Peach can change her emotions at will
August 1, 2013 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Anita Sarkeesian has released the 3rd video in her Tropes vs Women in Games series, focusing on gender-reversals on the Damsel in Distress formula.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (120 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just finished watching the whole thing ( and have seen all of the others in the series so far). I'm really glad she's doing these but I think she messes up the conclusion. She seems to conclude with the implication that game designers shouldn't be using the Damsel in Distress trope ( unless completely reversed as in her ideal example at the end) at all. But the problem isn't the trope itself. The problem is the system/processes/cultural context which keeps reproducing the trope in a very dominant, hegemonic way, and she doesn't really focus on this. She slides from saying its OK to enjoy games with problematic tropes while at the same time thinking critically about them at the start to saying that this problematic trope shouldn't be tolerated or produced at all at the end, which is an illiberal position.
posted by Bwithh at 6:37 PM on August 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm a few minutes in. I like this series a lot. It's so distressing to really keep realizing the grip of patriarchy.

No secret but this same "women can't control their emotions" shows up again and again in different forms of media. It showed up in Maya on the tv show Heroes. She couldn't control her emotions and had to be calmed down. That was her power. It shows up again and again in media.

I saw Pacific Rim when it opened a few weeks ago. Without spoiling things, it shows up again. I'd never heard of this game, but it's obviously there too. And of course thousands of similar sexist messages get transmitted and passed down and distributed to men and women alike. And I can't stand it.
posted by cashman at 6:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bwithh: “She slides from saying its OK to enjoy games with problematic tropes while at the same time thinking critically about them at the start to saying that this problematic trope shouldn't be tolerated or produced at all at the end, which is an illiberal position.”

Those two positions don't seem contrary at all to me. If you think a trope is "problematic," why would you think it should be "tolerated or produced"? And is it not possible to enjoy games that have elements which, on their own, you reject and believe should not be included in any video game?
posted by koeselitz at 6:52 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


*gets popcorn for next visit to reddit*
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:59 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Pacific Rim was never a game. Not to derail, but plenty of the males couldn't control their emotions either, but point is taken.

I do like that Sarkeesian points out you can enjoy these tropes while being critical of them. I love the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and I often question why, since it goes against a lot of what I believe on a day to day basis. I guess sometimes it's fun to step outside yourself.

I really hope Sarkeesian doesn't see the backlash off this one that she saw on the first two. I admire her for not letting the bastards keep her down.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Related: Sorry Mario Bros, a platformer starring Princess Toadstool.

I thought this trope series was pretty eye-opening and I look forward to the next installment. It was really interesting to see the flaws that I normally gloss over pointed out in some of my favorite games. (And I would totally play the heck out of that concept game at the end!)
posted by archagon at 7:12 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't want to derail, but in Pacific Rim, it isn't that Mako can't control her emotions because she's a woman, but because she's a rookie. The character could easily have been a male but it just wasn't written that way. Chuck Hansen couldn't control his emotions because he had an anger problem, if HE had been written as a woman with emotional problems I could see the upset, but Mako's issue is just the way a rookie would react.

I wasn't actually aware Anita had begun her project, what does reddit have to say about this? /sarcasm
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:12 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I didn't see the thing in Pacific Rim as sexist. The character had been held back by her father and thus lacked necessary experience, and (oddly there is no TVtropes page for this) You Never Get It Right The First Time. It was made clear men faced the same "rabbit hole" hazard.

I am finding Sarkeesian's series fascinating. What amazes me in addition to her keen insight is her vast knowledge of video games. I didn't even know half of these even existed, and if I'd played even half of them I'd need a husband to support me.
posted by localroger at 7:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, she will totally see the backlash. It doesn't matter what she says, anymore. She could be posting video blogs describing how to grill a steak, and she would be harrassed by the misogynistic trolls who hate her. She's a woman on the internet who dared to criticize something they liked, and they're never going to forgive her for it.
posted by suelac at 7:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [17 favorites]


Thank god. Looks like her hateful twitter account was banned after a bunch of male/censorship activists reported her.*


*Parody coming to a social networking platform soon
posted by munchingzombie at 7:16 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Still want to like this. Still find the show almost intentionally wooden and inaccessible. The graphics and run-time say fun breakdown, the content and delivery say lecture. Either extreme is good, but I'm hoping for a middle-way. As open education material, this is a crap middle-way.

These are important ideas being expressed in a forum with great potential plus a built in audience of fans, well-wishers, and interested ready-converts. There's a lot of us cheering for it to succeed. I just wish it was executed in a less "screeching at the choir" fashion. Because these aren't new ideas, just ideas that need traction and exposure.
posted by es_de_bah at 7:24 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Related: Sorry Mario Bros, a platformer starring Princess Toadstool.

Switching the gender roles doesn't help the situation. As stated in the video.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:25 PM on August 1, 2013


This caused me to realize I hadn't seen part 2 yet. So I went back and watched that, and now I'm having an existential crisis about the very idea of narrative in a patriarchal society. Like, I get the temptation to subvert the damsel into a monster for the protagonist to defeat. That's dramatic gold. But it's also misogynist bullshit.

I'll be in my bunk, re-reading all the Monique Wittig.
posted by Sara C. at 7:26 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


> Switching the gender roles doesn't help the situation. As stated in the video.

It's not just a gender switch, and in fact, it's pretty close in spirit to the concept game at the end of the video. The game starts you off as the princess in King Koopa's castle. In the first minute, you jump out of your cell, kill King Koopa, and go backwards through the game. Occasionally, you encounter Mario running clutzily in the opposite direction. Because of your hover ability, you can explore much more of the world than Mario ever could. In my eyes, it's pretty much exactly what Anita Sarkeesian is advocating.
posted by archagon at 7:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


1UP so so much.
posted by odinsdream at 7:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just wish it was executed in a little less "screeching at the choir" fashion.

I actually think the issue is that this is not aimed at a male video gamer reddit type of audience. So it's fine for it to be more like a half-hour lecture and less like a snappy 3 minutes of poking fun.

I'm a feminist. And a nerd. I'm not an exhaustive gamer, but I like video games well enough. As a writer (and especially a writer often dealing with how to write about women in a compelling way), I think these videos are brilliant. My guess is the audience is women who already identify as feminist and nerds/gamers. It's a circling and underlining and "you see this doesn't work because..." type of thing, not a "oh by the way this is a problem". It's a lot more complex than that, and frankly I LOVE that we are in a place where we can get more complex criticism of women's roles in the media than just feminism 101 "body image!" "agency!" "empowerful!" type stuff.

I especially love that we're able to get this level of analysis mostly because of the degree to which her audience over-funded the original more modest project. This is what crowdfunding is good for -- letting an audience tell you "not only do we want to see this, we want to see more and deeper and further". This is not the kind of thing you could get a grant for, or pitch to a cable network. This is the kind of thing people need to demand from the bottom up, and I for one am glad that folks did.
posted by Sara C. at 7:41 PM on August 1, 2013 [44 favorites]


Still want to like this. Still find the show almost intentionally wooden and inaccessible.

I feel you but we still need this series.

Extraordinary (~=unpopular) claims require extraordinary evidence, and all that. Darwin sat on The Origin of Species forever, and it reads like this video series plays. But that work is still incredible in its intensity and insight to this day.

I feel like this series, in its righteousness, will allow for more people to understand a winking, playful, or more engaging argument / piece of art / lecture. Now there's room for someone to make that piece of the puzzle.
posted by eustatic at 7:55 PM on August 1, 2013


I also think it's worth noting that these videos are poised to be seen by lots of people who are sort of dimly aware that feminist media criticism exists, but haven't been exposed to a ton of it. So yeah, she uses Women's Studies 101 terminology like "subvert the dominant paradigm", but a certain part of the audience for these videos is in this perfect place where they're ready for that stuff but haven't come into contact with it yet. Not all videos are made for the most jaded member of the audience. Which I think is perfectly OK, especially for topics that don't exactly have peanut butter and chocolate levels of universal acceptance.
posted by Sara C. at 7:56 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love that she cited Aquaria as an example of a progressive game with a dude in distress. That was an underrated and gorgeous indie Metroidvania.
posted by painquale at 7:56 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's funny is that the developer behind Aquaria (Derek Yu) is also behind Spelunky, which Anita criticizes in the video for being heavy on the damsel. (Not to demonize him or anything! Just thought it was interesting that both extremes of her indie scale came from the same fellow.)
posted by archagon at 7:59 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, she will totally see the backlash. It doesn't matter what she says, anymore. She could be posting video blogs describing how to grill a steak, and she would be harrassed by the misogynistic trolls who hate her. She's a woman on the internet who dared to criticize something they liked, and they're never going to forgive her for it.

