Talking Misogyny: Rescuing Lovers vs. Reclaiming Possessions

Are you familiar with feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian and her new Tropes vs Women in Video Games YouTube series? The background controversy could claim at least ten lengthy articles, but in brief, it all began as a Kickstarter project to expand Ms. Sarkeesian’s “Feminist Frequency” commentaries on the portrayal of women in popular media to include gaming culture. As it does, the immature section of the Internet overreacted to her proposal, apparently terrified that someone would start telling them they were all misogynists for playing Mario. Names were called, threats were thrown, and the Kickstarter was a success anyway.

In my eyes, there is nothing too exceptional about the vocal minority being mean. I would be more surprised to experience a week without another online shouting match, so I mostly ignored the fire-fueling stories at the time and haven’t followed Sarkeesian’s work since. Fast-forward to yesterday and Tropes vs Women finally received its very first episode, embedded below for your viewing pleasure.

Watching this series debut honestly didn’t incite any extreme opinions out of me either way. I found it informative though not illuminating, yet there is a specific aspect I want to address. If you skipped it, Sarkeesian spends 23 minutes identifying, explaining, and discussing the pervasive issue of using damsels in distress as a primary plot device in video game narratives. Prominent examples come to the forefront, with Peach and Zelda as two of the most recognizable. These women and others like them, she says, are relegated to objects in an ongoing struggle between Typically Male Protagonist and Obviously Evil Antagonist as they fight for female ownership. Thus, a game is reduced to a masculine power fantasy about securing a stolen possession.

After nearly two decades of gaming, I’ve never seen it that way.

Call me a romantic, but I always look at the Kidnapped Beloved trope from a love-centric angle. In contrast to her assumption, I am not competitive enough to care about winning back pinched property. I am, however, a man who understandably relates with other men. Further, I fell in love once upon a time and can easily empathize with a main character who suddenly has his reason for existing ripped from his embrace. Now, I’m well aware that forced heartbreak is an easy emotion to exploit and there is nothing clever about relying on it as a motivational tactic. That said, this sort of story feature isn’t automatically demeaning, either. I don’t want the girl back so I can gloat ever my enemy. I want the girl back because I love her, dammit!, and can’t imagine going on without her.

Kingdom Hearts HugKairi in Kingdom Hearts was never a prize to be won.

It would be ignorant to think that everyone sees these themes from my mushy perspective, and so I don’t. There are undoubtedly those out there that fall in line with every word in Anita Sarkeesian’s argument, that objectify subconsciously to – as she puts it – get the ball back in their court. Some want to win those women as personified trophies for triumphs over the token bad guy. Some do. I’m sure they do, but keep in mind that these issues aren’t ever black and white. This described subset doesn’t represent the extent of the gaming community. Sarkeesian isn’t incorrect, only tends to indirectly criticize all of us for the faults of a few. I respect both her and her endeavors, always encouraging more open communication about the serious issues facing the gaming industry. However, a little recognition for the rest of us would do wonders to create an all-inclusive look at these important social concerns.

I just want to rescue the ones I love. Is there anything wrong with that?

Written by: Luke Frazier

Gaming industry addict. Twitter fiend. Unabashed lover of Kingdom Hearts. Other favorites include The Legend of Zelda, Portal, Bioshock, Journey, and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Also, oatmeal. Let's be friends. @LukeAFrazier – Steam/PSN: GodAlliz

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  • I certainly agree with your assertion that if someone needs rescuing that they should damn well be rescued, but even if we ignore the prize factor, there’s still an unfortunate skew in men rescuing women, that I would be offended by if I were a female gamer. The story she relates about the Starfox game is just the most blatant and pathetic example of it.

  • dakan45

    Anita is a troll a pro feminist that lied to people to get their money, google it.

    • Ridge

      Isn’t every feminist kind of a troll?

      • dakan45

        No, only pro feminists who think they should be treated better than men because they got vaginas. But if you watch her other videos you will see that it is all a load of bullshit with no research put into them. Clearly trolling. Infact there are many videos that show how biased her view on those things are even back in her college days. Just go to youtube and type here name.

        • Ridge

          So pro feminists are the ones who want to be above males and normal feminists are the ones who want equality?
          Because I can agree with the ones who want equality, but never had proper terms to distingquish the two.

          • dakan45

            Exactly as you said.

        • “Pro feminists” (didnt know of this term either) are akin to corrupt priests. They masquerade holding the banner of an ideal while taking your wallet with the other. It is un-assailable because you will be painted a bigot or sexist if you try to point out the hypocrisy of their misleading ideals.

  • Graham Burns

    Also, this is a really good article. I have always felt like I was trying to save someone I care about, not just get back a possession. My wife is not a possession, but my partner and friend. Believe me, if she needed me I would fight to the death for her.

    • Bingo bango, Mr. Burns! We share the same sentiment. It’s especially obvious if a game ends shortly after the rescue; I’m left wanting to see the loving couple reunited and living happily ever after.

      I guess I’m not who these writers are going for, though.

    • LMAO who downvoted this?!

  • Graham Burns

    I agree with Ridge. This stuff has been around since the beginning of time. It is littered all over our history. Video games aren’t at fault anymore than any other medium. Has anyone ever heard Eminem sing????

  • Over-generalized, idealistic argument? Check. Finding an a easy scapegoat in decades old source material? Check? Complete disregard for any opposing sentiments? Check.

    Wow. Did I make this video? Seems about as well thought-out as one of my rants. I’m the first to level the sights on VGs as a dismissive, corrosive past time. But this video is far too damning to the majority.

    • Thank you, Nick. That’s pretty much what I was getting at without directly offending anyone. I’m not in the mood for an uprising.

  • Ridge

    There are quite a few strong female video game characters. Like Ivy from Soul Calibur, or the girls from Dead or Alive. Damn this isn’t helping…

    A lot of powerful Pokemon are females. Dammit they are literally living possessions..

    Maybe we should all just comes to terms with the fact that the “Damsel in distress” story is one of the oldest and easiest plots to do, and that goes back way before video games.