Experienced Points: On The Sketchy Woman Character

By Shamus
on Mar 28, 2016
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is a tangent on the topic that Mumbles brought up on Spoiler Warning last week, about how she’s sick of the bossy female coach character archetype. I can relate. I’m not tired of the female coach, but I am sick of the Aiden Pearce brand of protagonist, and I get how irritating it is when developers stick to that one trope that really gets on your nerves.

And while I didn’t say so in the column, I think this is a point worth making:

I know I’m always grumbling about male protagonists and male characters and ranting about how developers need to get out of this rut, but Firewatch showed me that I can still enjoy a male lead character, as long as he’s written properly. I’m not sick of male leads, I’m sick of shitty male leads. Or as I’ve come to think of them: Ubisoft MenThis is NOT to suggest that Ubisoft is the only publisher guilty of this. They just have the ones that get on my nerves the most.. You know the type: Growling badasses with no emotional vulnerabilities, no sense of levity, and central motivation built around vengeance or aggression.

I used to be fine with these guys. I’m not sure what’s changed:

  1. Age? Maybe because I’m older now, I’m interested in more texture and nuance and less raw id.
  2. Fatigue? Maybe after 30 years, I’m in the mood for something different.
  3. Dissonance? As games become more cinematic, maybe their shallow leads are looking more and more out of place. DOOM Guy was fine in DOOM, but DOOM Guy in a 2015 game with cutscenes and dialog and a supporting cast is another thing entirely.

Then again, sometimes it works. As much as I whine about these guys, I really loved William “B.J.” Blazkowicz in the recent Wolfenstein games. I’m still trying to figure out why he works for me and (say) Jason Brody doesn’t.

Also, be sure to read my disclaimer on the Escapist before you go and make a mess in the comments. I love to talk about game design decisions like this, but I’d really rather this didn’t veer off into gender politics.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] This is NOT to suggest that Ubisoft is the only publisher guilty of this. They just have the ones that get on my nerves the most.



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From the Archives:

  1. WWWebb says:

    So I don’t quite understand how (or if) this is different from the female coach archetype. There have been plenty of female voices telling you which hallway to go down where there’s a healthy professional relationship and no hint of romance.

    and I’m only thinking about the “real” females. Shodan, Cortana, and GlaDOS are a whole different category…

    • There’s more of an expectation these days that the other characters in the game not just be a disembodied voice, though.

      • guy says:

        That strongly depends on the genre. In any “trapped alone in a facility when rescue isn’t coming” story there is a distinct disembodied voice plot role. Specifically, the same role as NASA Mission Control in any space drama (including real ones). They can tell the protagonists what to do and provide exposition, maybe even operate electronics, but when it comes time to carry out the plan they aren’t actually there and can’t help the people who are deal with physical obstacles. If the two groups meet it will be at the end of the story.

        As a rule, the audience gets to see them if they’re meant to seem trustworthy and the narrative isn’t specifically locked in first person. They can even get pretty co-equal splits like in The Martian. I don’t think I’ve seen the view locked on the mission control in a standard narrative setup, but the SCP wiki uses the style of an official report and routinely uses control room transcripts, then after-action interviews with survivors if any.

    • Aspeon says:

      Yeah, from the conversation in Spoiler Warning I was most reminded of the “support” character in Persona 3 and 4. You’ve got your party members who are fighting monsters, and one (nearly always) female character who provides tutorial advice, the “scanning” that explains the in-game minimap, out-of-combat healing, etc. Unlike the cases Shamus discusses in the article, however, it doesn’t have the distrust angle, and the support character is one of several romantic options for the protagonist.

      In the crossover game Persona Q, you can use either of the two games’ support characters. However, the DLC offers alternate voice sets you can use, including one male option.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I do not disagree, but want to point out, Cortana has loads of Romance hints. And disturbing amounts of Maternal, as well.

      Seriously, John is a walking Oedipus Complex…

  2. “male lead + clearly non-romantic female lead” formula? Okay, here are some options:

    1. Female lead is a couple of decades older than the male lead.

    2. Female lead or male lead is already romantically involved with the villain.

    3. The two leads never meet directly.

    4. One of them kills the other one’s spouse only a few minutes into the game.

    5. They’re of different species that are entirely different sizes.

    6. One of them is undead/a ghost.

    7. They’re both pre-pubescent.

    8. The male lead is unable to speak. (not just in a gameplay way, but actually unable to speak.)

    • Some of those could actually make for interesting game premises all by themselves.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      2. Female lead or male lead is already romantically involved with the villain.

      5. They’re of different species that are entirely different sizes.
      6. One of them is undead/a ghost.
      7. They’re both pre-pubescent.

      Logic and sense be damned, none of these preclude a romance at all. Not to most writers, anyway. Not even Number 7, for which the all-present Moonlighting “kissing is icky (but I have a crush anyway)” angle is even more appropriate and natural.

      8. The male lead is unable to speak. (not just in a gameplay way, but actually unable to speak.)

      The first half, again, isn’t a dealbreaker by any means. Unless I’ve misunderstood you- which I think I may have- the parenthetical makes this outright bizarre. Making a blank-slate silent protagonist like Gordon or Link (even though various Links clearly have their own personalities) practically “off limits” for personal- and therefore romantic- entanglements is a natural choice, but that’s an unspoken (heh) contract between the audience and creator, not a naturally foregone in-universe conclusion.

      Communicating that the protagonist is explicitly physically mute, absent the additional assumption that he is also a blank slate for the audience, should have no bearing on the possibility of romantic interest, whether expressing or receiving. I mean, is it common sense that mutes are just asexual or unlovable?

      • Phill says:

        They aren’t meant to preclude romance (as I understood Shamus’s challenge anyway), nor more than the titular sketchy female necessarily rules it out. They are just meant to be situations that flag to the player not to expect romance. The problem as Shamus defined it is that if you stick a male and female character as protagonist plus major character combination, decades of media have trained us to expect romance, or at least romantic potential. Jennifer’s suggestions are scenarios where the audience won’t automatically expect romance, and therefore won’t suffer the problem of a lack of romance where romance is expected.

        A good writer can make a romance out of almost anything and make it plausible and moving (e.g. the short story “Rachel in Love” by Pat Murphy, featuring heartbreak in a romance between a human and a chimpanzee…)

        • The Rocketeer says:

          That’s the core of my contention: half of these are romantic tropes in themselves. Hell, Number 5 is practically the foundation of furry media/fandom. Hell, I’ll do you one further: within the trope of interspecies romance is the unlikelier subtrope of romance between species that are typically predator/prey to one another (in some sort of hyperbolic escalation of the all-powerful Moonlighting trope), with the recently and massively popular Zootopia apparently offering an example of the same with a rabbit and fox. Not my bag- not by a damn long shot- but anyone that’s seen Shrek knows it’s someone’s thing.

          I think the phrase “clearly non-romantic female lead” indicates the premises are intended to preclude romance. The problem is that this list is based in logic, in defiance of illogical narrative convention. All of these things would represent barriers to romance in real life, of various degrees of seriousness. In media? No. This is a field in which one of the most common signs that two people will end up in a committed relationship is that they bicker and argue about everything from the moment they meet.

          • Phill says:

            I think the phrase “clearly non-romantic female lead” indicates the premises are intended to preclude romance.

            In the context in which Shamus used it, to me it pretty clearly means that we are talking about ways to signal to the player that this isn’t automatically a potential romance.

            And they may all be romantic tropes in some settings and genres – almost everything is a trope somewhere or another – but if I see an episode of Skippy on TV (which comes to mind because an episode of Skippy has just come on the TV) – and lets assume for the sake of argument that Skippy is female – I don’t automatically think “And now for some sexy kangaroo fun time…”. Some people might find that erotic, but I don’t think the vast majority of people are going to see a human and kangaroo on screen and view it as a potential romantic situation, where if you put twenty-something man and twenty-something woman on screen and have them argue over petty things, you know eventually they are going to have a massive row and interrupt the argument with their first kiss.

        • Exactly. Outre sexual fetishes are not “romance tropes”.

    • Syal says:

      The female lead is balding and hunchbacked with one leg slightly shorter than the other.

      …seriously though, more stories need the protagonist to be dating the villain.

      • No, no, the balding hunchbacked lady needs to be a/the love interest. The villain can be a robotic cat person with no emotions but a fixation on string, the hero can be a supermarket trolley attendant, and an endless supply of Michael Sheen clones (with subtly varying personalities) who keep getting killed off in increasingly unlikely ways are collectively your mentor figure. Your only power is a low-level employee access code at Galacto supermarkets and an annual commuter ticket on the Citywide Lightrail – We’ll Get You There, Fast!

        Edit:
        He keeps being cloned because of a fault in a life insurance policy he purchased some time ago; you meet him initially as a new clone who has just emerged from the cloning facility and is aware only that his policy has been activated which means he must be dead. He leads you to the cat villain, who has murdered another clone for unknown reasons (although we suspect string at first?).
        The love interest woman works as a store manager at Galacto in a satellite district of town, and your character really likes her because she shares his enthusiasm for vintage teapots and coffee plungers.
        The cat villain is actually being exploited by another (defective) clone of your mentor, who realised there was a problem with the insurance policy and tried to have it cancelled or corrected repeatedly before snapping and going on a murder spree of the other clones and eventually anyone else he felt better off not having around.
        Eventually you solve the whole thing after finding the original of all the clones, who is actually not dead at all and helps you get psycho clone arrested after some convincing.

        • Syal says:

          I loved the twist in that game where it turned out the cat villain was collecting string to repair the evil clone because all the clones are actually dolls sewn together with string and the bad guy was old enough that he was starting to unravel.

        • Abnaxis says:

          Incidentally, I was reminded of the new Torment game when I read this. The protagonist is the Last Castoff, one of countless husks shed off by a powerful being that endlessly reincarnates itself–as the Last Castoff, you are being hunted by one of the prior “clones” that’s on a clone-killing spree.

