Video Game “Damsels” As 8-Bit Sex Workers

June 21, 2013 | Andy Cush

To comment on the ways women characters are portrayed in video games, which, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is not often very good, 8-bit artist Jude Buffum created this striking series of pieces. In each, a female character from a classic game is portrayed as a sex worker on one of those sleazy cards you see everywhere in Vegas (link sorta NSFW).

Buffum intended the piece as a commentary on the “damsel in distress” trope, which renders women characters as little more than objects for the male protagonist to win back. After musing on how playing through this scenario repeatedly might subtly influence the ways game-playing boys think about women, Buffum explains how he arrived at his concept:

I recalled my first trip to Las Vegas, and the “escort” cards they hand out on the strip. If you’re not familiar with what I’m referring to, there are these very shady looking individuals on the main strip who hand out business card-sized flyers with naked women on them (their nipples and other parts covered by little starbursts) and phone numbers you can call to have them come to your room. It was then that I had the idea to create “escort” cards for well-known video game icons; it was the perfect way to “commodify” them the way the industry does.

As our friends at Nerdcore point out, Samus doesn’t really fit–she’s the badass protagonist of her own story. And  you’re on thin ice to assume sex workers are being exploited against their wills, which Buffum acknowledges in his statement about the series.
The work was heavily influenced by Anita Sarkeesian’s great “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” series of videos. See Jay Smooth’s reaction to those videos and their trollish detractors here.