I got into a horrible argument with somebody who insisted that Anita Sarkeesian is, no shit "no more a feminist than Margaret Thatcher". Not from some left-wing gender abolitionist standpoint, but because she's criticizing media and that's mean.

We're not friends anymore.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I think it's a mischaracterisation to call this "screeching." if anything, her delivery is tired, weary.

But that is what happens when you feel forced to repeat your argument over and over and over with example after example until you've hammered things home. Read Silent Spring or Our Stolen Future, for example. Every chapter is the same, the argument of these books is boring in its repetition, but these books are pivotal works of scholarship and argument.
posted by eustatic at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


Yeah this is basic stuff, but it needs to be basic because look at how ANY critical examination of gaming is being taken - there's a huge, huge, huge backlash against her. In fact, there's a huge backlash against ANYONE who says something like 'the art in Dragon's Crown is a bit sexist' or attempts to look at games on a level beyond 'graphics good, shooting good'. So she needs to speak slowly and calmly to capture an audience which freaks out at the very IDEA of anaylsis.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sara C, I agree that this is an excellent project and I'm glad it's well funded. And I'm a feminist/nerd/non-exhaustive gamer as well.

I appreciate that these are not pitched to the 3-minute video crowd. And I love the fact the money's there and the audience is willing. That's why I wish they were a little more complex than they are. Often, it seems like one or two points circled and underlined in red again and again without a lot of nuance.

That may be the indictment the gaming industry and culture warrant, but I don't think it's super-effective.

Then again, if folks like you find these videos an inspiring and informative jumping off point, awesome. That's definitely worthwhile. And they've been exhaustive (again, in a verging on the type of academic that fits weirdly in a green-screen youtube show) but they can certainly serve as good compendiums for the cause.

I just wish they were more cutting, I suppose. The forum, the money, the team, the media-attention!

I guess I should shut up and get my own media-darling kick-starter-funded youtube channel with an awful history of online abuse and a ted talk and all...
posted by es_de_bah at 8:04 PM on August 1, 2013


if anything, her delivery is tired, weary.

Yeah, so far she's wearing the same outfit/jewelry/hairstyle in all the videos, which feels to me like the only way she was able to get these done is by booking the studio time and just cranking it out. I mean, to get an hour and a half of material on the Damsel In Distress, that's how many hours of footage of just her narration? How much time reading this stuff off a teleprompter until your face turns to mush at the word "refrigerator"? Not to even mention the research, writing, tracking down clips of obscure games, graphic design, and editing. No wonder Anita Sarkeesian's delivery suffers a bit here and there.

Besides which, why is it that nobody whines when male lecturers aren't peppy and engaging?
posted by Sara C. at 8:06 PM on August 1, 2013 [25 favorites]


I guess I should shut up and get my own media-darling kick-starter-funded youtube channel with an awful history of online abuse and a ted talk and all...

haha. not necessarily, but it would help. I think it's just where we are in the great big conversation we're all having about the stories we tell each other. Patience is difficult.

I know I'm not going to be the one that is going to make the video you want, but i'm certainly going to be on the lookout for it, now that you've suggested it. thank you!
posted by eustatic at 8:09 PM on August 1, 2013


I don't know that I'd call the end of Eversion--where the "princess" eats you alive--an ending that comes at the "damsel's" expense. In a way, it feels kind of . . . heroic of her. The whole game was a (creepy creepy) trap for the "hero."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:13 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and on the topic of Spelunky, here's Derek Yu talking about the damsel issue back in 2012. It's clear that his heart is in the right place, even if Spelunky HD's solution didn't go far enough (per Anita).
posted by archagon at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2013


I quite enjoyed this one. Something about her rubbed me the wrong way back when I read the accompanying essay for Too Many Dicks on the Dancefloor (I quite like the vid, though). That was waaaaay before the Tropes Versus Women in Games blow-up, (aka the point where I decided that she should be supported in general because she is *stepping up* to some serious bullshit, targeting an under-served audience, and it is making a difference)

Sarkeesian has done her homework, and while I agree that her presentation style doesn't mesh with the visual production, it's good to see her go more in-depth.

Not as in-depth as I like, but as I realized in a moment of epiphany, "post-grad educated hyper-analytic armchair media-scholars" are not her target audience.

Honestly, this is probably a strength.
posted by menialjoy at 8:16 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just wish it was executed in a less "screeching at the choir" fashion.
I am literally sitting here with my jaw hanging open in astonishment that you actually typed out those words.

I mean, you could probably come up with a more stereotypical, dismissively misogynist comment if you worked at it, but that one was pretty mindblowing all by itself.

Of course, if Sarkeesian weren't such a shrieking harridan, if she only adopted a better tone, her arguments would be so much better received.
posted by scrump at 8:20 PM on August 1, 2013 [70 favorites]


I very much like that she went after indie games and "ironic" and nostalgic uses of the trope. Her previous episodes presented more overt instances. This episode felt a lot more pointed and critical to me, which was good. In the earlier episodes, the montages of women being beat up spoke for themselves, but she needed to speak directly about parody.

I think this episode will cause more discussion and debate among right-minded video game designers than the previous two.

I'm not sure she should have tried to present her own plotline for an inversion of the trope. It's tempting for critics to try to armchair quarterback their own designs, but it often doesn't work out. The game she designed didn't sound that interesting to me. I'm sure that other people will think the same thing, but then conclude, "See? Can't be done."

Does anyone know what trope she's going to be tackling next?
posted by painquale at 8:24 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure she should have tried to present her own plotline for an inversion of the trope. It's tempting for critics to try to armchair quarterback their own designs, but it often doesn't work out. The game she designed didn't sound that interesting to me. I'm sure that other people will think the same thing, but then conclude, "See? Can't be done."

Yeah, I thought it sounded kind of drab, too.

Something I noticed that she didn't touch upon was that, in the gender-reversed "damsel" examples, where women were cast as the protagonist-saviors, the men they saved were generally younger brothers or other individuals with whom she shares a platonic relationship (Jade's "uncle" in Beyond Good and Evil). In Sarkeesian's own subversion, there is likewise no romance. In the traditional model, a kiss (or other implied sexual prize) is something to be "won" from a woman who is largely otherwise passive. I suppose this is because it's not really seen as a positive value in traditional Western society, for women to actively seek out, win, or select a passive sexual partner. But I wonder about its absence in feminist spins on these narratives, too. There's a lot of instinctive spurning of romance tropes in litcrit & social justice communities, but honestly I sometimes feel that it kind of does a disservice to the actual concerns of girls and women, which often include romantic goals along with other admirable career and intellectual goals. But they're not given much of a narrative besides "wait for a guy to take action/ask you out/propose/pick you." Which I think is kinda bad, in the scheme of things.

As someone who is a sucker for love, I would love to see that princess destroy the monarchy, learn all sorts of awesome warrior and thieving skills and win the guy--or girl!--of her choice by the final cut screen.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:33 PM on August 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


Isn't her plot basically reverse Prince of Persia?
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:42 PM on August 1, 2013


sorry to offend scrump,
I tend to like the phrase "screeching at the choir," and use it regardless of gender.
honestly. it tickles me.

I should point out that I find the dress down of ironic sexism in the video top-notch. The video offers a bunch of good examples of how humor can get all of its meat out of bias-reinforcement. I'm not saying these videos don't make great points, I'm saying that they're misfires in a "medium is the message" sense. Tho, I guess the same can be said of me on the internet.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno. I liked the princess-captured alternative she presents. It seems like bread-and-butter plot work. James Bond got captured and busted out of prison in the Goldeneye game, right? Robin Hood was about a usurper to the throne while Richard III was in exile, right? She's just saying, "let's capture the princess--BOOM, trope invoked--then play it out as that character, with agency, with regular skill-acquisition/puzzle-solving/hack-and-slash/shoot-em-up gameplay." Trope successfully challenged because the princess is a full-throated personified player-character.