          Then I smiled, because TTON is semi-relevant to this conversation, since the developers have explicitly said they don’t plan to implement “physical” romance, though love and deep friendship aren’t ruled out.

          Maybe the key to avoid automatic assumptions of romance is to set your story a billion years in the future? (literally)

    • Nidokoenig says:

      Are you new to the internet? At least half that list is no barrier.

      1, I’d actually be interested to see play out as a romance outside of a certain genre of Japanese games.

      2 will get people complaining that the righteous hero can’t redeem the sidekick from her association with the villain with his dick.

      3, if they interact, there can be romance, especially nowadays with internet romance. Wasn’t there a flirty element to Firewatch?

      4, well, they’re single now, aren’t they?

      5 is Twilight Princess, and a lot of people read romance into that relationship.

      6 will get people thinking about how the story might undo the problem.

      7, I ain’t touching that.

      8, verbal communication is overrated, and focusing on body language and facial expression will just put romance to the front of people’s minds. One “you’re such a good listener!” joke and the whole effect is ruined.

      Honestly, you could have the woman make a remark about a handsome guy, have the player character agree, and people would still ship them. I think the only real way to prevent this kind of thing is to have larger casts so people don’t lock onto one pairing en masse and give it undue weight. Just focusing on two people will naturally get people thinking about them as a couple, some people even think buddy cop films died out because of it, and the less said about the fanart for dad games the better. Ensemble casts gets people arguing over pairings, though, so I guess you just have to make games about robots, we need more of those.

      • ehlijen says:

        2: Tough. No one challenging that expectation is a major part of why it exists.

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Well obviously, in fact for many people most of these would make for a more interesting romantic arc precisely because of the difficulties. I think the point was not that a romance arc could not be run with these but more that these setups do not immediately put (most of) the audience in the “romance” mindset and consequently make them disappointed when a romance doesn’t happen.

        RE 7: I’m going to say that it was done many times though obviously not in a sexual/erotic way but rather with a “kiss on the cheek”, “my boyfriend/girlfriend” kind of way. I was actually thinking of an example and wiki tells me Psychonauts Raz and Lili are 11 and 9 respectively.

      • The point isn’t to prevent sex-crazed internet junkies from shipping. They’re going to do that anyway with any conceivable combination. It’s to present a coherent storyline that doesn’t automatically point people who watch sitcoms and rom-coms to “there really ought to be a romance here”.

        If you’re going to use the standards of sex-crazed internet junkies, “a guy and his daughter” isn’t an effective trope for this, EITHER.

        • Nidokoenig says:

          “sex-crazed internet junkies”

          I resemble that remark ;) My point is more that convincing a person’s subconscious that two people wouldn’t go together isn’t as easy as providing a logical reason why not, and it’s not really a high-minded reading that leads people to see these tropes. Broad strokes in the setup are going to be far less effective than some more skilled and subtle writing for the actual interactions, or just having those relationships without romance often enough in media, and I would hate to see story tellers avoiding certain relationships because of people who read too much into very little.

    • ehlijen says:

      9: One or both are gay.

      10: One or both are in healthy off screen relationships

      11: They’re siblings.

      12: One or both have made vows of celibacy for one reason or other and make it clear that that reason is important to them.

      13: The game focuses only or mostly on their professional lives and neither want a workplace relationship.

      • Syal says:

        9, 10 and 12 are actively bringing up sex and will just put that in the audience’s mind. (10 also has the problem of how healthy can the relationships be when we never see them together.) 13 is generally not enough of a deterrent, there’s way too many cop shows that start like that.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          I’d say 9, 10 and 12 work as a decent way to address the romantic expectation if that’s already there. Of course it’s still possible to make a story about the romance overcoming these but sending a clear message like this is a good way to communicate the lack of future romance to the audience pre-emptively

        • ehlijen says:

          How healthy can a relationship be if we never see them together? By that logic Mario shouldn’t really care about Princess Peach.

          Nothing says we have to stay with the character 24/7 Gordon Freeman style. And even if we do, a soldier on deployment could still have a wife back home and therefore not be tempted to flirt with the female squad member, for example.

          • Syal says:

            It is my firm opinion that the only reason people think Mario cares about Peach is because she’s the only woman in the games up to, like, Mario Tennis or somewhere, so by the time there’s any competition she’s been thoroughly established as the female lead. If Mario had had a crossover with Metroid on the NES, everyone would be shipping Mario and Samus and Peach would just be the third wheel they have to rescue.

          • Hermocrates says:

            How healthy can a relationship be if we never see them together?

            I think combining 10 and 13 would actually work quite well. The non-player character is in a healthy off-screen relationship, and we never see their partner because the PC and noted NPC are in a professional relationship only: friendly, maybe grabbing fast-food or beer together after work, but never anything more. If at this point you’re still expecting a romance between them, then clearly you’re expecting a romance out of anything and I don’t think there’s any solution.

            By the way, the purely professional relationship is actually my favourite TV show relationship, if only because so many shows insist on pairing together the male and female leads. The X-Files managed this really well, for the most part (it had a bit of tension mid-series, but they soon demonstrated there wasn’t really anything there and the old professionalism returned . . . to the extent Mulder could be professional).

      • Khizan says:

        9 might mean no actual relationship, but ‘unrequited love’ is a common trope.
        10 doesn’t stop an affair or “they’re so much better for each other” feeling.
        11 is the only one mentioned so far that clearly sets a non-romantic expectation, because the Jaime+Cersei stuff is atypical.
        12 just puts you into the unrequited love area again, and the “man torn between a woman and a vow” thing is, again, a common trope.
        13 is pretty much “sexual tension: the plot device”

        • ehlijen says:

          I don’t really understand why 12 and 13 are so often seen as something the characters need to ‘fix’, or why people think affairs are the natural outcome of placing men and women inside the same office building.

          Why can’t they just be friends or colleagues? Take Mira from KOTOR2. You can flirt with her, but she’ll say ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and that’s that. You can get smashing drunk with Dr Chakwas, but you can’t flirt with her (or french replacement doctor either).

          • guy says:

            There is a difference between “not a romantic relationship” and “not percieved by the audience as a romantic relationship”. Audiences tend to expect the main character to be romantically involved with someone, so it gets read in to any close relationship with someone of the opposite gender. Or the same gender if there aren’t any close relationships with someone of the opposite gender. So far, literally every suggestion raised has been a plot point straight from romance stories. The only thing I’ve seen actually stop it from happening is having an onscreen official couple; there is a cultural expectation that characters are romantically interested in someone, and that can default to a young girl with her best female friend and sometimes that turns out to be a correct assumption in the sequel.
            https://media.tumblr.com/07b693bfd1cb9d311b62a8a4cd3e599e/tumblr_inline_mf9gosrLzA1qhbqk3.png

            http://i2.ytimg.com/vi/2DBsZJVFQvg/0.jpg

            • ehlijen says:

              Well I think audience expectations wouldn’t be this ridiculous if they weren’t pandered too so near constantly.

              For an example of what I’d like more of in movies and games, watch Thank you for smoking (actually, just watch that, it’s a good movie): the merchants of death are three friends, two men and a woman, and they’re just good friends with no explanation needed as to why they’re not more. And it works, just like that.

              • guy says:

                Wikipedia indicates that isn’t actually a counter-example because the main character falls in love with a reporter. Therefore his other on-screen relationships don’t default to being the assumed romance. So like I said, if you have an on-screen romantic relationship then other relationships are more likely to be perceived as non-romantic.

                • ehlijen says:

                  I didn’t get the impression he’d fallen in love. It was clearly more a FWBs arrangement. He doesn’t even meet with said reporter until after his friends are introduced. During that meeting with his friends, they even warn him about getting involved with her.

                  That initial meeting is a very clear ‘here are some people who are friends’ conversation, and they would have been friends regardless of whether he’d ended up shagging the reporter or not.

                  I’d like there to be more of that in stories, simply because I think being freed of the ‘but where is the love?’ audience expectations would open more story possibilities.

      • Echo Tango says:

        Number 12 can be restated as “non-sexy nun”. Which says something about our society / Halloween costumes when you need to specify that. :P

        I suppose though, that normal monks would also qualify. Middle-aged or older man in brown burlap definitely would be somebody who you could recognize as being abstinent.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        Re: #10 – John Steed and Emma Peel’s relationship from The Avengers (UK) TV show was written so ambiguously that the actors themselves disagreed as to its nature. (Patrick Macnee believed Steed and Peel were regularly boning, while Diana Rigg felt it never went past light flirtation.)

    • Anorak says:

      Are you thinking about both leads being playable, or is one of these always going to be the support character?

      2 and 4 would both align one of them with the villain, and thus at odds with the protagonist, I think. most stories would either have you kill them, or have a redemption thing going on.

      If both leads are playable, then I’d love to play something where you actually carry out missions for both the good guys and the bad guys, but I can’t see how you’d make the two leads interact in a useful way that doesn’t have some cut-scene stupidity going on.

      For number 3, many of the support characters never directly meet anyway, even if they flirt relentlessly through the radio or the comms system or whatever.

    • Khizan says:

      1 is definitely no bar, hot older woman is definitely a popular niche.
      2 is definitely no bar, charming/seducing the villain’s love interest is a cliche in itself
      3 is definitely no bar. Tons of RL couples meet and fall in love online.
      4 is definitely no bar, especially if they take the atonement route.
      5 is definitely no bar. Shrek’s Dragon+Donkey and general Rule #34-ness
      6 is definitely no bar. I submit any vampire fiction as evidence.
      7 is definitely no bar. School-age crushes.
      8 is definitely no bar. “Strong silent type” is a romantic cliche in and of itself.

      None of those are clearly non-romantic and lots of these actually seem conducive to a romantic subplot.

      • By this standard “guy with his daughter” isn’t “clearly non-romantic” either.

