When Anita Sarkeesian began raising money via Kickstarter last year for a project analyzing gender in video games, she received support from almost 7,000 backers — raising over $150,000.
She also got death threats.
In starting the Tropes vs. Women In Video Games project, Sarkeesian, founder of the Feminist Frequency video blog, committed the crime of looking to produce and research a series of YouTube videos questioning why the roles female characters play in mainstream gaming are problematic at best and insulting at worst.
Everything would have been fine, if 4Chan hadn’t found out about it, and declared troll war upon her. The New York Times summarized the abuse she received as a result of the campaign:
Angry fumers tried to hack her Twitter and Google accounts; they e-mailed her drawings of her being raped by video game characters; one even created a Flash game where you clicked the mouse and bruises and welts appeared on her face.
Sarkeesian ended up giving a TEDxWomen talk about the experience of being targeted by a cybermob, and specifically how (transforming the language of games to a new purpose), the men harrassing her saw themselves as heroic victims taking on a great injustice, “and they cast me in the role of the villain.”
This campaign of abuse did give the project greater exposure, including coverage on outlets like Kotaku, Boing Boing, ThinkProgress and (as mentioned above) the New York Times. But the price of this publicity was incredibly high.
After a delay caused in part by Sarkeesian’s decision to expand the project beyond its original scope (given that she initially only intended to raise $6,000 to fund the research and production of Tropes vs. Women), the first episode launched this week.
At nearly 24 minutes (making it part of the growing trend in lengthier YouTube content), “Damsels in Distress: Part 1″ examines the frequency with which female characters in video games get kidnapped — the foundation upon which classic games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda are based.
In perhaps a wise move to avoid a repeat of what happened with the original Kickstarter pitch, YouTube ratings and comments on Episode 1 are disabled; to understand why, just look at this Gameranx compilation of what’s being said across various blogs about it.
However, so far the first episode has racked up over 500,000 views in just a few days, and while trolls were always unavoidable, it’s also inspiring reasoned debate over the episode and Sarkeesian’s approach to the subject. And that’s the version of the conversation that should be had — because that’s the version which could lead to real change for the video game industry.