Anita Sarkeesian’s new series of Feminist Frequency videos debuted on YouTube yesterday. Tropes vs. Women in Video Games is the Kickstarter project that the trolls didn’t want you to have because of misconceived notions of what feminist criticism actually is. The fact that Sarkeesian covered really nerdy topics from an academic perspective meant nothing once she tried to raise money for an educational series about the role of women in video games. Hate mail, cyber attacks, and death threats followed in short order, causing the opposite effect the trolls hoped for. Their malicious actions resulted in a wildly successful Kickstarter for Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, earning over 26 times the amount she asked for in short order.
The first video in the series is Damsels in Distress: Part 1. Sarkeesian obviously used every cent she earned on producing an excellent series of videos. The production quality is higher than some of the premium YouTube channels paid for by YouTube itself. The images are crisp, the audio clear, and the editing flawless.The research on the Damsels in Distress trope alone is quite extensive. Sure, she covers the extensive history of Princess Peach and Princess Zelda. Did you expect her to cover the ridiculous studio blunder of Star Fox Adventures? What about name dropping Splatterhouse, Super Adventure Island, and Adventures of Lolo? I actually remember renting Adventures of Lolo and being confused by the gameplay footage on the back of the box that showed the girl as a playable character when you could only start as the boy.
The key to understanding this video is understanding what, exactly, the damsel in distress is. Simply put, when a female character is abducted or put in danger she herself cannot get out of as a plot point, she becomes a damsel in distress. It doesn’t matter if the plot point is resolved in five minutes or five hours. When the female character is reduced to a stolen artifact in a game–like a legendary sword or staff–she becomes the damsel in distress.
In the smartest move of the entire project, Anita Sarkeesian has disabled comments on this video series on YouTube. If you doubt the choice, check out any comment thread about this video on a gaming site. Once again, her opinions are dismissed by listing arguments she herself did not make or with straight up lying about what she meant. Of all places, the PA Report thread has one of the more bone-headed discussions going on, with users arguing the video is poorly researched by putting words in Anita’s mouth. She does not say that the Damsel in Distress trope is inherently harmful. Her clear implication is that the Damsel in Distress trope is harmful when nothing is done to develop a character beyond her victimhood and the character makes no effort on her own to escape. She obviously did play and research these games, as the trope has no time requirement or even gender/species rescue requirement. If the female character cannot get out of the perilous situation herself, she is a damsel in distress.
Other sites have trolls already bringing up “what about male tropes?” as a way to dismiss her criticism. If you want to start a feminist research project on pervasive male tropes in video games, be my guest. That has never been announced as a goal of this series by Sarkeesian and is nothing more than a strawman argument and a moving of the goal posts when she failed to be the villain the trolls painted her as.
And don’t forget the people who claim the video is poorly researched because she didn’t cite every example of the Damsel in Distress trope in a 30 minute video on video games. Apparently, not saying that modern romance novels do this, too, invalidates her argument somehow. I don’t know how. It’s like saying your knowledge of the latest Super Bowl is invalid because you didn’t also list every winner of the World Cup when stating the Ravens beat the 49ers. I have to use a troll to English dictionary when I troll trolls for fun and research.