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In this video series, Feminist Frequency will explore five common and recurring stereotypes of female characters in video games
6,968 backers pledged $158,922 to help bring this project to life.

How our Tropes vs Women project has expanded and transformed

Posted by Feminist Frequency (Creator)
277 likes

As I look forward to plans and goals for Feminist Frequency in 2015, I’m reflecting on our Tropes vs Women in Video Games project and how far we’ve come. Two years into this project, I’d like to share some thoughts with you about what we set out to do, and what we’ve accomplished so far.

The Original Plan

Back in 2011, I created a series of six relatively short videos called Tropes vs Women that examined a handful of harmful gender tropes primarily found in television and movies. After their release, I received many positive messages from viewers who had felt uncomfortable when they saw these themes in their favorite media, and after watching my video series, they could finally articulate why. Because of the positive feedback I decided to do a follow-up series. I had been wanting to do some extended episodes on video games and since many of the tropes on my list were highly prevalent in gaming, the Tropes vs Women in Video Games kickstarter was born.

Initially, I imagined that each of the five videos would be about 10-12 minutes, give or take, with episode structures similar to the original series: description of the trope, relatively quick overview, a handful of game examples from major titles, and a brief 101-style ‘why does this matter’ analysis. I envisioned my audience primarily as young women, largely feminists or those already dissatisfied or uncomfortable with the status quo. I budgeted the initial project at $10,000. I set the Kickstarter goal to $6,000 and was anticipating an additional $4,000 in grants. This would cover the costs of production, equipment, games etc. and I would continue to volunteer time to produce the episodes.

So What Happened?

Much to my surprise and delight, I raised the initial $6,000 within 24 hours. As support for the project continued to pour in, I quickly expanded the number of videos I was going to produce and set up more stretch goals including an increase in production quality and a classroom curriculum. It wasn’t until halfway through the fundraiser that the harassment campaign began, and it’s never stopped. Not only did this harassment change my life, but it also forced me to fundamentally change the way I approached this project.

Due to the attention, both negative and positive, I had a much bigger spotlight on my work than ever before. I had new supporters: passionate geeks, curious onlookers, those horrified by the harassment, and of course, detractors and dedicated harassers. Perhaps most interestingly, game developers started paying attention as well. While Feminist Frequency started as a literacy tool to help folks be more critical of the media they are engaging with, I was now talking to the people that actually make that media, giving me a chance to send my message directly to those who can make real and substantial change in the industry.

This felt daunting, but exciting! Attracting a broader audience outside of the feminist sphere meant that I could reach more people, but also that I could no longer assume that my viewers had prior experience with sociological or feminist theory. My new videos would need to break down basic concepts so that viewers could follow along without any pre-existing knowledge while simultaneously challenging the status quo in gaming culture (a culture where many enthusiasts react defensively or even aggressively to the idea that sexism is a problem at all).

Back in June of 2012, I never imagined that the initial surge of harassment would not only increase in volume, but continue for years to come. One thing was immediately apparent, however: the harassers had made it their mission to pick apart and distort every minuscule detail of my work and even my personal life in order to try to discredit, defame, and ultimately silence me. My arguments and examples had to be airtight; I felt I could not afford to make a single mistake or error. That was, and is, a lot of pressure.

Making these videos is a balancing act of trying to offer comprehensive theoretical frameworks stated in widely accessible language while also trying to be bulletproof. We aim to reach as many people as possible while making our arguments solid enough so that folks who are on the fence won’t be easily lured in by the harassers’ torrent of misrepresentations and fabrications.

Emotional Toll

It’s hard to quantify the emotional costs that accompany daily harassment both for me and those bystanders who support me online. Every time I post anything online there is a predictable wave of harassing messages in response. However, when I publish an episode of Tropes vs Women in Video Games the vicious wave of harassment can carry on for weeks or even months. Instead of the satisfaction that typically comes with completing and publishing a big project, I am often forced to turn off my computer and avoid Facebook, Twitter and email, sometimes for days at a time. In addition to the sexist harassment, the death and rape threats have been persistent and have ranged from annoying to criminal. Local and national law enforcement agencies are involved in investigating the worst of these crimes. While the harassment existed long before the mob began self identifying as “GamerGate”, the emergence of this organized backlash in August 2014 caused the hate and vitriol targeting women in gaming to intensify exponentially with widespread ramifications across the gaming industry.

