Tropes vs. Women Protagonists

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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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This is a weird question, but have games ever gone for an androgynous main character? That could be an interesting thing to play with...

TwistedEllipses:
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.

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

TwistedEllipses:
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.

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.

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.

TwistedEllipses:
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
Part 2

Gethsemani:
*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.

Irridium:

TwistedEllipses:
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!)

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.

Labyrinth:

Gethsemani:
*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.

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.

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?

Gethsemani:

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.

Gethsemani:

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.

TwistedEllipses:
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:
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.

Gethsemani:

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.

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"".

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:

TwistedEllipses:
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".

The Rogue Wolf:
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.

I never understood how that kind of brute would be an "ideal" for male or even NERDS. My feelings towards this can be summed up by good old Thanos himself:
image

In fact, we see this CONSTANTLY. All those brutes are ALWAYS manipulated into fucking up the world by their own hand, so i dont see how this can be a power fantasy when in doing so you make everyone lives worse. It seems more like the developers taking a dump over this ideal "male" by using the good old trope of "Nice job breaking it. Hero"

Unless the audience was made by pure Sociopaths or something.

Gethsemani:
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.

You could say the same argument for Samus Aran in the "Metroid" series. However, most gamers felt like Samus was a more strong-willed character in classics like "Super Metroid", unlike the strong-willed Samus we got in "Metroid: Other M".

Chell could be something of a blank slate or non-specified character, but that isn't the case. She is the one that takes down Glados - twice.

Spoilers about "Portal 2":

Like Samus, there is some hints of Chell's character. We can assume that Chell has some kind of brain damage by saying apple with jumping, but she has to be a smart person to get through all the traps in the Apeture facility. She never fights against the player to cower off in fear when a turret shows itself, but pick it up and hold it to a laser with sadistic glee (like I would).

I'll admit that all this is implied and up to anyone's own interpretation. But considering the mixed views of people's opinions on "Metroid: Other M", I believe Chell does have a character that could be expanded on more. Instead of making Chell as a weakling, like what most people's interpretation for Samus in "Metroid: Other M" when she encounters Ridley, who she killed a few times before that game.

I'm going to be the devil's advocate here.

I can easily say that the Developers are faced with an overwhelming task of making the game accepted by all masses. And while some might be brilliant game designers, that doesn't mean they are sociological geniuses. Stereotypes are there because people in real life don't want to get invested enough with other people, so they want to get a broad stroke understanding and move on.

If the individual chooses to get invested, yeah, they'll be shocked to find out that well endowed woman loves classic music and one day dreams of being an engineer. Or that well muscled Latino character that drips Masochism loves having sex within his same gender and feels no shame in doing so.

It's very telling that Anika herself talks about tropes against women, but her icon selection only shows one 'type' of women. Save for that... fairy thing, Mai (who is the most causasian looking asian woman I ever saw in my life, and Cortana... they are all surprisingly Anglo-Saxon looking.

Even Shamus himself doesn't mention race or sexual preference (other than women being slutty and that's acceptable). No bashing to him, but I do have the same issue that girl gamers have. I would like to pay a character that represents me. As a non-white male, I really don't think that I have. Having an XY doesn't mean I feel that much kinship to a character with a background not the same as mine instantaneously just because he also has a XY. Just like girl gamers don't feel the same even though that characters in question might have a double X, they are vapid and sex objects. And don't get me started on gay protagonists. I don't know of a one that was designed as a non changable lead character that's your avatar.

Designers, I recognize the hardships you will go through trying to incorporate all of the different gamers around. Focusing on white male.... not the best way to go. So, don't design a character. Leave it open. we have MUCH MORE FUN going deeper with those characters that are our design than having to roleplay as who ever you think would fit us all.

I've said this before and I'll say it again pointing out what is bad only does not help the situation. Pointing out thing us and developers already know is not helping as evident by this being continued. If people really do not like this then they have to show they are and point out good examples of females characters of which there are plenty. Just for some reason people know like 5.

As an aside JRPG characters as a whole are not androgynous.

This is, as usual, a solid article from Shamus, but I think he abused mirror's edge by 1) saying that it was bad and 2) lumping it in with Wet and probably Velvet Assassin though i haven't played must of the VA.

Mirror's Edge was undeniably a commercial failure. But I think it would be a mistake to suggest that the game was bad. Obviously I am a fan of the game and therefore biased. But the metacritic score for that game was right around 80, so I think it's fair to say that critics generally enjoyed it. By contrast Wet and VA were ~70 and 60 respectively.

Basically rather than lumping ME in with other games that had female protagonists but were 'bad for unrelated reasons' the article should/could have emphasized just how few games there are like ME that have basically done exactly what shamus is calling out: had a female lead that wasn't an object of titillation for male players. I don't think it's coincidence that ME is the only 1st person game of the 5 he explicitly calls out in the article (ME, Wet, VA, Bayonetta and Lollipop Chainsaw).

