One Last Shot
In my last part of three, I look at the final stretch of analysis given to us by one Miss Anita Sarkeesian. In her multi-part video series, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, she examines some of the more common mal-practices of female representation. Her first video, deals with the trope “The Damsel in Distress”. This analysis helps to shed light on a situation we often take for granted as “what should be normal” for appropriate female image. This in turn, can be alienating to women, and degrading in it’s implementation. My main purpose of my own multi-part series, was in admiration of Anita respecting games enough, to give them the time of day with honest analysis. This means a lot to me personally, as I have tremendous respect for the medium as a whole. Very simply, I love games.
That’s right, Love Games, Gregg… …In any case, a worthy cause and message deserve a pass along, out of respect and the obvious: video games are fun, but they aren’t without flaw.
In Anita’s case, she’s just tired of the same old stereotyping of women in pop culture, and aims to start a dialogue of how we can change this. An admirable goal, and one I condone, as a gamer who wishes to see more acceptance, and gaming aspire to a greater evolution. However, sometimes…things go awry.
In the first half of her video, which I analyze myself here and here, she goes into detail about the “Damsel in Distress” trope. She dives in to how it’s regular usage extends to even before the genesis of video games. Within the medium, games like Mario helped to realize, and still utilize the trope to this day. Other games, like Star Fox Adventures, represent perfect examples of these long repeated residuals, and where it can go wrong time and time again. Anita makes a strong argument in the tropes played out usage, and puts forth further notions of why this acts as objectification towards women. Her sentiments are sound, and I don’t disagree with any of her main points. I want to reinforce her message, after all, not desperately seek to quell it.
Since I can’t possibly due a better job of dictating the sexism within the titles than Anita can, I simply give a second look, more insight into how these tropes came, or continue to be. I referred to it in my second part as “The Why of Gaming”, which helped to frame my analysis quite well. In this context, I dive further into the origins or gaming liabilities that allow these problems to be so, and look at maybe why other flaws seek to worsen the sexism issue. This quotation best sums it up: “ My mention with “The Why of Gaming”, hopefully goes a step beyond Anita merely observing theses instances of sexism, by not only noticing the events and declaring “this is so”, but by going a step further and presenting the other question as “why is so?”.”
In essence…seeing her philosophy, and raising her one more…
Just this side of crazy good.
So, as a quick review, the “Damsel in Distress” is one of the most popular tropes in video games, and dis-empowers women through the act of getting kidnapped. I looked at the two on hand, Crystal and Peach, and framed each as such.
-Peach being the tradition
-Crystal acting as a residual cause and effect.
Peach, to save us some time of semantic, was the first major influential example within video games, in this regard. Through the social immaturity of the medium itself, and technological limitation to pair, The Trope was born, and subsequently, cemented as a reality. Crystal, years later, kept alive and well the nature of it’s existence, proving that residuals can last from strong messages for years to come, and the cause and effect can be vast and explicit. Moving forward, and wrapping up her video with one last example, Miss Sarkeesian point her powers of observation at one more example of this trope. She takes a look at one more famous Nintendo Princess, and outlines a couple of ripe specifics of distinction.
Her example, and who she goes on to mention, is none other, than Princess Zelda…
…and then shit got real.
Okay…maybe not that real.
I’m more than open to critique, even on my more beloved game series. Hell, I’ve even recently gone on negatively about Zelda, but not without content in doing so. Anita follows a similar pattern, and presents us with a further defining of the “Damsel in Distress” trope. She goes on to give credit to Zelda with the sentiment “Not all damsels are created equal”. Anita acknowledges Zelda’s regular dis-empowerment through out the series, but not without then appreciating that Zelda has far more active role in helping Link through out his quest. In fact, Anita pleasingly makes clear Zelda doesn’t suffer as helplessly as Peach does to her captor, by making effort in defining herself as a more capable female.
Anita goes on further to make a slight amendment in her “Damsel in Distress” trope. She comments: “Remember, the “Damsel in Distress” can be a plot device that happens to a female character, and not necessarily is the character from start to finish.” With further definition, Anita helps to flesh out the trope as an act or punishment, and not an unchangeable reality, or stone cold embodiment of the tropes design. Due to my own bias, I’m rather happy that at this point in the video, Anita seems to have a certain sense of pleasure in discussing Zelda’s own credentials. I was afraid she would over look the pivotal nature Zelda represents in her own series (more on that later), and does well to service Zelda’s more beautiful moments.
