Thursday, May 30, 2013

Damsel in the Fridge!

What an interesting turn the Tropes vs. Women series has made. We went from a light-hearted, casual romp of a basic set-up into something deeper, darker, and sad. It’s amazing how often games and media rely on the “damsel in distress” trope in order to propel the plot forward. The onslaught of references in the second video in Anita Sarkeesian’s series with Feminist Frequency brought home the point at how prevalent this aspect is in gaming stories.

Bottom Line: Game plots are really flippin’ repetitive.

So many of them utilize the damsel in distress trope to a varying degree. For example “Damsel in the Refrigrator” as Sarkeesian calls it, takes the concept of women in the fridge (a female character who is purposefully killed in order to propel the male character on his quest), where instead of extracting revenge for the dead wife/girlfriend/daughter, their soul needs to be saved because it is trapped. Dead body, trapped soul, all in a box. Or a closet if you’re R. Kelly. The God of War series is completely driven by this concept, and a number of other games follow this path as well. Even something as simple and innocent as Ico completely relies on the damsel in distress where you, Wanderer, have to escort a girl to safety and her stumbles, falls, and pains drive the story and action.

The one thing that I wished Sarkeesian extrapolated on in the video is the masculine identity. As one point, she briefly engages with the viewer that many of these plot devices as tropes are used to give the male character meaning: i.e. that he needs to fulfill his assumed male roles and save the girl in an attempt to regain his masculinity. In a number of ways men are objectified as much as women in video games. However their objectification comes at a point of reverence. We glorify their bodies, their violence, and their actions much like we do with art. Think of Greek and Roman statues that attempt to depict the “perfect” body. All male. All muscular and toned. All pale (this isn’t just a rock choice, but from a style perspective pale skin was idolized because it meant you had money and didn’t work outside like the lower classes). It’s this worshipping aspect that causes male characters to be objectified, and forced into following “society ideals” in regards to how men should act. Whereas women are objects of desire, and become victims because of the perception that they are weak, helpless, and defenseless (and thus driving the male desire to protect and exact revenge even more).

This is where I would love to put in a photo of a fanart I purchased over the weekend at Fanime of Princess Zelda doing a super awesome attack of DBZ proportions, but the reality is that this will probably never happen for her, and that’s sad.

Not all games follow this trope. Fighting games such as Street Fighter, Persona, and Guilty Gear tend to be exempt because women are on equal footing with their male counterparts. Clothing is an entirely different subject manner: this video was focused on violence used on women in gaming for story/trope purposes. But even games such as Mass Effect (Liara in a bubble), Tomb Raider (Lara Croft from the second you gain control of the character), Metal Gear Solid 4 Anything involving the four beauties and the painful state of The Boss’ death), that try to provide empowerment to the female characters in order to stand out in the crowd of games, and still they end up falling back on these tropes. Women in danger: she needs to be rescued if not by a male character then as you, the gamer, which is more often than not assumed to be male.

If you’re too lazy to watch the video (it’s only 25 minutes guys, come on now), what you should take away is that Sarkeesian is really stepping up her game and pushing the trope back on us to really analyze our games. It’s surprising even to myself, someone who examines games for a living, how often the damsel in distress trope and it’s underlings are abused in video games. It’s a wake-up call to us and developers that we need some change.

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