The damsel in distress plot is one of the oldest and longest running in video game history. The player takes control of a male avatar and goes on a journey to save a princess, saving the kingdom along the way. It’s a story that reduces women to objects—prizes for the male hero and trophies for the player. It has been decades since we first stepped into the shoes of Mario or Link in order to save Princess Peach or Princess Zelda, and all the countless games that followed of rescuing damsels have led us to one place: The Last of Us.
On the surface, The Last of Us seems familiar, especially on the heels of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Bioshock Infinite, both games that feature a father-daughter spin on the damsel concept, rather than a romantic one. We play (for the most part) as Joel, a bitter, jaded old man who survived the apocalypse, and outlived his daughter. Then we meet Ellie, a fourteen-year-old girl who is immune to the infection that destroyed human civilization as we know it. Joel has to get Ellie across the country to the last science lab in North America capable of studying her immunity, and hopefully, using it to make a cure.
We protect Ellie for the same reasons that we rescue Zelda—saving the girl means saving the world. But over the year that they spend together, and the hundreds of miles traveled, Joel and the player both come to love Ellie. We want to protect her because in the absolutely hellish craphole that the world becomes after the Cordyceps infection, Ellie still has hope. She is hope, in both a metaphorical and literal sense.
In the summer of 2013, I started becoming aware of a movement to boycott the as-yet unreleased Grand Theft Auto V specifically because you couldn’t choose to play as a female character. In particular, there was a Jezebel article that articulated this rather loudly, but I also recall talking about it with an acquaintance on Twitter. We were talking about both GTA V and Saints Row 3, and my friend refused to even consider playing GTA V: “I only need one open world gangland sim in my life, and GTA won’t rate for me unless it adds a female PC.”
At the time, I found this line of reasoning profoundly pretentious, ridiculous, and ultimately misguided. For one thing, I found it preposterous that people were getting outraged over something that had never been promised or even hinted at in the first place. For another, the idea that you would actively choose to not play what by all appearances looked like the greatest game ever made solely because you couldn’t choose to play as a woman—in a franchise that has historically gone out of its way to treat women as horribly as they can be treated—seemed ludicrous. (Indeed, as of this writing, there are only two games in all of Rockstar’s catalog where you can choose to be a female character: the original Grand Theft Auto and Table Tennis.)
Of course, this hullabaloo took place long before the game had even come out. Once I finally got my hands on GTA V, I found a host of reasons to be offended that had nothing to do with the treatment of women, even as the game’s treatment of women was somehow even worse than I’d anticipated.
I don’t know what it is, but I am just not having it today. Here are some free browser games to help get past the Monday doldrums.
Sometimes I play this just so I can watch the people dance in the club. Also because I heart Blade Runner. [The Last Night]
Cameron Kunzelman is busy trying to reach his stretch goals for his new game Epanalepsis. Meanwhile, one of his atmospheric and funny early efforts is available to play immediamente. [Catechresis]
Finally, an RPG that doesn’t take 50+ hours to complete! My high score is 19200. What’s yours? [One Tap Quest]
Music makes the people come together, so get to tapping those keyboard keys, Maestro. Epilepsy warning—it can get pretty flashy. [Patatap]
Fire up MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular on Spotify, load up Cara Ellison’s Twine meditation on sex and youth, and “initiate fuckplan.” [Sacrilege]