Women in Computer games.

I’m going to be a bit different with this entry. Rather than pick out a game, play it and tell you how much fun I didn’t have, instead I’m going to divulge a topic and make relevant and interesting comments based on personal opinion and common curiosities… Ok you got me, I’m talking shit, but I still want to discuss the role the female gender plays in past and present computer games.

I’m doing this because recently I was searching the internet and found a forum to which one of the topics was “Arbitrary list of three of the top most important female characters in games … EVER”, to which my only choices were:

  • Terra from Final Fantasy VI
  • Mystique from X-Men
  • Adja from Asheron’s Call

I thought about it for a second then realised that none of them I could call the “Most important female characters in gaming EVAR!!1!” For starters Mystique has been a well based character in the Marvel Universe since the late 70’s and bar from a handful of appearances in various X-Men games hasn’t really given much in the way of innovation. I bet Barbie has played a bigger role in cementing females in computer games than Mystique (she’s probably got more computer games appearances than any other female character). Before visiting said forum I had never heard of Asheron’s Call, but apparently it’s an MMORPG released 12 years ago. Since I’ve never heard of it, it couldn’t have been that important (not that I have my finger on the pulse of the gaming industry, I’m just suggesting that as an average gamer I’ve never heard of it so most average gamers wouldn’t have heard of it either). In the case of Terra, although she was the first female lead character in the series, this was back before Final Fantasy had hit the mainstream so her contribution to females in gaming as a whole was rather small.

That shoots down the choices that were given, now time to validate my argument by throwing into the mix candidates that are much more integral to the evolution of the role of women in video games. I’ll start at a logical point, the beginning.

1) Princess Peach – Mario

The female lead of many of Mario and Luigi’s adventures and quests. Constantly being kidnapped by Bowser, but weirdly enough she will still go go-karting with him and play tennis as well as various other sports… Go figure. Anyway, back to the point. It’s this constant kidnapping that gives Mario purpose. If it wasn’t for Peach, Mario & Luigi would still be living in Brooklyn fixing leaky pipes for a living. Either that or Mario would still be beating up Bowser for no other reason than he looks different… and that’s racist. So there you go, if it wasn’t for Peach, Mario would be an Italian, dino-bashing racist, and that just wouldn’t sell.

2) Samus Aran – Metroid

The ironclad mistress of the Metroid series. Samus has made a huge contribution in video gaming history in being the first serious female lead in a computer game series. The best thing about this fact though is that through the whole course of the game, the player tends to assume that the character they are playing as is a guy. Once you finish the game however, off comes the helmet to unveil a smoking hot blonde bombshell. I mean she is pretty good looking as far as 8-bit is concerned. It’s just a total mind fuck, that’s what I love about it. Although the fact that she hid that she was a woman until the very end could be misinterpreted for her being ashamed of being a woman, but never the less. She put a foot in the door for video game women as lead characters.

3) Aerith Gainsborough – Final Fantasy VII:

 Aerith helped video game women in a strange way. She levelled the playing field and showed that women can be on par with men… by dying. This act of self-sacrifice went to show that women are not wrapped in bubble wrap and like the rest of us are at the mercy of this mortal coil. Through the course of the game both male and female characters are hacked ,slashed, shot, mugged, flattened, bitten, chewed, etc. but true death was never really on the cards, a quick phoenix down or life spell and bang, you’re back on your feet ready for more. True, this isn’t the first time Square had a main character killed off mid game, but with Aerith it wasn’t just because she was the first female main character to die, but she’s also never replaced by another character. So you could use her throughout the game, get her final limit break and weapon only to have to go through the rest of the game without her, a bit of a kick in the teeth don’t you think?

4) Lara Croft – Tomb Raider:

The big one. Lara Croft (much like Samus) made huge leaps and bounds in portraying women as equals to men on the video game stage, but Lara did it without hiding the fact she was a women. Also, she wasn’t the archetypal female lead from yesteryear, the damsel in distress or the hot piece of arse that the male lead hooked up with once he was finished saving the world. She came across just as any male lead would, heroic, charming, capable. This cemented her a positive female role in gaming, but once she had taken 2 steps forward for feminism the way the studio was advertising her meant she had to take another 3 steps back. In the beginning Lara was pushed as a sex symbol, giving her very predominant breasts and a skinny waist, to milk the majority male market of all they are worth. It wasn’t until later down the series when she was remoulded to have a more realistic figure. Though to this day despite her somewhat smutty beginnings, she stands head and shoulders above the rest as lead all females can be proud of.

For my final though. Sexism is very much still an issue within the gaming industry, but with well rounded, less stereotypical women in gaming such as FemShep from Mass Effect or Chell from Portal moving away from the idea that video game women are objects, sexism will soon become a thing of the past…

Is what I’d like to say but sadly for every Jill Valentine and Alyx Vance there are tens of Bayonetta’s and Ayumi’s (The girl with her arse hanging out in X-Blades). Franchises like Dead or Alive and Mortal Kombat who’s portrayal of women is to give them skimpy clothing and make them jiggle to your hearts content. The matter of fact is as much as people want to disagree, Sex still sells. That’s why a game can be released where one of it’s USP’s is the fact that when playing as the female lead the six-axis makes her breasts jiggle. A game where to attack your enemies you have to remove several items of clothing. You may think it’s sick, you may think it’s sexy, but in the end if it sells, It’s going to be pushed on the market.

On a final note before all you angry feminists grab your pitch folks and torches and head to your nearest games studio. This fact is hardly confined to the games industry alone. Sexism is rife throughout the media, advertising, sports, film, television, etc. and until public opinion changes it’s not going anywhere. Unless you can stop the tight leather cat-suited fake tits from selling there wares, you can be as positive a female role model as you like, but it’s going to make as much difference as a heavy smoking asthmatic blowing out a house fire.

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