I think that DICE came very close to succeeding where so many other companies have failed in creating a female protagonist who was heroic, capable, feminine but not played as a sex object and generally likeable. Obviously this is subjective, and the failure of the ME IP probably says some sad things about what the industry thinks of the commercial viability of female protagonists. There are so few good female characters in gaming (protagonist or secondary) that it seems like a mistake to lump one of the really good ones in with what'r'their'names from Wet and VA.

I also wonder if albino boo doesn't have a point about the difficulties of developing any character in the gaming medium. There are obviously many more fleshed out male gaming characters than female, but I don't think the percentage of 'good' male characters is very high compared to the overall population. There's a lot of Kratos/Cole MacGrath/the guy from Crysis/the guy from Prototype idiots out there too...it's sad to realize just how much the games industry is going through the same growing pains process that the movie industry went through during the middle of the last century.

FWIW, The character of Alex in Breakdown was always one of my favorite in gaming. she's not the protagonist, so the game still the standard male-centric fantasy story strucutre. But alex was very capable, started the game off by saving the PC and was among the best of the whole family of 'secondary, love-interest NPCs' a la Alyx from half-life or Elena from Uncharted etc etc. Also helped that alex was a soldier who actually dressed like one: combat fatigues, tactical vest etc. rather than a halter-top or other chainmail bikini equivalent.

Shamus put my opinion into words almost perfectly. I don't like Sarkeesian and her analyses at all, and I think that pretty every much every problem in the entertainment industry stems from the fact that "male" is the default.

I think some of that is because of marketing. Gaming is probably still perceived to be mostly done by teenage boys and young men, and pandering decisions are made accordingly, even if that isn't true. If it indeed isn't, than I think this is the easier problem to solve.

The harder problem, I think, is that I very much suspect that most game developers and publishers (especially the higher ups) are male[1]. If this is true, that also explains a large part of why men are so predominant in the things they produce. I believe that if you ask anyone to tell the story they have been making up in their mind, most would have a protagonist that is basically an idealized version of themselves. And even if that's not the case, developers are often encouraged to write what they themselves think is awesome. The alternative is to try to guess what other people will like, and that is usually not a recipe for success, because chances are you'll get it wrong. No man knows what it's like to be a woman. They can of course guess right, but I think it will be much easier for a woman to make a cool game for women than for a man (and vice versa).

The solution to this would be to get more women into the industry. They need to be in positions where they get to make the big decisions, or at least be extensively consulted on how to make a game appealing to their demographic. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done, because as it stands it just doesn't appear to me that many women are interested in such a career. Hopefully I will be proven wrong though.

Gethsemani:
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.

I see this as a big problem. On the one hand, you have people complaining when the protagonist just happens to be a woman and the game doesn't make a big deal out of it. On the other hand, (other) people would complain if it did. According to user @Labyrinth above, a game shouldn't comment on the relative skill/power of men/women in the game world. According to Sarkeesian you cannot make your women pregnant. According to the Tomb Raider backlash, you cannot have them get raped. Even though these are things that women will (unfortunately) have to deal with more probably. Maybe these are extreme examples, but how would you bring attention to the specific femininity/masculinity of a character without using some kind of stereotype? If you don't, then the gender truly doesn't matter and we are pretty much back to the Chell case, aren't we?

FWIW I think Chell is a very good example of a very good female character. She is actually characterized quite well (we learn a lot about her in the games and comic) and I like the fact that her gender isn't really important. It's just normal. The odds were (presumably also in the Portal world) 50%. She's female, it's normal, nobody cares. In my opinion that is how gender should be treated in most situations. I don't really see how they could have done it better.

To be fair, I agree it's probably not a female power fantasy in the same way that some games are for men.

[1] I studied (a branch of) computer science and not even 10% of my fellow students were women. I hear the same from my coworkers at the small company where I work where all ~15 programmers are male. I believe the figure for computer science studies in the US is a little better (around 15%) and the number of females employed in IT is better still (suggesting that if any discrimination is going on, it is probably "positive"). Nevertheless, the percentage is fairly low, and it was even lower in previous years, so the discrepancy in "experienced" people is probably larger.

I think the best solution for female video game players is to offer a female and male option a la Pokemon. Still if that's not possible since the character is fixed, have the character be androgynous like Kirby who appeals to everyone.
If you are want to write a great female protagonist do it as you would another great character, good things never come if you are worrying what the feminists or the audience will think about it.
One of the biggest steps is stop putting women in a pedestal. Valve wouldn't have written the TF2 to be as funny if they were worried what the Russians or fat people would think about the Heavy. Kiyohiko Azuma just wrote funny characters who happened to be girls because he wanted to.

Azuaron:
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.

Women gamer here telling you she hates Bayonetta.

