Experienced Points: A Male on Females on Female Characters

By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 18, 2011

Filed under: Column 314 comments

This week’s column is a response to the “Females on Female Characters” panel we attended at PAX East. (The video of that panel is now available. Fun fact: That’s the back of my head, right in the middle, wearing the green shirt. To my left is Greg Tito.)

We’ve had a few new female leads introduced in the past couple of years, and they’ve unfortunately failed. (For reasons outside of their gender.) Faith from Mirror’s Edge was interesting and visually distinct, but her story was an afterthought and her gameplay didn’t resonate with most gamers. Rubi Malone from Wet was another hopeful, but both her and her game were so unlikeable that Susan Arendt (the host of the panel and obviously someone hankering for a kick-ass female protagonist) had to pan the game. Violette Summer from Velvet Assassin was a worthwhile try. Like a lot of male protagonists, she was bland and empty, which is usually a safe way to keep the protagonist out of the way and let the player focus on the gameplay. Unfortunately the gameplay sucked and I don’t think we’ll be seeing Violette again.

Making matters worse is that Metroid: Other M took the established and well-liked Samus Aran and re-imagined her into a moody dunce who couldn’t use her powers without getting permission from a man, which sounds like hyperbole but isn’t. That’s apparently a real thing in the game.

Anyway, if publishers won’t give us different characters for the sake of diversity, they should at least do it for the sake of variety.


From The Archives:

314 thoughts on “Experienced Points: A Male on Females on Female Characters

  1. Strangeite says:

    I really wish I played video games. Since the birth of my daughter, I have become a militant feminist.

    The other day she came home and told me that girls can’t play basketball. I resisted my first urge to find the 4 year old boy that told her this and string him up by his (you know what). I instead started taking her to women college basketball games.

    1. eric says:

      Good on you, sir, for advocating that women are capable of everything men are. Don’t let anybody tell your daughter or you otherwise. :3

    2. Miguel says:

      I’m not sure if I should give you kudos on your self-restraint, or chastise you for leaving him to natural selection to sort out.

    3. MichaelG says:

      Women get more college degrees and have a lower unemployment rate than men now. When she grows up, she’ll probably have trouble finding a man who isn’t behind her educationally and economically.

      So instead of telling her to play basketball, you should be preparing her to pity the stupid males with their sports and video games and lack of education. That’s the future…


  2. krellen says:

    Someone forgot to link to the actual article, which is here.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thansk,saved me the bother of searching the escapist myself.While I like some articles and videos there,I dont really like the site itself.

    2. Hal says:

      Heh. I was thinking, “Okay, there’s, like, 5 or 6 links here. Which one goes to the article . . . none of them? No? Okay then.”

    3. Shamus says:

      That was an interesting discovery. If I begin an article with a link, the link gets eaten by the author pic.


      1. krellen says:

        Wow. That is an interesting bug.

      2. Jarenth says:

        And now I’m imagining the Shamus picture eating the hyperlink, Pacman-style.

        I’m so easily amused.

  3. Mumbles says:

    FACT: The women in Dragon Age 2 are stronger than all the men combined.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      I fought the final conflict with a party of entirely female characters. And while I used every character a fair amount, the woman of DA2 definitely got more play. Great group of characters, covering a large range of different personality types.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        I couldn’t even find enough female characters to do that.

        1. krellen says:

          Hawke, Merrill, Isabella, Aveline, Bethany. Should be easy to get four out of that.

          1. Zukhramm says:

            Mage, so no Bethany, and Isabella is… I have no idea where you’re supposed to get her.

            1. krellen says:

              Walk into the Hanged Man sometime during Act 1.

              1. Zukhramm says:

                But she’s only there after you get Anders, who I got last and pretty much right before I finished Act 1.

                1. Moriarty says:

                  nah, I got her before Anders. I played the first act two times and she always seems to be there the second time I enter the tavern. Could be a coincidence though.

                2. Zukhramm says:

                  Hmm, then I don’t know, but by the time she was avalible I had no business in The Hanged Man anymore, so I never went there.

        2. Veloxyll says:

          Aveline, Merryl, Isabella. All female party. Since BETHANY ;_;

          1. acronix says:

            It`s interesting to see that the companions of DA2 offer exactly one of each of the class spectrum, and that each half is of a given gender:

            A ranged (male) rogue and a melee (female) rogue.
            A two-handed (male) warrior and a shield`n`sword (female) warrior.
            A healing (male) mage and a damage-crowd-control focused (female) mage.

            Won`t count Hawke`s siblings since they dissapear from half the game. Or that guy from the DLC; I consider him an aftertought and an excuse for the PC to not use bows herself.

            1. Jarenth says:

              It’s also interesting to see that they haven’t stuck to the tired cliché of ‘females support, men kill’. It’s a nice mix-and-match of archetpyes, this time around.

              On a sidenote: It’s really too bad that I almost never have cause to bring both Varric and Isabella, because their banter is best.

              1. Jennifer Snow says:

                I find it interesting that my favorite characters in the Dragon Age games (Sten and Varric) are a.) both male and were b.) both written by A WOMAN (I.e. Mary Kirby).

                Makes me wonder whether Kirby wrote the Arishok as well, because he’s definitely up there on my favorite characters list.

    2. TheAngryMongoose says:

      There were characters other than Varric?

      He was awesome enough that I didn’t notice anyone else. There was this Captain of the Guard who was pretty cool, but really, that game was all about Varric.

      1. Mumbles says:

        Fair enough. I love Varric.

        ALSO. I see what you did thar, Bioware. You had a character that is willing to tell every story except the one most important to him. It’s very sweet and intelligent.

        1. Jarenth says:

          I sat laughing for a solid half minute when I reached that part of Varric’s quest in Act 2.

      2. Raygereio says:

        DA2 is a pretty nice case of fridge brilliance, since the guy telling story is the not only the most universally liked character, but also one the more powerfull ones.

    3. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Yes,too bad that even the oldest ones amongst them are boobed to the max and tighter than real life super models.

      1. daveNYC says:

        Haven’t cracked it open yet. Is it like DA1, where the outfit determined everything about how the torso looked, and the only differences were from the neck up?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Didnt really notice because Ive just started the game.But I did notice how even your old mother looks hot as a late 20s woman.Though maybe she is.

        2. krellen says:

          No, you no longer get to dress anyone but the main character instead.

          And Flemeth now has a boob window.

          1. Jekyll says:

            Seriously Bioware, ya gotta stop giving your 60+ (note: I have no idea how old the crazy dragon mage lady is) women boob windows…it’s quite distressing.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              I dont remember the lore from da1 that well,but I think she is a few hundred years old.Though she does this by transferring herself into her daughters bodies,if Im not mistaken.But she still is supposed to be quite old there.

              1. acronix says:

                I´m sure they´d “justify” it by saying that it´s all Varric´s version of the history.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Which does make me wonder:Was there a game that actually did the rashomon on purpose?I mean,as a part of its main plot,not as some side thing.

