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Saving Princess Leia

May 04, 13 Saving Princess Leia

In celebration of “May the Fourth be with You,” redOrbit is hosting a series of Star Wars-inspired blogs.

Storm the enemy stronghold. Avoid the traps. Defeat the guards. Save the Princess. Pretty standard, right? We’ve all seen this before. We see it in everything from The Princess Bride to Mario Brothers. For a while, I feared that this trope was going to dominate the latter part of Iron Man 3. Don’t worry, not going to spoil anything here. This also sums up the first part of the original Star Wars movie pretty well, too, only with a catch. What happens after they get Leia out of her cell? You all know this part. Stormtroopers show up, corner them in the prison block, trapping them until Leia gets the idea to snatch the blaster from one of her “rescuers” and blows open the garbage shoot. A dynamic escape (right into another dangerous situation) made possible by the very princess these stalwart heroes were sent to rescue.

So, why am I talking about this and how does it relate to gaming? Simply, the above formula of storytelling is a trope of gaming, and it is one that diminishes the role of a female character (because it is always a princess who needs saving, never a prince) to little more than an object that needs to be recovered. Yet in Star Wars, arguably one of the most recognized uses of this trope, the princess shows her hand at being just as, if not more, capable than those who have come to save her.

If you cannot tell by now, I am not a fan of the “damsel in distress” cliche’. While I do not consider myself a feminist storyteller, I do see myself as an equalist. I dislike it when I see women, or conceptualized women (ie: player characters or NPCs), reduced to little more than a plot item, or worse, a reward. I am equally annoyed by stereotyped male roles, though these are often less insulting to their gender. Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t used the damsel in distress cliche’ myself when running a game, though I often try to “Princess Leia” the damsel up a bit. By this, I mean that I try to make her, at the very least, a competent human (or elven or whatever) being. I am also a fan of contrasting damsel in distress characters with strong female characters. Powerful heads of state, cunning leaders of resistance movements, feared mercenaries, and more. Rather than try to overcompensate for there being a weak female character, I simply try to include as many female characters of all variety as I do male. Balance the playing field a bit.

Now, modern media has gotten better about their portrayals of women, but often they are still portrayed in… shall we say “a less than savory light.” In a hobby that is often seen as being dominated by men, we all know that the stereotype of a gamer is an overweight guy in a basement eating Cheetos and drinking copious amounts of Mountain Dew. I feel it is important to present a welcoming face to women interested in gaming, showing them that gamers can and do see them as more than things to be rescued or objects to be fawned over. Now, just to bunk that stereotype a bit, I’ll fully admit to being overweight, and though I prefer tea to Mountain Dew, I do drink it on occasion. However, I game with nearly as many female players as I do male. I’ve only gamed in a basement once, and I do not recommend that. And I have never really cared much for Cheetos, though I do find some of their advertisements amusing.

In short, all I am saying is that if you have to have a damsel in distress in one of your games, at least take some pointers from George Lucas… well, okay, maybe not. At least consider the character of Princess Leia. Girls can kick ass too, after all. Don’t forget that.

Image Credit: StarWars.com

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About 

Joshua is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, and avid table-top gamer who has been in love with the hobby ever since it was first introduced to him by a friend in 1996. Currently he acts as the Gamemaster in three separate games and is also a player in a fourth. When he is not busy rolling dice to save the world or destroying the hopes and dreams of his players, he is usually found either with his nose in a book or working on his own. He has degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Economics.