        The point isn’t “nobody could ever write this premise into a romance”. The point is “it doesn’t instantly signal a romance from the get go”. It STARTS the writer’s job for them, it doesn’t FINISH it.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I mainly agree, though the ones involving the killing of spouses seems a bit extreme, and the ones involving being romantically related to the villain have actually been used in plots with romantic endings. “The Graduate” comes to mind.

      I think making the female visibly older than the male will remove the expectation of romance pretty reliably (cue the “mom” games…), as would making the female “ugly”. Not “beautiful actress with large glasses and a silly haircut” but rather “average female with average-to-large weight and realistic amount of skin problems”. Although in an ideal world that should not be the case…

      Another thing that might work: Give either the male or female (or both) a stable relationship with someone else who is not in a position to contribute to the story as much as the other person but otherwise totally loveable. That’d be my favourite but I think it might be hard to pull off without spending too much time establishing the setting.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      1 works.
      I can see 2 becoming romantic almost INSTANTLY if there’s even a whiff that either character is unhappy or being ill served by that other relationship. Off the top of my head, Stardust is kind of this (the male’s love interest is both not interested and a jerkhead).
      3 sounds like unrequited love would be a possible fanfic.
      4 That would do it.
      5 Ha ha, nope furries live and breathe this one.
      6 The movie Ghost?
      7 Considering people ship the Rugrats, probably not (unfortunately).
      8 It would depend on their interactions and how she responds to him. Gordon Freeman is (apparently) having a fantastic romance with Alyx Vance.

      My attempt for you to shoot down… If one of the characters is openly racist towards the other one’s race or species. And not in a quirky way, seriously in a hurtful not nice way.

    • Shadowhawk says:

      Several of these definitely don’t work.
      In case of 2, if the PC doesn’t know of the relationship, it would create drama / tension something that most players would likely expect. If the PC knows, on the other hand, it would be safe to assume that you could expect a rivalry between the PC and the villain about who gets the girl in the end.
      5 and 6 very much depend on how “human female”-like the character still is. If they’re to different, one could argue that the character being female devolves into only a technicality, and it would make no difference if they were male. If the opposite is the case, the character being technically another species / undead / ghost would likely not prevent expectations of a romance happening.
      8 would only lead to people asking why the mute can’t get the girl and accuse the game of discrimination.

  3. You know, an interesting way to turn this around would be to have the female character have an outrageous case of TMI. I would like to see something like this done because I’d be willing to bet that there’s a substantial minority of male gamers who would be made painfully uncomfortable by an extremely talkative, inquisitive, tells-you-all-her-personal-business female.

    How this would work is:

    1. Within seconds of introduction, male lead would acquire a cutesy nickname. Probably several. “Hey sugar butt.” “How’s it going, poodle shoes?” etc.

    2. She wants to know everything. About everything. IMMEDIATELY. “What was that all about?” “Nothing, just give me the instructions.” “Nothin’ doin, skinny britches, I need to know what’s going on here!”

    3. She wants the male lead to give his opinion. About EVERYTHING. And then she psychoanalyzes him. “So you won’t BELIEVE what my boyfriend did this morning . . .”

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      So… the psycho ex-girlfriend, because that would definitely make me uncomfortable.

      • Tizzy says:

        Actually, the ex-gf angle is pretty interesting, ESPECIALLY if you remove the psycho part.

        Someone who knows the male lead (and could provide handy exposition when required). Kill any romantic ambiguity by making it very clear that there is no hope of rekindling the affair. And the best way to do that is by having her be really tired of the protagonist’s crap. Instant comic relief right there.

        Imagine surviving an intense firefight and she was never worried about your safety, but also not even impressed…

        • Cybron says:

          To me this immediately signals, very strongly, that the two of them will be in a relationship by the end of the story. At the very least, a brief relapse that may not lead to a lasting relationship.

          Years of Hollywood hacks have trained me to believe that any objection an ex may have, no matter how legitimate, will inevitably be overcome by sexual tension.

        • Shoeboxjeddy says:

          Uncharted 2 has Nate’s apparent current love interest compare notes with his apparently quite done with him ex. Almost INSTANTLY it’s obvious Nate is going to hook up with his ex again.

      • Nah. I know women who are just like this. With everyone.

        My team lead at an old job used to do this to guys whenever they were working with us. “So, you’re new here, tell us about yourself!” Within five minutes this had turned into: “So you have a girlfriend? What’s her name? Is it serious? You going out on a date? Where you taking her? Are you getting her flowers? What about chocolates? What kind of chocolates? Does she like those?”

        I am not kidding or exaggerating in the slightest. Some people are just aggressively friendly and super-inquisitive.

        • Oh, and she wasn’t flirting with them. Women respond differently to another woman attempting to give them the third degree, is all, so it works out differently. Older married guys generally know how to deal with this, too. But the younger guys would fall into the trap of attempting to answer her questions and usually wind up fleeing because THEY NEVER STOPPED.

          • Actually, that could be a funny one, too. Male lead is in a relationship with Someone Else–so the female lead constantly gives him advice on it. “Oh, you shouldn’t have said THAT.” “You should have apologized.” “Go on, ask her out!”

            • guy says:

              That is in fact a pretty common stock romance archetype. Which can lead into becoming the love interest with it turning out that she’s playing matchmaker for her crush because she lacks self-confidence and doesn’t think she’s good enough and then the climax of the romance plot has him tell her that he doesn’t care that she has glasses and freckles and isn’t rich and he loves her anyway. Or she could be like that with everyone, but having her mention her boyfriend does not itself signal that because romances often have love interests who start the story in an established relationship later cancelled due to lack of interest. What actually signals that is showing her on a date with her boyfriend and have it clearly be going well; in actual romances one of the stock plot twists is having that fall through in some fashion but it’s not assumed.

              Traditionally the character in charge of giving the main character romantic advice is the same gender as the main character and usually isn’t considered a love interest. Assuming the main character is the same gender as the presumed heterosexual target audience. Otherwise all bets are off and they become the most likely canonical same-gender paring. If the character giving advice is of the opposite gender, they’re usually family (if the main character listens, probably a sibling or cousin, if not probably their mom) or there’s going to be a conversation like this:
              “… so that’s what happened.”
              “Have you noticed how the waiters are looking at the two of us?”
              *Camera zooms out to show that they’re the only people sitting at the table*
              “What about them?”
              “I can see why you’re having trouble.”

    • Phill says:

      Thanks to the Mass Effect series, I read that as an “outrageous case of TIM”. And it’s true: if TIM had been female (TIW?) I don’t think anyone would have seen her as a potential romance. She’d still have been a supercilious asshat plot device that everyone hated.

    • Mephane says:

      She wants the male lead to give his opinion. About EVERYTHING. And then she psychoanalyzes him.

      So you want Leonard Hofstadter’s mother as a videogame character? :D

    • Steve C says:

      I think that would be worse. An annoying NPC that you can’t do anything about is always bad. It just ends up worse when it is a female NPC. It’s worse because the blame goes on the female-ness rather than the NPC-ness. (It shouldn’t, but it does.) It can be done. It’s a big minefield though. Video games and their notoriously bad writers are rarely up to that challenge.

      I think the only way it could be done well is if it was with an established character. For example, Harley Quinn would be perfect in that role. Harley Quinn is unique and interesting on her own outside of games. A brand new character wouldn’t be given the same slack.

      BTW I just thought of a male character that meets your criteria– Deadpool.

  4. Gunther says:

    All Blazkowicz’s surface traits point to him being the standard “generic unstoppable badass” video game protagonist (right down to being a stoic, brown haired, overly-muscled, square-jawed white guy who excels at killing Nazis), but he has this air of defeat about him right from the start – he’s smart enough to know the war is hopeless, he knows his friends are all probably going to die meaningless deaths, he knows he probably will too. You get the feeling he’d prefer to just give up, but feels obligated to go through the motions. Later on as the game gets a little more hopeful, he starts to daydream about a peaceful future but worries he’s been ruined for it by all the fighting. There’s always this level of self-awareness to him that’s rare to see in a video game protagonist.

    I think self-awareness is an inherently appealing trait. One of the main reasons Aiden Pearce is so unlikable in WatchDogs is that he thinks he’s a hero – he’s completely unaware that he is an awful, selfish person (the game seems likewise unaware of this). If he knew that about himself, if he felt some guilt about how it was his greed that got his niece killed and how it’s his need for revenge that keeps endangering his sister and nephew, he’d be… well, not likable, but certainly more tolerable.

    • Alan says:

      Interesting, I got a very different read off of Blazkowicz. The only recent Wolfenstein I’ve played is The New Order, so I may be missing context from other games.

      Especially in the opening of The New Order, the vibe I got was All American Boy, very similar to the traditional Superman attitude, and certainly an echo of the more optimistic views of World War II. Sure, things are tough, but with a can-do attitude and some determination, we’ll make it! He sincerely cares about his fellow soldiers, and he’s optimistic that they can defeat Deathshead. He’s incredibly earnest.

      Blazkowicz is a great guy, trying to do his best. That makes him different, which is great, but it’s also makes him inherently likeable.

      Things obviously go off the rails after that point. (Going in completely cold, it was a hell of a surprise.) But Blazkowicz remains a very human, caring person. The bonding scenes in the rebel base are important.

      • Gunther says:

        He certainly is a nicer character than a lot of protagonists (developers always seem to worry if their hero shows affection for another character it’ll interfere with their badass cred).

        Case in point; when he finds the magitek power armor, he doesn’t say “Imma use this to kill a whole mess of Nazis!” but “We’re giving that to Caroline”. His first thought is that it can help an injured friend of his.

        But his self-awareness (and general weariness) comes through strongly as well, even in the first line in the game:

        “In my dream I smell the barbecue. I hear children. A dog. And I see someone. I think I see someone. These things. None of it for me.”