                2. guy says:

                  I’ve heard that in the second NWN2 expansion you get to threaten the narrator into changing the ending.

                3. Irridium says:

                  Well Varric doesn’t have any idea what Flemeth looks like, so… yeah.

                  Its how they justified the new art style, so its not too far fetched.

            2. Jennifer Snow says:

              I just dislike how Leandra (your character’s MOTHER) looks substantially younger than Hawke if you take any “complexion” other than the 16-year-old and the 20-year-old. Which makes your YOUNGER brother Carver look OLDER than you.

              They needed to a.) make more youngish complexion options b.) make Leandra look a bit older c.) make Carver look younger. Yeesh.

          2. daveNYC says:

            I’ve seen it, and now I can’t un-see it.

            Though that does make me think that a pretty funny twist on mages in a setting would be that instead of the older ones being more powerful, they hit their peak power in their 20s and 30s, and after that it’s all downhill as they end up using more and more of their abilities to maintain their looks.

        3. ccesarano says:

          They do have a rather humorous adjustment of cup-size at the start of the game that I noticed in the demo. When the dwarf is telling the exaggeration of the story Hawke’s sister has an obnoxious amount of cleavage and bust. It’s hard NOT to notice. Yet when he starts telling “the real story” her boobage reduces down to average everyday size, making it much less noticeable. I almost didn’t pick up on it, in fact.

          I can’t help but give kudos to whoever at Bioware thought that up. Pretty funny, and probably in character for the dwarf as well.

          1. Klay F. says:

            Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice Bethany’s cup size at the beginning, and once it was reduced I figured Bioware was just giving a big screw you to everyone who complained about it in Origins.

    4. krellen says:

      Even Isabella?

      1. Halfling says:

        She said woman, not plastic cut outs or potential transvestites.

      2. Mumbles says:

        I goddamned love her.

        1. krellen says:

          I’m still mad at her for leaving me to clean up her mess.

        2. X2-Eliah says:

          Well, in my game the only things she did was drink herself stupid in the pub, and practically caused the entirety of act 2, and ran off leaving just a ‘sorry’ note on a nearby corpse.

          I’m sure she develops well if you work on being all friendly with her, but frankly she never gives you the incentive to do so, and without that, she is still that pirate ***** that brewed up a shitstorm and then ran off.

          1. Mumbles says:

            She’s a pirate, of course she’s going to look after her self first (until she discovers the true meaning of friendship~). I had her along for every mission and we just laughed our asses off at people and talked about cute boys. I can’t stay mad at that.

            1. X2-Eliah says:

              Fair enough, but from her initial approach and what you can see of her, you don’t really have any *reason* to have her in your party.. Unless you enjoy picking up drunkard ***** in your company, I guess.

              I mean, sure, once you get her going, she’s probably a good character – I just can’t rationalize the decision to take her in the first place – there is no real hook other than the quest icon.

              1. Deadpool says:

                I like Isabela. She was pretty cool in the first game, and she’s still interesting in the second. Not sure where she bought those implants (PS: I don’t mind the giant boobs as much as I mind the massive change in character model. Her, Flemeth and Merril look COMPLETELY different), but she’s cool.

                My problem with her is that she’s one of the least useful characters in the game. Her unique tree makes her second rate tank, Varric is friggin AWESOME (meaning you got your one Rogue for opening chests) and to make matters worse, my Hawke was a dual wielding Rogue herself.

                I did laugh at her conversations with Aveline…

                Btw, in pure character power, I’d argue the males have some staying power. Varric is pretty awesome, and as much as I love Merril for her Blood Mage + Sustainable constant enemy damage with self heal abilities, her lack of haste (which, btw, STACKS. So mage Hawke + Anders = MASSIVE attack speed boost) means Anders can compete. Aveline vs. Fenris is boss fights vs. Mobs. The more enemies there are, the better Fenris is, the more powerful single enemies there are, Aveline wins. I prefer Aveline by FAR (although Fenris/Merril convos are fun).

              2. X2-Eliah says:

                Yeah that’s another thing I didn’t mention, you’re absolutely right, Isabella is quite useless overall.. For the rogue you’ll want Varric – he usually will have higher cunning at same levels, and he’s just better, and picking a second squishy rogue means you have to be a tank or a healer…

                Gah replyfail.

                1. Mumbles says:

                  Oh you would never have her tank D:

                  I ran Fenris, Isa and Varric almost all the time and it worked well. I had to babysit in boss fights but that’s about it.

                2. Deadpool says:

                  I ran a LOT of teams, but Isa never found a place. Anders has Haste, Merril has Blood Magic, Fenris is crowd control, Aveline is unkillable aggro draw… Varric and Isabela share the DPS/Utility role, but while Varric’s unique tree is straight DPS. Isabela’s makes her a dodge tank… Which is cool, but not quite as useful. She’ll probably out DPS Varric one on one (unless you overlevel or use haste) but Varric has that crowd control…

                3. Jarenth says:

                  Varric also knows how to stay the hell away from things that are trying to punch him.

                  Had I brought Isabella instead of Varric to the final boss of Act 1, I think I would have cried.

          2. Zukhramm says:

            Oh so she’s the… oh. Now I know how I’ll solve Act 2 if I play the game again.

            1. BlackBloc says:

              Yeah, in Act 1 I tried speaking to the Arishok with Isabella in my party and she was pretty adamant she didn’t want to enter the compound, so when they revealed the whole reason the Qunari are stuck there in Act 2, I was like “g**damn Isabella!”. I happened on the one sequence of events that telegraphed the ending of Act 2, by random happenstance.

              She’s lucky she was a good lay and a fun gal to talk with, and that I wanted to kill the Arishok for the fame and because I was a bleeding-heart pro-mage pro-freedom gal that got all traumatised by the Qun and how they treated their mages (in the Sister Petrice mission).

      3. False Prophet says:

        I found Isabela, like Anders and Fenris, to be kind of a one-note character, but still good to bring along for what she added to party banter. In her case especially, I found the banter brought out some hidden depths. There’s a two-part bit of banter between her and Aveline where she tells the latter that other people’s judgments aren’t as important as what she thinks of herself. Later, Aveline says she’s decided to follow the same policy.

        Isabela: Exactly. And if I called you a mannish, awkward, ball-crushing do-gooder, you’d say…
        Aveline: “Shut up, whore.”
        Isabela: That’s my girl.

        One of my favourite exchanges in the whole game.

        1. Otters34 says:

          Wait, isn’t that showing that Aveline and Isabella DO care what others think of them? Where I come from, if you don’t care about someone/something you ignore it/them, not insult them/it.

    5. Halfling says:

      Merrill, Bethany, Aveline, Hawke’s Mom, and the Knight-Commander rocked.

      I enjoyed Anders quite a bit as well though, so the woman didn’t entirely carry the game.

      Well and is obviously the best thing about DA2 is Varric, especially playing a sarcastic Hawke.

      1. Will says:

        Plus his bow is amazing, due to the way it levels up with him.

