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.
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?