The Problem with Anita Sarkeesian’s “All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games” Argument

Anita Sarkeesian is a media critic, blogger and public speaker who gained notoriety when she began her tropes versus  women in video games on Youtube. She claims to point out that video game culture by its nature is purely misogynistic. Ever since it seems that she has been on a crusade to attack the subculture and the gaming community itself. She is a feminist and clearly part  of the third wave. There is no denying that there is sexism in popular entertainment and video games are not immune. However, Sarkeesian’s arguments seem to condemn enthusiasts and in a subtle manner men in general. What this amounts to is a witch hunt similar to how fundamentalist Christians would condemn Dragons and Dungeons. She also has a website known as Feminist Frequency, which she expounds on her ideas. Sarkeesian claims that she does not want to censor or prohibit games, this is what it inevitably leads to. Her videos do generate many views and he sometimes outrageous pronouncements resulted in backlash. This was only in the form of vicious online comments. The mainstream media, unfamiliar with gaming culture began spreading the story and blowing it out of proportion. It is clear that there was online harassment by cyber bullies and trolls, but the media portrayed it as gamers generally hate women. Sarkeesian does not help the video game culture by her videos or efforts. Her arguments against video games either lack cogency or contain limited amounts of evidence. Simultaneously, this invigorates a small, but vocal group of sexists in the video gaming community. One of Anita’s videos “All Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games” argument lacks fortitude. She claims that all women characters have one slim body type and are not able to be more flexible like male character designs.The characters that she does mention in her video Chun li and Cammy do not follow the same slender female model. She did not bother to do research, because there have been muscular looking  women characters that have appeared in video  games. It should be understood that game design is similar to the principles of animation and is not meant to be realistic.

           The video opens with Anita praising Overwatch . She also is laudatory to the character Zarya. The majority of the female characters to have a slender body type. It is true that more variety never hurts a video game. If it is character design, setting, or game play gamers crave something new.

Then Sarkeesian provides her first part of evidence of lack of diversity in video games by discussing Street Fighter.  The error she makes here is that she does not consider Chun li  and Cammy as different from the common slender female body type.  This is not true and even she admits that Chun li has muscular legs. Cammy has a more athletic build being a soldier. If some one were to look closely enough, their bodies do resemble women competitors from the Olympics. Although her muscles are not as large as Zarya’s, over the years game  designers have made Chun Li more athletic  looking ( especially her legs). It makes sense that her legs are more exaggerated, because a majority of her attacks are kicks.

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Chun li as she appears in Street Fighter 4. Notice that her arms are a bit bigger than in previous games.
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Chun Li’s legs probably got inspiration from somewhere.

Examining the body of track and field athletes it almost appears as if they are Chun Li brought to life. It would be dishonest to say that Chun Li would fall under the thin classification. Any video game fan would know that if they have consistently played Street Fighter for many years. Cammy cannot be considered ectomorphic either. Her recent design shows her with sculpted abdominal muscles and developed legs. Cammy’s  prologue in  Street Fighter 4 shows her with an athletic physique.  The strange part is that the character design changes in the ending epilogue animation. The computer generated Cammy remains consistent in game play.

The great part about fighting games is than they at least do not depict female characters as anorexic. If Anita Sarkeesian wanted to point out the lack of body diversity in video games, using fighting games is not the best example. Her method is to take only a few paradigms, rather than examining games as a whole.

        There are games that have shown body image diversity. Yet Anita Sarkessian ignores or is either unaware of these characters that appear in various games. Power Instinct was a fighting game that had a muscular character known as Angela Beti. Most of the roster had fighters with strange quirks and in many ways it was attempting to imitate other fighting games of the 1990s. The promotional did not slim her down either.

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The game was first released in 1993. There have been sequels, but has not reached the same level of popularity as Street Fighter or Tekken. Angela’s physical appearance is not random. She is as revealed by the game a strongwoman of Italian descent. Angela is a formidable character in the game and her strength is even comparable to some men. The game is not a bad one, it just with other fighting games the competition is harder. Gamers may just prefer to play what they are most familiar with.

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Another character that breaks the thin woman body model is Ms. Arrow from F-Zero Gx  . This was one of Nintendo’s popular game titles on the Gamecube in the early 2000s. It is mostly focused on racing, but what makes it great is the characters. Ms. Arrow is another zany character that provides gamers with entertainment. The game and players do not care if she has a muscular physique. Virtua Fighter 4 has Vanessa Lewis, who is anything but skinny.  There are many more games that could be mentioned to this list. It seems that future games will do the same in terms of character design.

