Anita Sarkeesian's new video explores "dark and edgy" abuse of women, gets pulled from YouTube

The Men Who Get Unbelievably Angry At A Woman Critically Analysing Videogames just will not let up.

Anita Sarkeesian, the videogame critic whose Kickstarter project to analyse the role of women in games was responded to with an online hate campaign including a game about beating her up (as Helen says, "I like writing it like that, to emphasise the madness of it"), has released the second video in her "Tropes vs Women" series.

The video, part two of three examining the idea of the damsel in distress, delves deeper into the expression that trope has when combined with the "grim and gritty" aesthetic used in modern games. She explores ideas like comics author Gail Simone's concept of "women in refrigerators", which refers to the frequency with which a female character will be "killed, maimed or depowered", nearly always to provide a motivation to a male character rather than as part of her own character arc. She also explores related tropes, again usually gendered in their application, like the "mercy killing" and the gleeful depiction of violence against women. Through the magic of the internet, the whole thing is embedded below. If you want to watch part one, it can be found here.

Of course, where there's a woman with an opinion, there are hateful people trying to silence her. The first video in the series rapidly saw its YouTube comments become a cesspool – more than usual, I mean – such that Sarkeesian had to turn them off, saying "If you'd like to comment constructively on this video, please share on your own social networks." This time, with the comments off by default, the men who get unbelievably angry at a woman critically analysing videogames (MWGUAAAWCAV, for short) resorted to "flagging" the video on YouTube, which marks it as having content inappropriate for the site – usually reserved for explicit sex or violence, not clips of AAA video games.

Enough of them flagged the video for it to get temporarily pulled for review. Then, somewhat concerningly, YouTube's (human) review team confirmed that it violated "community guidelines", removed the video, and put a strike on Sarkeesian's account. The video was reinstated after an appeal 45 minutes later, but it raises the question of what, exactly, YouTube's review team are doing if they can't tell the difference between clearly malicious flagging and actually obscene content.

Still, it's back up, and Sarkeesian has a lot more videos in her - the extraordinary success of the original Kickstarter means that rather than the five planned, she'll now be making 13. Regardless of what the MWGUAAAWCAV seem to believe, that can only be good for videogames in general: the bizarre crossover between people who demand that games be viewed as art and people who say "they're only games" when problematic elements are pointed out cannot last for long. The medium is only made stronger by everyone like Anita Sarkeesian. And Tropes v Women is damn good watching, to boot.

Anita Sarkeesian thanking her Kickstarter backers.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Back to the future – mankind’s new ideas that aren’t new at all

Rethink: the Surprising History of New Ideas by Steven Poole reviewed.

When Steven Poole writes a book review, he likes to lie to himself. His only conscious decision is to jot down a few notes as the deadline approaches. There is no pressure to think deep thoughts, he tells himself, or to reach the required word count. Then invariably, in a few hours, he has written the entire review. This happens time and again. No matter how many times he convinces himself he is merely jotting and thinking, the result is a finished article.

Human beings are extraordinarily good at deceiving themselves and possibly never more so than when they think that they have had a new idea, as Poole makes clear in this fascinating compendium of new ideas that aren’t new at all. He digs deep into subjects as various as cosmology, economics, health care and bioethics to show that, as the writer of Ecclesiastes put it (long before Poole), “There is nothing new under the sun.” This is demonstrated in the re-emergence of ideas such as therapeutic psychedelic drugs, inherited traits that aren’t programmed into the genome, cognitive behavioural therapy, getting our protein from insects, and the multiverse.

Poole explores these propositions deftly enough, but they are not what interest him here. Rather, his subject is the way that we have seen them all before. He ties together what he concedes is a “highly selective snapshot of the looping evolution of ideas” with the observation that: “Any culture that thinks the past is irrelevant is one in which future invention threatens to stall.” Originality, he argues, is overrated.

The book might be something of a downer for those who like to gaze at “progress” with wide-eyed admiration. The starkest takeaway is that we are clearly hopeless at putting good ideas to work. In his discussion of artificial intelligence, for instance, Poole mentions the emerging idea of a universal basic income, which is likely to become a necessary innovation as robots take over many of the least demanding tasks of the human workforce. Yet he traces it back to 1796, when Thomas Paine first published his pamphlet Agrarian Justice.

Maybe this tells us something about the limits of the brain. It has always innovated, thought through its situations and created solutions. But those solutions can only be drawn from a limited pool of possibilities. Hence we get the same ideas occurring ­inside human skulls for millennia and they are not always presented any better for the passing of time. Richard Dawkins and his ilk provide a salient example, as Poole points out: “Virtually none of the debating points in the great new atheism struggles of the 21st century . . . would have been unfamiliar to medieval monks, who by and large conducted the argument on a more sophisticated and humane level.”

So, perhaps we should start to ask ourselves why so many proposed solutions remain unimplemented after what seem to be thousand-year development programmes. It is only through such reflection on our own thinking that we will overcome our barriers to progress.

Sometimes the barriers are mere prejudice or self-interest. After the Second World War, Grace Hopper, a computer scientist in the US navy, created a language that allowed a computer to be programmed in English, French or German. “Her managers were aghast,” Poole writes. It was “an American computer built in blue-belt Pennsylvania” – so it simply had to be programmed in English. “Hopper had to promise management that from then on the program would only accept English input.”

It is worth noting that Hopper was also a victim of postwar sexism. In 1960 she and several other women participated in a project to create COBOL, the computing language. Critics said there was no way that such a “female-dominated process” could end in anything worthwhile. Those critics were
wrong. By the turn of the century, 80 per cent of computer coding was written in COBOL. But this is another unlearned lesson. A survey in 2013 showed that women make up just 11 per cent of software developers. A swath of the population is missing from one of our most creative endeavours. And we are missing out on quality. Industry experiments show that women generally write better code. Unfortunately, the gatekeepers only accept it as better when they don’t know it was written by a woman.

Solving the technology industry’s gender problems will be a complex undertaking. Yet it is easy to resolve some long-standing difficulties. Take that old idea of providing a universal basic income. It appears to be a complex economic issue but experimental projects show that the answer can be as simple as giving money to the poor.

We know this because the non-profit organisation GiveDirectly has done it. It distributed a basic income to an entire community and the “innovation” has proved remarkably effective in providing the means for people to lift themselves out of poverty. Projects in Kenya, Brazil and Uganda have made the same discovery. As Poole notes, even the Economist, that “bastion of free-market economics”, was surprised and impressed. It said of the scheme: “Giving money directly to poor people works surprisingly well.” You can almost hear the exclamation “Who knew?” – and the slapping sound of history’s facepalm.

Michael Brooks’s books include “At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise” (Profile)

Michael Brooks holds a PhD in quantum physics. He writes a weekly science column for the New Statesman, and his most recent book is At the Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science by Surprise.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt