It’s come to my attention that there is a new series out on Youtube entitled Tropes Vs Women in Video Games, done by feminist and media critic Anita Sarkeesian, who also heads the Feminist Frequency blog. The usual take for the original Tropes Vs Women videos involves a look at various tropes (with a focus on female-centered tropes) and how they depict/effect women in various types of media. So it should go without saying much that the Tropes Vs Women in Video Games (Hereafter abbreviated as “TVWVG”) has a special, specific focus on our beloved form of electronic entertainment, video games.
Now some of you may be wondering just what in Disney’s Good Name is a “trope”. Well, a trope can be thought of as a type of device often used in various forms of media, some even extending to events that happened in real life. Tropes are not automatically cliché, however overused tropes can end up becoming this. Some examples of tropes include Mad Scientist, when you have your typical scientist who’s doing all sorts of crazy or odd experiments; Power Glows, which refers to when a character, item, weapon, and so on glows when either charging up or using some kind of special power; film genres such as Film Noir can be considered a trope as well; and Anyone Can Die, which refers to a show, game, movie or book where no character is safe from death, to name a few. Now, everyone good and familiar with these ideas? Okay, let’s move on then.
So what is the big debut for the first TVWVG episode? Damsel in Distress, with a specific focus on Mario and Zelda games, it seems.
Before reading any further, I highly recommend you watch the video so you have some idea of what I am talking about. Thank you.
Well, first we get a nice talking about of a little game (Which here she tried to make sound like no one would know about, which I disagree with) called “Dinosaur Planet”. This was a game that was planned to be released on the Nintendo 64 (N64), featuring a blue and white fox, Krystal. It would be your typical action adventure game, and on top of that was developed by Rareware, one of the most legendary game makers of all time. But, as pointed out in the video, Shigeru Miyamoto, master mind of Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero and more, decided to have Krystal replaced with Fox Mccloud, main character of Star Fox, and leaving Krystal as a secondary character, later to be rescued (and, of course “sexualized”; we can discuss animals wearing clothes later). This is spun in the video to sound like it’s just another instance of the woman being put below the man, but wait, what’s this? A little research reveals that Dinosaur Planet had two protagonists; the male fox Sabre, and the female fox Krystal. To me, and a good few others, it seems like Miyamoto felt that it would be better to take Sabre and turn him into Fox Mccloud and have him be the primary protagonist instead because, well let’s admit it, he felt the game would sell better if it had the face of a character we recognized, to say nothing of it being in the highly successful Star Fox series. And thus, Dinosaur Planet was changed into Star Fox Adventures. And while yes, having Krystal booted to nothing more than a girl to be saved (and that atrocious scene where Fox oogles her; there’s accusations by some that Anita made this scene seem worse than it seemed) and having a more “sexualized” outfit is a valid point, the truth of the matter is that there’s less of a problem here than with what’s presented. And this isn’t the end of some other issues I have with this episode.
So, what other issues do I have? Well, let’s take a look at the Super Mario Brothers series. Here is the claim that Princess Peach is captured and in need of rescue in most of the “Core Games”. But wait…what are the “Core Games”? Well, lucky for me I’ve heard of such phrases before, so I know that “Core Games” refers to the non-spinoff games, so basically these are Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Brothers 2, 3, World, Land, and so on. You’d think that someone who spent so much time explaining the origins of the Damsel In Distress (hereafter DIDT) Trope would spare a couple seconds to explain what this is (well, she does with pictures, but still). For some reason, spinoff games don’t count. Why? Well as one Youtube video said, “Because she said so”. Seriously; it’s never explored, explained, nor said why the spinoff games don’t count, nor what constitutes as a spinoff game. She claims that Peach was not kidnapped in one Core Game, while in all the others she is (for some reason Super Mario Word 2: Yoshi’s Island, where you as Yoshi escorting Baby Mario saving Baby Luigi, is not on this list). But even then…she explains it away.
See, the Super Mario Brothers 2 game we originally got was actually just a modified version of a Japanese game who’s English name roughly translates to Dream Factory: Heart Pounding Panic (“Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panikku” in Japanese). The real Super Mario Bros 2 was exactly like the first one, except that it was more difficult. And so, Nintendo of America wanted a sequel that was…more unique. And thus the cast of Dream Factory was replaced by Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach. But according to Anita, this was “accidentally”, since the character Peach replaced was a female character. But hold on, once more let’s look at some details. In Dream Factory, there are two female characters, one of which is replaced by Luigi. So wait, if they can take a female character and morph it into a male, what’s to stop them from taking the character Peach replaced and introducing a new male character (Marketability, obviously, but I think you see my point)? So the idea that this was some “Accident” doesn’t hold water with this bunny. You want a gaming accident? See the urban legend behind why the old Lara Croft’s breasts were so big: Supposedly the person who made the character model was messing around with the sizes and added an extra zero on accident, leading to the infamous bust size. That’s an accident, not a conscious choice to replace one female with another.
So there’s that, and then there’s the whole “not counting spinoff games”. As one youtbe video pointed out, the number of spinoff games where Peach is a playable character far outnumber the number of “core games” where Peach is kidnapped. Plus, according to players of the newer titles, Peach being kidnapped is often both used as an excuse to get the game going (since it’s just a platform game, you don’t really play the game for the storyline, right?), and is also sometimes parodied; in one game Peach sends a letter to Mario talking about her most “recent kidnapping”.
So we’ve looked at Peach, what about Zelda of The Legend of Zelda fame? Well, as before, there’s complaints about how she’s often captured and in need of rescue. The Legend of Zelda? Captured. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link? A different Zelda is under a sleep spell and in need of saving. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? Saved by Link in the beginning, captured about half way through and sacrificed with dark magic. Though in A Link to the Past her and the other 7 maidens you save aid you in breaking the seal over Gannon’s Castle in the Dark World. The reason being is the seven maidens are descendants of the Seven Wise Men who created a seal to stop the evils of the Dark World from getting into the Light World.
Now anyone who’s played Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time knows about Sheik, right? To explain again, Sheik is the alter-ego of this game’s Princess Zelda. In this game, an evil thief named Gannondorf (Gannon in disguise as a human) seeks the Triforce to gain power. Early in the game, a young Zelda is seen fleeing Hyrule Castle with Impa (her guardian), with Gannondorf giving chase. Long story short, when Young Link becomes Adult Link we find that so many years have passed and Gannondorf is in rule of Hyrule, and Link runs into Sheik, who gives Link hints, tips, advice, and teaches him songs (in this game certain songs have magical properties). Heck, Sheik was seen fighting alongside Link against Gannondorf’s minions in promotional artwork. How awesome is that? But Anita’s issue with this game is that as soon as Sheik reveals herself as Zelda, within 3 – 5 minutes she’s captured.
So what’s my beef here? First of all, she highlights that once Zelda returns to her more “feminine” form that she’s captured, hinting that there’s some kind of hidden meaning behind Zelda getting captured and not Sheik. To me, this makes sense in game: Gannondorf no doubt had spent years looking for Zelda, and we see that she has vast wisdom and knowledge, and later on, magic. Perhaps when the change occurred, Gannondorf could sense her magic and captures her. Also, in this universe the three aspects of the triforce (Courage, Power, and Wisdom) seem to have human counterparts which are Link for Courage, Zelda for Wisdom, and Gannondorf for Power. So we can assume that those aware of this can “sense” the other two, and this would mean two-thirds of the triforce were now working against him. So why not take the opportunity to make it so only one third is against him? And it’s not like Zelda does nothing for the rest of the game; once you defeat Gannondorf his Castle comes crashing down, and Zelda uses her magic to open locked doors. Afterward, Gannondorf finally transforms into Gannon, and when Link weakens him, Zelda uses her magic to hold the villain in place so Link can defeat him. Much more than Peach, right?
There is one thing I do agree with her on with the Zelda games; in Wind Waker, there’s a scene when you find out that Tetra the Pirate is actually Zelda in disguise. And for some reason, now it’s no longer safe for Zelda to go with Link on his adventure, despite the fact that she was with him as Tetra for the majority of the game. And then she gets kidnapped (with, again, that emphasis on “feminity” that’s supposed to make us feel like there’s some subliminal meaning). Though as Anita pointed out, she does help Link more in the final battle against Gannon than in Link to the Past.
Though I was also surprised that she failed to mention Midna from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a little Imp who is (spoiler alert) revealed to be a princess also (though cursed into an imp form by the evil wizard Zant, but still having some powerful magic). When Link is turned into Wolf Link and captured in the beginning of the game, she helps set him free, and also helps aid Link for the remainder of the game. But she too falls victim to “damsel in distress”, as there’s a part in the game where she’s severely weakened and close to death, and only Wolf Link can save her by giving her a ride over to where Zelda is. I know that this first video only looks at older games, but she’s shown (and talked about) games that were last and even current generation.
Some of the overall ideas that are presented here bother me to. She seems to complain about how the captured characters never seem to get out of their need to be rescued on their own, and that the male characters can break out on their own, often serving as a character development scene where the character must gather their wits and find a way out. Wait, character development? Huh, that’s strange…I didn’t really notice character development in those old basic games that this part’s supposedly targeting. Sure you do so in Metal Gear Solid or some of the Legend of Zelda games, but usually in an arcade game when you’re captured you come out swinging. Or beating up the baddies if you’re captured in games like Final Fight and Violent Storm. Also, male characters are captured and in need of rescue in other games. In Streets of Rage 2 the evil Mr. X kidnaps Adam Hunter, one of the (male) characters from the first game (the other was Axel Stone, a male, and Blaze Fielding, a female), and so Axel, Blaze, Skate (Adam’s brother) and Max (a friend) set out to defeat Mr. X and save Adam. But wait, Adam should be able to use his cunning and strength to break out right? Well he could if he wasn’t chained to the wall and beaten up. And then in Streets of Rage 3 there’s a segment where you have to save a politician from a building that’s about to explode. And yes, both these games are in the appropriate era that part one covers.
The thing is, it wouldn’t be any fun if you were stuck waiting for rescue (though some games, such as Metal Gear Solid or Twilight Princess do have scenes where someone shows up and sets you free). It’d be a serious halt in the action, especially in older games where there wasn’t much plot unless you were playing Final Fantasy or Chrono Trigger. And also, the reward is saving the other person, be them a love interest, family member, or friend. And also one of the things that’d drive the plot forward. Though I suppose Wade from Violent Storm would still want to kick Geld’s ass even if the girl who was captured escaped for capturing her in the first place.
Then there’s this whole thing of the female being reduced to an object and treated as a “ball” in a “competition between two men”. But what about if it’s a male character? Is Adam Hunter the “ball” for Axel, Skate, Blaze, Max and Mr. X? is Adam just an “object” because he’s reduced to someone to be rescued? What about in Luigi’s Mansion when Mario is kidnapped and Luigi must save him? Is Mario just an object or ball for some competition between Luigi and Boo? Or Baby Luigi (and the stork) in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island? Or does it only matter when it happens to males? Reminds me of the trope Abuse is Okay When It’s Female on Male trope, which is basically when Females beating up or abusing males is treated as less drastic than males beating up on females, and is oft used for comedic value.
Then there’s the complaint that, basically, the female characters in need of rescue are just flat, one dimensional characters. Well, so’s Link who doesn’t even talk in his own darn games out side of attack and hurt noises. It’s only implied that he’s talking, whereas every other character get their own text boxes. Mario’s just as flat a character as Peach too in his games.
Further, there’s the issue of how to handle this. Should we bar all females from capture? That’s limiting, and on top of that, what of males? I guess it’s okay for them then? Or we couldn’t have capturing ever, but then again, in an adventure someone usually gets captured or needs help. It’s bound to happen. My thing is, it depends on how they present the character. Like Zelda; she’s smart, wise, and has powerful magic, and isn’t oversexualized. Princess Daphne from the Dragon’s Lair games on the other hand gives me, even as a huge fan of the series, the impression that she’s there just for sex appeal. Just look up artwork of her and you’ll see what I mean. Sometimes a capture can make sense, especially if the female character is powerful or can serve as a vessel, like Riona in Final Fantasy VIII who has to be saved by Squall Leonhart and his comrades (which, depending on the player, can be a mix of male and female characters). And I mean a vessel for some villain to use to travel around in or drain for power,which also happens to Princess Garnet and Vivi in Final Fantasy IX, where plants capture them and drain life from them. On top of that, stories that are simply only nothing more than damsel in distress with no other motivation or plot elements are seen as lazy writings nowadays, where back then it was just the norm, either because of society or it was a simple story to get things rolling. What we should do is move on, rather than point out and be offended at every little thing in the past. It’s like when I talk about the racist crows in Dumbo and say “It’s a sign of the times.” True, that may be no excuse, but what can you do about it? It’s already made and out there.
Lastly, there’s the whole thing about how video games can shape people’s minds into certain ways and make people think that girls need saving and guys need to be badass. Well, as a Youtube video pointed out, that’s like saying Video Games make people violent. And while this could be true for small kids who don’t know any better, perhaps concerned parents should consult their kids about it rather than expect the media to pander to their own world views. And if people want to say that no one will do that, well I still don’t think we should force the media to produce shows or games a certain way. That’s like saying we should make games less violent because parents usually don’t care to talk to their kids and instead finger point when they blow someone apart in reality.
And lastly, I have to discuss her Kickstarter. Yes, Anita used a kickstarter campaign to gather funds to have this series produced but as me and lots of other people pointed out…where’d the hell all the money go? The show seems to be exactly like the regular Tropes Vs Women show, and the research…well you just read this article, didn’t you? I did all that research by reading, watching, and listening to articles and other peoples’ words and it didn’t cost me a dime. I mean, if you’re asking for $6,000 and got well over that ($158,922) then I think we should see, well something else. Put some music in there, or make it more documentary styled. Ask people in the industry or gamers themselves what they think. Do something! As others pointed out, it doesn’t seem to really be exploring the tropes or discussing them, more like just explaining what it is, and why it has a problem only from a female’s perspective. Like I pointed out, male characters become “objects” too and are in need of rescue. I think there’s so much more that can be done, and to top it all off, some information is inaccurate or skipped over (see Dinosaur Planet in the beginning of this article, and the whole Super Mario Bros 2 segment when discussing Peach; BOTH had either footage manipulated/cut in the episode, or details were skimmed over for some reason).
Do I have a problem with discussing tropes and females? No. I think it’s good to become aware of things like these, because sometimes we can write certain things without knowing it, and exploring and discussing tropes can be interesting and fun. So, who knows, maybe with Part 2 of “Damsel In Distress” which looks at contemporary games, there will be some more interesting looks at things, rather than just reciting off what one read on TV Tropes or Wikipedia, and looking at things when both male and female characters are involved. Because I’ll be honest, this was kind of one-sided, in that it only looked at the female perspective/characters/etc and not when it happened to males. And don’t make me conjure a list of when it happens to male characters, because I will. Just like I can name off 10 good female characters that either play a large part in the game’s plot, or are playable throughout the majority of the game.
Well, this was a long article. I hope you enjoyed it, or didn’t mind it, or don’t hate me for it.
And please, don’t roll out any accusations about me supporting a patriarchy or being blind or brainwashed. Proper defenses will be formed and deployed.
- Response to Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs Women in Video Games Epsidoe 1