I also appreciated that she took time to directly address fine-grained philosophical distinctions like "parody of sexism" versus "sexist parody" and "upending the damsel trope" versus "upending the hero's role in the damsel trope". I dimly recall less of that in her previous videos, but I could be wrong.

And that Princess Peach PMS-superpower had me cringing so, so hard.
posted by daveliepmann at 8:48 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


The game she designed didn't sound that interesting to me.

You are wrong.

I mean, it was presented in a sort of didactic and bloodless manner, and the graphics were meh. But it's as good a plot as most of the other things out there these days. I also liked the fact that the aesthetics were non-western and her protagonist was not super-Aryan.

You could make an awesome game out of that basic story framework.
posted by Sara C. at 9:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sexism and abuse isn't only on Twitter: one woman's gaming experience
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:03 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I want someone to make a video game of Atalanta's footrace.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


In Sarkeesian's own subversion, there is likewise no romance.

Why not write the game so that the princess' motivation to escape her captors is to make it to her wedding to her (hot, awesome) prince?

And then there could be a plot reversal where, when she escapes only to discover that she is now an accused traitor, her former lover is at the center of the coup?

In the end, she doesn't have to fight some bearded old patriarch, she has to fight her boyfriend. And then she has to figure out whether she can live with the aftermath.

I mean, I personally would rather her fight her traitorous prince boyfriend, realize this is a red flag and she needs to DTMFA, and then have her take to the road on adventures that could be the breaking off point to a sequel game. But yeah, sure, they could reconcile. Maybe he did it out of desperation at losing her. Maybe he's the Mario character, trying valiantly to "save" the "damsel" and just ending up deeper in the weeds of political intrigue that ultimately damn the woman he loves.
posted by Sara C. at 9:09 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Um so how does one go about writing a video game, anyway?

/she says, deep in the weeds on like three different creative projects
posted by Sara C. at 9:11 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Excellent. Thanks, Charlemagne In Sweatpants.
posted by homunculus at 9:17 PM on August 1, 2013


so far she's wearing the same outfit/jewelry/hairstyle in all the videos, which feels to me like the only way she was able to get these done is by booking the studio time and just cranking it out.

I get a strong sense that she has put far, far more thought into what she's wearing than a male host would have needed to. (Privilege ahoy!) She's aware that her critics will pounce on any sexist stereotype they can spot or imagine. Sticking with the exact same outfit reduces the odds that her wardrobe will become a topic of conversation.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:26 PM on August 1, 2013 [20 favorites]


But it's as good a plot as most of the other things out there these days. I also liked the fact that the aesthetics were non-western and her protagonist was not super-Aryan.

It starts out promising, but there's something about the second half that feels super unsatisfying.

I mean, it beats FF8. But most things do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:28 PM on August 1, 2013


I tend to like the phrase "screeching at the choir," and use it regardless of gender.
I am no Jay Smooth, but I'll give it a shot. Please bear with me, because I am really, honestly not trying to be an asshole.

You being able to say that you like the phrase, and that you use it regardless of gender, is kind of the whole issue for monomaniacs like me.

Not because of you, but because of what it says about privilege. You can use the phrase "screeching at the choir" without worrying about how it sounds because you're not part of the affected group: women. For centuries, women have been labeled as overly emotional, and hyperbolic language like "shrieking" and "screeching" has been used as a weapon to silence them. It still happens, all the time; you can see it in the right-wing characterizations of women like Wendy Davis.

Now, I'm just going by your profile picture; for all I know, you're actually a woman. But your profile picture is of a non-POC male. With a happening beard, mind, but still a white guy. Whether or not you intend it, you're a member of the group with all the power and all the voice.
posted by scrump at 9:46 PM on August 1, 2013 [27 favorites]


Sticking with the exact same outfit reduces the odds that her wardrobe will become a topic of conversation.

I guess, but for most things like this the host tends to go with variations on a theme. (I used to work for someone who makes things like this for a living and a lot more thought goes into it than one would think.) Her hair doesn't even look like she went home and took it down and slept and re-did it. It's exactly the same.

It's very clear that she cranked this whole 90 minute video series out in one go. Which, damn, girl.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's an iPhone game, Mage Gauntlet, that has a female protagonist with no damseling or anything. Its a bit like Zelda, and she rescues HERSELF, thank you very much.

Of course, its a tiny game on a tiny platform.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:48 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It starts out promising, but there's something about the second half that feels super unsatisfying.

One of the things I love most about the world of screenwriting -- and I have no idea if video game writing is at all similar -- is that you can start from a pitch like Sarkeesian's hypothetical damsel game, and then you can play with what works or doesn't work about it, and flesh it out into a finished product that is much better than the original idea.

So I don't really feel like the hypothetical damsel game idea is particularly weak. It just needs fine tuning. Like 99.99999999999999% of writing needs fine tuning.

I also hate the idea that the fact that this off-the-cuff pitch for a game that inverts a trope is not perfect means that you just can't make feminist video games, or the only really satisfying plots are the conventional ones, or whatever some people will want to imply. There's absolutely nothing wrong with her broad concept for a video game that turns the trope on its head. It just needs another draft. Like all other things ever conceived of.

Perfect enemy of good blah blah blah
posted by Sara C. at 9:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wait, isn't the whole point of the Peach game that she *can* control her emotions? Like, can control them to such an extent that you can choose her emotional state with the touch of a button?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:53 PM on August 1, 2013


The game she designed didn't sound that interesting to me.

You are wrong. [...] it's as good a plot as most of the other things out there these days.


That's a pretty low bar for a game sounding interesting.
posted by painquale at 9:56 PM on August 1, 2013


I'm fully willing to believe that it could be the skeleton of an interesting game if it were fine-tuned. But she didn't present a fine-tuned or interesting version, which is I think what she needed to do at that point to be rhetorically successful.
posted by painquale at 9:58 PM on August 1, 2013


Isn't her plot basically reverse Prince of Persia?

I got a PoP vibe too, which is a + in my book. Of course then you stand to face the trope of the bottomless pit.

It's a criticism video, not a VG design document, so I'm not sure overthinking AS's plot is very fruitful except as a starting point.
posted by ersatz at 10:00 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not much of a gamer anymore. Sometimes I get engrossed with some iphone game or something, but nothing involved. So W.T.F, why does Fat Princess exist the way it is? It's like someone came up with a spectacular idea for a game mechanic and decided to make the mcguffin as sexist as possible. Oh, wait. I guess they could have made the princess black or something.
posted by R343L at 10:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


But, again, I don't think that one has to supply a platonically ideal trope-smashing video game concept in order to "prove" that a feminist video game could work.

What if every single game that had a damsel in distress plot element had to prove that this would make it the absolute best video game of all time, or it not only couldn't get made but would simply be more fuel on the fire of why the damsel in distress trope sucks?
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


So I don't really feel like the hypothetical damsel game idea is particularly weak. It just needs fine tuning. Like 99.99999999999999% of writing needs fine tuning.

I also hate the idea that the fact that this off-the-cuff pitch for a game that inverts a trope is not perfect means that you just can't make feminist video games, or the only really satisfying plots are the conventional ones, or whatever some people will want to imply. There's absolutely nothing wrong with her broad concept for a video game that turns the trope on its head. It just needs another draft. Like all other things ever conceived of.


That might be true, but this isn't a pitch. It's a hypothetical example of how it's easy to make a compelling game with a self-actualized female character and for the video to be persuasive to her audience (and I'm not just sympathetic to her argument, I agree with it!), it should be good.

This is a really meh concept though, and totally half-assed in the second act.

I don't think anyone is implying you can't make feminist video games, or that the only really satisfying plots are conventional ones. I'm just saying that this plot isn't particularly satisfying.

I'm not sure she should have tried to present her own plotline for an inversion of the trope. It's tempting for critics to try to armchair quarterback their own designs, but it often doesn't work out.

I actually agree with this, though it could be because I've seen a lot of critics of YA come up with plots for their own books that totally misunderstand the audience and fundamentals of story and pretty much present plots that are intended to hit certain political arguments the writer finds significant rather than connect with readers in a meaningful yet organic way that also happens to be feminist. You can create good art with being corrective in mind, but I don't think it can be your only goal and I have to admit I did a major eye roll when Sarkeesian made the ending "destroying the monarchy" because that didn't feel particularly well-grounded in the premise she created in the game's opening. It just felt like an extra bonus of Things She Thinks Are Good but not Things Which Are Relevant And Would Make A Satisfying Ending.