 These characters are do not have over exaggerated breasts or are simple stock characters. They are part of the stories in their universes. There are games that even let you choose the phenotype of your character.  Fall Out 4 allows players to select a muscular body type for both female and male characters. They can also be fat or thin. RPGs  also have a character creation feature in which attributes can be changed based on characters liking. What Sarkeesian presents is not entirely accurate. There are some characters that are sexualized for the sake of getting male players to buy more video games. Skimpy outfits and large breasts seem common place. Even with women characters who are not in the thin category are sexualized.

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Amazon from Dragon’s Crown is barely wearing clothing. Now, if she is a warrior she would need protective armor. The interesting  part about this is that, while not thin she is still presented as desirable.

This can be a problem. If female characters are to be in a video game they should not just be there to be presented as sex objects or rewards. If game developers do not change this, claims like Sarkeesian’s will be taken as fact.

          Anita Sarkeesian then says that ” male characters are free to embody whatever physique suits their personality.” This is not true. The muscular body type for men has been presented as the standard in video game design. Just like with women, on occasion you do see a change in the standard. She does not say that this standard also has damaging effects on some men. It seems she only cares about how women are and not true equality. If gamers were to do a general data collection, it appears the muscular body type for men appears more than any other type. Male characters have the same issues as women: exaggerated body ideals. This not only distorts peoples ideas of beauty, but it has them obsess over it. There are two extremes of this culturally induced obsession. The first is that there is only one form of beauty and that everyone must conform to it. This also requires that members accept it without question. The other extreme is people who try to imposes an alternative rather than letting individuals decide for themselves what aesthetic is most pleasing. She speaks of cultural influences of “who gets to be desirable,” but the fact is a person has a choice to reject these notions. If a woman objects to the beauty myth, they should not engage in it on a personal level. Sarkeesian wears make-up which in a subtle manner enforces the beauty myth. If third wave feminists are convinced that appearance should not matter, then they stop with investing so much in make-up and anti-aging products. She then is again selective in her data, saying older men in video games appear more. The majority feature young protagonists, so this is more of an example of ageism rather than sexism. Personality is more along the realm of psychology of a character not physical embodiment. What makes a great character is not just design; it is  the essence of the psyche.

        The  video continues to miss the concept of character design. Depending on the game, characters can be either cartoon like or realistic model. Street Fighter is more cartoon like in the depiction of its roster. However, it can be based of the standard structure of the human body.

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Brooke Ence looks like Cammy.
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Cammy has more of an athletic build. Anita still classifies her as thin.

Cammy has the body of a crossfit woman, but still has the more cartoon like features in terms of the face. The character designs are meant to be exaggerated in this case. It is not meant to be realistic or a body type that should be imitated. Games now are becoming more realistic at depicting the human figure and its not always the strange body dimensions that Sarkeesian has a problem with. Uncharted 4 depicted a capable female adversary ( later defected) against Drake. She does not appear helpless or waifish. Her name is Nadine Ross who acts as second in command to Rafe Alder. When Rafe becomes too obsessed and insane in his search for the treasure, Nadine makes her exit. Being the head of a mercenary organization  also is significant. She plays an important role to the story providing troops to fight Drake and is dangerous in her own right. The great part about the game is that she is not killed off and it would not be surprising to see her in other games, if the series continues.

It looks as if the crossfit  body is used again. Nadine looks like Elisabeth Akinwale.

These cases are not as large as the thin body type, but there has been change. Character designs that are the best emphasize a unique and dynamic variety. It goes beyond just body type diversity. It encompasses height, eye shape, hair style, facial structure, and posture. This gives a character life, even though the viewer knows its not real. If women are to be presented more fairly in video games, it requires more than just simple body diversity. Then a new conundrum emerges in which another unrealistic model dethrones the other one and the problem is not solved. Gaining a better grasp of creativity in character design adds to the uniqueness of a video game. The reason the Zarya from Overwatch   captivates gamers  is that she plays on certain elements. The first is it combines two common tropes known as the husky Russkie  and the amazonian beauty. The character also becomes more humorous, because in a way she is almost a reference to Vasquez from Aliens (1986).  The game took these components and formed a unique character. Fans have embraced Zarya  and it is a positive portrayal. Although most characters in the game are slim, Zarya will be remember more because of her character concept.

