In the game of patriarchy: the damsel in distress narrative in video games

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University of Alabama Libraries

This thesis performs a critical narrative analysis of the pervasive "damsel in distress" narrative within two prominent video game franchises, The Legend of Zelda series and the Super Mario Bros. series. Through a combination of narratologic and ludologic analysis, this study considers the unique elements of video game narrative that sets it apart from other forms of narrative, considerations that are then applied to the damsel in distress narrative in games. Focusing on the gender representations and power dynamics within the storyline, this thesis focuses on the ways in which male empowerment depends upon female disempowerment within the narrative, and the manner in which the female "damsel" is kidnapped in order to motivate gameplay and serve as a reward system for the player. This study also includes an investigation of challenges to the narrative within the popular game titles The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and The Last of Us (2013), concluding that these retellings of the "damsel in distress" narrative disrupt hegemonic masculinity often centered in mainstream games. Considering recent events of sexualized harassment of women in gaming and tech spaces, this study considers the ways in which narrative influences cultural attitudes, and how the games themselves are critical points of study when concerned with the overt misogyny of gaming spaces. Characterizing gaming culture as a "hypermasculine" space that objectifies, excludes, and is hostile toward feminine performance, this study ultimately concludes that the "damsel in distress" narrative is highly pervasive due to the perception that gamers are overwhelmingly heterosexual men. Within the intimate player-protagonist relationship gaming provides - unlike any other genre - players perform masculinity through the protection and disempowerment of female characters, thus reinforcing heteronormative notions of masculinity, femininity, and the relationship between the two.

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Rhetoric, Gender studies, Communication