Experienced Points

Experienced Points
A Male on Females on Female Characters

Shamus Young | 18 Mar 2011 17:00
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I didn't see you at PAX East this year, so I guess you didn't make it. Well, you managed to miss out on two-hour lines, paying three dollars for a fun-size bag of chips, and dudes dressed as Chun-Li. You also missed out on a panel run by our own Susan Arendt, Females on Female Characters, where a panel of prominent female gamers talked about female videogame characters.

One surprise for me was that they didn't mind sexual pandering nearly as much as I expected. Their take on female characters was that it was fine for female characters to be obviously sexualized - as long as they have something else going for them. It turns out that I'm more bothered by sexual pandering than they are.

It's not that I'm averse to the female form and its particular configuration of curves. (Big fan, actually.) It's just that I hate being treated like an idiot. It's like a toothpaste commercial that shows a guy attracting hot young women because he switched to the advertised brand. The message I get from the advertiser isn't, "Buy a tube of our tooth-cleansing goop," but, "We think you're stupid enough to believe that strange women will be dry-humping you on the subway if you buy this product." It's hard to enjoy something if you're left with the impression that the creator thinks you're a knuckle-dragging simpleton.

Instead of being upset at sexual pandering, what seemed to really annoy the panelists was the general lack of female characters, particularly lead characters. As an experiment, my wife had a conversation with our daughters (ages 11 and 13) about this, going over the same topics that Susan covered in the panel. And the results were nearly identical. They wanted to play as a girl more often. They wanted female support characters to be more interesting and capable. They wouldn't be so irritated by the likes of Princess Peach and Princess Zelda if they could kick a little ass now and again. To paraphrase: If games are escapism, why do we always have to escape to a world where we're helpless, clueless, and witless?

I ran though a list of titles and franchises I've played, bought, read about or ridiculed in the last couple of years. Observe:

Alan Wake, Alpha Protocol, Assassin's Creed series, Bad Company series, Batman: Arkham Asylum, BioShock series, Bulletstorm, Call of Duty, Dante's Inferno, Dead Rising series, Dead Space Series, Dead to Rights series, Deus Ex Series, Duke Nukem series, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, Gears of War, God of War Series, Grand Theft Auto Series, Half-Life Series, Halo Series, Homefront, InFamous, Kane & Lynch series, Killzone Series, Madworld, Max Payne Series, Mindjack, Modern Warfare Series, Nier, Painkiller, Prince of Persia Series, Prototype, Quake series, Red Dead Redemption, Red Faction series, Red Steel series, Resident Evil 4 and 5, Riddick series, Serious Sam series, Splatterhouse, Splinter Cell series, STALKER, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed series, the last 4 Silent Hill titles, Two Worlds Series, Unreal Tournament 3, The Witcher series...

You get the idea. This is nowhere near a complete list. I basically came up with games until I got sick of it. All of the above are big-budget, high-profile games where you play as a guy. Sure, we have the occasional Lara Croft or Samus Aran, but they are tiny drops in the ocean of testosterone that is modern AAA gaming.

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