Anyway, that's one of the reasons the lack of the romance trope stood out to me, too, and also why I'm hesitant to whole-heartedly embrace Sara C.'s suggested revision. If the overall message is that love is irrelevant, then it doesn't really speak to the human experience as I have experienced it (it can speak to part of it! Though honestly it's often the only attitude toward romance seen in these sort of corrective narratives--that it's better and more positive to be alone and not even think of matters of the heart). And if the overall message is that you're wrong to pursue love and dudes are just going to break your heart in the end and you will have to DTMFA, that's not much better, from a third wave feminist stand-point, which should be about affirming all of a woman's options and choices including romance.

Which is a really, really fundamental part of these stories. Including Prince of Persia. For all that romance is feared as girl cootie-ish, video games are unafraid to have (an albeit fairly shallow) romantic goal at their core, and honestly I think that's likely because love is compelling even to macho male gamers. It is to most people. And that's okay.

I think a-romantic plots can be okay, incidentally. I just see this kind of thing come up a lot, like in that thread about the gender-swapped Zelda art someone mentioned that it would be better if Zelda weren't even trying to save Link and I can't help but think, "Why? It could be good, but it's not necessary to be progressive or feminist or positive or quality. Zelda should be able to save Link, too, if she wants to. She can even do it because she thinks he's pretty.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:24 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Zelda should be able to save Link, too, if she wants to. She can even do it because she thinks he's pretty.

Right! And if she saves him, then he'd have to kiss her!
posted by aubilenon at 10:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or not! They could just hold up some triangles and peace returns to Hyrule! This ends the story!

Zelda is interesting because it's an implied romance, usually, but it's not definitive. Holding hands, maybe. It's sort of instinctively understood as a romance because of our own understanding of fairytale tropes about damsels in distress and the men who save them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:34 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've seen a lot of critics of YA come up with plots for their own books that totally misunderstand the audience and fundamentals of story and pretty much present plots that are intended to hit certain political arguments the writer finds significant rather than connect with readers in a meaningful yet organic way that also happens to be feminist. You can create good art with being corrective in mind, but I don't think it can be your only goal and I have to admit I did a major eye roll when Sarkeesian made the ending "destroying the monarchy" because that didn't feel particularly well-grounded in the premise she created in the game's opening.

I totally agree with all this, but I still think you could make a really good video game out of like 60% of her premise.

Also, while not knowing the archetypal plot structures of video games, her midpoint reversal where the hero gets their objective and then discovers that something much bigger is at stake is a standard narrative arc in film. Maybe there's something she's missing about video game storylines specifically, but the "get rid of the usurpers" part of her idea seems perfectly apt to me as a screenwriter. I mean, I guess jumping from "solve a bigger problem" to "democratic utopia" is sort of heavy handed, but again, there's plenty of heavy handed weird assumptions all over video game narrative as it is.
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 PM on August 1, 2013


Sarkeesian mentions that Braid subverts the trope because the princess doesn't want to be rescued, but I feel that it deserves more analysis: Braid actually shows that the idea of "winning" the princess is problematic in itself. The princess should not be a prize! That's a horribly scary idea!

Sarkeesian's proposed alternative removes the captive prince/princess and turns it into an escape game like Portal: any virtue exhibited by the protagonist is incidental because the protagonist is facing her own dangers and is rewarded with her own escape. It's harder to write an engaging rescue-yourself story because there's no obvious reason to feel emotionally attached to the protagonist. That's the brilliant thing about Portal: we have no obvious reason to identify with Chell at the start but we get involved because we want to solve the "tests". GladOS' taunts and the clues we pick up from the environment give us reasons to identify with Chell, and when the game switches into (what appears to be) a free-form mode we're committed to helping her escape. But note what happens at the end - Chell doesn't escape. And why should she? There's nothing virtuous about escaping; she doesn't need to get a reward.

I think a gender-reversal could be done and in fact has been done in some children's stories by making her self-rescue be the act of virtue that gets rewarded: she is escaping from the role imposed upon her with the additional aim of rescuing other people from similar situations. By escaping she is bringing down the old social order, and she is therefore rescuing all the slaves, serfs, and villeins whose liberty is constrained by the nobility. If there is a prince involved - there needn't be - he gets rescued by being freed from his own forced marriage.

That's a real reversal, which we can see because the protagonist is rewarded. It's the difference between the first and second Portal games: the first is an escape; the second is a rescue.(*) If I were commissioning a video game I would ask the designers to subvert the idea of rescuing-the-princess by letting us participate in some other virtuous act. By eliminating the rescue without any substitute you're not subverting the trope, you're making a different and weaker sort of game.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:43 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


which should be about affirming all of a woman's options and choices including romance.

I guess? I mean pretty much 100% of all female-centered narratives in mainstream western media require any single female protagonist to be paired off by the end of the story. I don't think we're really lacking for stories about women who find love.

And while I agree that it's nice to have a story where a woman can be badass and also get her guy in the end, there's no shortage of that type of narrative, really. So I don't have a problem with, maybe once in like a thousand stories, having a narrative where the female protagonist doesn't have to end up married.

I mean, shit, even fucking Harry Potter had to go out of its way to explain that Hermione and Ginny were totes still marriageable and shit. Can't we have one thing that doesn't entirely revolve around whether a woman is fuckable or not?
posted by Sara C. at 10:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


I feel like the video might have been missing Bayonetta rescuing the dude who dresses like the guy from Assasin's Creed, but there are so many weird symbols and messages to untangle in that game that it should probably get its on video or article or something.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, while not knowing the archetypal plot structures of video games, her midpoint reversal where the hero gets their objective and then discovers that something much bigger is at stake is a standard narrative arc in film. Maybe there's something she's missing about video game storylines specifically, but the "get rid of the usurpers" part of her idea seems perfectly apt to me as a screenwriter. I mean, I guess jumping from "solve a bigger problem" to "democratic utopia" is sort of heavy handed, but again, there's plenty of heavy handed weird assumptions all over video game narrative as it is.

This is actually why I mentioned FF8 (if you haven't played, I'd recommend reading a plot summary on wikipedia because it's late Thursday night or early Friday and why the fuck not?), which had a great opening that was really compelling and reached the point where you're opening up the world in a wider way and it just . . . falls apart into non-sensicalness. And witches. As opposed to, say, FF6 that did a similar midpoint reversal successfully and actually made it work. There's just a really loose, hand-wavey element to the way she describes the ending, and endings to games are really important. They are our reward for playing, you know?

By eliminating the rescue without any substitute you're not subverting the trope, you're making a different and weaker sort of game.

Agreed! It's a matter of identification and character motivation. We are the player character, but the player character needs to want something pretty specific to compel us through the narrative.

And while I agree that it's nice to have a story where a woman can be badass and also get her guy in the end, there's no shortage of that type of narrative, really. So I don't have a problem with, maybe once in like a thousand stories, having a narrative where the female protagonist doesn't have to end up married.

Honestly, you don't see a lot of those stories in video games with female protags. Like I pointed out in Sarkeesian's examples, most gender reversals have the women engaged in saving some sort of platonic friend figure. Of course, part of this is a problem of the broader conversation. There are few enough narratives about women that you have to be more intentional in showing diversity of experience within those narratives--if your player character isn't engaged in a happy romance don't have her reflexively reject other women who are. A big problem in those ass-kicking lady narratives is that the ass-kicking ladies often disdain all women who like dresses and romance and other such girlystuff and it ends up affirming patriarchal values that girlystuff is inherently bad.

It sucks that narratives about ladies have to be more intentional, but it's just the way things are right now, really.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think a gender-reversal could be done and in fact has been done in some children's stories by making her self-rescue be the act of virtue that gets rewarded: she is escaping from the role imposed upon her with the additional aim of rescuing other people from similar situations. By escaping she is bringing down the old social order, and she is therefore rescuing all the slaves, serfs, and villeins whose liberty is constrained by the nobility. If there is a prince involved - there needn't be - he gets rescued by being freed from his own forced marriage.


Yeah that's basically the exact game Sarkeesian proposed.

