Week 7.1 – Women in and making games (due before class on Feb 27)

Tell us who is your favorite female video game character or developer and why? Use class readings to discuss the type of portrayal she represents or game she made. How does she stand out? What else needs to be explored in terms of representations of women in video games and in the video gaming industry?

7 Comments

  1. When I think of female game characters, the first one that comes to my mind is Joanna Dark, from the game Perfect Dark, developed by Rare and published by Nintendo in 2000. Although Dark is not my favorite female character, she is definitely the most remarkable one for me.

    All the other female characters in my gaming experience until that point were somewhat fragile and often objectified by the game designers through ridiculous, impractical clothing to weak storylines. Dark is never portrayed partially naked in the game and has short hair, which is still unbelievably a taboo for women in western societies.

    Joanna Dark has an essential role in gaming history as she is one of the few that breaks a trending stereotype about the way women are portrayed in video games. Her looks are not more important than her personality; even the perspective (first person shooter) of the game makes sure that they do not matter in the game.

    I do think the tendency of representing women in a sexist fashion is slowly changing as we witness a growth of female presence in game development and overall awareness regarding gender equality. An outstanding example is Amy Henning, who did a fantastic job as the head writer and creative director of the acclaimed Uncharted series.

    Characters like April Ryan (The Longest Journey), Elizabeth (Bioshock: Infinite), The Boss (Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater), Faith Connors (Mirror’s Edge), and Ellie (The Last of Us) are just a few examples of well designed and influential female presence in games. And they could serve as role models for the way the industry should be approaching women in the next games to come.

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  2. One of my favorite hack and slash games is called Blades of Time. I accidently came across this game while acquiring a large quantity of Xbox 360 games a few years ago and fell in love with it. The game came out in 2012 and was developed by Gaijin Entertainment. The game genre is classified as Action-adventure, hack and slash and has single and multiplayer mode.

    Blades of Time is based on the character Ayumi who is a treasure hunter. She is stuck on an island that has many magical and dangerous enemies on it, and you must solve puzzles and uncover secrets as an attempt to get off the island. I would compare the game to something like Prince of Persia because of its way of manipulating time and its slasher style play. Though I have never beaten the game (its very challenging) this post reminds me of my failures in its complexity of puzzle solving and tough enemies.

    Like many female characters in games Ayumi is dressed in minimal clothing and high heel shoes. The appearance of the character seems unpractical but has no effect on her incredible acrobatics or other abilities in the game. I would argue that since the game industry is mostly dominated by men (174) that patriarchal ideas of women and the objectification of women are dominant in many games. Though the text does claim female game consumption in American and European markets constitutes for 39% of consumers (175) many games still have impractical ideas of the female body. In this sense video games are just as guilty as film and advertising when it comes to unrealistic expectations in both men and women’s bodies. Furthermore, the text supports my claims as it says how women wish that” Gender representation was more balanced and realistic” within the industry (176).

    Thinking critically on the representation of women in video games is important and can say a lot about the culture we live in. The over sexualization of women and unrealistic representations are without a doubt a part of patriarchal society. I do not think that any part of the entertainment industry is unaffected by these dominant discourses. Additionally, as with many other mediums we must unpack all these “normal” things and understand them as a reflection of dominant culture ideology that can be explored.

    These patriarchal representations in Blades of Time put an emphasis on the female breasts and “fit” bodies wearing little clothing. Though there is nothing sexual about any of these things it creates an emphasis through clothing and discourse that these are desirable things of western society. In many ways games like Blades of Time reinforce ideas of patriarchal society. In another point of view, someone could argue that there is nothing actually sexual about the character, and that these representations of the female body are simply meaningless unless our cultural beliefs say so. In this relation we can come to realize how dominant ideology influences our beliefs and that these ideas are socially constructed and not an accurate representation of “truth” or “fact” but instead they are what we believe them to be.

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  3. Even when I was young and oblivious to the stereotypes of women in the video game industry I always loved the female characters more than the male. The male lead in video games always seemed so boring and played out, but the idea of a woman kicking ass and taking names was always much cooler. I cranked the stats of Rikku (Final Fantasy X) so intensely I could two-hit the end boss before initiative even begun; fifteen years later, it still makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

    It isn’t until now, as I step back and take a serious look at those characters I once admired so much, that I realize they were still typecast into the role of “a woman trying, struggling to make her way in a man’s world.” To my recollection, many of the games I played where women were the lead role were almost so overtly feminized that it bordered offensive; from the pop-singing, gun slinging heroines of Final Fantasy X-2 to the scantily clad women and ‘super bounce’ settings of Dead or Alive.

