The discussion about gender politics in games is one I can barely stomach. Can you blame me? It’s a tired ‘debate’ usually involving a blue-haired ‘Xer’ screeching for more <insert minority> protagonists. Yawn. Yet, while the activists bore me to tears there’s a bigger gender issue to talk about: Right now, girls don’t like female characters.
Let me quickly prefix this article with #NotAllGirlGamers hate female characters. Now just think for a second. Out of all the girl gamers you know how many care about the gender of their character? Now out of those how many of them like a female character? How many actively complain about female characters?
…Do you see what I mean?
At the moment I only notice the gender of my character they’re irking me because of it. So, I propose that before we start stapling breasts onto characters, we iron out the existing problems with our femme fatales. Let’s talk about the problems and offer up some solutions.
Lil’ Miss Mary Sue
A perfect protagonist is the most aggravating, immersion-breaking, rage-inducing thing in gaming. Unfortunately, it is all too frequent with modern day female characters. The terror of the tag ‘sexist’ liquefies good writers into the gutter-oil of Fanfiction.net. The results are perfect, but utterly boring and downright annoying characters.
I dread playing as Lightning in Final Fantasy Dissidia. Her dialogue, when broken down is painfully inane. A character will compliment her, and she will rudely tell them to focus on the mission. Can I also mention how creepy it is when NPCs start casually fangirling over the protagonist? When the protagonist is you it’s alright. When it’s a character with their own story it makes me feel like the third wheel on a date.
The point is, flaws are vital to a good character. A basic thing in making a character likeable is to make them relatable. Who can relate to some flawless alien being who everyone wants to grovel under? Give me a character who walks around barefoot picking stuff up with their toes. I can definitely relate to that. A little bit of jealousy or a short temper can go a long way toward making a character likeable.
The Female Perspective
There’s a lot to say about the female perspective and gaming. The main point I want to make is it’s often executed poorly. I find female characters in games masculine. Not physically, but just the way they think about things. Female characters often have this feel of being caricatures to me. Men and women approach situations at different angles and think differently about things. We fight differently, we move differently, we have different motivations.
There are certain things that come with being a woman that just aren’t capitalized on in games. I have the mothering instincts of a teaspoon, I can’t even keep plants alive. Yet, I still wake in the night sometimes thinking “where’s the baby!?” even though my little brother is 10 now. Games like Silent Hill know how to capitalize on that fear. There’s plenty of space in games to have more mothering characteristics in our females. Sorry to pick on Lightning from Final Fantasy, but I think her character would benefit from being nice to kids. Especially near the start of the game. That Shadow the Hedgehog-esque standoffishness is boring when applied to everyone with equal measure.
In This War Of Mine Zlata sometimes keeps the other characters awake because she keeps crying. It’s this human thing, and women are more open about crying. In the same game, another girl has an ability called ‘Good with Kids’. It’s these simple details that really feed into making a character interesting and correct. Even things like walk cycles add to making a character more feminine. Girls tend to swing our hips a little when we walk.
Even if a game shows the limitations that come with a sex I’m impressed. A lot of female characters are toned rather than muscled. A female character not quite managing a pull-up shows some thought. I always think bustier characters should run holding onto their breasts. I’m sure it would go down swimmingly with feminists, but it would be more realistic.
I don’t think this problem is entirely down to ignorance on the developer’s part. There’s a certain fear of portraying women as weaker in media in general. Games are at this awkward stage where they’re not considered art, but are more than entertainment. They’re an easy target for criticism that films can glide over. It may be that until enough games break the ice we’ll be stuck with male-esque females. I think we’ll get some interesting games when we learn to celebrate the differences between the two genders.
The Female Personality
When it comes to the sexual side of interactions, games only halfway succeed. They excel at portraying sexually dominant females like Cereza from Bayonetta. I love playing those highly charged characters. They show off a dark, manipulative and powerful side of the sexuality. It’s a bit of a power trip, these women are in control and know it. These are the sort of characters I love playing, but the shoe doesn’t fit everyone. When it comes to other types of strong females, there’s a bump in the road.
