Friday, March 8, 2013

Damsels in Distress

After all the terrible controversy and the failed attempts of sabotaging her Kickstarter campaign, Anita Sarkeesian's first episode of her video series on Tropes VS Women in Video Games is finally online.  It's the first instalment of a two part series on the Damsel in Distress trope, and I have to say, it's kind of depressing!

The video starts by defining what a damsel in distress is: a woman in a helpless situation must be saved by a male character.  (Unlike the guys, she is unable to be the architect of her own escape.)  She is often the main motivation for that character's quest, an integral part of his narrative arc.

The idea has been around for a long time, but the introduction of two properties in 1933 really set things in motion for the trope's use in video games: Popeye the Sailor Man, who constantly rescues Olive Oyl in his adventures, and King Kong.  When Nintendo tasked Miyamoto to design a new arcade game for the North American market, he turned to King Kong for inspiration after failing to get rights to Popeye.  Enter Donkey Kong.

One of the main problems with this trope is its objectification of women.  It sets up a subject-object dichotomy in which subjects act, objects are acted upon.  Women are objects that are kidnapped and saved.  As one of my favourite quotes from the video says, "In the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team. They are the ball."

Many of the examples are from older games, but part two of the video on this trope will look at more modern examples.  It also promises to highlight games that "flip the script" for female characters.  I'm looking forward to it!


Lazza said...

While I completely agree on the "women in videogames" issue and find the kind of harassment they made to her to be disgusting, I wouldn't say that the worst issue is the one of "damsels in distress".
I mean ok, usually there is one main character that saves a female one, but this can be also seen as a "nice task to do". Let me be more clear: instead of playing a videogame where I just have to hit somebody, I prefer a game where my battles have the effect to save somebody. Ok there should be also the option to play as a female protagonist, that's true.
The main problem for me is that even if there are some games with female characters, they are in most cases with little dresses and objectified, even if they are protagonists (as a very old example, Lara Croft). This is in my opinion a lot more serious than the idea of having to save women, because it's not very equal but at least when you go through the game you feel very good about being able to help a woman, which is not a negative thing by itself.

Gail Carmichael said...

Since this is only the first in a series of tropes that will be covered, I think we'll find that the worst is to come. :)

Oli said...

Makes some interesting points.

Helpful to stitch together the different references to the subject. Bring all that dialogue together.

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