Frankly, if this was a real game and it was a Game Of Thrones tie in that followed Danaerys as a playable character in a vaguely Assassin's Creed type of environment/gameplay style, every dude would be all the fuck over it.

But because a feminist proposes it in a feminist video about how video games could be more feminist, suddenly it's all shrill and imperfect and But What About Teh Menz and shit.
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sara C., I think that's a really ungenerous way to describe the discussion here.

Princess as liberator of serfs and slaves is a really problematic trope in many ways, anyway.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think that's a really ungenerous way to describe the discussion here.

I'm not describing "the discussion here".

I'm describing pretty much the entire rest of the internet's reaction to Anita Sarkeesian.

And plenty of the reaction upthread not coming from you, directly -- the folks who called her "shrill" and "preaching to the choir".

And, frankly, it's true. A dude wrote a story almost beat for beat what Sarkeesian described, about this wee blond princess who uses her various talents to escape her damsel-ish fate and then and go around the world freeing the oppressed, gradually amassing an army that -- it's heavily implied -- will break the rigid and corrupt monarchy at the center of the wider tale.

That story is Danaerys' arc in Game Of Thrones, and it's one of the most popular aspects of the series both in the books and the TV show. People are fucking naming their children after that princess.

Because that story was written by a dude. Put the same tale in the mouth of a shrill feminist, and suddenly it's didactic and political.

(FWIW none of that makes Sarkeesian's idea The Best Video Game Idea Ever. It just shows the power of a mediocre gender reversal story in the hands of someone we're prepared to accept it from.)
posted by Sara C. at 11:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sara C. wrote: Yeah that's basically the exact game Sarkeesian proposed.

Not really. In her game the princess is just rescuing herself. In the "second act" she resolves to "bring down the monarchy" but that doesn't retrospectively imbue her actions with virtue. It's basically a second game hacked onto the first: now that you're free, what will you do? Bring down the monarchy! In contrast, Chell's self-rescue in the second Portal game was really inseparable from her rescue of GladOS: she needed to rescue GladOS to escape, and by rescuing her she deserved to escape. Even so, I consider the second game to be thematically weak.

I just thought of an interesting parallel to rescue-the-princess: Lara Croft. She's an archaeologist, at least in theory, who is virtuously trying to research or rescue ancient artifacts. So we have the justification for the player's involvement, and the game ends with a payoff: Lara rescues the Sacred Whozis of Whatzis for the benefit of scholars everywhere, or saves the world, or whatever. It's the same theme but without the problematic use of a person as both a cause and a reward.

Anyway, please try not to be bring this down to "But What About Teh Menz". It's a good video, it makes good points, and I'm just trying to reflect on how you can have a rescue-the-princess story without a princess.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:15 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Danaerys' arc as white privileged savior of poor people of color is super problematic from a race and class standpoint, which is widely discussed all over the internet.

Anyway, I actually think that there are very few narratives which show women and girls actively pursuing satisfying romance as a worthy goal, including in video games, which I think is demonstrated pretty clearly in this video in the role-reversal games she discusses. Women "finding" romance? Sure. That's all over the place. But even that implies a passivity. It's not about whether women are fuckable; it's about whether it's okay to show them wanting to fuck, and in video games, it's not, and in feminist answers to those video games it's often still not, but for supposedly different reasons.

I honestly think it all has to do more with our society's fear of women's sexual agency than anything else.

The romantic end goal is a pretty key thing for questy video game narratives, in that even when it's not explicitly present, it often implicitly is, as in the Zelda games. Sarkeesian does a pretty good job of analyzing that in our current media. I think a genuine, direct reversal that does not remove the romantic element would be frankly more satisfying and could easily be feminist. I also think something that just honors its premises more while also giving the player character a clearer antagonist and motivation could be great, too. I mean, a princess wants to destroy the monarchy? That pretty much means she's killing her mom and/or dad. That's the kind of climax that would strike me as compelling and impactful and grabby.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:17 PM on August 1, 2013


The game proposal at the end annoyed me a bit too, but so what? Its telling that with these videos dudes pick on one thing to nitpick endlessly. This was a sketched out idea. It doesn't have to be The Ultimate Video Game Ever. I play lots of games, and 99% of them have slapdash plots starring dudebros. If if you just replaced the dudebro with a woman or changed the plot a tiny bit it would be fine. You don't need to make Bring Down the Feudal System Progressive Sim.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:23 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Its telling that with these videos dudes pick on one thing to nitpick endlessly.

I am not a dude. I am a lady who thinks discussing narrative is important.

(I also don't think the slapdash stories in most dudebro games are fine, either. I actually find most of them pretty freakin' terrible. But--we're discussing the video! And the ideas contained therein!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:26 PM on August 1, 2013


PhoB, are you saying that Sarkeesian's idea needs more TIME COMPRESSING warlocks? Maybe love in space(suits) too. Ah, FF8 :)

gradually amassing an army that -- it's heavily implied -- will break the rigid and corrupt monarchy at the center of the wider tale.


Does Daenerys want to break down the monarchy though or assume it? She goes on and on about being the queen of the seven kingdoms and even though she frees slaves, she resumes her commanding role even though she's unqualified to do so.
posted by ersatz at 11:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


And Danaerys' arc as white privileged savior of poor people of color is super problematic from a race and class standpoint, which is widely discussed all over the internet.

I guess, but I don't see how that invalidates Anita Sarkeesian's argument that there are ways to make women-centered narratives that are compelling.

All I'm really saying here is that Anita Sarkeesian is fine, her video series is a good thing, the points she makes are good, her video game idea is perfectly ok, and her thesis stands.
posted by Sara C. at 11:29 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jeez, I'm sorry I brought it up. I didn't think that mentioning (in the middle of an otherwise laudatory comment) that I thought her proposal was a rhetorical misfire would kick this off.
posted by painquale at 11:29 PM on August 1, 2013



(I also don't think the slapdash stories in most dudebro games are fine, either. I actually find most of them pretty freakin' terrible. But--we're discussing the video! And the ideas contained therein!)


I honestly don't think stories in games are that important. I'd just like them not to be EMBARRASSING. That's all. Give me good games I can play where I wouldn't be humiliated if my parents walked in the room and saw me playing, say, Bayonetta. Or the hooker missions in Saints Row. Or the 'seduce the princess' bits of Dragon's Dogma. Or all the other stupid sexist bits in otherwise great games. I want to play Dragon's Crown WITHOUT the heaving bosoms and Gears of War 2 without... whatever the hell Cole's wife's subplot was about.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:30 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is late, and I don't want this to be a rehash of the comment I made for the last video in this series, so I will keep it short.

Her logos is excellent. Her pathos is...lacking.
posted by Punkey at 11:31 PM on August 1, 2013


Does Daenerys want to break down the monarchy though or assume it? She goes on and on about being the queen of the seven kingdoms and even though she frees slaves, she resumes her commanding role even though she's unqualified to do so.

My assumption from reading the books has always been that the series can only end in two ways:

Daenerys attempts to take the throne and fails, and either some asshole ends up with it once and for all or maybe society breaks down in perpetual anarchy forever.

Daenerys realizes somewhere along the road to the final battle for the throne that her dream of absolute sovereignty is illusory and liberty is her true mission. She then becomes the championing force for a move away from monarchy in Westeros.

Obviously the books aren't finished yet, so who knows what will happen. Knowing GRRM he'll just casually kill Daenerys off in the middle of the next book for no apparent reason. But assuming that the narrative is behaving like narratives do, it seems to be setting Daenerys up as a potential liberator, not as a rightful absolute monarch.

But, yeah, the damsel in distress who saves herself and then goes on a long march to save other oppressed people, and maybe ends oppression once and for all? Sounds stupid when a self-avowed feminist writes it, sounds smart when a bestselling male fantasy writer writes it.
posted by Sara C. at 11:34 PM on August 1, 2013


Sounds stupid when a self-avowed feminist writes it, sounds smart when a bestselling male fantasy writer writes it.

I think it sounds pretty stupid when GRRM writes it, too.

Jeez, I'm sorry I brought it up. I didn't think that mentioning (in the middle of an otherwise laudatory comment) that I thought her proposal was a rhetorical misfire would kick this off.

