Recommended Viewing: Feminist Frequency’s “Damsel in Distress: Tropes Vs Women in Gaming”


Misogyny within gaming cultures and the games themselves have not always been a primary object of feminist inquiry, yet they remain some of the more palpable instances of a widespread trend of sexism and misogyny.

Within academia, these highly popular media forms have not received the same attention as many other media, such as literature and television, failing to critique the rampant disparaging and limiting portrayals of women within the workplace and the very games themselves. Sadly, given the numerous array of games and consoles and sheer quantity of games to play, beginning such a project requires quite an amount of funds and time. Few have dared to initiate the dialogue on the issue in a manner that offers a comprehensive set of examples that inform cogent theses on what exactly renders these media and industries male-oriented and female-disparaging in order to adequately justify feminist claims. None of this has been possible thus far, at least on the scale that addresses the overall body of games in different historical periods and geographical locales.

anita sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian

Until Anita Sarkeesian came along. Anita’s “Feminist Frequency” is a blog that explores the intersections of feminist criticism and pop culture. After initially raising $5,000 from her Kickstarter campaign, a series of intensely hostile personal attacks— which include being hacked, having video game characters being added to pictures of her raping her, and posting sexual images on her Wikipedia —she eventually garnered further support of over $150,000 after posting numerous instances of personal misogynistic victimization on her blog. With it, she has been able to purchase and study the extant corpus of games and consoles in order to better analyze and comprehend the historical representation of women in gaming. She works to expose the trenchant misogyny in a large majority of these games and, perhaps more importantly, within the predominantly male-bodied online and offline gaming communities.  Such harassment and mistreatment towards female gamers, especially feminist gamers, she has argued, have now become the norm. Her work has also received considerable attention and the vitality of her criticism has been praised, for instance, in an interview conducted by IGN.

Julie Larson-Green

In the light of the recent, heavily sexist backlash against the new head of Xbox, Julie Larson-Green, and the systemic exclusion and differential treatment of women in the gaming industry, women are too infrequently given opportunities to represent themselves within one of the most commonly used media forms today. Anita has been at the forefront of feminist criticisms of the industry, incisively noting, for instance, that there were no female protagonists in the games presented at the Xbox One E3 conference held by Microsoft. In the current industry of and historical entirety of gaming archives, men have been the decision-makers and media-producers within gaming. Women, therefore, have too often been underrepresented within the business and misrepresented within the actual games themselves. Part of the problem stems from an active dissuasion of women by men to enter and engage in the gaming industry. Her important work challenges a form of media that circulates more broadly geographically speaking and engages more users per hour than most media forms.

In her 1st video in her “Damsel in Distress: Tropes Vs Women in Gaming” series, she discusses the ‘damsel in distress’ motif that has been prevalent and pernicious in the past few decades of gaming. In it, she compellingly explores the roles and representations of women, arguing that the ‘damsel in distress’ trope functions as a commonplace plot device that situates a male protagonist in a position where they must in some manner rescue a helpless female secondary character. Watch it below!

In her 2nd video in the series, she expands upon this trope, trying to determine how this trope interacts within many games in terms of violence committed against women. She notes how many games feature cut-scenes or boss-fights where the male protagonist must somehow commit violence or murder the woman in question, usually being egged on by the woman as a form of ‘mercy killing.’ Overall, too many games feature this trope and she wonders what the interrelation between these instances – in their male-authored production and male-centered consumption – and violence against women in general.  **trigger warning**

Keep your eyes peeled for her next installment of the Damsel in Distress series that comes out next week, which explores atypical examples of this trope being used, the rare few moments when a ‘dude in distress’ plot-line is used, and the pitfalls of “ironic sexism” in indie gaming.  You can visit her site here and like her Facebook page here.

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