On The Sketchy Woman Character

Shamus Young

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On The Sketchy Woman Character

I think the various "sidekick" trends in gaming are really interesting.

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Zhukov

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I think another factor in the proliferation of 'Dad Games' is the advancing age of developers and audiences.

These days it seems that the 14-24 year old gamers are matched if not outnumbered by the 25-35 year olds. That is to say, guys who are at the age where many people start thinking about families and kids.

It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see why themes of parenthood might resonate with players and developers at that stage of life. Combine that with the ongoing trend of male protagonists and boom, Dad Games.
 

the December King

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That makes sense, Shamus- interesting point of view. And I think Zhukoz has a good point.

And sorry you needed the preamble.
 

hentropy

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I think the "Not a female protagonist, but not a sausage fest" theory is probably spot-on, I've been thinking similar things ever since Yahtzee did his own "Why are PCs suddenly Dads" article.

I remember getting a bit of pushback from reasonable people making reasonable arguments when I called The Last of Us a tiny bit sexist for relegating the female character to an adopted daughter/sidekick role. Then, especially when it came out, people were like no, it's like that, even feminists don't mind etc etc.

And that may have been true, I never owned a PS3. I suppose my main objection wasn't even purely from a feminist perspective, it was just "why not just make her the protagonist?" I mean, that's a decent enough game right there. Young female protagonist, having to learn how to survive and make her way to the safe zone or whatever the premise is would have its own interest in it. In some ways I think when it comes to games, people often want to use complicated social arguments advocating for more women in games, when a much simpler argument could be "because putting a guy in EVERYTHING is really, really boring." And no number of sidekicks, no matter how well written, is going to make it less boring.
 

Callate

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The small cast size of many video games (especially smaller, "indie" productions that still insist on using voice acting) can't help but exacerbate the problem of the "romance question". If someone is working in a company of a hundred people, male and female, it's entirely possible that people will keep their professional and romantic lives separate. If two people, without prior romantic entanglements, of the appropriate sexes and sexual preferences, of similar age, are obligated by circumstance to spend long periods of time alone or nearly alone together... The expectation of fiction, certainly, is that they might end up romantically involved. But even realistically, it's far from incredible that the question would at least come up.

I wrote a review of a book a few years back noting a similar situation, and had to suggest that the failure to even mention the possibility of the two characters connecting romantically was a bit of a failing. I wasn't by any means suggesting that the two should end up together, that a romance was obligatory, but merely that failing to have so much as a sentence saying "We agreed long ago that our relationship would remain strictly professional" was to the characters' detriment.
 

Neurotic Void Melody

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Oh wow, i was quite literally musing this trend last week; get out of my mind!!

Let's not forget The Talos Principle, though not sketchy or a sidekick...still a prominent bodiless voice with a soft, female (Maybe Californian? I don't know US accent subtleties). The developers seem to require a precise softly spoken casual US female voice. This could also be related to that theory that men seem to take more notice if the voice is female. SatNav speak was apparently based on such findings.

There is also the woman-with-computer-access-advicing-you-through-earpiece trope which goes beyond just this trend, into TV series, comics, films etc etc which could have some relation to this.
 

SlumlordThanatos

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hentropy said:
And that may have been true, I never owned a PS3. I suppose my main objection wasn't even purely from a feminist perspective, it was just "why not just make her the protagonist?"
If you ask me, Ellie pretty much is the protagonist; the whole story revolves around her. This is especially true if you played Left Behind; you never get to play as Joel through the entire side story, and Ellie is the only one to get any character development in the DLC.

I've always defined "protagonist" as the individual who is the driving force behind the plot, and that character isn't always the PC. For example, in Final Fantasy XII, the player character is just a street urchin with potential who, in a twist of fate, gets caught up in Ashe's campaign to reclaim her throne. Likewise in the FF series, Final Fantasy X gives us the insufferable, whiny Tidus, who is simply a hanger-on to Yuna's quest to destroy Sin, and he doesn't even become important to the plot until the very, very end. Vaan and Tidus are almost never the driving force behind their respective plots, even though they are ostensibly the lead characters.

I imagine the only reason Ellie wasn't the PC in The Last of Us is because it'd be a bit odd to see a 14-year-old girl slaughter her way through government security forces, bandits, and infected for an entire game, even though she is fully capable of doing so. That, and we'd miss out on the relationship dynamics of Ellie being escorted by some loner who doesn't recognize that she's fully capable of taking care of herself.
 

MortalKomic

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Although, the odd thing about not wanting romance, I'd argue that Firewatch was just that. The "sketchy lady" and the main character bickered a lot while simultaneously flirting a lot. So it's an interesting mix of the two, despite the fact that one half is supposedly supposed to lead to the other.
 

hentropy

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SlumlordThanatos said:
If you ask me, Ellie pretty much is the protagonist; the whole story revolves around her. This is especially true if you played Left Behind; you never get to play as Joel through the entire side story, and Ellie is the only one to get any character development in the DLC...
It's a fair point that a protagonist doesn't necessarily have to be the PC. On the other hand, playing games where a female character is the focus but I'm still forced to play a grizzled dude only gets you so far. Of course, it's not just about that one game, which could have done it all perfectly, but if the overall trend continues I do think it's a troubling "compromise" to keep PCs male for entirely stale, corporate reasons but give a mulligan to feminists or women in general.