You shouldn't be! I think the problems with her proposal illuminate some of the difficulties of creating explicitly -ist art that's meant to counter the bad sexist stuff. It's still important to honor the story and give your characters really well-interrogated motivations and to make the ending pay-off satisfying. Yes, maybe you need to do that more because your art will be more rigorously examined. I think Joe in Australia's comments about Portal and Lara Croft are really illuminating, and these things are worth discussing. I'm glad you brought it up.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:36 PM on August 1, 2013


the difficulties of creating explicitly -ist art

But that's kind of what I mean with the GRRM comparison.

Why is a story like this "explicitly -ist" when a woman writes it, but perfectly OK when a man writes it?

I mean, at a certain level, one's choices as a female creative person are:

- Make something that people would totally expect a chick to write. There should probably be shoes, brunch, chocolate, and a wedding at the end. If it's a painting, it should be of flowers that look kind of vaginal. Oh, and remember that all your female characters have to be good role models.

- Make something that is about men.

If you veer away from that, you run a strong risk of being branded "too explicitly -ist", or shrill, or boring, or "well that's nice but nobody would ever buy it".
posted by Sara C. at 11:43 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not okay when a man writes it. Danaerys sucks. I can link you to a bunch of social justice tumblrs discussing how and why.

Anyway, I don't think she's being too explicitly feminist, but I think her narrative is too focused on simply subverting the trope she's discussing and doesn't sound at all like a good or compelling story after her character escapes and the end sounds really bleh.

- Make something that people would totally expect a chick to write. There should probably be shoes, brunch, chocolate, and a wedding at the end. If it's a painting, it should be of flowers that look kind of vaginal. Oh, and remember that all your female characters have to be good role models.

- Make something that is about men.


As a female creative person I haven't found that to be at all the case. And again, no one is arguing that the game needs to be all about men or teh menz or whatnot. I'm just saying that she rejects the fundamental romantic structure of these kinds of narratives too reflexively without supplying any adequate alternative pay-off, that I think it's revealing that both she does this and pro game writers do this, and that I think it reveals something about our society's attitudes toward female agency when it comes to sexual and romantic matters.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:51 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


As a female creative person I haven't found that to be at all the case.

Are you sure you're not too explicitly -ist?
posted by Sara C. at 11:56 PM on August 1, 2013


Also, just to clarify, it's not that I think those are really the only choices. But if you choose to do something that strays too much from those two options, someone, somewhere, is going to label you an evil shrill feminazi who is ruining everything.

Now, obviously the best course of action there is to just ignore the haters and do your thing. But you have to wonder at the amazing coincidence that every woman who tries to find a way to make compelling woman-centered work is always shouted down.
posted by Sara C. at 12:08 AM on August 2, 2013


I sometimes am, and I honestly think my first book would have been a better story (and way easier to revise) had I not been focused on shoehorning in Several Statements that were Important To Me. But figuring out how to balance those impulses with the need to tell a good story has been something I've learned over the last few books?

Mostly the lesson has been: tell a character-driven story about people with clear motivations and an ending that satisfies the initial premise. If you want to make a statement, you build that statement into that premise rather than sprinkling it in along the way--or making it the climax with little previous context, as Sarkeesian does here.

All she would have had to do is add a line or two contextualizing our princess's misplaced loyalty in, say, her father's rule and then the whole story becomes about her dawning awareness and growth and taking action through those things. Which is much better! But I dunno. Sarkeesian isn't a fiction writer, I guess.

But that's where I was nodding along with what painquale said, because he's right. Her proposal was bland and a bit lacking. It's not terrible. It's just not very good. And because it's the climax of her video, used to illustrate how one can create a game that's not mired in sexist suck, it should be tight and super enticing and should make us go, "Yes, I wanna play that!" But it didn't, for me. It just raised a big meh.

Now, obviously the best course of action there is to just ignore the haters and do your thing. But you have to wonder at the amazing coincidence that every woman who tries to find a way to make compelling woman-centered work is always shouted down.

As someone who openly admits that I've been too anvilicious with my political intent, and has been labeled--well, not a feminazi, but homophobic and sexist (the irony!)--I disagree that "every woman who tries to find a way to make compelling woman-centered work is always shouted down." Because I haven't been, and neither have the other female writers that I know--all of whom write about women, many of whom write about women in an explicitly feminist manner.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:11 AM on August 2, 2013


And, hey, I get that you're frustrated that Sarkeesian faces a lot of really stupid haterade. I am, too. I like her videos and agree with probably ninety percent of what she says (her analysis tends to fall along the lines of a more second-wavey brand of feminism than my own, which is where the locus of difference tends to be). But that doesn't mean the conversation in this thread about her example is the result of people wanting to shout her out or thinking she should make the whole thing talk about teh menz, and we're the people you're talking to, right now! Not dudebro nitpickers but feminists who care about feminism and feminist storytelling! Just as much as Sarkeesian does, promise!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:23 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tend to come down on PhoB's side in this discussion. But I don't think the problem of displaying female romance is as hard as she's making it out in the video game setting in light of how, well, superficial the romance is in these games. The "love" the characters feel is just a McGuffin to explain why the character/player feels justified in doing the actions it's doing.* Generally the love between the characters is a given, not something that starts, grows, need nurturing, and eventually blossoms during the game.

As shown in Sarkeesian's 2nd video often the characters are already married or otherwise together at the beginning of the storyline. While society may have a problem with the idea of women proactively seeking out new relationships, I don't see a similar ban on women proactively trying to reunite their family. So I believe you could use a lot of the same "rescue husband/boyfriend" tropes to satisfy the romance motivation without much of a backlash.

Finally, in games with a really sophisticated narrative, I think we're going to have to accept some problematic plots and characters for the simple reason that people have problematic desires and make dubious decisions. Ideologically pure characters and stories, no matter what the ideology, are going to be pretty wooden and unattractive to a large portion of the population who don't share whatever ideology is being espoused, and probably to those who agree with ideology as well.

*which is why the Girl Friend in the Fridge type thing keeps popping up. As the protagonist's actions become more and more bloody, which seems driven by game and graphical design more than storytelling, to make the character's actions at all proportionate the motivation of the character has to be really extreme. It seems fine to have Mario step on some mushrooms over a simple kidnapping. Having Kronos disembowel entire city-states over the same would make me, at least, feel icky. I ran into this problem with the Uncharted games, where I really began to wish there was some way through without depopulating the Balkans.
posted by bswinburn at 12:26 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]



*which is why the Girl Friend in the Fridge type thing keeps popping up. As the protagonist's actions become more and more bloody, which seems driven by game and graphical design more than storytelling, to make the character's actions at all proportionate the motivation of the character has to be really extreme. It seems fine to have Mario step on some mushrooms over a simple kidnapping. Having Kronos disembowel entire city-states over the same would make me, at least, feel icky. I ran into this problem with the Uncharted games, where I really began to wish there was some way through without depopulating the Balkans.


Honestly, its just a fig leaf. I'm playing a game, i'm doing to do what the game says. I'm playing Angry Birds now, and I'm exposing pigs to hard vacumn because they... stole my eggs? Whatever. And yes, I know there are games that critique this.

Hell i guess you could claim Angry Birds' 'rescue the eggs' plot is a female narrative.

Fallout: New Vegas has the NPC Cass's bloody revenge plot because somebody fucked with her family's caravan (and maybe killed somebody?) and that was enough motivation for the player to do horrible things to do NPC factions (or not do them, if you wanted). Christine, another NPC, goes on a revenge quest kinda because her girlfriend was killed.

Hell if you play Saints Row with a female boss, she's a psychopath.

Or: what inspired 90% of FPSes? Alien and Aliens. Who were the main characters of those games? A woman.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:35 AM on August 2, 2013


I liked the first two videos better than the third one, but it's kind of appropriate for a series of videos about videogames to not quite stick the ending.

When she was setting up the imagined game with the princess rescuing herself, I did wonder if by 'nearly no examples' she really meant 'I did a bunch of research and couldn't find any examples, but I know that if I said that then there would be a bunch of people citing one obscure game I didn't find and claiming that invalidated my whole argument'.

