If you’ve visited any gaming site during the past year and specially during the past week, you might have noticed there’s been quite a heated discussion about women and videogames. How they are portrayed, their place as professionals in the industry and the existence of sexism in videogames and in gaming culture are just some of the topics that have dominated the core of the discussion. Some gamers feel those claims are trying to attack or destroy their beloved hobby, I’d like to think they are trying to improve it. Either way, it seems it is impossible to have a discussion about this topic without getting into a sea of accusations, generalizations, and half-truths. In this post, I’ll look at five female characters that I think are awesome. My aim here is by no means to dismiss the concerns about sexism in videogames, but to give some contrast and hopefully some perspective to the discussion at hand. Also, expect some minor spoilers. That said, let’s get started.
Heavy Rain is usually criticized for depending too much on quick time events, having a weak storyline or lacking meaningful interaction. Personally, I found it quite enjoyable; while the mechanics do feel a bit awkward, I certainly appreciate any game that attempts to innovate in terms of gameplay and/or storytelling. Heavy Rain was a remarkable effort in both of those areas, even if not a necessarily successful one.
Most of the four characters you play are reasonably one-dimensional (JASOON! [...] SHAAWN!) but not her. Madison’s background and story is the less developed of the four, and maybe that’s why I found her so intriguing. She’s a journalist burdened by nightmares and hallucinations fruit of her insomnia, the cause behind which is potentially the covering of serial killer stories or, as revealed in a behind the scenes video released by Quantic Dream, her past as a reporter in the Iraq conflict. She takes her job extremely seriously, and will do whatever it takes to find out the truth. Alluded to have had a somewhat difficult childhood, Madison is a caring, affectionate character despite her inner troubles. She’s brave, she’s honest, she’s authentic; she’s memorable.
Chell doesn’t talk. You don’t see her much either; you’ll see merely glimpses of her when playing through the Portal games, and yet, she’s one of the most iconic and well known female characters in gaming. How’s that possible?
Well, essentially, the player is Chell. There’s no cutscenes where she does something out of your control, what you see is what she sees, what you solve is what she solves and what you experience is what she experiences. From that we know that she’s mentally and physically agile. A great observer, she has a strong will and a rebellious tendency towards authoritative figures. From the little information we can gather about her throughout the two games, she’s the daughter of a former Aperture scientist, but there’s little to no information about her childhood and early life. GLaDOS sarcastic (or not) comments about her being adopted don’t help to clear that out. Either way, Chell represents all that is cool about being a videogame heroine/hero.
Although the player doesn’t control this character in the game, I think it would be hard to argue against her being the protagonist. For those of you who don’t know, Analogue: A hate story puts you in the place of a space traveler from the future who finds an abandoned ship and has to unravel the truth behind it’s society’s demise by interacting with the ship’s artificial intelligence.
Anyway, I don’t want to say too much about the story, as it’s the game’s principal strength. *Hyun-ae, the ship’s AI, functions perfectly to help the pacing of the narrative. She’s an AI, so even though she’s been alone for hundreds of years, she’s a fun, quirky character. She’s always happy to lend a helping hand and also, she likes cosplay. An AI that likes cosplay! How awesome is that? Paradoxically, a robot is one of the few female videogame characters who actually feels like a real person.
Yet another reporter, this one brought up in an island in the outskirts of the biggest city on Hillys, an aquatic, mostly peaceful planet. She lives with her adoptive uncle, Pey’j, and other orphans.
She’s the oldest of the group, and as a result she has a strong sense of responsibility and morality. She likes meditation and photography. Upon discovering some suspicious business going on with the Alpha Sections, the military force dominating Hillys, she becomes a reporter for the IRIS Network, an underground rebel organization. Like any good reporter, Jade isn’t easily fooled, and quickly picks up on any suspicious attitude and doesn’t easily trust people. Although visibly devastated by some of the catastrophes that accompany her through her journey, her sense of righteousness and commitment do not decline, and she pushes forward. She’s light-hearted, passionate, and ultimately honorable.
The Walking Dead’s adventure game wouldn’t be anything without Clementine. Her relationship with Lee and by extension with the player is by far the strongest I’ve felt and stands as a benchmark of player involvement. There’s just no way anyone can play through TWD and not care about Clem. Yes, the fact that she’s a cute little girl in the midst of a zombie apocalypse with only the player to protect her, helps. But the narrative doesn’t stop there, that’s just the premise. As days go by, the decisions made, the struggle, the sacrifices that any survivor has to go through pile up on all of the group’s backs, but they impact her in a much more meaningful way. Lee -the player- knows his actions will be reflected on those innocent brown eyes, and that takes us out of the shoot all of the things mindset and into seriously questioning the morality of our actions.
As the adventure advances, we see her grow up. From a regular american child in the suburbs to a survivor. As is the destiny of any of any child in the zombie apocalypse, she either grows up prematurely or dies prematurely. But even in the worst of circumstances, even after the most depressing of the situations, she finds strength inside her. She smiles. Her innocence might be gone, but her humanity remains untouched.