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Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress, Part 1

Anita Sarkeesian runs a blog called Feminist Frequency and a long running, fascinating webseries of the same name where she examines the ways in which media and most often modern popular culture subtly and not-so-subtly support and perpetuate misogynistic ideas. I love her videos not because I necessarily agree with everything she’s ever said ever (you know, because we are not a single consciousness) but because when I do disagree with her, her detailed approach prompts me to calmly, privately examine why. This is not the case for 100% of human beings, however, and when she began a Kickstarter campaign to gain the means to expand her series to cover video games, it became the go-to example of overblown, vicious, flailing hate directed at a woman by self-identified members of the video game community. The net result of the harassment campaign (in numbers anyway, which is not to discount important qualitative things like personal peace of mind, or the outside perception of the video gamer community) was to encourage others to fund her campaign more than twenty-six times over what she’d initially asked for.

Naturally, the first video in her series is great: slickly edited, reaching back to Greek myths and forward to modern remakes of classic games, and she opens it with an idea that we here at The Mary Sue are all to familiar with: “Remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects.”

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  • Anonymous

    Any time people claim that female protagonists don’t sell video games, I ask “Explain Lara Croft”.
    And if they start talking about her cans, I hit them with a shovel.
    (Disclaimer – this post contains hyperbole.)

  • Anonymous

    So happy to see the first video for this series. Anita is fantastic, and the hate leveled at her is disgusting. Did you know the The Angry Atheist’s pathetic rants about how women are destroying men have twice the views that Feminist Frequency does? That was my depressing find of the week.

  • Sergey Galyonkin

    I din’t had any hopes for this series following all the controversy and stuff. But this turned out to be great episode and I’m looking forward to next ones.

    BTW, after Anita finishes this series it would be great if she could do a take on other game tropes.

  • Travis Fischer

    Reserving judgment until Part 2 where I’m assuming there will be more analysis. So far it just feels like the reading of a TVTropes page.

  • Sergey Galyonkin

    Yep, but it is a good thing! TVTropes: the series! Six seasons and a movie!

  • Travis Fischer

    That would end human productivity as we know it…

  • Anonymous

    Visiting TVTropes: at least thirty open tabs required…

  • Anonymous

    I really enjoyed this episode, how it looked to history for the roots of the trope instead of laying so much baggage on gaming. Anita also seems to have … mellowed a little bit. Her arguments seem far less gloom and doom and VIDEO GAMES WILL DESTROY US ALL than they did in previous entries. The quote you provided at the end sums up the tonal change perfectly “Remember that it’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects”. That’s new, and I like it. Looking forward to part 2 and her analysis of more modern games. Should be fun.

  • Anonymous

    I have this video mentioned on a video game related forum. Can anyone guess which of the following opinions I’ve seen:

    - Sexism doesn’t exist anymore
    - She should try going to a middle eastern country They’re really oppressed
    - But male characters are stereotyped too
    - Most video gamers are male, so there
    - I can’t believe she had the nerve to ask for money
    - If these tropes have been around since mythology then they can’t be wrong

    Answer: All of them. Multiple times.

  • Anonymous

    That quote really sums up everything, ever. It just boils down to “think critically, don’t just watch passively,” but a surprising number of people (mainly the people who media is made by and directed towards) seem bizarrely angry at this reasonable suggestion. This kind of reactionary thinking is rife everywhere, which is unfortunate. Just because something contains problematic elements doesn’t mean you’re an evil person for enjoying it, but pretending that racism and sexism doesn’t exist, and doesn’t affect our cultural output does make you a jerk.

  • Anonymous

    Yup, I’ve seen entire threads that are just a giant fallacy circle jerk.

  • Karim El Hayawan

    You can only visit TVTropes if you have nothing to do for the next three days.

  • Anonymous

    Did Anita join a grunge band in the interim?

  • Anonymous

    I was really looking forward to this series after the brouhaha over the Kickstarter campaign, but I have to say, I’m very disappointed by this first episode. I don’t disagree with the point, but the episode was basically just a long list of video games that feature damsels in distress. Was it really necessary to spend 23 minutes and, presumably, thousands of dollars, pounding home the point that (shocker!) many video games make use of that trope? I don’t know, maybe that’s actually a surprising revelation to someone somewhere, but I’m going to guess any such cave-dwelling idiot is unlikely to watch this video anyway.

    The sections where Sarkeesian talks a bit about the effect the trope has on attitudes toward women and the impact it has on female gamers had the potential to be interesting, but again, none of it was particularly revelatory. Moreover, it was all presented as bare assertion by Sarkeesian herself. If the video had spent more time digging into those issues, citing studies and interviewing gamers and game producers about it, that would have been great. Unfortunately, Sarkeesian didn’t bother with any of that. Instead, she just gave us a supercut of damsel-in-distress games interspersed with a static shot of her talking into the camera.

  • Iceteck

    “women are naturally weaker. Obviously this is wrong”.

    Actually. no. Women ARE weaker. I am physically less strong than most men. I can’t do some things men can. I’m more.. I guess you would say sensitive, to the emotions and feelings of people around me, which some people would perceive as weakness.

    Does this make me not as good as a man? Hell no! I can do things men can’t too (plus I have boobs – something which all men seem to dream of :P). I’m certainly as mentally capable as a man, and most women are more observant and dexterous than men, even if we don’t have the physical strength.

    It is how we measure ourselves which is wrong. We are all people. That’s it. And every single person has their own strengths and weaknesses. Personally I like being looked after by my boyfriend, and letting him buy me things. He’s not doing it because I’m weak and vulnerable – I’m a black belt in tae kwon do and my attitude shows it. He’s doing it because it makes him feel good to look after me, and it makes me feel good to be looked after.

    I have to admit though, I object to game designers treating women as objects. When a game makes a fuss over a woman or a man and makes a point of them being the objective of the game, it ruins it ever so slightly for me…

  • Anonymous

    I think she’s using “weaker” in a more global sense. She gives examples of how when male characters are imprisoned, they use their wits to get out, or just very improbably punch their way through a brick wall, whereas female characters are unable to find any way out of their predicament without male assistance.

