She’s off her royal rocker!
Hey, gang. I wasn’t planning on making a blog entry today, but I learned that Anita Sarkeesian (aka Feminist Frequency) released the first video in her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series. On a previous episode of Animation Aficionados, you may recall an aside comment I made that Sarkeesian was basically going to go after easy targets like Princess Peach, who is already well known for being one of the “worst” examples of the passive female stereotype, or the “Damsel in Distress.”
But what is actually wrong with this? First of all, as many of you know, my stance on tropes is that they’re unavoidable. Tropes exist as archetypal states from which you evolve characters. New ideas are few and far between. We fall in love with the same character concepts over and over. We should just accept this and not worry about it.
And from that perspective, I’m simply going to state that being the damsel in distress is Peach’s role in the games. I will concede that there’s a possibility of the trope being so common in video games as to be insulting to female gamers, but I don’t think that’s the case here. By Anita’s own admission, there are plenty of examples of females who don’t fall into this category at all. Rather, it seems that Anita is just on a witch hunt and wants her Nintendo princesses to act like tomboys, even though that completely nullifies the object of the games.
While we’re at it, why don’t we just remove all tension from video games?
Anita dances around the concession that Peach does have an active role in other games, such as Smash Bros. and the sports games, but since they aren’t the “main series”, they’re dismissed out of hand. Look, Anita. You can’t just play that elitist crap, like the side-games don’t count. It’s true that they’re outside the platforming Mario games, but they’re still perfectly viable games that are popular with kids, which portray Peach, Daisy, and Rosalyn as active participants in a video game. (In fact, speaking of Rosalyn, Anita just kind of glosses over her entirely.)
I realize that Anita’s argument here is that the gaming medium itself does not cater to her by providing enough strong, female protagonists. She wants positive female representation in video games. But that’s where I get to sink my teeth into her a bit more. It’s clear to me that either she’s not a gamer on the level of your average video game fan, or her gaming taste is so narrow that it’s kept her away from games that feature female characters in larger roles. (Or maybe she’s just a snob, since she doesn’t seem to think that sports games count.)
You see, it shouldn’t really shock anyone that a simple platformer with no story arc to speak of would have such a simple objective as a rescue mission or that the character you’re trying to rescue doubles as the love interest. Oh, and golly gee, the protagonist is likely to be a guy.
Here’s a thought. Maybe game designers are too busy making -oh, I don’t know- a fun game and not necessarily putting much thought into whether or not people like Sarkeesian are going to come along to skew the game’s objective into a message that was never intended by its designers.
Secretly hates women!
Sticking to her usual agenda, Sarkeesian insists on her sophomoric subject-versus-object dichotomy, in which the subject of the game is the protagonist, who is the actor, and the female is an object, being acted upon, thus being “objectified” It’s come to my attention that Anita either willfully oversimplifies the roles of these characters in the game, or she has no idea what “objectification” means.
Furthermore, Anita’s issue with objectification doesn’t seem to ever reach outside of sexuality. If it did, then she might notice that almost every NPC falls into the category of “objects” being “acted upon”, like all the hundreds of goombas and ninjas we’ve slaughtered on our way to the final boss. Do these enemies have some sort of involvement in the overall story? No, they’re just objects that we slay with genocidal glee, because they’re nameless, faceless drones meant to impede our progress. They are as close to objects as a character in a video game can get.
Princess Peach at least has a name and a personality.
If we move into games that allow for more complex storytelling, like adventure or role-playing, then suddenly the roles of female characters change dramatically. Story-driven games allow female characters to become much more heroic and badass. This is the case with characters like Ellen Fisher, Clair Redfield, Samus Aran, and female Shepard. You see, as games become more expressive, then characters tend to be more varied, including and especially female characters.
What about me, Anita?
The RPG genre is particularly noteworthy for its female protagonists. The first major character in a console role-playing game was Alis Langale in the game Phantasy Star. And she wasn’t a healer or a summoner. She carried a sword and was your primary attacker. Maybe Anita will choose to skip over characters like this and opt for attacking easier targets in later videos, such as the crazy-sexy-cool females of Final Fantasy X-2.
In fact, in the video, Sarkeesian chooses a screen shot of the original Final Fantasy, which is many times more primitive than Phantasy Star. In the opening scenario, the Light Warriors are tasked with rescuing Princess Sara. It should be noted again that Anita made sure to select the most archaic example of the series, whereas even with the next edition on the Famicom, a female character is present from the very start and is not defined by any tropes that Sarkeesian would normally find demeaning. But, you know, why mention that?
See, this is the problem with Anita’s whole approach. Savvy, seasoned gamers can see right through her and will be more than aware that she’s carefully selecting her examples and not putting them into a more appropriate context. There are a wide variety of female character types in video games, and the damsel in distress is just one of them. In fact, Anita really didn’t do a good job of finding any notable examples outside of Peach and Zelda.
And if that’s the case, then why should we even care about the damsel-in-distress trope in the first place?
When you get right down to it, females do have positive representation in video games, which means that this…
…look stupid in comparison.
Take careful inventory of the games she has in these stacks. Let’s see how many of them she actually uses over the course of the series.