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Hags of Lag – Thunderfoot doesn’t get Regressive Crap

Cultural commentary has often not “got” games. Okay the word on a lot of game sites has been Anita Sarkeesian’s video.

And there is something I realised. Thunderfoot is pretty strong among the gaming community. Nearly every person I normally play games with sent me this link either to cover, to rage about or in the hope that it would get me to stop writing things under the Hags of Lag moniker (to be fair there are just 2 of us in it so it’s less of a guild and more of a silly name that we came up with).

It’s an amusing video primarily because he simply didn’t get what the point is. And let us not say that this guy is a minority. A lot of of players think this way.

[warning]This post contains links to TV  Tropes. If you have work and do not wish to watch an hour of your life spiral down the rabbit hole of TV Tropes do not click on the links[/warning]

To date this video has 11,000 likes. That’s more than 10 times the reader base that I get and not everyone agree with what I write. It’s a largish audience of people who genuinely think that Thunderfoot is right and Anita should give all the money back and shut up. Okay. I don’t agree with an excessively deep look into “some games” because frogger is not about industrialisation and the destruction of the habitat. Pacman is not about greed, consumerism and drugs. Snake is not about the nature of bureaucracy getting bigger and unwieldier as it increases in size.

The Damsel in Distress trope is as old as humanity. I am sure our early ancestors had these stories. Some of our oldest tales are these. The Story of Troy and the Ramayana are both Damsel in Distress stories. If you want to portray men as macho then dying pointlessly in honourable warfare to rescue a single kidnapped woman is older than civilisation.

So let’s correct Thunderfoot.

1. Double Dragon Neon didn’t invert anything. All it does is add a scene where Marian was rescued (in the original? You actually fought your team mate to see who got to win “Marian”) where she takes revenge on a falling villain by uppercutting him while he falls crotch first onto her. Now here is the thing. He wasn’t defeated by Marian’s cunning strategy to making him leap at her in such a reckless and unsafe manner. He was beaten to a pulp by the two heroes and then hurled off a high structure where he plummets to his gravity powered defeat. Her attack was pretty much pointless and not empowering or a fair representation of women. The entire point of “Damsel in Distress” is that the onus of the hero’s actions is due to the kidnapping of a woman who happens to be “the prize”. Where the mere act of rescuing her makes her your love interest. Women can be eternally grateful to you without displaying such gratefulness with their vaginas. Her punching him in the crotch at the end is not feminism. It would be like a pickpocket accidentally being killed by the wallet he stole. The wallet is still an object and honestly? My wallet has more personality than Marian in Double Dragon. The game is fun but it’s plot is basically “the simplest plot ever”. Hell if you want to nitpick about Marian “not” being a prize because she uppercuts the villain (Skullmageddon… A liche of all things) in the family jewels then I get to point out her sole improvement over the original is her being more important in the plot but her role in the plot is to be kidnapped, turned evil and to be the reward and have a minor role in cut scenes.

2. It’s an analysis of video game tropes and how they deal with women. Nitpicking that it involves all tropes is just simply being a pedant.  Yes there are some tropes that are not helpful to women. Straw Feminist for example has poisoned people’s attitude towards feminism to the point where some women say “that they believe in fighting for equality but are not feminists” because feminism is associated with birkenstock wearing harpies rather than “normal people who just want to alleviate gender differences”. All Amazons Want HerculesBest Her to Bed HerNo Guy Wants An Amazon. Seriously? Want more? Aren’t You Going to Ravish Me? Want to combine with racism? Asian Airhead. Want to just be distasteful? Disposable WomanCartwright CurseStuffed In The Fridge. Fuck mate… there are tropes that are pretty fucking racist such as You are a Credit to Your Race. And you suddenly think there are none against women? Yes there are some against men and you know what? We should slowly realise that and stop that too so we aren’t flogging the same silly bullshit year after year. I am sure I have to put down examples here or else I would have to deal with an influx of people asking me so All The Good Men Are GayGuys are SlobsI’m a Man, I Can’t Help It. Plenty of stuff that stereotypes both genders as either shockingly incompetent children or as either shrews or trophies.

3. These games were made for a mainly male audience who made up the initial purchasers of games. Games are generally made by and for men and young boys. This unfortunately led to a cycle where there were no women capable of affecting ANY changes to the system. A feminist is any person who thinks women should be treated the same as men bar the obviously biological reasons to be treated differently. Feminists don’t want to take away your right to pee standing up, they just want to see women treated equally. These games do not treat equally mainly because the creators didn’t think it through. Now lets look at a game that did well amongst women and men. The Sims series. Why? Because it was a virtual doll house? No… men played it just fine too. Because it actually allowed you to play a game where you made your own challenges and your little sims were more akin to tamagotchi than “dolls”. You could have a female General or CEO while the man of the house stayed at home cooking. I agree this was due to simplism rather than an active decision (although if anyone can prove me wrong I will be delighted at EA’s stance on this). Not all sexism is about subjugating women and I am pretty sure most games didn’t set out to subjugate women mainly because in the domain of games there were NO women. There was nothing to subjugate. To lever themselves into games women had to put up with batshit crazy crap. And yes games have to make a profit but you know what? Claiming that sexism makes a profit so we shouldn’t change it is like claiming the only FPS people want to play involve simplistic plots and endless hordes of faceless mooks rather than the set piece extravaganza and being the star of your own action movie.

