Tropes versus Woman in Video Games

Anita Sarkkesian, blogger at the site Feminist Frequency, has a series called Tropes vs. Women in Video Games where she explored the role of tropes as used in video games. This series was brought to my attention thanks to a debate on the series I saw on the website Hold The Line.


I was able to watch the first video of the series that focused on the Damsel in Distress trope (DiD). Anita’s argument was interesting, though questionable.

She argued that DiD robs female characters from being protagonists in their own right. Within the plot, the woman is put into a situation where she cannot escape on her own and needs a male character to save her. She becomes an object within the narrative, something for the male protagonist and the male antagonist to battle over. There are easily over a thousand examples of this, so for now, I think we all can accept this as fact.

She went on to claim DiD rips the power away from female characters. It trades the disempowerment of female characters for the empowerment of male characters. Video game designers used DiD because it was an easy way to tap into young male power fantasies.

Anita concluded that the DiD trope was dangerous because it helped reinforce inherently negative views on women (women are the weaker gender).

Anita Sarkeesian

Anita Sarkeesian

First, let me say that I would argue she’s right on some things. The DiD trope is used in video games. The trope pushes the plot forward, a lot of times motivating the male protagonist to act against the male antagonist. This isn’t passing any normative judgments on it. It’s only a matter of fact.

Anita seems to believe DiD is destructive. Her argument is based on ‘common sense’ assumptions…meaning if something sounds bad enough, we can assume it is actually destructive. For her to prove DiD is a problem, she should be able to show some sort of correlation between perceptions of female power with the prevalence of DiD within video games. She didn’t even prove that DiD was prevalent within video games. She presented no statistics to show the percentage of games that uses the trope. She strongly implied that a number of them used it, but without a statistic to back it up… her critique is rather hollow.


2 comments on “Tropes versus Woman in Video Games

  1. I would like to add my voice to this debate. When I play RPG’s all my characters are women who kick some serious butt! Now if we’re talking anime games then yes every single one I’ve seen my daughters play has one female character who very simply is (in my opinion) an airhead, directionless person. Do I believe my daughters feel that this is the perfect vision of womanhood………….No. Are the companies that are making these games making fun of women, I’m unsure.

    • Yeah. I think if she would have some sort of percentage of games that has Damsel in Distress, it could have strengthened her case. I had people point out to me that DiD isn’t that huge in modern games. I can’t say anything about it one way or another because I’m not entirely familiar with the majority of modern games. Though games like Mass Effect and most of the Final Fantasies… they tend not to have DiD

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