Today Feminist Frequency released the first part of Tropes vs Women In Video Games, a video series that analyzes how female characters have been treated in video games throughout history. Part 1 talks about the Damsel in Distress cliche central to many games.
A damsel in distress story is one in which a female character is in danger and must be rescued. Their savior is a male character, typically either a love interest or relative.
"The damsel trope typically makes men the 'subject' of the narratives while relegating women to the 'object.' This is a form of objectification because as objects, damsel’ed women are being acted upon, most often becoming or reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found or a goal to be achieved," said host Anita Sarkeesian. She added later that these damsel in distress stories can reinforce the notion that women are the "weaker gender."
This trope existed long before video games were invented, but it's been prevalent throughout gaming history. The video runs through many examples, many of them Mario or Zelda games. It also includes the interesting story of Dinosaur Planet, a cancelled video game by Rare that starred a butt-kicking heroine named Krystal. This game was turned into Star Fox Adventures and Krystal was relegated to the damsel in distress role.
"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," said Sarkeesian. "But it’s undeniable that popular culture is a powerful influence in or lives and the Damsel in Distress trope as a recurring trend does help to normalize extremely toxic, patronizing and paternalistic attitudes about women."
The next installment of Tropes will focus on modern games, and whether the Damsel in Distress plot device has endured (spoiler alert: it has).