Games too often portray women as damsels in distress, says Naughty Dog dev

User interface designer Alexandria Neonakis says, "We need to promote partnership and not continue the cycle of men versus women."

Video games today too often portray women as damsels in distress or as male characters in female bodies, Naughty Dog user interface designer Alexandria Neonakis said in a recent New York Times editorial. Addressing the faults she found in the newspaper's review of The Last of Us, Neonakis said the power and conviction of Ellie's character was a "triumph in storytelling and representation" of female characters.

"She's powerful the whole time, and it had nothing to do with wielding a gun or physical ability. In an industry that more often than not represents women as either a damsel in distress or a male character in a female body, this was a triumph in storytelling and representation," Neonakis said. "Ellie is an entirely playable character. It was not by coincidence that the moments you play as her are the most impactful in the game."

Neonakis also took issue with The New York Time's assertion that Joel was the only main character whose character evolved during the storyline. She acknowledged that Ellie began her adventure in The Last of Us as a damsel in distress, but said she grew to become so much more.

"Her journey from a damsel in distress to a fully capable and complex character is made clear through the relationship she develops with Joel. Likewise, Joel's growth could not have happened without Ellie. This was not a game 'about men.' It was about a mutual relationship and about how people need one another," Neonakis said.

According to Neonakis, the change that the industry needs for female characters is to present them as equals to their male counterparts.

"In our medium, the change needed in female characters is not about women being portrayed as stronger or more capable than men but about being portrayed on equal terms," she said. "I don't want to be treated like I'm more important than my male co-workers. I want to be seen as equal to them. I want to rely on them as much as they rely on me--a true partnership. We have that at Naughty Dog. Our game was made by men and women, some of the most talented in the industry."

Finally, Neonakis jabbed at The New York Times' claim that The Last of Us is "another video game by men, for men, and about men." This statement is particularly problematic, she said, because it gives young women the idea that the industry may not be for them.

"The statement about the game being made by men for men has the potential to be very damaging. It perpetuates the idea that this is not a world for women," Neonakis said. "Young women reading this review who are considering entering games as a career could feel justified in their fears that this industry is not for them. If this thinking is to stop, we need to promote partnership and not continue the cycle of men versus women."

Prior to the release of The Last of Us in June, Naughty Dog revealed that the studio was asked to move Ellie to the back of the game's box. However, the studio "flat-out refused," creative director Neil Druckmann said, because he believes it is a fallacy that games with women on the box will sell fewer copies than those with men.

Written By

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and would like to see the Whalers return to Hartford.

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Discussion

1644 comments
Diegoctba
Diegoctba

Women should be protagonists on F2P titles, both just want your money....

sol_invictus55
sol_invictus55

Modern day feminism is more about entitlement than equality.

endorbr
endorbr

Why would we go changing this dynamic in gaming now?  You'd be doing away with Nintendo's number one story trope.

FcsevenXIII
FcsevenXIII

I left Joystiq because they inserted Left-wing politics into their articles. Please don't follow their lead Gamespot.

Dresden05
Dresden05

When a story teller suggests guy saves girl he's ran out of ideas, this argument can also be changed to be the battlefield China issue where China and previously Russia was always the enemy in FPS.


Look at halo in that the female character does everything, including saving the guy in the end sacrificing herself for him.

mortahn
mortahn

What makes this absolutely ridiculous is that video games have done a far better job of using empowered women to tell their stories than most entertainment media today.  Hollywood is absolutely grotesque in this manner.  They can't even get a Wonder Woman movie made for heaven sake.

meatz666
meatz666

"Damsels in distress" is a poor script technique to present a problem. You have loads of movies with that theme. If we have to fight for woman power, why the feminists don't go after the Spiderman movies and Mary Jane.

Gimme a break.

OHGFawx
OHGFawx

Nobody plays Mario games to rescue Peach, and Zelda is too powerful to be so easily abducted. In fact, rescuing damsels in distress is one of the most boring aspects of video game stories to me. You rarely get the feeling that their life is in your hands anyway, and there are almost never consequences for failing anymore. Its just a chore you have to do because she has something, or knows something, but there are always exceptions just like there are several strong female characters who are not merely male archetypes with digital boobies.

