MaryAnn’s Proposal

MaryAnn Macedo


ENGL 5001


Paper Proposal

For my term paper this semester, I’d like to explore the rhetoric of video game heroines.  Women have long gotten the short end of the stick in the video game and comic universe—typically they are overly sexualized with little to no power to speak of, wearing next to nothing while supposedly saving the world…or even worse, while doing nothing at all.  Characters like Zelda and Princess Peach are icons, and yet they do nothing but get themselves kidnapped in increasingly ridiculous ways.  What does that say about women as a whole?

I would really like to find that out.  I want to find out what the dainty females like Zelda and Princess Peach and then what the overly sexualized powerhouses like Lara Croft and Bayonetta mean in our society.  Who plays these games?  What messages are the developers trying to get across to those players?  For example, there was a public outcry with the popular RPG Fable 2 because the more powerful a female character got, the more bulky she became (in other words, she was physically realistic).  What does it mean that the public became so upset about this?  Do we really expect our heroines to be superheroes who never look bigger than a size 0?

While some of these questions are perhaps just speculation and technically unanswerable, it is not too much to look at the data of gamers and the types of games they’re playing, to see the male to female gamer ratio.  Perhaps that ratio is different than what the developers think it is, and in that regard, looking at the projected audience data for a game would be helpful.  Finally, by examining the heroines themselves—their physical builds, clothing, game dialogue and powers—one can truly get more of an idea of the rhetorical female the developers are trying to create (for examples I will be studying Zelda and Princess Peach, the helpless end of the spectrum, and then the sexy Lara Croft, Bayonetta, and Lilith from Borderlands.  Finally, I’ll examine the relatively accurate RPG possibilities of games like the Fable series).

In this paper, I would simply like to identify the message developers are trying to send about females, the message the gamers are receiving, and whether those messages are the same or extremely different—essentially, I would like to find out in my research whether the rhetorical female in current video games is effective and persuasive rhetoric at its finest.  It would be helpful for me to know if my focus needs to be narrowed—do you think I’m aiming too broadly here?  I think that the example females I picked show a fairly broad range of the female video game types, so I’m hoping that just studying those few will give me plenty of data.  Also, I’m not sure if I’m on the right track with my rhetorical aims—what are your thoughts?

3 comments for “MaryAnn’s Proposal

  1. Alex Janney
    April 23, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    I think this sounds really interesting. While I’m not extremely familiar with video games, I did grow up with Nintendo and was a big fan of Princess Peach; whenever I played Mario Kart, I always wanted to be her. I also think it sends a message that, as far as I can remember, she is the only female character in the Mario games. I’m not sure if the same is the case for Zelda, but it makes me wonder what sort of message this sends to gamers. It seems to reinforce the video game world as a sort of “boys club.”

    I don’t think you are being too broad in your topic. Since you’re only looking at a select number of characters from a variety of video games, you seem to have managed to keep the focus while also encompassing diverse games. The characters help to maintain the focus.

    I think you’re on track with your rhetorical aims. I like how you’re not only going to look at the visual rhetoric, but also the textual and oral rhetoric. One part of your proposal that I found especially interesting was your consideration of how their powers play a role. I never would have thought about that, but I’m sure video game creators strategically selected specific ones for female characters.

    Finally, I think this is a strong topic because there’s plenty of information out there on it. Overall, it will be interesting to see what you find out:)

  2. simi dhaliwal
    April 28, 2010 at 1:57 pm


    I feel your paper will be extremely interesting! I agree with Alex, focusing on a couple of characters will help you be specific with your claims and keep the paper focused on a specific topic. I have noticed with recent video games that the women characters are usually prostitutes, waiting to be saved, or distractions for the men. Great topic I’m eager to see what you find.

  3. April 28, 2010 at 7:58 pm


    This sound good to me too! I think that in order to back a claim about how players might interpret these images or about what game publishers intend, you’ll need to refer to some scholarship on how women are portrayed and perceived in our culture. There are some articles/books out there on games, but you probably should look at a few on comic books and film/tv as well to strengthen the case.

    Suggestions for comics: Supergirls by Mike Madrid, and The Great Women Super Heroes by Trina Robbins.
    For games (Just a start): Norris. “Gender Stereotypes, Aggression, and Computer Games: An Online Survey of Women.” CyberPsychology& Behavior 7.6 (2004): 714

    and Sex, Lies, and Video Games: The Portrayal of Male and Female Characters on Video Game Covers–see link below–

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