30 March 2014
Women in Video Games
In the beginning, according to some, there was Adam and Eve. The story is a familiar one. It is taught to churchgoers from an early age. However, the tale of genesis and paradise bears a deeper meaning concerning the roles of its principle characters. Think of Adam. He was created in God’s image, and is the default model upon which the rest of humanity is based. Think of Eve. She was created as an after-thought, using Adam’s rib, and is of lesser importance and strength. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it is Eve who gives in to temptation and gets the both of them thrown out of paradise. It makes sense for a patriarchal society to develop such a belief system. In fact, the mythologies and culture to which the modern world abides are both intentionally and unintentionally crafted to reinforce the patriarchy. Video games are an ever-growing presence in popular culture, fortifying the patriarchal values found throughout society. The gaming industry frequents the use of pernicious plot-devices and poor representations of women, which not only reflect patriarchal values, but contribute to sexism.
Before describing the specifics concerning patriarchal notions within video games, it would be prudent to explain what a patriarchy is. Simply put, a patriarchy is a society in which men are the socio-economic and political majority (Lindsey). Women are systematically oppressed in patriarchies, often through agents of socialization, including popular culture, which now includes video games (Maitra). More specifically, agents of socialization are what’s responsible for the ideas and beliefs that members of a society develop over time. In a patriarchy, where masculinity is praised and femininity shamed, all agents of socialization (video games and electronic media included) perpetuate these sexist beliefs. That being said, the oppressed are often encouraged to adopt behaviors associated with the ruling class (Lindsey). In other words, girls are encouraged to enjoy masculine media, and there is no shame in a little girl playing a video game with a male protagonist. Furthermore, the values of a patriarchal society not only exclude femininity, but reject and shame it altogether (Lindsey). Therefore, patriarchal culture includes mythology and media which paints women in submissive roles of secondary importance.
The “damsel in distress” trope is especially prominent in gaming, but predates their invention. The damsel in distress has been a plot device in more than just video games, and can be traced back to the Greek myth of Andromeda (Carpenter). In the myth, Andromeda’s mother angers Poseidon, who sends a beast to destroy the land, and she is chained to a rock to appease the vengeful god. The hero Perseus must slay the monster and claims the naked beauty as his reward. As time went on, the damsel in distress became a staple of global mythology. It was not until the early 1980’s that the...