4. The medium only allowed simplistic plots? People have timed the initial part of the game and routinely claim that the plot is so “simple” not because it’s an age old trope that no one ever really thought about but because it’s a simple plot. Why not steal a martial art macguffin instead? Hell, Double Dragon 2 ups the ante by making it about Revenge! Marian gets Fridged as the driving force for your epic fist driven revenge against the bad guys. No. The issue is that these tropes were considered “harmless” because we never really thought about what they meant and women were never into videogames in the numbers that we have today.

5. Thunderfoot hopes that you have never played the epic two man beat-em up that is Double Dragon to completion. Why? Because if you did and you did so with a friend as player 2 (my house, I get to be player 1!) then there was a twist. The final boss fight was the other player. You fought each other to determine who got Marian. Most people in healthy relationships love and care about the people they are in relationships with. And yes, arguably your brother would get together with you and both of you would go on a rampage to save the woman who you love from the jerks who kidnapped her. But here is the thing… Marian Delario is not some weak helpless woman in the “fluff” of the game. Even Double Dragon (the original) pointed out that Marian Delario was an instructor at the Dojo where she was kidnapped from. The same dojo where two other instructors get together and beat the tar out of an army of mooks. It’s not that she was kidnapped, it was that she was kidnapped so pitifully. That the same martial arts that let Jimmy and Billy beat 50 shades of snot out of their enemies was fuck useless in the hands of her womanly body. For the love of Ryu Billy and Jimmy can punch knives back at the people who throw them but Marian can’t even take a single punch? And I am going to assume she was dressed that way because she and Billy have a hot date planned after their day job as martial arts instructors. Okay, I understand that it’s an old game and defending it is like trying to defend most 80s movies and their casual attitude to sexism and hairspray but honestly we have grown past that.

6. The argument that someone who loves you would go on a quest to beat up the gang that stole a loved one (rather than say, call the police? Maybe Axel and Blaze would show up. After all… the law is on their side too. Okay that’s silly. But it’s no sillier than saying Double Dragon is an expression of love considering the end has Player 1 and 2 fighting for who gets to “win” her. It implies that the only “Real” option is to go out and fight the “criminals” which has traditionally ended poorly for real life player 1s and indeed real life Marians.

7. Thunderfoot basically fails to understand the difference between why a character is stolen and why she isn’t. The modern day attitude to Damsel in Distress is awfully “coy”. Let’s face facts. The Damsel in Distress is a trope so old that Helen of Troy is considered a subversion. Ramayana and Perseus/Andromeda both date back to 500 BC at the earliest. These are not new tropes. These are stories ingrained into our culture across the globe. Whether it’s Rama slaying the Demon King of Lanka who kidnapped Sita to be his Wife (and Rama behaves like a terrible wanker about it too) or Cervantes with Don Quixote. All of them appeal to us because of the trope because we know that if someone takes your woman you go get her back. You see this sort of behaviour as “Apes”. If a tribe of chimpanzees tries to muscle out another tribe to gain access to the females the males of the other tribe will try and get them back. The argument is not that Jimmy and Billy fight for Marian after she gets kidnapped but why on earth does she need to get kidnapped in the first place? A loved one? In many of the games she mentioned the “Princess” has no knowledge of who the hell you are. Mario is a freaking plumber as is his brother and Link is some kid in a village. Their contact with Peach and Zelda is incidental. In the first game Mario and Luigi “heroically” respond to the plight of the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario is rewarded with a Princess. Zelda and Peach/Toadstool are Magical MacGuffins. Women do not fall in love with you when you slay the modern dragon of “Helping Put Ikea”. These stories date back to the time when women were actual rewards for achievement and perhaps we should stop using the trope so much.

8. Thunderfoot doesn’t grasp the difference between a hospital and a story, even an interactive story. Hospitals don’t exist to satiate the need of the doctor but of the patient. Patients do not exist to make me happy, I exist to make them happy (and I gain happiness if they are happy so there is that!). The same applies to the Police and what have you. The female character in the game gets abducted solely to improve the male character’s (and usually a male player’s) experience.

9. Showing a clip from Star Trek is actually pretty laughable. There was no reason for James Kirk’s dad to fly the ship in himself. There are computers advanced enough to do that for him. He could have set the ship to ramming speed then jumped off quite handily. The Narada was pretty much impossible to miss. Not to make light of his awesome sacrifice but they didn’t go for any other option. In addition, James Kirk’s father is considered a hero NOT because he did it to save his wife and kid but because he did it to buy time for EVERYONE to escape by going down with HIS ship. Star Trek (TOS) plays to the trope of Age of Sail Naval Captains who were a lot more involved in the combat and diplomacy on a ship and going down with your ship while not common place is romanticised.

10. It is also accepted by anyone with a sense of human empathy that historically women have been regarded as possessions and that a trope that treats one as a reward is probably not a good one. Calling on human empathy without calling on historical context is frankly stupid.

11. No. It’s not the same as women being around to help solve puzzles or drop hints and power ups. Anita’s stance on Dragon’s Lair was not that the woman was in distress but that she was so clearly sexualised with her outfit and her movements and her speech that there is literally no question about what the reward for setting her free is.

12. The entire stupidity of “the patriarchy” is it portrays men as having to do all the dangerous work. Where women should be grateful (with their vaginas and boobs) to us men because we do all the dangerous work while they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads about anything. You know what? Fuck that. Women should do “traditionally male” jobs too. And vice versa. Women CAN do dangerous jobs. There is nothing stopping them except expectation. In India, women work as brick layers just like men do. Why? Because there were no gender roles saying “builders” have to be men. Thunderfoot acknowledges this in passing but fails to realise who created this trope. It certainly isn’t the women who have desperately had to fight tooth and nail for basic rights.

