I feel like Anita misses the point, once again, with statements like: “I’ve heard it said that, in the game of patriarchy, women are not the opposing team, they are the ball.” How is Peach at all relevant in any of the Mario games, ever? A ball is a highly active an integral part to every athletic event involving a ball. Peach does absolutely nothing in all of the Mario games, she’s more of a trophy, if anything. I guess the imagery of a woman being thrown around as a ball might be a little bit more powerful in proving a point of sexism existing in video games against women, but it’s hardly a fair or accurate description.
The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario franchises have never been popular because of their stories. “The popularity of their save the princess formula” did not “set the standard for the industry,” as Anita says. The GAME PLAY is what set the standard for the industry. If the game play had faltered in any of these games, they would quickly be forgotten. The trope of “Damsel in Distress” was never a driving force behind the popularity of any of these games, instead it was merely a crutch used since the developers didn’t deem it necessary to pen a complicated back-story for their action/adventure games.
If anything, I would say that Anita almost shoots herself in the foot by saying that the Damsel in Distress trope is fulfilled when “a female character [is] reduced to a state of helplessness from which she requires rescuing by a typically male hero for the benefit of his story arc.” Can you really say “story arcs” exist in any of the games mentioned? Again, if you wrote up the plot of any game that employs the “Damsel in Distress” trope and turned it in for a high school English project on creative writing, you’d get it back with a disappointing grade and a note attached: “not enough effort.”
Another aspect that Anita addresses is that “distilled down to its essence, the [Damsel in Distress] plot device works by trading the disempowerment of female characters for the empowerment of male characters.” How are any characters being empowered or disempowered when there are hardly any characters any way? What is the character development or plot growth that occurs in Zelda where Link becomes empowered as a developed character? Sure, he gets more items, and you can control him and move through dungeons with new toys and gadgets, but as a living, breathing character, Link remains undeveloped and stagnant in terms of personality for the entire duration of the game. How is that empowering at all?
What about when the roles are flipped a bit? Anita compares “the Damsel to the archetypal Hero Myth, in which the typically male character may occasionally also be harmed, incapacitated or briefly imprisoned at some point during their journey.” She goes on to point out, however, that “in these situations, the character relies on their intelligence, cunning, and skill to engineer their own escape.” According to her, “the point is, they’re ultimately able to gain back their own freedom,” and “overcoming the ordeal is an important step in the protagonist’s transformation into an heroic figure.” The examples she gave for this? Link escaping his imprisonment from the Gerudo camp, Solid Snake breaking out of the prison Ocelot had put him in, and Bond escaping from his cell in Goldeneye. In the Zelda example, again, there is absolutely zero character development in Link escaping. It’s just another small puzzle the player must figure out. You never get a sense that Link has “overcame” anything, or grown at all as a character. In Metal Gear solid, Snake is actually portrayed as a much more complicated character. That being said, his escape is nothing “heroic” at all. He’s actually dehumanized during the torturing and imprisonment process and expresses fear while being locked up. His escape is nothing “heroic” whatsoever. And James Bond developing as a character? Hardly.
If you want some excellent examples of characters who grow while imprisoned, take a look at Batman from The Dark Knight Rises. That’s a real example of a character that has to grow and develop and becomes established as a hero by breaking free of their prison. Same thing with the main character, Jason Brody, in Far Cry 3. His escaping and surviving the wilderness are constantly defining his growth as a character. Link and Mario and Bond in Goldeneye are not “developing” as “empowered male characters” when they escape from prison; I believe it’s unfair to inject so much plot and subtext into relatively plot-free games.
“A Damsel woman, on the other hand, is shown as incapable of escaping the predicament on her own and then must wait for a savior to come and do it for her. In this way, the Damsel’s ordeal is not her own, instead it’s framed as a trial for the hero to overcome.” This is sort of begging the question, is it not? Why use an incredibly one-dimensional trope such as this if not to provide an incredibly simple plot device for the main character to act upon? If any of these women were able to escape on their own, the entire simple premise that the game rests upon is destroyed.
So how does all of this fit into Anita’s feminist view of the world? Again, she was clear to state that she’s not analyzing this “in a vacuum,” but rather examining the larger implications that these tropes have in the real world. She claims that “the pattern of presenting women as fundamentally weak, ineffective or ultimately incapable has larger ramifications beyond the characters themselves…They are an increasingly important and influential part of our larger social and cultural ecosystem. The reality is, this trope is being used in a real world context where backward, sexist attitudes are already rampant.”