Damsel in Distress (Part 2) Tropes vs Women

Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency has released the next video in her examination of female trope in computer games.

(Be warned: This video makes for harrowing viewing. The first part in this series I watched with my six year old son, and we discussed it afterwards. This one shows many violent scenes from computer games, and is definitely not appropriate viewing for him.)

I’ve been following with interest Sarkeesian’s series ever since her proposal hit the Kickstarter website last year. I put money towards her campaign.

Then the backlash began. Across the internet, vile and hate-filled came the comments and YouTube videos and even one “Beat up Sarkeesian” game.

The first video in her series brought forth much ‘rebuttal’ on YouTube. Incensed at Sarkeesian’s video, many video bloggers laid out their own arguments, which amounted to collectively saying “Yeah, but” and then relating a scene or scenario that breaks the Damsel in Distress cliché.

Even Thunderf00t, a YouTube videomaker whom I had much respect for, chimed in with twenty minute video entitled “Feminism versus FACTS”. I only made it to the two minute mark, where he presented a scene from Double Dragon Neon as an argument against Sarkeesian. In the scene, seen only if you complete the game and sit through the entire four minutes of credits, the woman who was beaten and kidnapped at the start of the game (to give the player motivation for playing) punches her antagonist in the balls.

These arguments are pretty week, and I feel miss Sarkeesian’s point: the Damsel in Distress as a trope is overused in computer games, and is at times an unsophisticated plot device to get the player into the business of playing their game.

Part 2 of Damsels shows that this plot device can take a more sinister edge when combined with the game mechanics. If the only way that the player engages in the game’s world is through violence, it limits the options for problem solving in the gaming world. This notion is presented in the video with reference to many games where the player has to beat or kill their girlfriend or wife in some sort of mercy killing.

I remember playing Duke Nukem 3D in the 90s, and being uncomfortable at needed to kill half-naked girls trapped in alien pods muttering “Kill me!” It was a simple first person shooting game, and interactions with the game world were limited, but it frustrated me that the only option the developers gave me was to kill the girl.

This point more than any in Sarkeesian’s video resonated with me. Game designers should see it as a challenge to think harder about how players interact with their game world, and the way that death and killing are used as plot devices, particularly in the name of making your game “dark and edgy.”

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