Log in

Game Reviews, News, Guides, and Humor

Anita Sarkeesian Delivers The First Episode Of ‘Tropes vs. Women In Video Games’

Thursday, March 7th, 2013 by

Finally, the very first in a series of videos analyzing the tropes of women in games has arrived, putting the classic ‘Damsel in Distress’ under the microscope and exploring the abundant examples of how the trope is employed.

The long-awaited video was produced by Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency and funded through a massively successful Kickstarter campaign, much to the chagrin of butthurt dwellers worldwide.

About the Author

Mark A. Brooks uses the A. initial in his name so as to seperate himself from the teeming legions of other Mark Brookses (there are at least 65,000 in the state of Michigan alone). Keep up with him on twitter, because why not. @unoriginalG

Mark A. Brooks has written 642 posts on Delta Attack

19 Responses to “Anita Sarkeesian Delivers The First Episode Of ‘Tropes vs. Women In Video Games’”

  1. What I don’t like about this is that there just aren’t many roles for strong women in all forms of media. Most games are overcome the hurdles in your way and save the day. Rather than label it lazy writing, as the “trope” label attempts, look at what it really is: the standard.

    Games require us to suspend our disbelief, but the moment a woman is put into power, my belief is no longer suspended. The exception to the rule is when there is an augmentation to empower women. Krystal, for instance, didn’t appear strong. She had a magical staff that empowered her. Samus and the Power Suit are brilliant, but Zero Suit Samus is problematic.

    I can’t imagine a game where the woman is saving a man. Moreover, if it were to be made, I wonder how feminists would view it. Saving a man goes a bit against the grain.

    The other possibility is that the woman does empower herself after being kidnapped. However, the problem then becomes “Why did she get kidnapped? That shows she is weak.”

    This becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition.

    There’s also the disconnect where men do want to feel heroic. It is a power fantasy, but I don’t believe women are wired the same way. This then becomes an attack on men rather than gaming.

    I just don’t view women, with the exception of Joan of Arc, as being powerful. The second Anita said something along the lines of “the myth that men are more powerful”, I just rolled my eyes. I get wanting equality, but until men are able to give birth, there’s just no chance it will ever happen. It’s like yelling at the rain. Stop trying to turn apples into oranges.

    I may be sexist, but I’m also pretty good at seeing things for what they are.

    Also, it’s hard for me to take those giant earrings seriously.

    • It should also be relegated that “Damsel in Distress” itself is a bit of a misnomer. The point of these stories is saving someone you love. It is easy, but it’s relatable.

      I always think of Sally Field in “Not Without My Daughter” in the same light. It’s a story about saving someone you love and doing whatever it takes to get there.

      However, what if roles had been changed and Alfred Molina was saving Sally Field in “Not Without My Wife” and the oppressor, obviously, wasn’t Molina but his Iranian family?

      Are they objectified? That’s debatable, as this then negates the power of love.

    • Brian Kerr says:

      Hopefully somebody else can step in and address some of the other points you’re trying to make here.

      As to the question in your third paragraph, well, I’m a feminist, and I’ve played many games where a woman saves a man from jeopardy, and I think they’re pretty great! I didn’t even have any trouble suspending my belief in moments where a woman is “put into” power!

      • Off the top of my head, the only game I can recall playing that did just that was “Super Princess Peach.” I fully expect that game to be trashed, though, for the emotion system and rightfully so.

        Otherwise, I can’t think of any that don’t have some sort of equalizing force such as magic (RPGs), martial arts, or weaponry. Buffy: the Vampire Slayer is kind of my exception to the rule, but even then she is the “Chosen One.”

        As a parent of a little girl who also loves games, I would like her to find a good role model within gaming. As it stands, Samus is about as far as it goes. She thinks Peach is cute, though, and I’m okay with that.

        • Brian Kerr says:

          I guess that’s the difference, then. You think when a woman uses a tool, skill, or talent it’s an “equalizing force”. I think those are just things that make us human.

          I need to step aside, though; don’t feed the trolls and all that.

          • To denote this as trolling is undermining the discussion, Brian. While you might not agree with what I say, which you obviously don’t, take note that I would not dismiss your post as trolling.

            I’m not saying we’re not all human. I’m saying there’s a reason bucks have antlers and does don’t. While we’re all the same, the sexes are inherently different. It’s ludicrous to lie to ourselves and say that they are equal in all respects when it comes to things of a physical nature. Hence the “equalizing force” that I mention.

