Started gaming in kindergarten, when the most advanced piece of hardware I could get my hands on was a black plastic handle and an orange button attached to a brick. I used it to blow up little squares on a black and white television screen. A couple years later, I was molested by the girl next door after beating her copy of The Legend of Zelda. I have mixed feelings about the experience.
Unfortunately, over the years, my ability to maintain a passion for games has waned (as in being able to play through them start-to-finish). This is due to various reasons and issues that would be too emo to get into at this juncture. But suffice to say, though my passion has waned, my interest in them has not, as evidenced by my being here.
Nihil (or Nils) is the pseudonym I currently use for writing and gaming on the internet. I came across the Destructoid website by searching for information on Way of the Samurai 3. Tubatic pretty much has the most comprehensive coverage on it I've seen anywhere. And for that, and the other thing, I thank him.
I should've probably done more research on this. Traverse the interwebs looking for sources; expanded perspectives, specifics. But I've been one to get a good grasp on things without knowing a whole lot. I don't need to know everything; a consensus is good enough for me to formulate my own opinion from, especially when I have firsthand experience to compare/contrast it with. As such, it may not even be my place to voice my opinion on the matter, since I'm not hitting up the frontlines of the issue. However as a thinker, and a "writer", and somebody who's been there & done that, I feel like my views hold water despite being "aware" at best, if not acutely knowledgeable... On this particular subject, I'd like to share my thoughts on the way female protagonists are perceived and my own personal experience with "Heroines".
I think a little background is in order, before I really get into it. I'm the youngest by 6 years and only male of 4 siblings. I had to grow up feeling the sting of female scorn without any backup. My father was never around enough to teach me how to properly process my emotions in dealing with strong-willed girls. Hell, I don't even think he would know how. And with them all being older than me, it's not like we could relate to a lot, even on an entertainment level. The only thing I can appreciate out of the experience is that my sisters are all different. They talk differently, they handle situations differently. This was my first real-life glimpse into how females work; how they emotionally respond to opposition, and I could speculate how they would react in a given situation.
It was also my first glimpse into how girls and women can be just as full of shit as boys and men. I believe this was the inception (DUUUUNNNNNN) of my views on gender equality before I even had an opinion on the matter. It's just unfortunate that it had to start negatively. No illusions, no leeway.
They weren't princesses to fawn over. They weren't delicate flowers that needed protecting. They're just part of the opposite sex. Watching them eat crayons, pick their noses, and keep their cool after scraping their knees in grade school only helped to vindicate that. Anyone touting the opposite that pushed their view on me was met with hard, staunch logic, in the most smart-assed way possible.
Fast-forward a decade, and I'd been exposed to various fictional female heroes in TV, film, and literature; Pippi Longstocking, Ellen Ripley, Dr. Quinn, and so on. I was also aware of inspiring historical heroes/pioneers; Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart, ...Oprah. And so forth.
From all ages and eras, from all walks of life - it seems to me that the females who've helped shape culture for the better, inside and out of fiction, did so not out of an obligation or agenda to push femininity into the limelight, but because it was their time to do what they were meant to. It was their calling.
I don't like throwing out my beliefs concerning Fate, Destiny, or Universal Chaos/Order. For one: because I'm an observer, first and foremost, and I don't express my opinion until I feel necessary. Two: because I'm an agnostic and don't find any one doctrine, religious or not, concrete enough to subscribe to it. And thirdly: because expressing my own personal experience in the matter makes me sound like a nutjob, even to myself. But to make a long story short - I believe there's a time and place for everything. Whether we wanted it to happen or not; whether it was by our own volition or a one-in-billion chance, it was meant to happen.
Whether it was by the Threads of Fate, or an all-seeing meta-entity, is left for either Time and/or Death to decide.
So when I think about what makes a good female hero, super or real, I take that into account. Are these people important because they really are special, or are they just another attempt at pushing gender equality/superiority/sexuality? Are they more than the sum of their efforts when we break them down?
To keep this from getting overblown, I'll try to focus on game protagonists.
I have a problem with a few models that people say are a step forward in terms of females getting a spotlight in gaming. Frankly, I find them superficial. The only thing that kept Tomb Raider from being a complete joke was its solid gameplay. That we were supposed to be MINDBLOWN by the fact that Samus was a woman is laughable. So they have tits. Who gives a shit? The manner in which they're depicted makes them easily swappable with men. The only reason they're getting that much attention is 'cause the games they're in are actually innovative and fun to play, and mouthy people who over-analyze tend to blow things out of proportion.
Beyond Good & Evil was lauded for similar reasons; a female being at the helm of a well-written game means we're goin' in the right direction, right? While I do agree, what bugs me is the dialogue. Jade is conveyed as a tough, cool, and spiritual person. But it got to a point where the thought kept popping into my head that if you were to also gender-swap her, there wouldn't be much difference, if any, in your view of the character.
