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Analysis of the Anita/Colbert Interview

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I finally found an article with the full interview up and got a chance to watch it.  I was honestly pleasantly surprised by Colbert's questions and I think this was an interesting watch.  This is the kind of questioning that I wished the gaming media was doing from the very beginning, and I think it's worth looking at this interview critically.  

Link to the video.

We can all agree it was a great PR victory for her just on visuals alone, but the actual content discussed doesn't seem to really back up many of her claims or positions.  Even with this being a relatively softball interview, I think it's actually the most pushback and questioning I've ever seen her get ... ever.  That is a sad statement on how little discussion has actually occured around her videos and her theories.  It's sad that it took a comedian that is completely outside of gaming to be the first to do this in a mainstream way.  

Anyway, let's look at some of the exchanges I chose to highlight.  They also talk a bit more about harassment, and her Utah speaking event that got canceled.  I think everyone but extremist trolls agrees that harassment is not okay, so I don't find it to be a particularly compelling topic to discuss since there's really not much to discuss.  Report it to the authorities, which she did.  Good.  Okay, moving on to her actual ideas now -

I. Colbert: "It's a culture war, it's a sub-culture war."

Anita: "There is something going on, and what it is is women being harassed and threatened and terrorized -"

Colbert: "After you first attacked male gamers for enjoying looking at big-breasted women with tiny armor that barely covers their nipples.  What is wrong with that?  I like that.  I like what that looks like.  I'm a man baby!"

Anita: "Well -"

Colbert: "Newsflash, I like it."

Anita: "Well, one of the problems with that is that it actually reinforces this cultural myth that women are sexual objects and sexual playthings for male amusement.  And, we're not."

I thought this was actually a pretty interesting exchange, because Colbert is basically arguing that heterosexual male fantasies are entirely normal, healthy parts of male sexuality.  "News flash, I like it."  He's arguing that there is nothing wrong with games that are purposely made to cater to male sexual fantasies, because sexual fantasies are healthy, normal parts of what it means to be a human being.  

Anita says that male sexual fantasies are "problems."  They reinforce a cultural myth that women are sexual objects.  I just don't find that compelling at all.  What is the evidence for that statement?  Is there even a way that anyone could scientifically prove that?  It just sounds like an idea that is plucked out of the air and can't be proven.  I could just as easily say that violent fantasy games reinforce a cultural myth that murder is fun and death has no consequences.  But that doesn't prove true in reality.  Violent crime continues to decline nationwide in the US at the same time that violent gaming rises.

I just find her whole message here to be anti-inclusive, anti-sex, and anti-tolerance.  I'm all for supporting any and everyone's sexual expression whether it's LGBTQ or anyone else.  That also includes my support for heterosexuality.  How can we casually demonize someone's sexuality, or sexual art?  Many men are attracted to women, and like to spend their money on fantasy games where they can interact with women they are attracted to.  Would anyone feel comfortable calling a game allowing gay men to explore their sexuality a "problem?"  No they wouldn't, and they shouldn't.  But the same goes for heterosexuality as well, which is being unfairly demonized here.

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II. Colbert: "We're saving them.  Damsels in distress.  I'm saving the princess, am I supposed to let the princess die?  Is that what you want?  That's kinda harsh, that's kinda hostile."

Anita: "Well maybe the princess shouldn't be a damsel and she could save herself."

Colbert: "They've got games where - [interrupted by crowd]."

This seems like a very unconvincing comeback from her that doesn't persuade me in any way that the damsel trope is problematic.  As Colbert argues here, most games portray a story of trying to save someone you love, someone that is more important to you than anyone, someone you are willing to risk death to save.  Is that really a story about objectification?  Sometimes it may be in extremely simplified NES games that barely even have the capability to tell a story.  But sometimes, it's a game merely about selfless heroism and risking your personal safety to save someone.  That is a positive message, and she doesn't really have any criticism of that here at all.

Maybe the princess shouldn't be a damsel?  Sure, that's fine for some games, and those games exist already and continue to be made.  Colbert said it right here himself.  Anita even says it later in the video.  So if those games exist, and will continue to be made, why demonize a story about selfless heroism in other games?

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III. Colbert: "By criticizing these, male fantasy games, male objectification of women games -"

Anita: "Some of them that would be an accurate description"

Colbert: "So, give me some names, name some names."

Anita: "Well, in the work that I do, I look at hundreds of examples of videogames that -"

Colbert: "So, can you think of 3?"  Can you think of 3?"

Anita: "I can, but I think it's a bigger issue to talk about the industry as a whole and how it perpetuates these ideas of sexism and mysogyny as opposed to just Grand Theft Auto example."

