On female video game protagonists

"Being a bitch doesn't make you a strong character."

Via the always impeccable Yahtzee on Escapist Magazine:

There are plenty of examples of this kind of bad female characterization. Lara Croft, the classic feminist hate figure, and her murderous kleptomania. Whatshername from Dead Space, yelling at you to fix everything while she sits behind a monitor eating cakes. [...]

Females in this vein don't come across as "independent" or "strong." They act like neurotic feminists who feel that their every action and expression has to illustrate the fact that they're just as capable as the men, and don't like being looked upon amorously (hence why they all dress so conservatively, I suppose). They're as shallow as any traditional kidnapped princess because they only have one character trait, and still define themselves by the men that surround them.

You want to make a strong female character, you do the same thing you do to make a strong anything character. Give them a life, a backstory, hopes, dreams, desires. Give them the capacity to feel the whole gamut of emotions. Yes, let them be tough, but let them laugh, and cry, and find things to enjoy in life. And why not give them a wazza pair of jugs, too. That's always fun.


Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
vieuxbandit's picture

I wonder (and this comes from a naive/ignorant place, as I play very few video games, though I'm not completely clueless) if that characterization of women isn't the pendulum swinging the other way in response to the countless helpless/stupid men we've seen on tv and in commercials over the last decade+. It was funny at first, but then you realize you're helping to raise a boy who sees only (mostly) men portrayed as useless clumsy (if cute in a redeeming sort of way) idiots, and it makes you wonder what that does to his psyche. (And I'm not sure feeling a sense of vengence/redemption in video games is good news either!)

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
stevenmansour's picture

I never think your opinion comes from anywhere near an ignorant place. :)

Thinking a little bit more about the female characters I've been seeing more and more frequently in games (I've somehow managed to talk my way into a position where part of my job is to play PC games), I don't think that the situation is so different than what we see with men in the same position. It's more a question of how we perceive our "heroes" or protagonists (and not only in games) than a difference between the sexes. The most interesting characters to play are the ones that are actually closer to normality, than the stereotypical caricatures that we're used to in gaming - the muscle-bound soldier for men, and the scantily-clad, impossibly proportioned femme fatale sex symbol for women.

The Longest Journey and Dreamfall games are a perfect example of how to make a believable female character that you grow attached to over the course of the story. As soon as the character shows that they're capable of emotions other than blind rage or gruff, snarky dismissal, you present an opportunity for the player to ask "Hmmm, I wonder what he / she is thinking in this situation?", much like a good book might describe to you.

As for women in gaming, I just would prefer if they were characters who didn't have to either be helpless victims in need of saving or tough-as-nails, vindictive bitches who are essentially just breast-enhanced copies of their male counterparts. I just want them to behave realistically, the way I'd imagine they'd behave in an equivalent real-world situation. That means approaching an unknown situation with caution, even fear, and using conversation and analytics to try and defuse a tense moment - not stripping down to her underwear and blasting away everything in sight.

Monday, October 26th, 2009
vieuxbandit's picture

But I always strip down to my underwear in tough situations! Hahahahahaha! Now, if you had a video game where fires would rage and firemen* stripped, well! Then we'd be talking! :-)

You're doing it right -- being paid to play games is pretty much the only way I'd find the time right now! (Even the Wii has seen little action in recent months - it's waiting for winter and more indoor times!)

I like your CAPTCHA. It always makes me feel like "Yay, I could pass second grade again if I had to!" :-)

*Mustache-free firemen, I insist.

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