Like This But With SCROTUM
This got me thinking; what constitutes a heroine written from a genuinely feminine perspective? I can only speculate whether it was a big decision to make Jade's dialogue specifically gender-neutral for the sake of accommodating a mostly male audience. I would applaud it as a good business decision for its time, but it still remains that we weren't getting a hero exhibiting purely female qualities. Then again, what is it that females do, that males don't or can't, in a heroic role? Well, to better comprehend that, I need to take a step back out of gaming, since it hasn't been addressed there, to my knowledge, in any broad sense yet...
It seems to me these qualities are better defined by examining them from a social overview. Women are defined by their roles in their society by men. As are men by women. This is true throughout the world. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be any point in differentiating the two; everybody would just be androgynous gray aliens. Or worse. In the Free World, these roles are mostly set up to compliment each other, as men and women do in other facets life. We see qualities that are strictly masculine and strictly feminine, but equal in their importance. When one sex exhibits the qualities of the other, it's seen as either awkward or remarkable.
Now when you try to apply that to a haphazardly written in-game world, where characters are 2 dimensional (figuratively and literally) at best, you get female protagonists that are there to either fill the equal opportunity or sexy stereotype quota. Which is fine, ya know? More power to them for even considering something other than a pale male protagonist.
But my question then is: What is the point when we've already established that we can have "minorities" headline a game? Are you doing it to fill the equal opportunity quota? Is it for aesthetic reasons? Or do you actually have something to say about the social preconceptions/misconceptions of said minority? It's been true for most times in the gaming industry that it comes off as the former; feeling more like a tacked on afterthought or exploitative measure, rather than an integral decision to add depth and/or realism.
In an attempt to remedy the lack of authentic diversity I got from mainstream fiction, I often found myself trying to create characters that subverted conceptions of how they would normally be perceived in a mainstream work of fiction. Either that or I just fleshed them out to feel like actual people, with lives. That's the thing that I don't think a lot writers in mainstream get, or maybe their efforts were marred by the studio editing process. Execution is a big part of it, yeah, but people tend to get on board with a property easier when the characters in them are more than cardboard cut-out archetypes. They can still represent whatever idea or theme you're going for, but letting us in on their unique thought processes, and expressing through the narrative how their past triumphs and tragedies effect their decision-making, turns them into something more. That's how you breathe life into a character and make us care, whether we love them or love to hate them.
Though again, when concerning femininity, it makes me wonder why some writers even bother when you could put a male in their place and be none the wiser. It's only when we're made aware of their social role and relationship to others as a feminine character that things start getting interesting. Their intimate relationships to males, as well as other females, allow us to understand them better within their gender; instead of only seeing them as a devil-may-cry tomboy or sex kitten.
In my own efforts to discern strictly feminine qualities in heroic characters, I wrote down an idea for an indirect homage to the Powerpuff Girls...
Sugar, spice, everything nice, and an assload of Chemical X, created a fighting force of distinctly girlish heroes that you grew to love, as they grew as people in their own right. My idea, or at least my intention in fleshing it out, was to take this concept to a mature, evolutionary conclusion. Three young adult women, representing three distinctly feminine attributes, put under circumstances that would have them grow as characters in understanding and coming to terms with their roles in society. After expanding these characters, I began to identify their archetypes so that I could better understand what made them strictly feminine:
The Care-Giver Nurses or social workers normally fill this role. Often wearing their hearts on their sleeves, letting their emotions get the best of them because of it; they care maybe more than they should. But this is simultaneously their greatest strength - Their ability to find and keep unwavering hope alive, which infects others.
The Mother At first thought, you may be inclined to wonder how this is different from the Care-giver. This role has the inherent quality of having pack-leadership abilities, as if they had a life in their charge, and thus are able to nurture and are willing to give of themselves. However, being a leader, they also need to exert rationale and control over their emotions. And their sympathy is usually limited to their pack.
The Guardian Usually tomboys or overly assertive types; they find their purpose in confrontation, either while acting as a shield or putting themselves in danger to provide for others, akin to the Mother. Maybe you were a bold and courageous predator, like an eagle or lion, in a past life. A huntress. Now you prove your worth by selflessly taking and dishing out the brunt of punishment in your loved ones' stead.
These concepts don't have to define their entire character. In fact, they would be boring if they did. But it can still work when knowing that the character is more than 2-dimensional, when she has human depth. She was born, raised, and lives a certain way. When she has encountered hang-ups that give her deeper perspectives on herself, the world, and her sexuality.
Here He Comes
Of course, that last archetype can be easily transplanted into a masculine counterpart. But the fact remains that with societal preconception and other strictly feminine traits, it can become more remarkable rather than awkward.
It's not hard, especially these days, to conceive of females being as capable as males in pretty much any field. To be driven and able to excel where others laid down or said they couldn't, even in physical areas. What alludes me, and most other guys, are the intricacies of the feminine experience in these endeavors. What interests me in these stories is how, if possible, opposition can be met and overcome with a purely female response. Does such a thing exist? Or is sex ultimately irrelevant nowadays when one attains the title of "Hero"?
Do you find violence betrays or undermines femininity in the face of its principle nurturing, peace-driven attributes?