The guy who made Bayonetta made her according to his fetishes basically, and the link to the post below highlights alot of the problems to me. I couldn't even get past mayyybe an hour of the game before I quit it and never played it again, despite it being a decent game.

http://gomakemeasandwich.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/bayonetta-and-the-male-gaze/

Well, if I had to pick one, I would say it is the scene where Joy first appears in the game, with Bayonetta and her impostor getting into a pose battle. That was my way of expressing the feminine notion that, to one woman, all other women are enemies. Even women walking by each other will check out what the other is wearing, and might smolder a bit with antagonism. Women are scary. (source: Bayonetta dev: to one woman, all other women are enemies)

Hair attacks are something that only a woman can do, it's a woman's beauty. So that's why I came up with the hair idea. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

I strongly feel that women outside should dress like her. Like, when she does a hair attack, you'd see the skin. I want women to wear fashion like that. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

[in reference to Devil May Cry sequel being done by someone else] I wanted to do the sequel. I used to want to do the sequel, but now it's like, some other guy's chick. It's not my chick anymore. And my chick got fooled, and played all around from all over, so I don't want her anymore. I'm only concentrating on my current chick. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

But anyway that's how we're creating Bayonetta's moves and all that, and that's actually the most fun part of this game, thinking about all that stuff. So you will be able to see what everybody in the team likes in a girl from the finished project. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

[On whether her outfit really is just hair] Yes, completely hair. That means that she's actually naked, but naked because that's just hair, that's not clothing. She has strong magical powers, she's using her strength, her magical power to keep her hair on her body, to make it form an outfit. So when she gets weak or something, she might just lose her magical power, and if that happens...you know what that means. (1up.com: Bayonetta developer interview)

Indeed.

Empowering.

As for 'power implications' not being attractive well... there's an entire market that revolves around that kind of thing. You might have heard about it, if not, someone else can inform you I'm sure.

Nearly everything Bayonetta does is eye candy, her entire voice and the lines she says is filled heavily with innuendo and breathyness.

The only thing empowering about Bayonetta is she's female and can fight.

Azuaron:
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.

That's fair. I know some women like her, some don't. I need to be careful to make it clear that I'm not speaking on behalf of women or anything. Susan digs her, KrystelCandy above doesn't. Either way, THIS conversation is so much more interesting to me than the idea of stacking up female sidekicks and sorting them by trope.

KrystelCandy:

Indeed.

Empowering.

As for 'power implications' not being attractive well... there's an entire market that revolves around that kind of thing. You might have heard about it, if not, someone else can inform you I'm sure.

Nearly everything Bayonetta does is eye candy, her entire voice and the lines she says is filled heavily with innuendo and breathyness.

The only thing empowering about Bayonetta is she's female and can fight.

Here is a video that may help (not really) to understand Bayonneta. Courtesy of Movie Bob:

So what should a proper female lead look like?

See Persona 3 Portable's female main character. Yes, she is a silent protagonist and the player is the one ultimately deciding her personalty. However, there's so much personality to choose from it's hard not to have a multidimensional character come out at the end.

She not just a different model and set of sprites from the male protagonist too.

" I hope that if Sarkeesian doesn't, someone else will."

I hope it won't be Sarkesian, she doesn't seem interested in open discussion.

Anyway great article. I think maybe you should've ended it after the first page although maybe it's just because I'm sick of discussion about her popping up all the time.

It's honestly refreshing to stop hearing 'oh we need to get rid of jiggle physics and cleavage from all games or else women will never want to play' (exaggeration I know), and I don't even want those in my games. I'm not on a crusade against them it's just that if I wanted something titillating I'll use internet porn.

Oh and what do you think of fighting games which have cheesecake women fighting alongside women who are badass and alongside women who are both? I've seen Soul Calibur attempt the male cheesecake before (at least I'm 80% sure that's what they were going for).

You know all those games that have women protagonists in skimpy outfits or just outfits with a lot of cleavage?

Would it appease the women here if you had alternative costumes that were more modest but those weren't the default?

I don't work in games at all I'm just curious.

Father Time:
" I hope that if Sarkeesian doesn't, someone else will."

I hope it won't be Sarkesian, she doesn't seem interested in open discussion.

Anyway great article. I think maybe you should've ended it after the first page although maybe it's just because I'm sick of discussion about her popping up all the time.

It's honestly refreshing to stop hearing 'oh we need to get rid of jiggle physics and cleavage from all games or else women will never want to play' (exaggeration I know), and I don't even want those in my games. I'm not on a crusade against them it's just that if I wanted something titillating I'll use internet porn.

Oh and what do you think of fighting games which have cheesecake women fighting alongside women who are badass and alongside women who are both? I've seen Soul Calibur attempt the male cheesecake before (at least I'm 80% sure that's what they were going for).

You may as well ask him what does he think about Skullgirls (who were drawn by other women)

The Anita thing is over, she never brought up anything new to the table and she is just calling sexist to anything she finds (including ICO)

Point is, gamers can detect sexist bullshit just fine. The fact that Metroid Other M bombed harder that the walls of text of that game is proof that we can defend ourselves just fine and arent playing for any power fantasy of making women or servants and shit.

She is not needed.

Walter Byers:

See Persona 3 Portable's female main character. Yes, she is a silent protagonist and the player is the one ultimately deciding her personalty.

Do you expect a protagonist of a RPG to act in another way? they will always start with a pre determined personality and end up shaped by the actions during gameplay (like IJI), so i dont know why the need to clarify that.

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