The Most Contrived Damsel-in-Distress Moment Ever
As a lifelong gamer, I’ve been presented with plenty of gameplay scenarios that suggested that my gender is of a fragile and delicate nature, and in need of a man to protect me from the nasties of the world. It’s something that dates as far back as gaming itself, and if you’re surprised to hear this, I highly recommend taking a moment to listen to Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on the subject.
Since this trend has gone on for so long, we’ve been given quite a range of reasons why men have had to rescue women in video games. There’s the oft-used scenario of a woman being kidnapped, while some games favor the less overt instance in which a female companion generally holds her own but experiences a moment of weakness. Whatever the reason du jour, video games love to toss women into scenarios that require a man gallop in to the rescue. Some of these situations fit within the context of the given story, and some… don’t. At all. The results of the latter are often hilarious.
The following is, in my opinion, the worst (read: best) offender of this category.
This, my friends, is the climax of the storyline between Knuckles the Echidna and Rouge the Bat in Sonic Adventure 2, aka the moment where Sega gives the two characters a gigantic shove together as a proposed pairing. I don’t care if you’re a Sonic fan or not, because you don’t have to be to see exactly what’s wrong with this video.
Let’s start with the obvious: SHE HAS WINGS.
Not only is flight one of Rouge’s major mechanics in this game, but the level this cut scene is attached to is an aerial boss battle. Knuckles and Rouge just spent the entire previous segment of the game flying around a vertical arena kicking the crap out of each other, but for this one dramatic moment, she suddenly needs to be saved from a free fall.
It becomes even funnier when you realize that, given the two of them, Rouge is the only one that you’d expect to be able to fly. I’ve been a fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series since it began, and I still have no idea how the hell Knuckles glides. When we were growing up, my brother’s best guess was that Knuckles literally throws his fists forward and the rest of his body just sort of flaps along behind him. The Sonic the Hedgehog Archie comics once suggested that it has something to do with the length of his spines, but never bothered to explain exactly how that worked, and I don’t know if that’s even considered canon anymore. Knuckles apparently flies via ancient echidna voodoo.
But for the sake of argument, let’s say that the flight situation wasn’t complete bullshit and examine the arena itself.
This is the view we’re given at the very beginning of the cut scene. Both of our characters balance atop a narrow ledge, where one false step
wouldn’t make a difference because they can fly could send them careening into a pool of lava. Looks intimidating from this angle, doesn’t it? It seems they really set the scene well.
Except that, er, the floor closed up immediately preceding this cut scene.
That’s the bottom of the arena he’s standing on, and he’s only standing there because he just won the battle. He strikes a pose and makes smouldering eyes at the player while the game adds up the score and calculates the grade. The danger of the lava has already passed; the designers just opened it back up specifically to force the ‘rescue.’
And like the last point we made, this too gets even funnier when it’s examined a bit more closely. At the start of the battle, the floor is closed, and Knuckles and Rouge battle on the ground. After a few blows are exchanged, the floor abruptly opens up — but not as a dickish death trap. The exposed lava does not, in fact, pose even the slightest bit of danger, because the updraft of the heat blows both characters into the air. This remains consistent for the entire battle; even if the player is attacked mid-air and falls, they never make it to the lava. The character simply bobs up and down on the updrafts until the player steers them over to one of the walls.
This is what I meant when I said that the situation was contrived. Not only is Rouge not in any danger (in more than one way), but furthermore, Knuckles is clearly not the person to be saving her, as far as logic holds out. It’s incredibly clear that the scenario was ham-fisted into the story in order to push the Knuckles/Rouge pairing. Video games have established a norm in which men ‘win’ women by way of rescuing them from danger, and in order for Knux to earn his ‘prize,’ the designers apparently felt it necessary to cram a damsel moment into the game, whether it made sense or not.
What’s even sadder is that, had they really wanted to, they COULD have put a logical rescue scene here in a way that would’ve made a bigger impact and still pushed the proposed pairing — but they’d have to do it in reverse. Let’s flip the script for a moment and assume that it’s Knuckles that fell off the ledge instead of Rouge. It’s no secret about Knuckles’ character that he only glides; he can’t gain altitude while he’s in the air. If he were to slip, and couldn’t do whatever the fuck it is he does to get gliding in time, he could’ve actually been in danger
had the lava been a legit problem. Rouge, as the more adept flier of the two, could’ve easily swooped in to save his ass.
The thing is, it would’ve been far more meaningful for her to save the day than it was for Knuckles, because Rouge is the aggressor in this situation. She’s been trying to steal Knuckles’ emerald shards for the entire duration of the game, and letting him fall to his death would’ve been a really easy way to get rid of him as an obstacle. However, we find out at the end that Rouge isn’t a complete villain, which means that letting him fall would’ve been against her character. Reversing the roles and allowing Rouge to save Knuckles not only would’ve hinted that she’s not as bad as she’s been acting, but it would’ve given Knuckles a real reason to see her as anything more than a pest. (Actually, considering that you play both of these characters at some point, it would’ve been especially awesome if the damsel/hero formula flipped depending on who you were currently playing.)
But, hey, at least it’s just one mistake made for the sake of the pairing, right? There’s no reason to think that they’d actually suggest that Rouge would need to be saved from a fall again.
…God dammit, Sega.
Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic Adventure 2, Knuckles the Echidna, and Rouge the Bat are all © Sega. Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 is also © Sega, but I’m not positive they actively admit that these days.
Posted on July 15, 2013, in Analysis, Feature Articles, Game Characters, Journalism, Retro Games, Video Games, Women & Gaming and tagged damsel-in-distress, Knuckles the Echidna, Rouge the Bat, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic the Hedgehog. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.