Hi readers! It’s Mod Zan coming at you with a new article for Tropes in Gaming. In today’s article, we’re discussing a classic trope that has been discussed frequently in many feminist circles: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The trope is often coined to describe the female leads in romantic comedy movies as well as any movie that has a male and female lead. As a general rule, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a woman who enters the life of the male lead through serendipity, and usually is extremely beautiful and “unique” despite having no substance and no personal goals outside of helping the main character acheive whatever it is that they are out to do throughout the course of their adventure.
This trope is one of the more popular ones that is discussed in feminist discourse, which means that video games are no exception.
To get us started, I think it’s important to recognize a few examples of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in video games. A classic example would be Zelda from most of the Zelda games, particularly because she exists consistently to only improve Link’s life while he roams Hyrule, trying to save her. This overlaps with the Damsel in Distress trope that we discussed in a prior article, and is by no means the most expansive example of the trope.
Another good example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is in the Shadow of Mordor games, through Lithariel. Tallion’s life implodes when he’s sacrificed and loses his family to the Black Hand, and spends his time roaming through Mordor trying to take revenge on every Uruk that he comes across while getting to know the Elven spirit that now shares his form. Lithariel only shows up to give him a quest in order to increase his power while seeming like a badass, only to slip up and need saving later on and becoming a romantic interest. This fufills many other tropes outside of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, such as the damsel in distress as well as the forced romantic interest as the only other female lead in the game aside from Tallion’s dead wife and her aging mother.
The harm in the Manic Pixie Dream Girl can be broken down in multiple layers. The first is in the insistence that the male protagonist’s life will never change without the help of an adorable, quirky girl to lead him into the metaphorical light from his world of grey. This places the responsibility for the male on the female lead and insists that she have no other purpose except to help him. This perpetuates the idea that women exist solely as an aid for men and don’t have their own desires and ambitions.
Another layer of it is the forced romanticism of a woman with a man regardless of their proximity to one another and how incompatible they are. This insinuates that regardless of compatibility, women and men are unable to be anything other than friends. This toxicity bleeds into the lives of real people as they interact with one another and reinforces the harmful treatment of women in our society even on a small scale. Therefore, the deconstruction of tropes is essential to both feminist discourse and societal progress.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time!