While Tropes vs Women in Video Games was originally a project examining women’s representations, the extreme harassment that I experience has become an intrinsic and inseparable part of this project, fundamentally changing my life and the landscape in which I release my videos. Gendered online harassment is not a new phenomenon, but the intensity of cyber mobs, especially in gaming, is increasing in frequency and severity. It became apparent to me that I should speak up and use my experience to help expose the epidemic of online abuse. Nearly half of my time is spent raising awareness on the epidemic of online harassment and working to help change policies on the institutional level. Some of these efforts are done publicly through Feminist Frequency’s website and social media presence, as well as countless media interviews and at public speaking events. But there is also work being done behind the scenes in private meetings and consultations with major social media and gaming platforms, and by partnering with other organizations to form a task force with the goal of ending online harassment.

The Current Scope of the Project

The goals of Feminist Frequency have changed due to all these factors. Here’s an overview of the ways we have evolved and expanded the Tropes vs Women in Video Game project:

  • Instead of examining a handful of examples for each trope, we sift through hundreds of games across a variety of genres and platforms. For example, we referenced 182 games in our coverage of the Damsel in Distress trope alone. We have also catalogued and documented over 548 examples of the Damsel in Distress throughout the history of video games. 
  • Originally, I anticipated creating 10-12 minute videos for each trope. However, as the depth and breadth of our analysis grew, so did the videos. 
    ~ The Damsel in Distress became a three-part miniseries clocking in at just over one hour
    ~ Ms. Male Character was 25 minutes long
    ~ Women as Background Decoration became a two-part miniseries clocking in at one hour 
  • Our desire to be more specific in the analysis meant that we made connections to other related tropes, including some that we identified and named ourselves. For example, in the Damsel in Distress videos we also discussed new tropes such as the Helpful Damsel, the Damsel in the Refrigerator, the Disposable Damsel and the Euthanized Damsel. With all that and more, it’s easy to see how we ended up with an hour long multi-part mini series just on this one topic alone. 
  • Many of my previous videos were off the cuff and only half scripted. In this series I have become much more intentional. Every sentence and every word is carefully considered and evaluated. There is nothing flippantly or casually stated. This can lead to hours of discussion about the accuracy of a particular term or rephrasing a single sentence until it is just right. Rather than small, casual analyses, each trope video has ended up feeling like we are trying to put together a master’s thesis in just a few months.

What We’ve Accomplished

I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished with Feminist Frequency over the last two years. We’ve released six long-form episodes in the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series plus an accompanying animated video narrated by Jennifer Hale. Our YouTube channel has garnered over 17 million views and our Twitter account now has over 230,000 followers. Feminist Frequency writer and producer Jonathan McIntosh turned an article he wrote on male privilege into a highly popular video with the help of 25 male gamers including veteran games journalist Adam Sessler and beloved game developer Tim Schafer. I’ve done countless radio, television, and print interviews discussing online harassment and the representations of women in games, as well as speaking on these topics at dozens of schools and conferences globally.

We are one of several prominent voices that has helped bring about a paradigm shift and stronger awareness to the inequities in gaming culture. Just in the last couple of years there has been a significant transformation in the way gaming press outlets are reporting on issues of gender representation. Game reviews are beginning to include commentary on how women are depicted, and reporters are questioning developers and publishers more frequently on the lack of female protagonists in their games. After we released our episodes on the Damsel in Distress, several reporters at E3 asked Shigeru Miyamoto why he continued to use the Damsel trope in many of his popular Nintendo games and he said he hadn’t really thought about it before.

One of the most hopeful signs for me is how often developers have expressed their appreciation for my work. I have been invited to speak at game studios like EA DICE, Bungie, and ArenaNet. Developers at both indie and major game studios continue to reach out to me personally to tell me how our video series, and our larger work at Feminist Frequency has played a significant role in shaping internal conversations at all levels of production. Developers who were responsible for some of the games that I have critiqued in my series have graciously accepted the criticism and have promised to do better in the future.

Players, creators, and educators are taking our videos as a starting point and expanding the conversation about representations in games within their own communities.

Financials

When our kickstarter campaign ended on June 16, 2012 we raised a total of $158,922. Here is a breakdown of how the funds have been used:

Over the past two years Feminist Frequency has shifted from a side project I did in my spare time to a full blown organization. In May 2014, Feminist Frequency officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit. This is exciting for a number of reasons, and will allow us to expand the organization and bring on additional support to help us do even more. It means more critical media analysis, more videos, and more efforts to raise awareness and develop solutions around the epidemic of online harassment. My long-term vision of Feminist Frequency includes a network with a variety of different programs and hosts analyzing media from a systemic/intersectional/anti-oppression lens. My team and I are growing the organization carefully and deliberately by bringing in new writing and support staff and by working to create compelling new educational programing. As a very young nonprofit and as we grow into a fully staffed organization, fundraising efforts will become increasingly important in sustaining our growth. If you are interested in learning more about Feminist Frequency as a nonprofit and our work, please take a look at our 2014 Annual Report [PDF].