    • grahams_xwing says:

      I think his air of resignation is of knowing that he’s a man out of place. Almost as if he knows he’s the unstoppable protagonist the game makes him, and that he has to keep going because someone needs to win this war for the people who belong to the world way more than a man like he does.
      At first his ‘death’ at the end of Wolfenstien A New Order jarred with me – he looked like he could have made it out at least. But then I came to think that this was his way of letting everyone else get on with living in the victory he had earned, but didn’t deserve himself.
      TBF, neither of the major male characters really go full ‘Dudebro’. Fergus Reid – the Scott who’s indestructible until he snaps. He’s full of bravado and knowledge/experience to the point you assume he’s equally as unstoppable as you, only for him to suddenly turn on you for not saving a young green kid. and you realise he thinks he’s just out of place as you do

    • Joe Informatico says:

      All true, plus his relationship with Anya feels very human and mature compared to most game relationships. That’s true of many well-written wartime romances–when either of you can die easily the next day, it tends to minimize a lot of the petty adolescent bullshit even well-adjusted adults in healthy long-term relationships can sink to on occasion.

      Let’s also be clear: not only are Blazkowicz’ enemies actual Nazis–History’s Greatest Monsters(tm), they’re Nazis who’ve conquered the Earth and perpetuated all the even worse stuff they could only dream of during the war. Anyone who fights them can’t help but engender some sympathy. Aidan Pierce is a guy who thinks murder is an acceptable punishment for purse-snatching and that violating people’s privacy is an acceptable means to that end, and no matter how hard modern military shooters try, it’s almost impossible to paint the most powerful military force to ever straddle the Earth as the beleaguered underdog.

  5. SlothfulCobra says:

    I feel like there’s actually been a bit of an explosion of That sort of Ubisoft Man lately. The original Doom Guy feels pretty upbeat with his bouncing eyebrows compared to some of the stuff these days. There’s also a world of difference between a silent protagonist and a lead character that communicates mainly in grunts and low growls. One is a specific absence that leaves room for imagination, and the other is specifically saying what that character is.

    The problem is that these modern games with their HD textures, poly counts through the roof, and fully voiced and mo-capped characters down to every single twitch and grunt, all to show off these boilerplate non-characters who only loosely give the player the barest excuse to murder tons of dudes. It’s like watching the inside of somebody’s pocket lovingly rendered and displayed in full IMAX view.

  6. Content Consumer says:

    I feel sorry for you.
    Not because of all the comments I assume you’ll get on the Escapist that will ignore your attempts to keep the subject focused on videogames and not on gender politics…
    But because you have to put in half a dozen paragraphs of preemptive defense in the first place.
    It’s gotta be hard, and maybe even disheartening, having to essentially put disclaimers on everything you write for the express purpose of keeping the discussion on-target.
    One of your articles (in rants? I can’t find it again…) talked about this with regard to excessive pedantry, but I assume this works in almost exactly the same way.

    I am curious to know whether the attempt is effective or futile, but I suppose that might be impossible to know… if nobody responds that way, was it the disclaimer that did the trick, or was it people naturally being on-track? If 100 people respond this way, did the disclaimer have no noticeable effect, or did it actually work and stop 200 from doing so?

    • The Rocketeer says:

      In an environment of hostility to opinion, the first step of expressing one is building a fort. And no, it doesn’t stop anyone from firing the cannons. It just absorbs the weakest shots, so you can ignore them.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      For this site, we generally agree that this is a comfy place where those topics are best left outside. For the Escapist comment section, don’t know, don’t really care.

      • King Marth says:

        “Look, Simba. Everywhere this page extends is our comments section.”
        “Everywhere this page extends… But what about that shadowy place, beyond the link?”
        “That is beyond our borders. You must never go there.”

    • Tektotherriggen says:

      The Escapist comments already have one person saying “Too much disclaimer, not enough discussion”; one person agreeing with them; and one person bitching about how most gamers are male, women only play mobile games, and wah, wah, wah.

      Nobody wins gender politics, even when you’re trying not to play.

  7. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    On Dudebros and Ubisoft Men:

    Marcus Fenix (Gears of War) is greatly undervalued as a character. Actually, all of them are. Despite their designs, you could easily imagine Marcus as a lawyer or Dom as a banker if they hadn’t instead had to spend their lives fighting a hopeless bug war. Being myself an over-educated civilian descendant of military officers (albeit officers that are very proud of their over-educated civilian descendant) I’ve always wondered what I’d be like if I’d been born during WWII (grandfathers) or Vietnam (father). Dom in particular is good at his job, but doesn’t particularly like being a soldier and Marcus seems like someone who became a soldier out of a sense of patriotism and duty, which makes the ending of the third game extremely powerful and properly bittersweet. The war over, and he suddenly wonders if it was worth it -as symbolized by his stripping off his armor. And, fittingly with the topic at hand, it’s Anya’s assurance that it was that concludes the game. (Anya had previously been the mission control and a sizable undercurrent in the games had been whether in the middle of a war was a good time for her and Marcus to get back together.)

    So of course they’re making a fourth main series game that will probably ruin it.

    On women in non-romantic supporting roles (and I’d also eliminate maternal ones), I’d think it’d be enough just to make it so that the woman does not revolve around the man. Make it clear she has a life of her own when she isn’t on screen. This seems to have worked pretty well for, say, Paramedic in MGS 3 (although there was already another love interest or two -depending on how you feel about Boss -in the game) even though Snake and Paramedic do have flirty dialogue. Once it’s clear that she’s a character developed in the game, I think a lot of the weight of the tropes is removed. It’s because the characterization in games is so often lacking that they become trope cutouts.

  8. ThirteenthLetter says:

    You may, or may not, be glad to hear that with The Division we now have Ubisoft Woman to strike a blow for sexual equality. The female characters are just as growly, tedious, and one-note as the male characters.

    That aside, it’s interesting that you threw “but you don’t want to write a romance” in there. I agree, the writers presumably didn’t, and video game romance is hard to get right even when there isn’t an angry mob in the streets looking for a witch to burn, but… Romance is popular. People like romance. Even the bros like romance. There’s a reason why so many movies, even (or perhaps especially) cheesy action schlock, end with the male and female leads hooking up. Perhaps by trying to avoid one of the most popular and resonant themes in all of fiction, video games are just causing more writing problems for themselves.

    • ehlijen says:

      I get that many feel romance belongs in movies, but I think that’s not as strong a rule as one might think.

      The historical war movie genre tends eschew romance. For horror Alien and The Thing had no romance and for action schlocks there wasn’t any smooching in Aliens or any of the Predator movies till Requiem. I don’t even think Die Hard had enough sappy scences to be said to contain a romance. Hot Fuzz is a brilliant comedy with almost no romance. Was there any in Last Action Hero? (I don’t recall so, but it’s been a while.)

      Anyway, my point is just because Romance is seemingly easy to squeeze into any movie, that doesn’t really mean it belongs in every movie and it’s certainly not needed in every movie.

      You can use it to fill out some scenes and try to target the ‘significant other who got dragged along’ demographic, but I haven’t seen a lot of movies with a token romance where it felt like it belonged in the movie.

      That said, I also think Mulder and Scully should never have gotten together.

      • Gethsemani says:

        Aliens did have a pretty obvious, if low key, love plot between Ripley and Hicks though. It is a testament to Cameron, Weaver and Bihen’s directing and acting skills that they manage to make it obvious that Ripley and Hicks are interested in each other but keeps it on a level where it doesn’t get smarmy or takes over the plot. The few scenes they get to emphasize their attraction (like when Hicks gives Ripley the tracking bracelet) manages to really convey it, while it is kept out of scenes where it would just distract from the main plot (like the defense planning scene or Ripley going to save Newt). That you instantly counted Aliens as not having a romance plot is testament to how well-integrated and natural it is.

        • guy says:

          See, I think your comment actually shows where this whole debate comes from. Specifically, that their interaction isn’t explicitly romantic but can be taken as romantic. If Hicks had an established girlfriend with screentime it probably wouldn’t be considered romantic. I’m inclined to think that was platonic, and if that wasn’t the intent I can’t see how the conversation would have gone differently if it was meant to be platonic.

    • I like a good movie romance every now and then. However, some of my favorite movies have none at all. (Gettysburg, The Hunt for Red October.) I think I sometimes like a more simple story and I appreciate that the writers didn’t feel the need to cram a pointless romantic subplot in there and distract from the main plot. There’s a sort of elegant simplicity in those movies, and I like that. I wouldn’t want that in every movie, but I think the romance card gets played too often.

      • Blackbird71 says:

        What, Gates McFadden’s whole five seconds of screen time as Dr./Mrs. Ryan didn’t qualify as a romance? I’m telling you, there was real chemistry in the way she told Jack he was going to be late for his flight!

        (I’m hoping people can tell I’m being facetious, but this is the internet after all, so consider this official notice of the intended humor)

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im sick of people being sick of a trend simply because it is becoming a trend that happened in a few games in the last year.Thats not a trend.Thats barely a root of a trend.So we had a few games with dad characters/female guides.Whop dee do!You know how many games came out that had zombies as their main shtick in that same time?Yeah,thats a trend.Bland white dude protagonist,thats also a trend.Boob armor,thats a trend.But getting sick of actual conversation between the male protagonist and their female guide?Because there were half a dozen(if we are generous)games that have that?Thats silly.

    • Shamus says:

      No, it’s not silly. You don’t get to tell people what they’re allowed to like, or be annoyed by.

      Don’t push me on this. I’m REALLY pissed at how people treated Mumbles – seriously angry – and I need everyone to back the fuck up and stop telling Mumbles what she’s allowed to feel.

      • galacticplumber says:

        Exactly. Directing large amounts of negativity at individuals over literally harmless things is at best pointless and at worst highly counterproductive. The argument of not being forced to read the articles or watch the vids if they annoy you also has a lot more power behind it here.