  • Sara Sakana

    “Women ARE weaker”

    Speak for yourself.

  • TheFeminineMissGeek

    So… you’re disappointed she did exactly what she said she was going to do (examine common examples of sexist tropes in gaming in the same way she’s done in her previous videos), and for not doing what you want her to do (interview game developers)?

    There are a lot more coming, of course. I didn’t expect this one to be broken up into two parts. This one is the history and definition of the trope. We will see what she says in the second half.

  • Anonymous

    This is part one of a two-part series. She is doing it correctly – 1. Present solid evidence of a trend 2. Describe the effects of that trend. How likely do you think it is that established game producers will want to talk about the things that they’re doing wrong with game development?

  • Travis Kyle Fischer

    That’s not really a valid comparison though. Characters who escape imprisonment don’t do it because they’re male. They do it because they are the player characters. This is true regardless of gender.

    Likewise, characters that need to be rescued need to be rescued because they are NPCs. For instance, it’s true that Zelda needs Link to do things for her. But the same is also true for virtually every NPC in Hyrule, male or female. Link solves EVERYBODY’S problems.

    What you’re talking about isn’t a problem on its own. Rather it’s a symptom of the problem of the fact that the vast majority of games feature male protagonists.

  • Kathy

    Heh, I actually agree. That was pretty much my problem with Sarkeesian in general. I like the idea of the series, I really do, but she honesty has a habit of saying “This is a sexist trope and these games have!” and… just leaving it at that. She’s not really making any new observations that haven’t been said already.

    And I’m actually kind of annoyed that she mentioned Spirit Tracks version of Zelda, but when talk about her more active versions, Spirit Tracks wasn’t brought up at all. Yeah, you’re still saving her, but is she always with you and helping you as you go – overall in an active role. Heck, she does a lot of the heavy lifting when she’s possessing the knights.

    That, and any critics of her is called woman-hating neckbeards by her fans. Even if the critic is a woman.

  • Anonymous

    There are plenty of articles out there on the subject of how women are portrayed in video games that do have interviews or at least quotes from game developers. With all the publicity surrounding Sarkeesian’s video, not to mention the controversy over the new Tomb Raider, I imagine it would have been possible to get at least a few developers to comment.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I am disappointed in *how* she chose to examine the issue and the lack of any third-party references and commentary. I didn’t realize this was the style Sarkeesian used for all of her videos, though, as this was the first one I had seen. Having now watched bits and pieces of some of her prior work, I’m surprised she has a following at all, to be honest. Definitely not a fan of her production style.

  • Sophie

    I think she does rely a little too much on the TV tropes ideas, but I found the history lesson into video games and damsels in distress fascinating, and I thought the way the information was put together and delivered was very clear and effective. Also feminist frequency takes up a mere twenty minutes of my day, making it a considerably less time consuming experience than tv tropes.

  • Joanna

    It’s fairly introductory in my opinion.

  • Sophie

    *sigh* makes you want to weep for humanity, doesn’t it.

  • Vian Lawson

    Sure. And it’s only when this rubbish is said out loud that we can point to the well-established and documented counter arguments, and/or point and laugh at them, as they deserve.

    Also, you left out the charming “waaah, men have to do all the work in video games, as in real life, won’t someone think of the MENZ?!”

  • Vian Lawson

    Or if someone else could. Her interest is feminism, rather than tropes, after all. But I agree there’s a lot of interesting material on other tropes in video games, and I think this sort of critical analysis can only lead to better, more nuanced games.

  • Vian Lawson

    Yes, player characters who escape do so by virtue of the fact that they are player characters – actors rather than objects.

    But when was the last time you saw a player character go to the rescue of a helpless MALE prisoner who had been imprisoned for the duration of a game, simply to give the player character something to do? I’m sure it’s out there somewhere, but it’s not a trope; I’ve been gaming for decades, and I can’t recall an instance of it.

  • Anonymous

    “Weaker” is not only about physical strength. “Weak” covers all abilities, whether it’s cunning, intellect, bravery, or whatever. As far as physical abilities go, almost always it’s “understood” that even the most feeble man is still stronger than the strongest woman, which obviously is not true.

  • Anonymous

    Of course this was all about the damsel in distress trope….that’s what this video was about. She is planning on doing several videos, each discussing a different trope. Are you going to watch the sex object video and complain that is was all about the examples where women are treated merely as sex objects?

  • Travis Fischer

    Not really the best example, but Metal Gear Solid is what immediately comes to mind. Snake’s mission starts off as a rescue of two male hostages. Later he alternates his time between rescuing Otacon and Meryl, although they aren’t really prisoners.

    Oh, better example. Final Fantasy X-2. Yuna searches the world for lost relics and shapes the political climate of an entire civilization all while on a quest to get her boyfriend back.

  • Nick Redman

    Loved the first episode. Really liked how she opened with the forgotten development of Dinosaur Planet and how the role of the original protagonist was completely disempowered. It was pretty cool to see her even identify the trope in more obscure games, like Splatterhouse and Vigilante. Really helped to establish just how pervasive the trend is. It was also interesting to see her taking apart Zelda, espcially since I was under the impression that series has a relatively large female fanbase. The note on which she ended the video was pitch-perfect too, a nice video-game equivalent of Social Justice League’s “How to be a fan of problematic things”.

  • Anonymous

    She has a following because no one else is doing what she’s doing – minutely examining video games (and other sections of pop culture) from a feminist perspective. If you think you can do it better, than you definitely should.

  • Anonymous

    Those are one-shot articles. Not really the same thing. She’s not examining single video games, but tropes in video games as a whole.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Anyone else having a helluva time NOT commenting on her Facebook page or elsewhere in response to detractors? So many comments are by people that have seemed to somehow watch the video without listening to it, or watched but didn’t read the title, or watched five minutes, or didn’t understand there was a second part coming, or that this is the first video in a series…I want to spend all day bitching and correcting people. Not even in discussion, not even in nay-saying or agreeing with criticism, just…ugh, pay attention.