        1. Halfling says:

          I am 100% certain that Bianca is Varric’s wife. Thus why he is not romancable for fem-Hawke.

          1. Jarenth says:

            Varric rocks the eternal bachelor look too hard to ever settle down.

            1. BlackBloc says:

              He needs more gold chains on his virile torso. I also find it interesting that he’s the only dwarf I’ve seen besides Sandal who has no beard.

              1. Avilan says:

                There are tons of dwarves in DA:O with no beard.

  4. gravebound says:

    But in that big list of games you’ve played recently, are any of the male leads interesting, varied and/or subtle. Or are they all meat-head, knuckle-dragging, one-note action stereotypes? If they can’t vary the male leads better than they do now, I don’t think there is much hope for how they would treat female characters if they did add more of them/make them the focus.

    I think they should modernize Christine the elf from Arkista’s Ring (an old Gauntlet clone) as a kind of female Link counterpart. The only story/character development in the game manual was her barging in on a town meeting and exclaiming “I will go and rescue the ring!” Pretty darn headstrong and courageous, right? At least its a step up from the new Metroid

    1. David Armstrong says:

      Changing my opinion:

      Listened to the whole bit. Couldn’t have agreed less. They sat up there and whined every whiny and pointless argument I’ve ever heard a feminist argue.

      What they said could not have been less interesting and irrelevant. I’m not going to cop-out and say something stupid like “I’m not against women but…”

      You want a well-written female character? Then get your ass off the side-lines and WRITE ONE. From the beginning, they set as the gold-standard Ripley from Aliens. Completely ignoring Vasquez.

      Ripley kicked ass by first listening to and then emulating a man. Ripley was awesome because she acted manly. So if that’s the gold-standard, then go ahead and idolize your “oppressors.”

      The Boss in Snake Eater? Really? Her character was so outrageous, so over-the-top even by Hideo Kojima standards… I’m not certain what would appease those panelists.

      They want a character that is a woman and interesting. For evidence, they reference two extremely one-dimensional characters. I know Ripley had more background that was cut – I’m including what was removed in my opinion.

      Just… GOD DAMNIT! I’m frustrated with critics who only criticize culture and don’t do a thing to change it! I could insert a sexist comment about “well what do you expect from a group of old hags”, except I think that comment would hit too close to home to be tolerated.

      1. krellen says:

        Could you really see EA or Activision hiring any of those women?

        I’m sick of the “do something about it” argument. What do you expect people to do? There’s a plethora of obstacles standing in the way of people just up and making their own game company. They’re already doing what they can – they’re drawing attention to the issue, gathering supporters for a solution, showing companies there are people that care about this, in masses enough that it might become profitable to do something else.

        1. David Armstrong says:

          You’re right – peaceful protest and advocacy has done so much to solve all of the world’s problems.

          Take a look at Libya and see for yourself what that accomplishes.

          You’re sick of the do something about it argument? I’m sick of hearing the morons out there whine and do NOTHING about it!

          So much of every discussion begins with the premise that “the vast majority of the populace are sheeple and their simpleton ways must be accommodated”. I heard the same thing from the women on that panel. It was all a waste of time.

          1. krellen says:

            Peaceful protest and advocacy has acheived, among other things, independence in India, the end of Apartheid, the ouster of Mubarak, and civil rights in the United States.

            1. David Armstrong says:

              Oh my god Krellen, you couldn’t be missing the point harder than if you were trying. I think you’re just that stupid.

              I will rephrase. Do you foresee that panel have any bearing, in any way whatsoever, on the next triple-A title being released?

              Would the release date of any game be postponed, so the female characters get a rewrite?

              Would a single additional dollar be spent to bring the voice actress back to the studio, to record additional lines?

              Will the “next big female character” be ugly? Will the “next big female character” be the hero of the story, and resolve problems with non-violent protest lol?

              *** *** *** ***

              Alright I’m sorry, I threw that last one in there as a joke.

              1. krellen says:

                Because of one panel? No. Mubarak wasn’t ousted because of one protest, either. Mandela sat in prison for twenty years before he emerged victorious.

                Advocating for change doesn’t get results overnight. Expecting it to only leads to frustration, desperation, and failure.

              2. Pickly says:

                So, what would you recommend people with these issues do, exactly, o smart one?

                Of course, one panel at a PAX show isn’t going to make anything happen on its own. But than, what single event is going to make anything change on its own? It isn’t like Shamus’s numerous DRM exacpist columns have changed much, but that somehow hasn’t brought on a whole flood of “what a waste of space, why doesn’t this worthless old man write something useful” comments. A Panel at a big game show is quite a good way to push information and ideas into the world, and make some contribution towards a goal.

                Your “old hags” comment up there is also pretty telling.

              3. Shamus says:


                Actually, I gave you a warning before, but screw it. You’re a lost cause. Get lost and don’t come back.

                1. Volatar says:

                  Thank you Shamus. I was actually going to email you to point this guy out, but you got there first.

          2. Shamus says:

            Your comments are angry, swearing, personally insulting. You’re heating up the debate for no reason. You say “do something about it”, which is typical idiot hyperbole to shut down ANY debate. (Any time anyone complains about anything just shout “do something about it” and wander off, pretending you’ve added to the discussion.)

            And now you’re dragging Lybia in here? For what the hell reason?

            You called my argument “feminist”, but what made it feminist? I pointed out there is a demographic of gamers who are being overlooked, then I pointed out that making new IP with the same old characters was a wasted opportunity.

            Think very, very carefully before posting again. If you can’t do it without insults, then you’ll have to take your rage elsewhere.

            1. Pickly says:

              Nothing wrong with it being “feminist” anyway. (Since the point of view pretty much is.)

              1. Shamus says:

                I didn’t mean to suggest it was a bad thing, I was just pointing out to the guy that it was absurd to use my column as a launching point for a diatribe against feminism.

                I tend to be very careful with the label. If someone wants to say this was a feminist argument, that’s cool. But I wouldn’t put the label on myself, lest someone else come along and chastise me for not being a “true” feminist for some other position.

                I begin from the position that anyone can enjoy videogames, and that the games can be as rich and varied as the human beings who play them. I’ll sign up with whatever groups share that vision.

              2. Will says:

                In all honesty, i’m not sure what boxer crabs have to do with any of this discussion.

      2. ccesarano says:

        Critiquing is what critics do. If anyone that could critique would just create, then you’d have a bunch of people saying their creations are better with no one there to tell them who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong.

        However, I also wanted to point out an article I actually sent to Susan Arendt after PAX East. It seems valid to a lot of the points they’re making. According to Jordan Mechner, writing in the games industry can’t change those things.

        “Well, I think the short answer is that while there is demand for writers in games, there’s really a demand for really low-level writers. That is, there’s no chance for writers to create games or really influence them,” he said. “The kind of jobs you can get as a writer, even a good writer, you’re pretty much a low-level cog in the machine. You work ridiculous hours, and the compensation, and the respect, is very low compared to what film and TV writers are used to.”