13. The stereotype that men are strong and women are weak has lead to the notion that women are property and men are not. In nearly every single aspect of life, men have it quantifiably better. Claiming games are death traps for men and not for women is highly idiotic because it simply ignores the fact that men have been dominant in society for most of human history. Feminism as a concept is less than 200 years old while male domination of society is seen even in our ape relatives and is probably the default. The fact that we are changing our behaviour to be less like our ancestors and be more inclusive and more egalitarian is a good thing.

14. Claiming many male characters don’t have a voice in games because they are “Silent” protagonists is to provide a blank slate in which to insert YOURSELF. All those things you are joking about? That’s what the character is meant to be saying. All the responses going off in your head? That’s what the character is saying. Now while many people don’t like the silent protagonist and feel it breaks immersion the correct usage of one (see Half Life and Half Life 2) results in a “blank” slate where you have not only assume control of the player in game but also are providing (in your head at least) the necessary lines.

15. You would have to be a blind oaf to claim that these games despise men when they do nothing but enable a bunch of men to be big damn heroes. Skullmageddon getting shoryukenned in the gonads isn’t “feminism” it’s you defeating him so badly that he is eventually taken out by a single punch by a weak woman. It’s you asserting your superiority over the inferior specimen of a man, not women being portrayed as equal to men. And while men may be brainless fighting troglodytes in game then women are skimpily clad trophies and it’s nicer to be a brainless violent troglodyte than nothing more than a trophy.

16. Dear Thunderfoot. Economics 101. 50% of the population has a XX Chromosome. If you tailor your games to only XY chromosomes while denigrating XX and creating a culture that bashes anyone with a XX Chromosome then people with the XX Chromosome will not buy your games. If you instead create a game that is inclusive and encourage a culture of play in both demographics then you have the BEST coverage of a game and will make MORE money.

17. Want to know something? In order to be taken seriously as a human being you have to dress appropriately. Claiming Anita spends time on make up and earrings is no different from claiming I spent time ensuring my head is trimmed evenly (It’s actually easier HAVING hair), keeping my finger nails blunt and short and dressing professionally. Gelling my hair (well if I had any) into spikes and dying them red may have been my hairstyle aged 17 but now I would look deeply unprofessional and no one would respect me. The same if I had my old piercings or if I got an overt tattoo. And I know what would have happened had Anita not “dolled herself up in the pink shackles of patriarchy”. Anita Sarkeesian shearing her hair down to a gender neutral style, removing her earrings and not wearing make up while wearing unfashionable clothes would just have resulted in Thunderfoot complaining about how unprofessional and ugly she looks. She is damned no matter what she dresses in.

18. Thunderfoot’s demands that she makes a videogame successfully herself are like me demanding that Thunderfoot successfully deliver a child. Anita lacks the skills to make a game. As do I. I lack the skills to operate heavy machinery, design houses and successfully lead an expedition to Mars. By that logic anyone who wants world peace to be achieved should be told to go to North Korea to get them to disarm. There is a market for games with no gender biases. A pretty big one. A lot of the success of the Wii was not as a serious gaming system but as a device that was open to all users. They made a device which my grandmother enjoyed playing as much as my brother. A gap of nearly 70 years and different cultures. The free market SHOWED that there is an alternative. That there is a viable market for games outside the norm of White, Heterosexual and Male. And that you don’t lose anything by catering to others. The Sims are another example. That series has sold devastatingly well because the premise is simple and effective. World of Warcraft had a sizeable female player base. League of Legends due to actually listening to fans has got a decent female player base (Although something tells me it’s down to Teemo). You can make a profit with a company who has a diverse cast and who has a diverse audience. It isn’t even hard to do even for games as “Manly” as Call of Duty. Keeping the sexism out of such games will get you female gamers. The Meowcenary is a COD fiend!

19. And games take money to make. Millions of dollars in fact for triple A titles. Anita simply doesn’t have the pedigree, the skills or the ability to make such a game anymore than Thunderfoot has the skills to score from a freekick position. Demanding she make one to prove the point that no one would buy it is moronic. All Anita is pointing out is that there are some tropes in games that don’t help women and that by NOT using them or subverting them we may make our environment less toxic and so slowly erode at a culture that is terribly misogynistic. No. What Thunderfoot wants is a game made by what he thinks a feminist sounds like which is a trope in itself. The Straw Feminist. Even the example that Anita Sarkeesian gave (Dinosaur Planet) was probably pulled because it went through developmental hell. And here is the thing. The gender of the protagonist doesn’t matter in that case. Anita took issue to Star Fox because it made gender matter. She would have had no issues with Star Fox if you could play as Crystal in a similar role to Fox.

20. The Thesis argument? Well her thesis is flawed IMHO for pointing out that traditional female “strengths” are different from male ones. I fear that’s due to delineation of stereotypes of women from TV where women are seen as more intuitive and caring while men are all strong and action orientated. She wants to see more women in positive role models rather than women ape male characteristics. A lot of feminists LIKE Ripley from Alien/Aliens as the strong female character and indeed someone who is quite feminine in that she doesn’t run around hating men (considering the entire genre is about penisy rape aliens) and even takes on a maternal role. However she has no qualms strapping a machine gun to a flame thrower and fighting the Alien Queen in a Power Lifter. And the reason she was written well was that the role was initially meant for a man. There are significantly fewer positive feminine roles in TV because all the best ones are traditionally male. I disagree with her in that we should have more characters who fit into positive female stereotypes but think more characters should basically take from both positives and we should stay away from tired hackneyed tropes. I haven’t read her thesis but I assume that she would want women to take from the men’s section of traits since the men’s section of traits includes some pretty fucking important stuff like rationality, confidence and decisiveness.

