If you’ve been keeping up with any online gaming communities, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games. Anita’s goal in the production of this video series is to analyze commonly used tropes in video games. She hopes to explain why they are sexist and, ultimately, damaging to women as a whole. As of March 8th, Anita released the first of these videos on her Youtube channel. I’m going to be discussing why I disagree with a majority of what she says in the videos and why I believe that the “Damsel in Distress” trope problem is one that can be easily dismissed as a problem in today’s video game market.
To start things off, I am aware of Anita’s past. I am aware that she raised a lot of money to produce these videos. I am also aware that it took her a long time to release the first video in her series. I want to make it very clear, however, that I am only interested in the ideas set forth in Anita’s videos, not in Anita herself.. If you are here looking to bash on her for whatever reason, you have come to the wrong place. There are plenty of circlejerks that exist on the internet that will gladly rave and rant about whether or not she is qualified to produce these videos. I will not deal in ad hominem here, however, because I believe it detracts from the overall argument of sexism in gaming, which is a very important discussion to have. Also note that I am only discussing the trope of Damsel in Distress, the same one that Anita discusses in her video series. Just because I am dismissive of this trope in particular does not mean that I am naive enough to say that there is no sexism present in today’s world of games. I very much agree with Anita in that “it’s both possible, and even necessary, to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”
Firstly, let’s start with some factual analysis in one of her primary examples.
The first game she spoke about was Dinosaur Planet, a game that was later cancelled and turned into Starfox Adventures. Anita uses this as one of the largest examples in her first video, claiming that “the tale of how Krystal went from protagonist of her own epic adventure illustrates how the Damsel-in-Distress trope disempowers female characters and robs them of the chance to be heroes in their own right.” When speaking of how Dinosaur Planet was transformed into Starfox Adventures, Anita mentions that Miyamoto “joked about how he thought it should be the third installment in his Star Fox franchise.” If you do a bit of research and you find the exact interview that she’s referencing, however, the relevant point in the interview where they are discussing the game makes it appear as though Miyamoto is more interested in how visually similar the game is to Star Fox, rather than just wanting to take over a completely unrelated game for no reason and turn it into another Star Fox game. To be fair to Miyamoto, it’s easy to see the resemblance between Sabre and Fox McCloud. It’s also much less risky from an investor standpoint to reinvest in currently existing and successful intellectual property rather than to launch a completely new title. All that being said, I don’t think it’s fair to use this as a prime example of a woman being “robbed” of her ability to star in a game, rather it was a prudent business decision to sell more video games by continuing the Star Fox franchise.
Another point in Star Fox Adventures that she criticized was how Fox McCloud ogled the now “Damsel in Distress.” While I agree that this part is pretty cringe-worthy, I take issue with two things. Firstly, she edited the video clip to make it look worse than it actually is (here it is in its entirety). If you’re going to be criticizing something, especially in regards to a topic as controversial as sexism, editing your videos to strengthen your argument is usually a bad idea. Regardless, even the unedited video is pretty bad. Secondly, however, the reason why this video is objectionable has more to do with the ogling/objectification of Krystal as a character rather than her being a “Damsel in Distress,” which makes her rather irrelevant to this topic.
Secondly, let’s talk about the myriad of examples that she uses of video games containing plots that are primarily driven by “Damsels in Distress”. Here’s a list of the games she used:
- Crash Bandicoot
- Double Dragon
- The Legend of Zelda
- Rolling Thunder
- Sonic Adventure
- Super Ghouls and Ghosts
- Super Mario
- Time Crisis
- Wizards and Warriors
One absolutely crucial detail that Anita overlooked is that there’s a common thread connecting all of these games to each other – the plot is incredibly simple and almost completely unrelated to the game play of every single one of these listed games.