Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Impressions of the first "Tropes vs Women in Video Games" video

First of all, I'd like to say that the video does an admirable job of laying out the basic issue.  Keep in mind, those of us that are already aware of these issues in a number of games (especially Mario and Zelda), that this video is accessible to a large variety of audiences.  I find the academic tone very refreshing, and look forward to that level of professionalism in the future.

I have just two qualms I hope to see addressed in Part 2.  One of them is that the video did not in fact return to Super Princess Peach like it promised; again, I expect this to recur in the next video in the series.  The other is more subtle, and has to do with the montage of classic video games that make use of the trope.  One of the games shown was a short clip of Final Fantasy I, showing Garland having kidnapped Princess Sara -- the screen in question shows the player party (led by a Fighter) in the Temple of Fiends just before engaging Garland in conversation (which results in combat with him).

This is indeed an example of the trope -- Sara is "damseled" (a great word choice, incidentally, effectively communicating the idea that this is something _done_ to women) and the players must indeed save the princess.  However, this is done as part of a much larger rhetorical argument.  Final Fantasy I has you saving Princess Sara within the first 15 minutes of the game.  After saving her, the opening credits play (as you cross North Bridge), and the main quest (to revive the Crystals) begins.  Final Fantasy I puts forth the argument that this franchise is about a lot more than merely saving a princess -- only simple games (read:  its main competition, Dragon Warrior) utilize a damsel in distress trope as their main plot device.

I find this usage of the damsel in distress trope to be a powerful acknowledgement of where the game industry was in 1987 when Final Fantasy was first released.  It's a shame that more games did not move on from the trope, following the example set forth by Square over 25 years ago.  For what it's worth, the Final Fantasy franchise pokes fun at this trope more times throughout the series -- most notably, the opening of Final Fantasy IX presents players with a princess that wants to be kidnapped, and has a very active role in the plot of the game -- though we see the world largely through Zidane's eyes, the events at hand usually have at least as much to do with Garnet as with him, until his plot arc picks up near the very end of the game.

Do these self-aware uses of the damsel trope as rhetorical argument that the Final Fantasy games have more to offer contain more meaning for having made use of the trope?  I argue that they do.  I'd love to hear Anita's thoughts on this more complicated use of the trope in a future video...


Mike Chase said...

Saving Sara within 15 minutes? Dude, you mean you don't grind for a couple hours before going into the ruins to knock down Garland? :P

The Final Fantasy series plays the damsel card fairly often, but you're right, it's often done to characters who do more than just get kidnapped. Even someone like Rosa, who spends a good chunk of FF IV in custody of Kain and Golbez, is pretty core to the party doing all they need to do. Yeah, she's still the easy target and a white mage, both stereotypes, but to some extent, the way games are made is defined by the way the culture is. The medieval cultures on which most fantasy RPGs are modelled were very patriarchal, and we can't even argue that things are different now, because to a big extent, males still dominate, though it's obviously getting more equitable. Still, a female-led society or one in which all females are treated equal won't be as believable to most people, male or female, and I'd expect a whole lot of work would need to be done plotwise to make that kind of culture believable, because it's not intrinsic to how we see things.

My beef with the videos was the way she dismissed remakes for not changing the plot to avoid the damsel scenario; that shows a lot of ignorance of how and why remakes are made. Really, it's about money, and substantial plot rewrites are probably more complicated than porting old code to a new system or redoing the graphics. In some cases, a majority of the plot would have to be scrapped. Going to FF IV again, if Rosa wasn't kidnapped, there are a lot of events that don't make sense (the party getting the crystal near Troia to trade for her), and if someone else, maybe someone male, was kidnapped in her stead, other parts of the plot need to be changed.

Also, there's nostalgia; if I want to play an older game like FF IV that I've played before, I want to play that game, or a version that's improved somehow (eg. the 3D port on the DS), not something substantially different.

Ryan said...

I agree about remakes with you partway, though Double Dragon Neon is not a remake but a new vision for the game; as part of that new vision, they might have thought to replace Marion with some better motivation (especially since they recast Billy and Jimmy as band members instead of martial artists).

Similarly, New Super Mario Bros. is outright laziness on Nintendo's part, and Anita does well to point that out as her most prominent example.

Outright remakes shouldn't change this though, I agree -- I would be _furious_ if Rosa wasn't kidnapped as part of the FFIV plot, because it's akin to rewriting "Casablanca" on the re-release.

That being said, it's a perfectly valid criticism of FFIV to note that Rosa's kidnapping could have been replaced by something else; for instnace, the Earth crystal could be stolen by Kain just after the battle with Dark Elf, necessitating the trip to the Tower of Zot -- it is not a necessary component of the plot, since the group would have wanted to find the crystal anyway.

I really hope the next video offers us a little more, though this was a good start to a lot of conversations that need to occur. As I mentioned in the main post, it's extremely refreshing to have someone presenting on this in the professional, academic tone that she employs.

Mike Chase said...

Agreed with everything; I didn't know anything about Double Dragon Neon so I didn't realize it was a new vision. I was only talking about remakes though; I totally agree that Rosa's kidnapping could've been avoided, and probably, had they been clever and cared enough to do so, could've been avoided in the remakes as well, though the latter would be much trickier to pull off while maintaining plot consistency and game balance.