297: The Princess Problem

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The Princess Problem

A closer look at the age-old tradition of princess saving.

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Well Excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Princess.

I don't see this as a problem at all, really. It's an entry level story mechanism, but if didn't work people wouldn't keep using it. It's like that old joke about divorced people and celibacy. "I had that when I was married." It might be overused and cliche, but that doesn't make it necessarily bad.

There's No need to get rid of princesses. Of course it doesn't mean we can't fiddle with the concept. People should fiddle with it, experiment. Nothing wrong with that either. Trying to get rid of a standard concept just limits what people can draw ideas from.

I suddenly have a new found respect for Princess Leia, yeah she has to be rescued and all that but she kicks ass.

What about Sheik, Zelda's alter ego in Ocarina of Time? She is not only a "skilled" ninja, but jams on some nice tunes too. Sure you may discover she is Zelda a little early, but surely she adds to Zelda's overall character. After Gannon(dorf) takes over she has resistance. Actually the zora princess (while still making you throw her around) is another great princess character in that game. She is not being led by the hand, rather she is a spoiled brat making you throw her around. A subtle difference to be sure, but still an entertaining character.

Predictable my ass. What about Braid? Not many saw that ending coming.

Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

Liked the development of Peach in Super Paper Mario. Much needed.

Both peach and zelda get in on the bloody knuckle asskickery in smash bros.

So yeah princess (helpless female) is a plot device but it is played straight about as often as it is inverted and satirized.

The princess trope has never really resonated with me in the 8-bit/16-bit era. I've never been attracted to docile women, I'm generally anti-monarchist, and since in most games the princess is literally just an object to drive the plot, you're rarely in a situation where you're motivated by the princess' winning personality. In fact, Princess Gwaelin from the first Dragon Warrior/DragonQuest was so clingy I wondered if the main character went back to killing slimes just to get away from her.

[Strangely, I was a bit more charitable towards Maia, your hapless bride at the beginning of Phantasy Star III. Probably because I actually got to know her a little bit before I was required to rescue her. Also, while your PC is a prince, you don't even realize Maia's a princess until you actually rescue her, when you can decide to marry her or twist the trope slightly and marry the female party member who's actually been helping you the whole time (who turns out to be a princess as well).]

In those early console games, my motivation was taking down evil tyrants like Bowser and Gannon (that other timeless game trope), any princesses being secondary consideration. Notably, I always preferred third-party franchises like Castlevania and MegaMan--Belmont and MegaMan didn't seem to need the princess bonus to save the land from evil overlords.

Princess is the best character in Mario 2. I mean come on, she can HOVER. That ruled.

Im Extremely Dissapointed at the lack of SHEIK in this article, seriously?? the only game where the princess actually DOES something and you skip that part entirely to talk about how she was transformed in "wind waker"?!?

*waves cane*

how old are you kid? i want to speak with your parents!!!

Alfie Simpson:
The Princess Problem

A closer look at the age-old tradition of princess saving.

Read Full Article

Interestingly, video game Princesses mirror real-world princesses in one important regard: They serve little functional purpose, and are more figureheads than anything. The symbology of a princess actually seems to inform the stereotypes we see in the games--a young girl, beautiful, full of virtue (chastity), in need of defending. She is representative of a nation's own beauty and virtue, made visible (and thus vulnerable) to all. Think of her as a living, breathing rally flag.

As this translates into stories, it usually means she is helpless and unable to defend herself. It also means she cannot be "had" by any man, even her own rescuer. In the past, this wasn't an issue, since chivalry was all about putting forth the effort without expecting that standard "return on investment."

As society has evolved, we're more open about things like sex, so we can't simply write that part out of this particular "boy meets girl" variation anymore. But to some, if the princess makes with the sex-ing, she loses the virtue that makes her a princess (in the symbolic sense). As a result, we get a lot of those in-between princesses--they are beautiful, but made wholly unlikable. The hero rescues the virtuous (but unapproachable) princess, and when he doesn't "get the girl," it's because he chooses not to. Then they usually introduce the "peasant with a heart of gold, and down-homey good looks" as a substitute, and everyone's happy.

I really think the bigger question that more games need to be asking, throughout all of this, is where the hell are the King and Queen? It could make a very compelling story, the old war-hero King going all "Liam Neeson" to rescue his daughter (who happens to be the Princess)...