        This is a relatively small blog run mostly by one man with the occasional project by one of his acquaintances and a collaborative lets play channel with more of a focus on intellectually talking about the works in question than is average.

        While there is a following they’re hardly mainstream enough that you’d have trouble cutting all contact with, and awareness of, their continued content from your life.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        This has nothing to do with Mumbles,its just extension of my annoyance with people always getting sick of trends before they are even a thing.It started way back with gone home and the incessant “ANOTHER walking simulator,ugh!” comments*.And sure,sometimes these comments will become true(like with survival games),but thats only because a broken clock has to show the correct time eventually.

        So no,a few of games where the protagonist is a dad(figure) does not make a trend of dadtagonist games(how many have we had anyway?).And a few games where you are bossed around by a woman does not make a trend either.Those may become a thing in the future,but definitely are not a thing now.

        *Sidenote:This is the list of all the walking simulators on steam,dating back to 2009.This is the list of all the first person shooters on steam.Its page 14 contains titles from 2015.Some trend.

        • Narkis says:

          …but something doesn’t have to become entrenched in order to be recognised as a trend. A trend is a tendency, a direction, a change from what is normal. Having lots of shooters isn’t a trend, it’s the baseline. Something repeated has become a trend, and a trend continued becomes the baseline. Derisively dismissing people’s complaints like that is not only counterproductive, but shows a remarkable lack of vision and respect for the others’ opinions and worries.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            On the other hand, two points do not make a trend, and that’s all Shamus gave us. The comments section has so far come up with three more examples, the most recent of which was in 2008. This does not look like a trend.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure,something repeated a bunch of times is a trend.But less than a dozen examples dont make a tendency.Otherwise you get this:

            https://xkcd.com/605/

            • ehlijen says:

              Slippery slope arguments go both ways. The opposite is that there are no trends in gaming because in the grand scheme of things conscious thought on earth has only been around for a fraction of geological history.

              A dozen is just as subjective and arbitrary as four or five or five hundred.

      • Jokerman says:

        Saying “I don’t think this is a trend” is hardly the same as “You shouldn’t be bored of this.”

        I get where people are coming from too, when you like something and somebody declares it a trend and that it should stop.

        I came across this myself when reading Uncharted had some dialogue options and a bunch of people were saying dialogue choices are played out and boring, saying how sick of them they were… Its kind of worrying as someone who loves dialogue choices (even pointless ones are better than just watching a cutscene) and hoping there fatigue with them does not spread.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      Half a dozen? Dude, women in the Mission Control/Exposition Fairy role has been a thing for decades. Not that only women fill those roles in video games, but- and this is the part that’s bugged me about it, and not as some passing, recent affectation- is that for female roles in particular, the “exposition/support from a headset” role has served as a sort of glass ceiling, the de facto highest billing one can receive in a game otherwise geared around an all-capable male protagonist that works alone.

      The recent aversion to this trend in this particular conversation seems to be a new spin in which this non-negotiably common archetype is untrustworthy or contentious to the player character. Which is a trend I haven’t noticed personally… but then, I’m not the only person in the world, and someone else’s assertion that it is so doesn’t trigger some huffed countersignal from me.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        The recent aversion to this trend in this particular conversation seems to be a new spin in which this non-negotiably common archetype is untrustworthy or contentious to the player character.

        Thats the one I was specifically referring to.So yes,not even half a dozen.

    • ehlijen says:

      Trends and their definition are always going to be somewhat subjective. Not a lot of people play every game that comes out. Even playing every very interesting game that comes out is a tall order these days.

      Maybe it isn’t really a trend in the grand scheme of things, but even if it only crops up in the subset of games one person plays, that can easily indicate a trend in a particular genre.

      There are after all quite a few genres the trend in question would be inapplicable or difficult to apply to (eg sports games, german spreadsheet management games, high level strategy games…).

      But if someone plays a lot of say first person turn based walking simulator economy games (made up example for humour purposes) and most entries in that genre exhibit a trait, then that is a trend to people who play predominantly that genre.

      Or maybe they’re wrong and it’s not a trend, just an occasional occurrence. They’re still allowed to have opinions on the matter. And even if it isn’t a trend, the question of character dynamics and how they relate to audience expectations is worth thinking about, especially in times of perception changes regarding specific character criteria.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Or maybe they’re wrong and it’s not a trend, just an occasional occurrence. They’re still allowed to have opinions on the matter.

        Never said they arent.But I will still call such an opinion wrong or silly.Just as I expect my opinions to be called wrong or silly.

        • acronix says:

          You have to admit that it is very curious that more than two or three games would fall under the same type of “occasional occurrence” at roughly the same point in time. Is that not a trend because it’s not as big or as lasting as other trends? Should we measure all trends with the zombie meter?

          It’s a small and short-lived trend. But it is (or was) still a trend. Calling it anything else is just arbitrary sillyness.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Maybe Im looking it differently because Im often dealing with statistics.Calling less than a dozen events a trend simply because they happen in close proximity to each other is silly to me.

            • Shoeboxjeddy says:

              If there’s 14 games total in a sub category (hypothetical), then surely the amount of games that are similar to be a “trend” in casual speak is smaller. And no, no one would care what stats professors have to say on the technical definition of a trend.

          • Abnaxis says:

            As an aside, statistically speaking if an event is truly random with respect to when it occurs, that event will tend to form clusters. This causes a lot of people to see “trends” in random coincidences.

            The math definition of such a process is that it’s a “Poisson Process,” but I can’t find a reference that isn’t thick with calculus. Basically, think of television static–that static is in fact completely random, but w when you look at it it looks like it generates dots in a pattern, because random processes generate clusters.

            I don’t necessarily think that’s what’s going on with what Shamus is taking about, I just like to leave random statistical nuggets on the internet

      • Ninety-Three says:

        I would be more inclined to believe that it’s a trend if Shamus had more than two examples. I sure can’t think of any others, and in this comments section I’ve seen exactly two others mentioned: one from 2008, and one from the 90s. Hardly a trend, you can draw a line between any two points.

        Edit: I guess Kreia sort of counts (though with her sociopathic philosophy she’s more “obviously evil” than “sketchy”), so add one more data point for 2005.

        • ehlijen says:

          Bastila? She does turn in the end. Aribeth also starts that way (though in a different way, despite the superficial similarities). I’m told tribal lady in Farcry 3 turns out to be not a good choice to side with? Dr Vahlen certainly has something off about her.

          That’s about all I’ve got, but I don’t really stay up to date with modern gaming (my favourite genres are nearly extinct).

          • Taellosse says:

            Bastila’s out because she’s a romance option if your PC is male (and if you’re playing a female, then it’s not relevant to the discussion). Granted, the romance is a lot lower-key, and easier to avoid, than a lot of other games, including virtually any Bioware game made since, but still, it’s there.

            Aribeth qualifies. And their means of “taking her of the table” romantically is something we don’t see often enough anymore (and could do with being brought back more often) – being romantically involved with a different NPC already, and completely disinterested in cheating. Aveline from DA2 is another example of this type (though interestingly, she goes from mourning a lost loved one, to asking for the protagonist’s help in wooing another, and romancing her yourself remains unavailable throughout).

          • guy says:

            I wouldn’t count Vahlen; she’s your resident mad scientist but there’s never any implication she’s disloyal. Actually she was my favorite radio voice because she seemed to be in charge of saying what I would say if I were a radio voice for Xcom. Most prominently after you attack the alien base and everyone is celebrating except her and Bradford talks about how they’ve won a great victory and she just sighs and shakes her head because she knows as well as the player that this isn’t over.

            • ehlijen says:

              Disloyal, no. Reckless and potentially dangerous? Maybe. She did almost blow up the base with the hyperwave decoder.

              That angle even gets talked up a bit in XCOM 2 (so much so I fully expected to end up rescuing her from another stasis suit where the aliens have kept her to use her brain to head their unethical research division, same way they used your brain to run their military).

              • guy says:

                Yeah, but that’s not really the same as a character who might have nefarious hidden motives. You might not like her actions and think she’s wrong, but she doesn’t keep secrets and she is on your side. When she nearly blows up the base you know what gamble she’s making and it’s being made for the organization’s benefit. It’s a distinct archetype.

                • ehlijen says:

                  Isn’t that still included in the word ‘sketchy’? As in ‘not entirely trustworthy’?

                  One can be unworthy of trust for several different reasons.

                  • Blackbird71 says:

                    Untrustworthy and unreliable are two different things; one requires intent to deceive, while the other may stem from a lack of ability or motivation instead of any malicious intent.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      I still think her recklessness combined with the implied glee at torturing aliens adds up to a ‘sketchy’ character.

                    • guy says:

                      Eh, intepretations can vary, I suppose, but I was never seriously concerned about her and I don’t think that I was really supposed to be. Shen raises various concerns about her fondess for psionics, genetic enhancement, and AIs, but that’s a contrast between two characters and insofar as the game takes sides I feel like it sides with Vahlen and I just kind of rolled my eyes and ordered Shen to make psi amps. The gene mods work perfectly and never give you any trouble, psionics is your most powerful weapon and has no negative side effects, and when she takes a risk it pays off in spectacular fashion and Xcom could not possibly have won otherwise, and you pretty much know the stakes when she does it.

                      Maybe I’d have found her dedication to torturing aliens more disconcerting if my mental checklist on missions didn’t have “Secure more aliens to torture for information and medical data” pre-printed. But really her glee was about what she learned from the process and that is a trait I want in the resident mad scientist when there is a strategic benefit to vivisection. I think she’s intended to sound like the player.

        • Shamus says:

          If not “trend” then what would you prefer to call it? My point was that we had most than one creative team, making the same decision, and (I think) for the same reason.

          It’s not a trend in the same way that (say) shooters are a trend, but what else do you want to call it? Habit? Trope? Pattern? Fad?

          Gotta call it SOMETHING. “I have noticed a thing” is a bit vague.

