Monday, November 17, 2014

The Social Satire of Vivian James



   Over on RPG.net, a fan created this image to satirize the Gamergate mascot, Vivian James. Vivian James is a character designed for the purposes of rebutting the feminist criticism of video-games by fans. Essentially, the idea behind her is a "Female gamer who doesn't care about that stuff. She only wants to play games."

    The idea behind the rebuttal is, of course, that she is meant to represent the silent majority. A majority which isn't interested in criticism or subtext to games. It is an appeal to intellectual laziness in much the same way dumb action movies are insulted for being, well, dumb. Roger Ebert said there was a difference between "good" dumb action movies (The Mummy) and bad ones (many-many other ones).

    Whether or not Vivian represents the majority irritates me because I founded the United Federation of Charles to discuss video games and geek media in a serious context. I only semi-succeeded, creating a blog which mostly just reviews stuff I like with the occasional essay, but I stand firm: criticism is an important part of getting games taken seriously as a medium. If a medium isn't being criticized and picked apart, it isn't worth a damn. I say that as both an academic as well as a blogger, author, and gamer.

    In any case, I like this image because it's a good visual rebuttal. The Vivian James character is uniformly depicted as miserable, perhaps because she's meant to be aloof and cool, but the context nicely puts her as just surrounded by talking points. Depicting her as happy while holding a variety of female-friendly games is smart satire.

    I applaud the creator.

    Double-points for the rainbow jacket. I don't need to point out the subtext there, I think. The choice of the games Mirror's Edge, Revolution 65, and Gone Home are also nice picks. All of them being both criticized and applauded for their feminist subtext in different ways. Mirror's Edge is the only one I've played but symbolizes something which really should have gotten more support because it was plain fun.

    It's art which tells a story and speaks the language of gamers. This is good satire and in, a very real way, one of our first political cartoons. In other words, we're one step closer to video games being a serious medium worthy of discussion.

     I think what bothers me most about the Vivian James character is she is a female gamer created by men to exemplify what they want from women rather than, well, getting a female gamer to support their cause. The character is a sock puppet for their views divorced from actual reality. If you need to hide behind fantasy to defend your opinion about fantasy, perhaps you should re-examine it.

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