I wanted the video to have more examples, like the first two. I know, that by being about trope subversion, there would be few to choose from - she even says that, a couple of times. But there's definitely more than the couple she showed, and I thought a bit more variety in how games had successfully managed to either subvert or sidestep the trope would have helped. I seem to recall the first two videos had more examples of 'done right' to go with the 'done wrong', and I found those more useful and interesting.
posted by gadge emeritus at 12:40 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


had I not been focused on shoehorning in Several Statements that were Important To Me. But figuring out how to balance those impulses with the need to tell a good story has been something I've learned over the last few books?

I don't really understand why that's a dichotomy, though.

I mean, you can have female-centered stories that aren't shoehorning in anything, and are just good stories.

I think the idea that you can have Normal Mainstream narratives, or you're an evil feminist who wants to turn all media into some kind of didactic politically correct morality play, is a stupid one.
posted by Sara C. at 12:45 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


in games with a really sophisticated narrative, I think we're going to have to accept some problematic plots and characters for the simple reason that people have problematic desires and make dubious decisions.

Yeah, in the second video I had a lot of thoughts about this. I mean, at the end of the day, most plot-driven video games are hard dramas where the entire engine of the narrative is violence.

Which I don't think justifies the misogyny, but you really do have to work hard to keep upping the stakes in a narrative like that. And in those circumstances, it can feel didactic and forced to step in and say "ah! but don't you know princesses can rescue themselves?" Because, like, you need SOMETHING here to up the stakes and make you give a shit. I also feel like mythological inspiration can paper over a lack of depth, and mythology is full of misogynist bullshit.

I guess this probably makes me sound like Tipper Gore or something, but I can't help but wonder what it would be like if most games weren't based on violence as the main way of interacting with the game.

Let me think it over some more while I try to beat the last guy at the end of Kingdom Rush.
posted by Sara C. at 12:54 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]



Which I don't think justifies the misogyny, but you really do have to work hard to keep upping the stakes in a narrative like that. And in those circumstances, it can feel didactic and forced to step in and say "ah! but don't you know princesses can rescue themselves?" Because, like, you need SOMETHING here to up the stakes and make you give a shit. I also feel like mythological inspiration can paper over a lack of depth, and mythology is full of misogynist bullshit.

"They took my McGuffin, and then they hurt my teacher/friend."
"I need to take their McGuffin"
"I'm bad, and they are good, so I need to beat them"
"The bad guy is at the top of the tower. You are at the bottom. Fight them"

Look if the game is fun enough, people won't care. Bayonetta's narrative is some weird time travel mythological mish-mash bullshit that is either super-sexist or progressive or both at the same time and the character design is shocking, but it so tight that its still fun to play. Most people don't notice narrative in games, so why not just... not have it? Or not have problematic narrative?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:58 AM on August 2, 2013


most plot-driven video games are hard dramas where the entire engine of the narrative is violence.

I wonder how much of this is because it's easy to make games where you point at things and they die, and how much of this is because that's what people actually want to play.

To tell you the truth I am absolutely sick of going into beautifully imagined worlds and murdering hundreds of people.

Why can't I play a tomb raider game where i just explore abandoned tombs for 5-6 hours without having a bunch of 'press x to not die' quick time events and random murder sprees.
posted by empath at 1:00 AM on August 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobi, yes! I often get the sense that people think that, in a better world, women wouldn't go out of their way for romance or even for love - and that truly smart, modern, responsible fiction would model that approach to living. It's great when stories work out that way, but as an intentional expression of the very best of feminist values it seems a pretty false and easy answer to all the real problems caused by strong human attachments in an unequal society with a lot of foolish ideas about how boys and girls and women and men should treat each other. In life, most people choose to organise their lives around romantic relationships at one point or another. Love has undeniable power, and to me, when somebody has something to say about that, it's much more interesting if it really is about that and not just all hey, real strong women are too busy forging lasting platonic bonds and concentrating exclusively on their careers/becoming the most ass-kicking of ass-kickers to make time for trivial things like love and sex. Which isn't the way most women live and isn't the way most people want to live and which wouldn't necessarily make for any more feminist or more satisfying a universe if it were. I understand the desire to write out the source of some seriously toxic notions and situations, but don't think it's a superior approach at all.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 1:31 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why can't I play a tomb raider game where i just explore abandoned tombs for 5-6 hours without having a bunch of 'press x to not die' quick time events and random murder sprees.

That's Myst, isn't it? That's what I liked about Myst, anyway.
posted by Grangousier at 1:45 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


empath: "Why can't I play a tomb raider game where i just explore abandoned tombs for 5-6 hours without having a bunch of 'press x to not die' quick time events and random murder sprees."

If you're willing to put the combat system on autopilot and just ignore the enemies when they approach, this very thing turned out to be one of the most compelling parts of Ultima 7(2): Serpent Isle. The Ophidian ruins had a tremendous amount of backstory and exploration, and little scenes (like a collection of skeletons around a locked door) were surprisingly powerful in allowing the player to create their own background stories to explain what they were seeing.

Best gaming experience I ever had was exploring Serpent Isle. By the late game your characters are so powerful that the "combat" is over in seconds, requires no input from you the player, and is therefore almost completely ignorable. I'd love to have another exploration experience like it again.
posted by barnacles at 1:46 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why can't I play a tomb raider game where i just explore abandoned tombs for 5-6 hours without having a bunch of 'press x to not die' quick time events and random murder sprees.

Dear Esther is pretty much this (minus the tombs).
posted by jaduncan at 2:31 AM on August 2, 2013


Obviously we need Shadow of the Colossus II: Mono's Story.
posted by bleep-blop at 2:45 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


My assumption from reading the books has always been that the series can only end in two ways:

Yeah, I was commenting on what Daenerys has shown so far. Of course you never know with GRRM; there is also young Griff aka noblesse oblige whom I find profoundly annoying.

Back to the video, a deeper look into the Monkey Island series would be interesting. In MI3 petrified-Elaine (due to the fault of Guybrush) is the McGuffin, and then in MI4 she tries to get reelected Governor, enlists Guybrush to help her and does her own thing throught the game iirc.
posted by ersatz at 5:34 AM on August 2, 2013


wonder what it would be like if most games weren't based on violence as the main way of interacting with the game

This is only true if you consider FPS and their MMO offspring as the whole of gaming. The are many genres of games were conflict is either secondary or nonexistent. The closest to non-conflict narrative FPS is the adventure game (The Longest Journey, Syberia, arguably Beyond Good and Evil), though the spectrum runs from things like Minecraft through simulations (the Sims, Civilization), Sports games (Madden, F1) to puzzle (including adventure-like hidden object narratives).


There are lots of options in gaming beyond the AAA FPS genre, just as there is more to AV fiction than summer tentpole movies. It's fine to limit comment and criticism to a single genre, but it should be acknowledged that a particular genre, aimed at a particular type of player, is not the whole of the possible range of experience in gaming. Many of the criticisms can be extended to other genres of game, but to claim that violence is inherent in storytelling in games misses huge swaths of fun times.
posted by bonehead at 6:32 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand why that's a dichotomy, though.

Because it's hard to do one thing well. It's even harder to do two things well.

I mean, you can have female-centered stories that aren't shoehorning in anything, and are just good stories.

Sure, of course you can. I just don't think the example she describes is particularly good.

I think the idea that you can have Normal Mainstream narratives, or you're an evil feminist who wants to turn all media into some kind of didactic politically correct morality play, is a stupid one.

I think so too. But no one here is saying that.

It's great when stories work out that way, but as an intentional expression of the very best of feminist values it seems a pretty false and easy answer to all the real problems caused by strong human attachments in an unequal society with a lot of foolish ideas about how boys and girls and women and men should treat each other. In life, most people choose to organise their lives around romantic relationships at one point or another. Love has undeniable power, and to me, when somebody has something to say about that, it's much more interesting if it really is about that and not just all hey, real strong women are too busy forging lasting platonic bonds and concentrating exclusively on their careers/becoming the most ass-kicking of ass-kickers to make time for trivial things like love and sex.

Thanks! That is pretty much what I was getting at. Yes, love is often a MacGuffin in these fairly shallow narratives, but there's a reason it's one--it's a basic human motivation, one of the first things we understand as little kids. And so if you're going to abandon the motivator of romantic love, you have to find a replacement that's at least as compelling, which is actually a touch more difficult to do.

