Tropes vs. Women Protagonists

Shamus Young

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Tropes vs. Women Protagonists

Women want to play games too, and right now, games are failing them.

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TwistedEllipses

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This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
 
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TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
Yes. That's what the majority of JRPG protagonists are, and from what I can tell by gazing through the internet, it seems to be pretty popular in Japan. Not so much in the US or Europe though.
 

Mr Cwtchy

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Not going to go into the whole Kickstarter issue again, save to say that I have a fair distaste for Sarkeesian, and that the media coverage(including but not limited to The Escapists') of the event in question was complete shit.

As per usual, Shamus raises a good point, but what exactly is there to discuss here? That there is a problem is pretty much beyond (reasonable) debate. Having some well-informed woman who can kickstart(if you'll pardon the pun) some serious discussion sounds like a good idea, but IMO after the last 'attempt' I have a feeling it will be even less well received unless it is done extremely carefully and extremely well. I'm not saying that no one should try because of it, to clarify.

But then I guess as a male I shouldn't even be posting this at all. :p
 

EmperorSubcutaneous

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TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
I don't know if you mean androgynous or ambiguous. If you meant androgynous, then yeah, JRPGs. If you meant ambiguous then yes, if the game is heavily stylized. Journey, for example; you can't tell what gender any of the characters are below their cloaks, or if they even have genders, or if there's anything more to them than the cloak itself.

Might be one thing that made me like that game so much.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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I think we can all agree that "Dual Gender Protagonists" (such as Cmd. Shephard, the Hero in Fable or the Saints Row protagonist) can fulfill the role in certain games while a strongly written character of a certain gender fulfill a very different role in a completely different type of game.

If the idea behind the character is to let the player shape the character (as is usually done in RPGs) then gender is just one of many options you let the player choose. But it becomes problematic to let the player choose gender in games where the narrative relies on a clearly defined protagonist. The problem in contemporary gaming is that many developers and publishers seems to think that the average gamer wouldn't be interested in playing a female protagonist even if the game itself caters to typically male power fantasies (such as playing a female soldier in a shooter set in contemporary warfare).

I can't help but think of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer when this discussion comes up. Joss Whedon, a middle-aged man, managed to create a teenage girl protagonist and not only make her appealing to the male demographic wanting action but also made her have distinctly female problems and a female personality. This in a show that managed to discuss both the pains of growing up and being a young woman while still keeping up with the action.

So arguably, these kinds of characters can be done without sacrificing the core demographic. The question seems to be whatever they aren't done because the developers don't trust them to be successful protagonists or because the developers just aren't capable of designing them.
 

Azuaron

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It's interesting that you mention Bayonetta as made for guys, because I've heard from women gamers (including Susan Arendt, an editor at my favorite website) that they love Bayonetta as a strong female character.

Further, if you compare Bayonetta to Japanese eye-candy characters (Dead or Alive, for instance), she has a number of design elements that were intended to make her more feminine (instead of sexy), and her sexiness was suppose to come more from her mysteriousness and intelligence than her body. For instance, she has normal-sized breasts, her hips are rounder, and her limbs are exaggeratedly long--which also makes her incredibly tall and tower over other characters (not something that most guys look for in their fantasy women, since height has implicit power implications).

Note: I haven't played Bayonetta; I'm mostly just regurgitating what I've heard Susan say on a podcast and interviews of Mari Shimazaki, Bayonetta's lead character designer, that I've read.
 

Toriver

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TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
Well, while not exactly androgynous, as Shamus pointed out, there are games like Fable where the main character (depending on how you play the game they may not be the protagonist, per se) can be male or female and it won't heavily impact the outcome of the game. And in the first Metroid, most gamers didn't realize Samus was female until the very end of the game. So I would say we have seen some examples of it or something like it.

As far as the article as a whole, I just want to say bravo, Shamus. I pretty much agree with you 100%. The reactions of many of those "murlocs" to this project just proves the points I made in a couple blogs I wrote for another website on the concept of maturity in video games:
Part 1 [http://www.screwattack.com/news/rated-m-maturity-games-part-1]
Part 2 [http://www.screwattack.com/news/rated-m-maturity-games-part-2]
 

Labyrinth

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Gethsemani said:
*Snippity*
Roleplay games have come a long way when it comes to main characters. I remember in Baldur's Gate being mildly irritated that they added to the gender description for female "easily the equals of their male counterparts". Possibly not quoted exactly. In these games the female choice is secondary. You select to change from the male auto-pick in every one that I've played. If there is promotional material it's never been automatically with the female protagonist. There was a lot of fuss around the box art for ME3 portraying FemShep rather than .. Shep? MaleShep? And you could always choose to go back to MaleShep if that was too threatening, it's on the other side of the cover. In fact, you have to change the cover yourself to display FemShep. Oh, and the General Public got to pick how she looked! Those threads on Facebook revolved around "I LIKE THIS ONE BECAUSE SHE'S HOTTER". It's still nice to have the choice, yes. It's not perfect however.

