“Damsel in Distress,” is a popular term utilized and personified in media such a literature, movies and of course, video games. But what does it actually mean? According to Urban Dictionary, there are three definitions:
1. A stereotype of portraying an unmarried female who needs to be saved.
2. any female in need of aid
3. A usually beautiful, virginal, virtuous, and hopelessly passive young woman constantly in need of rescue by the dashing hero.
None of which are all that flattering…
This ever popular term can been seen in games as early as “Sheriff,” (pictured above) which was an arcade game developed by Nintendo in 1979 which displays a “female” character referred to as “The Beauty,” who must be rescued from a group of bandits. (1)
Another popular game who’s gameplay revolves around this idea of “The Damsel in Distress” is the famous Donkey Kong (1981) in which the game’s hero “Jump man” must rescue the female character referred to as “The Lady” from the giant ape. Later on “The Lady” is referred to as “Pauline.”
Princess Peach is also one the most iconic “Damsels” in Super Mario Bros. The princess appears in “14 games of the core Super Mario Brothers platformer games and she’s kidnapped in 13 of them.” (1)
The utilization of the stereotypical “Damsel” in video games portrays women as mere objects that act as rewards for the leading character and in turn leave “the female characters disempowered and helpless without the aid of the empowered male.” (2)
And in games in which women aren’t shown as the “Damsel,” they’re still overly sexualized which consecutively objectifies them (as seen in the photo above).
Though there are games that employ a female leading character such as Lara Croft, Portal, Resident Evil (2 and 3), Silent Hill, Nomad Soul and Perfect Dark, they’re widely overshadowed by games that employ a male protagonist.
The popularity of this topic can be seen in the YouTube Series “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” is a project that “aims to examine the plot devices and patterns most often associated with female characters in gaming from a systemic, big picture perfective.” (1) The series really goes into detail and examines examples of the “Damsel” in video games.
The noted objectification in video games doesn’t necessarily deem the games as “sexist,” but instead shows the must needed character evolution for women in video games. Yes, “sex sells,” but the gaming world has expanded far beyond young teenage boys, and according to Nielsen Entertainment’s third annual Active Gammer Benchmark Study, 64% of the nation’s 117 million online gamers are actually women. (3) It’s important for the objectification of women in video games be address because it’s not only a significant problem in the video game world, but it speaks volumes about women’s social roles.
The creator of the YouTube series Tropes vs Women, Anita Sarkeesian stated the following:
“The pattern of presenting women as fundamentally weak, ineffective or entirely incapable also has larger ramifications beyond the characters themselves and the specific games they inhabit. We have to remember that these games do not exist in a vacuum, they are an increasingly important and influential part of our larger social and cultural ecosystem. The reality is that this troupe is being used in a real-world context where backwards sexist attitudes are already rampant. It’s a sad fact that a large percentage of the world’s population still clings to the deeply sexist belief that women as a group need to be sheltered, protected and taken care of by men. The belief that women are somehow a “naturally weaker gender” is a deeply ingrained socially constructed myth, which of course is completely false- but the notion is reinforced and perpetuated when women are continuously portrayed as frail, fragile, and vulnerable creatures.” (1)
Women are in fact still treated differently from men, whether we want to fact it or not, and by the utilization of this common “Damsel in Distress” theme in video games which are so universal just instills the idea that women are in fact inferior to men. I believe that video game developers need to expand along with their demographics, and create games that properly and equally represent women, who make up more than half of their target audience.