Thursday, May 29, 2014

Save the Princess, Save the World

"Well excuuuuse me, princess."
If we’re not hearing about some kid who was corrupted by violent video games, we’re hearing about how it’s an industry dominated by creepy misogynist males. Yesterday, I read an article by Jeopardy! winner Arthur Chu that somehow manages to link both things together. He uses the latest killer psycho as a springboard into a discussion about “nerd culture” and misogyny.

His argument wanders a bit between various media, but the crux of it is this:

But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.

So what happens to nerdy guys who keep finding out that the princess they were promised is always in another castle? When they “do everything right,” they get good grades, they get a decent job, and that wife they were promised in the package deal doesn’t arrive? When the persistent passive-aggressive Nice Guy act fails, do they step it up to elaborate Steve-Urkel-esque stalking and stunts? Do they try elaborate Revenge of the Nerds-style ruses? Do they tap into their inner John Galt and try blatant, violent rape?

It’s rather amusing that he would bring up Super Mario Bros. because anyone who’s ever actually beaten that game knows that even after going through all those castles, the princess doesn’t so much as kiss Mario at the end. She merely says, “Thank you Mario! Your quest is over.”  In fact, fans enjoy pointing out Princess Toadstool (or Peach if you prefer) doesn’t demonstrate much romantic interest in Mario despite his numerous rescues, and that evidence suggests the only person to get her in bed was actually Bowser.

So why would we keep rescuing her if she’s not going to fall into bed with us in the end? Because that’s not the point of the quest, and everyone knows it.  We male gamers have had to listen to this tripe for years now about how rescuing the princess is some misogynistic exercise that turns women into mere objects we fight to possess.  Fact is, Mario never set out to rescue Peach because he thought he’d get laid, and neither did the player controlling him.  We do it because a wrong has been committed against her, and we’re the only ones around still able to rectify that wrong.

Treating women like trophies is the bad guy’s shtick, and it’s that villain’s choice to act on that evil impulse which spurs an otherwise unassuming hero-to-be into action.  The hero doesn’t strip the princess of her power and freedom; he sets out to punish the villain and restore the princess to her rightful place as ruler of the kingdom.  Once she regains her power, she’s free to reward a hero in any way she wishes, be it a simple thank you, a kiss, wealth, power, or even a cake.  (Since the cake is a lie, the real reward is having grown into a capable adult during the journey, but that’s a much longer discussion.)

If a gamer wants to collect and abuse women, they’ll have to pick a game where they are not a white knight rescuing the princess. They’ll be playing something more like a Grand Theft Auto game, where they’re at best an anti-hero and at worst an outright villain.  Even then, it’s clear to any normal human being that the behavior of that kind of protagonist is not to be emulated in the real world. Otherwise we’d have an epidemic of nerds stealing cars and trying to run down people on sidewalks for fun.

Violence, misogyny, and all around immature behavior is not a function of “nerd culture”; it’s a fact of the human condition, one of which geeks and nerds are acutely aware. Most of them have been pushed around, disrespected, and otherwise treated like crap their entire lives, which is why they spend so much time buried in their favorite fictional universes.

Young male geeks and nerds submerge themselves in the role of the hero because they have the very natural instinct to pick up the sword and defend a woman’s honor from the villains who will always exist.  They may not understand social niceties or the intricacies of female behavior, but the instinct to protect is still there.  Casting that instinct as a latent form of misogyny that should be repressed only serves to empower villains, not women.

But with all that said, I haven’t answered Mr. Chu’s question, have I? So what do video games teach a guy to do when his princess still isn’t in this castle?  Fight his way to the next castle.

*h/t to Sarjex, for the graphic. Check out more of her work in her store.

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