Also, Joss Whedon spent some time describing how his author-projection into his work is always female when I heard him speak once. He writes as though he's Buffy, as though he's River, or Echo. That's probably different in other shows which aren't female-based. I think it works really well, love the guy.


To Sir Young; I have seen several blog posts looking at female protagonists in games, but never anything mainstream. They were often looking at both gender and race. One of the characters who does come up a lot in that context is Portal's Chell. She's a Latino woman who's not really sexualised at all in comparison to the norm.
 

burningdragoon

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Irridium said:
TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
Yes. That's what the majority of JRPG protagonists are, and from what I can tell by gazing through the internet, it seems to be pretty popular in Japan. Not so much in the US or Europe though.
It's a cultural thing really. It's not that they don't like badass power fantasies like western cultures, it's that younger androgynous heroes are their badass power fantasies.

(from what I understand anyway. Also, generalizations!)
 

Gearhead mk2

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Personally, I think the industry is moving ahead on this. Take for instance Borderlands 2. There's only one female player character ATM, Maya the Siren, but she's well-dressed, she's the only player character that isn't a sociopath, and she's got a really useful power. Then you got Ellie, who is possibly the first morbidly obese character in gaming that isn't just for fat jokes. There's still one or two, cause it's a comedic game for the most part, but they're not really offensive. And the upcoming Mechromancer, Gaige? Details are still thin on the ground, but she looks pretty good. I can only think of one female character in the game built for eye candy. We get more stuff like this, where all the primary women are good and any ms-fanservices, damsels-in-distress and stuff like that get pushed into secondary roles, if they're put in at all, and hopefully we can put all this behind us.
 

Gethsemani_v1legacy

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Labyrinth said:
Gethsemani said:
*Snippity*
Roleplay games have come a long way when it comes to main characters. I remember in Baldur's Gate being mildly irritated that they added to the gender description for female "easily the equals of their male counterparts". Possibly not quoted exactly. In these games the female choice is secondary. You select to change from the male auto-pick in every one that I've played. If there is promotional material it's never been automatically with the female protagonist. There was a lot of fuss around the box art for ME3 portraying FemShep rather than .. Shep? MaleShep? And you could always choose to go back to MaleShep if that was too threatening, it's on the other side of the cover. In fact, you have to change the cover yourself to display FemShep. Oh, and the General Public got to pick how she looked! Those threads on Facebook revolved around "I LIKE THIS ONE BECAUSE SHE'S HOTTER". It's still nice to have the choice, yes. It's not perfect however.

Also, Joss Whedon spent some time describing how his author-projection into his work is always female when I heard him speak once. He writes as though he's Buffy, as though he's River, or Echo. That's probably different in other shows which aren't female-based. I think it works really well, love the guy.


To Sir Young; I have seen several blog posts looking at female protagonists in games, but never anything mainstream. They were often looking at both gender and race. One of the characters who does come up a lot in that context is Portal's Chell. She's a Latino woman who's not really sexualised at all in comparison to the norm.
Yeah, I definitely get what you are saying about Mass Effect 3 and I was one of the (supposedly many) people who just sighed and shook my head in disbelief at the odd kind of pandering to the male audience that the "design FemShep" thing was. In a way I felt it just reinforced the idea that a woman derives much of her value from how she looks, not what she does or who she is. I would have preferred if Bioware had just put a FemShep out there for us, but I can understand keeping MaleShep as the main "front figure", since his face is what you've been seeing on the over of ME1 and ME2.

As for Chell, I feel she's one of those non-examples. She never speaks or acts in any way that is not prompted by the player. Just like Gordon Freeman she's a name and a body without any other characteristics to actually make her a, you know, character. She's not sexualized certainly, but neither is she give any other form of portrayal. In that respect she's not a good example of a female protagonist, simply because the only clue we get that she's a woman is that we can see her character skin through portals, she's got no personality and as such we've got nothing to connect to as audience. Replacing Chell with a big purple cube (a'la missing source engine assets) would not in any way impact on the narrative or portrayal of Chell.
 

DrunkOnEstus

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I never do this, but I had to stop when Mirror's Edge was mentioned as an example of "a bad game" and how no props were given to really support the idea that Faith as a character did MUCH to point the finger at the very things Sarkeesian has a problem with. The game is an incredible breath of fresh air in virtually all aspects and I'm sticking to it.
 

Sniper Team 4

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The only female lead that I can think of where sexuality was never really spouted in-game is Lara Croft (outside the game is a different story). I've only played the new trilogy remake on the PS3, but the only time I recall anyone mentioning anything about her figure in the game--or the game itself bringing it up--is when she tackles that American to the ground and lands on his chest. He stares at her with a grin on his face and responds to her question with, "Give me a minute, I'm thinking..." No other time in those three games is her gender ever 'problem'. Yes, you can unlock costumes for her, but the only eye candy one is her swimsuit, which she only wears at the mansion because there's a swimming pool. I know in Tomb Raider 2 there's that scene with the shower, but I've never played the actual game.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, does Lara Croft count?
 

Albino Boo

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Gethsemani said:
So arguably, these kinds of characters can be done without sacrificing the core demographic. The question seems to be whatever they aren't done because the developers don't trust them to be successful protagonists or because the developers just aren't capable of designing them.

Part of the problem is that games aren't as good at narrative as other mediums. You used buffy as an example, in TV show the entire 42 minutes of time isn't made up of purely action, maybe 10-15 minutes of each show was. This left half an hour for conversation and plot development. If each 42 minutes broke down in the same portion of action to dialogue in a game, a player would soon get bored. Half an hour of dialogue wheel or cutscene to 15 minutes of action is not going to work. To create a fully rounded character is quite hard within the limitations of the medium.
 

Labyrinth

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Gethsemani said:
As for Chell, I feel she's one of those non-examples. She never speaks or acts in any way that is not prompted by the player. Just like Gordon Freeman she's a name and a body without any other characteristics to actually make her a, you know, character. She's not sexualized certainly, but neither is she give any other form of portrayal. In that respect she's not a good example of a female protagonist, simply because the only clue we get that she's a woman is that we can see her character skin through portals, she's got no personality and as such we've got nothing to connect to as audience. Replacing Chell with a big purple cube (a'la missing source engine assets) would not in any way impact on the narrative or portrayal of Chell.
Ohh, but it would. So much of that narrative is around notions of humanity, especially the co-op of Portal 2. I can certainly see arguments for them not being characters in the same sense as someone who is given a voice and forced to perform particular actions in cut scenes or scripts, but I don't think that makes them less of a character. The way that other characters respond to them is influenced by who they are. Take the fat digs in Portal 2 as GLaDOS's way of reinforcing that Chell is a bad person for the vicious, horrible murder of an AI who was only dedicated to Science. I would perceive that as gendered, an intriguingly perverted trope that crops up a lot around women. Somewhat around men, but less. Women do have their worth attached to appearance and the incomparable terror that is FAT is culturally accepted as being synonymous with negativity.
 

Stickfigure

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TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
Androgynes are fairly common, actually. From world of Goo to Lemmings, a lot of games that feature non-human protagonists are also asexual. Hell, before Pac-Man had Ms. Pac-Man, did anyone really assign any kind of sex to pac-man?

As for human Androgynes, well... as someone earlier commented, japanese games can be a bit more fluid with their gender roles(as always, Persona 4 stands as a good example of this), but they still tend to be pretty established with the sexual identity of their protagonists(if only to facilitate love interest subplots).

Mr Cwtchy said:
But then I guess as a male I shouldn't even be posting this at all. :p
At thee and the author both I roll my eyes. Not for your professed distaste of Sarkeesian; by all means, feel of her what you wish. I certainly don't agree with all the points that she makes, and a lot of her arguments can be pretty specious.

But don't play up the "put-upon male perspective" role here. It's shameful and intellectually dishonest. If you can state your opinion in a clear, supportable way, then do so. Don't go trumpeting that you will just be ignored if you dare speak out against her. No one's stopping you from making the post, and it's not like you'll be administered electric shocks if you don't blanket all your opinions in the utmost of political correctness. This mealy-mouthed shit that so many posters and feature writers have been engaging in around Sarkeesian("Oh, if I say disagree now, it'll be construed as sexist horseshit") is just the utmost obnoxious(not to mention somewhat fallacious) cop-out. Just say what you think and be done with it.