21. Sexual dimorphism is only really valid if your biggest selection pressure is punching other men. We stopped doing that. Modern society and the technology we possess mean that women are effectively almost as strong as men. Most women are capable of what passes for hard physical labour in the west. I know they can do it because Indian women who are routinely half starved and often living on diets of poor protein and poor iron still do hard physical labour that most western men would struggle to do. If these women can do it then rich tubby westerners can too. The only reason that they do not do so is the societal belief that women cannot be construction workers or do physical labour.

22. The olympians are “freaks”. They are freaks of nature. They are severe outliers on the scale of human physical fitness to the point where they cannot even be considered within the norms of human capacity. Usain Bolt can run the 100 metres in under 10 seconds and he doesn’t respire aerobically during that run. Many of us would struggle to run that distance in 20 seconds. Most female atheletes exceed the performance of the average man. These are people who have pushed human physical fitness to the absolute limit to the exclusion of everything else. To claim at this stage men are stronger and faster than women is fine. But honestly? Most of the women there would be faster and stronger than the average man or even a reasonably fit man. This is a little fantasy world of ability. I have no qualms that despite my training in rugby the England Women’s Rugby team would be faster and stronger than me. And the ultimate joke is none of these things MATTER. Yes, watching Usain Bolt run is a thrill but ultimately his run doesn’t matter to most of society. We are impressed by his achievement but we go back home and put the Tea on and go to sleep without things having changed. Most of our society in the west is intellectually and skill based. Our “strength” means pretty much nothing considering my massive man musculature (LADIES! *wink*) means nothing in the surgical ward where fine motor skills are important. Most jobs are like that. Benching 200 pounds means nothing if you are a lawyer. Being able to throw a javelin very accurately may have been important 2013 BC but in 2013 AD it’s a sport rather than an integral part of hostile take overs. In fact in my current pudgy state I have no qualms that many of these weak indian women would easily out power me. Development of physical strength has more to do with nurture than nature particularly in an environment where the difference in strength are made up for by the usage of tools.

23. Women don’t want to be portrayed as bench-press fiends on TV. That isn’t strength. Also? Comparing menopausal women to men who don’t suffer the side effects from the menopause such as loss of bone density and strength is pointless. The fact of the matter is that Thunderfoot doesn’t understand what someone means when they say “That is a Strong Female Character”. It doesn’t mean “That’s the Terminator”, they mean “The qualities possessed by that Character are worthy of being a role model”.

24. Disabled Comments? If I remember correctly Anita Sarkeesian disabled her comments because she was sick and tired of people calling her a cunt and threatening to rape her. Honestly? If people wanted to comment on her topic then debates have broken out in a variety of places and don’t need to be clogging up her stuff. If your comments made (any) sense then she would respond to them.

Would you like to see how criticism of Sarkeesian would go in a purely technical standpoint?

Okay. My gripe with her video is this. She has come to play video-games relatively late in life. Some of the games she is playing are nearly 20 years old and are seen in the context of modern feminism. Many such stories are horrifically sexist in a modern day context too. She doesn’t see the context of games and why the remakes are so true to the originals. The fact of the matter remains that outside of context of time periods these games are frightfully one dimensional and boil down to saving women because the trope was so universally strong in all human culture and it transcended translation rather than a direct plan to oppress women.

She has also ignored parts of the games she has played such as Double Dragon 1 actually making you the final boss where you literally fight over the possession of a woman. In her quest to play such a variety of games I fear she may not have plumbed them in as much depth as I like leaving a superficial look at sexism in games when it probably runs a lot deeper. I hope she proves me wrong.

There is genuine criticism, but there is only so much you can say in a 10 minute video. She has done a good job. Note, she isn’t telling us what to do as gamers. She is telling Game Makers that they are stagnating down hackneyed plots. A kick in the pants will increase our diversity of game and only benefit us the players. It doesn’t mean that our Call of Duty is going to suddenly be about solving international crisis by diplomacy but it does mean that we may see women portrayed in a better way in different games. You may see better treatment of women gamers. You may see more people coming to play our games and an entirely new demographic enjoying it.

I want my girlfriend to play. I don’t want her to go through life thinking that the games we play are stupid and childish. I want her to have fun with this too. But she won’t be able to enjoy it as much as I do because the entire community from both producers to the users don’t treat women well. I know if she played online she is almost guaranteed to get a “Shut your whore mouth” (or equivalent. A random insult will be issued to you should you play. Contents may vary). And this will leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.

It’s regressive crap and it has to change for the better.

Comments

  1. glodson says

    That was thorough, and well done.

    And I agree about the Double Dragon bit, in that it isn’t just that Marian is a Damsel, she’s also fought over like a prize. Then stuffed in the fridge.

    I think the history of the medium just had a lazy tendency for the excuse plot, it was thoughtless and representative of our often thoughtlessly sexist culture. And it isn’t even that the trope is sexist in and of itself. It is bad when the woman only exists to be the object for the player. The dynamic changes a bit if the damsel if fleshed out, or part of her own rescue, and if her story is expanded out to be her own story rather than just a part of the heroes.

    I mean, just going to rescue Peach while she sits patiently for you is sexist. It is a function of a thoughtless and almost normal sexism we see. It is bad, but it isn’t so bad that I keep the Mario games from my daughter.