Deano
Deano

I don't really care if they want to make some games with "empowered women" to try and appeal to the politically correct masses. But it will be a sad day if developers get pressured to censor anything a bit risqué involving  women and showing a bit of T&A because of a few vocal feminists. Ultimately, these are just bits of code, they aren't real women so they need to back off about how they claim women are portrayed in games and how that somehow affects real women. You can spend an entire game killing men in macabre and brutal ways but a woman shows a bit of cleavage in a game and suddenly the moral police are all over it claiming it demeans women. You need a reality check when men are the primary victims in real life of murder and serious assault.

noandno
noandno

I'd like to see a game where we play as a woman trying to save a handsome man trapped in a tower by a witch

zerofrust
zerofrust

Ellie has buck teeth?...oh god no!Jesus no! i never realized,my whole wuurrld is crumbling!!!

Winchester01
Winchester01

Face of this girl is so annoying, it pops up everywhere.

forkandplate
forkandplate

Women are usually the ones in distress. How often do you hear about a woman rescuing a man?

bunchanumbers
bunchanumbers

DERP hacking group took down PSN. Where's the article?

TenraiSenshi
TenraiSenshi

I think before we can come to a place where there's equality amongst men and women, we first need to accept the fundamental reality that men and women are not the same. No matter how much we try to hide the facts, there are differences, ranging from those that are physical, to those that are psychological.

What irritates me is when people try to blur the line between men and women and behave as if they should be treated as the same, when in reality, we should appreciate the differences.

In saying all that, I never have been one for discrimination, but that exists on both sides of the fence. I think we all just need to get over it already.

cctv100
cctv100

Men and women should be treated equally, but there is a limitation that men are physically stronger than women, and this is why most games portray women as damsels in distress, because it would be wired if games have too many men in distress.

bikskit
bikskit

Metroid anybody? /thread

dragonkantus4
dragonkantus4

let's face it almost no one wants to play as women and when they do they want her to be lesbian

WarBabay2
WarBabay2

Like many other problems, that one only really exists in triple A games... no wonder, seeing how little big developers know about gamers these days.

dragonkantus4
dragonkantus4

cause girls always find a way to f$ck you up even when they are not real oh it is her fault if her cant beat a certain main bad guy and you need to save her ass later

Aaronp2k
Aaronp2k

I could not agree more with this article. I find it quite interesting playing as a female in games, makes a change from being a badass male all the time in almost every game.

RELeon
RELeon

Not sure where they are going with all this. Elizabeth from Bioshock(Granted she does start out as a damsel in distress, but ends up being an amazing development in character), Kerrigan from StarCraft, Maya from Borderlands 2, Lillith from Borderlands 1, Alex from Halflife 2, Zoey and Rochelle from Left for Dead, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Trishka from Bulletstorm, a lot of females from the Mass Effect series, Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series, all badasses, and all pretty much equal to their counterparts. And that list is just off the top of my head. The list can go on and on.


If she claims these characters are nothing more than males in a female body, it is HER that has a biased, stereotypical, sexist view on what men and women are.

RELeon
RELeon

Not sure where they are going with all this. Elizabeth from Bioshock(Granted she does start out as a damsel in distress, but ends up being an amazing development in character), Kerrigan from StarCraft, Maya from Borderlands 2, Lillith from Borderlands 1, Alex from Halflife 2, Zoey and Rochelle from Left for Dead, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Trishka from Bulletstorm, a lot of females from the Mass Effect series, Jill Valentine from the Resident Evil series, all badasses, and all pretty much equal to their counterparts. And that list is just off the top of my head. The list can go on and on.


If she claims these characters are nothing more than males in a female body, it is HER that has a biased, stereotypical view on what men and women are.

Monsterkillah
Monsterkillah

Naughty Dog should spend less time playing Mario ( saving Princess Peach over and over again) and start playing Sarah Kerrigan in SF Heart of Swarm

Verenti
Verenti

Not that you have to be an expert to have an opinion, but the person making the comments is a user interface designer. She doesn't work with narratives, she doesn't craft character development. She designs the UI.