        In other words, the writers for games aren’t meant to flesh things out. The designer has a personality, story and setting written down, and now the writer has to provide dialog. Trying to make a deep character out of that is…near impossible since you’re running it by someone else’s approval.

        So it’s not like if they just start writing stuff for games the industry will use it.

        1. David Armstrong says:

          And that conclusion reinforces my notion that the entire panel was a waste of time to start with.

          God feminism is pointless.

      3. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And here you are,bitching at a blog that just links the video from the panel,instead of doing something to change the thing you are disagreeing with.If the panel was pointless,then what you are saying here is not just as pointless(or even more pointless),but hypocritical as well.

        “Yeah,all you critics should just get off your lazy asses and do something!Except for me…because I am criticizing you,so I actually am doing something….by just sitting on my ass and talking….Yeah!”

        1. David Armstrong says:

          1. RejjeN says:

            I’m curious exactly what was said here…

            1. Shamus says:

              That is the usual response, unfortunately. I don’t remember now. More name-calling, basically.

              1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                Shamus the cyberman will delete you!

        2. acronix says:

          I´m a random dude, and this is my favorite post in the internet!

  5. Mari says:

    I followed your wife’s lead and asked my own 11 and 13-year-old girls those questions with eerily similar results. Although I was initially astonished by 13-year-old’s answer that she likes and admires the sister character in “Fable.” She’s actively playing the game for the first time right now and hasn’t yet realized what a complete mental case the chick is. Right now she’s only seen “survived the slaughter of her village, blinding, and a lifetime of slavery” part of the story. Being more familiar than she should with women in refrigerators, she’s just happy the character survived. Both kids, though, voiced a slightly disturbing wish to “punch Princess Peach in the face until it bleeds.” I think I might start sleeping with a gun under the pillow.

    1. Isn’t it surprising? I know I found it shocking to hear a much toned down (language wise) version of what was said at the panel coming from my girls– even my girly girl.

      1. Mari says:

        I know! One of my girls is super-girly. I’m talking the kind of girly that can’t stand to be dirty, could perfectly paint nails at the age of 7, and considers something to be “awesome” only if it has butterflies, flowers, or rhinestones on it. This is the same kid who wants to rough up Princess Peach for being a wimp. (Apparently blood on the hands is ok, just not dirt.)

        1. Yeah– my oldest LOVES Claire’s Boutique and actually had me pick up a Princess Peach pin for her at PAX, yet she has serious issues with PP AND Daisy. In fact, just came back from game day at the library complaining about being the only girl there and getting picked on because she chose the only females available (PP and Daisy) as her characters when playing Mario Cart with the guys.

    2. Jarenth says:

      Just for reference — are these the same kids you have to keep reminding not to burn the house down?

      Because if so, I’d make it two guns. And a cattle prod.

      1. Mari says:

        Yep, same kids. The scary thing? I wouldn’t have to buy the cattle prod. :-P

  6. jdaubenb says:




    Edit: Oh, and Winter Voices, but that one is mostly for myself.

    1. April Ryan is THE BEST female lead ever, and Yuna would be if you could play her, which really would be awesome.

      1. jdaubenb says:

        Final Fantasy X would have been so much more compelling with Yuna as the main character: Imagine the story of a young woman tasked with a quest to sacrifice herself for a world she barely knows. That could have been powerful.
        Instead you get to play as some kind of vile monkey-creature. :-/

        1. Some kind of vile monkey-creature indeed, add whiny and you’ve got it. Meanwhile, Yuna didn’t whine at all– her story as the main character would have been amazing.

          1. jdaubenb says:

            And useless, and clueless and clearly only there for the predominatly male audience to project into and live the dream of being an ostensibly famous sports-star, who gets to hook up with the leading lady. Or anyone he wants to, really.
            He looked like a shaved Mogwai for crying out loud! [Now THAT’s a dated reference if I’ve ever seen one.]

        2. Tizzy says:

          That’s a funny comment: I pretty much felt like Yuna *was* the main character in the story; never mind which one you actually play.

          1. krellen says:

            Probably a lot of people’s problems with FFX would be resolved if they realised that Yuna was the protagonist, and Tidus just the narrator.

            1. Kdansky says:

              Technically, Auron is the narrator, very explicitly so. FFX could be improved by cutting Tidus out completely.

              1. krellen says:

                Oh man, Tidus is just Auron’s author-insert!

                1. modus0 says:

                  One to which he would have had to apply the “The Loser is You” trope to, because Auron is badass, Tidus is just an ass.

                  And in regards to jdaubenb, Tidus wasn’t a “vile monkey-creature” any more than the rest of the human cast of FFX, perhaps you’re thinking of Zidane, of FFIX?

                2. krellen says:

                  Or maybe Auron put all his awesome into the character he called “Auron” and put all of his fail into the character he called “Tidus”?

                3. Jarenth says:

                  That makes Auron a Mary Sue, then?

                  Oh god, he is! He’s portrayed as amazingly powerful, he doesn’t die until he damn well chooses to do so, and he was an integral part of (and closely related to) the legends of the previous era!

              2. jdaubenb says:

                Auron is the narrator, right.
                Yuna is the most important person in the story and its focal point.
                Tidus, nevertheless, is the protagonist. He is the player character. You are expected to identify with him. He knows about as much about the world as the player, you are supposed to learn with him.

                Sure, sure, semantics, but that is my view at least.

                No, I am thinking of Tidus. Dude looks like a howler monkey.
                Compare this ( http://wild-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/howler-monkey.jpg ) and this ( http://i.ytimg.com/vi/-5FTJxfV3pc/0.jpg ). ;)
                But because all characters were deep within the uncanny valley, this might be as obvious as I like to think. We are at least both convinced that he is a vile creature, right?

                1. Tizzy says:

                  So Tidus is The Ishmael [Warning: TVTropes link!]

                  Nothing wrong with that… It’s a useful device, a way to get the player into the world. Not my favorite way of doing so, but that never bothered me in FFX. I have not played it in a while, but after all you control the whole party, and most of the cutscenes are about Yuna. If they’d done away with that dumb ball game, whatever it was called, Tidus would barely be relevant at all. (Though I guess he must be in all your fights if I recall correctly.)

                  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some TV Tropes to read…

                2. Jarenth says:

                  I’m probably the only person in the world who wasn’t overtly bothered with Tidus, exactly because he’s the fish-out-of-water in this story. It was easy to ‘identify’ with him, because his responses to all the crazyness happening around him were my responses.

                  I agree that FFX is Yuna’s story, through and through, but Tidus is the lens through which the (initially unknowing) player views the world. Hence, he’s the protagonist.

          2. Retsam says:

            I actually disagree that FFX is Yuna’s story. Though I admit I’m taking this opinion from TVTropes. I won’t quote it here (partially for the inconvenience of having to spoiler out it here, but scroll down to the part by M84, during a similar debate. To summarize, yes, for most of the game, Tidus takes a back seat to Yuna. But, at the end of the game, about the time that the opening credit scene occurs, it really does become his story. (Or at least their story)

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ah sexual pandering.Its not something exclusive to women in games either.Like you said,all the males are the same hunk with a different hairstyle.And if only they were hunks in the attractive way(well,maybe a few are,like garrett and dr freeman).