    But I think it is changing. More women are gaming. And more women are getting involved in the creative process of creation as well. This should be taken as a welcome change by gamers.

    Sadly, some insist on being assholes.

  2. says

    It appears that the gaming industry is OK with representing strong, motivated, empowered women characters – as long as they are beautiful and have big bouncy high poly-count breasts.

  3. leni says

    *Claps*

    When the American military finally “allowed” women in combat roles, I heard an interview with a male soldier who basically said (paraphrasing), “there are a let of men who can’t do the job either, but at least they get the chance to try.”

    If someone can do it, let them. What is the point of fucking arguing about it except to discourage those who can, really? I wanted to shake that man’s hand.

    ***

    That said, I’m relatively new to gaming too. My first addiction was Parasite Eve ~1998 (not including Atari and a few arcade favorites as a kid*) and I’m a pretty casual if frequent RPG player. I would not have known that about the end of Double Dragon. Good call.

    * Although now that I’m thinking about it, the list is growing. Must have blocked out all those years avoiding the Nintendo because my brother was on it, in the living room wearing nothing but underwear, pretty much every day.

  4. says

    Thank you for breaking down thunderf00ts video he is an absolutely obtuse individual and I really didn’t want to have to spend an afternoon deconstructing one of his videos.

    The context excuse for these games is pretty complete crap though sorry to say. :P I don’t think modern feminism is providing any insights into the damsel in distress trope that weren’t around in the 1970s. They were lazy and they picked an old sexist story design. Thirty years later we still have lazy game designers and sexist stories. There’s nothing particularly special about the 80s that makes this criticism any less invalid then the 00s etc.

  5. says

    I want to respond to Thunderfoot but I thought my English not excellent yet as I want in writing part so I said to myself I should do that in video but unfortunate, the net not that good here & other issues too so thanks you so much because you said not everything but a lot of things that I want to say to Thunderfoot about that .
    &
    my question for Thunderfoot is :-why he put all that energy to attack feminists atheists & try to appear feminist as group they are not work with facts?
    I’m feminist not only because I’m woman but because I’m human been respect equality & human rights & I consider Thunderfoot good mind so I can’t understand why he keeps doing that——In the video before that he called us “toxic the atheist community” & now this one —-why Thunderfoot ?——- seriously, why? you are better than that Thunderfoot so please, stop act like abuser because as I know you are not abuser or I’m wrong.?
    Any way regardless of you are good friend to one of my dearest friends (DPR Jonse ) I can’t sit silent when you treat feminism idea in bad way .
    Finally, to be honest to myself as human been I can’t say to something wrong it’s good even if that thing comes from dear friend or good mind—wrong is wrong & discrimination is discrimination .period .
    ———————————————————–
    P.S.
    —–
    Forgive me if I made any mistake in English.
    Many thanks.
    (J)

  6. leni says

    Your point seems pretty clear to me, J :)

    Sadly I don’t think Thunderf00t will see it here, though.

  7. Klango says

    Thunderfoot is dreadful. He seriously went to ‘but you’re wearing makeup! Bad feminist!”? Pathetic.

    The guy isn’t even at Feminism 101 level of understanding of the issues, but still feels like his opinion is worth sharing. He really is like a creationist trying to take on evolution without Biology 101.

  8. Aratina Cage says

    Brilliant and thorough takedown of an incoherent YouTube screed (by Thunderf00t)! (How sad to see him continue to lose it like this.)
    .
    I was trying to think of a counterpoint to all the damsel’s in distress from that early time period besides SMB2. So far all I can think of is Metroid, Street Fighter II, and Mortal Kombat. In Metroid, the player being a woman is a nod to Alien. The number of boys and men who refused to buy or stopped playing Metroid because a woman is the character they play as? I think it is safe to say “0”. So game developers knew they didn’t have to do the damsel in distress trope even way back then. According to Wikipedia, Sonja Blade was self-consciously added to Mortal Kombat in the final stages of development. I wonder if that is because they calculated that having a woman character would increase sales?
    .
    At any rate, just looking at all four of those successful games (including SMB2), there really was no excuse to keep using such a sexist excuse for a plot. Thunderf00t and the thousands of people cheering him on clearly don’t understand Sarkeesian’s critique at all.

  9. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Great deconstruction excercise there Avicenna. Thanks for this.

    6. The argument that someone who loves you would go on a quest to beat up the gang that stole a loved one (rather than say, call the police? Maybe Axel and Blaze would show up. After all… the law is on their side too. Okay that’s silly.

    Love that reference to one of my favourite childhood games – ‘Streets of Rage’ (?) I think it was called. You could play it as one (or two in2-plaeyr mode) of three vigilante cops : Axel (white guy_), Adam (black guy) or my favourite Blaze (a woman) all pretty equal.

    “I lack the skills to operate heavy machinery, design houses and successfully lead an expedition to Mars.”

    Have you tried? I’d certainly be happy to follow you onto a Martian space expedition with you as skipper given the chance! ;-)

    (Mind you, I have to confess I’d follow *almost* anyone for an opportunity to go into space and visit other worlds!)

    Again, good deconstruction analysis and post there, cheers.

  10. Jackie, Ms. Paper if ya nasty says

    Excellent response. Thunderfoot isn’t interested in reality when it conflicts with his biases. He’s just vile.

  11. doublereed says

    I think having a character like Princess Peach, an archetypal Damsel in Distress, is actually perfectly fine. They do subvert it in some of the games (I think Super Paper Mario) but not enough. They should definitely mix it up more.