Dastardly:

I really think the bigger question that more games need to be asking, throughout all of this, is where the hell are the King and Queen? It could make a very compelling story, the old war-hero King going all "Liam Neeson" to rescue his daughter (who happens to be the Princess)...

That, is full of win. Especially if the princess is like 5 years old. Talk about an evil dude, kidnapping a child.

HankMan:
Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

That certainly would make sense...

There's a tendency to think this weakness stems from an outdated gender stereotype - that because these stories were written so long ago, they cast women in roles both passive and powerless. You only have to look at the wicked witches and the domineering stepmothers, however, to realize that this is not the case at all. These characters hold plenty of power, and they wield it with a calculating intellect. So princesses aren't weak because they're women; they're weak because they're princesses.

So...the good women are powerless princesses, but there's no gender stereotype because the evil women have power?

Um, might be missing a fairly obvious point there.

WanderingFool:

HankMan:
Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

That certainly would make sense...

Um...play as the kidnapped princess breaking out of the castle, instead of the hero breaking in? Like The Great Escape only with more expensive clothes and probably a less awesome theme.

There's nothing wrong per se with rescuing some damsel in distress, however there is one example of this that could really use an explanation. It's that example that Yahtzee usually brings up whenever he does a Mario game. Yes, I'm talking about Peach getting kidnapped by some one in about 90% of Mario games. Honestly, I'm getting tired of rescuing her, because chances are that she'll just end up in a cage in the next Mario game anyway. Where. Are. The. Guards?!

At least Zelda tries to help you during the plot of the game, but in the end it's still you alone (most of the time) facing off with the ancient evil. It was, however, quite nice to see Zelda take a more active role in the plot of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.

Princess Peach isn't always a useless goal. Later and later in the Paper Mario series, she shows off more intellect and use until she uses trademark umbrella in-game outside of Smash Bros.

tunderball:
I suddenly have a new found respect for Princess Leia, yeah she has to be rescued and all that but she kicks ass.

No she doesn't. She was just resting after a long day of emotional and physical torture. She did the rescuing. :-)

On Topic, I'm one of those people who would like to see a Zelda game where you play as Zelda/Shiek. That would be a fresh start for the series, and something I'm sure many people would applaud.

P.S. Stupid crystals.

HentMas:
Im Extremely Dissapointed at the lack of SHEIK in this article, seriously?? the only game where the princess actually DOES something and you skip that part entirely to talk about how she was transformed in "wind waker"?!?

*waves cane*

how old are you kid? i want to speak with your parents!!!

Ah, but the question is, is Sheik still a princess, or even a female? There's a huge debate that, when Zelda transforms, it's more than just her appearance. I'm with you on this though. Was wondering where Sheik was.

The princess idea is an interesting argument, undone by cherry picking data. Your argument against princesses, when boiled down to it's essence, could just as easily be applied to space marines, alien invaders, mobsters, post apocalypse survivors, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. What your argument is, at is basic level, cliched stereotypes are bad if there is nothing to provide character depth.

You decry the passive princess, but give credit to Midna for not being a helpless rescue, but active participant. Her 'breaking the princess mold' gives her interesting attributes, and makes her more worthy of a character. I'd throw in the Zelda/ Shiek from Ocarina for the same reason. Yeah a helpless Princess Peach is annoying, but her Paper Mario incarnations are something special. There are other examples, but the point remains. Once they break from the expected stereotype they are much more interesting. Princesses that adhere to the standard trope (most of your classic Disney Princesses for example) are little more that literary devices, not worthy of being considered a true character.

The same applies to generic space marines, ragtag military group going through a overwhelming struggle,hero of destiny with personality of cardboard, etc. Is Halo popular because of Master Chief (boring)? Is [insert generic military shooter X] popular for the ragtag group of cliches (gimme something new)? Is Chrono Trigger popular for the titular Chrono (hello is anybody in there)? They area all wasted character opportunities.

Errr, well I think this is kind of pointless as an article because it's full of some rather bad and biased information. P

For starters, I think the stereotypical princess tends to be a fine character in of itself. It's definatly an extreme counterpoint to "Action Grrrl", but honestly I think all the "strong and sassy" female characters have become an even more obnoxious stereotype over the years nowadays. I think there are both good and bad aspects to the traditionally more passive "princess" and the in your face "Action Girl". If anything I think the real problem is in not having all that much between the extremes, even when you have one type of character change into another it always hits one end of the scale or another.