I thought this section was also pretty convincing, since she basically fully runs from repeated, focused questioning here, and simply refuses to answer his question.  Instead, she wants to discuss how the entire industry, collectively perpetuates sexism and mysogyny.  I just don't think that's really true.  The entire industry doesn't perpetuate hatred of women.  If it did, why are 48% of gamers female?  It just doesn't make sense.  How would any prove her claim scientifically?  Can it even be proven scientifically?  It doesn't fit with reality.

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IV. Anita: "Women are perceived as threatening because we are asking for games to be more inclusive."

Colbert: "Why not just have a separate game?  Have separate but equal games."

Anita: "Well, we do have lots of different kinds of games that -"

Colbert: "So, what are you complaining about?"

Anita: "That's one of the things that I think is happening here is that, we have this wide range of games that - we're seeing mobile games, we're seeing indie games, we're seeing this influx of different kinds of games, and that's what gamergate is responding to.  They're actually responding to the fact that we're saying that gaming can no longer be this little boy's club anymore.  There are many of us women who have been playing games our whole lives, and so they're lashing out because we're challenging the status quo of gaming as a male dominated space."

Colbert uses charged language here that harkens back to segregated schools and it gets a laugh from the audience.  But his actual question and premise here are perfectly valid.  Lots of content is segregated across gender lines, simply because they have different intrests.  Men don't call Ellen and Oprah sexist because the talk shows don't have enough action segments in them.  They just find something else to watch; seperate but equal TV shows.  That's basically what Colbert is advocating for here; and he's asking if she's even comfortable allowing games made specifically for men to even exist.  In response to that, she basically says that gaming can no longer be a "little boy's club."  Does that mean that no games purposely made to appeal to men can exist?  It doesn't really mean anything specific because it's just a catch phrase.  If 48% of gamers are women, if games where women are the heroes exist, if diverse indie games exist, why would anyone call it a little boy's club?  She basically entirely dodges his question here, which is saying that not every single game will be designed to appeal to every person.  Some games will, and some games will be designed for a more specific audience.  If she agreed to this obvious, non-confrontational point, she would have little reason to demonize games or criticize the industry.

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V. Colbert: "What about the accusations of collusion between gamers, designers and journalists?  Do you understand how important it is?  We are talking about ethics in G-A-M-I-N-G J-O-U-R-N-A-L-I-S-M.  Do you understand how huge that is?  I mean, what if there was no ethics in Hollywood journalism?  If we can't trust Entertainment Tonight or TMZ where would we be?  Is that what you want for gamer journalism?"

Anita: "I think that that is a sort of compelling way to reframe the fact that this is actually attacks on women.  Ethics in journalism is not what's happening, in any way.  It's actually men going after women in really hostile, aggressive ways.  That's what gamergate is about.  It's about, like, terrorizing women for being involved in this industry, being involved in this hobby."

Colbert's question here is basically saying, "of course gaming journalism is corrupt, just like Hollywood.  It will always be corrupt."  He is probably right here as well.  But what does that actually say?  That says that there is of course going to be corruption, and so of course the claims of ethical issues in gaming journalism deserve more serious attention because they almost surely exist due to its inherent sensationalist attitude and conflict of interest built in as a consumer press.  Gamers complaining about the press has been a consistent theme for years, and it does exist.  Just ask any game journalist and they'll tell you that a lot of their audience is hostile, and suspicious of them.

But Anita basically dodges that point completely and goes out of her way to really eggregiously mischaracterize the whole gamergate movement with broad, generalized strokes. It's really a very bad answer that tries to blatantly simplify, demonize, and marginalize a diverse and complex collective of people and complaints. 

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VI. Colbert:  "As a man am I allowed to be a feminist?"

Anita: "Well, do you believe that women should have equal rights to men and that we should fight for those rights?"

Colbert: "Sure."

Anita: "Great, then you're a feminist."

He asked if he was "allowed to be a feminist."  The answer is yes.  He didn't ask what a feminist is.  Feminism is something you self-identify with, you don't label people as feminists against their will if they don't want to be included.  This is something that feminists have a huge problem with, because huge numbers of people (including large percentages of women), purposely go out of their way to not label themselves as feminists even when directly asked.  For example, I of course think that women should have equal rights to men and that we should all fight for that equality.  But I'm not a feminist, no matter how badly she wants me to be.  Feminism is not that simplistic, and it includes numerous sub-ideologies that have various beliefs and views about all kinds of things that go well beyond this purposely reductionist definition.  She basically ends the interview on a misleading cannard that is parroted online very frequently.

A better question to ask would be, why in the world are so many people purposely against calling themselves feminists?  That would require some self-reflection, and honest acknowledgment of their faults to determine though, so instead they will just use the broadest, most benign definition possible to label others as feminists after they go out of their way to disassociate themselves from the movement.  

Ouch.  And this relatively softball interview represents the most criticism she has ever had in an interview.

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About Shintaone of us since 1:53 AM on 02.15.2010