    My own two cents on the series thus far: awesome! I loved the opening example and the brief history lesson. Things seem to be off to a good start. I read another comment elsewhere that said you could basically get all of this information from the TV Tropes page and I hope that isn’t entirely accurate. So far, I feel like all of that money was well spent.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    Your boyfriend can buy me things, too. I wouldn’t mind, either.

  • Adam R. Charpentier


  • Anonymous

    Finding exceptions to a general rule is interesting but not really significant. The general rule is that women are treated as objects, prizes to be won, to a large extent. In individual cases, this isn’t a problem, or wouldn’t be if representation of women were more balanced in video games as whole. The point of examining a trope is to see representation as a whole, and how that reflects and effects attitudes towards women.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone’s a critic.

  • Anonymous

    I hope not to cause trouble here…

    I fully agree with the point Ms Sarkeesian is trying to make. The reaction she received to her kickstarter is simply shows there is a serious problem with sexism in the video game industry.

    I confess to having had a kneejerk-reaction when she began talking about the re-releases of old video games. I received the implication that she thought it was wrong to re-release old video games if they contained objectionable material. She doesn’t say that,and I know a few lines later she says “Just to be clear, I am not saying that all games using the damsel in distress as a plot device are automatically sexist or have no value”. Still, using a word like “crap” is pretty strong language (and I aware that how something is presented doesn’t affect the argument itself).

    I began thinking about why I had that reaction. Part of this is because she started off with Sonic CD, a game which a lot of people (including me) wanted to be re-released. Part of this is because I also like fidelity to the source material.

    But then I began thinking of it a different way. What if we did avoid publishing old games with “repressive crap”? What if instead we remade the games to not have such things?

    It sounds interesting, but at the same time…I can’t help but think that it’s necessary to experience the original games – if only to know that such problems existed back then, and still exist today. I think that there’s only a small step between scrubbing out objectionable material from old games and denying they ever existed in the first place. (Not that I’m saying it should be ignored – we should actually draw more attention to it,and why it’s objectionable.)

    And I think I’ve started to ramble, so I’ll end this here. But she did get me thinking, which is a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    Been waiting for this project for a while! So excited to see it! Also, she was smart to disable comments on the page, all the mindless crap that ends up there just detracts from the video itself and starts little mini-wars that dont need to be fought. This girl rocks, and I cannot endorse her enough!

  • Anonymous

    My only hope when I see these comments is that they were made by young men in their teens that do not yet posses the maturity to be self aware… lets hope watching girls like this growing up will shape them into better human beings.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    A moment of silence for male oppression.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    Fourty or so for me.

    …I have a condition.

  • Brian

    He’s commenting on her shirt. Because for women, fashion is the important thing.

  • Specter Von Baren

    Interesting. Were they actually this simple or are you just overly simplifying their arguments? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the crap that people have said and done in response to her in the past (Like a freaking game that involves you beating her up.) but that doesn’t mean people don’t have legitimate arguments against her.

  • TKS

    But…but…but…There’s no NATIONAL MEN’S DAY!

  • TKS

    I can totally see why there was an internet hate campaign on her. She obviously hates video games and wants to take them away.

  • Lance Bravestar

    Yeah, she did sort of have a stance to scrub the past from sexism, which is actually counterproductive. But I think she was talking more about REMAKING rather than re-releasing. The “regressive crap” she mentioned was the double dragon opening, which stayed intact through each remake.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, that photograph of her playing a video game as a little girl and how she talked about her enjoyment is a clear sign that she wants to destroy all video games.

    (Assuming you’re being tongue in cheek)

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure there were legitimate and well-considered responses to her observations, but like so much in life, it’s likely to be buried under a metric ton of offensive unintelligent tripe.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    All this brouhaha about women’s rights and women’s suffrage! What about MEN’S rights and MEN’S suffrage?!

  • TKS

    See, that’s how they get you. They SAY that they love video games…and they SAY that it’s possible to both love a game/show/movie/comic while critically evaluating the representations of women or people of color within that media source…but what they MEAN is “I don’t like video games and want to destroy them.”

    (Sorry about that…Poes law and all…My tongue is so far in my cheek they have practically fused.)

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    Sad thing is, sometimes they are that simple.

  • Ms. Sunlight

    Yeah. In Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, rescuing the princess is only the first part of the story; for the larger part of the game she joins you as a very useful party member. That doesn’t change the fact though that she is primarily cast as the damsel in distress, first kidnapped by Bowser then by Booster.

  • Anonymous

    People (in general, and Americans more so) resist any change to their favorite things, especially if they perceive as coming from an “outside force”. Note the recent arguments on gun control. Also, any reasonable suggestions on change and improvement are usually seen as “step one of an ulterior motive” to take said favorite thing away.

    So even the very reasonable “hey, let’s have more plots than ‘save the girl’, okay?” is met with not just vitriol, but concerted and organized vitriol, She is not saying “you can’t play that anymore, as is it offensive to women”, but that is how it is read. The fact that there are any number of people out there who ARE trying to take videogames away does not help. The defense strategy has been “ANY criticism of videogames must be shot down, lest it be used by those who wish to destroy them”.

    I’m sure the argument that girl-led games don’t sell will be addressed in future releases as well. It’s same argument they make about female action figure characters as well – boys don’t want them, and there’s not enough girls in that aisle to warrant their inclusion. While there are too many examples of the argument SEEMING to be true based on a number of examples, there are often many criteria that may have affected the outcome, advertising being the biggest. “Beyond Good and Evil” is a staggeringly good game, beloved by the critics and the people who’ve actually played it, but it never got the respect it deserved with the general community. But it keeps getting re-released, including a recent HD-upgrade on the PS3, network which I happily picked up.

    She mentioned she’ll be talking about Super Princess Peach in a future chapter. I’m curious of her opinion, but I’m betting Peach’s powers including the ability to cry on command may not fare well.

  • Anonymous

    There’s an obvious stereotype about feminists and flannel, but I’m smart enough not to reference it.