As far as bad information goes, I will say that Princess Peach has been around quite a bit accross a lot of differant media. She's been playable in platformers and brawl, present in cartoon shows andcomics, and other things, and has been characterized quite well at times. Super Paper Mario" is hardly some kind of exception. Truthfully the biggest complaints you could make about her being a complete non-personality through the franchise would be many years ago, and when you go back that far it should noted that no characters in those games really had much in the way of personality or backstory either. Complaining about Princess Peach is simply too dated to be relevent at this point.

Now I will get to the unpopular part of my arguement. My backround and training (Criminal Justice, Casino Security, etc...) has lead me to the opinion that if your going to start talking about dangerous, and negative stereotypes for girls, I think it's the "sassy action girl" that needs to be seriously cut down, not the more passive princess who needs to be rescued.

I say this because reality is simply that girls are less capable than guys when it comes to violence. The exceptions that exist, are just that, EXCEPTIONS. While there are cases where a girl in great shape or with massively superior training can beat up a guy, but in cases of equal time put in, they wind up behind, and guys max out much higher. In a realistic "on the street" situation with normal people, girls who think they can fight guys do little more than get themselves in trouble. A lot of the more violent rapes out there (stalk girl, corner her in a stairwell, parking garage, or other location, force her down and have sex) occur because some girl thinks she's "Xena" due to a bit of working out, and some self defense classes, and some tubby dude who happens to outweigh her by 80 pounds just flat out overpowers her and does his thing. I'm a big proponent that women need to be taught to run away from guys rather than confronting them when things get dangerous, because all too often I think the whole "girl power" thing and the people who teach it, detaches women from the reality of their situation.

Now, understand that in a battlefield situation with guns (the great equalizer) this is a bit differant, which is why I have less problem with women as soldiers. My opinion when it comes to police work or security is mixed, because the idea is generally to avoid violence, and truthfully I think the differant in physical abillity in many cases means that the contiunum of force is entirely differant, guys will be more belligerant with girls, and push come to shove it's a lot sooner she's going to need something like a gun to control a really bad situation. In that case however I believe the problem is dealt with by maintaining very high standards of physical abillity for law enforcement (which become a bit higher each year in most places, as the job gets nastier), and allowing women to be cops if they can meet those standards, as opposed to lowering the bar specifically to have women in positions of authority. If you have one of those girls who is in the physical range of your average 6' athletic guy then it's less of an issue by definition, of course it's very true that most women can't meet those standards, and it takes a lot more effort on their part to get there and maintain it (but if they can do it, more power to them,they shouldn't be excluded if they can meet the standards for safety reason).

BUT at the same time, the oppression of women was NOT caused entirely by backwards social policies. Understand technology has allowed equality. In a tech level where everything is muscle driven, civilization is hardly like it is today, and power is gained and maintained by being able to swing around th biggest and heaviest pieces of metal (axes, swords, maces), then yeah... women are going to have a SERIOUS problem in any physical capacity, barring very rare exceptions, and of course societies are defined by the masses, not the rare exceptions.

The point here is that "action grrrl" is fine when it's understood to be pure fantasy for the most part, and even more unreachable for a girl than the male counterpart (which is still pretty ridiculous when you think about it realistically). I think the problem with all the characters like that is that combined with current politics, it encourages a stupid number of women to think that they can behave that way, and actually believe that the way the world operated for so long was simply due to social ignorance as opposed to anything physical.

To be honest, I think right now society has a rather strong message that it's wrong for girls to be traditionally feminine, fairly passive, etc. They need to get right out there and be in people's faces and running up to do everything. It doesn't affect everyone, but it causes a lot of problems, and truthfully I've been of the opinion that the media that sells that has causes a lot of problems, and we need a lot more in the way of middle ground.

If I had a daughter, she might grow up to be a recognizable exception, but not wanting anything bad to happen to her, I'd be somewhat wary about her growing up thinking that it was feasible for her to fight guys successfully. I wouldn't want her to wind up being one of those girls who gets raped or something, when they could have ran away, but decided instead to do the "powerful thing" and confront the guy who did it head on. Even with professional fighters size and weight matters, and I'm sorry even if he's a slob, some dude whose half again your body mass (if not more) is not someone you should be fighting no matter who you are if you can avoid it, and when you have comparitively little girls who try and throw down with guys I'd be reluctant to fight, because of TV, or some self defense/empowerment instructor told them they could... that's a problem.