As Shamus pointed out, we've already been in this with the movie industry. People got tired of females being nothing but side note love interests, so they started pulling greater focus and then producers would give them "attitude" or make them superficially "feminist" or "strong" in order to appease the women watching and make them forget that her whole role is still as a love interest.

I imagine the only reason Ellie wasn't the PC in The Last of Us is because it'd be a bit odd to see a 14-year-old girl slaughter her way through government security forces, bandits, and infected for an entire game, even though she is fully capable of doing so. That, and we'd miss out on the relationship dynamics of Ellie being escorted by some loner who doesn't recognize that she's fully capable of taking care of herself.
It's certainly not that odd if you watch anime or play more Japanese games, though it is true that it would be somewhat jarring to western sensibilities at large. But I think it would be interesting without going "full anime" and keeping it more grounded, but still facing the realities that younger people are not left out of wars, societal collapse, and zombie uprisings, and there are ways to approach it without being too melodramatic.
 

maninahat

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Having a mother/grandmother as a support character. Rare but awesome! But I guess a little too close to home for wish fulfilment stories and teenage targeted games.
 

Deathlyphil

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There are some good examples in TV of this. Spaced for one. Sure, it shows its age and low budget pretty badly in some places, but its still damn amazing. Spoiler alert! Tim and Daisy don't get together. Not even once.
 

LongAndShort

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My money's on siblings being the next big one, following Assassin's Creed's lead. Not "we grew up together, we may as well be brother and sister!" ('cause that trope always leads to eventual romance) but actual siblings.

Then shall come the Eunuch bodyguard protecting the princess phase.
 

Casual Shinji

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hentropy said:
I think the "Not a female protagonist, but not a sausage fest" theory is probably spot-on, I've been thinking similar things ever since Yahtzee did his own "Why are PCs suddenly Dads" article.

I remember getting a bit of pushback from reasonable people making reasonable arguments when I called The Last of Us a tiny bit sexist for relegating the female character to an adopted daughter/sidekick role. Then, especially when it came out, people were like no, it's like that, even feminists don't mind etc etc.

And that may have been true, I never owned a PS3. I suppose my main objection wasn't even purely from a feminist perspective, it was just "why not just make her the protagonist?" I mean, that's a decent enough game right there. Young female protagonist, having to learn how to survive and make her way to the safe zone or whatever the premise is would have its own interest in it. In some ways I think when it comes to games, people often want to use complicated social arguments advocating for more women in games, when a much simpler argument could be "because putting a guy in EVERYTHING is really, really boring." And no number of sidekicks, no matter how well written, is going to make it less boring.
You could say it's a bit sexist, but not in the 'relegated to sidekick' kind of way. You look at The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite, and The Walking Dead, and the recurring theme beyond the 'father' one is that they all feature young girl companions. I doubt you can name me a similar game where it's a 30-something male protagonist accompanied by a teenaged boy. This is most likely because the developers knew their target demographic is guys, and that guys would find it easier to strike up an emotional bond with a girl companion then with a boy. Ellie herself feels specifically written to be as inoffensive to male audiences as possible. Like one of the guys, but not one of the guys.
SlumlordThanatos said:
If you ask me, Ellie pretty much is the protagonist; the whole story revolves around her. This is especially true if you played Left Behind; you never get to play as Joel through the entire side story, and Ellie is the only one to get any character development in the DLC.
I'd disagree.

Joel is very much the protagonist in the main story. Ellie is... I guess you could call her the catalyst character; She's the one who brings about a change within the protagonist, and forces that change to snowball. But you never really get to peak inside her head the way you do with Joel. Not even really in the DLC apart from one single moment.
 

loa

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Male lead, female non-human lead or vice versa. A dragon or robot or whatever.
I don't think anybody expected a romantic subplot in drakengard or system shock no matter how much shodan wants you to pant and sweat in her corridors and from what I've seen in my limited exposure to halo games, master chief never got it on with cortana and nobody expected that to happen.

Could also be a kid male lead and female adult sidekick.
I doubt the expectation of a romantic subplot between, say, steven and garnet in steven universe ever came to anyones mind.

Any wedge between them that cements that no, they can't and won't bonk so let's just move on will do.
Being kids, relatives, different species, whatever.
 

Shamus Young

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Only sketchy male character I can think of along those lines would be the one from Bioshock. Can't remember his name, but Would You Kindly ignore that >.>
 

freaper

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They could try to pull off an ex-wife at some point, but that entails respect for the maturity of their audience. Maybe in a few years, once the dad-devs start going through their divorces.
 

josemlopes

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Wasnt Dredd kind of filling a dad role? He was more experienced and was evaluating Anderson, helping her stay in control of the situation.
 

Megalodon

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Mentor maybe, but not really 'Dad'. That implies a level of emotional investment and care that Dredd doesn't (and shouldn't) display at any point during the film. If a father's daughter gets gunned down, that's a lifer changing trauma. Whereas Anderson going down would've been a bummer, but Dredd would've just told the chief Judge 'told you she wasn't up to it', then gone back to work.