I thought I had written about this subject once before, but then I realized that I was talking more about women in the gaming industry more than the characters. Well, I think I mentioned something about girls being scantily clad, but it wasn’t that emphasized. I think. I don’t remember, it was ages ago.
Anyway, a friend of mine recently took a look at part one of the “Tropes Vs. Women” project, and expressed her thoughts reacting to it. I checked out the video myself, but I’ll admit I wasn’t drawn in too much and shut it off not too long after. No offense to its creator! My attention span is just pretty short unless it’s a silly video on the Internet, and hers was a serious and informative video. So I kinda just skipped around to see what she was covering; it focused on the Damsels In Distress concept, so of course, two big components of it were Zelda and Peach.
I figured I knew enough about Zelda and Mario to get where she was going, so yeah, I shut it off. From what I skimmed, she brought up I-see-where-you’re-coming-from points. One of the things I always think of when it comes to the Damsels trope is “if the Princess was a strong female, she wouldn’t allow herself to be captured so easily/often!”
But then I think about it more and say, “No, wait, there’s probably more to it than that.” See, I look at it from a narrative perspective.
To me, all incarnations of Princess Zelda have proven undying loyalty to her people, and she always put them above any of her personal desires. Even if she wants to go out and kick Ganon’s butt herself, she is strong enough to resist the urge and do what is best for her people.
I know that this is never stated directly and it’s purely my own interpretation of Zelda — perhaps it’s even wishful thinking! But when I place myself in Princess Zelda’s shoes, and I see Ganon coming after me with his magic and his minions and bursting into my castle, demanding I do X “or else”…why shouldn’t she give up and go willingly? Can you imagine what Ganon could do to the innocent guardsmen, to her family, to random villagers, if she tried to resist? How much damage would Hyrule castle take in the struggle?
I just keep seeing Zelda as going along with the kidnappings to prevent needless violence and trusting her faith more than anything. She prays to her Goddesses, or whoever, (have you noticed almost all the time, the deities in LoZ are female?! Hmmm!) to send someone who can save her. So, in my personal interpretation, Zelda willingly puts herself in the hands of a madman to protect her people, she values her life because she is the only one who can competently rule Hyrule, and she is dedicated to her faith, which revolves around feminine deities.
Yes, this is all a personal interpretation! But it makes more sense, I think, than just saying that Zelda is a helpless woman in the face of our male protagonists and antagonists, who can somehow rule a kingdom pretty well and wields pretty decent magic sometimes, but really isn’t competent enough to do much else!
I love Peach. I don’t know why. She’s always come off as a bit of an airhead, but in more recent editions, she’s developed a little bit of an attitude to her, too. But let’s face it: Peach doesn’t have any particular magical powers (I think?) to help her fight off Bowser. She can’t beat him. That’s not a sexist remark! She just simply isn’t able to. Just like I know that no matter how hard I try, with all my woman power and smarts and creativity, I probably can’t take down a muscle-bound pro-wrestler in the strength area.
It’s okay to understand your limitations and accept them. It keeps you from doing reckless things, from endangering your life and others’ in the process, and from causing unnecessary waves. You can also use this to pick your battles more wisely!
So, yes, Peach cannot overcome Bowser. Peach relies on Mario to save her. But has she ever asked Mario to govern Mushroom Kingdom for her? Not that I can recall (PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong)! Peachy knows her strengths. Now is the Mushroom Kingdom the best-run realm in all the land? Uh, no. But Peach is always the Princess no matter, so at least it’s not so bad to make them revolt!
Also recall that Peach’s personality, who she is, is a damsel-in-distress character. It’s how she was written and developed over time. Asking her to be something she’s not is insulting! Saying that her character isn’t a good role model because she is who she is is worse! Not every female character has to be “strong” by someone’s definition in order to be a good role model. If all Peach wants to do is run around in frilly dresses and spin her parasol and giggle, then she has every right to. People shouldn’t condemn her because her character isn’t up to their standards of how a modern-day woman should be represented in video games.
I’ll even use myself as an example. Here we go:
Despite how ambitious and how much I want to do with my life, how much I’ve studied and how much I’m capable doing, I personally would not be ashamed if the path I choose ends up leading me to be a happy little homemaker housewife. If all I have to do is take care of my future kids and let my husband bring home the money and we could live comfortably and happily that way, I’d consider myself fortunate. I know plenty of girls who’d sooner eat a bullet than do any of the above, but not me. Does that make me a bad female role model? No! And it’d be wrong to judge me or my family for how we appear on the surface. If it’s what I want, what I’m truly happy with, then it should be encouraged, not torn down or criticized.
Has Princess Peach ever said she hates her life at the Mushroom Kingdom?