  • Anonymous

    Well, it is the introduction… It’s a good place to start :D

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Actually, there is. Besides being Every Day of the Year, there’s also one on November 19th.

  • Adam R. Charpentier


  • Specter Von Baren

    In this particular video she didn’t say anything about “let’s have more plots than save the girl.” That can very well come up in one of the following episodes but this one was only about the trope itself and her opinion on how it’s bad and over used. If she wanted to avoid some of these responses then she should have worded herself better. Saying things like how Mario sees Peach as a ball to passed back and forth between him and Bowser can make people angry because they don’t think that’s true about the character. Or if this comment was directed at the developers then people take offense that she’s painting the people that brought to them games that they enjoy as being sexist. Or if this is directed towards the players, that they see damsels as being mere objects for them to claim and that they’re misogynist then they take offense to being accused of that.

    Is it that hard to see how a lot of what she says can antagonize people? Not that the responses are all good or civil, I’m actually appalled to see so many of them be overblown (Like making a game about beating her up) or without any thought put behind them. But I believe she could definitely be doing this better.

  • Specter Von Baren

    Because obviously if you’re insulting a woman then it’s because she’s a woman. It’s a troll like comment but that doesn’t mean he’s making it because of her gender.

  • Canisa

    I seem to remember that she said it was intended partially as an educational tool, so I reckon it makes sense for the first part to be a little 101.

  • Bel

    I’m a feminist.

    I thought this episode was shallow, lacking in any real target audience, and ultimately that it had very little to do with video games. The arguments made were not specific to games and the examination as a whole didn’t really delve into the particulars of the medium. She made an argument for why damsels in distress are bad, making it in such a way that it’s likely only people who already felt that way would be compelled by it, and brought very little to the table that hasn’t been said by feminist gamers time and time again.

    And since I know how much money is involved, that annoys the hell out of me.

  • Brit McGinnis

    From what I can tell, the attack on her way back when wasn’t from gamers themselves. It was more similar to a 4chan attack. And she was more than a bit condescending to male gamers in her TED talk, too.

    I completely support what she’s doing, but I thought that should be acknowledged.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Yeah, that’s always how I took it, that the series would serve as a resource.

  • James Alexander

    - Dear lord was the internet’s response to this horrifying.

    - Zelda never having her own game in twenty-five years is a sad oversite. Why play this mute elf kleptomaniac in armored pajamas when you can be a wealthy wizard ninja pirate? (Because Nintendo is terrified of change and ’80s Nostalgia is basically their brand now.)

    - Tropes aren’t necessary bad. But they are usually overused. For example, for about half of the new Tomb Raider game your goal is to rescue a completely helpless female character who never has any agency in the storyline.

    - Like seriously, I’m a guy, I’m susceptible to male power fantasies like “getting the girl” but when EVERY game does it becomes offensive even to me, as in directly to me, as in “we know that in the real world you are too insignificant even for women mock while they drink their cosmos and fantasise about Chris Brown, so for 60 bucks this is your one chance to be that meat head they crave. Especially if they have anti gravity breasts and or the IQ of a cucumber dipped in melted Jersey Shore DVDs.”

    - I had no idea the Krystal was supposed to be the player character in Star Fox Adventures. I’m learning stuff now. And doesn’t she take Peppy’s spot on the team in Star Fox Assualt?

  • James Alexander

    That distiction still misses the point that male/female character agency is hilariously skewed in video games and that women are typically disempowered. If you take the player character factor out of the mix, you’ll still find that most of the time, if a girl is in the game at all, it’s to be kidnapped.

    Exceptions to these things are really hard to find. Oh, I thought of one. The Donkey Kong country sequels. Dixie Kong has to save dudes.

  • Myron Byron

    You know this is just tone policing, right?

  • Bridget

    The information may have been out there, but she is disseminating it in a very public and visible way. That’s money well spent.

  • Bridget

    I posted it to Facebook, and most of the people who shared it are teachers.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    Yep. Telling people that they need to be more critically aware (also see: less ignorant) of what they praise and consume sure is antagonizing.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    I hope so. I’m kind of hoping she turns this into a full-time gig.

  • Amanda B.


  • Mister Twitt

    I think the question is “why do we need to remake these problematic games over and over again?”

    I would never advocate destroying or trying to erase these original games. They are important to the development of games as an art form.

    What if Hollywood remade “Birth of a Nation” every decade? That film was amazing and incredibly well made for its time, it has an important place in film history and it deserves to be preserved. But, why would society want to subject itself to that racist garbage every ten years? I think the same thing about these old games.

  • Jee

    Look at the demographics for this video, it’s the Tropes Vs.Women in
    video games “Free Speech” edition so there’s comments and ratings:

    Or if you don’t want to here are the top demographics in order of most to least.

    Male, 35-44 years

    Male, 25-34 years

    Male, 18-24 years

  • Inky

    Zelda actually had her own game once IIRC. It was one of the horrible Phillips CDi games, though. Still, “never” is inaccurate, unless you mean “never had her own game on a Nintendo console.”

  • Inky

    I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about this series when I heard about it. I was worried that the series was going to emphasize the negative to the point that it would gloss over any counter-examples, but so far this seems to be pretty well researched, eloquently put, and the next episode might have some good examples of ways female characters have been written better in games. I’ve subscribed to the channel and I hope the future episodes continue to be this good.

  • Laura Truxillo

    Now I’m just thinking of how some of the yahoo comments in response to Patrick Stewart speaking out against violence against women was, “Yeah, well, I know this guy who’s girlfriend used to beat HIM.”

  • Laura Truxillo

    I always kind of worry about that with her. After the whole Internet Backlash thing, it feels like you can’t critique her without being called part of the problem. But hey–sometimes she isn’t right, or doesn’t actually put together something as thoughtfully as it could be. It’s a thing that happens. Sometimes she makes really good points. That’s also a thing that happens.

  • Anonymous

    You are correct. Full remakes should avoid this problematic material. At the same time, if it’s just a straight up port, I don’t think you should change anything. To use an analogy – which I freely admit is probably incorrect – porting is re-releasing a movie on a new format, while remakes are…remakes.