    Its just…our technology has reached the point where it is so good,but we lack good artists to utilize it and make something appealing and non-generic.Thankfully,we have valve who does this(all the characters from half life are pretty memorable and at least look like real people).I would also commend telltale for their ingenuity in designing the models,but Im not sure if cartoony art can be compared with lifelike art.

    And expecting for a bland model to have some personality is a bit too much.Im not someone who focuses purely on looks and shinny graphics,but can you really expect a company that cares (next to) nothing for its visual art to care about its written art?Shiny and smooth image doesnt automatically mean an appealing image,just like ugly and dirty human doesnt mean uncharismatic one(garrett and nameless one,for example).

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      I think the problem here is what plagues a lot of big budget entertainment. They are afraid that if they make something even vaguely different it will only appeal to a small group and alienate the “general audience”. Whenever the topic of “big, square jawed heroes talking in one liners are kinda boring” is raised I hear that “this is what appeals to the general audience, it’s impossible to account for the tastes of every single group”. Someone out there came up with this idea that all the tastes only account for some small fraction of the populace and the great majority are comprised of the (mythical) “everymen”, who are generic people who enjoy only generic stuff made to generic design.

      I mean, whoever found the default Shepard model appealing? (I just thought about it and I can’t even remember how the default human Warden looked like)

      1. Mari says:

        But the point about that which I made to Heather was that this line of thinking is a total cop-out. It’s not an actual train of thought on the part of developers, it’s a justification after the fact. Anyone who looks around at what indie developers are doing sees creative stuff happening in the industry AND MAKING MONEY BY DOING SO. Ergo, the “this is what we do because it’s what people will buy” is a farcical logic. The bottom line is that the big, established developers do what they do because they are lazy. They can make money without putting effort in, so they choose to do so. Indie developers still have to try to compete with the big fish so they work harder and more creatively. History shows that eventually many of those indie developers will become the next generation of monolithic publishing houses who do the minimum necessary to make a buck and the new indie developers will be the ones innovating the industry.

        1. daveNYC says:

          I think the Keynes quote is relevant here, “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally then to succeed unconventionally.”

          1. Mari says:

            That’s a very relevant quote. Keynes was arguing against the common practice of short-term investment in favor of a measured, long-term investment portfolio but acknowledging that it was much like a salmon swimming upstream. The finance environment very much favored “get in and get out” investing (still does, although the mortgage crash of ’07-’08 demonstrates the serious potential for danger in the practice) and dismissed long-term investors as eccentric and, ironically, “rash” which was then backed up no matter what happened to the long-term portfolio. A classic “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” scenario. Your quote ends the chapter and sums up very well the business environment of the time and the games environment of today.

            Most importantly, though, note that statistics and historical study of the stock market bear out that the conventional wisdom Keynes was arguing against was in fact wrong just as the conventional wisdom of developers today that it’s a waste to expend effort on “junk” like story or character development is wrong.

            (For the record, I’m not arguing Keynesian vs. Laffer economics here. I’m pointing only to a single thought amidst an entire economic theory. So don’t get sidetracked on that discussion)

            1. daveNYC says:

              I was using it more along the lines that some drone at EA is much safer dumping piles of cash into the next version of Major League Sports Franchise YYYY than he would be putting a paltry amount of money into something even slighty unusual.

  8. Nick Bell says:

    I always play a female character if given the choice. There are more than enough male leads in video games; I don’t need to voluntarily play any more. In fact, I will generally be more likely to pick up a questionable game (recent example: Hydrophobia) if it has a female lead. I like the variety, if nothing else.

    Similar feelings toward games with non-caucasian characters, even if they are male.

    Off topic aside:
    So with last week’s column, I complained about the Escapist’s policy of dividing articles up into multiple pages. This has always irritated me, because it interrupts how I read. I understood the need for add review and page views, but it still irritated me. I have said I would literally pay to get read of the multiple pages. Which apparently, you can. In all the Escapist ads for their paid Publisher’s Club, they never mentioned putting articles on a single page. Which I had known sooner.

    So if anyone else is irritated, there is a solution. You also get a host of other features, like higher quality videos and stuff like that. But single page articles! Total win!

  9. Werdna says:

    Just thought I’d drop a line here for an indie game I just finished playing through… Whisper of a Rose, whose main character is female, along with two out of three party members. I enjoyed the game tremendously and would recommend anyone who can stand JRPG type games and isn’t scared of a bittersweet story to give it a try. You can find it through the Rampant Coyote’s website which is conveniently listed in Shamus’s links.

    Melrose starts the game with some problems, namely she has been in such a crappy situation for so long that her sense of empathy is scarred and she is willing to steal an experimental device to retreat from the real world entirely into a world of dreams. But she never pulls a Princess Peach, sitting around waiting for Someone Else to save her, and by the end of the game has grown and pretty much recovered from the damage she had sustained.

    Fair warning, though… that recovery does not mean there aren’t consequences for her initial flight from reality.

    Edit: okay, I was wrong, it’s not on the Rampant Coyote. It’s safe to say everyone here knows how to use Google, right? :)

  10. Irridium says:

    Reminds me of what a female co-worker said once.

    “I don’t mind all the sexuality and all that, I just wish the characters won’t so fucking stupid.”

    Sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen anytime soon since we can’t even write that many decent male characters in general, let alone female ones.

  11. Zukhramm says:

    Disregarding those where you can choose I can not remember a single game with a female main character other than the Metroid games. Well there’s one where I’m uncertain.

    1. Irridium says:

      There’s Beyond Good and Evil and as someone above said The Longest Journey(get it at GoG.com for just $9.99!).

      1. Zukhramm says:

        Games I played I meant, but now that you mention a game with multiple characters there was Heavy Rain last year, but I can’ remember much her.

        1. Veloxyll says:

          Tomb Raider?

          1. Zukhramm says:

            I don’t thnk I’ve ever even touched a copy of those games in my life.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Try the tomb of light.Its actually quite a decent game,and it doesnt revolve around jiggle physics like the rest of lara croft games.

      2. jdaubenb says:

        Yes, yes it does.
        On a similar note: The Fatal Frame (Project Zero in Europe) series. Personally, I only played the first two games, but Fatal Frame II was particularly nice.
        Heather from Silent Hill III counts as well, I guess.
        Then there’s Naija from Aquaria (Zelda under the sea) and
        Nico (she gets to share the spotlight, I think) from the Broken Sword games. Kate Walker from Syberia wasn’t all that great.
        The Path had an all-female roster, but those girls weren’t really characters in their own right.

        If I get to add playable characters, that are not the main protagonist:
        Paula and Kumatora from Mother (EarthBound), were quite ok.
        Anachronox had Fatima and Dr. Rho, off the top of my head.

