Tag Archives: Damsel in Distress

September is for #TowerJam

Tower Jam is an online game jam that runs the month of September. The idea is to create games that are about characters that typically don’t have agency in games–particularly those that play the role of Damsel in Distress, the trope from which the jam takes its name. Read more about the event in the FAQ, check out the first game submitted as an example of the idea, and feel free to use this thread to organize teams, think of ideas, collaborate, or share your games. Have fun!

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Damsel In Distress: Part 2 is Online

The second installment of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series is now online–again, after being briefly removed from YouTube thanks to some jerks flagging it. It’s the second video about the Damsel in Distress trope. Please be warned that the video contains some graphic depictions of violence against women, used as examples. Watch the video above or read the full transcript at the Feminist Frequency site.

Pandora’s Tower -> Damsel in Distress

Aeron, a blond male, holding a purple toned chunk of beast flesh.

Aeron, a blond male, holding a purple toned chunk of beast flesh.

Pandora’s Tower was one of the three games from the Operation Rainfall community led effort to breed awareness for Pandora’s Tower, Xenoblade Chronicles, and The Last Story in the United States.  These three Wii games were announced for Japan and Europe but had not been announced for US release in 2012, which led to the Operation Rainfall effort. With the latter two now out in the US, the first has been confirmed and will be coming out late March. The previous two games both had ensemble casts of characters, with this last game staring one young man named Aeron. It is a personal story centered around him and a young woman named Elena. Rather than attempting to save his home town, his country, or the world, Aeron’s goal is to save the woman that he loves. The beginning of the game sets Elena up as a stereotypical damsel in distress: she is a pretty woman, put into a horrible situation because of a curse, who now requires a male hero to save her.

The following contains story spoilers from Pandora’s Tower from watching the first ~20 minutes of game play of the title from a Let’s Play YouTube video:

At the start of the game we see that Elena is cursed. Her arm, shoulder, part of her face, and her legs no longer look fully human. They are purple in color, pitted, and tendrils are seen protruding from her shoulder. She is becoming a beast. A traveling woman named Mavda says she knows a solution and tells Aeron to enter one of Pandora’s Towers to obtain flesh from the beasts found there.

When told that the beast flesh is necessary for a ceremony, Elena says, “Mavda, I want to go too” and Aeron shakes his head no saying, “I’ll be back.”

Upon his return, Mavda hands the flesh to Elena and tells her to consume it. Elena looks at this in horror.

Mavda: “Ah, I see what the problem is. Folks in this country are believers in Aios. You’re forbidden to eat meat, aren’t you? Now this little morsel… is beast flesh. Freshly cut from servant beasts.”

Elena becomes physically sick at this revelation.

Mavda: “Come now, girl. Eat it down!”

Elena: “I’ve never eaten meat!”

Mavda: “Well, if you don’t eat it… your fate will be sealed. You’ll grow more and more monstrous. And there’ll be no happy ending for you and young Aeron.”

At this news, Elena begins to sob and slowly, deliberately consumes the beast flesh. In what appears to be a painful process, the cursed flesh melts off her body and when she returns to normal Elena collapses.

We then learn that this is not a permanent solution. Eating the beast flesh only serves to stave off the curse. She must continue to consume more flesh.

Elena: “You mean…? The meat… I can’t stomach any more.”

Mavda: “Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to. Otherwise things are only going to get worse. Heh heh! To think the maiden at the Harvest Festival would end up forced to eat meat!”

Elena protests: “So this is to be my life? To be cooped up in here, eating foul flesh? Must I learn to live like this? Can I not lift the curse?”

In order to lift it, strong monsters in each of the towers (known as masters) must be defeated and their flesh eaten by Elena.

Elena protests again: “No! I won’t hear of it! How can I ask Aeron to face such dangers for my sake?”

Yet, she is given little choice in the matter and Aeron goes off to defeat more monsters.

Let’s summarize:

  • Elena is cursed and she is being “saved” by the main character of Aeron.
  • Elena originally asks Mavda if she can go do the task as well (to take some agency in saving herself) and she is told no by Aeron. He is the hero, not her.
  • In order to save herself from becoming a monster/beast, she must do something that is not only repulsive to her but goes against her religion.
  • She finds out that this act was not a one time deal, but will be continuous.
  • Elena AGAIN protests at someone else being the person in charge of fixing her situation and she is told that it must be him.  Elena asks: “Can I not lift this curse?” “How can I ask Aeron to face such dangers for my sake?”
  • The main female character in this game is literally stranded in a building as the male character wanders off to different towers fighting monsters in an effort to bring back items that can save her.

I do not know where the story heads from here. Does Elena ever get any agency in this situation? Does the player (as her) ever get the choice to refuse eating the meat? Or does the player (as Aeron) continually go to the towers, get more beast flesh, and just hand it over to Elena who is forced to consume this flesh?

The beginning of Pandora’s Tower sets up a stereotypical damsel in distress storyline. There are other story telling options. Let Elena fight monsters to save herself. Or perhaps, let Aeron have the curse and fight monsters to save himself. It could have remained a personal story of salvation but not dove into the damsel in distress narrative. Perhaps this story breaks from the stereotype as it continues, but the start of the narrative is not promising.

The gameplay looks fun, but the story (based on the intro) appears to be pure cliche. Let’s rewrite this story. How could this have been written to give her more agency? Are there any turns and twists in the story that would redeem this cliched beginning?