The Reimagining of Ashley Graham in Resident Evil 4: Or, Remaking a Classic

Blog Post Type A

My take:

Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise is no stranger to the damsel in distress trope: Resident Evil 4 depicts protagonist Leon Kennedy rescuing Ashley Graham from a zombie village in Spain, and back-to-back games Biohazard and Village show Ethan Winters rescuing his wife Mia and infant daughter Rose from similar situations, respectively. More and more, however, these women are falling into what Anita Sarkeesian would call the “helpful damsel” model. While they are still caught in their situation and need the help of the male protagonist, they are still able to act for themselves and help the male protagonist reach his goal. Capcom has also remade several of the games, including Resident Evil 4, and has rewritten the stories and mechanics to give these women a second chance to The results aren’t perfect, but they are a clear improvement over past depictions, which is impressive for a franchise that caters to a stereotypically “hardcore male gamer” audience.

In the old Resident Evil 4 released in 2005, Ashley Graham is purely the “Princess Peach” model of damsel in distress. She follows Leon’s every order, which are “stay” and “follow me,” screams for Leon constantly when an enemy approaches her, and draws unwanted sexual comments from some of the male characters in the game. It feels like the game could proceed with a cardboard cutout of her without too much hindrance. 

In the remake, released earlier this year, Ashley plays a much larger role in the campaign, and, overall, feels like an actual character. Her once short skirt has been replaced with a skort and leggings, which is much more functional when running from zombies. Puzzles involving her are much more complex than in the original game. Even when captured, she actively fights back and tries to escape instead of just calmly accepting her fate and waiting for rescue. Ashley is even controllable in one level, where, in a trope subversion, Leon is trapped in a cage and must be rescued by her. Later in the game, Ashley operates a construction crane in order to aid Leon, a skill that he does not have. Although she does not directly shoot zombies like Leon, she is still portrayed as an intelligent and capable person, not just a weak and defenseless woman. 

As Sarkeesian said in her video, “damsels in distress…are reduced to a prize to be won, a treasure to be found, or a goal to be achieved.” Despite the new treatment of these female characters, the ultimate goal of several Resident Evil games is to rescue a damsel in distress who, otherwise, would not have had the means to do so. Where these games have begun to differ, however, is how they allow the female character to interact with the story as a person, not just a woman. These changes allow female characters to rise above their stereotypes and inspire younger gamers to do so as well.

ChatGPT’s take:

Prompt: “Write a 250 blog post about the how the video Damsel in Distress (Part 1) Tropes vs Women in Video Games by Anita Sarkeesian compares to Ashley Graham from the video game Resident Evil 4. If possible, include how that compares to Ashley Graham in the Resident Evil 4 Remake.” (Note: As ChatGPT was last updated in 2021, and Resident Evil 4 Remake was released earlier this year, it was not able to involve that last statement.)

Title: Damsel in Distress: Anita Sarkeesian vs. Ashley Graham in Resident Evil 4

Anita Sarkeesian’s “Damsel in Distress (Part 1)” video is part of her “Tropes vs Women in Video Games” series, where she critically examines the representation of women in video games. In this particular video, she delves into the trope of the “damsel in distress,” a prevalent theme in the gaming industry. One classic example of this trope can be found in Ashley Graham from “Resident Evil 4.”

Ashley Graham, the President’s daughter in the game, is a character who often finds herself in dangerous situations, requiring the game’s protagonist, Leon Kennedy, to rescue her. This classic example of the damsel in distress trope is what Sarkeesian addresses in her video. She argues that this trope perpetuates harmful stereotypes, portraying women as helpless and dependent, reinforcing traditional gender roles in video games.

Sarkeesian’s analysis prompts a critical examination of how women are portrayed in gaming and highlights the need for more diverse and empowered female characters. The “Resident Evil 4” remake, if it indeed exists, could offer an opportunity for the developers to reconsider the portrayal of Ashley Graham and possibly address some of the concerns raised by Sarkeesian and the wider gaming community.

In conclusion, Anita Sarkeesian’s video on the “damsel in distress” trope in video games sheds light on the portrayal of characters like Ashley Graham in “Resident Evil 4.” It encourages discussions about gender representation in gaming and how developers can evolve their approach to create more nuanced and empowering female characters.

Image credit: Variety, “‘Resident Evil 4 Remake’ Honors the Original: Video Game Review”

One Comment

  • Brian Croxall

    “If it indeed exists…” ChatGPT getting theoretical here.

    I’ve not played any of these games, but it’s interesting to hear about the remakes. Remakes can’ change too much about a game or fans will feel like it’s not really a remake. But the game developers do get a chance to revisit things and make a few changes to, as you discuss, make the characters a bit more believable.

    I wonder about the pernicious nature of media franchises. Since the lowest risk for production companies are to retread places they have already gone and stories need to keep the same feeling, the most profitable objects will continue to draw on outdated notions.

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