I seem to lack the skills to express myself currently, it seems. Looks like I have to explain myself after my previous post on female characters.
She has a point there, of course. It was never my intention to suggest that in the end product there should be gender neutral characters. My thought was more along the lines that writers should maybe care more about the goals and wishes and flaws of their characters instead of attempting to write a token "strong female character" (which usually fails).
If those goals and wishes and flaws relate to the character's gender identity, then yes, gender becomes important, and needs to be a part of the story.
Again, the example of Ellen Ripley is interesting. Ellen Ripley in the first film is indeed gender neutral to a degree. She has her own character, her own goals and flaws, but there is hardly anything that makes her more woman-y than the rest of the crew.
It's only in Aliens, the second film, where the character of Lieutenant E. Ripley has already been defined as being female in the film before that the plot actually deals with it – and in my opinion in a meaningful way. Ripley gets a new goal and is established as being a mother. A mother that at first loses her child (because of her being 57 years in hypersleep, her daughter has since become an old woman and died) and then finding a surrogate daughter in the form of Newt, the lost girl on the space colony.
So you know what I say? I say screw Strong Female Characters. What we need now are some Weak Female Characters. My arguments below the fold…
The arguments are solid, indeed. So-called "strong female characters" are usually1 perfect human beings: physically strong, clever, intelligent, incredibly good looking – but in the end, they need to be rescued by the dorky everyman, and then we are back at the damsel in distress.
It is incidentally also where Metroid: Other M went – unfortunately.
What the author of the article calls for are believable characters.
Good characters, male or female, have goals, and they have flaws. Any character without flaws will be a cardboard cutout. [...] They don’t have to be physically strong, although they can be (The Bride, the women from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Ripley, Sarah Connor, and even the half-naked Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop are strong Strong female characters).
In this article: In action flicks. ↩
It's clearly not the first time I stumbled over the assumption that the mainly heteronormative depiction of gaming characters causes "severe disconnections between player and avatar if the player identifies as a minority".1
So maybe this seems "logical" at first, but the weird thing is that I can not really relate to that. The character might be male and hetero – as long as he looks good, I don't have a problem with that. After all, most of the cultural products I consume now (and consumed in my childhood – books, films, plays) usually feature heterosexual couples. The world would look pretty bare if I set aside every medium that does not involve (exclusively) a minority.
So, instead of keeping the question "How does a girl gamer feel while playing as Mario, a stereotyped Italian male plumber in Mario Sunshine? How does a gay gamer feel while playing as Jack and being forced to marry a girl or live alone forever in Harvest Moon?" purely rhetoric, it might be time to ask people exactly that. Do they feel disconnected? Can't they play a game because the main character isn't gay, or female, or black? Or do they accept those figures as stand-ins, purely metaphoric representations to deal with the game mechanic, just as a board game token? As parts of a story, where the characters just happen to be male and straight?
Robert Yang stumbled over a quote by Jim Sterling recently:
Jim Sterling: "Arcade Gannon’s sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that’s how videogames should play it."
... and it made him not exactly happy:
The argument that [all] gay video game characters should downplay their sexuality might be well intentioned, but is ultimately representative of the most dangerous kind of homophobia -- a homophobia wrapped in intellectualism, appearing "tolerant."
True, sexuality isn't the only thing that defines a person -- but for the vast majority of LGBT people, I would argue that it's a crucial part of personal identity. To insist that effeminate gay men are "camping it up" and should just "be normal" is homophobia. [...]
Sterling is proposing selective blindness and a glass closet for ALL gay characters in ALL games as a model to emulate. Yeah, stay invisible and don't make a fuss! That always works.
I must admit, that I'm pretty fed up by the mostly campy portrayals of gays in games (when they make they final cut, that is), so I would tend to go with Jim Sterling's advice when designing games myself right now, but yes:
For every silent shoegazer hipster gay who "you'd never think", we also need a muscle queen dancing in a peacock speedo on top of a Ferrari. Because they're gay too.
Go read the whole article, because it provides a balanced view on an important debate.
And it should be an issue.
I suddenly saw social ideas writ large in the game’s concepts. The racial undertones that often gird roleplaying games where humans are coincidentally European and other real-world human cultures are given pigeon holed non-human races. The way even female heroes are shown wearing very revealing or skimpy “robes” and “armour,” or the occasionally poor writing for female characters. All of that analysis became impossible for me to ignore because something dramatic had shifted in my life. I was now well outside the target demographic of games like WoW.
I think we will have a course about females in games, but this blog shows nicely that it simply is not done with putting a generic female body into a game to address the issues.
Definitely a blog to keep an eye on, even more with my bachelor game coming up.
Yes, I might not have been very happy about the recent gender workshop at art school, but this has more to do with me getting fed up with the usual "let's-integrate-everyone-just-some-people-more-than-others" that it implies. It is not exactly something that is exclusive to the gender discussion, but can be seen in the LGBT camp as well.
I have, however, nothing against strong female figures in gaming.
Shaylyn Hamm wrote a thorough thesis about the topic, which is published on Game Career Guide.
Throughout the diaspora of modern games, female characters are not rare. There are many games with females as main playable characters as well as supporting roles, yet it is not uncommon for female audiences to find these characters unlikable and difficult to relate to. They are often hyper-sexualized, with generic, young faces and outfits that are more revealing of their bodies than a personality. These female characters are stark contrasts to the aesthetic goals of the male characters which encompass a much larger range of body types, costumes, and facial features.
After comparing existing female heroines, and concluding that they are most of the time rather bland and uninteresting, with the notable exception of Alyx from Half Life 2, she goes so far as to redesign the Medic and the Heavy of Team Fortress 2 as female characters – with a lot of success.