A Message from Anita on the End of Tropes

Well, here we are folks.

I knew this day was coming but it always seemed so far away. After five long years, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is over. This is one of the most emotionally complicated projects I’ve ever created. It has been simultaneously awful and wonderful, and the journey is one which I will most certainly never forget. One that would never have happened without the incredible and generous support of our nearly 7000 Kickstarter backers, and countless others who encouraged us along the way.

On May 17th, 2012, I launched a very modest Kickstarter, hoping to raise $6,000 to make what was then going to be Feminist Frequency’s next series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. At that time, my vision for the project, like the amount of money I was hoping to raise, was fairly modest: a series of five videos, each perhaps ten minutes long, about harmful, sexist patterns of female representation in video games.

This may be the end of Tropes, but it is absolutely, by no means the end of Feminist Frequency.

Much of what came in the days and weeks that followed was great. It was exciting and gratifying to immediately see that many people had a real interest in feminist criticism of video games, as we blew past the initial funding goal within 24 hours. In time, we expanded the scope of the project, bringing the number of projected videos up to 12 and planning for longer, more rigorous analyses than I’d originally envisioned.

While this was happening, I was also watching in horror as cybermobs, deeply threatened by the mere idea of feminist analysis of video games, mobilized en masse to disrupt my life. In an effort to instill fear in me and in any woman who might dare to speak out against sexism in gaming, these mobs flooded all my social media channels with vile harassment, made slanderous, racist and pornographic edits to my Wikipedia page, posted private information about me online, made death threats against me and members of my family, and threatened events I was speaking at, among other tactics. And while the volume of that harassment has ebbed and flowed at times, it has never ceased, and the legacy of Tropes can never be entirely separated from the deep veins of hostility, entitlement, and misogyny that the reaction to the series revealed in some segments of the gaming community.

Nonetheless, we persevered with the research, writing, and production of the series, launching with episode one of a three-part series about perhaps the most prevalent of all video game tropes about women: the Damsel in Distress. Now, I want to emphasize something here, just to give you an idea of how much the vision for the project evolved in the wake of the Kickstarter’s tremendous and unforeseen success. What had originally started as plans for five videos, each approximately 10 minutes in length, eventually premiered with three videos all devoted to just one single trope! In total, those three videos came in at over an hour and ten minutes in length! Doing meticulous, comprehensive research spanning the entire history of video games as preparation for those episodes was tremendously difficult and time-consuming, but looking back, I believe the results speak for themselves.

Amid the tremendous fear and trauma resulting from the harassment I was experiencing, there were moments of satisfaction and solace as I saw that our videos were reaching people, players and creators of games alike, and encouraging them to think about representations of women in games in ways that they hadn’t before. The messages of support and appreciation we received during that time were especially meaningful, and helped me to persevere and continue believing in the importance and value of the work we were doing.

However, during that time even some of our most ardent supporters were understandably somewhat frustrated by the long research, writing and production times between episodes. By August of 2015, we had produced three Damsel in Distress videos, one Ms. Male Character video, two videos about Women as Background Decoration (totaling just over an hour in running time) and a main episode and special DLC mini-episode about Women as Reward, along with four bonus videos. In length and analytical depth, these videos far exceeded what I had originally planned, and after covering just those four tropes, we had already produced three hours and forty minutes of feminist criticism goodness.

As proud as I am of that work, at a certain point it became clear that if we were going to finish this project within a reasonable amount of time, we had to make some adjustments. And so, Season Two of Tropes was born. Eight videos, one each on eight different topics: shorter, snappier, hopefully more enjoyable and watchable but no less substantial. The change in format allowed us to speed up production time significantly without sacrificing the series’ signature feminist analysis.

And now here we are, at the eighth and final of those videos: The Lady Sidekick.

This episode examines how female sidekicks and companions in games are often designed to function as glorified gatekeepers, helpless burdens, and ego boosters, a pattern that works to reinforce oppressive notions about women as the ones in need of protection and men as the ones in control, who take action and do the protecting. We then feature some games with relationships that subvert traditional power fantasy mechanics, putting players on something closer to equal footing with their AI companions as they offer examples of what real communication, compromise, and mutual support in games might look like.

It’s a bittersweet moment, bidding farewell to this series.

This may be the end of Tropes, but it is absolutely, by no means the end of Feminist Frequency. We have so much stuff in the works, and I sincerely hope that you will continue to be a part of our journey as we move forward. We’ll be premiering our new show very soon, one that brings our signature feminist media analysis to bear on issues happening right now as we examine the connection between representations in pop culture and the racism, sexism, and transphobia of our current political climate.

Before I wrap this up, let’s take stock of what we wound up creating. Here is the entire list of videos in this series:

1. Damsel in Distress: Part 1
2. Damsel in Distress: Part 2
3. Damsel in Distress: Part 3
4. Ms. Male Character
5. Women as Reward
6. Women as Reward: Special DLC Mini-Episode
7. Women as Background Decoration: Part 1
8. Women as Background Decoration: Part 2

1. Strategic Butt Coverings
2. Body Language and the Male Gaze
3. Lingerie Is Not Armor
4. Are Women Too Hard to Animate?
5. All the Slender Ladies: Body Diversity in Video Games
6. Sinister Seductress
7. Not Your Exotic Fantasy
8. The Lady Sidekick

Positive Female Characters – The Scythian
Positive Female Characters – Jade from Beyond Good and Evil
Animated Short: The Legend of the Last Princess
Animated Short: Imperfect Dark Trailer
5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism

In all, that’s 4 hours and 50 minutes of feminist video game analysis.

It’s a bittersweet moment, bidding farewell to this series. It’s definitely time for it to be over, time for Feminist Frequency as an organization and for me personally to move on. But I keep thinking about all the ways that the world of video games has changed since that day, almost five years ago, when I first took my modest little Kickstarter live. It hasn’t all been for the better, but some of it definitely has. There are conversations happening now, among players and among creators, that weren’t happening before, about who games are for (everyone!), about what impact they can have, what they can tell us about humanity, empathy, race, gender, sexuality, the world we live in, and the world we want to create for ourselves.

By supporting this project, whether financially as part of the initial Kickstarter, or simply by watching it, sharing it and discussing it with your friends, you’ve been a part of this change. I can’t thank you enough.

‘Til next time