Sunday 30 April 2017

The Sarkeesian Effect: Inside The World Of Social Justice Warriors (2015) - Movie Review

At the start of my catch-up this year, I promised what would be the single worst film I could ever cover on this blog. Quite frankly, I can think of few things that are dumber than discussions surrounding one Anita Sarkeesian. I’ve voiced my own issues with her in the past, equating her to a rock band that wants to push hardcore political discourse but are completely inept when it comes to writing actual music. Just so we can be clear on this point, and I don’t get morons trying to twist my words, I’ll state my full opinion on her here and now. Sarkeesian’s main goal, that being opening the lid on certain sexist tropes and attitudes prevalent in video games, is commendable in and of itself and I applaud the fact that the discussion was being made at all.

However, between her rather unethical practices when it came to the content of the videos themselves, up to and including stealing footage from other YouTubers without due credit, and the frankly sexist crap she would frequently tweet, I don’t think shewas the right person to make this discussion the hot button issue it was. So, when I found out about this little-seen documentary about the Sarkessian phenomenon and the tidal wave of hatred that would soon follow, I figure this would be worth a gander as a means to discuss a different brand of critic than I’m used to discussing on here. With that said, ignoring the production woes this thing went through that could probably make up a whole other article’s worth of analysis, how does this film turn out?

The plot (such as it is): Journalist Anita Sarkeesian, after crowdfunding a series of videos designed to look into sexist video game tropes, became the target of a swarm of Internet vitriol. As the discourse surrounding her work kept building and building amongst online communities, a separate incident involving game developer Zoe Quinn opened up the floodgates for what would become the largest scale Internet row of 2014: #GamerGate.

I never thought I would ever write this but, Andrew Wakefield, I owe you an apology. Specifically, for my comments concerning how shoddy his documentary Vaxxed was because, in pretty much every single way possible, this is worse. Let’s start with the camera work, or to be more accurate, the lack of camera work. I say this because the interview footage we see is painfully static and consists largely of people rambling their way through their points completely unfiltered. This sounds fine, until you realize how slapshod the editing is. Constant audio clipping in the narration and outright incompetent sound mixing that, no joke, I have literally done than back when I was YouTube. I rarely if ever toot my own horn in this fashion, but when 16-year-old me with a half-broken MacBook is capable of more professional editing than something with this much crowdfunding behind it, something is seriously fucking wrong. Actually, considering how I found this film uploaded for free by the filmmakers on Vimeo and how it just cobbles together varying-in-quality clips to try and make its point, that comparison is a little too apt.
But the cherry on this two-and-a-half hour cake (because ‘director’s cut’ apparently means ‘as little actual cutting as possible) has to be the ending, which be one of the most self-indulgent and, let’s face it, pretentious denouements to any film I have ever sat through. There aren’t enough syllables in the term ‘navel-gazing’ to appropriately describe this shoddy attempt at highlighting the artistry and progression of video games from the 80’s to now.

But you know what really makes this disheartening? Buried underneath this substandard production, there are some legitimate points being made. It’s partisan-as-fuck but, when it comes to painting Anita Sarkeesian to be the boogeyman that most GamerGaters make her out to be, this does at least a decent job. It starts out simply enough with a look at Sarkeesian herself, highlighting some of the hypocritical statements she made in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games videos that, as the film presents them, are kind of difficult to argue with. I haven’t watched any of her videos myself, mainly because I wanted to stay as far away from the discussion as I could get, but as shown here, you get why so many people are angry with her.
Add to that how the film shows her background in media, certain questionable allegiances she had made, and even some of the actions by others such as Quinn and writer Leigh Alexander, and you get the idea that these are some pretty low people. Hell, they even bring up some of Anita’s more inflammatory tweets that I myself derided pretty heavily when they hit. You know, shit like this:

Now, with all said, the filmmakers and GamerGate as a whole don’t come out smelling of roses either. For a film that’s designed to paint a certain group of people as being the worst kind of people imaginable, you’d think that they’d have enough sense to not make themselves look awful in the process. For every accusation of immoral actions, hypocrisy and censorship, there are plentiful examples of the same behaviour coming from the accusers. And this isn’t even involving background information or anything investigative on my end; it’s present in the film itself. Hell, infamous anti-gaming attorney Jack Thompson is interviewed and the filmmakers take his side. This is the guy who wants to outright censor and/or block more graphic video games, and in the film compared modern feminists to Islamic terrorists and Anita winning an industry award to receiving honours from the Third Reich, and the film sees this as the side to be on.