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Character concepts involving personality, references to other materials,  and a particular essence is what makes a great video game character. These elements are the most pivotal during creation. The physical appearance takes some consideration. Sometimes the designs match the part in which role the character plays. The heroic body type ( athletic or muscular ) is common in action adventure and fighting games. Other genres are more flexible. It depends on what the intentions of the game developers are. For some characters a larger or muscular body would not suit them.  Mario Brothers characters are more on the cartoon like design and more comedic in nature. The hero body types would seem misplaced in the game.

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Princess Peach as shown in a fan art rendition.  Mario Brothers characters do not appear like this, because its meant to be comedic. Mario is fat and Luigi is tall and thin. 

There are times in which the standard can be changed in experimentation with games. It depends on what the creator envisions. It is not always a sexist conspiracy, but a general lack of vision and imagination. It cannot be denied that video games are more harsh to women with a larger body type. Fat women are often used as jokes as Sarkessian reveals. Video games are not the major offender in this case. Films and television are much worse in terms of body diversity. Advertising and the fashion industry promote an unhealthy body image that is far worse than what video games do. These industries and entertainment media predate video games and have done far more damage. Even fitness magazines that constantly obsess over weight loss rather than actual health are culprits. It should be understood that electronic entertainment is a relatively new medium and still evolving. It can go in the right direction as long as character design remains flexible and show variety.

          What vexes video game enthusiasts about third wave feminist criticism is that it condemns the entire geek culture. It merely casts all men as being misogynists, fearful of women, or advocates of men’s rights movement . Geek culture is vast and covers many aspects of entertainment including non-material culture. It involves comics, collecting memorabilia, video games, role-playing board games, and science fiction in all forms of media. It is a devoted subculture that is mostly male. It almost seems ironic that women are attacking men that they would not pay attention to if they were attempting to start conversation. This sudden “social   justice” movement against video games parallels how fundamentalist Christians condemned Dungeons and Dragons. These movements are not designed to correct an injustice or grievance, but to keep an ideology alive. Third wave feminism  has in many was become bankrupt. It does not attempt to address the racism in its own movement or lack of solidarity. It does not address class warfare that is relentless. Attacking a medium which is gaining wide spread popularity is a way to promote and keep relevant a movement that has lost purpose. There are still many challenges ranging from reproductive rights, feminization of poverty, violence against women, and unequal pay. Some factions of third wave feminists do not want to confront these issues or the challenges facing the women of the world. These women are white and of the upper class in the United States focused on improving the conditions of their own group. There is more of a push to form more of a special interest group for women within the context of third wave feminism. This faction tends to escalate an incident of which to many would seem insignificant. Whether its the  Eugenie Bouchard twirling controversy or the backlash in regards to the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters,  it seems more facetious than a serious issue. Compared to other parts of the globe, these seem like frivolous First World problems. Relevant to the gaming world the Tracer pose controversy became a ludicrous spectacle. A few third wave feminists complained that tracer was being over sexualized by doing a over the shoulder pose. Blizzard caved into pressure and removed the pose.

 

 This image was not lascivious or suggestive, but some claimed it was reducing the character to a mere sex object. The pronouncement lacked cogency. Tracer’s pose is a bodybuilding pose you see in certain categories of the sport. Observers did not know and some did not care. They saw what they wanted to see, even though it had no basis in reality. Starting a problem when one was not present angered many. These petty and often  senseless battles only cause more of a divide among male and  female video game enthusiasts. There are games ( mostly M rated) that are far more worse in depictions of women than Tracer in Overwatch.  It would have made more sense to attack those game rather than Overwatch. Blizzard’s attempt to be politically correct could have an unintended repercussion. Companies may not have female characters in their games rather than face protests. Finding a balance will be a challenge for game developers.

       Anita Sarkeesian only states problems rather than providing solutions. There are several courses of action that can implemented. Women must enter game design and become content creators. Women being leaders and workers in the industry can counter sexist attitudes and convictions. It can also add a perspective to the industry. Game developers must be willing to be more bold with their character design. Playstation 4, X Box, and the Nintendo Wii U have great graphics.Seeing as  the systems are advanced in this attribute, they have to do more to distinguish themselves. Making characters with interesting and unique appearance will help. Investing in great storylines  and setting will enhance a gaming experience. Women should consider staring their own video game companies. The administration and business section of the industry has the most power, something individuals should not be without. This way there is more control over what content is being produced and distributed. Third wave feminists must understand that not every man is their enemy. There may actually be male allies that could help change certain practices. If change is to happen it cannot come from Anita Sarkeesian. It has to be women who have been a part of the video game community either as game designers or fans. Only then can effective progress can happen.

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The Problem with Anita Sarkeesian’s “All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games” Argument

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