After watching Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on the “Damsel in Distress” trope, I would like to challenge her use of ICO in some of these videos. It is important to recognize that although the game does feature something similar to the “Damsel in Distress” trope that Anita Sarkeesian describes, the appearance of said trope is justified and does not disempower Yorda.
Sarkeesian’s description of the “Damsel in Distress” explains the origin from the French phrase, “Demoiselles en Détresse,” and how it functions as, “a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must be rescued by a male character, usually providing the core incentive or motivation for the protagonist’s quest.” Sarkeesian also explains how the female characters are either, “relatives or love interests,” which obviously provides incentive into why they should be rescued in the first place.
So does ICO exploit the “Damsel in Distress” trope? In my opinion, ICO’s use of anything resembling the trope is only part of what the game is trying to explore as a whole. Ico frees Yorda after receiving a vision of the cage, and though this is necessary to complete the game, Ico’s main quest is not to “save Yorda.” Ultimately the quest Ico and Yorda embark on can be described as “escape from the castle.” After finding Yorda’s Mother, the quest takes on a “Damsel in Distress”-like quest, but serves to illuminate their friendship. After struggling to escape, Ico goes to rescue her not as a confirmed love interest, but certainly as a valued companion.
To recap, this log post is not discrediting Sarkeesian’s argument regarding the “Damsel in Distress” trop in videogames. I agree with her accusation of game developers lacking a motivation for the protagonist using this trope in order to find substance in their game’s plot. However, when I spotted clips of ICO, I had to take a stand. Games such as Dishonored or Super Mario may use this trope in a way that drives the plot forward, but ICO uses this to explore the depth of Ico and Yorda’s relationship. Would Ico rescue Yorda in the face of her evil, shadow magic manipulating mother? Yes. And this objective reveals the heroic elements of Ico’s character rather than exhibit the problematic mindset of the game’s developer.
Sarkeesian’s awesome playlist including the “Damsel in Distress” trope can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLn4ob_5_ttEaA_vc8F3fjzE62esf9yP61