Interviewees overall are pretty bad too, enlisting people that aren’t all that notable and we’re just meant to assume who they are (in a film that treats its audience like they have never heard of this debate before, because inconsistency) and, when trying to make a point against accusations of female objectification, maybe they should have done a better job covering their arses considering the oversexualized appearance of the interviewees from the sex industry. Seriously, Mercedes Carrera’s reason for being here is flimsy at best.
Or, if that isn’t enough proof of how bad the partisanship here is, let’s get into the specific example of the hate Sarkeesian got online. It was full of the usual bullshit that man-children tend to fling at people they disagree with, with threats of bloody murder and rape being horrifically prevalent and even public listing of home addresses and contact details to spread the pain further. The film sides these away as the actions of the fringe and not representing the core of GamerGate. On its own, that’s fine and kind of advisable. But then they get into the actions of certain people like Alexander, who could easily be argued are likewise not representative of their whole side, and the film believes that everyone on that side should be held accountable for their actions. Wow. You have to try to be this much of a transparent bullshit artist.

However, for as objectively and objectionably bad as this is in a number of respects, I still find myself believing that this has some merit. Why? Because, quite frankly, this is the most honest portrayal of the GamerGate shitstorm that we’re ever likely to get. Through numerous discussions that bled out from its center, the ugliness in everyone involved was brought out into the forefront. No matter what you said or who you conversed with, you were never safe. Remember that incident with ToddInTheShadows where I got slashed to pieces on Twitter? Where he and his followers openly told me to, and I’m fucking quoting here, “stop defending child pornographers”? Yeah, that spawned from the GamerGate discussions. To make matters worse, the endlessly attacking mindset that grew from here ended up sticking with them to this day, to the point where I can’t even tell if the debacle has even officially ended yet.

And before I get called out for hypocrisy in making judgement calls on these people, I was also involved in the debate myself in varying degrees. When LordKaT and ThatCameraLady broke the news of the shady business dealings that went into Phil Fish’s Fez, I was right there to witness it. When Dan Olson opened the lid on 8chan in his article “The Mods Are Always Asleep”, I was in the thick of it, leading to a series of discussions that resulted in the aforementioned questioning of who I was defending. I was involved with this shit too, but mostly not by choice. No matter how hard I tried to keep level-headed, the toxic air surrounding all of these topics was impossible to escape from. Those situations were easily some of the most unpleasant social media experiences I’ve ever sat through, and the fact that some of these idiots deem their involvement in them as something to be proud of is fucking disgusting. So yeah, as bad as this is, it still paints a pretty accurate picture of the debate itself… even if it frequently seems to be confused on what exactly the debate actually is.

All in all, this is basically the entirety of GamerGate condensed into a single piece of media: An occasionally hilarious but mostly ugly experience that went on for way too fucking long and made everyone involved out to be outright vile people, no matter what their stance on the issue was. And let me be clear here, everyone involved showed their true colours: Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn, thunderf00t, LordKaT, ToddInTheShadows, Lindsay Ellis, Dan ‘Foldable Human’ Olson, Brianna Wu, Kyle Kallgren (yes, my idol, that’s how serious I am about this), the KotakuInAction Reddit group, the GamerGhazi Reddit group; no-one came out of this chaos with their humanity intact. And sadly, with how often I was broken and attacked during this time, that counts for me as well. Hell, even people who had literally nothing to do with any of this got pulled into the madness; it's like a virus of thought.
Looking back and reminiscing on the Internet personalities that I enjoy and even look up to doesn’t mean that I am blind to their faults; hell, I’ve made it a point to mention it wherever I can, regardless of backlash. As much as I love these communities, there is also a requirement to acknowledge where we all went wrong. And quite frankly, nothing quite sums up the basic notion of “wrong” as much as the entire discussion that is #GamerGate.


  1. What are your thoughts on the anti-sjw, anti-politically correct online activism over on youtube and other platforms?

    1. I try to stay out of such things. While I definitely see at least some merit in what they're doing, they usually just end up committing the same sins that they are supposedly fighting against.

  2. Hi, I've been scouring the internet for a copy of The Sarkeesian Effect. I want to use it as part of a research project I am doing on gamergate and cannot find it anywhere. Do you still have a copy?

    1. Found this one on YouTube. Been a while but I *think* this is the version I watched for the review. Good luck with it.