Feminists on Video Games

Feminist ideology and the effect it has had upon society
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Feminists on Video Games

Postby Michael » 30 May 2013, 00:00

I recently came across this very well produced and thoughtful series of videos by Anita Sarkeesian, a media critic who blogs at the site Feminist Frequency, and wanted to share them with the forum. Often on this site we talk about the hysterical extremes of feminist ideology. That is valuable, but I think it is also good to remind ourselves that responsible feminist critiques exist, ones that highlight problematic aspects of popular culture.

In Sarkeesian's writing and videos she focuses on dramatic tropes about women in popular culture, most notably television and movies. Recently she has turned her attention to stereotypical portrayals of women in video games. The videos below are about the Damsel in Distress trope, where the abduction / death of a woman serves as the motivation for the (always) male hero's quest.

Damsel in Distress, Part 1:


Damsel in Distress, Parl 2:
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Nick » 17 Jun 2013, 20:29

Since the series of Tomb Raider, women have generally been more often depicted as action heroes. For all the outrage at Nintendo's Mario who has to save peace, there is also the counter example of the Metroid series. At the end of the Metroid game, the character, wearing a robot suit, is revealed to be piloted by a female.

The examples in the Youtube movies seem sought; Spencer's wife is in his arm, which is somehow misogynist. Then what about the game "lollipop chainsaw," in which the female protagonist character has the decapitated head of her boyfriend and uses it as trophy, toy and tool? What about Bayonetta, where the female protagonist character toys around with the male journalist who tries to unmask her, and calls him "cheshire" to tease him?

There are many counter examples to be offered against these videos; counter examples portreying women as strong, independent, good team-workers, intelligent, resourceful, and whatnot.

In the game Trespasser (1998), you play as a woman with a broken arm, who must rely on her intelligence, resourcefulness and skills with a firearm to survive on an island full of dinosaurs. There is also the game series Resident Evil; it has female characters which are both strong and good at survival, and also have very feminine traits. For instance, Jill is revolted by the zombies when she first sees one, in this the game shows her vulnerability, but she also has the strength to defeat them as well as the other monsters. The character Claire takes care of a young child lost in the sewers while protecting her; she is feminine yet still strong because she can use weapons just as the male characters, as also goes for Rebecca, who is a nurse and has the ability to combine herbs and heal others, but also to fight. And other powerful female characters are depicted in the series, such as Sheva and Ada Wong. They have feminine sides yet are also tough, versatile and mysterious. I met many, many female fans of the Resident Evil series, and their favourite character in the series is most often Albert Wesker. Who is not only a man but also the series' main villain.

The narrative that videogames mostly depict women as damsels in distress and therefore undermines female self-development just doesn't hold up: maybe in the classic games like Donkey Kong and Ghosts 'n Goblins. But Ghosts 'n Goblins is itself based upon the courtly knight romance from the late Medieval era. Which makes it part of its historic background setting to have damsels in distress. Nowadays there are just too many videogames such as Mirror's Edge with powerful and complex female characters depicted in them. Hence these Youtube videos and the narrative provided by them seems itself a product of cultural Marxism.
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Yessica » 18 Jun 2013, 07:34

I may be totally wrong, I am not really into video games.

I do however like pen-and-paper-role-paying-games and made the observation that women do not like to play "strong" women (meaning women with a lot of male attributes).

The warriour princess - always good looking and spoinling for a fight - is what men like to play. Women never chose to play that role.
Roles that are almost exclusively chosen be females: peasants, thieves and healers.
I think nature wants it that way. Women just are not into chopping off other peoples heads.

btw: I'd be very interested to learn how many shop lifting suspects are female. If my observations are correct, it mustbe the majority.
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Michael » 18 Jun 2013, 15:24

Yessica, I too am a fan of pen and paper roleplaying games. In fact, I am in the process of setting up a game of Call of Cthulhu for this summer.

I second your observation about characters played by women. I've known women to play macho characters, but they have almost always played male macho characters. No warrior princesses. Personally, as a game master, I don't like it when players choose opposite sex characters - it makes things confusing to keep track of.

I don't have any data to back it up, but I think you are right to suspect most shoplifters are female. I wonder what would account for that.

Nick, I think there is something to Sarkeesian's analysis. She has singled out top franchises, not niche or specialty market games. While no single game designer can be blamed for choosing to have a Damsel In Distress trope, the sheer number of games choosing that trope has a cumulative effect.

If we think that the now common trope of men being belittled in comedies and advertising can have cultural effects, we have to allow that feminists have a point that Damsel In Distress tropes having a cultural effect as well.
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Gavin » 18 Jun 2013, 20:47

I must admit I haven't watched those videos but I think it is quite natural for most women to actually be to some extent "damsels in distress". Deep down they like the idea of a strong man being around the rescue them if required, even if superficially they act as if this is not true. Likewise it appeals to men to be able to fulfil this role. Again, sorry I haven't watched the videos (it looks like they total 50 minutes) but that's my view.

Yessica, yes, I would think most shoplifters probably are female. Most high profile cases have been I think. I wonder why that is. Just one of the differences in the "needs" between the sexes, I suppose.
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Nick » 19 Jun 2013, 00:20

Michael wrote:Nick, I think there is something to Sarkeesian's analysis. She has singled out top franchises, not niche or specialty market games. While no single game designer can be blamed for choosing to have a Damsel In Distress trope, the sheer number of games choosing that trope has a cumulative effect.


Bionic Commando is much more of an experimental niche game than a series such as Resident Evil. In fact, although Resident Evil has become more and more mainstream, much to fan's revulsion, the portrayal of female characters has remained constant. Also one can point to Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Melee, which has the characters of Mario's universe and Zelda's universe, such as Peach, Zelda, next to Mario, Link, Luigi etc, and it turns out the female characters can fight quite well, even making it to the top tiers of characters used by expert players. In the Zelda series (another example used in the videos), the princess actually disguises herself as Sheik, who is an able fighter and imparts much of the wisdom needed to beat the levels to Link, the male protagonist. Sheik/Zelda also demonstrates a thorough awareness of the Hyrule world that transcends Link's.

The argument you used might as well be turned around - if all of the "main franchises" as you hold, contain the damsel in distress narrative, then does the sheer vastness of those title's sales not demonstrate that this narrative sticks closer to the feelings, wishes, nature and intuition of most people?
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Re: Feminists on Video Games

Postby Michael » 20 Jun 2013, 16:41

The argument you used might as well be turned around - if all of the "main franchises" as you hold, contain the damsel in distress narrative, then does the sheer vastness of those title's sales not demonstrate that this narrative sticks closer to the feelings, wishes, nature and intuition of most people?


You and I would say that is the case, a fact of human nature. Feminists would say it is a product of cultural conditioning and both can and must be changed.

Nick, I want to ask you what you feel about nature and nurture in gender roles, but I'm going to start a new discussion topic for that.

Also, I wanted to point out this well thought out refutation of Sarkeesian by TheAmazingAtheist:



As a side note on the video: I don't blame Sarkeesian for not having comments on her video - her videos have in the past received tidal waves of the most vitriolic and disgusting misogynist comments, which drown out all those who attempt to rationally debate her. If I received that much hatred when I tried to express my views I couldn't be bothered to find the few intelligent comments in the mass.
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