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.