Anyway, last night, after all of this talk about this, I remembered that I'd actually played the Princess Peach game. A bunch of Christmasses back, after I got my DS, my brother-in-law asked what I wanted. I asked him for the Yoshi's Island DS game, and for some reason he got me the Princess Peach game instead (because it's pink and so was my DS? I don't know). It wasn't only terribly sexist. It was! It was also overly simplistic with terrible gameplay, clearly designed for, like, 5 year olds who aren't particularly good at video games. I exchanged it (I think for Scribblenauts?) pretty quickly. The odd thing to me is that Nintendo is usually good at designing games with cross-generational appeal that still manage to be challenging--or even hard! Whereas their Mario franchise game "for girls!" seemed to be designed for idiots.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:49 AM on August 2, 2013


Obviously we need Shadow of the Colossus II: Mono's Story.

Oh shit, a quick time event!

PRESS X TO LIE MOTIONLESS

WIGGLE THE LEFT ANALOG STICK TO CONTINUE TO LIE MOTIONLESS

A FLY HAS LANDED ON YOU! REPEATEDLY PRESS TRIANGLE! THE FLY IS STILL THERE
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:52 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Makes me almost wish the Shenmue model of interactive fiction with cutscenes involving operating a forklift had been more successful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:58 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The are many genres of games were conflict is either secondary or nonexistent.

i agree with this. i play many hours of video games a week and i very rarely kill anything or anybody (unless it's during one of my torchlight marathons - then it's all killing all the time with my badass giant hammer).
posted by nadawi at 6:59 AM on August 2, 2013


PhoBWanKenobi - ha. i was just talking about shenmue the other day. we have some sort of weird indie interactive fictions on our computer that i need to check out.
posted by nadawi at 7:01 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


How about a game of Lucky Hit?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:02 AM on August 2, 2013


PhoBWanKenobi - ha. i was just talking about shenmue the other day. we have some sort of weird indie interactive fictions on our computer that i need to check out.

I loved Shenmue so much--such an immersive and real environment--but it had its flaws. Like those several hours I spent pressing "X" to stop a flashlight from rolling off a table. Over and over again.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:06 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sexism and abuse isn't only on Twitter: one woman's gaming experience

I love that "type the number of your cliched and predictable response in the comment box and click 'post'" comment helper at the end. That is great.
posted by cashman at 7:12 AM on August 2, 2013


i will admit that i always preferred watching rather than playing shenmue. i was always compelled by those sorts of senseless actions - like the player was being passive aggressively punished in a very meta way. now i wonder if anyone ever wrote their dissertation on shenmue.

i wish yu suzuki team up with an american social media/crowd funding wiz and bring the original vision of shenmue to kickstarter and then steam. pretend the sequels and cancelled projects never happened - just go back to where 1 left off and finish the story for real.
posted by nadawi at 7:14 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It was also overly simplistic with terrible gameplay, clearly designed for, like, 5 year olds who aren't particularly good at video games. I exchanged it (I think for Scribblenauts?) pretty quickly. The odd thing to me is that Nintendo is usually good at designing games with cross-generational appeal that still manage to be challenging--or even hard! Whereas their Mario franchise game "for girls!" seemed to be designed for idiots.

I played Super Princess Peach to the end and even though first impressions are underwhelming, it becomes decently hard in the fifth or sixth world (it's been a while) and the stages of the final world are properly hard with tiny ledges to jump on, projectiles out of the blue, the works. Probably harder than New Super Marios Bros even. The beginning is laughably easy because the game assumes a female audience won't be accustomed to platforming game mechanics, but it allows for challenge later on (after wasting a lot of stages). I am amazed though that none of the designers know women or girls who are into Mario because that's far from uncommon in my experience.
posted by ersatz at 9:41 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Obviously we need Shadow of the Colossus II: Mono's Story.
Followed by SOTC III: Agro's Tale.

NOT HORSE-IST
posted by scrump at 9:57 AM on August 2, 2013


A FLY HAS LANDED ON YOU! REPEATEDLY PRESS TRIANGLE! THE FLY IS STILL THERE

Ha! I thought it'd be fun if the first half was a prequel and the second half a sequel. I didn't remember the setup or the ending beyond "oh noes, now ur a colossus". After looking it up—they got Mono coming and going. Before the events of SOTC, she was going to be sacrificed for her "cursed fate". During, she's dead. After, she's left with the demonic Wander-baby. So the story is a double damsel plus a refrigerator, and the dismount leaves her stuck with an unwanted son that is also the literally infantilized hero. That's some cursed fate all right.
posted by bleep-blop at 11:05 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


It turns out that the next trope on her list is "The Fighting F#@k Toy". The Damsel in Distress trope was supposed to just be one 15-20 minute video, but ending up being 90 minutes long altogether. I don't think she ever explained why she extended it (unless she did in the private Kickstarter backer updates that I can't see). I wonder if all the future tropes (11 in all!) will also be movie-length. If so, that should hopefully silence that critics who claim that she was being overpaid.
posted by painquale at 11:22 AM on August 2, 2013


I think that may be optimistic, given that a great many of her critics appear to be motivated by fury at her existing in the first place rather than anything as logical as financial concerns.
posted by scrump at 12:16 PM on August 2, 2013


As a guy gamer with an account on reddit, I hate these videos. They are great, insightful, likely to invigorate a medium that is full of trite clichés and I am compelled to watch them. I hate that they are full of spoilers and if only I could play all the games in the world, I would be immune to spoiler-worries and more able to enjoy Sarkeesian's commentary without hovering over the fast forward button. :(
posted by Skwirl at 12:19 PM on August 2, 2013


Oh, and speaking of nonviolent games, Polite games for polite people.
posted by ersatz at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2013


"The Fighting F#@k Toy"

Sweet. I was hoping that would be on the shortlist of tropes.
posted by Sara C. at 7:40 PM on August 2, 2013


Here's the full list:

Damsel in Distress - Video #1
The Fighting F#@k Toy - Video #2
The Sexy Sidekick - Video #3
The Sexy Villainess - Video #4
Background Decoration - Video #5
Voodoo Priestess/Tribal Sorceress - Video #6
Women as Reward - Video #7
Mrs. Male Character - Video #8
Unattractive Equals Evil - Video #9
Man with Boobs - Video #10
Positive Female Characters! - Video #11
posted by painquale at 9:01 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Feminist Yog-Sothoth
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on August 4, 2013


Ha! I thought it'd be fun if the first half was a prequel and the second half a sequel. I didn't remember the setup or the ending beyond "oh noes, now ur a colossus". After looking it up—they got Mono coming and going. Before the events of SOTC, she was going to be sacrificed for her "cursed fate". During, she's dead. After, she's left with the demonic Wander-baby. So the story is a double damsel plus a refrigerator, and the dismount leaves her stuck with an unwanted son that is also the literally infantilized hero. That's some cursed fate all right.

Plus the implication that she is the villain from ICO.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:12 AM on August 5, 2013


The new character in Platinum Games' Wonder 101 is every bad trope about women in games rolled into one


Finally, a girl character! She should provide the soft woman’s touch the team so desperately needs on this bleak battlefield. I think?

Pink is known for her “laissez-faire” personality, behaving carefree and sunny during even the most severe missions, as if her duties were just another after school club; however, it is that relaxed attitude that, more often than not, spells disaster for the team. Exceedingly sensitive towards trends, she has decorated her issued weapon with a variety of accessories, and her tendency to prioritize fashion over the mission can occasionally give her superiors headaches. Nevertheless, Pink’s excellent physical aptitude and peerless acrobatics have led the team to countless victories.

Extremely emotional, she sometimes reveals her terrifying true colors when angered.
Pink is especially sensitive to anything said by Green, and she will gladly turn her tormentor into her whipping boy when set off.


posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 5:53 PM on August 6, 2013


In other news: Legendary Comics Creators Dismiss Sexism Critiques, Say ‘The Comics Follow Society. They Don’t Lead.’
posted by homunculus at 2:59 PM on August 8, 2013


Accurate, but not right.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:54 PM on August 8, 2013


Legendary Comics Creators Dismiss Sexism Critiques, Say ‘The Comics Follow Society. They Don’t Lead.’

Insert racism comparison here.
posted by jaduncan at 7:54 AM on August 9, 2013


Boob Jam: A Coding Marathon to De-sexy-fy Breasts in Video Games
posted by homunculus at 2:14 PM on August 9, 2013


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