This is the second in a series of three videos exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this installment we look at the “dark and edgy” side of the trope in more modern games and how the plot device is often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women. Over the past decade we’ve seen developers try to spice up the old Damsel in Distress cliche by combining it with other tropes involving victimized women including the disposable woman, the mercy killing and the woman in the refrigerator.
Due to the nature of the topic, this video comes with a trigger warning for violence against women.
For more information and a full transcript visit: http://www.feministfrequency.com/2013/05/damsel-in-distress-part-2-tropes-vs-women/
The Damsel in Distress: As a trope the damsel in distress is a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must then be rescued by a male character, usually providing an incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest. This is most often accomplished via kidnapping but it can also take the form of petrification, a curse or demon possession. Traditionally the woman in distress is a love interest or family member of the hero; princesses, wives, girlfriends and sisters are all commonly used to fill the role.
Damsel in the Refrigerator: A combination of the Women in Refrigerators trope and the Damsel in Distress trope. Typically this happens when a female character is killed near the beginning of a story but her soul is then stolen or trapped and must be rescued or freed by the male hero. Occasionally time travel or some other form of resurrection may be involved in the quest to bring the women in question back from the dead.
Disposable Damsel: A variant of the Damsel in Distress trope in which the hero fails to save the woman in peril either because he arrives too late or because (surprise twist!) it turns out she has been dead the whole time.
Euthanized Damsel: A combination of the Damsel in Distress trope and the Mercy Killing trope. This usually happens when the player character must murder the woman in peril “for her own good”. Typically the damsel has been mutilated or deformed in some way by the villain and the “only option left” to the hero is to put her “out of her misery” himself. Occasionally the damsel’ed character will be written so as beg the player to kill her.
Seriously really good. The subject material is incredibly disheartening but it’s also really important to be aware of.
As much as I love Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Game videos, I’m surprised she hasn’t yet mentioned that almost all of the damsels mentioned in her videos so far are white women, with a few light-skinned, East Asian women. The only game she mentioned in the series so far that features a black women is the protagonist’s wife in Prototype 2. The only games I can think of that feature Native American women as part of this trope is Custer’s Revenge, in which you rape the Native woman after you rescue her, and the protagonist’s mom in Assassin’s Creed 3. I can’t really think of games that feature Hispanic woman, South or Southeast Asian women, Arab women, basically any noticeably brown women.
The reason that there are so few women of color as damsels firstly goes back to the lack of representation of women of color in general from media. And yet nearly every form of media features this trope and loves this trope, yet when we think of damsels in distress, we rarely if ever think of women of color. There’s something particular to why the idea of “a damsel in distress” is something largely reserved for lily-white women because they require the audience, or the player, to view the damsel as innocent worth saving. And throughout Western history, we’ve had a lot of problems with viewing women of color as innocent and as, well, women. Sojourner Truth’s famous poem “Ain’t I a Woman” explains this idea: “Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place…and ain’t I a woman?” In reality, black and brown women are often overlooked to being treated with the care and “chivalry” granted towards white women, and no doubt those feelings towards women of color has transferred to our media, including video games.
So I’m surprised that Sarkeesian, who in past videos usually brings in the intersection of race to her discussion of women, hasn’t mentioned this blatant discrepancy in the representation of women who are deemed deserving of being saved. Hopefully in the final third part to the Damsels in Distress series, she’ll address it, cause we can’t talk about women if we don’t talk about race.
Please add to this list, but I’d love for this series to go on just to see how many things she could call out or even back up with some companies breaking the trend, or not feeding into it nearly as much.
PS, I know she calls out that Zelda does hold her own sometimes, but I’d also really like to see her having to save Link’s ass, or breaking out of Ganondorf’s prison. Also can we talk about Midna for a sec? She may have also been cursed/was a sidekick, but she was really awesome. Just saying.