How Games Portray Women

As we discussed in our damsel in distress mini-series, upon successful completion of many arcade games players were rewarded with the related Smooch of Victory trope, so named for the kiss the hero received as a reward for rescuing a kidnapped princess. Sometimes the prize is blatant as with the Standard Hero Reward in which a king will give his daughter to the hero. On other occasions, it’s taken a step further by employing the parallel Sex of Victory or Rescue Sex trope. Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is: instead of a kiss, sex with the rescued victim is the player’s reward. “That was gonna get ugly. You saved us!” “My pleasure, ladies.” “Thank you, thank you. Thank you.” “You saved my life. A bit of joy as recumpence is not too much to ask.” “I’m intrigued. It’s been a tough day. I think some joy might do me good.” (Moaning) We’ve coined the Women as Reward trope to describe a long-running pattern found in interactive media. It occurs when women or more often women’s bodies are employed as rewards for player actions in video games.

The trope frames female bodies as collectible, as tractable or as consumable and positions women as status symbols designed to validate the masculinity of presumed straight male players. There’s some overlap between the Damsel in Distress and Women as Reward but they function differently. While the Damsel in Distress trope uses women as a plot device to motivate male heroes, the Women as Reward trope presents women as a formalized reward mechanism, meaning that the reward is coded into the game system itself. The result of this incentive structure is that access to women’s bodies, women’s affection or women’s sexuality is reduced to a simple equation that guarantees delivery as long as the correct set of inputs are entered into the system. In this way the Women as Reward trope helps foster a sense of entitlement where players are encouraged to view women as something they’ve earned the right to by virtue of their gaming actions, skills or accomplishments. This is illustrated in arcade classics like Joe and Mac and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after players save the damsel in both games, she will bestow a kiss on the character who earned the most points on that stage. “I owe you one.” Entitlement to women is made even more explicit in many versions of Double Dragon.

At the end of the game, after the final boss has been defeated and the damsel in distress saved, player one and player two must fight each other over who “gets” to “have” Marian and with her, the smooch of victory. Notice that Marian’s desires are not part of the equation, she has no say in the matter she simply fills the role of a trophy for whichever player is ultimately victorious. This scene serves as inspiration for similar scenarios in more contemporary games like Castle Crashers. We’ve identified 6 primary ways the Women as Reward trope manifests in video games. Over the course of this episode we will examine each in turn. In addition to the “earned cinematics” we’ve already discussed, we will cover the trope as it relates to Easter Eggs, Unlockable Costumes, Experience Points, Collectibles, and Achievements.