    My favourite female character is Aloy (Horizon Zero Dawn). She is set apart from other female roles by being “unshackled … from the tired ‘strong female character’ cliche … [where] for once this strong female protagonist can do her thing without the script calling attention to her femaleness again and again.” Horizon Zero Dawn is story rich, and removes all boundaries between male and female perceptions and roles as she struggles with being an outsider or outcast—a burden that is indiscriminate of gender. The further you adventure from home, the social norms of women’s roles in tribal society become clearer, which only serves to create a game of contrast where you show that women are capable of many feats regardless of social expectation.

    The video game industry has much to learn, but I do believe we are on the right track. As work conditions begin to improve in the video game industry, women are beginning to make up more than just the current “10 percent of all employed programmers and designers in game companies.” The gender gap is slowly beginning to close, and a demand for equalitarian roles is becoming more prominent. With the success of Horizon Zero Dawn, I believe the revenue is inspiration enough to trigger the beginning of a shift, where the appreciation of removing gender norms in the industry is positively linked with the necessity of profitability.

    Reference
    https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/03/how-horizon-zero-dawn-moves-beyond-the-strong-female-character/

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  4. My favourite female video game character, and my favourite video game character in general, is Chidori Yoshino from Persona 3. Her role in the game itself is rather minor, but it is her personality that stands out to me and makes her my favourite. She is a mentally artist deeply devoted to and private about her craft, and as a result of her self-sufficient upbringing on the streets of Tatsumi Port Island, the city in which Persona 3 takes place, she has no connections with people outside of the two young men she grew up with and Medea, her persona – her other self. Medea is an experimental Persona, however, and sporadically tries to kill Chidori. Despite this, Chidori considers her her only friend. From here, Chidori’s character arc shows her allowing herself to make connections with other people and unlearning her fear of attachment. All this makes me love her very deeply, and I think it’s fair to say she’s objectively an interesting character, but this is not enough to prevent the Persona series’ team of primarily male writers from boxing her into trope after trope related to female characters.

    Chidori is introduced to the player when party member Junpei Iori approaches her due to her beauty – a rough start, to be sure. While Chidori’s design lacks the skintight and oversexualized clothing all to familiar to female characters (she in fact opts for a gothic lolita style, something that causes some NPCs in the game to comment on the oddity of her appearance rather than her attractiveness), the player’s first exposure to her is based around her appearance as it is of value to a man.

    To deepen negative stereotypes, like the ones mentioned of female villains in the textbook (160), Chidori is from the start painted as manipulative and conniving to the player. She has outwardly friendly discussions with Junpei after their first meeting, but has at this point been revealed to be associated with a villainous team of rival persona users. This thread culminates in her kidnapping Junpei and holding him hostage in an attempt to interfere with the main party’s operations, feeding stereotypes of beautiful women taking advantage of men for their own designs.

    Another flaw in Chidori’s arc is her lack of self-determination throughout it. After Junpei is rescued and Chidori’s means to summon Medea is taken, she spends a majority of the remainder of the game laid up in a hospital bed with no agency over herself. She does not act of her own means, only reacts when visited by Junpei, who she grows gradually more attached to, and when convinced by her former colleagues to break out of the hospital. While the latter requires more action, she feels it is her only option that allows her to be reunited with Medea and escape from the pain of attachment she feels. Essentially, she is forced into a corner, and is still mainly acting on the whims of the male characters surrounding her.

    The conclusion of Chidori’s arc puts a bow on it as a stereotypical presentation of female characters in video games – she dies. Chidori gives up her life to save Junpei’s, and from then on in the game is more viewed less as her own character and more of a point of character development for Junpei – a textbook example of fridging women, killing them off for no reason other than to enhance a man’s pain and motivation. Although it is possible to later bring Chidori back to life in Persona 3 FES and Persona 3 Portable, it is without her memories and without her power of persona, leaving her as little more than a reward for the player choosing to encourage Junpei to visit her in the hospital and a setpiece for the end of the game.

    While any of the above could be viewed as viable writing options in a vacuum or for a real woman, the fact remains that decisions about Chidori’s arc were made by men for a primarily male audience. Persona 3 is a far cry from the pink and purple games referenced in the work of Kafai et al. (xiv), and in fact caters to its primarily heterosexual male audience by giving the player options to dress the female party members in scanty armor, including bathing suits for each of them and the appropriately titled Battle Panties and Spiked Bra. Again, there’s nothing wrong with a real woman dressing something like that, but this cannot apply to fictional women who cannot make there own choices and are often put into said clothing by men to become sex objects. The textbook makes an example of April Ryan as a female character possessing agency despite her sexualized clothing (160), but I would argue that her feats of adventure make no difference on her status as a sex object when she is still primarily there for men to enjoy and fantasize about.

