has 1.7 million views.
Earlier this week, after Motherboard reported on the existence of these videos, YouTube pulled Shirrako’s channel from their site for violating its guidelines. After several prominent gaming and gaming-adjacent YouTube personalities criticized the decision, YouTube’s head of gaming and VR/AR, Ryan Watt, said that the platform had changed its mind, and Shirrako could have their channel back. The videos would simply be age-restricted.
Watt tweeted the statement in reply to Daniel Keem, a YouTuber who runs “Drama Alert.” Keem had claimed on Twitter that the decision to ban Shirrako’s channel was going to “create gamergate 2.0.”
YouTube’s moderation practices are a constant source of outrage and criticism. The “Red Dead Redemption 2” debacle exemplifies what makes content moderation on huge platforms so tricky and frustrating. Many games allow and incorporate violence as a key part of gameplay. And that violence generally isn’t in violation of YouTube’s community standards. But the Shirrako videos were also widely circulated by those who used the video as a sounding board for their views on women and feminism.
The comments on each of Shirrako’s videos are filled with sexist comments and memes. On the alligator video, several users made the same joke about how it was “cruel” to feed the suffragist to the alligator — cruel, that is, to the alligator. Others cheered game company Rockstar’s decision to allow this sort of thing to happen at all. Another commenter said someone should make a mod — a player-created modification or expansion — for the game “so we can rape her.”
YouTube’s community guidelines restrict hate speech, which they define as “content that promotes violence against or has the primary purpose of inciting hatred against individuals or groups based on certain attributes,” including gender. But the rules also say that “there is a fine line between what is and what is not considered to be hate speech.”
The videos themselves feature no commentary from the player, aside from the way in which they are titled. In “Arthur meets feminists,” the video only shows one of the in-game missions, where the main playable character, Arthur Morgan, assists a group of suffragists who are attempting to get safely into town to demonstrate.
Men antagonized by the thought of women voting do hassle the women, but the mission ends without violence. “Mr. Morgan, I give you the male of the species,” says the leader of the “Votes for Women” movement, pointing to the angry men who’ve gathered to witness her speech. “That’s a pretty dumb specimen, I grant it,” Arthur replies.
On Shirrako’s video of this mission, the top comment (with 474 likes) is: “Can you shoot them?"
The suffragist who is repeatedly brutalized in Shirrako’s videos is just one of dozens of non-playable characters who can be beaten and murdered in a variety of ways. It’s a feature that’s hardly unique to the “Red Dead Redemption” universe: YouTube is filled with videos of gamers finding creative ways to kill, maim, or mess with video game characters, and it’s usually played for comedy.
Rockstar declined to comment on the controversy surrounding Shirrako’s channel, as well as the choice to make this particular suffragist interactive. Suffragists do feature in the game’s plot in a way that highlights the real danger and violence they faced for advocating for the right to vote. But Shirrako’s videos largely do not feature main plot points from the “Red Dead Redemption 2” story line — the “Annoying feminist” series is, instead, something the player decided to do on their own.
Shirrako’s channel, while clearly riding the wave of attention, also contains videos in which the player beats up or messes with a wide variety of non-playable characters from the “Red Dead” universe. There’s one titled “Hitler gets punched off a cliff” and another where “KKK members argue and kill themselves.” The channel also has a video called “Deporting a Mexican.”
Shirrako didn’t return request for comment. On their Twitter page, they’ve posted a statement thanking those who supported them against YouTube’s “censorship.” In another tweet, Shirrako mocks “SJWs” upset by the videos. In this case, SJW stands for “social justice warrior,” a term popular in certain corners of the Internet as a derogatory way to refer to feminists and progressives.
“You spend . . . entire games murdering men and no one cares,” Shirrako posted in another tweet. “Punch a woman and you get banned.”
Speaking to Motherboard, Shirrako defended their decision to keep most vile comments on their channel visible. “I mean obviously I don’t agree with the sexist comments, but there is not much I can do about them,” they said. “I don’t like censoring people’s opinions, regardless if I like them or not."
And now, thanks to the controversy, their audience is even larger.
Gene Park contributed reporting.