“No!” says someone. “But that’s because the game developers are male and they wouldn’t give her that kind of depth or development! They just want her to be the prize for Mario, so why would they ever give her the option to complain?”
Fair point! But… you also have to look at these games from a cultural perspective. A lot of these games are from countries that aren’t like America. Their societies’ perception of female/male roles and what is expected/assumed of them are different from ours. On top of that — we’re human! Humans pull from their personal experiences and prejudices (which were shaped by the society around them at the time!) and they like to pour that into their creative endeavors. Most game developers are still male, and trying to figure out “what women want” isn’t easy in real life, let alone in gaming!
Is that an excuse? No. But it’s an explanation. I don’t think most developers nowadays purposely put female characters into sexist positions. I think that people who repeatedly cry “sexist” at every attempted female in video games, no matter what they do, could eventually wear people down to just not trying anymore. “I gave this female a strong personality and a lot of importance to the plot to appeal to female gamers. We put her in a scanty outfit and made her cute and a little airheaded to appeal to male gamers. The feminists won’t stop cursing us for what we aimed at guys and say that pairing that combo with the strong female traits was even more sexist. What do they want?!”
Obviously “we” want a strong female character that doesn’t need to prance around in a chainmail bikini to appeal to make gamers, but sometimes doing that will hurt sales. Why is that kids? Because sex sells!
And why would those game makers, whose financial stability rides on this game they’ve been working on for 1 – 5 years, take a big risk by challenging what is familiar in the series and possibly rub its consumers the wrong way? Taking risks is wonderful and creative and it can bring a REVOLUTION in the industry! But people don’t want to do it anymore. They’re scared of losing fans, of losing money, of losing time.
Now yes, there are some SERIOUSLY sexist choices that developers make sometimes. I won’t deny that! But I, personally, I am also very understanding of the choices some developers make regarding females. Besides, we’ve come a long way regardless. You might not think it so much, but if you dropped back a couple decades? Oh yeah, we’ve made progress. Slow? Possibly. But we’re moving. That’s all we can ask.
My friend I mentioned earlier said that we’d probably just be labeled “acceptors” as a result of debating against some of the details of the Tropes vs. Women demo. But you know? I don’t think of it that way, and others shouldn’t, either. I’m not saying women should just stop fighting for a positive portrayal of a modern woman in gaming! Never, ever, ever. But you have to be the change you want to see. Instead of trashing what games have been completed, why not write letters to developers AND give recommendations for what can be done in future games?
The AND part is important. If you just write an angry letter saying everything they did wrong, psh, I don’t blame them for ignoring it! You have to OFFER ADVICE on how to better characterize females! Otherwise, it’s just criticism, not constructive criticism. If enough people do it, then there has to be SOME company out there that’ll take it into account. “Oh hey, there’s a LOT of people who seem to want So-And-So to have her own video game. It’s not in the budget right now, but at least we know there’s a bunch of people that are supportive of the concept so we wouldn’t COMPLETELY tank if we tried it~”
“Yeah right,” you say. “They won’t listen to us no matter what!”
Well, fine, be that way. I don’t see any harm in trying. In fact, I think it’s worse not to try than to keep failing!
I don’t think the Women vs Tropes or however it’s done is a bad idea. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m glad that someone is speaking her mind about ladies in gaming. But I also feel that people are too quick to judge developers and the pressure they’re under. Sure, there are some seriously sexist people and they need to grow up or get with the program! But “shame on you for having to be saved by a man” and “why do men have to do all the saving” doesn’t settle with me very well.
Who is the target audience of this game? If it’s not both genders and isn’t covered in pink and sparkles, it’s most likely oriented towards men. And men like to play men, except for when they play MMOs, then they don’t mind watching a female avatar’s cute bum run around in front of them for hours (or they think the male avatars aren’t pretty enough). Yes, the whole PINK IS FOR GIRLS thing is another gender stereotype. But why? When you bring home your daughter from the hospital, don’t you typically bring her home in a pink blanket to a pink room?
(“No! I brought her back to a yellow/green/black room!” Yes, yes, special snowflake. I understand you’re different from the majority. But I’m talking about the majority, and as far as I know, pink is still associated with baby girls.)
Again, it’s a society thing. Pink is for girls, pink appeals to girls, so let’s make the box pink. That is how those demographic conversations have gone for me. Anyway…
What is one thing that makes a player feel good? Empowerment. Saving the world! Knowing that the plot will revolve around your decisions. Knowing that without you, Princess Peach is doomed! So you want to save her. You have to! If she saved herself…well, uh, that’d cut the game short. That’d ruin my feeling of empowerment, because she NEEDS me, and hey, why’d I do this anyway?!
I think I’ve rambled enough, so I’ll stop here for now. Comments? Thoughts? I apologize for being jumbled. All these blogs are pretty stream-of-consciousness…