    How can we strive for better writing for female characters in video games? There is a simple answer to this: employing women in the video game industry, and supporting female indie developers’ projects. The video game industry remains dominated by men (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al. 174), less because of women’s lack of interest and more because of the toxic masculinity inherent to many male gamers that causes them to belittle, harass, and boycott female developers and their projects. Women write female characters better than men because they are typically more aware of issues and stereotypes of misogyny and can avoid them in their writing, and can draw from personal experience to write good female characters. Further supporting these women and further reprimanding the aforementioned men will lead to the presence of realistic and non-stereotypical female characters in video games for all to enjoy.

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  5. My favorite female character in a video game is Rinoa Heartilly from Final Fantasy VIII, which was released in 1999 and has been the seventh best-selling PlayStation video game. The character concept art was drawn by Testsuya Nomura. Rinoa is also a popular character among cosplayers who created a fanmade design known as the “Dion Rogers Rinoa”. Rinoa has a perfect Japanese girl appearance regarding cuteness that leaves an unforgettable impression on viewers. Moreover, she is compassionate, warm, friendly, and also stubborn and naive. I admire the creator, Testsuya Nomura, who was able to depict Rinoa’s personality traits and reflected them in the character design.

    From the perspective of sexual attraction, Rinoa cannot be acclaimed as “beautiful”. Instead, her signature outfit features her as a “cute character symbol”: she wears a long, sleeveless, blue rib-knit duster sweater, a black tank top, a denim button-up skirt, a black ribbon on her left arm, and black cycling shorts with a pair of white wing designs on her back. Besides, Rinoa’s wings are also a trademark in the game’s logo which signifies her importance in this game. Not only that, but also, Rinoa points at a shooting star at the beginning of one cutscene which is also significant of her strongest and powerful weapon, “Wishing Star”. These characteristics mentioned above all created Rinoa as a remarkable character.

    It is worth noting that the appearance of female protagonists in video games are always young and beautiful. When the character is aged, the female figure still shows no sign of aging and even looks younger than other characters. In addition, female characters mostly wear fewer clothes to strengthen their representations of sexuality. Besides, the leading protagonists are usually male dominant, and female characters seem to be abused and attacked physically in the video games. This phenomenon has been long existing, and I believe it deserves attention to explore possible improvement in the video game industry.

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  6. I started off by trying to think about who my favourite female character in video games is, and it took a surprising amount of time to come up with an answer, and therein lies the problem I think. It takes only a moment to think about who my favourite video game character is, and surprise surprise, it’s a male character. Historically, women’s representation in video games has been less than equal to put it nicely. Take even early Mario games as an example, where you play as Mario on a quest to save the “damsel in distress”, Princess Peach. This example of women being portrayed as damsels in distress, is simplistic in nature, and yes, I guess it’s appropriate seeing as it’s regarded to be a “classic” storyline, but it also shows that even though video games were (and are) viewed as advanced technology, they’ve also historically been somewhat sexist towards women characters.

    In terms of my favourite video game character, it would have to be Clementine from Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” series (specifically the second season) because it shows not only women being powerful lead characters in video games, but young women to boot. And no, I didn’t choose Clementine after seeing her at the top of the discussion (even though it may seem that way). I doubt that Telltale’s intention with making Clementine a major player in the Walking Dead series was to make a political statement about women being misrepresented in games, but it sort of comes off that way when you step back and look at it. They really separated themselves from the traditional thinking that dominates the video game world of male leads, and I think that needs to start becoming the norm rather than the exception.

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  7. Perhaps controversially, my favourite female lead is Bayonetta from the game of the same name. I won’t deny that she is portrayed in a sexually-appealing manner, but she embraces her charms and makes it a part of her character, rather than simply being sexy for the sake of being sexy. Though I agree that her character could be toned down in terms of sex appeal, I would argue that removing it would destroy her character essence and make her a completely different character.

    Beyond her looks, Bayonetta is a powerful female lead. She is strong and can use a variety of weapons flawlessly. She doesn’t need to be saved by anyone, male or not, and can seriously kick butt. I find her to be empowering as she is bold and self-sufficient, and makes me feel like I can easily be the same way.

    Truthfully, I did have a tough time thinking of strong female leads in the games I’ve played. There have been female characters, yes, but lots of them aren’t the main character and many of them have weak personalities. Other games simply do not have any notable female characters. The gaming industry has, thankfully, started to embrace stronger female leads and characters, and it’s a trend that I am glad to see continuing to gain traction. I haven’t played many of the newer games with female leads, such as Overwatch, Mirror’s Edge, Horizon Zero Dawn, or even older games like Tomb Raider, but they are games that I should definitely check out sometime.

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