        And this list is still missing some important female leads (and characters and games mentioned elsewhere in the comments), like Farah from Prince of Persia the Sands of Time.

        EDIT: I just remembered Septerra Core. That game had a female lead called Maya. Wasn’t all that great though.

        1. Tizzy says:

          Septerra Core was not a great game, far from it, but the characters were compelling enough, especially the females as a matter of fact. That’s the only thing that could keep me interested in that game.

          1. jdaubenb says:

            After thinking some more about it, I would like to redact Septerra Core from the list again, for the same reasons I didn’t list Final Fantasy VI.
            Terra, Celes and Maya (and to some degree the other female characters in Septerra Core) are all defined by what a man did to them and by their relation to another man. While they might still be interesting characters, especially considering the age of their respective games, this prevents them from being truly strong females in my eyes.

            1. Eleion says:

              I’m not sure I agree that Terra should be redacted. While, yes, Kefka is the person who creates her problems at the beginning of the game, he does it in the role of Villain, not the role of Man. Then, for the rest of the game, her struggles have nothing to do with men specifically (as far as I recall). I believe that Terra is defined by her struggle for self-identity, not the tests that Kefka ran on her. If Kefka’s gender had been switched I don’t think it would have had any impact on Terra’s character, and thus, I think she’s still fair game for interesting female character.

              Celes, on the other hand, is pretty much entirely defined by her interactions with men throughout the entire game. In a rather soap opera-y way, too, despite being a general.

  12. Trig says:

    Bayonetta. We don’t need anyone else.

    If there’s one female character that screams ‘Girl Power’, it’s definitely her.

    1. Veloxyll says:

      I think the core of the problem is there is ONE female character.

    2. Kdansky says:

      That isn’t even a PC game.

      1. Trig says:

        You’re right. How dare I mention a Xbox-game while this column is talking about Wet (Xbox&PS3) and Metroid other M (Wii).


        1. Tizzy says:

          That was rude and uncalled for! Sheesh!…

        2. Bayonetta looks like they took a teen male model, stretched out his legs, chopped off his adams apple, and gave him hips and breasts. NOT a good representation of a female even in exaggeration (I have no problem with exaggeration for exaggerations sake). As an artist I find the obvious lack of understanding of the difference between the male and female skeletal structure by the artists of Bayonetta absolutely shocking. But then that is just me and I tend to obsess over such things. Fine if you like men in drag but not so much if you want to play a female.

          1. Otters34 says:

            Also, she’s kind of a horrible person, so much so that nearly everyone else is written to be basically a monster to make her look better.

          2. Kdansky says:

            There are quite a few essays on why and how Bayonetta looks freakish. While I don’t agree with them completely, they make a fair point and are an interesting read. I recommend googling for them.

          3. Mari says:

            Can I just say “Say it, sister!” to that one?

          4. bit says:


            I can see all your points to some extent, but I will beg to differ on the idea that the character design is BAD. (Which I don’t think you said outright, but still.) The whole structure is outrageous, but when actually in movement the awkward-looking design has a very nice sense of elegance to it; the long legs casually lope around, striking up dramatic poses and swinging through the air like whirlwinds, it’s just fantastic. There may not be much accuracy, but there was clearly a tonne of work put into making the character as stylishly outlandish as she is, and I think they did an excellent job.

            But hey, that’s just my stupid, rambling opinion, take it as you will.

        3. Kdansky says:

          Insults improve all posts below a certain quality threshold!

          1. Trig says:

            Just to make myself clear, I didn’t actually want to insult you, but you made a comment like ‘That isn't even a PC game.’ and two posts down you start talking about Metroid. Seemed to me like you were an glaringly obvious troll. Sorry.

            ON TOPIC: The point I was trying to make by mentioning Bayonetta, ignoring her anatomically doubtful legs, is that most people actually like playing a female lead.

    3. Vect says:

      Bayonetta is a very Campy character, but that’s what makes her so fun. It’s the same reason people like Dante from Devil May Cry: They’re fun to play as, they pull off ridiculous stunts (of the Cutscene Power To The Max variety though Bayonetta uses QTEs) and are pretty fun for players with a good sense of humor and tolerance for cheese (No one else can pull off the line “This party’s gettin’ cray-zay! Let’s Rock!” and make it sound stupid. Dante makes it hilarious at least).

      Also, any woman who summons her setting’s equivalent of Satan to sucker-punch the setting’s equivalent of God to recreate Sephiroth’s Supernova attack deserves some sorta kudos.

      I’m not particularly charmed by her fanservicey moments, but I take it with a grain of salt and accept it with the campy humor that she’s intended to have.

    4. Mumbles says:

      Why do we need a female character screaming girl power again?

      1. Otters34 says:

        They’ve forgotten Lady already, amazing. I mean even DMC2(for whatever else could be said of it) had Lucia, But does anyone remember them? nooooo, it’s ‘Bayonetta’ this and ‘Bayonetta’ that. Besides, it isn’t power level that’s the problem but rather a lack of focus. In Aquaria for example, the whole thing is about Naija, as she does all the things in the game that need doing, such as killing enormous sea-beasts with hardly a moments hesitation.

        1. Mumbles says:

          My point is that she’s like Duke Nukem. He’s all masculinity which is cool, but I don’t want him to be the only male character.

          1. Irridium says:

            Well there’s also Serious Sam…

            Oh wait, I think you meant male character in general. Never mind.

          2. Will says:

            I can think of a number of games that would be vastly improved by having Duke Nukem as the only male character.

  13. Veloxyll says:

    I would be negligent in my e-duty if I didn’t post this:

    Seriously game devs, give us some variety. We’ve known since Metroid that gamers actually don’t mind playing a female. And we’ve PLAYED the Regenerating White Marine Blank Slate to death. Give us black characters and arab characters and female characters or something new for once.
    For some ideas, all WW2 based: A female member of the French Resistance. A Singaporean (or Chinese) refugee who joins the allied army fighting through Indonesia. An actual African caught up in the battle there even. Heck, even a black soldier on the horribly overdone Normandy etc run. Just SOMETHING that shows that there is actual creativity left in your studio. Instead of one more brown gritty cover based shooter with another boring white blank slate protagonist.

    1. zob says:

      Female member of the French Resistance is done with Medal of Honor Underground.

    2. Adam P says:

      Okay, that Mario image is definately altered. He does have hair, and has had hair since forever.

      That said, it’s easier to make a character be bald. The alternatives are: helmet hair, chunky hair, or a helmet. Or rather, not animating hair, crudely animating hair, or finding a way to avoid the problem altogether. Getting hair to behave in a way that looks good and runs smoothly isn’t possible on current hardware. Not unless you’re on a gaming PC, but even so you’re probably going to be playing a console port which won’t even try to make use of the hardware you may have.

  14. Kdansky says:

    Metroid Other M is the first Metroid game in a while that I didn’t buy. The game seems decent enough, but I really, really cannot accept how they mauled Samus’ character and backstory. Running through a sea of lava without activating the Varia suit due to some dunce telling you not to?


