General News - Tropes vs Women
Anita Sarkeesian brings us part two of tropes vs women in video games in which she explores how the damsel in distress is handled in video games.
This is the second in a series of three videos exploring the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. In this installment we look at “dark and edgy” side of the trope in more modern games and how the plot device is often used in conjunction with graphic depictions of violence against women. Over the past decade we’ve seen developers try to spice up the old Damsel in Distress cliche by combining it with other tropes involving victimized women including the disposable woman, the mercy killing and the woman in the refrigerator.
Anita Sarkeesian states amongst others that it is "both possible, and even necessary, to simultaneously enjoy a piece of media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects." Jenn Frank at medium.com agrees with this assessment as it describes how she feels about horror cinema, a genre she loves, while still being a feminist.
This video is the second in Sarkeesian’s “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series. In it, Sarkeesian underscores a power imbalance drawn along gender lines, an imbalance that is romanticized, not only in cinema and literature and video games, but glorified even in our own everyday, heteronormative relationships.
And while there isn’t anything wrong with rescuing a disempowered romantic interest, nothing wrong with being prompted to revenge by a wife’s untimely death, at some point these themes become so pervasive that it’s worthwhile to investigate what exactly they may signify and why they recur as archetypically as they do. Sarkeesian’s videos seek to illuminate a dangerous cultural pattern. When men and women are barraged with a narrative arc wherein the man is “the rescuer”—and, make no mistake, chick lit relies on this trope too—it reinforces a normative power dynamic that, in practice, can be devastatingly unhealthy.
And in a blog on Gamasutra, JJ Wang does not comment on Sarkeesian's video directly(but certainly does so indirectly), yet does feel that the tropes used are a form of bad writing.
Women also serve as a very convenient symbol for purity, innocence, and completion. Bad guys kidnapping the protagonist's girlfriend can very lazily be dramatically defended as "the main character's world being ruined." It makes dramatic sense. But it's also become a very thoughtless way to piece together a story. The issue isn't that this metaphor isn't "deep" enough. The issue is that this way of thinking is so entrenched within our society that it doesn't require much cognitive effort to see this metaphor. As a result, we don't learn much about our own humanity from this type of dramatic sequencing. Doesn't that go against the point of fiction art? To continue to evolve and challenge our understanding of humanity?
See, whether the damsel in distress trope is sexist or not is immaterial to the dramatic problem of this cliche. The fictionist problem of this trope is that this cliche is now a very easy go-to template for a story. What worries me is that the prevalence of it in video games either symbolizes a lack of respect for the craft of fiction or that our writers are doing the minimum to get their paycheck. Those are not productive ways to treat an artform.
Please don't come away from this thinking that I'm advocating condemnation of all escapism. It has it's place. But, like all facets of fiction, there are more than one way to write escapism. The principle is that overused cliches and tropes aren't bad because they are escapist but they are bad because they are mindless. There is nothing written in stone that says escapism has to conform to certain methods of writing.
Personally I think Sarkeesian is right and we could use a much improved depiction of women in video games, which probably will be an utopia as most game designers are male.
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