I personally like the idea of someone -- anyone -- getting some press talking about this kind of subject. With the amount of press this whole debacle has gotten, it will force a dialogue about a subject that admittedly deserves a dialogue. Whether or not Sarkeesian demonstrates a clear understanding of the subject matter or merely oversimplifies the subject and ignores the nuances so worth observing when discussing any media, people will be talking about it. Other authors(possibly better ones) will have to write about it, forum posters will have to argue about it, parts of the gaming community that have been shamefully hiding behind their "no girls allowed" signs will be made to address on some level the existence of a whole other sex in their hobby.

I suppose we'll see when she's done.
 

DioWallachia

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Gethsemani said:
As for Chell, I feel she's one of those non-examples. She never speaks or acts in any way that is not prompted by the player. Just like Gordon Freeman she's a name and a body without any other characteristics to actually make her a, you know, character. She's not sexualized certainly, but neither is she give any other form of portrayal. In that respect she's not a good example of a female protagonist, simply because the only clue we get that she's a woman is that we can see her character skin through portals, she's got no personality and as such we've got nothing to connect to as audience. Replacing Chell with a big purple cube (a'la missing source engine assets) would not in any way impact on the narrative or portrayal of Chell.
Actually she HAS a characteristic that fits the tone of the Portal series.......she is stubborn as fuck. According to the Rat Man comic, she was selected for THAT VERY REASON, she wasnt the best subject for experiments but it was perfect to defy GlaDoS. That is one of the reason of why she never talks back to her.

I know that all human beings have equally opportunity to be stupid in their own way, so gender or colour doesnt matter to me. But for the people who DO care about having Gender-Swap choice in a RPG (for example), i ask: Isnt that like some kind of Positive Discrimination? Both male and female are equal.....to the point that playing one or the other makes no diference EVEN on the context of the world they live in.

Is that what you people want? a game that doesnt bring up whatever implications or societal norms that the gender you selected MUST overcome or exploit for your RPG experience? That is the same as having Warrior - Mage - Thief, and people in the game still refer you as a Warrior even if you are a Mage. What is the point of having the gender thing if the writers are too busy doing nothing or wanking over the fact that they are not writing for Hollywood or something?

If they are going to use gender, it has to have MEANING. If you bring it up, then you must do something with it.
 

DioWallachia

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Just play IJI already. Its Metroid meets Deus Ex with a female protagonist that acts like a human being.

I am sick of repeating that. The game itself was made for free by a gamer in his spare time; We, the gamers, know exactly what we want on our female protagonist. So the problem is not us, but the game companies like......i don't know....maybe FUCKING EA?

Seriously, we got the obiously evil guys right in front of us, and we ignore it for no reason. Bitching about a talentless hack like Anita wont cut it, if we want the ignorant to stop complaining about things that arent there (like ICO being sexist) then we need to speak with our wallets and say "Fuck you EA, stop treatinig us like childs with stupid ads like "Your Mom Will Hate This"".
 

The Rogue Wolf

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I've heard the argument raised that the muscular beefcake men that show up in some games (template: Kratos) are the equivalent of Ivy from Soul Caliber; some male players will say "Look, the same thing happens to us men, now stop complaining!"

Except that that isn't it. The unemotive slabs of meat we see in games aren't designed to be attractive to women- they are the representation of what a stereotypical male thinks is attractive to women. They're the societal stereotype that the "nerd" sect continually ran up against as they matured... the overmuscled omni-athelete, with a jaw you can crack marble on, an inability to feel emotions aside from anger (let alone express them) and a relentless single-minded pursuit of his goals that would make a Terminator nervous. We men (this is a generalization here) internalized this stereotype, made it our paradigm, built our escapism around achieving it, and blindly expect that women actually agree with it.

Irridium said:
TwistedEllipses said:
This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...
Yes. That's what the majority of JRPG protagonists are, and from what I can tell by gazing through the internet, it seems to be pretty popular in Japan. Not so much in the US or Europe though.
It strikes me that these "pretty boy" men we see in JRPGs have an entirely different source of strength- usually either incredibly specialized training or some form of "super serum" or magical alteration. It seems to be a running trend in Japanese media, whereas here we depend on a blatant display of muscle to denote strength. I've always found it noteworthy that one of the most popular anime/manga series here in the US- Dragon Ball- bucked that trend and showed characters visibly gaining muscle mass as they grew in physical strength, even though the vast majority of combat in that series involves things like flight, chi blasts and other "special attacks".