    1. ccesarano says:

      I’m mixed on Other M. I read through the Gamers With Jobs forum expecting to hate the game, especially for the story, but wound up grabbing it at half price anyway. I’m too much of a Metroid head to NOT get it.

      I played through the game two times in a row, all because the first time I only got 99% of the items…and also because it was just that fun.

      I think the story and gameplay in Other M was a mixture of a lot of ideas that they just forced together. They wanted Samus to gain her abilities in a new and refreshing way that still stuck with the old game style. However, what excuse could you possibly have for her to be facing a horde of near-impenetrable foes when, oh look, Wave Beam! On the other side of the coin they’re trying to make her more than an empty shell of a woman, and decide to exploit the past relationship with her C.O. to provide an excuse to unlocking abilities.

      I’ll tell you what, Nintendo must have been scratching their heads when everyone was praising the 100% sexuality based Bayonetta as being awesome and calling Samus Aran, attempting to give her real depth and personality, sexist.

      I think the real problem is the approach. Samus has currently been an empty shell, but before writing the story they should have seen what sort of personality the fans created out of her. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve pretty much projected a personality onto Samus, and chances are the vision we have in our heads is a lot more like Ellen Ripley (who I’m starting to think is always going to come up in a discussion about strong female characters, almost like most debates inevitably lead to Hitler and/or the Nazis).

      Also, anyone familiar with the alleged Metroid 1.5 design document that was just “leaked”? I know Escapist had an article about it, and as I read through it the basis sounded a bit fishy. I think a lot of what was in there was recycled for Other M, just…not executed as well as it could have been.

      Nonetheless, if you play Metroid: Other M like any other Metroid game before Prime (story is non-existent, just explore, shoot shit and find missiles) then it’s one Hell of a game. It’s just a shame that they tried so hard to make a good story only for it to totally suck (which, in the end, is more my complaint. I can’t really expect Samus to be written as a strong character if the story as a whole is lame).

    2. Irridium says:

      Before Other M, did she really even have character? Before Other M, she was just another standard silent protagonist to me. Another random power-suit meat-head who’s only distinguishable because she’s a woman. The only hint of character I remember before Other M was when she saved that last Metroid.

      Honestly, I think the real issue is not that Nintendo gave her an actual personality, but the fact they did it in such an awful way.

      Just my thoughts on the matter.

      EDIT: Essentially, what the guy below me said.

      1. Eldiran says:

        She was actually exceptionally well written in Metroid Fusion, where she interacted with a computer AI giving her orders (and had internal monologues about her orders). It was well established that she is not the submissive type, which probably caused problems for peoples’ reception of Other M.

        Other than Fusion, her personality was defined by her career choice and her actions. As a bounty hunter that implies a degree of independence, and she certainly comes off as a strong, moral character since she always goes above and beyond the call of duty to eliminate galactic threats even without instruction.

        Suffice to say I don’t think Samus was ever a meathead even when she was a silent protagonist (the puzzle/exploration oriented gameplay also emphasizes she’s no dummy).

        1. Irridium says:

          I see. Its been ages since I’ve played Fusion(like, 10 years). I remember some dialog, but not much.

          As for the other things… her personality is indeed defined by her actions and career choice. But its still not that interesting. Yes she’s independent, strong, and has a good moral character, but the same can be said of the DOOM marine. The guy single-handedly fights back the forces of Hell. Takes one hell of a person to do that.

          As for her not being a meathead, yeah I guess the fact that she focuses more on exploration/puzzle-solving shows she cares about more than just shooting dudes. But I still don’t see how all this makes her one of the best female character ever. Or… one of the best game characters ever.

          1. Eldiran says:

            That’s fair enough. I don’t think of her as an amazing character, but even as a silent protagonist she’s more developed and interesting than a stereotype like Marcus Fenix.

            As an aside, it helps that unlike most silent shooter protagonists, she can usually very easily just decide to hop in her ship and fly away instead of facing great personal risk.

            1. Will says:

              The problem is that basically there is never any indication anywhere that Samus would ever submit to anyone she doesn’t have an excellent reason to respect; both in her actions and in the (relatively few) moments where she interacts with other characters.

              She doesn’t have much character, but what little she did have was quite thougherly undermined by Other M.

        2. ccesarano says:

          We must have played different games because the writing in Metroid Fusion was horrible. It at least prepared me to not really think too hard about Other M’s story, though. I mean, let’s think about it.

          The Chozo raise her up to be this awesome warrior with the best gear in the galaxy. Then she…joins the military? Well, I GUESS that sort of makes sense, only any military would want to grab hold of her equipment and reverse engineer it off of her. Not to mention the flashbacks in Other M where she’s on the battlefield in her own armor instead of what everyone else is wearing.

          When I played Fusion I had trouble determining when she could have had a C.O., and decided in my head that she must have been a young military cadet as a kid or something. Not because the game hinted at it, but because that made the most logical sense. Then Other M took what was in Fusion and plugged it into the new game and ruined it all.

          Now that I think about it, Other M’s story is only so terrible because Fusion existed in the first place (and to be honest, while I may not be a fan of Other M’s story, the gameplay is phenomenal. Fusion is…the weakest entry in the series. Zero Mission was much more fun…up until they introduced the zero suit and forced a stealth mission.

          …this may be racist, but maybe we should stop allowing Japan to make Metroid games).

          1. Eldiran says:

            Maybe I misread it, but I interpreted it as she was simply working for the military for the mission. She is a bounty hunter/mercenary, after all. That’s also what I figured for her previous knowledge of COs, but I could be mistaken.

  15. SpammyV says:

    I would like to offer a counterpoint to the complaint against Other M:
    For once they actually treat Samus like a human being.

    I mean, in previous games, was it really making that big a difference that she was a woman? If she was a man, or a robot, would it matter? I don’t think it would. To me, Other M made Samus more like Zoe from Firefly. Capable of kicking ass, but making her a woman who can fight doesn’t mean making her emotionless. Zoe loves her husband and has no problem with Mal’s authority and I don’t see anyone complaining about that. So why can’t there be two people in the universe that Samus cares about and respects?

    I also think everyone made up their minds about Samus having to have her powers authorized before the game properly justified it: They don’t know how many survivors are on the station, how structurally sound it is, or what level of force is going to be needed. So we don’t need to be shooting off missiles and Power Bombs without need. Plus, it’s not just Samus, everyone else on the squad has the same limitation. Plus, she has no issues with taking matters in her own hands and turning on suit functions herself once Adam goes off the air. Did no one else play to the point where she goes, “Any objections, Adam?”

    I liked Other M. I know what people say about it and I can see why they say it, but I disagree with them. I know it’s impossible to change minds over the Internet, but I felt the need to say this. I’ll go ahead and vanish for a few days until people are done calling me a misogynistic pig.

    1. Kdansky says:

      That was exactly why Samus was interesting: Because she was not defined by her gender at all.

