In a situation where ‘female’ and ‘gaming’ is involved there are certain facts. Sexism exists is one and there are strong untainted female characters out there, not enough, but still they do exist and are supported. But how can we tell the difference between developers creating games that included characters who should naturally always be included in equal scope, with sincerity and those just throwing in female characters to appease and save themselves grief?
To be ignored and left out is ignorant and disloyal; to be condescended to by throwing pixilated
curved scraps is worse. Who out there in the roster of primary female gaming characters are legitimately there purely because of their traits and the story is built around them as an individual creation and who is subjected to mere shoe horning to ‘keep the ladies happy’?
To me when I think of female leads in games that are of the former, I think of female Shepard, Samus Aran (though those Daddy issues...), April Ryan from Dreamfall, Chell, Alyx Vance and Jade from Good and Evil. Sadly though it’s hard to think of many more of the top of my head. Given that this isn’t about whether someone is a good female lead because she isn’t over the top sexy or not and about what got her there, there are more to add. Heck Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t feel like a shoe horn at all. Her boyfriend got zombified but she didn’t and she took the whole rather well.
A female heroine usually gets that title after suffering some form of trauma, persevering and then
becoming stronger, possibly ending her trials with vengeance. That seems to be an overruling ingredient in strong female characters and not ones confined to action roles either. There are of course exceptions to this, the major one, possibly the first, true heroine of horror and action, being Ellen Ripley. Ripley was by default strong and had good survival instincts, while the tragedies that inflicted her ship and crewmates via the Xenomorph seemingly activated her heroism, it never felt, nor was it that the alien was what created the hero. She never changed either; Ripley was always a hardass, with the capacity to care without letting that overwhelm her.
She did take up an interesting toy collection though
Emotion can cloud us and some people adhere to the notion that women are ruled by their emotions more so than men and therefore this is one of many reasons they would not strive well under hardcore scenarios. This is obviously nonsense, but the character of Ripley in particular, certainly doesn't follow that grain. Ripley never got a chance to change either or get a break from the horrors of the Xenomorph and fellow humans trying to kill her and others. She went from one nightmare to another and she never stopped fighting, never had a massive change of character, albeit Resurrection made her colder, robotic and extremely sarcastic.
When discussing female characters in games it is difficult to exclude Lara Croft. That is a testament to the team behind Tomb Raider, but rife with positives and negatives. I'm not sure if it's more one or that other, that one of the reasons she became so famous or a headliner for female leads in games was because she was the only real one of that time or in a tiny bunch to begin with.
Sadly though it terms of serious discussion, it’s hard to not also bring up the subject of breasts when talking about a lot of female gaming characters, but once again especially Croft.
Now ultimately in terms of categorising Lara Croft, though she may have been marketed in certain ways to appeal to boys, but she is an independent capable lead. She traverses most of her adventures on her own, dispatching of enemies, tigers and scaling ancient ruins without aid and without having suffered a tragedy. She was an archaeologist who could kick ass. But then this latest game came along and we hear tell that there are scenes and plot devices that border pretty close to that sad formula I’ve spoken about earlier.
See sometimes you have a female character that is strong as she is, but then will be subjected to some form of degradation by male characters that screams of “putting her in her place”. Even Ripley almost suffered gang rape in Alien III, Michoone from Walking Dead did get brutally raped by the Governor , Carol Danvers aka Ms Marvel went through a bizarre form of rape for want of a word that describes how she ended up giving birth to the man she had intercourse with.
All of which were strong women from the start, (yeah Carol got super powers but she was a soldier before that) and then they had to suffer in a manner relating to their sex, why is this? Are people really that terrified of strong women? Is it that shocking and new to humans, that women have always been strong. A gender that is born with a default of suffering monthly bouts if physical pain, that socially are subjected to many forms of degradation and then produce life which is an almost unmatched pain, to name a few – women don’t live that life and do so being weak or idiotic.
Games are escapes from reality, they’re suppose to be entertaining and feature adventures that befit the imagination or gives us options to do things we don’t get to in real life. I have no interest in owning a gun or killing anyone, but I like playing an assassin in funky white robes in Renaissance Italy. But while in reality rape is one example of a means of someone getting their way with especially female characters and awareness of such horribleness is important, mediums like games and comic books do not need to do that and do so over and over again.
I complain about how lacking in emotion Skyrim characters are, at least your spouse and yet I’d prefer that equal footing than a game that stinks of thoughtlessness.
I feel your love through your eyes...
What’s also disheartening is if you Google a phrase like “female leads in games” a lot of first page links are to articles that talk about how such games don’t sell as well. Yes that’s a moronic, sad fact. One of the problems I see is the over emphasis of any gender/race. Making games about interesting characters doesn’t mean it only befits one type of gender or race. Games like Skyrim and Mass Effect are massive sellers and wonderful games for many reasons but for me it’s nice that they don’t focus on any real “this gender is better/different ect” topic.
The examples I’ve given where something horrific like rape has happened to either kick start a strong female lead or occurs down the line to an already established one isn’t a prominent feature in games, it’s mainly found in comics, films and TV shows.
But reading excerpts about the new Tomb Raider story, how exact in description they were or not and the fact that it occurs so much in all mediums, scares me a little. Games already can’t seem to grasp, as a whole the female ‘conundrum’. It feels like it’s a conundrum at times, given how easy the whole affair should be, but we certainly don’t need to unhinge those characters that are already set in stone and doing well, few as they are. So many issues exist like a rash you can’t get rid of within the gaming industry with regards to fictional female characters, be they primary or secondary cast members and the women who work behind the scenes.
But just in case someone somewhere is thinking of following the same routes as certain comic and film writers have, don’t purposely add the taming by method of degrading, traumatic experiences of our current heroines in the plots of future works game developers. There’s no point in it, it serves no positives only negatives and you will lose more customers through such a decision, that you ever will be plastering a gigantic breasted anime girl on your covers.
Don't think the gamers, regardless of who they are are stupid either. People can tell when a character has substance and is written with care, from ones that are drawn up in 10 minutes and shoved in to tick a PR box, whilst also ticking a personal kick for yourself.
Money is what is important to the companies behind games, I get that. But the fact of the matter is we either need to create games that aren't belitting either gender or if for some reason that is impossible, we do need a lot more with female characters that aren't meant to cater to anyone but themselves.