I hope this update has provided you some insight into this ongoing project and our process in putting together each episode. I know many of you wish we would produce episodes faster, but each video is a massive undertaking and I do not want to compromise the comprehensive, in-depth analysis and high production quality that you have come to expect from Feminist Frequency. Tropes vs Women in Video Games is still my top priority and our next episode Women as Reward is currently in production. I am very proud of the work we are doing and the impact it is having on the industry at large.

I thank each of you for supporting this Kickstarter before you had any idea what these videos were really going to be about and I thank you for your patience as we continue on this rollercoaster of a journey.

Sincerely, 
Anita

Sachi Wilson, fluffy, and 275 more people like this update.

Comments

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    1. Missing avatar

      Continuity on

      I backed this kickstarter because I wanted to see enlightened discussion about computer games, and because I want the medium and industry to mature and provide more original and balanced content rather than heavily favouring the tropes it relies on currently.

      I certainly haven't been disappointed, I never imagined this would turn out to be so thorough and so successful, or so challenging, I've personally struggled with some of the videos and feel I have learned much from them. I'm saddened by the backlash and harassment but at the same time pleased it is having such an obvious impact.

      Bravo.

    2. Shawn Bird on

      Ironically, the excessive hate has helped to make your videos even more popular and your research more thorough.

    3. Sarah Milstein on

      Terrific update (despite the escalating harassment).

    4. Bryan Hanks on

      This is awesome news! Anita, you've done a world of good and your strength in standing up to the onslaught is commendable. I hope you don't give up.

      In the grand scheme of things, gender inequality in video games is but a tiny sliver of the myriad of issues most folks face daily.

      However, for people involved, you are a bright light and have done--and continue to do--much to make the world a better place. I am honored that I got to be here right at the beginning and to see you rise to all of the challenges, to face off against the angry, sad trolls who stand in all our way.

      I *am* a Social Justice Warrior. Thanks for allowing me to fight for this.

    5. Missing avatar

      keke36 on

      Good luck with everything! You guys are doing a awesome job!

    6. Jemaleddin Cole on

      I'm so amazed by the work you've done and excited for the ways that Feminist Frequency can expand in the future. One of my proudest moments this month was getting a tax receipt from you and thinking how glad I was to support someone so brave. Keep up the incredible work!

    7. Praemus on

      I continue to be amazed at what this project has started.

      Thank you so much for continuing to have the strength, integrity and moral compass to carry the torch, without giving in to the harassment you endure every day on Twitter.

    8. Forar on

      Glad you made it onto the Colbert Report before the show ended. The pic of you at the desk is amazing, and hopefully the discussion you had reached even more people.

      Thanks for letting us peek behind the curtains a little, and kudos to the whole FF team.

    9. Gustav Wedholm
      Superbacker
      on

      Anita Sarkeesian, Internet hero.

    10. Missing avatar

      Lucas Walker on

      I couldn't be happier at where Tropes vs. Women in Video Games has gone since its beginnings! Thanks again for making me proud to be a backer. I actually thought this post was going to end with an appeal for more funds a la Double Fine... and I was 100% ready to throw down again. Your work is important and your community supports you. Keep it going!

    11. Esther Pearl on

      You are amazing and this update is both comprehensive and impressive! Thank you for all you do!

    12. Aidan Doyle on

      Thank you for all your hard work and for your bravery.

    13. Scolaro on

      Thank you for the interesting summary! I'm glad to see you're still fighting and wish you the best!

    14. Luke Meeken on

      Each video you drop is a cause for celebration, and the work you're doing is so important. I'm a high school digital media arts teacher, and your videos are an invaluable tool in my classroom when we do our game design units.

      I am so, so happy to hear about Fem Freq's nonprofit status, and the attendant hope that it will be an institution that outlives the Kickstarter project and continues on to be a positive influence in pop cultural criticism for years (heck, decades) to come.

    15. Missing avatar

      Rory on

      I just wanted to add my voice of support and appreciation, small though it may be. I'm sorry that you have to go through all this shit.

