The damsel in distress…where to even begin? This is a trope as old as…well, dirt, honestly. From ancient myths, to fairy tales, to the early days of gaming; we’ve seen this old story played over time and time again. A fair maiden, captured and taken prisoner, a brave (almost always male) hero rushing in to save the day, generally to be rewarded with the girl’s affections…I’m sure you just imagined at least 10 different stories that you know without even having to think about it.
But for how old, and dated (and honestly, just…boring) this storyline is, it still continues to flourish; especially in the game industry! When movies and books are learning to veer away from it, games only ever want to detour and continually find their way back into the mire of this archaic trope.
So, I guess the best question is…why? Why do we keep seeing this cycle of women being reduced to nothing more than an objective to be rescued? Why do we keep seeing girls who are useless aside from being someone for the hero to save? Let’s be honest with ourselves: this kind of thing almost always goes back to being a male ego booster. After all, if the guy is the one saving the girl, then guys can feel great about themselves when they play it! Right? Right? Well, yes.
After all, in our society, we use media for socialization, and the way we see others presented. And how we see those like us presented in media has a profound impact on how we look at ourselves and how we see others! So, when young girls see how those like them are so often treated like they’re useless, helpless, and only able to wait to be helped by a man, it weakens their confidence in themselves. And tells them that this is how they should be. And when boys see it, they take the assumption that all girls are that way and should behave as such. Ultimately, if you can’t already tell, the problem with this trope is representation! Something I plan on talking a lot more about in the future! But for now, this all ties into this trope.
Now, lets see if we can list some examples…now, I’m sure you’ve all be waiting for me to bring up Princess Peach; it’s kind of inevitable with this topic! After all, she’s been kidnapped more times than we can count…But, thankfully in more recent years, the princess has undergone some growth! Yes, she still gets kidnapped from time to time; however, she’s steadily become a strong, independent female character…at least in certain games…
Another example comes in the form of Princess Zelda, whom we’ve talked about repeatedly; somehow, no matter how competent, powerful, or skilled she is, she somehow almost always ends up in this role! No matter how out of character it ends up being for her.
At the end of the day, this trope is just plain and simple outdated. I always enjoy seeing it subverted, or used in ways that are clever however! After all, putting a character into a bad situation is a great way to show off their true strength! Hopefully, that’s the direction people will go when they decide to use this trope in the future! So, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.