I think we actually need to see less "yes you can" in video games, with all these female warriors and martial artists, and a bit more balance. Thre can always be exceptions given the fantastic nature of video gaming, but I think ultimatly we need more of a middle ground between "Princess Peach" and "Lara Croft" and that's the real issue I'm getting at, especially when you look at the central issue of "good role models" and such which is
usually at the heart of most discussions about how lame damsels in distress are.

WanderingFool:

HankMan:
Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

That certainly would make sense...

How about a game where you play as the princess then?

I'm sorry Mario, your McGuffin is in another castle.

That's what these mostly relatively helpless princesses are all about. They're little more than plot points to justify telling stories in early video games.

I thought it even more funny in both Faria and Final Fantasy, your first quest is to rescue the princess. The result in Final Fantasy is a bridge gets built for you to carry on your quest.

In Faria, after you rescue the princess, it's revealed that you can't marry the princess, as was the reward, because you're a woman.

I think the real issue is that most games continue to be designed by hetero males for hetero males. So, video games are designed from a male point of view and tend to treat females as stereotypes -- passive, objectified and one-dimensional -- a prize to be obtained. Even when the "hero" is ostensibly a woman (think of Lara Croft) s/he is more a teenage boy's idea of what a woman is than anything that resembles reality. It's disheartening that 30 years on, video games are still mired in that adolescent male rut.

wetcoast:
I think the real issue is that most games continue to be designed by hetero males for hetero males. So, video games are designed from a male point of view and tend to treat females as stereotypes -- passive, objectified and one-dimensional -- a prize to be obtained. Even when the "hero" is ostensibly a woman (think of Lara Croft) s/he is more a teenage boy's idea of what a woman is than anything that resembles reality. It's disheartening that 30 years on, video games are still mired in that adolescent male rut.

I absolutely agree. But maybe the roles will switch when there is more female gamers.

Actually, wasn't there a game where Mario gets kidnapped and Peach gets to save HIM? I heard it didn't do as well as the vice versa, but still.

Great article and I agree with a lot of it, but as someone who has worked with abuse victims in the past, it makes me a little uncomfortable to hear Cinderella get reprimanded for not running away... long-time abuse victims tend to internalize their abuse and become too scared to flee. It's not rational, but welcome to the real world.

Agree that Sleeping Beauty is a twit, though. Never before have I so strongly wanted a villain to win (though it helps that I just adore Maleficent in general, and was overjoyed she got picked as the "main" villain in Kingdom Hearts). Sleeping Beauty is so generic I couldn't even remember her name; when she was called "Aurora" in Kingdom Hearts, I went, "Wait, which one is that?"

Of course, in Disney movies, the princesses are still way better than the princes... I can't remember ANY of their names.

Dastardly:
I really think the bigger question that more games need to be asking, throughout all of this, is where the hell are the King and Queen? It could make a very compelling story, the old war-hero King going all "Liam Neeson" to rescue his daughter (who happens to be the Princess)...

This was basically the plot of Final Fight, where Mike Haggar goes to rescue his daughter (granted, he was the mayor, not the king, but still).

Also, I'm fairly certain (and I think this might actually have been confirmed in one of the RPGs) that Peach is actually the sovereign ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom, her parents are gone. I assume the chancellor (whom we met in Legend of the Seven Stars) keeps things going when she gets kidnapped.

Zelda's situation varies with the iteration, but in most of her games, when she is kidnapped, her father is either incapacitated or imprisoned as well. No word on her mother.

Peach holds a special place in my heart due to the fact that in Super Mario 2 and some of the RPGs she is one of the most useful characters, while in the main series she makes it her life's ambition to piss me off by always getting kidnapped and never once showing any signs of resisting. Come on you stupid bitch! You have fought alongside Mario against cosmic threats and even had your own game, but you still can't put forth some effort to fight Bowser off when he tries to capture you?

thaluikhain:

WanderingFool:

HankMan:
Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

That certainly would make sense...

Um...play as the kidnapped princess breaking out of the castle, instead of the hero breaking in? Like The Great Escape only with more expensive clothes and probably a less awesome theme.

But there has to be a romance subplot, it's law because they said so. How would you end the story without 'they lived happily ever after'? I don't think the supposed hero would go for a girl who could emasculate him, do you?

On Topic: I agree, it has to do with the stereotyped gender roles. These stories were written far before women had rights.

