Saturday, 7 July 2012

Sexy Feminism Girl Fight Fun Time!

So there's been a lot of talk about feminism and video games lately. All kinds of controversies and heated twitter conversations as we slowly start to realise that maybe introducing yourself as a 'girl gamer' sounds weird when you're doing it to the 12 other women on your CoD map. Yet there are still people clinging to the idea that gaming just isn't the same if we don't exploit the male libido and provide that comfortingly familiar feeling of utter alienation for the vaginally endowed.

Like are we going to miss women
pretending to eat consoles?

However, the trouble is for the mansturbators is that strong female characters are really hip right now, and if there's one thing the unenlightened lack, it's creativity (also enlightenment). So you get good examples of female characters, and bad examples that are kind of masquerading as good ones. Now there are some obvious examples of good female characters that always show up in lists - Samus Aran, Alyx Vance, etc. But what about all the OTHER ones?

There's only one way to decide which overlooked female characters are good examples that discourage the rampant misogyny in videogame culture and provide decent role models for the up and coming generation of ggg....g....gggggamers.


JK, we will do the deciding for you. Allie and Tobi. We are the experts. We have lab coats and also degrees in psychology and game design (no really).

Bayonetta vs Lara Croft

'I do the Americans put it? Oh, yes. 'Bust a cap in yo ass!'
Let’s start with a big one. THE big one. You’re going to want to punch me in the face for this. But here goes.

Bayonetta is great, Lara Croft is lame.

Yeah, so the Tomb Raider series has some pretty good games, but in spite of what naive girls such as myself might have assumed back in the day, both Lara and Bayonetta were designed around the philosophy of YAY, TITS AND BUMS YOU GUYS. Seriously, you can look that shit up on interviews... I mean, if it isn’t already obvious. But for me here’s the key issue on which they diverge: Bayonetta is the girliest fucking game i’ve ever seen in my life.

Like ok, there are some generalisations in here which may or may not be poisonous, but the first time I saw that game, heard the oppressively j-pop soundtrack and saw this flirty witch turning into panthers and birds, shooting ornate enemies with fetish heels, explosions jewels and sparkles and candy and butterflies all over the place. My first thought was ‘HOLY SHIT, SOMEONE MADE A GAME ABOUT EVERYTHING MY SISTER LOVES.’ She isn’t pandering to any man, not even you. Most guys keep reminding me that ‘They don’t even find her all that attractive!’ Well done asshole, do you want a medal? Bayonetta is just an unruly explosion of humorous sexuality and baffling catholicism themed violence, an uncompromising female counterpart to the flirtatious and outrageous Dante from the Devil May Cry series.

Lara is just a cheap Indiana Jones knock-off with big tits.

Ivy vs Taki

When we were compiling this list, we both immediately agreed that Ivy was a straight up badass, while Taki was lame. I assume we're not the only ones that feel this way as Ivy is seen as one of, if not THE most iconic character of the franchise. The weird thing was, that I didn't really immediately knew why I felt that way. Both are crazy busty characters from the Soul Calibur series that make physics engines break a sweat. Thinking about it, I think it comes down to who of the two fit in better with the rest. Not just in their own franchise, but in pretty much all fighting game franchises. Taki is a ninja with over-sized lemons for breasts and that's pretty much all there's to her.

Ivy on the other hand clearly felt like badass who you did not want to mess with. Her outfits range from dominatrix suits to victorian-era military uniforms. Both of these help cement her status of an intimidating character that can whoop your ass. In contrast of her more sexualised outfits, the series also made a point of it to make Ivy a celibate character. Another layer that made her more interesting was her unconventional transformer-sword that not only doubled for a whip, but somehow also was sentient. Then there's the fact that Ivy is the daughter of one of the series' recurring main villains.

However the thing that I hold the most against the character is that Taki simply retired and ended up getting replaced with a near-identical younger version. Had they kept her in, maybe she could have gained an interesting angle as an ageing ninja lady. However the developers figured she regular boring kunoichi was the extent of what she had to offer.

Tyris Flare vs Elder scrolls 1 cover chick

'What has happened?'
This is an argument that I guess I like to call ‘the bikini context’. It’s a really simple rule. Why is your female character wearing a tiny two piece? Is she at the beach? Did she just escape from a sex dungeon? Is she some mental tribalesque panty barbarian?  Or is it just that you have one token woman character and no imagination and a fear that nobody will buy your crappy game if it doesn’t give them an awkward teenage boner when they’re cruising gamestation.

Tyris Flare is a cool character because she’s just Ax Battler, another panty clad barbarian, but for people who feel like playing as a girl, maybe because they are a girl, or maybe because your friend already picked the dwarf and Ax is kind of rubbish. If everyone else in your game art is wearing armour or robes, and then there’s one nasty looking token female who looks like she’s come underdressed to an orgy, maybe you should just pop down to Bognor’s Battlewear Bazaar and get something that prevents sword wounds a little better than your toned little arse cheeks.

Faith vs Madison Paige

'You go, girl!'
Faith is a pretty tragic character. Not so much by design, but because of her place in the landscape and how she was received. We have a character who isn't conventionally attractive, isn't caucasian, does not occupy herself with any activities that may be associated with a gender and is completely self-reliant. So why is a problem, you may ask? It isn't! It's just kind of sad when you try to think of other characters like her. You're going to be hard-pressed to find many similar characters. It should be noted that she wasn't even specifically designed to fall outside the mold as far as I know. She was just made to complement the story they wanted to tell and mechanics they wanted to use. A fast, athletic person who could be trusted with confidential cargo. She could easily have been a male character, but there was no reason why she should have been.