          • Ninety-Three says:

            Reasonable people can disagree about how many trees make a forest, and how many points make a trend, so I don’t wish to get too far into that argument, but I would have expected that everyone draws the line at a number greater than two. Words like habit, trope and fad all imply that this is some kind of wider phenomenon when what you’re describing is two games, the smallest possible increment above “unique”.

            Re: them doing it for the same reason, I made this point below, but if Firewatch had Delilah be sketchy to defray expectations of romance, then why did they put in so much flirty dialogue that naturally creates expectations of romance?

            • Shamus says:

              I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have any alternate suggestions other than trend. I don’t actually care WHAT you call it. I just need some language to draw attention to this fact without grunting and pointing. If I’d thought of a better word than trend, I’d have used it. And since you don’t have one either, I think it’s the best word available.

              I think Firewatch might be shaped by player dialog choice. I don’t remember thinking the two of them were supposed to hook up. I remember Delilah flirting with Hank while drunk, but I took that as drunken flirting and not a serious thing. But then, I pushed Delilah away in dialog (imagining Hank to be still grief-stricken over his wife) and so maybe I got different options, or interpreted them differently. I haven’t played through the game a second time.

              • Ninety-Three says:

                Yeah, it’s possible to be perfectly professional with Delilah, or to play things pretty flirty.

                As for the word, I don’t know what to call it, trend just has the wrong implications to me. But you’ve made it clear what you’re trying to communicate so at this point it doesn’t really matter, language’s goals have been accomplished.

              • Syal says:

                Cluster, maybe? Spike? How about Trend?

                …no wait.

              • Henson says:

                But doesn’t your desire to give it a name already indicate the difference in how you see it vs. how others do? That is, you call it something like ‘trend’, or some other name, because you think that its frequency has significance. For people who don’t see it as a trend, there’s no need to give it a name because it isn’t ‘a thing’ yet.

              • Blackbird71 says:

                I’m sure you won’t like it, but I think that the most correct word to describe two matching points (without any similar such points) is a “coincidence”.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            My point was that we had most than one creative team, making the same decision, and (I think) for the same reason.

            The bolded part is where I disagree with you and why I dont think its a trend.Because if it were,even more people would arrive to the same conclusion.Like with how indie games exploded when people saw that they can finally make money off of them.Thats why I say that so few examples dont make a trend.

            • Benjamin Hilton says:

              I think the problem now is that we are veering into semantics. Like Shamus said above, he is merely calling it a trend so he doesn’t have to grunt and point. All the arguments about whether or not trend is the right word to use is taking time and energy away from debating about the actual point he was trying to make.

    • kunedog says:

      I will agree with those who say it’s a (very) old trend* . . . that I’m still perfectly fine with, and show no signs of getting tired of. If I’m going to hear a voice for the entire game, I do simply prefer a female one (sketchy or not). Games with exceptions (i.e. raspy dude in Bastion/Transistor, Rutskarn in Deus Ex 1) aren’t a problem or anything, but there’s an undeniable preference on my part.

      To me, the simple anti-sausage-fest argument is the most compelling. Mary Jo Pehl gave Cinematic Titanic something that Rifftrax’s Mike, Kevin, and Bill lack (i.e. riffs that work best in a female voice, or plausible female impressions), and I’m glad to see her doing content for them since CT died. I’m always happier when I see Mumbles on the cast list for a new Diecast or Spoiler Warning.

      IMO it’s a long-lived trend for a good reason.

      * The 8-year-old Dead Space does exactly this, and the earliest example I remember playing was a (nearly exactly) 20 year-old game named Strife, a Doom-engined shooter with very light RPG elements and an amazing (to me, at the time) amount of voice-acting. There’s an ever-present female voice in your head that might betray you (literally might, as there are multiple endings).

      • Sleeping Dragon says:

        Ha, Strife was on my mind a lot when going through these comments. The Schrodinger’s betrayal was kinda weird in that one.

      • ehlijen says:

        I don’t actually feel that way. It’s more about voice actor quality to me.

        I never once minded the male voices bossing me around in Tie Fighter or Freespace 1/2. Meanwhile both Vahlen and Cheng got on my nerves after a few playthroughs of XCOM (only due to the camera grabs, though). The colonel, meh, he works.

        Mass Effect 2/3’s EDI in my opinion wasn’t a big improvement over Joker as the Normandy’s voice, either.

        Yes, I always went out of my way to find Claudia Black’s character in ME2 and endured Morrigan’s crap for that as well, but I’d do the same for anyone voiced by David Warner (Jon Irenicus didn’t nearly get enough lines in BG2!). And of course even Jennifer Hale’s Bastila had trouble competing with the sheer joy that was talking to HK47.

        Get me an interesting combo of writing and voice acting, and I’ll listen, no matter the gender.

    • Phill says:

      Personally I hate the action combat trend in MMOs and prefer the WoW style tab targetting for a variety of reasons. That’s a personal preference. Weirdly, other people are happy to agree or disagree based on the merits of the game mechanics and discuss it in those terms. You don’t often come across people saying it’s “silly” to dislike action combat MMOs (well, not outside of reddit anyway, but that’s a bit like reading youtube comments at the best of times).

      Similarly I deplore the trend (as it seems to me) of trying to make turn based strategy games more like RTS games. But there is plenty of room for both to exist, and plenty of audience for both, and most people are happy to accept that both types of game can be fun for different people (and some people enjoy both). I don’t get called silly for not liking RTS games: people can just accept that I don’t like them, whether they understand that dislike or not.

      But apparently the rules change for some subjects, such as ones involving gender. Mumbles dislikes the female “Mission Control” trope, and gets criticised for having that opinion. It’s not as though she’s saying that no-one should make games like that, or that all games should match her sensibilities. She just said that she found it annoying, and presumably she’d rather play a game that did something different with female characters. Why doesn’t this get treated the same as me saying that I find RTS games annoying and would rather play something with a different gameplay feel, or Shamus complaining about the brown corridor shooters of a few years ago and wishing for a more vibrant (and realistic), visually interesting use of colour?

      • Ninety-Three says:

        Mumbles dislikes the female “Mission Control” trope, and gets criticised for having that opinion.

        Where are you seeing that? Quote me the comment from this thread that criticizes Mumbles for having that opinion. Is it Daemian Lucifer, saying “That’s not a trend… that’s silly”, a comment which is neither critical of the person nor even directed at Mumbles?

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Despite what it may sound like sometimes,I dont criticize people.I criticize peoples opinions and behavior.If you were to say how theres a rising trend of 4x space games,Id criticize that opinion as well,because its untrue.If you were to say theres an annoying trend of transgender protagonists in video games,Id call that untrue and silly as well.

        • Narkis says:

          But there is a rising trend of 4X space games. For years we had none, or a couple at most. And we’ve had, and continue to have, a bunch of them being released one after the other. How the hell is that not a trend?

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            Because its not the number of titles,its their percentage.Before the indies were a thing,they were a small blip amongst the titles.Now that indies are a thing,there are many more 4x space games,but there are also many more platformers,adventures,puzzles,sports games,………4x space games are still just a small blip,only the overall quantity of games has increased.

            • ehlijen says:

              But because no one plays all the games, that’s subjective.

              If I like playing 4x space games, and I don’t find any new ones for years and then over the course of one year there’s three or four new ones, that will look like a welcome trend to me.

            • Festuca says:

              But it is not a matter of sheer number. For instance, you can’t compare the countless peggle clones with AAA games, since they are very different beasts. There aren’t as many games who want to tell a complex story with AAA production values, professional writing and voice acting. And some of the more anticipated of those (like the walking dead and the last of us) portrayed (surrogate) father/daughter relationships without knowing of each other. The same is true for the Mission Controll trope. If that is not significant, I don’t know what is.

              And criticising someone for his or her opinion in personal taste seems very pointless to me.

    • Syal says:

      Come on Daemian, you’ve got to learn to get down with the sickness.

  10. Mephane says:

    A fun exercise: Try to come up with some other story structures that follow the male lead + clearly non-romantic female lead formula, and keep an eye out for future games that use that idea.

    Easy: make them siblings.

    Bonus points if you write the story and design the game so the player can choose at the start which one of the two to play.

    We even have a fairly recent example of this: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate.

    • Wide And Nerdy ™ says:

      That won’t stop some people from trying to ship them if you don’t change some other things. This is as good a place as any to jump in with my point.

      As soon as you have male and female leads of the same age . . .

      I think its more than that. In most cases, your leads are going to either have attractive 3D models or, in other media, will be cast with attractive actors and actresses. And in most cases, your leads are written to be likable or at least sympathetic and/or endearing because the writers want us to care about the goals they pursue.

      So we have two attractive people we like, a man and a woman around the same age. In real life these two people might not get together but if they were single, a lot of us would be trying to set them up.

      So that was the original point I wanted to make.

      Taking that to Mephane’s suggestion, brother sister duos in media sometimes fall prey to awkward subtext. They’re both attractive. We identify with one and are probably attracted to the other and we like/sympathize with both. So there can be a tendency to read into things that are meant to be taken innocently.

      Point is, more work needs to be done.

      • Christopher says:

        Someone is always gonna ship something. You can’t change that whatever you do. I think the sibling solution is good! Off the top of my head, the brother/sister team of Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin certainly didn’t have any sexual tension.

        Most of the suggestions I see in other comment threads above are good bets for future iterations of the male lead + non-romantic supporting female, too. But if I was gonna bet on a future version of this trend, it would be a case of two sibling-styled games coming out within half a year of one another. You can make a character unattractive in many ways, but having the support’s personality be annoying is a good way to just make the player dislike the character(Someone mentioned Fuuka and Rise, the Persona 3 and 4 navigators, and I tought of Rose from Metal Gear Solid 2: I haaaaaaaaaate those characters because of their voice acting and writing in support conversations. Similar deal for Teddie, the navigator in Persona 4 for half the game). Meanwhile, family members can be as attractive and pleasant as they want! I might think Bethany Hawke is hot, but I’m not gonna expect a romance option with my character’s sister in a Bioware game anyway.