            You can tell yourself those lies all you want, sir, but please don’t think that I’m being ignorant by not adhering to what appears to be the Delta Attack norm. It’s the opposite, where I stand my ground firmly knowing that while it’s not what everyone else wants to hear, I stand behind what I say.

    • I would argue there are plenty of roles for strong women in games – without dishing out a ginormous list of examples, let’s suffice it to say that it’s been masterfully done time and time again. I don’t think many people would argue, though, that the representation of strong women vs. disempowered
      women is pretty disproportionate and therefore reasonably unfair to women in general.

      I imagine when you wrote “the moment a woman is put into
      power” you didn’t mean to imply that women are inherently powerless and must be first gifted power in order to become powerful, but that kind of statement is exemplary of the status quo of disenfranchised women – that people accept this
      kind of imbalance as the natural order of things. When one explores the idea of this status quo actually being a social construct, created in the distant past, perpetuated and maintained by lack or refusal of critical thinking, then I
      think that one takes less issue with these kind of tropes being pointed out. I’m kind of spinning off on a major tangent here, so I’ll try to reign it back in now.

      Not viewing women as powerful is something I hope to see the future remedy for you, sir. I’m going to try to make it hard for you to double down, homie. You must know that I mean that in the friendliest way possible, as evidenced by my use of the word “homie”, homie.

      Personally, I do think that much of what you’ve written here
      can be attributed to sexism, but you’ve confessed as much, so I don’t expect you take offense to that, and it’s my hope that you won’t. In the same breath you say you’re “pretty good at seeing things for what they are”; is there a
      willingness to be pretty good, then, at not accepting things the way they are? To challenge things for what they could, and by extension, should be? To me that’s a pretty noble goal; and the very thing Anita works towards in
      showcasing this kind of stuff.

      • I understand that change needs to happen in many respects, but I hardly think gaming is a good starting point. Then, of course, where do you start? What makes feminism inherently more important than, say, homosexual representation in games? Racial minorities?

        Is it unfair? I don’t know, nor will I pretend to care. What I feel, honestly, is that mountains are being made where molehills lay. I think, moreover, that until there are forces greater than Jade Raymond at work within the industry, that it will be a trend that continues except for game companies who want to attract those niche female gamers. Until those same women find a way to break into the gaming industry, to find those creative positions, that this trend will continue unabated.

        What I will say is that I don’t particularly care either way, sir. Strong female characters won’t stop me from enjoying a game (as evidenced by Ms. Pac-Man, Jill Valentine, and Kara in Zombie Parkour Runner), but I feel like this is an over-examination that would be overseen by interlopers and not by gamers.

        Mostly, I’m just annoyed by it. Some of the language, the wording, just seems vapid. “The damsel is captured and not seen again until the end.” So, what, would it be better if Sylvia is shown being tortured or raped by Mister X in Kung Fu? Should there be a cutscene where she tries to escape only to be forcefully put back? A majority of this was storytelling in quarter munchers. Sure, we’ve come a long way since then, and I do think it’s fair to examine it.

        Is Sonic CD worse for saving Amy or should Sonic simply continue his quest to free all the animals like the first three games? Until Amy showed up, Sonic the Hedgehog was a sausage fest. Amy was an attempt to make a loveable female mascot, not just someone who got captured. Later games would allow you to play as Amy Rose.

        It’s easy to skew the argument. Anita is cherry picking. You know how much I like to pick arguments apart, and I could do that here.

        I don’t find the goal noble. I do, however, find it novel.

        • So I get the impression that you’re irritated with the amount of attention that feminism gets, in respect to this video and beyond; that it’s somehow undue or sensationalist. I may be wrong and I won’t try to change your mind, but I would like to address some of the stuff you point out.

          I wouldn’t argue that feminism is necessarily more important than homosexual representation in games, or racial minorities (although the tenets of feminism that challenge gender norms naturally overlap into the subject of homosexuality). It just happens to be the topic of this series of videos. And it’s a hot topic, sure – you can’t escape the cloud of modern feminism, even if you tried – so it’s only natural that you’ll see this kind of thing pop up in a domain like video games, a domain rightfully ripe for criticism in this regard.