    Now that raises the question of whether this old material should be ported to new consoles.

  • Anonymous

    In fairness, the only people who remember the CDi Zelda games are Youtube Poop. And they only care about remixing the animated cutscenes as surrealism or crude humor.

    (But I can’t help but think that the kneejerk reaction to Tropes vs. Women is much like Ganon’s reaction to Zelda bringing light into his lair.)

  • James Alexander

    Well thanks for reminding me that those CDI games exist! Clearly, I’m talking about a modern 3D Zelda where you played as Zelda (I brainstormed this idea a year ago when I started getting bored with Skyward Sword. Wouldn’t be it cool if Zelda was the lead and you could transform from to sheik/tetra/princess/knight zelda and have different powers in each form like in Majora’s Mask?). It’s a cool idea that’ll never happen. But that has more to do with Nintendo’s fear of change than sexism. For that, there are plenty of other examples.

  • James Alexander

    Perception has a weird way of messing with reality. There are few high-selling girl-led games because companies don’t make a lot of them based on that perception. There seriously isn’t another reason. Do people really think gender politics affect the sale of Final Fantasy games or Resident Evil games. No!
    Beyond Good and Evil didn’t sell because there wasn’t a strong market for it at the time. Psychonauts, Shadow of the Colossus and Jet Set Radio were in the same situation. Today, they’d be released as pretentious games on XBLA from the jump.
    For some reason, we continue to feed ourselves stigmas and standards that only have a partial relationship with the truth.

  • Canisa

    Oh yes, it’s so offensive and nasty of her to go around *accusing* misogynists of being misogynistic! Never mind the women who are hurt by their actions, the important thing to think about is how upsetting it is for the men to actually be challenged for their shitty behaviour.

    tl;dr – WHAT ABOUT TEH MENZ?!

  • Mark Brown

    No, Zelda wouldn’t be a fighter, that’s always going to be Link’s specialty (Triforce of Courage).

    Zelda (Triforce of Wisdom) would out-THINK her opponents. Her game would be an RTS, with Zelda having to forge alliances, gather intelligence, and upgrade/move (/sacrifice?) her pawns (including Link) to dismantle Ganondorf’s empire.

    The “boss battle” would be the point when Zelda DELIBERATELY gets herself captured, to draw Ganondorf out of hiding and lead Link right to him.

  • Vian Lawson

    This is part one of a series of 12 (or 13), and part one of two dealing with damsels in distress; of course she has to start with the basics, both of the series and of the particular trope she is dealing with. And yes, if you are a feminist, you are already familiar with the arguments and jargon, so it all seems a bit 101. But even in these comments, people are already admitting to learning things. She’s presenting a handy and accessible summation of the things we’ve been saying for years, and getting it out to a wider audience. Maybe her later episodes will delve deeper, maybe they will simply be a comprehensive overview of the state of the game(s). Which is, after all, what her kickstarter promised in the first place.

    And what does the money have to do with it? Are your personal dollars involved? If they are, why did you back this kickstarter, which you were perfectly free not to do? And if you didn’t, what is it to do with you? I’m pretty sure Sarkeesian didn’t expect the financial response she got, but she’s always been upfront about what her aims for this series are, and exactly what people were contributing to.

  • James Alexander

    Doesn’t Zelda fight people in Smash Bros/Ocarina of Time/Skyward Sword/Wind Waker? A game where she was basically in Link’s role would be a refreshing change to the status quo that wouldn’t compromise the franchise anymore than any of the Mario games where you can play as Yoshi or Luigi.

    As, was stated in this video, a lot of Zelda games end with Zelda/Link fighting the final boss together. In Ocarina of Time you need Zelda to hold Ganon back with magic while you finish him off with the sword.

    Also, Zelda games aren’t just about fighting. There is all sorts of adventure and puzzle solving you can still fit into your “wisdom” box.

    And I was really bored with Skyward Sword/Twilight Princess, (they are good games, but they are too save) this series NEEDS to do something other than remake Ocarina of Time.

  • Anonymous

    except she didnt say that mario sees peach as a ball to be passed back and forth.
    so if people are getting angry for that, then they are idiots.

  • Anonymous

    Making a random lighthearted joke about flannel to counter the constant intensity for and against Anita is hardly “trolling.” Is everything so serious in your world? No levity, ever? I’ve lived in Seattle since the 80′s, by the way, so it’s something we joke about.

  • Anonymous

    Joking that someone looks like one is in a grunge band isn’t an insult.

  • Anonymous

    Also, I was born a “he,” but go by “she,” now, thank you very much.

  • Anonymous

    “Free Speech” edition. Yeah, free to be a jackass.

    I wish we could see the demographics for the actual original video.

    I also wish we could have like/dislikes for the actual video along with a gender breakdown of the likes and dislikes.

    Alas, the haters ruin it for us all.

  • Travis Fischer

    I wasn’t saying things are equal. Vian asked a question about video game trivia. I came up with an answer.

    You may be right that the ratio is still skewed if you take out the player character factor, but that still doesn’t make comparing the actions of player characters comparable to NPCs.

    Now here’s something to chew on… if all things were made equal and female protagonists were as common as male protagonists, what do you want to be that for the female characters, the person to be rescued would be the father/grandfather/brother, not the love interest?

  • Brian

    Okay. But rey means ‘king’ and Reynard the Fox is a male, so I don’t think it was an unfair assumption on my part.

  • Brian

    Making a comment on a woman’s clothing in lieu of addressing anything of actual substance is a standard sexist derailing method. You see it a lot with politicians. So even if it’s not what you were intending to do, it’s still a thing that happens.

  • Gabriela

    Comment section for this is wonderful. This is what’s most important about this video series, more so than Sarkeesian’s own opinion on the matter. The visibility she gives to this trope’s spread on video games over its history and the discussion it generates.
    Still, I fully understand the decision of disabling comments on youtube.

  • Marcy

    I highly doubt gamers are playing their games thinking: “Haha, I’m the big strong man saving the weak woman who will have to sexually please me for doing so.”

