Communiqué #20: Kesler and the Sexist Trope Returns

Day 2,105, 05:25 Published in United Kingdom United Kingdom by Johnobrow

Usually when games designers recycle this tired, aged trope they do it with a little more originality.

A trope is a recurring plot device in media that occurs to the point of approaching cliché. In this instance the trope is the 'Damsel in Distress'. This has been one of the most common video game tropes, present for decades and continues to be popular with games designers to this day. It has featured in at least 183 video games (and probably in fact in a lot more besides) and appears in new releases regularly. The Damsel in Distress, who is usually the victim of kidnapping, provides the setting for a male protagonist to rescue her from a perilous situation and further his own development or quest. As a device it disempowers women, presenting them as the passive victims of male violence; one-dimensional characters to further male stories; almost always as sexual objects and items of sexual desire.

Perhaps the eRepublik designers should be congratulated for including this trope. After all, it can't have been easy to write a Damsel in Distress into the plot of a geo-political strategy game. The fact that they managed this feat is truly very impressive. But, more likely, they should be scorned and condemned for their lame attempt at revitalising this banal game with (unoriginal) sexist tropes. It was bad enough that they did this once, but to use the exact same device again within the space of 3 months without changing a single element is plain lazy, and not in the good "I can't be arsed to go in to work today" kind of way.

Let's take a closer look at the elements of the eRep Damsel in Distress. So the Training Instructor, that female e-character notable for her typically masculine role - strong and actually, though presented quite passively, implicitly violent - has been kidnapped. We now see her completely disempowered, guarded by "ugly brutes" looming over her. Perhaps others would disagree, but I think there is a distinct nod at rape culture here. And what happens if you rescue the distressed damsel? "She needs you to rescue her, offering lots of fun and rewards in return!" I think there is unmistakably an implication of sexual reward here.

All-in-all, a female character is disempowered, brutalised and sexually objectified in a flippant and banal kind of manner, as if male violence against women is an okay and normal theme for a sideshow on an online MMP game.

Anita Sarkeesian has produced an excellent 3-part investigation of the Damsel in Distress Trope in video games for Feminist Frequency in her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games: Damsel in Distress which inspired much of this analyses and is very much worth taking the time to watch, especially for avid gamers.