I'm Strong, But I Can't Help Myself - Part II

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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.

Dragica made the point that she does not want her heroines to be gender neutral, but rather female.

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. This is then put into stark contrast to the xenomorph brood mother that seemingly has a very different concept of motherhood. Is this clichéd? Can motherhood be a cliché? Well, it needs a female character to be explored, I guess. If Ripley were a man, the relationship dynamics with that little girl would have been different, I’m pretty sure.

Even Alien 3 explored the fact that Ripley is female, by plunging her into an all-male prison. Ripley has become the alien herself, and even trying to blend in (to morph – by shaving her hair off) does not help, does not change the fact that she has become an intruder, the other that is both endangering the existing group (dynamics) as well as being endangered by the group herself. Ripley being a man? The whole concept of that film would fall apart. Still, Ripley is as far away from cliché as could be.

I guess my point is that: I want characters that have a story to tell, that are interesting and engaging. At that point, gender is not the first priority – if I’m able to choose it in a game and still get the same interesting story, I’m happy, but I’m willing to engage with a character of any gender, as long as the story is good. The problem is of course that only too often the default choice of the designer is a male.

If a specific gender makes the story even more interesting, that is to say, if it is meaningful, then clearly, gender becomes an important part of a character. And I guess that this is exactly the problem with many female characters in action films and games: their gender is not meaningful, it’s usually a male with boobs and little clothes slapped on. Other than that, it adds nothing to the story. And that’s a shame.

And it needs to change.

I hope this helps to clear things up – and even if it takes time and effort to write those answers: it is totally worth it. These are the kind of discussions that help me (and hopefully others as well) to think about and redefine what I do and why I do it.

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