Again, you don't be an "expert" to have an opinion. Clearly this is a well thought out point she is making. However, this does not change the fact this news story is essentially reporting on an editorial. If this was on Gamespot, it would read something like "wrote on her user blog". Essentially, because she worked NEAR people who were experts and she has an opinion, said opinion is news? That doesn't make her an expert. If she's not an expert, then her opinion is only as news-worthy as any of the other comments in this space... some of the comments in this space.

ANUBISZER0
ANUBISZER0

This just in movies and fairy tales have been doing the same exact thing since... Always!

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@FcsevenXIII 

Then you are going to leave GameSpot too.

Times have changed - you are going to have to learn to deal with that sooner or later.

yaba
yaba

@Dresden05Please do not look to Halo for innovative, or even good, storytelling.

endorbr
endorbr

@mortahnThey can't even pick an actress to portray Wonder Woman in the upcoming Man of Steel 2 that doesn't look like a toothpick runway model and do the character justice either...

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

@Deano It has nothing to do with anything you said. It6 has to do with with injecting verity into how women are portrayed. The point shes making is that its fine to have a damsel in distress, but not just a damsel in distress. 

You like more than one flavour of ice cream right?

FAIL_TR0LL
FAIL_TR0LL

@noandno You'd like to see it, but would you play it? No...nobody would play that crap.

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

@forkandplateAnd how often do you hear about a man rescuing a woman, out side of this kind of medium?

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

@TenraiSenshi So in your fairytale world there are no women anywhere on earth that have a stronger physic, or will, of character than the weakest man? Remember that a story about a strong women doesnt have to mean bigger muscles than tits, or that just because shes strong, that shes the strongest person in the world. Different people of different races and genders have different strengths and weaknesses. 

But at the end of the day arent you just sick to death of note female characters? Dont you like variety in the characters you have in games and movies? Or are you just too damn insecure to understand that women arent trapped by genetics as much as you think they are?

Heres a scenario. Game or movie starts. Theres a zombie uprising, chick finds herself alone. Should she A try and fight her way out, or B just kill herself cause shes never going to make it anyway?  

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

@RELeonA lot of those characters are way over sexualized. And the rest are too far and few between. The point is not that different female characters dont exist, but that they are not as plentiful as they could be. A bit of variety never hurt anyone.

TriggerManX97
TriggerManX97

@yaba @Dresden05 Halo was very innovative back in the day, and honestly I enjoyed Halo's story quite a bit, I really grew attached to the characters as well.

plm3d_basic
plm3d_basic

@endorbr

Wonder Woman is naturally strong, just like Supergirl.  She doesn't need to have muscles like a body builder.  Also, the actress was in the Israeli army and is probably going to do training to increase muscle definition.

BradBurns
BradBurns

@FAIL_TR0LL @noandno 

Well, under my conditions, I would definitely play it.

 I would wait in that tower for like,  freakin' ever for that.

I'm gettin' all flustered just thinking about it.

Mimicry
Mimicry

@EcksTheory @RELeon "A lot of those characters are way over sexualized."

 Would you rather they were dressed in shapeless body bags and were ugly enough to shatter any reflective surface instantly? I am getting the sense that the argument has moved away from *empowering* women and toward something else entirely. Ugly is ugly is ugly. I am sorry, blame it on evolution if you're not feeling the love.

Dresden05
Dresden05

@tinyname @Dresden05 @yaba Was actually reading the Halo 5 Australia article before this so yeah actually it was the first one I thought of.

My point was that not all female characters are the weak damsels in distress, that the article is on about and that it is just a way of having the skeleton of a story to build on

endorbr
endorbr

@plm3d_basic@endorbrWell since Gal is 5'9" 110 lbs and Wonder Woman is supposed to be 6' 130 lbs that's an awful lot of weight packing and muscle training she'd have to do for what is likely going to be a cameo role.  Wonder Woman is supposed to be beautiful and powerful.  Her build is more akin to Lucy Lawless as Xena.

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

@tinyname as long as I don't lose it the way you did. Thankfully I'm not that close with my uncles.