    No, the issue that Anita really brought to my attention was that Damsel in Distress was so incredibly, massively overused (moreso than I even realized). It’s not one or two examples that matter, but the shear weight of all of them. But just look at those montages. Jesus.

    And appealing to female demographics has been shown to work time and time again. People said the same thing about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. But because they actually made it good, it appeals to everybody.

  12. says

    Good response, but I wanted to call you out on your chromosomal essentialism there. Not all men are XY, not all women are XX, not all people are XX or XY. Sex and gender do not fit so easily into boxes. When you use essentializing language like this, it harms trans-folk and intersex-folk, denying or erasing them.

    This -is- a small thing in the grand scheme of things, so I hope you don’t feel nitpicked on by it, but at the same time, it is one of those things that will make some of your readers feel less welcome, so I think it’s worth being aware of.

  13. says

    Sorry, one other thing more content related…

    Okay. My gripe with her video is this. She has come to play video-games relatively late in life.

    I… what? Where did you get this idea? Her video asserts that she grew up with them and has been playing them her whole life.

    Some of the games she is playing are nearly 20 years old and are seen in the context of modern feminism.

    Er, yes, isn’t that the structure she chose for the shows? Isn’t the next show modern games?

    She doesn’t see the context of games and why the remakes are so true to the originals.

    What context is she missing? Why *are* remakes so true to the originals? Also who’s suggesting that they wouldn’t be?

    The fact of the matter remains that outside of context of time periods these games are frightfully one dimensional and boil down to saving women because the trope was so universally strong in all human culture and it transcended translation rather than a direct plan to oppress women.

    Wasn’t that the point of the video? I guess I’m missing how this was um… missing?

    She has also ignored parts of the games she has played such as Double Dragon 1 actually making you the final boss where you literally fight over the possession of a woman.

    As she’s doing a broad servery and not a deep one, that’s to be expected. That said, that is a fantastic example– I did play Double Dragon in arcades and I did see people get to the end and I had totally forgotten about that. If I’d been in her shoes, writing this, it would have been missed too. I wouldn’t take that kind kind of exception as her ignoring something or even as being due to lack of experience.

    Rather, I think its due to her wanting to cover video games as a whole. Any one example is largely meaningless and can be written off as an exception. What she’s done is show how pervasive the trope is.

  14. leftwingfox says

    I think having a character like Princess Peach, an archetypal Damsel in Distress, is actually perfectly fine. They do subvert it in some of the games (I think Super Paper Mario) but not enough. They should definitely mix it up more.

    I agree. I was really hoping that one of the new multiplayer Super Mario games with the playable Toads would allow it, partly because she was one of my favourite characters to play as in Super Mario 2.

  15. mdevile says

    Thank you RebeccaT, for both your points. Those were the things that
    jumped out at me and made me side-eye this otherwise excellent
    article.

    And thank you for this analysis Avicenna. I’ve really enjoyed
    your blog since you’ve come on board.

  16. says

    Thanks for the critique, I was thinking of watching it at some point but the fear of pain from facepalming put me off.

    I have to agree with RebeccaT’s points too… Small downside.

  17. says

    She doesn’t see the context of games and why the remakes are so true to the originals. The fact of the matter remains that outside of context of time periods these games are frightfully one dimensional 

    It looks like you took Thunderf00t’s blinders and used them for the sake of “balance”.
    Tropes are lazy story telling. Anita points this out. Selling the same story but with better graphics isn’t a “remake”, it’s trolling for dollars.
    By focusing only on Double Dragon ignores huge amounts of Anita’s video. She refined her point showing how Zelda lowest her individuality and autonomy as soon as she reveals herself an a woman rather than a bro.

  18. mdevile says

    ..err, “points” should be “comments”. RebbecaT made several good points in both of her comments.

  19. SiennaTheGreat says

    I’d like to add a few of my own reactions to TF’s rebuttal. Some of them overlap with Avicenna’s.

    TF tries to play “gotcha” by pointing to the “contradiction” that Sarkeesian praises a female character as “strong” even though in her master’s thesis she lists “strong” as something traditionally viewed in the West as a positive masculine trait. Does TF really not understand the difference between describing an individual and describing societal gender stereotypes? Does TF really not understand that there is more than one definition of the word “strong”?

    I would say that TF makes a decent point about one-dimensional stereotypical portrayals of men in games as either monstrous villains or handsome but stupid heroes who rely on brute strength—culturally ingrained sexism negatively impacts men, too (although a counterpoint might be that the male heroes in these games often have to solve puzzles, which takes more than brute strength). But how does that in any way invalidate Sarkeesian’s points about recurring objectification of women in damsel-in-distress games? TF implies that his “over-analysis” of masculine portrayals in video games is patently ridiculous, and that therefore the same is true of Sarkeesian’s “over-analysis” of feminine portrayals in video games. In fact, neither of them is an “over-analysis,” and neither of them is ridiculous. To the contrary, both are actually quite revealing, TF’s facetious intent notwithstanding.

    TF argues that in her “over-analytical” feminist tunnel vision, Sarkeesian overlooks the fact that games are produced to turn a profit. Yet Sarkeesian dedicates a whole section of her video to point out that games do not exist in a vacuum, and that sexism in games is just one manifestation of broader systemic sexism. Is TF under the impression that Sarkeesian was specifically excluding gamers (you know, the “demand” part of the economic picture) and game producers (the “supply”) from her definition of society at large? Besides, since when do we turn a blind eye to problematic activity just because said activity is done to turn a profit? WTF?