    This really is a case of reading too much in to it.

    Games work on a very simple principle: give the player a mission and have them fufill it. This is why I don’t like the idea behind “Spec Ops: The Line” at all. Games are played mostly to get a false sense of accomplishment.

    The princess is in danger? Go save the princess, you’re the hero. There’s not more to it than that, unless you want there to be. It’s not about the woman being captured, it’s about the player being the hero. Whether it’s saving a princess, stopping the reapers or capturing the flag. Everything else is filler.

  • Claire Milner

    I like Anita okay- that is, I think what she’s doing needs to be done in an accessible way- but it’s true that her arguments tend to be rather strawman-like. In past videos, she would dismiss an entire movie or game out of hand for what she saw as sexist content, and the overall tone would be “Your values are bad and you should feel bad!” I felt alienated from her, and it’s sad how often women go after each other, so I’d like to think I could be “friends” with other feminists. So, in this video, her citation of multiple games as evidence, not dismissing counter-arguments outright, and not leveling any accusations at the game developers or gamers themselves is a major improvement. My only query is that she complains about the fact that Zelda is de-powered when her identity is revealed, yet she doesn’t complain that female characters are generally shown as capable only when they take on masculine traits (a male disguise, wielding a sword). And then, in a past video, she criticizes Bayonetta and heroines like Baby Doll in Sucker Punch for being too “sexualized,” because their feminine qualities are integrated into their appearance and their fighting style. So, if you’re a woman, you’re the “Fighting F*ck Toy” if you’re active, but outwardly uber-feminine, but there’s nothing wrong with the fact that wielding a sword and being aggressive and “masculine” is the only way to show that a female character is a badass? Now THAT is problematic.

  • Sara Crow

    She also fights one of the bosses near the end of the game. A female villain, but still a vast improvement over “Mariooooo! Help meeee!”

  • James Fletcher

    I really enjoyed that video, especially the intro. I remembered that Dinosaur Planet wasn’t always a Star Fox game and the Krystal was a holdover character from it, but I had no idea that she played a much more active role in the original concept. I actually recognized most of the scenes as being in the final game, and now I actually wish we got the game as intended.

    Also, I wasn’t too familiar with Anita Sarkeensian’s work so I started watching some of her older videos. In the related videos sidebar it showed a reactionary video and I clicked on to see if it had any valid criticisms against her. Boy, that’s the last time I’ll make that mistake (watching reactionary videos I mean, I look forward to the rest of Anita Sarkeensian’s series).

  • James Fletcher

    I apologize for the stupidity of my fellow males. I made the mistake of watching a reactionary video that spent over ten minutes explaining how a male supplement commercial objectified men, even though the commercial consisted entirely of various woman talking about how bigger was better. Oh and also he included the entire commercial which itself was five minutes long, because only showing a five second clip wouldn’t get the point across.

    By the time the clip finished and the guys said, “I’ll bet if Anita Sarkeensian watched this clip watched this she would say that it’s the woman who are being objectified in this commercial…” I wanted to scream at the monitor that she would be right.

  • James Fletcher

    That’s actually a good question, and I don’t know if there is a good answer. I can’t imagine a world where games like Super Mario Bros., River City Ransom, or Legend of Zelda, all games that I would consider important and worthy of remembrance, even though they are all based on the damsel in distress trope. You can’t really go back and change those games, since among other things it would make re-releasing them completely unfeasible.

    It might help if when these old games were released they were give some sort of context, the way reprints of old novels will have introductions that give them some historical concept. Again though, this might make it harder to release older games, and there probably isn’t too much to say about some of these games other than “it was acceptable in the 80′s”.

  • Anonymous

    I think we should wait until the other videos are released before criticizing her for claiming that there is only one way for a female character to be ‘badass’.

    Those could very well be reasonable concerns, but I can’t make the judgment until she’s elaborated more on what she thinks are the positive characters, or the interesting spins on the negative tropes. I do tend to end up disagreeing with Anita on various parts but usually in such a way that I can see where she’s coming from.

    Plus… Baby Doll and Bayonetta are a little more than just ‘feminine’ aren’t they? Bayonetta’s clothes fly off every time she does a special move! Either that’s a textbook case of sexualization OR it’s a clever subversion of the tropes by taking them to their illogical conclusion.

  • Anonymous

    Well, I generally don’t take anyone seriously if they have to moderate responders of their YT vids. Free Speech should be a liberating experience on both sides of an issue, so, unless insults or vulgarity is used during the discussion, there should be no moderation. Hence, I pretty ignore what this person as to say, even if I agree on a few points here and there.

    Having said that, the issue for me isn’t the fact that there is cheese cake. I LIKE cheesecake. In fact, I typically play videogames that are female-centric, going all the way back to the Metroid series (which, I will admit, was not portrayed as a “female” character early on in the series). But I have been gravitated towards action-oriented video games with female protagonists because they were not the norm, or what gamers tend to flock to. My favorite “female” characters will always be the bouncy kunoichi Mai Shiranui from “Fatal Fury”, Chun Li from “Street Fighter”, Charlotte from “Samurai Shodown” and Anna from “Tekken” (to name a few). Now, two of the characters, Mai and Anna, are clearly depicted as “sexy”, while Chun Li and Charlotte aren’t. But does that mean that since I like Mai and Anna as “sexy fighters”, I’m objectifying women? I hope not.

    Nowadays, I play “Bayonetta”. Yes, the lead character is “sexy”, but, as one plays the game, there is a brilliant, somewhat Shakespearean background story to the game. And by the time I complete the game, I don’t “see” Bayonetta as a fantasy character. To me, Bayonetta, in the context of the story, uses her sexuality as a weapon…and enjoys doing so. In a way, her campy nature reminds me of Duke Nukem, who is clearly made out to be campy, as a means of making fun of uber-masculinity. However, unlike the Duke, Bayonetta does have depth, even while strutting around during the cut scenes while mocking her foes.

