Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blips: Modern Damsels in Contemporary Distress

Source: Damsel in Distress (Part 2) Tropes vs Women
Author: Anita Sarkeesian
Site: Feminist Frequency

Yesterday Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency released the second video in her Tropes vs Women series, part 2 of the section focusing on damsels in distress. While the first video spoke about the origins of this trope in video games, this one presents how modern game developers have continued the trend. The sections of the video where she shows clips after clip of games that use plot devices like "your wife is brutally murdered and you then have to rescue your daughter" really drive home how pervasive these tropes can be.

The biggest takeaway for me was how often these modern damsels are largely only interacted with in violent contexts, because the games themselves are violence-based. It's not really a surprise that you have to kill bad guys to rescue women, kill women to save them from themselves, or kill bad guys to get revenge for killing a woman when the mechanics of these games are limited to violent behavior. Sometimes you are literally just playing the role of a pair of hands with a firearm that you can't even make the choice to holster.

As is explained in the video, this also leads to flat female characters who exist only serve to shallowly develop the male protagonist's narrative. I'm sitting here trying to think of any non-playable female characters that stood out as interesting in any way, but I'm coming up short. Meryl and Boss from Metal Gear Solid, sure. Maybe Edea in Final Fantasy VIII too. Worth noting that both of those series, despite having largely violence-based action mechanics, also contain lengthy sequences of non-interactive story development. The way that games have been able to craft dynamic female characters has mostly been in the parts where they act like movies or graphic novels.

These problems are systemically embedded, but not insurmountable. Many games, specifically from small teams or individual developers, have been successfully implementing both non-violent mechanics and more dynamic storytelling featuring female characters. I don't even necessarily have a problem with violent games or the damsel in distress trope being used from time to time (some, like certain horror films, will always be too intense for me), but currently, both are so pervasive in the mainstream that it's poisonous. I'm thankful that Anita Sarkeesian is composing these videos, because they help provide substantial evidence for this claim.

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