    Sarkeesian explicitly states that any single example of a damsel-in-distress game is not necessarily sexist, but that rather the problem is the frequency with which the trope is used, so often relegating women to weak* passive roles. She strengthens her argument by acknowledging several instances of damsels with more-than-typical agency. TF points out that one of the oh-so-very-many games Sarkeesian uses as examples—Double Dragon Neon—grants its damsel a morsel of agency in the end that Sarkeesian overlooked. This is one valid datapoint, but TF pulls it out like some kind of trump card that undercuts Sarkeesian’s integrity and argument. It undercuts neither, since she herself acknowledges other similar cases of relatively active damsels and since her argument is about the RECURRING TROPE. One could use the same tactic to try to undermine TF’s discussion of physical strength between the sexes: “see, there are statistical outliers like female bodybuilders, so your claim that males are physically stronger than females on average must be erroneous!” What bugs me is that TF would spot the logical fallacy there right away.

    *I don’t mean “weak” in the strictly physical sense. I really shouldn’t have to point this out, but after watching TF straw-man Sarkeesian by conflating different definitions of the word “strong,” I’m inclined to err on the side of caution.

  20. antaresrichard says

    I am glad for your response to Thunderf00t’s counter argument. Frankly, I just couldn’t get past the inherent sexism of his title. I may be slow to catch on at times, but is the man that dense? Goodness me, whatever would women do without the rational, logic-minded Thunderf00t to explain the bold, manly FACTS to them.

    ;-)

  21. Francisco Bacopa says

    I don’t really know much about video games and don’t really care about them, except for 90’s 4x TBS. I was a fan of Thunderf00t’s channel for many years. It was awesome. And he was so cool when I met him at the Texas Freethought Convention a couple of years ago. There are videos of him with Aron Ra and others he now has bad blood with visiting Lakewood Church in Houston. After his falling out with FtB I still subscribed to his channel. Then came the videos. I ignored them hoping that he would just go back to the “Why Do People Laugh at Creationists” series I loved so much. Then there were more videos I didn’t watch. This last video made me unsub. It’s over.

  22. jedibear says

    Pathetic troll is pathetic. If your gamer friends link you this crap, you may need some better gamer friends.

    My only real complaint against the original tropes vs. women videos was that the call to action (“start writing [female characters] as full and complete human beings”) was unreasonable and showed an apparent ignorance of the writer’s craft (no character is a full and complete human being. They’re all just cardboard stand-ups of varying levels of quality and complexity.)

    If this first video is any indication, my complaint may end up being the lack of an effective call to action.

    I mean, sure, it’s good information.
    If you’re ignorant of either video games or feminism.

    But what does she want us to *do* with the information? She offers no opinion, aside of the vague “evolve your gender roles.” I guess I’ll keep watching.

  23. Lord Narf says

    I still want my freaking Grand Theft Auto Game, with a female protagonist. There are so many good story-lines that could be written around a female lead, in that genre.

  24. says

    All three of these critiques are complete crap… sorry. Anita’s critique is cherry picking on a massive level. It is easy to show a massive number of games that either subvert or don’t use the damsel trope… or that use it with a male object, not a female one. In order for her critique to be valid, it would have to be a much more widespread practice (there are millions of games, and there are so many that just don’t match that trope at all, in any way… almost every trope is actually reflected to a lesser or greater degree). Thunderf00t was a bit narrow in his view, it certainly wasn’t the slam dunk his why do people laugh at creationists were. However, he also made some good points… which you dismissed without much understanding. Saying that men had it better historically actually pretty much ignores history, where in western society nobody had it better.

    Your bricklayer point is particularly awesome, because yeah, being a brick layer is hard work, but mostly hard endurance work. It doesn’t push your muscles that far on any individual task… it is a cumulative task, something that men and women are close to equal on (women actually tend to have slightly more endurance, but men tend to have more strength, so it pretty much equals out over time). Saying we are of equal physical capability can be true… saying we have the same physical capability is just ignoring reality. Look, forget the olympics, I was talking to a martial artist online who had trained with one of the top female MMA fighters in the world, and he dominated her in training… simply due to having much greater strength (he is a small guy). I later confirmed the story with the female fighter (I do a bit of writing for a women’s martial arts mag).

    Straw feminism isn’t. I grew up with a strong feminist mother, and in the feminist community. There is a huge, huge contingent in modern feminism that is not necessarily anti-male, but simply have such a weird set of pre-conceptions that they aren’t able to work towards equality. A good example comes from my mother. When she was a child her father insisted that men ride in the front seat, women in the back. He was a regressive sexist. However, growing up, my mother insisted that women ride in the front seat, men in the back. She even went so far as to complain when I got her to sit in the back while a male friend of mine sat in the front when they were both in the car. He’s about six three, and my car was an economy car at the time. Also, she fails to see that my life was different from hers. In my world, men rode in the back and were second class citizens… so her complaint about me was very, very much unfounded… I never saw a world where women were relegated to the back. That is true for a lot of men in my age group, and I suspect in yours. The world has changed… if we ignore that we will see more backlash, more bitterness, etc.

  25. latsot says

    Thanks Av, I was going to do exactly this but my boss unreasonably expected me to do work instead. Very nice work.

  26. chaos-engineer says

    Anita’s critique is cherry picking on a massive level.