    16. Missing avatar

      Kacie Shelton on

      Thank you for your dedication, despite the emotional stress and upended life. I am so very glad this is now a not-for-profit, that so many others have signed on to help you and help shoulder the burden of standing up under the hate.

    17. Missing avatar

      Nurot on

      Anita, you are my hero!

      Many people would have backed down when they saw the scope of the project increase so much, but you stepped up instead! Great work so far!

    18. Joshua A.C. Newman on

      So proud to have backed a project, and happy that you've been able to weather this absurd cruelty.

    19. Missing avatar

      Ignis on

      Thank YOU, Anita! ♥
      I remember the day this project was announced, as a longtime female gamer I was excited and thought finally, something like this is much needed! I also worried a bit about backlash from misogynist male nerds. We all know what happened.
      But it's SOOO great to see the positive impact your work with this series is having!

    20. Stephen Bruun on

      Thanks for the update. I was going to put some backstory into this comment but it was becoming a novella. Short version: I pretty much ignore modern gaming. I contributed to this Kickstarter because I was disgusted by the harassment campaign and I wanted to say that those cretins do not speak for me. The anonymous cowards who oppose you have to resort to venom, threats, and lies because the other side - OUR side - has all the good stuff like facts, reason, and moral justice.

    21. Charles Fitt
      Superbacker
      on

      I'm so glad you're here, doing this work and bringing this stuff out where we can see it, and both saddened and outraged that so many of my fellow men have decided to be inhuman ragemonkey trolls about it. I wish you the best in the future, and hope the mouthbreathers stop harassing you and those like you.

    22. schnide on

      "In May 2014, Feminist Frequency officially became a 501(c)3 nonprofit."

      This literally brought (good) tears to my eyes. Well done, haters - everything you've done has made this cause stronger, continuing to prove you're the complete idiots everyone says you are.

      Congratulations to Anita and her team. Forward!

    23. Missing avatar

      Per on

      Thank you for all your work, your early youtube videos was a major source for me to better understand issues with media and identify my own problematic behaviours.

      Facing all you have, your ability to provide a calm collected critique is superhuman, im so grateful.

    24. Mark Cumisky on

      This is great work. Thank you. Best $25 I ever spent. :-)

    25. Natalie McKenzie on

      Wow! It looks like you're doing great work! I suppose I'll always miss your work on tropes in film and television, but this is an area in our media obviously needs a spotlight. I'm so happy you're doing good and refusing to let the harassment bring you down. I'm sorry there's not enough praise to mute their harshness all the time.

      If Feminist Frequency is now a non-profit (YAY!), would you consider making it eligible for donations through Amazon Smile?

    26. Faruk Ateş on

      Thank you for a comprehensive report and update! This is fantastic, and it's great to see that the project has expanded into something that much more powerful and valuable to the industry at large. We can all see how much shit you have to deal with, but we're with you all the way in this game-changing endeavour.

      > Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

      RWE would be proud.

    27. endirasae on

      Thank you.

      Please let us know if there's any way we can help with all the crap this is putting you through.

    28. Missing avatar

      K. P. Badertscher on

      You consistently make me proud to be a Feminist Frequency backer. Thank you for all your hard work!

    29. Kite on

      "Master's thesis in a few months" indeed! I am constantly floored by the amount of research and careful writing that goes into each of your videos, not to mention the beautiful editing. I can only hope that if I do a thesis, I'll approach it with the same dedication!

    30. ZILLA on

      Thank you for your dedication to this project!

    31. Nathan Perry on

      I have loved and been inspired by every single video that has come out of Feminist Frequency.

    32. Daniel Ingraham on

      Thank you so much for everything you do, for your sacrifice and for your enduring commitment. You're an inspiration for me and thousands of other people.

    33. xolotl on

      Thank you for your continued work on this project, and your admirable resilience against the awful backlash you've been subjected to. The videos have been great, and I always enjoy seeing new ones get posted. Thanks again!

    34. David E. Wheeler on

      Thank you so much, Anita, and your team!

    35. Shoshana Kessock / Phoenix Outlaw
      Superbacker
      on

      Thank you of course, not only for your tireless work, but your commitment to keeping in contact with your supporters despite and during hard times. Your work is fantastic, thank you once more.

    36. Marian Evans on

      O wow. Another fabulous update. Thanks a million. All strength to you and your inspiring work.

    37. Lindsay on

      Thank you so much, for all that you do, and from the bottom of my heart. Every time I see folks having kittens when your name is so much as mentioned, it hurts -- but it also says hey, people are listening. You didn't ask for any of this, but you are carrying on with such strength and such continuing compassion, it is amazing to see.