Anita doesn’t give Z the pass, however, as she continues to outline this distinction in the trope “The Helpful Damsel“. A step up surely, but still held back to keep a more empowered focus on her male counter part…but not without giving aide. An odd dichotomy to be sure, but one Anita frames with the ending of Ocarina of Time.
She outlines the give and take of his twist involving “The Helpful Damsel”, by pointing out Z alluding capture from the almighty Ganondorf for most of the game by disguising herself as Sheik, the very capable, very bad ass ninja. With Z in the form of Sheik, she gives ample amounts of help, being a direct catalyst for our Hylian Hero in his quest to destroy Ganondorf. Where this all falls apart for Anita, however, is that very close to the end of the game, Sheik sheds his clothing, and returns back to the very feminine form of Princess Zelda, revealing herself to Ganondorf as having been disguised as a man.
To make matters worse, Miss Sarkeesian observes the timing on Zelda’s capture after her reveal, topping out at a grand total of three minutes. Anita also mentions that in another Zelda title, The Wind Waker, a very similar series of events takes place. Z is disguised as the “Impressive and feisty pirate captain” Tetra, who ultimately suffers the same fate of being damseled. Once Tetra is revealed as Princess Zelda, she’s commanded to wait, in one spot, without moving, until she’s told other wise.
I’m completely with Anita on this one, telling Zelda to stand in one place for any extended period of time, is a fucking awful idea.
While I remain refreshed Anita enjoys Zelda’s role in her own series more than other damsels examined in her first video, she conveys clearly that “The Helpful Damsel” only represents a positive twist on the trope, but doesn’t destroy it. She goes on to say “It works in ripping the power away from female characters, even helpful, or seemingly capable ones….distilled down to it’s essence, the plot device works by trading the dis-empowerment of female characters, for the empowerment of male characters.”
With this in mind…
She continues to point out in many games (Goldeneye, Metal Gear, Zelda), that when the male character is imprisoned, he doesn’t have to wait for rescue. They are portrayed as self-reliant and cunning, and escape within seconds of being caught. Literally seconds, wasting no time in bleeding out the bastard who put em there in the first place.
I mean also, Snake punches through a wall to escape in Metal Gear.
Not to mention, that even within his own adventures, Link does get captured from time to time. Despite being far less magically capable than Zelda, Link still manages to escape his captors within a few moments. I’m guessing due to the ease of the usual process of Link’s escape, ala Ocarina of Time and a three second hook shot escape, he swiftly makes his way to freedom from his cell, with the thought in his mind that perhaps his enemies, are really just trolling him.
Going back to the female persuasion of the argument, and “The Damsel in Distress” trope we’ve discussed at length at this point… we are faced with the cold truth, that this is almost never so for any female game character. With Zelda as a classic example.
While, I will wait a little while longer to bring up “The Why of Gaming” in this scenario, I do myself one better, and preemptively defend Zelda’s plight, as not so helpless. While Anita does well in not only pointing out Z’s damseled status, as well as her helpful nature, I do think she overlooks the simple truth of destiny within the Zelda universe. With Z representing one third of the Triforce, she symbolically represents one of the three tenants of the land: Wisdom. With Zelda’s Wisdom acting as a balance between Ganon’s Power, and Link‘s Courage, the tale persists of one that has been pre-ordained as a needed destiny, and one the empowers all three beings equally. They co-exist, and must do so, lest chaos be left as the only reality.
In this case, neither Link, nor Ganon or Zelda, will ever be truly weaker or stronger than one another, but act as vessel for inevitability involving the power struggle and human dichotomy of Hyrule, forever embodying the endless struggle initially set forth by the Hylian Goddesses. While that is all well in good within the universe, I know Anita’s point is founded in the sense of Zelda’s usual real world intent: victim. Even after all these years, with Zelda still being damseled far too often, you’d be surprised the series doesn’t try to shake it up or modernize the tale, and incorporate other elements of fantasy motivation.
Though, Anita helps to remind me of something. As she points out the times Zelda does indeed appear in a more active role throughout the Legend of Zelda series…
…she is completely badass.
