Saturday, February 27, 2016

Damsels in Distress Part 2

Elaborating upon the idea of the damsel in distress as explained in part 1, Sarkeesian explains three "dark and edgy" trope-cocktails of violence against women in video games. The first is the Damsel in the Refrigerator, which is a combination of the Women in Refrigerators trope and the Damsel in Distress trope. Sarkeesian explains that this typically happens when a female character is killed near the beginning of a story but her soul is then stolen or trapped and must be rescued or freed by the male hero. The second trope-cocktail is the Disposable Damsel, which is a variant of the Damsel in Distress trope in which the hero fails to save the woman in peril either because he arrives too late or because (surprise twist!) it turns out she has been dead the whole time. The third is the Euthanized Damsel, which is a combination of the Damsel in Distress trope and the Mercy Killing trope. This trope usually occurs when the player character must inflict violence upon the woman in peril "for her own good." With this trope, the damsel has usually been either mutilated or deformed in some way by the villain so that the "only option left" for the hero is to put her "out of her misery" himself. Some games even write the female character as begging to be killed by the player.

This last trope, the Euthanized Damsel, is the most disturbing in my opinion because of its relation to domestic violence. Sarkeesian explains that "These stories conjure supernatural situations in which domestic violence perpetrated by men against women who've 'lost control of themselves' not only appears justified but is actually presented as an altruistic act done 'for the woman’s own good.'" The trope of the Euthanized Damsel is especially troubling because of the real-life epidemic of violence against women. Sarkeesian states that research consistently shows that people of all genders tend to buy into the myth that women are the ones to blame for the violence men perpetrate against them, and that abusive men consistently state that their female targets "deserved it," "wanted it" or were "asking for it." It is impossible to remove these virtual depictions of violence against women from the real-life violence when one considers that some games depict their female characters as literally "asking for it."

Sarkeesian also explains that "On the surface, victimized women are framed as the reason for the hero’s torment, but if we dig a little deeper into the subtext I'd argue that the true source of the pain stems from feelings of weakness and/or guilt over his failure to perform his 'socially prescribed' patriarchal duty to protect his women and children." In this way, video games that utilize the damsel in distress trope or any of its trope-cocktails are essentially narratives about a perceived loss of masculinity, and then the quest to regain that masculinity through violence, dominance, and control. Women in video games are reduced to "symbols meant to invoke the essence of an artificial feminine ideal," because even when women seem to be a key part of the narrative, their storylines often serve simply to trivialize and exploit female suffering for the sake of male power fantasies.

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