    My point is that gaming should not be an either/or proposition, nor should anyone be mocked for enjoying the genre. What AS should be concerned is why gaming companies are only marketing to the male demos, rather than mocking the gamers themselves in guilt-tripping them into agreeing with HER position.

  • Anonymous

    But the thing is, Link never got the girl, in ANY iteration of the LoZ games.

  • Louis Gonzales

    I agree! I mean, when I play a game, I don’t save people in the hope of rewards. I save people because it’s the right thing to do.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, you lost me on that first point. Free speech is not freedom to be a jackass. It also only doesn’t apply to a privately-owned site like YouTube – that’s why they can remove your videos. If you looked up the harassment she received it’s pretty clear that she didn’t want to have to deal with any of that. I wouldn’t either.

  • Anonymous

    Spec Ops the Line is pretty much an example of how video games can be an art form. It’s a video game that tries to present a message, which is also true of different movies, books, comic books, paintings, etc. etc.

    Maybe you think video games are just as simplistic as “give the player a mission and have them fulfill it”, but there is nothing that says they have to be. Heck, what about if players like games because of the social interaction with other players (in multiplayer games) rather than because of the “missions”?

    And yes, people don’t think of themselves that way. The problem is that it says something when “saving the girl” happens more often than “saving the guy” or “girl breaking out”.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, but you are getting a reward in entertainment. That’s why you’re playing in the first place, right?

  • Anonymous

    Maybe something about how they were developed, the limitations of the medium at the time, and the perceived audience?

    Part of the reason I compared porting to rereleases of movies in a new format rather than reprinting old novels is because you don’t need to buy a working old game console to read an old book. You do need to buy a working VHS player if you want to see a movie that hasn’t been released on DVD (but has been released on video cassettes).

  • James Fletcher

    Yeah, I winced a little she showed the clip of Double Dragon Neon. I know the developers did that as an homage to the opening of the original, but I wish they did something to counterbalance it, like add Marion as a secret character and then change the opening so Billy or Jimmy gets kidnapped in the same fashion.

    That actually reminds me of something interesting they did in a downloadable title called Gunman Clive I played recently. It’s basically a Mega Man clone with Old West trappings and at the beginning you option as playing as the titular gunman or the mayor’s daughter. If you select the gunman, the game opens with the daughter getting kidnapped, but if you select the daughter he gets kidnapped instead!

  • Stephanie Cork

    Character of note: Samus Aran – gamers didn’t know that the character was female until the end of the first game. “She was always this bulky piece of robotic awesomeness, until suddenly Nintendo decided to make her sexy”

  • Mariah Huehner

    Well, the target audience is people who are unaware of the problem and its history, to start the process of having a conversation about it. It’s meant to be an educational tool, and is part of a series. All the money didn’t go to this one video, so that seems like an odd issue. Sure, feminists and feminist gamers have been making these points for awhile. But we don’t stop making them because they’ve been made before, they have to be reiterated, and sometimes simplified. What did you think she would say, something entirely new and different? She’s dealing with tropes, that’s going to cover a lot of similar ground. My husband works in games and I can tell you: this is a pretty useful video already for pointing people to something that breaks down the issue and offers a starting point for conversations on how to fix it.

  • Michael W Kandefer

    He didn’t, but Zelda still fits the Damsel in Distress Trope discussed in the video. Tootsie from Banjo-Kazooie does as well, despite being the sister of the protagonist Banjo. One does not need to “get the girl” in the romantic sense, to fit the trope. The trope remains problematic when used in excess even without a romantic connection.

  • Mariah Huehner

    When your “responders” are sending you rape/death threats, hacking your email, defacing your Wikipedia page, and creating games that involve punching a picture of you until it’s bruised and bloody…you are entitled to shut off the cesspit that is YT comments. They have literally the entire rest of the internet to be gross trolls, she’s not silencing them by limiting their access on her own channel. That’s not a free speech issue, that would involve the government censoring you.

    She’s never mocked gamers or implied they should feel guilty. She analyzes tropes. If you feel guilty then maybe the issue is yours.

  • Mariah Huehner

    Games do not exist in a vacuum. They are a highly visible, highly profitable, pop culture form of entertainment. They are influenced by, and perpetuate, ideas in the culture. Like sexism. Go read ANY article on Kotaku that deals with this and then read the comments. You’ll find plenty of people who argue that they only want to play games where women are weak and men are strong because that’s “realistic”. And that’s not even as misogynistic as it can get.

    Just because you don’t care or haven’t noticed the problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If it’s really “just” about that, then why are there so many games with male protagonists rescuing helpless women? If the gender doesn’t matter, why are there significantly more games with male leads? With women wearing less than a bathing suit?

    It matters, it exists, and it’s a relevant discussion.

  • Claire Milner

    With Bayonetta, I think it’s the latter, given her overall attitude and the way she’s presented, but I haven’t played the game. MovieBob’s show Game Overthinker has an episode about her, and a lot of issues about women in gamer culture, that are just as articulate as Anita’s, and maybe a little less biased (unless you count being male or female as an automatic bias, which, to be fair, it can be). At any rate, I think using the term “Fighting F*ck Toy” to label scantily-clad action heroines is highly disrespectful, and borders on slut-shaming. I wish that organizations like Miss Representation and shows like Feminist Frequency wouldn’t use it, because it seems to send the message that if you are female, and you are comfortable with action heroines portrayed in a sexualized manner (for example, if you admire a character like Catwoman), then that is cause for being ashamed.

    I know Anita hasn’t said anything “bad” yet on the subject, but it seems like sometimes she thinks that acknowledging gender differences in media at all is problematic. Not that I like the homogeny of female representation in mass media any more than anyone else, but even feminists seem to embrace the madonna/whore complex at times. A female character who is fully clothed, action-oriented and celibate is the only thing that is acceptable to some feminists. Peggy Orenstein, for example, views all Disney Princesses with a critical eye, but I have yet to see her write one unkind word about Mulan, who meets all of those criteria. I’m coming into this discussion, like most everyone is, as a participant in geek culture, especially with cosplay. As someone who’s seen these “questionable” and “problematic” characters’ looks replicated on real women dozens of times, who clearly love what they do and put a lot of hard work into it, I don’t think anyone should have to feel bad for enjoying something and being inspired by it. So, I’m glad Feminist Frequency at least acknowledged that it was okay to enjoy whatever media you liked in her intro, which she didn’t before.

