Females in Videogames

 Damsel In Distress Part 1

The “Damsel in Distress : Part 1” video by Anita Sarkeesian I thought was really interesting as it focused on the damsel trope typically given to women in video games. She began by describing the history of how the damsel had become such an iconic formula for media with the popularity of both King Kong and Popeye. From there Sarkeesian traced the lineage of the damsel trope as it became more and more used throughout the late 20th century until there were finally video games, where the game developer named Nintendo came out with their classic arcade game Donkey Kong. In Donkey Kong the King Kong formula was followed as Donkey Kong kidnaps the damsel and it is up to the hero to save her.

This is the beginning of one of the most iconic video game characters Mario and his never ending quest to save the always captured Princess Toadstool, or Peach. I felt interested by this link as Sarkeesian says that of the fourteen main Mario plat formers that the princess in present in, she is kidnapped in 13 of them. Only one of them was she a playable character.

Sarkeesian states that Nintendo felt Peach’s position as only a means to the development of Mario and nothing for herself. This was a typical formula in video games from the 1980’s- 1990’s because, as Sarkeesian puts it, it capitalized on the adolescent male’s power fantasies. The woman is essentially presented in the beginning of these type of games as the main hero’s property until she is taken away by the antagonist and is in need of rescuing. She uses the quote “in the game of patriarchy women are not the opposing team they are the ball,” which essentially describes Princess Peach’s situation that she is merely an object being won and lost between Mario and the antagonist, usually Bowser. Therefore these women have no power of their own and are simply objectified as a benefit to the hero’s story arch. One example of this that Sarkeesian presents is that in many of these “damsel in distress” plots, the hero ends up getting captured and has to use his skill and abilities to find a way out of his cell. The damsel however is typically set without an ability to do such a thing displaying that her peril is not really her situation but the hero’s.

Even strong female characters who have great ability such as Princess Zelda from the Legend of Zelda series get disenchanted in order for them to be dependable.  Princess Zelda through many games have proven to have a great amount of ability but it is usually only available to assist the hero and not necessarily herself. In the one gave called The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Zelda has to go into hiding to escape her capture and does so by using a male type of alias name Sheik. In this more male embodiment Zelda is able to escape the clutches of the evil Ganadorf while simultaneously helping the hero through his quests. Yet when her identity is revealed and Zelda goes back into her feminine form it literally takes three minutes until she is captured once again.

Sarkeesian makes it clear that she does not make these observation to ridicule the games on the contrary she is a large fan and enjoy them frequently, but states that it is important to keep a critical eye on them as these videogame figure have become globally recognizable.

I am myself am a gamer and really enjoyed the critique’s that Sarkeesian had done to some of my favorite video games. One comment that I do have, however, is while many video games do hold patriarchal tropes there are still many strong female video game characters throughout the years.

One of the first that come to mind is the character Samus Aron who was made by Nintendo during the time of first establishing The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. Samus is a butt kicking bounty hunter that goes across the galaxy to fight aliens. In fact Samus is noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first playable female character in video game history. Which I thought was particularly interesting as I’m sure there is no award for first playable male character.

Other great female protagonists come from games like Beyond Good and Evil, Dreamland, Syberia, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy XII-2, Final Fantasy XIII & XIII-2, Portal, and Mirror’s Edge. Yet even with these successful female protagonist titles it is important to note how the badly the number of male based games outweighs the other and also how many of these heroines are overly sexualized.


2 thoughts on “Females in Videogames

  1. Yay; I’m so glad you posted about this. As another self-identified female gamer, I really admire Sarkeesian’s work and am dedicated to advocacy for women in technology (look out for my thesis in a few weeks, woot!)

    While I definitely agree with you that ladies like Samus give a better outlook for the types of women in video games, I think it’s important to acknowledge the ongoing problems in games and the industry as a whole. Let’s look at some of the other women you noted – especially Lara Croft in Tombraider. She’s one of the most oversexualized and criticized characters in games – and she looks and acts that way because the programming industry is overwhelmingly populated my men.

    Last November, this issue was brought to my attention via a Twitter campaign called “#1ReasonWhy.” It featured Tweets from female programmers saying the #1 reason why there aren’t women programmers. Many of them hearkened to game conventions where women are often relegated to positions such as “booth babes” or sexualized stage assistants, and those women who are actually programmers or gamers are ignored or asked which man they attend with.

    There is a website called, “Fat, Ugly, or Slutty?” where women post the insults they have received from male gamers (or even other female gamers!), generally grouping them in one of the three categories. Almost always, the insults are completely random or unfounded, not to mention the fact that it’s not okay to say those things in any circumstance. Women also catalog repeated and blatant sexual harassment – myself included.

    These insults and harassment incidents trigger the knee-jerk reaction of taking personal offense, but as Anita Sarkeesian tells us, there is way more to it than person-to-person relationships. It’s the at-large problem of the industry, and its current existence as a “boys club.” Even when women are programmers, designers, gamers, etc., their presence is touted as an exception or as less significant than their male colleagues. Many women have to fight to not be assigned to Hello Kitty Island design. Ugh.

    There are hundreds of women speaking out about women in games, and while there are both positive and negative aspects to these type of consciousness raising sites popping up primarily on the internet, for the most part, this is good news. It means we’re talking to one another – we’re coming out of the “Feminine Mystique” years of women in games. Or we’re starting to; women still don’t game together the same way boys do. Women don’t talk to each other about games. If we’re hardcore gamers, it’s something to be ashamed of; it’s kept secret.

    I also think it’s worth nothing that women are guilty of perpetuating this cycle and making it okay for busty, out of proportion women to be our heroines. As a MMORPG player, I admit that the avatar I designed falls into such a category. This is an ongoing fascination for me – even thought I acknowledge the problem, I’m also part of it (if I wasn’t so attached to her, I might change her appearance – eh, other topic altogether). The male gaze is ubiquitous, and it will take women breaking away from it to begin to solve the problem.

    In the meantime, women need to start being okay with being gamers. If we’re not, then why shouldn’t the men get to rule the industry? Games are a big part of my life, and I have had a tough time learning to be open about it and to involve other female friends in that part of my life (some girls still laugh when I say, “World of Warcraft”), but as pioneers like Anita Sarkeesian and the badass women in the industry blaze trails, it’s getting better. Slowly.

    THERE IS SO, SO MUCH MORE I COULD WRITE ON THIS SUBJECT (I guess that’s why I’m writing a thesis on it), but I’m glad you opened a discussion. If you yourself are a gamer (or anyone else out there!) I’d love to talk with you more about it. In the meantime, keep spreading the lady gamer awareness!

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