Damsel in Distress 2: Anita’s at it again

I actually liked Anita Sarkeesian’s first video exploring the damsel in distress trope in video games. She made several interesting points. The one that stood out to me was how women tended to be depowered in some meaningful way in order to empower men. One of the huge weaknesses in her argument, at least for me, was that she was unable to show how prevalent this issue is in video games. According to her, the damsel in distress trope is alive and well in video games.

For now, keep this figure in mind: 9737.

There have been 9,737 video games released between 2001 and 2012. This number is significant because Anita seems to be claiming that this trope is a real problem in video games. While I will not argue that violence against women is lazy storytelling, I would still challenge Anita to show statistics that clearly points out the amount of times the trope is used.

Watch the video and see all the games she looked at. Let’s assume she looked at 150 games. Let’s be that generous. 150/9737 = 1.5% of all video games made between 2001 – 2012 uses the Damsel in Distress trope. Considering tropes get used and reused in almost all forms of media, 1% of video games using this trope doesn’t seem all that significant. Nor does it show that the trope is alive and well within video games. Strangely, Anita keeps on claiming that this is a reoccurring pattern in video games. Unless she can show actual figures to back this up rather than isolated examples, her case is rather hollow.

The main thrust of her argument seems to be this: the damsel in distress cliche has become far darker with modern gaming, depicting extreme violence against women. This violence makes the female characters weak and powerless, requiring a male to rescue them. In several occasions, this imbalance in power was used to justify romantic relationships. This reinforces the misguided belief that power imbalances in relationships are normal.

Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian

She argues that video games do not exist within a vacuum and the messages contained within the video games are somehow connected, or linked, to the larger culture. I suspect she would argue that the violence in video games ultimately helps reinforce misogynistic beliefs in men or beliefs of powerlessness in women.

Is this really the case? Does the Damsel in Distress trope really do that? Does it help perpetuate negative beliefs about women within Western culture? I do not know. But I argue that Anita failed to show that it did. She made, once again, a common sense argument without backing it up with evidence. Oh, it’s common sense that video games are linked to a larger culture. And it’s common sense that when people see something, that thing will influence them. Blah, blah, blah. Anita needs to demonstrate the correlation between the Damsel in Distress trope in video games and any form of disempowerment of women in the Western world for her argument to work.

She didn’t do that.

I really feel she makes interesting points within her argument. But without solid evidence to back up what she is claiming, her claims will necessarily fall short.


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