  • Magic Xylophone


  • Magic Xylophone

    Try using italics. It helps sell the sarcasm.

  • Magic Xylophone

    Well, it is definitely freedom to be a jackass, to be honest. It’s just not freedom from being criticized for said jackassery.

  • Anonymous

    Why do you have to pick one thing? That’s the problem. It’s only been ONE thing predominantly, and it shapes the way society views that “thing”. If we predominantly put grandfathers in peril, I would hope we’d inspect why the f we were doing that and change it up a bit, too.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    Critical thought! IT BURNS!

  • Joe Porter

    This was incredible! I can’t wait to watch more of the series. It’s really sad that you had to disable the comment and “like” button for the Youtube video. But I did add it to my Favorites!

    I recently played a new fun side scroller with my niece called “Castle Crashers”. It’s a fun game with a weird sense of humor, but I was disappointed to find out that it also followed the damsel in distress trope (but with FOUR princesses). At least the “knight” characters you play seem gender neutral. But whenever you rescue a princess, all the players are forced to fight. Whoever wins gets to kiss the princess. I let my niece win and she got a kick out of having her character kiss the princess.

  • Massimiliano Sacco

    I don’t wanna answer with a long message ’cause I’m stupid, but I’m happy to see again Anita.

  • TheBoost

    There’s not a lot to have arguments against. This 1st video is almost entirely discussing simple, non-ambiguous facts, and making definitions. There’s almost no analysis, arguments, or opinion in the video.

  • Robert Feria

    I kinda stopped playing most Mario games around the SNES. So Mario 1, 2, 3, Super Mario World, Mario Kart, Super Mario RPG (where Peach was also a playable character, and a very useful one). So I’d say she was in about half the games I played. I’m surprised they haven’t put her in Galaxy or whatever it is (I’ve never played). My view of history, however, puts Peach in a different understanding.

    And I don’t know about you, but Peach was never the motivation to play these games. The object was to win, and the gameplay itself was fun. Peach got maybe a minute of screentime in the games I played. I would say she’s more of an excuse to play the game.

  • Travis Fischer

    Why do I have to pick one what? I’ve read that post a couple times and I don’t understand what you’re getting at or what you’re asking.

  • Vian Lawson

    1) One gender reversal and one hostage rescue; check. Two games out of a decade and a half of gaming. Yep, not a trope. Like I said; I was sure they were out there.

    2) Female protagonists can rescue whoever they please, just like male ones. But it’d be spiffy if the people being rescued were actually characters, rather than plot devices whose only development is to scream for help and sprain their ankle on cue. The point of the trope is that the damsel is an object rather than an actor.

    3) why do you have to pick a type of male to be a male damsel in distress? At the end of the day, it’s still weak, lazy storytelling if you have to motivate your player character this way. And when, used over and over again in game after game, it reinforces the idea that women are helpless and useless, it’s also sexist.

  • Amanda Allen Douglas

    did anyone ever see Brandon Flower’s Crossfire music video? Charlize Theron totally kicks ass and saves Brandon Flowers from bad guys. Not a game but I thought it was appropriate here…

    here it is:

  • Jacob Alvarez

    This is an extremely dry video. But what do I know? I’m a white male, therefore I’m evil.

  • devovit

    Maybe you’re dry from hanging around strawmen too long?

  • Joyce

    I made that mistake as well. He keeps on popping up and being suggested to me, and I only ever watched the one video.

  • Anonymous

    Maybe because history and culture has been mostly defined by men? Art imitates life and in this matter entertainment (video games) does too. I can only imagine that it’s easier and more interesting to write a male main character because there’s just so much to base it on.

  • Javier Vega

    There are reply videos on Youtube that were under the budget of $6000 that made better points then Anita Sarkeensian did that disagree with her.

  • Jon Stone

    “I’m a white male, therefore I’m evil.”

    Hi Jacob, I’m a white male and have never understood feminists or anyone else to be accusing me of being evil. Maybe I’m listening to them more carefully than you are?

  • Kaihaku

    Except for the Adventure of Link.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I’m late for the party…

    Quite the thought-provoking video, although I didn’t quite agree with all of it and there was some parts that just frustrated the hell out of me.

    I wish I could comment and ask her for clarification on some points, but as you already know she has disabled the comments section. Something that I honestly do not blame her for and shouldn’t (neither anyone else).

    Not everybody has titanium skin in order to wade through murder and rape threats. I know why she did it. But the trolls like to bring up the “suppressing freedom of speech” garbage.

    Now agree or disagree with the video, everybody CAN agree that Anita’s video has certainly started some heated debates (and much needed) on the interwebs. I’ve waded though YouTube to find a good response video that almost matches my thoughts and found this:

    More than a Damsel in a Dress: A Response

    I liked it. Strongly recommended. And it was good to find a video response that didn’t involve feces-flinging, insults, threats, and more insults.

  • srob

    I can think of plenty of men I know that I am definitely physically stronger than, I can think of plenty of men that I know I’m definitely not stronger than. There’s men that I’m not stronger than at the moment but I know I could definitely catch up to and surpass with a little extra work. The exact same goes with women. It’s a matter of how strong you make yourself as a person through exercise and hard work, not your genitals, that makes a person stronger. You say you’re a black belt in tae kwon do, then you are most likely a stronger fighter then a bunch of men, but you being weaker than other men isn’t solely attributed to your vagina holding you back. How messed up is it that if a woman loses a fight to a man it’s assumed the reason is because she’s a woman, but if a man loses a fight to another man it’s because he’s not as skilled as a fighter or just didn’t train enough, and it doesn’t make any statement about his gender. Hell, I like my boyfriend looking after me and buying me things too and I do the exact same back for him out of love. I even hold the door for him occasionally and have paid for dates without seeing him as any less of a man.