      If it helps at all, you were already speaking to game devs, even in the early Feminist Frequency videos -- they made our office mailing list every time a new one came out, and the same has happened with the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games. I think a big, big part of this is that most game devs, especially looking around our studio, are now in their mid-to-late 30s, and plenty now have kids of their own. I remember seeing the CEO of Naughty Dog do a post-mortem on The Last Of Us talking about how he'd never really thought about women in video games... until he had his daughter. Sometimes I guess that's what it takes, for people to understand, to have someone in their lives that they care about be subjected to this kind of awfulness... and to want better not just for them, but for everyone.

      Some of us have been dealing with it since we were born, and let me tell you, your name comes up -- in POSITIVE ways! -- every time I do a talk about careers in the game industry with high-schoolers, targeted at women in STEM or just in general. We're listening, whether we have been in the industry for over 10 years or are still not legally able to drive. We're listening, and we're learning we can not only insist on better, but can make it happen ourselves.

    38. John Harrison on

      I'm so sorry that each update puts you through hell. I really appreciate this video series!

    39. Missing avatar

      Trent Monacell on

      You have been doing amazing work. This is by far the kickstarter I am most proud to have supported.

    40. Missing avatar

      Kenneth Lu on

      (And I totally understand that, with all this attention, you feel the need to meticulously analyze every word of your videos!)

    41. Missing avatar

      Kenneth Lu on

      It really seems like there's been a giant shift in awareness on the issue in the games industry. I'd go so far as to say that it's the artistic medium where feminism has been progressing the most recently, and MUCH of that is because of you.

      It must SUCK to be the lightning rod for all the backlash. I can't even imagine being so brave as to continue to deal with all the harassment. Thank you so much.

    42. Feminist Frequency Creator on

      Hey Linnsey, we have recently started a Steam curator page with some suggested games that have dynamic or well designed female characters, as well as emotionally impactful games with an emphasis on themes of cooperation, empathy or social justice. http://store.steampowered.com/curator/6954951-Feminist-Frequency/

    43. Missing avatar

      Linnsey Nil on

      One additional way you could help further change the industry is to publish game reviews or a few recommendations a month. Many gamers want to play games with interesting female characters and want to avoid games that are going to turn on us with annoying BS.

      If have devs know there might be a quantifiable FF "bump" for fun portrayals of women it might make some of those conversations easier and might bring us better games. Also, I'm sick of being ambushed by sexist crap and don't want to miss any gems.

    44. Laurent Maire on

      Thanks for the sincere and comprehensive update. I may not always agree with you and feel that you occasionally create your own closed arguments to certain topics in your efforts to make things 'bulletproof' (no such thing as a perfect argument) but I truly appreciate the need for the discussion. Your videos are coherent and intelligent platforms for launching that discussion, while shining a direct spotlight on the dire need to have it out in the open in the process.

      I'm very happy with what you have produced so far and impressed to see you have dared to take it to the next level with the considerable funds and support you received. All respect to you and your team and I look forward in anticipation to the next video in the series. I know it will be well worth the wait.

    45. Missing avatar

      Veronica Young on

      Thank You for all of the work you and your team have done and continue to do.

    46. Alex Zandra Van Chestein on

      Thank you for all your hard work! You help me make better games.

    47. Michael C. Neel on

      I'm very grateful for the work you do, and in awe of the bravery you display while doing it.

      I stumbled across this kickstarter when I was covering new video game projects for a podcast. I checked into your previous work and was impressed - on the podcast I shared learning about "Women in the Refrigerator" and "The Bechdel Test" and though it would be great for someone to apply the same analysis to video games. I found your points not only made me aware of issues, but gave me specific recommendations that, as a hobbyist game designer, I could apply in my own games.

      It comes as no surprise to me then that developers of the industry have embraced your work. I look forward to your work in this year and for many more.

    48. John Horstman on

      I could not be more impressed with how the project has evolved and how you have managed to handle years of constant, vicious harassment that has at times escalated to the level of outright terrorism (in that it's targeted groups, in addition to you, Anita, as an individual - I don't mean to minimize the severity of what has been directed at you personally). While I would of course like a faster production schedule - because I think the videos have been great overall, and I look forward to them! - I, for one, have no complaints about the project. I appreciate your hard work and perseverence (the entire team, and especially Anita as the lightening rod); thank you and best wishes for safety, sanity, support, and ultimately success in transforming some part of our culture.