Pardon the tardiness for the topic of this blog. I am trying to get back into writing gaming blogs, and this has been an issue that I wanted to speak about for a while now.
At the end of January, Anita Sarkeesian attacked Dying Light with a tweet. In this tweet, she stated that Dying Light has a Damsel In Distress storyline, and developers should be embarrassed to still employ such a narrative, it being 2015 and all.
A week ago, I came across the scene she was referring to. If you haven't yet finished Dying Light, or plan to play it, be advised. There are ***SPOILERS***. So, here we go.
Anita's claim to Dying Light's damsel trope storyline is when the game's villain Rais kidnaps Jade and the game's hero Crane has to go rescue her. Without any given context, sure, this seems like a trope. "Helpless" woman character can't defend herself, so the strong masculine hero has to save the day, but Anita is a poor critic, because she'll never give proper context to anyone. She's unfairly vilified the game, and now her audience will steer clear of it. So, let me paint the entire picture.
To start things off, within the first five to ten minutes of the game, Crane himself is the one saved by Jade. Crane parachutes into Harran, the game's city, and is attacked by thugs and bitten by a zombie. Jade and her partner come to the rescue. The partner dies holding off the zombie horde, and Jade drags Crane to safety. Yes, the "damsel in distress" is the one saving the hero first, right off the bat.
So, later on in the game, Crane finds Rais and is forced to work for him, Crane eventually is captured and thrown into a pit full of ravenous zombies and has to fight for his life. Managing to kill every last monster in the pit, Rais jumps down from on high to finish off Crane himself, but it goes south. Crane chops off Rais's hand during the struggle, and runs off.
Over the course of the game, Crane begins to start caring more for Jade, especially since he felt partly responsible for the death of her brother. Rais kidnaps Jade in an attempt to lure Crane into a new trap, and he utters a quote "You took something of mine," referring to the amputated hand, "so now I take something of yours." Actually, let me just link Anita tweeting the quote.
She also follows it up with this complaint:
That Dying Light quote is damning because regardless of her strengths she is still reduced to an object in a competition between men.
Let's focus on the "competition" part of her complaint, because this is where the problem occurs. This isn't a competition between men. This is an act of revenge. She is not some object that the two are fighting over. Rais has no interest in conquering her for his own desires, to enslave her, rape her or any of that. He could have just as easily kidnapped Crane's brother if he was in the game for the exact same purpose: to inflict pain upon Crane by taking someone he cares about.
To be fair, the writing of that scene wasn't very original, as Rais continues to say, "...will you be a man and save the maiden?" So at first glance, it does just seem to be a stereotypical case of "damsel in distress". Let's continue on, though, because I still have my brush out and the paint is still wet.
After Crane rescues Jade (and again, it could have been his brother for the same purpose), they're locked in a room with wave after wave of zombies. Here's where the "damsel in distress" trope is no longer an issue. During the whole fight, NOT ONCE do you need to rescue Jade. Her character manages to hold her own.
Following the final wave of zombies, it's soon discovered that she was bitten earlier, but was not given any Antizen, the drug that fends off zombification for a limited amount of time. Crane's last dose was quite some time ago, so he and Jade are beginning to turn at near the same time. Rais, toying with the two characters, throws them a vial of Antizen, and now it would be expected that Crane would give it to Jade, but that wasn't what happened. He wanted to, but Jade refused, and fought Crane and injected him with the Antizen, sacrificing her own life to save his. Then, even as she's turning, she fights off a new wave of zombies and saves Crane yet again, fighting until the last second she turns.
So where exactly is this Damsel In Distress storyline? Even if the game did use that trope, the focus of the story isn't even about Jade. It was always about saving the city and the people within it. Jade was just a small portion of that. Let's also not forget that Jade not only saved Crane once, but three times. THREE times, in comparison to Crane's one. So, what's the opposite of that? Dude in distress?
And also, there are plenty of "dudes" in distress all throughout Dying Light that need help fending off zombies, thugs, even running across town to find their spare pair of glasses. Everyone in the town is helpless and you save everyone. When Jade, a woman, gets kidnapped, suddenly it becomes a major issue, regardless of the fact that she saves Crane at the beginning and near the end of the game.
So why did Anita Sarkeesian attack Dying Light? Because a woman needed rescuing. She would not have had an issue with the game at all, if again, it was Crane's brother, kidnapped for the exact same purpose of exacting revenge on a hero who injured the villain.
Anita Sarkeesian has ignored a very large part of the game, and actually sends the wrong message with her tweet. Apparently, it's okay to be a man rescued by a woman, and not a woman being rescued by a man. Men can get captured (and Crane does twice), but women can't. It honestly makes me question whether or not the trope is even a bad thing. Replace the damsel with a family member and it's still an incentive to go rescue them. You help the people you care about it, and that's a good thing, right? So why does Anita continue to try to make this a negative thing?
I would like to close this by expressing a thought on the game's ending. I did enjoy the game overall, but the ending was a real let down for me. When you finally confront Rais at the end of the game, control is taken away from you. You should have been given a fight worthy of the amount of time you invested in this game (and if you spent the time doing all the side stuff, you'd see it was a pretty big game). Instead, the final confrontation is reduced to nothing more than a QTE cutscene. This is the same issue I had with Shadow of Mordor's end boss fight, and I've been hearing it's an issue with The Order: 1886. In my opinion, this kind of lazy game designing is more troublesome than making use of tropes, because it's anti-climatic and fails to deliver an exciting moment of gaming to be remembered for all time.
So, if I was going to tweet about Dying Light, this is what my tweet would have looked liked.