        It’s really only about the writing, though. You could just not write characters being interested in romance. I can’t even remember a time Phoenix Wright has been attracted to anyone, and he’s had what, 4 or 5 different supporting women?

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Corollary, if this is a Japanese game… this strategy may not work. : (

    • guy says:

      HAHAHAHAHAHA

      Okay, so in Fire Emblem 8 there are two Lord characters. Princess Erika and her twin brother Ephraim. You start playing Erika, flash back to what Ephraim was doing, then they meet for a couple missions and you pick a primary lord when they split up; they go on different adventures and their paths cross for parts of the game, and the dialogue is a bit different. And, well, [insert enormous digression about support mechanics] and if Erika and Ephraim have a rank A support the paired ending specifically mentions that Ephraim never marries while other paired endings where the characters don’t marry each other do not have such a message.

      I mean, siblings have more leeway to be friendly without implications of romance, but it very much does not automatically block it and if they noticeably don’t have other romantic interests then there’s a point at which people will start to wonder if they’re maybe a little too close without any explicit indications of a relationship.

  11. Metzger says:

    You know what I’m sick of? Bashing Ubisoft for no good reason. I mean, how many of their characters actually fit your description of “Ubisoft Men”? I can name only Aiden Pearce. That’s it. You mention Jason Brody from Far Cry 3 but he’s nothing like that. He’s not a growling badass, he has emotions, levity, his motivation built around saving his friends and escaping from an island. Ajay Ghale from FC4 doesn’t fit either. Assassin’s Creed characters don’t fit as well, not even Altair. It’s not really a popular trope in Ubisoft games.

  12. Zaxares says:

    I actually know what you mean, Shamus. In my case, at least, I think it comes down to a greater sense of maturity and self-confidence. When I was a teenager growing up, I wanted so very badly to be the “badass”. The tough, glowering, alpha male who has no weaknesses and no emotions because they were windows into your soul through which you can be hurt. It didn’t help that the era in which I grew up (the 80’s) saw the pinnacle of the action-hero movie tropes such as Terminator, Rambo, or Rocky.

    But as I grew older, I learned that such people are not only unrealistic, they also tend to be very, very lonely. In real life, building up massive emotional walls around yourself only keeps people at a distance, and they will SENSE that distance and avoid you. As such, there’s a disconnect between what I know to be true and what games like to portray their “Aiden Pierce”‘s relationships as. In that sense, it’s really no different to watching a movie and saying, “Hey, how come when those guys walk into the house, it’s noon, but when they walk out 5 mins later, it’s evening?” There’s a logical disconnect that makes it impossible to really immerse yourself in that character the way you could when you were younger.

  13. Nevermind says:

    I’m still trying to figure out why [Blazkowicz] works for me and (say) Jason Brody doesn’t.

    I don’t know about you, but I feel the same way, and I think it’s that Blazkowicz is consistent while Brody isn’t. Even in cutscenes – especially in cutscenes – Blazkowicz is a non-emotional badass guy. Gameplay makes you kill nazis by the dozen, and the cutscenes show you a person that would kill nazis by the dozen and feel good about it.
    With Jason Brody – and many others – you still kill by the dozen, but the cutscenes and “story” in general try to downplay it. Brody specifically becomes a sad loser the moment the game takes control from the player.

    A non-emotinal badass guy is not a very interesting character, but a character that oscillates nonsensically between a badass and a loser is a lot worse.

  14. Ninety-Three says:

    I dispute your idea that the sketchy female coach is designed to solve the problem of “players expect romance”. Firewatch, which constitutes 50% of your examples of the trend, goes out of its way to give the player a lot of flirting options. Firewatch has far more romantic themes, deliberately placed, than most games that simply do the “male lead, female support” thing without addressing romance at all.

    • Christopher says:

      Yeah, I’m not actually sure this is the reason either. We live in the magical age of social media, so I would suggest just asking the developers on Twitter… But I also believe “Why is your support character a sketchy woman?” could very reasonably be interpreted as accusatory. Could work coming from Shamus with a reference to his blogs though, I suppose.

    • Syal says:

      And of course Delilah is the name of a pretty famous temptress.

  15. Kalil says:

    I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, which is a great game if you somehow manage to tune out the plot and the characters. Gods, the protagonist of that one is awful. >.<

  16. Lazlo says:

    To talk some about your meta-disclaimer: I *really* like the explanation of that type of conflict, and its roots, that CGP Grey has:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE3j_RHkqJc

  17. Darren says:

    I think BJ Blascowicz (I don’t care if I misspelled that) works in Wolfenstein because the game takes time to suggest that, if he had his way, he wouldn’t be doing something different, that he has aspects of his personality beyond murderous rage. Of course, the nature of his franchise means that this will never be explored, but the suggestion of it differentiates him from scores of generic “badasses” who knowingly exist in a state of perpetual violence.

    On that note, the game also goes out of its way to paint the Nazis as deserving of the depthless violence they receive. I mean, the mere fact that they’re Nazis certainly helps, but the New Order takes plenty of time to showcase them being staggeringly evil in a way that clearly affects the protagonist so that there’s no doubt that the hours of violence in the game are justified.

    Your Ubisoft Man titles often do a poor job of humanizing their protagonists. This is fine in, say, Far Cry Primal, where you’re a caveman and have simple needs and desires, but it’s a glaring weakness in Far Cry 4, where you’re some guy who inexplicably is an unstoppable murder machine without any explanation. Meanwhile, many games present villains who are, yes, evil, but who often have little to no connection to the protagonist. For example, none of Nathan Drake’s villains have anything whatsoever to do with him; he could easily avoid all of his adventures by just walking away, and his games always bend over backwards to justify his greedy, risky behaviors by having his friends get kidnapped or killed to add some kind of motivation beyond a hollow “get the treasure.”

    So that’s the key to making a “badass” character work instead of being a tired cliche: provide genuinely humanizing moments and work to make the villains more than obvious excuses to let the player murder things.

  18. James Drover says:

    I think William “B.J.” Blazkowicz works because of the game setting. We weren’t dealing with super duper serious(though it did have just enough of those moments), or them trying to be all cool, it was an alternate timeline based kinda on pulp ww2 sci fi. Willian Beef Juiced (immune to atrophy) Blazkowiicz fits well their as does most of the game characters. I haven’t played the sequel (prequel?) plan to soon though.

  19. TehShrike says:

    Just popped in to let you know I lold at “Ubisoft Men”

  20. Bropocalypse says:

    What if the dude was a eunuch?

  21. Vermander says:

    I’d like to see a game where the protagonists are a couple. A husband and wife adventure duo could be a lot of fun. At the beginning of the game have the player divide various skills/powers/abilities between the two. You can make it so one spouse specializes in melee combat while the other uses magic, or one of them is a sniper while the other is a tech specialist. You alternate between the two on various missions and occasionally one of them will be captured or sidelined and the other has to rescue them.

    You could even give the player the option to customize both characters’ appearance or personality traits to decide what kind of couple they are. Are they annoyingly lovey-dubby? Or do they tend towards subtle, playful, flirtatious banter? Maybe they fight constantly and make up passionately when the missions are done.

    Definitely don’t kill one of them off for cheap pathos though.

  22. OboboboTheNerd says:

    “You know the type: Growling basasses

  23. Jonathan Scinto says:

    Female “coach” characters are female because people prefer listening to female voices. It’s the same reason Siri is female.

  24. Taellosse says:

    I’m doubtful it will become a trend, but I’d say it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to make the primary female cast member a lesbian. Preferably one that’s proudly out of the closet about it (this allows them to avoid being obliged to write a fraught coming-out reveal cutscene, which would otherwise be necessary to take advantage of this kind of character’s narrative benefits over a straight woman). This will allow the female lead and the protagonist to develop a purely platonic friendship without (most of, anyway) the audience expecting them to develop a romance.

    It won’t be a trend anytime soon because inserting homosexual characters into a game is itself still controversial, unfortunately.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      > It won’t be a trend anytime soon because inserting homosexual characters into a game is itself still controversial, unfortunately.

      Is it, though?

      One of the two main female characters in The Division, which is the bro-iest game that ever bro-ed, is a lesbian. They explicitly drop that into conversation early, and there’s even a big subplot about finding her ex-wife who has gone missing. In all the chatter about the game I don’t think I’ve ever even heard one word of complaint or even a single mention about that (note: I’m sure there’s some rando on Twitter getting upset, but there are randos on Twitter who get upset about everything including what time the sun came up that day, so that doesn’t count.)

      For that matter, I don’t remember a lot of grumbling about Sir Hammerlock, or Arcade Gannon. or Veronica Santangelo, all of whom were major characters in traditional shooty-mans big-budget AAA games. People complained about Janey Springs but that’s because she was incredibly annoying, not because she was a lesbian.

      • Volvagia says:

        Um, all three of those examples seem actually kind of minor in comparison to what I think he’s talking about. The closest thing I’ve seen to what I (think) he’s (generally) actually talking about (non-player chosen homosexuality, in an actually character driven game, (so, NOT The Division) as something that at all drives the plot or characterization of a game with what could be called “AAA” resources) is a GENEROUS reading of Bayonetta 2.

  25. Festuca says:

    Clementine from the walking dead season 2 is a great protagonist. I also find the second season of it way more engaging (and were very happy when I’ve heard that Rutskarn did so too). I always wondered why it didn’t receive the praise the first one did.

    The antagonist is so hateable and at the same time so rational. It also has some moments of genuine horror in it like I’ve never seen in a videogame before (was it Belford?). The characters all have flaws and Kenny just blew me away. It made me cry several times, made me feel unease and I had some serious “what have I done” moments. It’s not perfekt, but (to quote yahtzee Crowshaw:) who is, besides Columbo.

