Please join me in a friendly conversation, followers and activists.
I would like to start off with an introduction;
My name is Daniel and I am a student Game Art. I am very interested in narrative design, visual art (obviously) and I always want to learn more about the things that interest me. This is the reason why I keep an eye on the FeministFrequency’s Damsel in Distress series.
After all, if you do not know what is wrong with a trope, you wont know what to change about it for the good of your narrative.
I do not mean to attack anyone with this post, I do not mean to start a war.
I know that I risk that this post will be hijacked by zealous supporters of either side of the discussion, but I hope that at least some people can take the time to explain the reasoning behind the included screenshots.
Miss Sarkeesian uses the game Spelunky as an example that shows, as far as I understand it, how a game developer can completely miss the point about the Damsel in Distress trope. For example, in this case, by switching it out for a male or a dog that you can save instead of the fair maiden.
She points out in screenshot 6 that, if a female character is easily interchangeable with a dog, something has gone wrong and in screenshots 7 and 8 she mentions that a mere Genderswap is not a quick and easy fix for these types of characters because of the underlying cultural differences.
One has pre-existing cultural stereotypes while the other has not, as pointed out in the final screenshot.
I have finished the complete video, hoping that she would devote more time explaining the point that she is trying to make here, but there is nothing that I picked up that does so. Again, this might be just me, please inform me if it does.
The way that I understand from miss Sarkeesian’s analyses of the “Distress” characters, is that she took a look at the characters selectable as your Damsel Style and noted that you can pick from a bust heavy female, a Chippendale dancer and a dog.
She took a moment to try both the human options for the footage, made notes of how Spelunky treats the Damsel trope and then continued her research into this heavy, messy pile of materials that we call Videogames.
I have no real way of knowing how she did it, naturally, but that is how it seems to me. Because looking at the footage provides by her in her video, there are some things in the visual design of the characters that catch my eye.
Both the male character and the female character run around helplessly, as seen in screenshot 7. Both can be knocked out, carried and tossed around in the same manner. Both get an equal treatment in that respect.
The female “Damsel style” character wears a chique gown, has perfect flowing blonde hair and has, as miss Sakeesian already pointed out, quite the bosom. All in all, a stereotypical pretty woman.
The male “Damsel style” character wears an oversized bowtie and a matching pair of underwear, presumably a thong. His jawline is stereotypical broad and manly, especially compared to the main character’s round face. His shoulders are broad and you can count his abs from afar. He even sports quite the healthy dose of hair in typical bishonen fashion.
But when he runs around in panic, his arms flail around wildly and his imperfect teeth are visible for the player.
Both Damsel style characters are not dressed for the environment, both have no idea what to do and both require you to save them before something kills them.
When I look at these designs and animations, I`d say its not the Damsel in Distress trope that they are going for, but more the “Brainless Beauty" or "Too dumb to live" tropes. These people (and the dog) are unfit to be in the location that you find them. How they got there is anyone’s guess. If they had been placed there by an antagonist or if they were your only objective in the game, they might have fit the Damsel in Distress trope better.
But as it stands now, with the visuals and the gameplay elements as they appear to be to me, I cannot see what the point was that miss Sarkeesian was trying to make with Spelunky.
To me, the female design re-enforces the pre-existing stereotype that wealthy rich women that are dressed for a girls-night-out are unfit to walk around in a cave system inhabited by snakes and skeletons, while the male design re-enforces the pre-existing stereotype that muscular, superficially pretty men in bow-ties and thongs are unfit to walk around in a cave system inhabited by snakes and skeletons.
You need Spelunking gear, knowledge and a good preparation for that kind of thing, just like the main character has.
I think this post has gone long enough. I do hope that somebody can share some thoughts on this, share your point of view on the matter and make me, and others, a wiser person.
Again, this is not an attack or something like that against any group of people, just a part of my quest for knowledge and understanding.
Thank you very much for reading this through, I hope to hear from you soon.