Can Princess Zelda Speak?: Anita Sarkeesian and the Damsel in Distress
After revealing herself, Zelda gets captured by Ganondorf and she is trapped in a magical crystal. At this point, Zelda loses all of her power. Link must go to Ganondorf’s castle to rescue her.
When Zelda is saved, Link runs down the tower with her. Zelda screams and panics at falling debris in the castle, she holds at her head and stands stationary. In the final battle, she does not pass Link’s sword back when it is momentarily knocked away from him and lands right next to her. She stares helplessly at the fight between beast and hero.
Link feels a personal responsibility over the world’s destiny as he opened the gate into the sacred realm which Ganondorf used to enter the world and ssubsequently take it over. Link lost his childhood because he was sealed and put to sleep in the sacred realm after Ganondorf slipped in. Also, Link’s mentor and father character, the Deku Tree died to the hands of Ganondorf. Link also protects those he befriends without question from evil. He is a typical male character
But Zelda's life is not without tragedy. She lost her home and father as a child when Ganondorf took over Hyrule Castle. She watched her people live or die in terrible conditions: being eaten by a dragon, being frozen and paralyzed in an icy hell, etc. She observed the fact that her good friend, Link was denied a childhood because of the mission she sent him on. She’s had to live in hiding, and disguise herself as Sheik in order to survive and fight during those troublesome seven years while Link was asleep.
In the final level, Zelda has every reason to rise up against Ganondorf as much as Link does. Yet, here the princess stares frightened down at Link from her crystal prison. Zelda doesn’t even throw a comment at Ganondorf during the first fight in his castle, despite her alter ego Sheik never restraining "himself" in speaking. She floats helplessly and silently, devoid of any internal thoughts or commentary. She watches in horror as Link and Ganon beat each other up.
Why then Zelda is the centerfold of the game in which everything seems to revolve besides Link’s destiny as a hero? Their stories are linked together. The two are both the reason why they must go through certain events. They seem to be almost parallel in their struggles. Why is one a “Hero of Time”, the other the “Princess of Destiny”? They are both heroes.
This is where Sarkeesian's argument in her video can be applied. We get the same hero-orientated story in games, not a back and forth between both characters, but there are ways of inclusion that don’t necessarily need the main plot to be changed. Take for example a scene from the TV show Game of Thrones. Sansa, a young princess, nearly gets raped by a group of men but is saved by another character. Later on, the show dedicates another scene to Sansa's dream of this event as a terrifying nightmare. The scene shows that the attempted rape scene was just not used as a plot device to create excitement, then quickly forgotten after. Acts such as rape, abduction and abuse all have effects on the victim and GoT puts us in her shoes for a brief moment.
If games use abduction, abuse, murder or rape as a prime motivator for the hero's quest, the true danger lies in trivializing something that in reality is traumatic. Many damsels have the potential to become fuller characters and reach us emotionally in different ways as an audience.
There are many games that use this Damsel trope, and we should ourselves questions while playing them: What are the Damsels coping mechanisms? Are they external or internal? What is her will to live? Why is she constantly a victim?
The Damsel story can be told well and have meaning to it. The idea behind Damsel in Distress is the hero saves a helpless woman in peril, resulting in harmony and true love. But if the damsel story can move out of its classical realm of damsel naivete and give complexity to its victim, this goes beyond being a feminist question.
The inclusion of a victim’s story can give power to those who have been a victim regardless of gender, who feel powerless and are looking for a voice. What is the dialogue that goes on between Zelda and Ganondorf during her imprisonment? Where are her thoughts about Link, Hyrule, etc? Do the Princess and her captor just play cards, Ganondorf glancing at his watch, waiting for Link to come a-swinging?
Not every hero needs to be bold, daring, brave, or be the strongest or the loudest. We can be inspired by those who are oppressed yet persevere. Side heroes who symbolize a good in humankind that is abused. We can learn from observing these characters finding their self-actualization in their anonymity. This characterization can happen, but first we must let these damsels speak.