No Easy Questions for Anita Sarkeesian at the ExCITe Center

Anita Sarkeesian at the ExCITe Center
Anita Sarkeesian at the ExCITe Center

As a feminist cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian is used to asking tough questions. In her Feminist Frequency video series “Tropes vs. Women” and “Video Games vs. Women,” Sarkeesian challenges conventional ideas in entertainment, pulling apart hoary, oft-repeated concepts and inquiring as to why we still use them. But her stature as a respected media commentator meant that when she arrived at Drexel’s ExCITe Center to answer a battery of student-submitted questions, each one required considerable contemplation and candor. 

“Can you give me an easy question?” Sarkeesian jokingly asked hosts Adrianna Gass and Frank Lee of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio of Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. After detailing the need for women to have a voice in the creation of video games, only to be asked how that can begin to happen, one can identify with Sarkeesian’s need to answer something simple.

Sarkeesian’s sense of humor was evident throughout the talk, from her beginnings making videos — “I started Feminist Frequency because I had a shitty time in grad school” — to her frustration working as a consultant for video game companies — “How can we make things better without changing anything?” — to debunking the concept of the “casual” gamer who only plays games on mobile devices.

“Let me tell you, there is nothing casual about the way my mom plays ‘Candy Crush.’ She sat me down and told me all about the strategy and how to turn the time back on her iPad so she wouldn’t have to pay for it,” Sarkeesian said. “Mobile games changed who makes games, who plays them and what a gamer is.”

The call to recognize gamers as other than just straight white men in the 18—34 demographic is one of Sarkeesian’s main points. And while that notion is slowly spreading through the culture, as evidenced by the fierce backlash when the developers of the popular “Assassins’s Creed” said that the reason there was no playable female character is because it was too costly and difficult to do, Sarkeesian said she is disappointed that more game companies are not working to make their games appealing to a wider audience.

“It’s valuable to play in the shoes of women,” Sarkeesian said, praising the first-person games “Gone Home,” “Portal” and “Mirror’s Edge,” which all place the player in the roles of female protagonists. “‘Gone Home’ was so powerful to so many of us because we saw our stories in a way we never have before.”

Telling new stories is important, but it’s hard to do when those who are making decisions come from the same background. Sarkeesian said she wants to see more diverse groups making video games because that leads to better games. And better games leads to better things overall.

“Media matters,” Sarkeesian said. “What you do goes out into the world. And that’s awesome.”

There was one easy question, presented at the end of the talk: Which superpower would Sarkeesian prefer, flight or invisibility? This time, Sarkeesian had an answer waiting.

“Invisibility,” Sarkeesian said without any hesitation. “How many meetings could you sit in on? What a great social justice opportunity!”