Say what you will about Anita’s arguments, her bias, or whatever. A lot of people have. In fact a lot of people have said some very despicable things about her person too. But despite all that commotion, one thing is for sure. These videos of her’s are sparking a much needed dialog in the games industry.
This latest video is the third and last video of her dissection of the “damsel in distress” trope as it is used in games (the first to are posted below). It is the third video in a much larger series of videos that her overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter promised to produce. Where the first video highlighted the use of the trope in early games like Mario, Zelda and Double Dragon and the second video showed its use in more modern games, this latest video shows that the trope is so pervasive in gaming culture that even indies tend to over use it.
The important thing to come from this, and frankly the whole point to the video series, is that it has sparked a much wider discussion of the portrayal of women in games. Everywhere on the internet, except the comment section of the videos as those are closed, people are talking about the problem of tropes in games. While some people are attacking Anita herself, others are focusing on the message. What does the overuse of the damsel in distress trope say about game designers and story tellers in games?
Take for instance the Gamasutra blog and its conversation in its comments. The previous articles on the first two episodes sparked just as large a conversation. Just about every article that site publishes on the topic of women in games does that. But just read some of the conversations going back and forth.
For instance we have Tyler who writes:
I agree we should try to remove sexism, just like we should try to remove any form of bigotry and discrimination from games. However every example you gave of their being a heroine who could take care of herself comes directly from making the male character look incapable or stupid. The secret of monkey island(Great game btw.) has Guy being a bumbling idiot throughout the game. How is portraying men that way and making the female be awesome any better than the damsel in distress?
You can switch the role reversal all you want and make the leading female crazy powerful, smart, and whatever else, but generally speaking you are just then going to be making males play the helpless role.
In response to that we have this comment from Kenan:
Have you ever watched a movie where the female was just as capable as the man, and both people were equally matched?
This is a horrible example but it’s all I can think of right now, but look at a movie like Mr. and Ms. Smith. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are both extremely strong, capable people in that film, both ruthless and devious in their own way.
Why couldn’t games have narratives like this? (hint: they can!)
In fact, Anita points to one such example in gaming, Beyond Good And Evil. Jade, the protagonist, and her sidekick Pey’j are both equally strong and capable but the story revolves around Jade because she has the skills needed, her journalistic capabilities. But that example is only one example of a strong female lead in a sea of stereotypes. And that is the point. There are too many games relying on tropes that over use common but negative portrayals of women.
While games are played by more and more women, and it is nearing a 50/50 split right now, we will need to have better representation of women than we currently do. Part of the problem in bring better female characters into games comes down to breaking the gender gap in game development. Women make up a woefully small percentage of game developers.
But these dialogs are part of the solution. Without them, we would be able to sweep the greater problems under the rug. And that would be bad for the games industry and story telling as a whole.
Watch Episode 1: