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Casting Poker Night 3: Ladies Night

OK. I'm a huge fan of the Poker Night series. They're fun, frequently witty, and feature a lot of really fun characters. But let's go through those characters, shall we? We have, as opponents:

One hyperkinetic, three-foot rabbity thing;
One six foot tall dog in a suit;
One robot;
One tiny guy in a luchadore mask; and,
Four white guys.

Look, yes, I know. I'm pushing the feminist card here, but it really is notable that out of ten characters of the series, only one of them is gendered female, and she's a dealer, not an opponent. It's unfortunate, and really could be improved.

Fortunately, they do have something of an author's saving throw at their disposal: Poker tends to be a single gender experience; it's often an experience to let loose, engage in vice, and let loose without regard for the opinions of the opposite sex. So while I'm still not prepared to say that it's just fine to have no female characters, an idea proposed on GameFAQs has merit: Make Poker Night 3 Ladies Night. Instead of a sexy female waitress, give them game a bit of beefcake, and give us four ladies drinking, throwing around some ribald jokes, and basically giving a womanly twist to the franchise.

So, who would we cast in it? I think they'd need to meet four criteria. Three are optional but desirable, and the fourth is compulsory.

First, they need to be visually iconic to a franchise. Claptrap isn't the main character of Borderlands, but he's immediately identifiable by someone even passingly familiar with the franchise. You need to be at least that recognisable.

Second, they need to be plausible at a poker table. Some ladies just aren't going to like the idea of a rough and tumble night of poker, others are. You don't need to be a rakish poker shark, just not the kind of gal who'd feel very uncomfortable there.

Third, they need to be somewhat comedic in presence. Look at all the characters chosen so far: Sam & Max, also Tycho, are from comedy comics; Brock is from an action-comedy cartoon; Claptrap and the Heavy both work as comic relief presences in their videogame franchises; Ash's Evil Dead/Army of Darkness games both had comedic edges; Strong Bad was from a comedy web-original series. The banter doesn't work without that comic sensibility.

Finally, and most importantly, they need to be obtainable by Telltale. Look, let's be honest. Even though Poker Night 2 did an amazing job grabbing three opponents from outside the Telltale stable, they were still not massive franchises. To be blunt, they're not getting Lara Croft. Being from a Telltale game is basically a gimme, but anything Valve is probably good to go, and anything from a low to mid-level media franchise is plausible.

So, let's take a few stabs at prospective characters.

1. Elaine Marley

(Image from Tell-Tale press kit.)

Absolutely a must have. She hits every criteria dead on the money. She's from the Monkey Island series, which includes Telltale. Her persona is less goofy than her leading man's, but she's still a comedic presence. She's visually iconic. And it's hard NOT to imagine this rough and tumble pirate's governess at a poker table. Frankly, she's the obvious first pick, and I'd be very disappointed not to see her.

2. Alyx Vance

Arguable. The sidekick to Gordon Freeman is a tomboyish mechanic, who would certainly be at home at a poker table. She's visually iconic to the Half-Life franchise, and Valve's been co-operative before with Tell-Tale so we can assume she'd be obtainable. But she's never a comedic presence, and it's hard to see how she'd work with the group for banter. Let's put her in as a possible, but unless nobody else is a good option, you'd really want to go elsewhere.

3. ... ?

But that's just it: Nobody else is a good option!

Really, who is? Brenna or Kara from Penny Arcade? Not iconic. Sybil Pandemik from Sam & Max? Not iconic. Molly from The Walking Dead? Not iconic, not comedic. Clementine? Not plausible at a poker table. Marizpan from Homestar Runner? Not plausible. Lara Croft? As noted before, unobtainable. Gran'ma Ben from Bone? OK, she's very, very close. She is iconic to the Bone franchise, plausible at a poker table, comedic. My only worry is that she's, well, not a very well known franchise character.

Here's the thing about it: It's not entirely Tell Tale's fault, or at least, not the Poker Night team's fault. It's the videogame industry's fault as a whole; there's just not enough iconic female characters out there. Note also that even the two or three plausibles I mentioned include not one main character.

This is the bigger problem. It's not something that Tell-tale can solve alone. I don't buy claims that this is just sensible marketing: The industry has a major problem with assuming a male audience, only making games for that audience, and failing to try and expand that audience.

But the mental exercise of trying to cast a female Poker Night casts those flaws in high relief. It's something the industry needs to solve.
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About JackSlackone of us since 5:31 PM on 04.14.2013