Prelude: Nothing to Do With the Actual Article
You know, the other day, I was wondering to myself why it is that I do this segment in particular. My views on popular gaming are kind of different from a lot of people, yet I'm not really big on independent games; I'm kind of in that happy medium where I make fun of Halo
yet don't really "get" Dwarf Fortress
. It's kind of like a guy who thinks every junk action film is progressively the best movie they've ever seen and the film student that won't shut up about Bicycle Thieves
. I'm the guy who knows a lot, but not enough to be pretentious about it, even if I get a little hyperbolic and dramatic when talking about games I like (re: The very first Overrated/Underrated Sunday
with Kane & Lynch:Dead Men
). I'm not really a fan boy for any console and I play my PC a lot more than any console yet I don't consider myself a PC gamer; I don't think Nintendo is the greatest or most important company in videogame history, but I don't hate on the Wii even if I don't get much use from it these days (The last games I played for it were in order, Pikmin
, Resident Evil
, and Little King's Story
, and two of those are just Gamecube ports...).
I guess what it comes down to is that I like what I like and I know why I like it, which allows me to write about things I hate and tell people why I hate them and why I can write about things I like and why I like them. I may gush over Valve and Suda 51/Grasshopper Manufacture a little too much, but I really do appreciate what they do for gaming, where as I rant too much about games like Gears of War
and Killzone 2
for being mindless bullshit, even though I've played both a lot more than I let on (At release anyways...). What really inspires me to do this segment is an old PSM article from September 2004 (Yes I actually went and flipped through every issue to recall it just for you, be appreciative readers.) In it, there was a little segment called Overrated/Underrated
, which included Villains (Over: Sephiroth, Under: Revolver Ocelot), RPG Franchises (Over: Final Fantasy
, Under: Suikoden
) , and even Final Fantasy
Hero, with Cloud as overrated and Ramza as underrated. Now, you may see this as a bit too coincidental, and I have to admit, this article had a big influence on me creating an opinion on the matter, but where they were more comical, I really thought about it. This was before I thought of videogames as anything more than entertainment, and it was the first time I ever pondered the actions of the men, both of whom I was very familiar with at the time as a fan of anything
Japanese (At the expense of taste...) Anyways, I just wanted to get this out of the way before I get flamed to death for yet another segment of this. Enough babbling, let's talk about tits.
I'm sorry, I meant women. I apologize, it's very hard to separate my eyes from the mere sight of jugs. Or at least that's what game developers of today think I would/should be saying. I'll admit, there is always a place for sexy, curved women in any medium, but it seems that in videogames, women have it worst. In an entertainment medium that's as immature as popular gaming is today, it's inevitable that women are used as simple eye candy, much like they have been used for the majority of history. In today's society, women have never had it better, with no restrictions on them legally what so ever, and the world is better for it. Yet, at the same time, it seems that they'll never be able to escape the perversions and misogynistic tendencies of the modern world, whether it be sexual harassment at the workplace or constantly having to fear any dark street for some maniac looking to destroy her sexual identity. Now, I am by no means a feminist or an advocate of the domination of the male population by women, but I will say that I'm often disgusted by the actions that are perpetrated on women and the challenges they have to face simply for being born a woman. Part of this challenge is being viewed as objects by the masses, with almost any given movie or videogame's selling point being sex appeal. Why?
It works, especially in a medium that is so widely viewed as an adolescent form of entertainment (Which I would argue is false, but the numbers don't really lie when saying the majority of videogame players are under the age of 20 and male). It seems every game with a female protagonist has to sell her as sexy, yet dangerous, i.e. Tomb Raider
, Dead or Alive
, Perfect Dark
. Why can't a female protagonist be something other than an object of lust? Sure, there's Beyond Good and Evil
, but off the top of my head I can't think of any others, which I'm sure people will gladly (eagerly?) remind me of in the comments. I realize Rev just did a Rant on this, but I've been planning on doing this segment for quite a while and was waiting for the right time to bring it up, and since most DTOID readers have seen his lovely rant, I thought now would be perfect since it's fresh in everyone's minds. That said, this makes me want to call it a response to his video, considering the similarities with what I'm going to say. So let me just say that rather than an original article, this is more of an expansion on his thoughts with what my thoughts on the subject are, since we both have similar opinions on the matter. Without further stalling, I give you the most overrated/underrated female gaming protagonists.
