After the lecture regarding sexism in video games on Wednesday, I challenged myself to think of examples of female characters in video-games who aren’t pushing the stereotypes of women in games. And truth be told, it really was quite difficult. My first thought was what about Lara Croft in Tomb Raider? She definitely wasn’t wearing scantily clad clothing, and she is a very strong female protagonist. Therefore, wouldn’t she be a fine example of a great female character in a video-game? It was at that moment I realized that I was actually wrong, see I would definitely be lying if I said I didn’t pay attention to her body during my play-through of the latest Tomb Raider. The third person perspective of the game, simply makes it impossible to not notice how she looks. Though she isn’t wearing anything that’s too revealing, there are many subtle traits of her which collectively form a magnet for the male gaze. Her body shape, breast size, hip size, even the complexion of her skin all come together to make an attractive female protagonist. In the Tomb Raider games, Lara Croft isn’t just the strong female protagonist, she is the ‘attractive’, strong female protagonist. It’s not the fact that she is attractive that makes her a problematic representation of women, but it’s the fact that she’s being marketed as attractive.
I was at a dead end with Tomb Raider. Surely there exists some video-games where there are strong female protagonists that aren’t marketed for how attractive they are? When I think of Masterchief in the Halo franchise, I see a total bad ass, he is strong, he is smart, and more importantly, he is all those things without being recognized as attractive. Throughout whole franchise we only see him in his armor. So if it’s possible for a male protagonist to be great without attention being drawn to his physique, then surely it must be able to accomplish for females. Then it hit me, Faith. Faith is the female protagonist from the game Mirrors Edge. She is practically everything Lara Croft is, except that the game was not marketed in a way which drew attention to how attractive she is. Not to mention she was an Asian, female protagonist!! The game which focuses on Faith, who is in a sense a free-runner, puts you in a first person perspective. Therefore, it doesn’t present the issue of you looking at Faith’s backside the whole time. While you think that a first person perspective may present the issue of it not being obvious enough that the player is playing as a female, the sound effects of her breathing along with the occasional glimpse of a body part make sure that you recognize yourself as a female character. Though you may argue that Faith is actually quite attractive, it doesn’t matter because it was never one of the focuses of the marketing campaign. The very innovative gameplay allowed for that to be the focus of the marketing. There is a very noticeable difference when you look at the trailer for Mirror’s Edge which was almost exclusively gameplay, and the trailer for Tomb Raider which contained no gameplay, just a lot of Lara.
With Mirrors Edge, I got the ball rolling. Chell, the main protagonist in Portal is also a fine example of a strong female protagonist that isn’t problematic like Lara Croft. Much like Mirror’s Edge, the marketing for Portal was centered on the very unique gameplay, very little focus was put on the female protagonist. More recently, in Battlefield 4, you spend most of your campaign with a Chinese secret service agent named Hannah. Often when females are portrayed in the military they have a tendency to be incredibly manly, however, it is not the case with Hannah. She is intelligent, strong and independent, yet she is also sympathetic and caring.
I’m not listing off these examples in order to say that there actually isn’t a problem with the representation of females in video-games. What I am saying is that it seems to be getting better. With something like this, the problem is not going to resolve itself overnight, it requires some time. The fact that we are getting more strong and likeable female protagonists in games is just proof that it will get better. So, have a little Faith.