Now the have female heroes, who save the prince, like In DA: Origins. Alistar can't tie his own shoes, you think he can rule a kingdom? One of the dlc's showed what happens if your character dies and he leads the wardens, the archdemon wins.

i wonder what this guy would think about adventure time

I completely deny this article.

Like everyone else has said, he totally ignores sheik. Also, what about the fact that earlier in the game, she gave link the OoT and taught him the song of time. Not to mention the fact that during the end, she opened all those doors and then held Ganon AND THEN gave link some serious sword power. ALSO she gives him the light arrows. I win.

And then Midna. Well, Midna might as well have crushed this article under her feet with the small fact that she helped Link THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE FREAKING GAME. Zelda also helped some but, admittedly, not as much as she did OoT.

Peach is a whole different ballgame in the fact that nobody plays the Mario games for the story. It's all about the gameplay and Peach is just one open, fat, giant excuse for the players to have all this fun in all these weird levels. Nothing more and nothing less.

thaluikhain:

There's a tendency to think this weakness stems from an outdated gender stereotype - that because these stories were written so long ago, they cast women in roles both passive and powerless. You only have to look at the wicked witches and the domineering stepmothers, however, to realize that this is not the case at all. These characters hold plenty of power, and they wield it with a calculating intellect. So princesses aren't weak because they're women; they're weak because they're princesses.

So...the good women are powerless princesses, but there's no gender stereotype because the evil women have power?

Um, might be missing a fairly obvious point there.

WanderingFool:

HankMan:
Well if she could save herself, then it wouldn't be much of a game for us now would it?

That certainly would make sense...

Um...play as the kidnapped princess breaking out of the castle, instead of the hero breaking in? Like The Great Escape only with more expensive clothes and probably a less awesome theme.

Reminds me of the plot-lines of Kings Quest 4 and 7. (well, 7 in particular)
(Ironically, King's quest 7 is the last real kings quest game they made, because king's quest 8 was really quite different, and not all that popular, I seem to recall)

In King's Quest 4, Princess Rosella (who you play as) has to find a way to cure her father. (So in a way that's the 'object' equivalent of 'save the princess' really. Huh.)

King's quest 7 is more interesting in that you alternate playing as princess Rosella, (who has been lured away and kidnapped by her own sense of curiosity), and her mother (Queen Valanice)

Valanice follows Rosella into the portal she was kidnapped through, and you start play as Valanice trying to figure out where she's ended up, and where Rosella is.

When you get out of the first area, you switch to playing as Rosella, as she figures out why she's now a troll, who took her, and how to escape to find the castle in the sky she was actually looking for.

The story alternates between these two perspectives, and it's ultimately Rosella sorting out the problems by herself, even as her mother tries to find her.

One thing's for sure, Princess Rosella is 'weak' only in a physical sense, and seems quite capable of sorting out her own problems (which are essentially self-inflicted anyway, considering how she got 'kidnapped' in the first place.)

Paper Mario
Super Princess Peach
SMB 2
Super Mario RPG
Smash Bros.

Peach fighting back is an element in all of said games and probably others as well.

Alfie Simpson:
The Princess Problem

A closer look at the age-old tradition of princess saving.

Read Full Article

Just to zero in on this:

There's a tendency to think this weakness stems from an outdated gender stereotype - that because these stories were written so long ago, they cast women in roles both passive and powerless. You only have to look at the wicked witches and the domineering stepmothers, however, to realize that this is not the case at all. These characters hold plenty of power, and they wield it with a calculating intellect. So princesses aren't weak because they're women; they're weak because they're princesses.

No, it's still based on an outdated gender stereotype. The stereotype is: women can be powerful and independent and therefore evil, or powerless and male-reliant and therefore virtuous.

Light 086:
But there has to be a romance subplot, it's law because they said so. How would you end the story without 'they lived happily ever after'? I don't think the supposed hero would go for a girl who could emasculate him, do you?

Hmmm...ok, then, 2 princesses both escape from the same castle, and fall in love with each other? Preferably princesses from different royal families, I guess.

BobDobolina:
No, it's still based on an outdated gender stereotype. The stereotype is: women can be powerful and independent and therefore evil, or powerless and male-reliant and therefore virtuous.

Glad I'm not the only one who saw that.

I would posit that the reason all the princesses we rescue are weak and demure, is because all the feisty and strong ones have already rescued themselves.

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