    How about a spoiler warning season? ;)

    • guy says:

      My story with Walking Dead 2 is that I got angry and quit partway through the first episode.

      Pretty much the entire post dog bite plot had me feeling the helpless frustration of watching someone walk off a cliff without being able to do anything about it. Firstly, I wanted Clementine to say something before they noticed the bite, because of course they’re inevitably going to see it and the story would sound more believable unprompted. Then the people in the house reacted with an acceptable level of caution by confining her and didn’t want to use any of their antiseptics on someone who might be beyond help. So what I wanted to do was wait until morning and then maybe wait another twenty-four hours. When I realized that didn’t seem to be an option, I spent the escape asking why she was trying to leave the place where people had antibiotics, and then when she revealed that she wanted to break into the house and steal them I rage-quit because there was a slight chance the infection might kill her if left untreated for twelve hours but breaking out of bite victim quarantine tops my list of “things that will get you shot in a zombie apocalypse.”

      • Festuca says:

        As I wrote: It is not perfect, but for me it did the trick.

        I just thought that they were unsure if they could trust her and she was desperate to survive, so it made sense to me. I wouldn’t wait either if there was a slight chance of dying.

  26. The Nick says:

    The difference with all those ‘Ubisoft guys’ is they aren’t characters: they’re unintentional caricatures. “Tough guys.”

    Whereas William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is a character or a guy who also happens to be tough. But that’s not ALL he is.

  27. Vi says:

    Now I’m discouraged about making a game involving opposite-sex characters working together without hooking up, especially if I go with the characters-bickering-because-they-genuinely-hate-each-other-and-will-go-on-to-become-mortal-enemies subplot. >_>

  28. mumbles says:

    *presses F3*
    *searches “mumbles”*
    *regrets it immediately*

    • Steve C says:

      Why do you regret it? I just did a F3 search for “Mumbles”. Nobody said anything bad about you or your opinions. What I did read was people standing up for you when you were referenced tangentially. You have an admin account. Perhaps you see something that was deleted?

  29. mumbles says:

    Look, all I said was I’m tired of seeing women in the role and I’d like to see them in a different one please maybe? I can’t believe that’s a radical statement. Am I losing my mind here?

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      Yours a normal and plenty valid opinion and you should never feel, or be made to feel, like you can’t share them especially on your own damn show.

      I can understand Daemian’s gripe too though (which I don’t think is directed at you. I think its more one of those things we all have where we’re waiting for an opportunity to grind an axe.) Its just unfortunate given whats happened recently that his opportunity to grind this axe came in the wake of you expressing an opinion.

      • mumbles says:

        Daemian is fine, I get that it was a way to pivot to a larger issue. We cool.

        I just…I hate this even became a thing. Why is this a thing? All I did was say I’m bored of a thing and it’s turned into this weird conversation about what a trend is, what the definition of the trend, how long can something go on before it’s a trend? Then it’s back to people wondering what I want/don’t want to see while someone else shouts THAT’S NOT WHAT I’M SAYING.

        Or it becomes an issue about gender politics or censorship or whatever the hell people are mad at this week. To me, I just noticed something that I was tired of and it’s turned into an article, three different places to have this “argument” and it all comes back to me. Painting me like I’m some angry chick who’s like THIS ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH REPRESENTATION OF WOMEN IN GAMES. That’s…not what I was trying to say at all. I didn’t…want the thing…anymore. I was tired of…the thing. I don’t care if people don’t think it’s a trend. I was tired of seeing the thing. Whether or not it’s a trend, I just got tired of it. That makes sense, right?

        Is there an escape button I can push where you guys can talk about trends or whatever and just all agree I don’t have anything to do with it?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Why is this a thing?

          Its because we are nerds.We go on tangents before you can say “A line that shares a single point with a curved surface”.

          Im sorry that Ive springboarded the whole thing here,it was not my intention to drag you into it after everything.In fact,all I had to comment about your statement,I said back when that episode was up.I had no idea Shamus would construct a whole article around it,and its his thoughts I had the urge to comment on.Nor did I expect a bunch of armchair psychologists would pop up in between.

          Is there an escape button I can push where you guys can talk about trends or whatever and just all agree I don’t have anything to do with it?

          Sadly,no.You are a minor celebrity now,with all the good and bad that comes with it.So unless you deinstall the internet,the only advice I can give you is to try and not take it personally.Which is a shitty advice,but its the best I have.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          You’re right. This sucks.

          There’s one factor of it I can’t discuss here.

          But the other factor is honestly the Diecast and Spoiler Warning have primed us to interpret what you all say as industry commentary. Your cohosts do frequently say “This shouldn’t be a thing”. I think Shamus was basically acknowledging that in his blog post by comparing your comment to his remarks about being tired of dull mid thirties male protagonists in shootmans.

          But its not just him, everybody on the show does it. So when you say “I’m bored with this thing” we’re primed to hear “Mumbles is making commentary about how this thing is problematic in the video game industry.” And thats not fair to you. We need to listen more carefully.

    • Steve C says:

      I can’t believe that’s a radical statement.

      It is not a radical statement. It is normal and uncontroversial. It is so mainstream that there is no comment disagreeing nor is there any criticism of you on this page for having that opinion.

  30. Pyradox says:

    Why does everyone seem to need excuses to have a man and a woman in lead roles without it being a romance? Just write two characters that aren’t in a relationship, make one of them male and one female. It’s not even hard.

    Who cares what the audience expects in that case? Has anyone ever walked out of a movie because the leads aren’t hooking up enough? Just don’t lead them on. Don’t be a weirdo who can’t write a man interacting with a woman without it looking like he wants in her pants.

    Did anyone watch Mad Max: Fury Road and think “Max is going to fall in love with one of these women before the movie’s over”? No. Obviously Max wasn’t interested, obviously Furiosa wasn’t interested, obviously none of the wives were interested. All they had to do was give them clear characters and motivations. They weren’t even particularly deep characters with lots of dialogue and it was instantly clear.

    Like am I insane here for not thinking that this is difficult to accomplish? Or just for not reading unresolved sexual tension into every male-female conversation I see? I don’t even consider myself a particularly good writer, and this doesn’t sound like it’d be a challenge for me.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      You are not insane.But as bioware has shown,pandering to favorite ships can be a huge selling point,and many a person will buy a game simply to pair up two random people.

      As for mad max and furiosa….well,read it for yourself.

      • guy says:

        Yeah, that’s pretty much a perfect example. The thing is we find it creepy and weird if a man always interacts with a woman like he wants in her pants even if he in fact does. So characters interacting in a way that doesn’t indicate they’re interested routinely happens in romance plots. I think reading it in as happening during the movie is a stretch, but on the other hand Furiosa probably wouldn’t act differently during the sections of the movie where they’re fighting in cars if it was happening. So if the audience expects a romance plot, they don’t usually storm out of the theater because they don’t get one; they leave feeling like they have.

        Personally I’m inclined to say writers should just write the characters they want interacting the way they ought to and let audience perception sort itself out, but if they want to actively not have an appearance of a romance rather than not shoehorning one in they’re in for a rough time. And Mission Control characters are particularly afflicted because if they’ve got an adversarial relationship with the protagonist the players proceed to hate one or both of them, and if they don’t then two characters the player likes spend much of the game being friendly. They could be coolly professional, but then if they ever aren’t that really sticks out. They could also not have a male protagonist+female mission control setup, but that’s liable to end up giving them a different problem to handle depending on what they do instead.

    • Jakale says:

      I think it’s a matter of “yes, you probably can write men and women together without it getting romantic, but people have had a few decades of games, a century of movies, several centuries of books, and a few millennia of oral stories, songs, and plays to get accustomed to the idea that, in a very hefty chunk of stories, things tend to work out how you want them to, with people you don’t like getting punished and people you do like getting some perceived happiness which is usually a romantic pairing and when that pairing doesn’t happens, it’s usually because there are no acceptable people to pair them with.”

      When there’s a nearly overwhelming amount of media across all genres encouraging people to think that whichever man and woman are together in a story the longest with each other will ultimately get into a romantic relationship at the end regardless of anything that happens in between, excluding (but still only sometimes) death, it’s not unreasonable to want to try to avoid potentially heavy audience backlash by setting up a situation where you’re discouraged to think of the two as potential romantic options.

      Especially these days, with attitudes changing about only hetero relationships being acceptable, I’m not sure there’s a way to not “lead them on.” There are stories where engaged, married, separated, and dead characters manage to get together. People who loathe each other turn loving, people at war find romance, people who may have literally never met or spoken to each other the entire story can get both implied and actual romantic pairings. With all that canonical evidence, plus more recent stuff in tv shows(Legend of Korra for example) where pairings happen, then break off and a different pairing is the end result, good luck to any writer trying to seriously write a platonic relationship between two main characters.

      Sure, you don’t have to care about what people assume will happen or want to happen, but those assumptions are still intensely powerful forces for the audience and combined with how important endings can be to the overall perception of a work, when those assumptions aren’t fulfilled it can just absolutely tank the favor the audience may have otherwise given and games and all media rely on that perception to succeed.

      • Pyradox says:

        I don’t think the baseless assumption that two lead characters have to have a romance plot is a powerful force. I think people recognize the pattern, but do they really get invested in there being romance in a story? I don’t think so.

        You might get some people upset if the hero doesn’t get the girl or whatever, but in stories where that happens they set the girl up as a prize early on.

        But even then, will anyone seriously complain if they don’t get together? Sure, maybe the player doesn’t get the nerd fantasy of the Strong Female Character being inexplicably attracted to their capacity for violence, but would that seriously ruin it for anyone whose opinion mattered?

        I’m not saying endings aren’t disproportionately important to how a text is remembered after completing it, but romance plots are often so superfluous that I don’t think this is as big a factor as people are making it out to be.

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