          If it feels like feminism is somehow deemed more important than homosexual/racial inequality, then it’s probably because those two are quickly and agreeably identified as substantial problems, whereas women’s inequality is not.

          And yeah, Anita’s clearly cherry picking here, as would anyone trying to drive a particular narrative would. Does that serve to trivialize the argument? I don’t think so. I don’t get particularly annoyed by any of the wording used, honestly. The whole video, to me, is largely entertaining, and it’s fun to see all these oft-overlooked things pointed out and strung together. I guess what does annoy me is to see this stuff met with the kind of vehement, defensive opposition it often gets – as if there is no substantial reason to entertain it as anything more than dismissibale.

          I agree that change has to come from within the industry, and I think that these outside attempts to voice dissatisfaction and “get the word out” are, at the very least, helpful to achieving that change, if not key. It is an industry; the demographics are evolving and, beyond the scope of games, the morale landscape is changing. I think there is a lot to be gained for the developers that take equal gender representation seriously; to say that there will be repercussions for those that stay the course would be an overstatement at this point, but hey. Down the line, maybe.

          • Honestly, I’m more devil’s advocate here. I don’t care either way, though I find it a bad foot to start off on for the series.

            I think, logically, having video 12 next would be a great way to sway my view. Get all of the arguments out of the way, and then break them down further with subsequent videos. Hell, it may have been better as the introduction rather than the closing based upon my initial reaction.

            I don’t think the racial and homosexual are actually identified terribly well within gaming culture. Within society itself, yeah, but gaming culture? Not so much.

  2. Happy women’s Day ya’all! I’m so happy she got this posted just in time and cannot wait for part 2 and ALL of the others.

    Here’s a list of the planned videos in the Tropes VS Women series –

    Damsel in Distress – Video #1

    The Fighting F#@k Toy – Video #2

    The Sexy Sidekick – Video #3

    The Sexy Villainess – Video #4

    Background Decoration – Video #5

    Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress – Video #6

    Women as Reward – Video #7

    Mrs. Male Character – Video #8

    Unattractive Equals Evil – Video #9

    Man with Boobs – Video #10

    Positive Female Characters! – Video #11

    Video #12 – Top 10 Most Common Defenses of Sexism in Games

    • I’m very interested in Video #2 and Video #11.

      Videos #8 and #10 sound very similar.

        • Oh, so Faris from Final Fantasy V and Sheik from Ocarina of Time both qualify as “Man with Boobs.”

          Buttercup from The Powerpuff Girls would then be Mrs. Male Character.

          That makes sense. I’ll also add video #12 to the list, as I imagine a lot of what I’ve written in this thread will show up there.

          • Oh I’m sure it will in 12. We shall see what those tropes entail in the videos – but the videos are not here yet, so there’s no reason to assume anything.

            I am very excited about these videos, and I was a donor. I really enjoy what Anita is doing and like to see the discussion progress. Video Gaming as an entertainment medium is very important to me, as I am a gamer of sorts, I don’t really watch movies or watch much TV – so for me games are very important. And yes, I am very much a feminist – I want to see more complex female characters that don’t fit into these tropes. I want to see writers try a bit harder to make well developed characters on the whole. I am very happy to at the very least see the push for change.

            • Don’t take that as me being against the change, Lacy. I’m unabashedly indifferent because it doesn’t directly affect me. I know, having a daughter who plays games, that my views will likely change as it affects me the same way that Dick Cheney’s view on homosexuality changed because of his daughter being a lesbian.

              After spending some time thinking about it, I started thinking about other characters within games that are based around women as the leads. Most of them are games that I don’t play, such as Tomb Raider and Bloodrayne, simply because I don’t care for the sexualized nature of the leads, not because they’re women.

              Then I started to think about Faith in Mirror’s Edge and Kara in Zombie Parkour Runner. I know there’s Samus, but there’s also the giant misstep in Zero Suit Samus. I know there are games out there that I enjoy that have female leads, but they are few and far between.

              I think labeling it as a trope, though, is itself an oversimplification. Games writing, for the most part, is still very much a new thing. Most games are simply games with a story tacked on that few people care about anyhow. The games that do have stories, typically RPGs, tend to do better in that regard.

              When you look at the basis of strong women in history, you find someone taking a stand against inequality in many respects. People like Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman were fighting for race inequality, whereas your Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s suffrage. Those don’t really translate well to a gaming world, so there’s little to base it upon.

