While the "Damsel in Distress" largely has its roots in fairy and folk tales, and had been used as a staple in other media. The first appearance of the concept in video games was implemented in the Ultima series Richard Garriot with Dungeons and Dragons as an influence on PC (1981). Shigeru Miyamoto in the classic 1981 arcade game Donkey Kong, featured Pauline as the first ever damsel in distress and Mario as her rescuer. Pauline disappeared almost entirely from the Mario franchise after this initial appearance and Donkey Kong would later become the Damsel in the 1982 follow up Donkey Kong Jr.
One of the most notable post-Donkey Kong uses of the concept was in the 1983 arcade game Dragon's Lair where the player was tasked with rescuing Princess Daphne. However, it was not until Super Mario Bros. in 1985 that perhaps the most famous video game damsel in distress made her debut. This game featured a new love interest for Mario, Princess Peach, who was kidnapped by the villain Bowser and had to be saved by Mario. The story of Princess Peach's kidnapping entailed a story of her magical abilities to return her subjects to normal from Bowser's magic.
The Miyamoto-created Nintendo franchise Legend of Zelda also went on to repeatedly use the concept, with the character Princess Zelda being kidnapped by the villain Ganondorf or otherwise put into a position of peril, and needing the protagonist Link to help rescue her. The concept has also been used in Nintendo's Kid Icarus, with Kid Icarus' main villain being a woman, and Star Fox Adventures. Non-Nintendo games and franchises which make significant use of this trope include King's Quest, Double Dragon, and Meat Boy.
The video game industry has faced criticism from some over an over-abundance of the concept in games, with it being argued that the trope constitutes sexism. It can be argued that while some women are kidnapped, they are usually the most powerful representatives of their games, and are the largest threats to the villains. Nothing is inferred that women are indeed weak if they are captured, merely that they are important to the villain's plans. No one celebrates the heroes that save the Damsel in Distress, they only celebrate her eventual rescue.
While the trope hasn't gone away and has been part of its inception since the 1970s, there have been inversions of the tropes regarding women such as Samus Aran saving planets, Resident Evil 2 & 3's alternate character rescues, Primal's lead female protagonist having to save her boyfriend, and even Cheryl in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories who is trying to make peace with her father.