I know some girls aren’t comfortable with being sexy. I can respect that, so sure maybe we do have a deficit of strong A-romantics. I think some games pull this off. Jade from Beyond Good and Evil is pretty disinterested in romance.
Games are escapism, so characters should be something we want to be. Activists often bark up the wrong tree for this one. Sexually provocative females aren’t going to disappear from mainstream games anytime soon. It would be like taking tragic emo love interests out of vampire romance novels. However, the battle might be more successfully fought on the casual games market. Women are huge consumers of casual games and apps, whereas men tend to rule the roost for hardcore games. Kickstarter provides a platform for people to fund games with protagonists for a niche audience. That is really the way to go if you want a plain Jane protagonist in a mainstream game. You need to remember that having a sexy man or woman on the cover is going to shift more games. You can put a bikini-clad babe on anything to sell more of it.
I hear a lot about remaking games and changing the characters to be less sexy. This is something I strongly disagree with, you can’t change an existing work. Imagine if we changed King Lear not to have political marriages so it would match modern day politics. That wouldn’t fly, and I think any existing work has the right to be preserved. Even if it’s vile. I mean, we keep Mein Kampf available for purchase, don’t we? Really are Lara Croft’s breasts more offensive than Hitler? Removing sexy females from gaming is a form of censorship and shaming. I won’t turn up my nose at new and different sorts of powerful female characters, though.
The Politics Of Being A Woman
It used to be a lot easier to be a female gamer. Sure, we were rare unicorns perceived by all as some kind of miracle. Unfortunately, excessive and incessant activism has made being a girl gamer a political statement. It’s something that does curb my enjoyment of online gaming. It’s birthed a class of girls who play out of spite and clearly aren’t enjoying themselves. It’s a bizarre experience to play alongside someone who is gaming as a chore.
One time that sticks with me is playing League of Angels. A fellow girl refused to believe I was a girl because I enjoyed the game. Now, League of Angels is pretty risque. Its adverts have a sticker with ‘Men only’ on it. I can understand why it’d be the target of girls trying to prove a point. What I can’t understand is the pure aggression at the idea of a woman liking something smutty. As someone against that sort of behaviour, it pushes me away from online games. Ironically, probably the opposite thing these girls want.
The whole modern day political quagmire around gaming ruins a lot of things. There’s a sense of pussyfooting when it comes to dealing with girls. It’s always been around, but now it is less out of shock and more out of suspicion. Are you actually a gamer or are you an activist? Are you a journalist here to blacken the name of this game? Thankfully, this isn’t too common in most communities. In many ways, we’ve lost the equality we had because people are afraid to interact honestly with us. We’re still unicorns, but people are eyeing that potentially lethal horn.
There isn’t really an easy solution to this. It’s just a side effect of the state of the modern world. Maybe one day activist will realise that these behaviours mostly harm girls. If the public opinion of games and gamers changed, maybe people would feel less inclined to intervene.
The Bigger Question
Not to be crude, but gaming is a bit like sex. Men and women do it for different reasons and get different things out of it. The problem I have is that I don’t think all of gaming should change on the whim of a minority of people. This ‘issue’ seems so incredibly inane to me, especially when the real world is currently a dumpster fire.
Of course, I want female gamers to be comfortable, and they are. The majority of female gamers don’t care about the gender of their character. That stuff only comes up when you’re writing yaoi or drawing fanart (and don’t you judge me for my substantial collection of ValenWind fanart). It seems to me that we would have better female characters if writers weren’t afraid of backlash. Between Activism and the natural tendency to treat women delicately, we’re losing good female characters.
Diversity is all well and good, but does it sell? Is it even something gamers want? If it is, all they need is to support games that are. Right now, we have a lot of people talking, but they aren’t putting their money where their mouth is. Personally, I’m not going to break my back to buy a game just because the protagonist is politically kosher. So, why do girls hate female characters? Because maybe we care a tad too much.