Musing: Misrepresentation of Women in Games and Fiction

In this galaxy, in a time not too long ago, the name Anita Sarkeesian buzzed about the tubes of the internet.   She launched a successful kickstarter to launch a site highlighting the ways media misrepresents women in many distressing ways.   She has released two videos regarding a specific topic that received a great deal of troubling negative feedback.   I took the time to watch her videos and I agreed with her in most of her points.   Some of it I consider reaching a bit and excessively demonize core aspects of competitive gaming.   Otherwise, the main point is clear:   The concept of a helpless damsel is used far too much, and promotes the ideals that female characters are best used as motivation to get male characters moving.

This comes down to lazy writing.  It is perfectly acceptable for romance to be a theme of a story, but there are several scalding points that Anita nails in her second video.  Several times through the video I found myself applying my palm to my face.  It is amazing the amount of bigotry this woman faced / is facing in regard to this project.  So much so that comments have to be disabled on the video.   The intent is quite clearly an informative look at how lazy and offensive core game storytelling concepts are.

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Green Lantern’s unfortunate lady friend turns into a plot device. Thus giving life to a chain of pretenders clamoring for ‘deep’ plots.

The most glaring of these, is when she mentioned the stuffed in a fridge trope.  This is where her point culminates.   It is here that the female character is when their very life is used as the catalyst to justify the streak of violence that follows.   The unfortunate lady in question is cheapened so much, that her death is worth more than her life.

She goes on to highlight the combination of the Damsel in Distress trope with the dreaded fridge.   How you ask?  By killing the heroine early and using her soul as the ‘object’ the hero must save.

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My sentiments exactly.

Watching this video will likely make you angry for all the right reasons.  She does drift a bit as I mentioned before, but don’t let it distract you from the main point.   It is appalling how often female characters are used as shallow tools to  get cheap emotional empathy from the audience.   The listing of Triple A games using these tropes churns my stomach.   Each time leaving you to wonder how to came to be so accepted.

 

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The start of the problem? Or a time of purity gone wrong?

 

The problem isn’t violence being asserted against women as the assertion that women are to fall into a subservient role of helplessness… and that this helplessness is used to promote attraction between the hero and the damsel in distress.  By comparison, it makes shallow appeal of carnality seem harmless.   After all, being sexually attracted to a potential mate is the leading factor in starting a mutual relationship.   It’s natural.  Being attracted to them because they need to be protected has negative undertones.  It quickly shifts in a dominant / submissive power fantasy, even in the purest of intentions.

Like any work of fiction, this can be played out correctly.   It involves proper character development and justification to do it well.   Games are under the harshest criticism because they can only devote so much time to said plot development.

In times past, games lacked plot.   Their focus had been firmly nestled into collecting as many coins as you could.   Can you imagine trying to inflict a point to some games?   The original Mario Brothers (the single screen one with platforms, a pow block and baddies.)   The ‘plot’ is that they are handling pest control.   Turtles, crabs and flies are clogging the pipes.   They need to die.

Donkey Kong fit right into the damsel trope by having Donkey Kong kidnap Paula.   This was an obvious reference to King Kong.  Whatever happened to Paula I wonder?   Perhaps she didn’t see much worth in continuing a lame rescue romance, pursued an education, and is now a successful business woman in New York.

The point I’m trying to make is that fiction doesn’t need these crutches.   It is time to be forward thinking in regards to story conflicts.   Leave the job of being a valuable commodity to the inanimate objects.   Let your characters live and breath and fight their own battles.   Not that characters shouldn’t help each other, but said ‘damsel’ situation should never swallow what defines them.  Here is an easy way of checking:  Can you replace the character with a valuable and sentimental memento and get the same effect?  If so.   You need to reflect your ‘plot’ approach.

2 thoughts on “Musing: Misrepresentation of Women in Games and Fiction

  1. I find it more than a little hilarious that in the same instance that I start writing a post on this subject (well, tangentially), you get a post all loaded up and ready to go. And meanwhile, Sarkeesian uploads a video on the very same subject. I didn’t think it was possible, but…could this be the legendary triple-serendipity?

    Well, maybe not. I’m guessing that a lot of other bloggers have jumped in on the discussion elsewhere. So I guess it’s infinite-serendipity. Anyway…

    “Games are under the harshest criticism because they can only devote so much time to said plot development.”

    Yeah, I’d say this is one of the bigger problems. I can only imagine what some games would be like if they had more time to develop the particulars of their worlds — setting, characters, the works — instead of, say, putting them in side materials. Granted that’d probably invite other problems, buuuuuuuuuuut it is interesting to think about the possibilities. Giving characters the chance to “live and breathe and fight their own battles” could do wonders for a character, regardless of gender.

    …Then again, I’d think that a little more time would help some of the virtual ladies out. So yeah, I’d say at least a little experimentation is in order.

    • I’m not saying it’s a lost cause. Role playing games have an innate advantage as they can feed you text at any given time. The biggest offenders are action games (they make up so much of her video).

      Some games counteract this by having well made ‘lore’ documents scattered through the game. While most people breeze through it, it would alleviate the damsel in the fridge issue if said lore presented a functional and meaningful relationship.

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