Are video games the new fairy tales? “Damsel in distress gets rescued by big, strong, handsome man and lives happily ever after.” Not if some guys can help it.
From our partners at Soletron
While watching the Avengers with my younger cousins this past July the Fourth, my youngest cousin Sarah turned to look at me halfway (right after Scarlett Johansson a.k.a Black Widow gets slammed into a wall) and asked, “Why doesn’t she have a superpower?” I turned back to look her, fully ready to divulge in intricate detail the origins of Agent Romonav, when my other cousin, John, snorted and went “It’s cause she’s a GIRL.”
Momentarily flustered, I retorted “No, it’s not… It’s cause. Well she’s a really good fighter!”
John proceeded to snort again and said, “So what? If you put her up against Thor, she wouldn’t even last ten seconds. If Thor had a fight with Iron Man or the Hulk, that would be a fair match. She needs to be Thor-Iron Man-Hulk-Captain America strong.” As the conversation quickly deteriorated into who would be the stronger superhero, it made me realize that he did have a point – Black Widow, in comparison to her male counterparts, did seem to be much weaker. It’s nothing new; in fact, it’s a phenomenon that we’ve grown up with – you see it in Cinderella, Snow White, Spiderman and scores of other movies. Damsel in distress gets rescued by big, strong, handsome man and lives happily ever after. While many female characters are now being portrayed as stronger, and more equal to their male characters (for example, Katniss in the Hunger Games – she’s got balls!), the prevalence of this damsel in distress scenario is still widespread – especially in pop culture.
Mike Mika, a 39-year-old videogame developer in Emeryville, Calif., recently faced a similar problem while playing “Donkey Kong” with his 3-year-old daughter, Ellis. Ellis asked him why it is always the mustached Mario who saves Pauline, the female who gets kidnapped by a gorilla. After explaining to her that there was no option for Pauline to save Mario, Mr. Mika subsequently hacked the classic game’s software to make the damsel Pauline, save the mustached Mario. He published his version, called “Donkey Kong: Pauline Edition” which has been downloaded over 11,000 times.
Many games follow the similar damsel in distress format – girl gets in trouble, boy comes and saves the day. Since few of these games have been altered since its inception, many gamers with programming skills have been changing it to make the damsel the heroine instead. Some games are only altered slightly such as “The Legend of Zelda” becoming “Zelda Starring Zelda”, others are altered substantially by adding a pink color scheme, feminine fonts and the ability to turn into a mermaid for underwater fights.
Despite the recent changes to make these games more girl-centered, it is sad to see that these hacks have to be done in the first place. Since these games have been released, there have been few substantive female protagonists. Many game maker companies are now being challenged to make more female-focus games, or to at least make the game equal by having the option for a heroine to save the day instead.
It is gratifying to finally see a shift in this damsel in distress trend – and before you label me as a feminist for encouraging these modifications to these classic titles, I’m not saying that females should always be the heroines. I’m just merely saying that there should be that option, so that the next time my cousin asks why the female superhero isn’t as strong as her male counterparts, I won’t be left stuttering after my male cousin bluntly states the obvious. I would be able to tell her in glorifying detail that the Black Widow is a pretty kick-ass superhero, who is a world class athlete, gymnast, acrobat, expert martial artist, weapons specialist, accomplished ballerina and is extremely intelligent.
But then again, if her super powers were Thor-Hulk-Iron Man-Captain America strong, the conversation wouldn’t even be happening in the first place.
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photo: Neeta Lind / flickr