On the flip-side of that coin, we have Madison. She was designed to be a single white lady whose hobbies consist out of being pointless eye candy, stripping at gunpoint, being too nosey and having mental issues. Typical woman, amirite? When we look at the overall accomplishments she made in Heavy Rain, she managed to bed a guy who clearly had much more important things to do. The developers of Heavy Rain probably noticed how she was pretty worthless and tried to slap an insomnia and delusion-subplot onto her. As a bonus, the insomnia meant they could show her in her nightwear. Too bad all of this was pointless too.

Sakura Vs Mai

'Shame on you! Always flirting!'
I know right? Which way is the opiniometer going to tilt? Fangirl vs. Fan girl.  I’ll admit i’m not like the most versed in in the complex world of beat-em-up back stories, but I think I might know enough. Whenever I play as Mai Shiranui from KoF/FF series, she shakes her cans and talks about how she has a boyfriend called Andy. Hey Andy! My boyfriend! Sup! Hey. I have a boyfriend you know, he’s called Andy. Fascinating. She fights by throwing fans at people and wiggling her butt and she’s become kind of a ‘mascot’ for the games because of her awesome fighting potential. Kidding! It’s because of her boobies that can barely be contained by her bizarre bathrobe.

Sakura is an ‘innocent schoolgirl’ stereotype who has the same moveset as ryu and ken, so she fights by dealing heavy punches and the classic ‘hadouken’ energy blast. She is motivated by a male role model, but doesn’t rely on him, she has her own desire to be a really awesome fighter. I guess she’s an obvious ‘subverted stereotype’ but to me it just kind of works. She looks scary and ambitious but without having a generic ‘tsundere’ tough girl personality and none of her lady parts are just busting out of her clothes.

The Boss vs Yuna

What these ladies both have in common is that they are both sacrificial characters. Let's start off with the summoner Yuna. Here's an example that really rubs me the wrong way, because it's often cited as a great character and a positive female role model in video games. The reason she is a human sacrifice is to temporarily save the world from a monster that will just return. Maybe it's just me, but I never thought that angry-volcano-God-style sacrifices were the most dignified ways a lady to end her life. She does this by going on a pilgrimage to 'catch 'em all', gets roped into marriage and secretly lust after the most asymmetrical whine-bag on their planet. Of course we learn that the whole adventure and religion in general turned out to be a big sham and Yuna ends up making it out alive. She spends the rest of her days being a pop-diva and one of Charlie's Angels. Her personality went from a shy, formal introvert priestess girl to a hyper bubbly pop-idol who wants to find her boyfriend from one game to the next, and the jump was as grating as it sounds. Yuna is a pathetic parody of young girls' aspirations where you either want to be a demure nun or Lady Gaga and is just an all round mess of horrible lessons.

Then we have The Boss, also known as The Joy. The Boss is a soldier, an instructor, a World War 2 veteran, the leader of an elite squad and the mentor of Naked Snake, whose shadow is cast over the entire Metal Gear series. Her sacrificial role comes from choosing to be the fall-guy for a covert-mission gone haywire during the cold war. She would take the blame so her country would not be incriminated. What you can't help but notice is that the boss is quite a lot older than most of the ladies on our list, but what really makes The Boss stand out is that she is actually the role model of Naked Snake. I can't really think of many other instances where a male game character aspires to be like a female character and has nothing but admiration for her. She's a proud, highly capable soldier, bursting with loyalty and patriotism and was willing to give her life for what she believes in.

Yorda vs Zelda

'I'm so stupid...'
I have a really specific part of the Zelda series that I want to use this for comparison, because its reeeeally similar to the whole premise of Ico. So there’s this bit at the end of Ocarina of Time where you have to ‘escort’ Zelda out of the castle that’s collapsing. Only she has the magic power to open doors, and only you have a sword and a shield and like 7 years of experience fighting undead warriors and navigating dungeons.
In Ico, you are an inexperienced young boy armed with whatever long sword-like object you can find, and you’re trying to drag a reluctant moe girl out of a castle where only she has the magic power to open doors, and also she needs help with jumping and climbing and walking and stuff.

I thought it was a really beautiful touch in OoT, where if you get hit by a boulder or knifed by a skeleton, you head Zelda wince sympathetically, like she’s really concerned about you. In Ico, Yorda really couldn’t give less of a shit what you are up to, she doesn’t seem to even want to leave her castley prison, maybe that’s why she keeps ‘falling over’ all the time. I guess it’s kind of cool if that’s part of the story, but you never actually do get to find out what Yorda is thinking, probably because it’s nothing. Thinking gives you wrinkles. Yorda is the worst.

So, I think that's enough. We got our slightly confusing point across, right? Misogeny can't really be measured in cup size. In fact, the more we muse over it, the more Tobi and I reach the conclusion that... maybe the only trick to good female role models is simply better quality writing and character design? To have design choices made for a reason other than 'well, that's kind of what women are like'. Or even a simple idea that isn't rooted in a kind of mild fear or pubescent intrigue about the female sex? And furthermore, the problem isn't so much any singular bad character design, it's more that a stereotype exists when there's an oversaturation of a certain pattern of features - like all women being damsels or wearing bikinis instead of body armour. There shouldn't be any ban on princesses or pink or delicate love interests, they just need to be balanced out with a better range of ideas - ones that say 'women are all sorts of people.'

Of course, the same rules can really be applied to any stereotype. We don't need to write an article about black characters in games though, because there are like 5.

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