Laura Croft, Tomb Raider
I know that people tend to put Laura Croft on some pedestal as a great female protagonist, but why? In his Rev Rant, Rev talked about how she's a pretty evil game character, which I tend to think is exaggerating a bit, but he has a point. In almost every Tomb Raider
game, she does nothing but kill innocent creature's whose homes she invaded, steal artifacts that she has no rights to, and look sexy. That's it. The fact that she's been in games that range from pretty good to downright awful also doesn't really help her. But what really infuriates me is that she shows up on every "Top Female Characters" list ever, usually somewhere at the top. Reasons for this include that she's sexy, intelligent, strong, sexy, sexy, and sexy. She's a soulless sex symbol with no right to be called anything other than a bitch. She's strong, but then again, so are the Dead or Alive
girls, and they're all labeled as sluts and whores even though they aren't any where nearly as offensive as Laura Croft. She's intelligent...I think. When does she ever use her intelligence to do anything other than efficiently kill more people/creatures and use gadgets that she doesn't even make. So why is she labeled as intelligent?
It's because Eidos is trying really
hard to hide the fact that she's nothing more than tits on a cardboard cutout. Yet, why hide it? I respect the Dead or Alive
girls a lot more; for one, they start in fun and fluid fighting games, and two, they don't try and hide the fact that their just flesh. Sure, they can kick the shit out of you, and will do so without magical pistols that never run out of ammo, but really they're just there to be eye candy. Do they try to hide this? There are way too many shower scenes to say yes. Yet every Tomb Raider
game has more over-he-top action bullshit that would make even John Woo say "This is too much." Every male character has to be attracted to her just to be shot down or a rapist/murderer/burglar/rival that gets killed in the third act by Checkov's Gun, and every scene that isn't dedicated to showing off her ass in the shower is dedicated to showing off her ass in a fight with more men. That's something else that Eidos does to make her seem more powerful; she's always put against a man who she owns in the end, just to show that just because she's a woman, she's more powerful than any man with an accent. It's ridiculous, like Eidos was like "Well, after the shower scenes, the ridiculous outfits, the attention to making her lips HUGE, and all the other shit that make her a sex symbol, I guess we kind HAVE to have her stick it to SOMETHING with a penis." No Eidos, no we don't. Even now that the franchise is out of the hands of the perverts at Eidos, who chose Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as there latest "victims", Laura Croft is treated with the same indignity.
Here's an idea to future Tomb Raider
developers...you know what, scratch that. Tomb Raider
needs to die. So instead, developers in general, if you want to make a strong, sexy, intelligent woman, try to actually make her strong and intelligent before you start masturbating to her. Take for instance Samus Aran. Sure she speaks little, but that's who she is; she's not stoic, she's always alone, and doesn't have any other character to interact with. When she does speak, she's all business. She's a mercenary first and a woman second. That is how you make a strong, independent woman. BY separating yourself from the fact that she is a woman, you deny the pressure to sexualize her; if Samus Aran was man, she wouldn't be nearly as revered, but because she's one of the few female's that aren't just flesh, she's respected. In fact, she's almost always covered in armor head to toe, meaning you don't get to see her beautiful frame for the majority of the journey. This means when it's revealed that she's also a beautiful woman in a skin-tight outfit, you already have the idea that she's a badass. It's not vice versa, and for this, Samus is what Laura Croft wants to be. Unfortunately, she's too busy making a bitch of herself in yet another mediocre Indiana Jones
/Romancing the Stone
rip off affair. Moving on.
Alyx Vance, Half-Life
Yeah, everyone saw this coming, especially so since I just got finished briefly talking about her when talking about Half-Life 2
, but enough can't be said about how important she is as the single best example of a great female character in a videogame. She's not only a great female character, probably the best ever really, but she's a great character on her own merits; she's funny, she's intelligent (And she doesn't need glasses to prove it), and she actually looks like a woman and not a doll. She's realistically proportioned and she wears an outfit that isn't revealing in any way. There are several opportunities for her to be stripped half naked throughout the adventure, but Valve made an effort to not sexualize her in any way. The way she grows on characters is also well done. For once, as an A.I. partner, she's actually helpful and she's necessary for further progression yet isn't a hindrance. She unlocks doors, can hold her own in a fight, and constantly makes herself a gateway fro progress rather than a roadblock.
