Indie Games Are Full Of Helpless Women But Critic Finds Some To Praise

Feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian has good things to say about a bunch of games in the third part of her analysis of the rampant use of "damsels in distress" in video games. She spends a lot of this one checking in on how indie games and modders handle things.

Advertisement

Oh, but before that praise, she first gives Super Princess Peach a proper skewering—well-deserved for a game about a woman who saves a man with the use of superpowers based on her PMS-y mood swings.

On to happier things...

While Sarkeesian notes that a witheringly long list of indie games are actually also trading on helpless-female stereotypes, she finds a batch, including Aquaria, Fez, Braid, Where Is My Heart, and Sword & Sworcery that either avoid it or do something new with it.

She's also got a lot of nice things to say about the non-indie Beyond Good & Evil. But the parts of her analysis this time that I found the most interesting were 1) her guarded enthusiasm for gender-flipping mods of Mario and Zelda that make their female characters the stars and 2) her look at how indie games, in seeking a retro vibe, are dragging some of the gender clichés of old into widely-praised new games.

Have a look at the video above. There's some interesting stuff in there.

Now, stepping back, folks, I know that Sarkeesian's videos tend to result in strong reaction for and, loudly, against. Let's keep it civil please and focused on this video.

Anticipating some of the responses these video posts usually get, yes, it's lamentable albeit somewhat understandable that Sarkeesian doesn't address public criticism directly, that she closes comments on her videos—so, yeah, it can feel like she's lecturing and not listening.

And, yes, we have not given prominent exposure on Kotaku to her critics, some of whom just attack her outright and invite being ignored but others who do find exceptions or flaws in her argument. The latter is something we intend to get to on the site.

Advertisement

Bottom line: I believe games and gamers can withstand some scrutiny about an aspect of gaming. She's not saying all of these games aren't fun, and I think we'd all agree that no game, aside from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, is perfect.

To contact the author of this post, write to stephentotilo@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @stephentotilo.

DISCUSSION

I think I understand the the problem I have with Sarkeesian's videos.

She has a problem with Damsel in Distress tropes. She says it disempowers women and women should take more active roles in gaming stories and gameplay. So far so good. I agree wholeheartedly.

The problem comes with the underlying implications that I'm inferring (and I could be wrong here - so people can correct me if they feel that I am) that the Damsel in Distress trope should never be used, or is insulting just by basis of existing. It's true that the trope can be used overly often in gaming (it's kind of a lazy plot device), but to demonize any and all games that use this trope is kind of unfair. Some people just want to make a game about a guy saving a girl, because that's the dream they have - being able to save someone they love from great peril. Similarly, somebody might want to write a story where everybody at school fawns over the main character - that's also okay. Where is the line before these tropes used cease being entertaining and start getting offensive? The poorly established and arbitrary line with which she judges condescension on a certain group of people is more than a bit puzzling.

Sarkeesian also admonishes jokes about gender and sex (and, I have to assume by extension, race and other qualities), ignoring that there are malicious jokes based on stereotype meant to demean and humiliate (like "go back in the kitchen") and there are jovial jokes meant to amuse and elicit laughter (all of Russell Peters' shtick).

It seems to me that Sarkeesian wants a sterile world where only things that she (and people who share her beliefs) approve of, and anything they don't are deemed discriminatory. Certainly, there are extremes in the media that the respective industries should be addressing, but I'm not so sure taking the currently existing status quo and making a beeline for the opposite end of the field is quite the right way to go about it?

Also, I'm unsure, but if I named... say, Amaterasu as a positive female character, would that fly? If not I don't think it's fair to include animal characters in this debate. :P