Thoughts on Female Video Game Protagonists


There’s a notable dearth in female protagonists in video games.  This is nothing new, however lamentable that may be.  That doesn’t mean it has to be this way, as we’ll discuss today.

Anyone of my generation of younger ought to know some key names: She-Ra and Wonder Woman from the old ‘Seventies live-action television show.  Now, going in reverse order, Wonder Woman started as anything but a strong, confident, female warrior.  Heck, for the longest time, one of her weaknesses—as displayed here in a comic book panel I swear is not made up—was that when a man (any man) bound her “Bracelets of Submission” (not making that up, either) together, her super-ness goes right out the window.  Depending on how far you want to take the metaphor, it could be argued that the underlying message is a woman is only pure when not near a man’s presence, as she’ll become helpless to the desire to serve.

That said, though—Wonder Woman is a great example of a character being turned completely around.  One of the best examples of this is also the earliest.  The aforementioned ‘Seventies Wonder Woman was subservient to Steve Trevor, but this was more from the fact that he was the superior officer to her alter-ego of Diana Prince.  When she was in the star-spangled-spandex, she was the voice of authority, and even high-ranking military personnel darn well gave her all but a “yes’m”.

That isn’t to say she wasn’t feminine.  She could kick butt and etch names into diamond plates, but she was still a woman.  She had more than a touch of femininity that complemented her authoritative and confident nature quite well.  The best example, I think, is in the two-part episode named The Feminum Mystique.  In the second part at around the forty-five minute, thirty-five second mark (45:35) there’s a great moment—she’s bodily shoving a plane around like it’s Styrofoam, wind whipping her hair this way and that—so she delicately gets it out of her eyes.  It really has to be seen.  A tough-as-nails woman who doesn’t pretend she isn’t a woman—if that isn’t a role-model, I don’t know what is.

Then you have She-Ra.  It’s almost amazing she could be classified as a role-model for girls, really.  Her series was a spin-off of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe which—let’s be honest—was nothing, at all, more than a half-hour-long commercial with a “message” shoved into the last couple of minutes with all the grace and subtlety of a Mack truck to the face.  She-Ra’s series, though—the morality tales were woven more carefully into the “plot” of each episode.  On top of that, you had the Princess of Power herself.

Now, back on He-Man’s series, Teela was a capable fighter.  She never backed down from a fight, she rarely showed fear, and was over all a strong and confident female character.

But.

While it didn’t occur often, back in the “classic” series, she was kidnapped now and then, and basically used as bait.  That kind of crap wouldn’t fly with She-Ra.  When she was captured, it was because she had a plan in motion that played on the bad guys being morons and thinking she could be bound by the likes of them.  She was always in control, even as her alter-ego of Princess Adora.  As Adora, she would seek advice, question herself (in the good, “Am I sure this won’t hurt innocents” way), and everything else—but she was still the leader.  She still had followers to protect.

(Interesting bit of trivia—apparently she was supposed to appear in the newer Masters of the Universe series, but it was canceled before then.  The only thing that survives to tell the tale is a slightly updated action figure.)

Now, one has to wonder just what the heck happened in the world of video games.  Strong female protagonists are still on television and in movies, but video games are struggling to catch up.  It’s not like other media are really helping the case, though.  I mean, how is this technically work-safe but totally pushing it image anything that remotely makes sense?  I mean, she’s supposed to be a warrior, not a pole-dancer.  Or you have the other extreme (which isn’t any better, armor-wise), but it’s best to not even go there.

Now, there are attempts at getting around this sort of thing.  Take Shaiya, a free-to-play M.M.O.  Aside from being one of the few free-to-play games that didn’t bone the player over unless they spend real money, they also have an interesting race—the Nordein.  Taken on their own, there’s a similar sense of bulk distribution between males and females as one would expect.  Compare them, however, to their racial ally, the Vail, or their enemies the Humans and Elves.  You can really believe that the Nordein female can lift an axe as big as a horse.

That said, there’s a bit of a Stripperiffic cut to some armor—but, then, the males get that too, if not worse, so it’s not like it’s unfair or anything.  It’s an interesting answer to the question some people with—certain, strong beliefs about equality between the sexes tend to ask.  “If women can be ogle-worthy, why can’t men?”  Well, they can.  No reason why they can’t, really.

Video games can—and I dare say should—go even further.  I’d like to see someone like Natalie Aneil Benson get digitized and used as the protagonist of a video game, especially if she also did the motion capture.  Can you imagine her in armor—and I don’t mean a chainmail bikini—with a sword and shield?  I’d bet Nat the Warrior would give Master Chief a run for his money, and show the humans and Covenant where they can shove their puny guns.

Having a strong-but-feminine female protagonist—based on a real person, no less—is just one half of the potential.  Numerous stories can be told that either aren’t possible with a male protagonist, or can be explored from a different angle.  How many times have we seen the trope where the unassuming, normal-so-as-to-be-boring farm boy is somehow “different” but doesn’t know how, and eventually they become savior of the country/world/galaxy/reality-as-we-know-it?  If you can’t name five movies, five video games, and a few television series, take another second and think again.

Imagine this stereotypical Ye Oldene Dayse scenario: While her brother is out tending to the sheep-or-whatevers, she’s in the hut, washing dishes with her mother.  The older woman is humming to herself, the girl—washing slow as molasses.  The boy has, at worst, taking over his father’s farm to look forward to—which means, if he plays his cards right, he can make it grow and make sure his family never has to go hungry again.

She has, at the best, becoming a baby-making housewife to look forward to—which means being at the beck and call of her husband, having few rights to speak of beyond the right to breathe (and even that’s negotiable).  Yet she feels something burn inside her—something that tells her, without room for doubt, that she’s destined for more.  So the gamer takes her through that—which is actually a larger journey than her brother’s would be.

There are some tales best told from the male perspective, some best told from the female perspective, and some more or less the same with “only” an interesting stylistic difference.  Look at the games we’ve had in the so-few decades that our hobby’s been around.  We’ve seen all kinds of nutty things—a plumber going on a bad ‘Sixties “trip”, a blue hedgehog that’s on a “trip” of his own, a planet where funk rules the day, an elf is tempted with fairy genocide as he travels across the world to rescue his princess, the multitudes of times people come together for some super-ultimate-fantastic-majestic combat tournament for no good reason whatsoever—it goes on and on.

We’ve all grown up with odd, strange, downright weird games—so why would something that isn’t odd, strange, or weird sell?  It would.  Gamers might be a bit surprised to see such games on the shelves, but if the publishers and developers got those games out there in the first place, they, too, would see that it’s just as viable a market.

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