Also unlike most women in videogames, she isn't really beautiful in the Hollywood sense; she isn't a blond with huge lips and a perfect body. She's a biracial woman who looks like a real person, and for this, she has a certain tom boy charm. I tend to avoid commenting on her looks in a way that would sexualize her, but enough cannot be said how making her look like a normal person goes to make her a much more memorable character. In fact, it takes quite a while for her to form a relationship with Gordon, and it's one that is really understated; only a couple times in the game does she ever give you any type of affection that would hint at her being attracted to Gordon, and most of these are late in their relationship together. She isn't instantly attracted to him from the moment they meet, nor is she a bitch to him which leads to her ultimately revealing her lust for him; she's completely normal acting to Gordon, and after struggle after struggle with her rescuing him and vice versa, she begins to think a bit more of him. It's a well-developed relationship which still hasn't come to a head in any way, and the Half-Life 2
games have been around for quite a while now. Any other game series would have had them together by the second act or just before the credits, but Half-Life 2
has made their relationship meaningful by prolonging the "pay off" for so long; for all we know, nothing might even happen.
As a female, Alyx is actually kind of a Tom Boy; she's not afraid to get dirty or get into a fight, she's a tinkerer, and her best friend is a huge, lumbering robot. Yet again, she isn't the stereotypical "Sexy Scientist" or the "Supermodel Killer", but she's instead an actually intelligent woman who prefers to be a person rather than a toy to be used and supported by the stronger and smarter man in the storyline. In fact, I'm pretty Alyx no longer fits into the "Underrated" category with the attention she gets now 5 years after Half-Life 2
's release, but it seems that she always plays second fiddle to sexier, more popular women like Laura Croft in lists about Women in Gaming. It seems that even mainstream videogame sites are hesitant to except an actually fleshed-out and characterized female character, instead leaning towards those who are blonder, more well-endowed, and way whiter. It seems that Alyx is also one of the few black characters that get any credit, but who can argue with it? Compared to others, she's the only one that doesn't look like she's about to call the white protagonist "Master" and chow down on some fried chicken. Like before in my other article on Valve games, let me clarify that statement to avoid any confusion; that isn't me being a racist in any way.
This is about the treatment of black characters in the videogame medium, who are for the most part are completely racist, not in actual character attitude, but in design. It seems many videogames are unable to make actually well-thought black characters instead of offensively ridiculous balls of racist stereotypes. Last time I mentioned Cole from Gears of War
, so this time let's set our sights on another character, which is kind of hard to do considering how few and far between they are. Let's look at Griggs from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
, which I actually think is a good game, but there's no denying that this character is just plain stupid; he's loud, proud, and most of all, black. He shouts in a stereotypically ebonically accented voice and uses the dumbest fake ghetto slang I've ever heard. As if it weren't enough for him to be the only black guy in the game, they have him rap (terribly I might add) over the end credits, just in case you didn't get that he was from "the streets". What streets? Who cares, probably the fakest Harlem neighborhood in existence where most other characters from movies and videogames that rap over credit crawls come from. It's definitely where normal human beings come from, and thus, not where good characters come from. That place is only reserved for the white guys.
I know I got a little off track when talking about Alyx Vance, but this was more of a discussion of what I find to be the terrible side of videogames that few people ever notice; Black characters and female characters have it terrible in videogames. If they aren't dumber and weaker than the white male powerhouses they follow, they're getting shot and killed or are falling madly in love with them for no real reason other than it would be convenient for the plot. Alyx Vance is a character who does none of this, and for that, she earns the largest amount of respect I can give to a character. The fact that it took until 2003 for someone to make her is astounding to me and the fact that no character anything like her has appeared since depresses me. That's why Alyx Vance isn't just the most underrated female character of all time, she's also the single greatest female character in videogames and by association, one of the best characters in videogames that we've seen.
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