    I’ve got to disagree. Remember that she’s not trying to provide statistics on how many games use sexist tropes; she’s taking it as given that these tropes are commonly used and showing a few examples. This particular trope can be stated as a rule of thumb: “If a central character’s only role in the story is to be kidnapped and rescued, then that character will almost always be female.” (Note that this only applies to central characters. It’s not discussed in the video, but if a group of minor characters are being held hostage, then they’ll probably be either all male, or split 50-50.)

    Now, obviously a lot of games don’t have this kind of kidnap-and-rescue plot, and there are a few games where you rescue a central male character. But if you’ve done any amount of gaming, I think you have to admit that it’s pretty obvious that the general rule holds.

    Straw feminism isn’t.

    Well, we’re in a world with six billion people. For any belief system, no matter how bizarre, you’re going to be able to find at least one person who agrees with it. So it might be more accurate to say, “People who hold ‘straw feminist’ beliefs are a tiny minority and have no influence on modern culture.'”

    Your story about your mother is a good example of what’s called “intersectionality of privilege”. As a car owner, she has the privilege of controlling which passenger sits in which seat, and it sounds like she was abusing this privilege instead of using it for the greater good. But she can’t influence the seating arrangements in random strangers’ cars, not even indirectly through social pressure.

    Anyway, here’s how the “Straw Feminist” argument works. Anita Sarkeesian makes a perfectly reasonable statement: “Too many video games are flawed by lazy writing that reinforces harmful sexist stereotypes, and gamers deserve better.” And then the Thunderfoots of the world slither out and hiss “That’s feminist talk! Feminists all want to take away your right to sit in the front seat of a car sometimes, therefore videogames are fine the way they are.”

  27. tiberiusbeauregard says

    Development of physical strength has more to do with nurture than nature
    Muah, the same old lies. BORING…

    http://www.turtlebayandbeyond.org/2012/homosexuality/nordic-countries-defund-gender-ideology/

    Had that happened in a country which is in the focus of global attention, 9/10 feminists/gender researches around the entire globe would be lining up for welfare by now… rightly so.

    From a purely scientific standpoint, mainstream feminism and gender theories are dead.
    They are unscientific and the little factual content they claimed to provide has been conclusively disproven.

  28. says

    What? Since when has scientific progress stated that women are inferior to men?

    For all intents and purposes, outside of the zenith of physicality and some biological differences men are equal to women. Since we aren’t discussing pregnancy and outrunning Paula Radcliffe, the most of us have jobs that women are basically equal to men. This however doesn’t show up in society due to a variety of social pressures on women to not do those jobs.

    The entire difference is purely cultural and due to an established dominance of men and our declarations that women are weak and incapable of doing mathematics.

  29. WharGarbl says

    Overall, I think this video did a pretty good job of highlighting the pervasive use/misuse of Damsel in Distress.

    One important statement that I wished she emphasize that would’ve deflected a lot of criticism is this:
    “At its heart the damsel trope is not really about women at all, she simply becomes the central object of a competition between men (at least in the traditional incarnations).”

    That’s certainly true, in traditional incarnation, where characterization is difficult due to lack of processing power to, well, provide more characterization. It’s much simpler to say “A princess is in danger, save her.”, which has a lot of historical literature already setting the precedent.

    In a lot of modern implementation, damsel in distress is still used but with a lot less “subject/object dichotomy” (I think/hope she address this in her future videos) simply owing to the fact that with better capability, game developer can flesh out the characters more. While objectification still exist, it’s a lot less prevalent now even when a game still uses damsel in distress. Because let’s face it, damsel (or anyone you care about) in distress is a powerful motivator that justifies why your character is willing to face hell or high water just to save them (as oppose to, say, a shiny gold coin).

    View it in another way, damsel in distress (or someone in distress) trope is a superset of the children in distress tropes (whether it be one’s son or daughter). A parent’s love for their children is an extremely powerful motivator.

    It is a very valid point that gaming industry STILL uses female as the go-to “in distress” character a lot, and a more conscious decision to use male as the “in distress” character would offer a much better game ecosystem (and I think the gaming industry is getting better on that front).

    Heck, it doesn’t even have to be opposite sex:
    Man saves man
    Woman saves woman
    Man saves woman (overused for now)
    Woman saves man

    Here’s an response that I find to be even headed.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJihi5rB_Ek

    P.S. I like Asura’s Wrath game and think that they use the “Damsel in Distress” trope fairly well. The hero wasn’t fighting because his daughter is a trophy (in fact, he punched his way through a LOT of villains because they treated his daughter like a bargaining chip/power source). Hell, he punched god in the face because god dared to use his daughter as a bargaining chip and made her cry.

  30. m says

    i feel free with not giving a damn about how women feel about video games. if they are stupid but fun — so be it!

  31. New Face of Rev says

    I think what bugged me the most is the amount of gamers who are willing to side with Tf00t, even though he clearly isn’t much of a gamer. Normally, we get up in arms about that sort of thing. Normally we point out that someone hasn’t played Dragon’s Lair when they refer to Dirk the Daring as “The Knight”. Normally we point out that his list of stereotyped men in games includes Hawke from Dragon Age II, a character who’s appearance, personality and gender is entirely up to the player, and Gordon Freeman, a silent protagonist with no discernible personality. Normally you don’t get away with that sort of ignorance regarding something that many of us love and cherish.

  32. says

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  33. says

    Hey there are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to
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  1. [...] Avicenna deconstructs a bad Thunderf00t video. It seems he thinks a short clip of a girl video game character punching a guy in the crotch invalidates everything Anita Sarkeesian says. [...]

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