              Which then leads to the obvious question: “What makes a strong female lead?” Is it simply being heroic and how do you play towards that end? Something along the lines of “The Bride” in Kill Bill? Or is simply not being in peril enough?

              Horror games, such as Eternal Darkness, Clock Tower, and Resident Evil, all play well towards female characters. Thrillers like Heavy Rain can as well.

              Most games are built around violence and physicality. If this trend is to change, then that has to change first, as most people don’t think of
              women when it comes to either or there would be a major market for women’s sports other than gymnastics.

              • For me personally it comes down to complexity. I am so tired of one dimensional characters – tropes. I want female characters that I can identify with more often. No more HUGE boobs and ass, no more helpless little girls. Not just as leads, but in all aspects of gaming. Again I want the writers to simply TRY harder. I know they can and hope they will do better in the future.

                I know I’m not going to change or even sway you on this issue, so really it’s exhausting to go over this all with you. But alas, I shall try – It’s not just gaming culture – women are show too often as the USED the OBJECT rather than a complete person. I *care* about gaming and want so badly to see things change, so I support people like Anita who have the platform and energy to take it on fully.

                I feel for little girls who aren’t seeing diversity in female characters, for me personally it turned into *I* am not into pink and frills and submission therefore I am *like a guy* – but it’s wrong – I was a girl, and “girl” doesn’t fit into this tiny little box media tries to put us in. It makes for horrible cases of internalized misogyny. These sorts of things hurt boys as well, that’s why feminists are for equality – this portrayal of the sexes hurts *everyone* that doesn’t fit into those tiny boxes. Male, female, gay, straight it’s not healthy – and I intend to continue to support those who challenge it.

                • The issue isn’t become feminism, then, so much as individuality and non-conformity.

                  I’m for it and against it at the same time. Most of the time, I’m one of the most liberal people you will meet. I’m a live and let live kind of guy. Then, you have cases like the transgender boy-girl who got banned from using the bathroom, where I know I should be supportive, but I’m not.

                  It’s hardly my place, though, to tell them what is right or wrong. By telling people that it’s not right to tell them that it’s wrong because it is alright to be who you are, you’re telling them that it’s wrong. And that’s not right, either.

                  Yes, that was intentionally convoluted.

  3. Much has already been said before I joined the party, so I’m going to address a variety of topics here. As such, I’m starting a top-level comment instead of directly responding to any particular existing comment.

    First off, I like what I perceive to be Anita’s brand of feminism: the type that seeks true equality, that seeks for women to be viewed as people first and women second, and probably also desires the same for men. This aligns with my own definition of feminism.

    I think Terry (Fade to Slack)’s point about games focusing primarily
    on violence and physicality is true. However, that doesn’t mean the heroes need to be men. Even if you reduced the stage to a purely barehanded fighting contest, bigger and stronger doesn’t always win. What really matters is training and desire: which participant is more skilled? Which one has more at stake, and thus will fight more passionately? Gender doesn’t even need to be part of the equation. A large man fighting a smaller man isn’t much different than a large man fighting a smaller woman.

    As for women using tools to fight, such as the oft-mentioned power suit of Samus Aran, do not men also employ whatever tools they can? Mario uses fireballs and various suits; Link gets a huge array of tools and weapons; Mega Man straight-up steals as many powers as he can; even the simple Pac-Man snags power pellets to turn the tables. All of these male protagonists could easily be female (and were in the case of Ms. Pac-Man), as long as the female characters were given sufficient reasons for resisting. And, as Lacy mentioned, all it would take is a little creativity on the part of the writers to come up with sufficient reasons for said female characters to fight. They could easily be out to rescue a person of any gender that they loved, or they could be engaged via motivations far more intricate and interesting.

    I realize that there’s some inherent hypocrisy in my vocal support
    of equality-type feminism, given that I’ve posted content here on Delta Attack that serves no purpose other than ogling female flesh, whether it’s in-game or external cosplay. Being a straight man, I have to balance my natural attraction towards the female form with my desire to treat people as individuals first and foremost. However, I will say that I would far prefer to interact with female video game characters that have actual depth and dimension — regardless of their physical form — than with the bimbo types, as highlighted by that ditz in Dragon’s Lair. Sure, flesh is fun, but only as a cheap thrill; it will never bring me the satisfaction that comes from truly connecting to a well-written character.

Leave a Reply