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How Nintendo inspired Anita Sarkeesian

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Anita Sarkeesian is one of gaming's most prominent commentators, critiquing its propensity for misogynistic and exclusionary portrayals of women, through her series of video documentaries, Tropes Versus Women in Video Games.

In the New York Times today, she writes an opinion piece on her own relationship with games, set against the backdrop of the death-threats, harassment and hostility she has received since her videos appeared, and particularly during the GamerGate internet campaign.

The Wii reignited my interest in gaming

Sarkeesian talks about how she begged her parents for a Game Boy, back when she was a child, but faced resistance from her mother, who viewed the handheld games machine as something that was not for girls. "She thought it was a toy for boys. And could I really blame her?" writes Sarkeesian. "It was right there in the name: Game Boy."

In the end, she got the Game Boy, but gaming's overtly male culture stood in the way of her continued enjoyment of gaming, as she went through high school and college. "I still enjoyed playing games from time to time, but I always found myself pushed away by the sexism that permeated gaming culture. There were constant reminders that I didn't really belong."

Nintendo's 2006 introduction of the Wii console, marketed heavily as a console for everyone, brought her fully back to gaming.

"The Wii reignited my interest in gaming, offering play experiences I found engaging and rewarding, like Mario Kart, de Blob and The Beatles: Rockband. From there, I immersed myself in zany PC games like Plants vs. Zombies, World of Goo and Spore, and eventually became a fan of mainstream first-person titles like Mirror's Edge, Portal and Half-Life 2."

She says the Wii helped redefine gaming away from its hardcore image of first-person shooters marketed at young men, and credits it with ushering in a more diverse range of games, often sourced from individual creators. But not everyone welcomes this shift.

"Instead of celebrating the expansion of the industry, though, some who self-identify as 'hard-core gamers' attack these types of interactive experiences as too casual, too easy, too feminine and therefore 'not real games.' Players from marginalized groups are also targeted because they're seen as outsiders, invading a sacred boys' club.

"The time for invisible boundaries that guard the 'purity' of gaming as a niche subculture is over. The violent macho power fantasy will no longer define what gaming is all about."