Aug 27, 2014 - Game Theory    2 Comments

Any Way She Wants

Social media is afire after the latest Anita Sarkeesian video resulted in renewed rape/death threats against her. Sarkeesian makes the seemingly uncontroversial statement that women’s bodies are abused and killed for little or no reason in video games. As a result, some men are so enraged that they’re driven to hurl sexist, violent abuse at the very idea of women who come within fifty feet of a game.

The problem with that is that I am a woman gamer. So are many of my women friends. Many of them run games for their friends, and a growing number are designing their very own games. I am wildly proud to be included in all this. Many of those friends have written wisely about the unfettered misogyny and racism that plagues the electronic and tabletop game industries at the same moment when we see more women and people of color entering the hobby than ever before.

So I don’t have much to add to their insightful commentary. But I do want to say this to my fellow women in games:

Play whatever games you want.

Yes, of course that means the button-mashing robot invasion game, or the minmaxed mecha pilot, or the Napoleonic cavalry officer trying to win Waterloo. War games and LARPs and Minecraft and Burning Wheel–all of it belongs to you as much as anyone else in the world, and don’t let a soul tell you otherwise.

But you can also play the magical space princess romance game. You can play a game where the only measurable objective is to get the boy (or the girl). You can play a game that’s all about middle school gossip. You can play a game with no boys allowed.

You can play games with fluid, barely there rules, and super-crunchy tables of staggering detail.

You can play games of scientific discovery, and life in the military, and the pursuit of katana mastery, and young love.

You can play games of death-defying feats and fearless daring, where you do everything you can’t ever imagine doing in the real world.

You can play games with sex: grand, towering, chandelier-swinging heights of passion that include superhuman flexibility and magical potions of endurance.

You can play games where you get to hunt down and beat the shit out of your rapist.

You can play games that capture a perfect, impossible childhood with nothing scary at all.

Because games contain everything we are–right now, fragile, flawed, unfinished–and everything we could possibly be–brave, magnificent, powerful, unstoppable. So nothing is beyond the scope of games. If you use a game to tell your story, there’s a very good chance that it’s a story others want to play too.

Because these games exist in the dimensions of ourselves and our world, the dark things do creep in: racism, sexism, ableism, bullying, abuse. Some of that is unintentional, but we’re coming to grips with the reality that others don’t always see these things as a problem. Some even see it as a solution, a boundary fence to protect an imagined definition of games that’s confined only to their tiny vision.

Games are bigger than these people. Protecting our games from criticism smothers them until all the fire goes out. Improving games improves us all, and the world we play them in.

And nobody gets to say your game is less worthy because of what you want to play. You are participating in one of the oldest common human experiences in the world. Play it all, women. Play all the games, then make your own.


  • Yeah i agree this twitter drama is dumb and making everyone look like idiots. All games should be played and if it isn’t for you thats okay. I don’t understand how people can “hate” a game and get offended it exists.

    I don’t really know how to word this next question, maybe asking it is in error. What are your thoughts when Anita says a game is misogynistic. Lets say F.A.T.A.L and Hitman. To me this means she doesn’t want you to play it and wants the development landscape to change. Do you think by advisting gamers to avoid playing certain themed games will help change the development landscape? Would you still tell people to play whatever game they want if they were playing F.A.T.A.L or hitman?

    • Thanks for your comment. Here are a few thoughts in reply:

      1) I didn’t say I thought the Twitter thing was dumb. In fact, a lot of incredibly important truths are being said, and the voices of men in gaming saying they are not cool with abuse are just as encouraging. The only people I wish weren’t contributing are the men who are trolling, abusing, and threatening my woman game player and developer friends.

      2) All art, including games, is open to critique. It’s our right and obligation as fans to point out the problematic things, especially in the media we enjoy. Anita Sarkeesian makes this point repeatedly in her videos, and I agree wholeheartedly. One of the ways I manifest this is in having extensive conversations about problematic elements in the games my sons play (or the ones we won’t let them play, because of content).

      3) It’s entirely possible for someone to hate a game that suggests that violence against their very person are fun and acceptable. A game with rules and rewards for raping people feels like an existential threat to people who live everyday with the real risk (and often the experience) of being assaulted. I believe in the principle that you’re free to do what you want, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone. Support of any media that make a person afraid for their real-life safety violates this principle.

      3) I don’t think ANYONE should play games like F.A.T.A.L. and not a single game publisher I know would touch that toxic piece of garbage with a ten-foot pole. Moreover, I support efforts by Kickstarter and others to deny access to projects that trade in damaging material. That said, in the age of self-publishing, games that are full of harmful stereotypes and behaviors can still get into the marketplace, and some people are going to play them, if for no other reason than shock value.

      I would definitely advise players not to play games that reinforce socially destructive behaviors, and I’ll speak out against them on any occasion. That said, if people insist on playing with them, I’d ask that they remain open to reasonable challenges to that practice, and engage in constructive discussion about the effects that they have on players in terms of reinforcing negative stereotypes and normalizing harmful behavior. If someone can genuinely argue that playing those games are fun, and yet don’t agree with any of the behaviors they make players engage in, I’d be interested to hear that.

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