Tetra and Sheik represent Zelda at her finest, and definitely reinforce why Ocarina and Wind Waker are so beloved by so many. Large groups of fans absolutely adore the empowered ninja Sheik represents, and the pirate gun ho sass of Tetra. It is also important to point out, that both OoT and WW have two of the most epic boss battles of the entire Zelda franchise, which are in due in part to a large synergy from Zelda’s presence.
I take the brief moment to finally interject “The Why of Gaming”, in contrasting Zelda in the same manner I’ve done so with Crystal and Peach. Where I’ve established Peach as setting the standard, and Crystal acting upon the Standard, I in many ways, see Zelda breaking the standard. While Anita frames Zelda as a trope with a twist “The Helpful Damsel”, I’ve also appreciated her candor in acknowledging that Zelda does buck the trend. After all, Anita does showcase dozens of female “damsels” in her video, and none of them deserve special mention…aside from Zelda.
So, while not within an ideal sense of fully empowered, and with ways to go in breaking walls down completely, I do believe Zelda represents, in a small way, a change in the cause and effect that Peach created, and Crystal followed. With such strong examples of pro-activism, like Sheik and Tetra (not to mention how pivotal she is in preventing dimensional destruction in Twilight Princess or Skyward Sword), Zelda does in some way, represent a regular deviation from the norm. Ultimately setting a good example with her efforts in gaining more favor and spotlight for women, by setting better examples in so many titles.
Very regularly, The Legend of Zelda represents an industry standard, and helps to influence the titles around it. If Zelda keeps on acting the Pirate or Ninja, and is given the chance to shine…who knows what kind of new positive message this could send to devs and women the gaming world over!
A bit idealitsic, I know…but Zelda tends to have that effect on me.
Digressing, I reissue Anita’s ultimate sentiment: “These games don’t exist in a vacuum, and it is important to take these small message as a poor notion of adding to a larger negative stereotype of women being weak or valueless as people.“
Without this analysis, there is no willingness to admit fault, even among our most beloved titles, and no where to stay, except in an awkward place a definite portion of our gaming population feels uncomfortable with. I appreciate Anita (perhaps intentionally so) saving a positive ray of hope for last in her observation that Zelda can and has kicked ass. Despite this, we must not accept her resignation to “The Helpful Damsel”, and even not stop with “The Why of Gaming” in pointing out that Zelda helps in breaking the standard. We must keep going, till we arrive at a simple truth: If the effort is made in making cool female characters, and it’s very much appreciated by all…why stop there?
As one aside before my closing thoughts, it’s very clear Anita is a fan of gaming, and wishes only the best. This is of course, not going to happen over night, and she is mindful in trying to help the transitioning process, by spreading an awareness we should all share. Her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games ,will continue to investigate the more caustic examples of negative female representation in gaming, and will further challenge popular games that can get it wrong with women. Not as if Video Games are devoid of any positive female imagery, however. Anita herself represents a positive female influence in the community. Others exist of course,as I have helped to point out through the week.
In closing, I like to remind everyone why I’ve focused so heavily on just one video from Anita, and her overall message and it‘s importance. To quote Miss Sarkeesian directly: “Just to be clear, I’m not saying all games that use “The Damsel in Distress” trope as a plot device, are automatically sexist or have no value, but it’s undeniable that popular culture is a powerful influence in our lives, and “The Damsel in Distress” trope as a recurring trend, does help to normalize extremely toxic, patronizing, and paternalistic attitudes about women”. I simply wrote about this, as it hearkened to me as something important, and a conversation we all need to talk about as a whole. Gaming has been growing and evolving since day one. With some good and some bad, it’s our job as gamers to help it move in the right direction, and embracing equality of all kinds, will be important in inviting more people to come and give gaming a good go. Exclusivity benefits no one, and often is used as a tool to gate communities out of ignorant, selfish, or controlling reasons. As a gamer, I seek to attract all walks of life, so that the medium I love so very much, may benefit from new culture, and expand with refreshing ideas.
We, as gamers, can go on about being misunderstood, and than cast out or shun those who we in turn, don’t understand. The first step of moving forward is to know how, and I think Anita helps us all by giving us at least one good idea of where we can start. At the very least, she helps to start a dialogue that is woefully ignored in real life far too often, and one we all need to have within the game verse, in order to better enjoy a positively charged idea, in sharing a more diverse worth while community.
So, on account of myself, and I like to think, all well meaning gamers the verse over….
Thanks for being a gamer.