Beyond Damsels & Villains in ‘A Tale of Two Rulers’

A Tale Of Two Rulers

[Editor’s Note: This piece was inspired by “We Could Be Heroes: Revisionist Gaming & Representation.” It’s recommended that you read it first!]

In March 2013, media critic Anita Sarkeesian launched the video webseries Tropes vs. Women in Video Games where she argues that games are subject to gendered biases. The Legend of Zelda is one of the gaming franchises Sarkeesian critiques in the first episode of Tropes vs. Women, as many of the Zelda titles contain classic examples of a trope that she refers to as “damseling.”

Damseling, in its purest form, is the process by which a woman is rendered inert and thereby positioned as an object that will motivate the player character—a man—to complete his quest. The point of the game is therefore to rescue the damsel in distress, who is subordinate to the hero and is not allowed to rescue herself, generally because she is, as Sarkeesian puts it, “Stranded in a hostile area, trapped, desperately ill, or suffering any number of terrible fates where she needs help to survive.”

In the Zelda series, Princess Zelda is frequently such a damsel, as she is variously kidnapped, imprisoned, placed into an enchanted sleep, crystalized, zombified, and turned to stone. The player’s job, as a young man named Link, is to acquire a weapon powerful enough to defeat the villainous Ganondorf and save Zelda, a narrative that forms the core of the eponymous “Legend of Zelda.”

What do players who are women make of Zelda’s role in this story? Is it necessary to take the plot elements of the series at face value, or are other interpretations possible? How do the games look from Zelda’s perspective?

And what about Ganondorf? What does it mean to be cast as the villain, unable to argue your own side of the story? Are the motivations of “the bad guys” ever so clear cut that we, as players, should feel justified in murdering them? Are there other ways to resolve the conflicts they represent?

Continue reading “Beyond Damsels & Villains in ‘A Tale of Two Rulers’”

The Gender Effect: Canon FemShep & Assigning Roles By Race

Mass Effect

Anita Sarkeesian mentioned Mass Effect in her “Tropes vs. Women” series, stating that with ‘male’ as the default, FemShep is more of an add-on rather than a character in her own right. That stuck with me, so I looked at the game far more critically to appraise the gender nuances within the whole series. There was good and bad in what I saw.

Despite what Jonathan Cooper tweeted above, it is clear that a number of actions Shepard takes in-game were designed around the male model, and all they apparently did was swap the male model with the female one with no change in actions. For example, whenever Shepard tries to cheer you up, the action seems to come right out of football where men routinely pat each other on the hips or butt. That is an action that very few women would do, even women in the military. Every time I see it, it makes me twitch.

However, despite this game design that has physical actions that do not fit with a female protagonist, there are a lot of interesting gender issues in the game. You encounter the Asari, a non-gendered race who concede to being referred to with female pronouns. There are the Turian, who you primarily encounter as male characters. As a race, they are rather militaristic and it shows. The Krogan are practically frat boys gone wild with an interesting society and the Salarian have differing genders with apparently different social roles. The Quarian are also a race with interesting gendered divisions. Then there are the Hanar, the big jellyfish who seem to be completely genderless.

Continue reading “The Gender Effect: Canon FemShep & Assigning Roles By Race”

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