      Now, she is just a whiny brat who cannot get past her daddy issues. Seriously: Not using her suit’s powers because you don’t have permission? That’s just horrible nonsense. The Samus we knew didn’t bother with such things. She gets shit done.

      1. Zukhramm says:

        Being a brat and having daddy issues is not something I see as defined by gender either.

        And the permissions? She’s not above the law, she can’t go in and do anything she wants.

        1. ccesarano says:

          In response to being whiny, she isn’t in Other M. The only time her personality becomes a genuine “WTF?” moment is when she confronts Ridley. They tried to take the concept that this monster killed her parents, destroyed her home and almost killed her and yet keeps coming back. Thus she suddenly starts having a panic attack, and to try and emphasize they show an image of her as a little girl.

          Unfortunately that was only salt to the wound.

          It would have been better if they had Samus just turn all her abilities on and freak out, screaming “Why won’t you leave me alone and die?” or something. Allow the player a moment to use all their abilities, but the destruction caused by it puts her ally in danger and even causes her to believe she indirectly killed him. This especially would have worked if she were less obedient to Adam and more confrontational, but still following his orders.

          The problem is, when you have a defiant woman you start getting closer to the line separating “Has attitude” and “is a total bitch”. Too many female characters that are meant to seem strong and independent are just bitches, and you want to make sure Samus comes off as anything but.

          As for being above the law or not, there are some moments where it doesn’t matter. Even in a society about honor and loyalty like Japan, no one would leave something like, say, the Varia Suit of if the hot temperature were causing harm to them. No one would just wait for a commander to say “Okay, you can stop dying now”.

          1. Lovecrafter says:

            Personally, I think a world-weary sigh might be a better response to the guy you’ve killed about six or seven times by now. Panic would’ve happened the first and second time, frustration on round three and maybe four. By now it probably looks more like a sick joke to her.
            On the suit upgrades: prohibiting explosives makes sense (and Samus probably sees the logic as well), prohibiting insulation does not.

            1. ccesarano says:

              I’m not saying it made sense. I think the developers were counting on some suspension of disbelief so that they could deliver a more invigorating experience. “Oh crap! Now it’s a boss fight and my health is still going down! Hurray! Varia Suit upgrade just in time!”

              Instead what they got was “Oh crap, I don’t have the Varia suit and this place is hot. I guess I gotta go elsewhere…” Hours later and tons of frustration later the player resorts to forums or GameFAQs, and discovers that yes, they are supposed to take that damage.

              Foul language and hatred ensue.

              1. Lovecrafter says:

                I was actually agreeing with you with regards to the Varia suit. My apologies if that wasn’t clear ^^;

                I seem to remember that in previous Metroid games, you sometimes had to take short treks through hazardous/unfavourable environments before getting the correct upgrade. Maybe the developers were counting on players being a little more bold, like Samus :D

          2. Zukhramm says:

            Yes, the Vari thing is stupid, but the with the weapons it’s not as dumb. There are still good arguments against it, but “Samus can do whatever she wants to/would not take orders” is not one of them.

            My biggest problem is the monologs. My theory is that they got so excited having a fully voiced game that they forgot that not every single moment has to have someone talking. Samus just keeps stating the obvious or things we could just figure out ourselves.

            1. Lovecrafter says:

              Written monologues were the main way of communication for Samus until she got a voice, so it’s no surprise that they wanted her to keep making those. The only problem I have with them is the delivery. The voice actress should get some practice in, if she’s going to reprise the role.

      2. Irridium says:

        The Prince from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a whiny brat with daddy issues. Didn’t see anyone complain about him.

        Granted he, along with Farah, evolved throughout the story. Which again shows how poorly Nintendo handled Samus’ personality.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          “The Prince from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was a whiny brat with daddy issues. Didn't see anyone complain about him.”

          Thats because the prince in the sequels is even whinier and everyone is complaining about him.

        2. Trust me, complaining occured. Lots of it and frequently and out loud.

          1. Irridium says:

            Huh, must have missed that particular rage train.

            Alright then, nevermind I guess.

            1. Will says:

              Warrior Within copped a lot of shit from fans whining about how whiny the Prince was. Personally i kind of liked it; the Prince’s entire world had fallen apart around him and he was reacting to his fall from spoilt palace brat to hounded by magical death beast rather poorly, which is exactly what i’d expect from him.

        3. Sumanai says:

          Wasn’t Other M by Team Ninja?

      3. Alexander The 1st says:

        Something tells me you’d play Chaotic Good characters in D&D.

    2. Adam P says:

      I find Samus as being an interesting character because she already has an established backstory. She’s an orphan and watched as her parents were slain by Ridley. She was found by the Chozo, and raised on Zebes to be a galactic protector; She was given Chozo blood (or DNA, I forget the specifics) just so she can survive on Zebes, which is what ties her and her suit together. There is a lot of established history there, and then Project M comes along and basically says, “lol no, she haz daddy issues nao.”

      But the thing is, she shouldn’t have daddy issues. Again, she’s an orphan. Yes, her CO would be a great surrogate parent (by the way, the theme behind Other M is surrogacy). The problem is that it had already been established that one of the Chozo who rescued her was surrogate father figure. Which I think, the scenario of being raised by an advanced civilization of bird people like one of their own, is far more interesting than being raised as a dog of the military.

      1. ccesarano says:

        Aside from comics or other extraneous material, I’m not familiar with any actual game canon that gave her a father figure that was Chozo. Besides, let’s face it, a natural story-telling point would be for her to want a human father figure since clearly she’s not a Chozo.

        1. Adam P says:

          I would have to go back and play through to verify this, but I think there is a vague reference in either Metroid Prime or Metroid Prime 2. Otherwise, yeah, there isn’t really anything solid in game that tells Samus’ backstory.

    3. Adam P says:

      I forgot to mention this earlier, so here goes:
      “They don't know how many survivors are on the station, how structurally sound it is, or what level of force is going to be needed. So we don't need to be shooting off missiles and Power Bombs without need. Plus, it's not just Samus, everyone else on the squad has the same limitation.”

      The problem with the supposed justification comes in right at the end of the game, though. Samus finds the real Madeline, who then proceeds to hide behind a door–a rather thin door, at that–at the sight of the cloned Metroid queen. Samus’ method for ultimately defeating the Queen? A power bomb. While the only known survivor, who isn’t even in power armor, hides behind a door. The door isn’t even fully sealed, it’s all crooked. It can’t even be justified by saying it’s for the safety of the rest of the GF squad. The only time Samus is in physical contact with them, the player isn’t even allowed to use their weapons anyways. The permission BS was just a lazy way for Team Ninja to take away and progressively unlock her suit’s abilities like a normal Metroid game. I mean yeah, it’s a more creative way than having a massive, suit-destabilizing explosion and then conveniently finding replacements.

      Speaking of which, the whole point of finding upgrades for Samus’ suit is so that she can get around the environment better. The upgrades are keys to carefully designed doors to control where and when the player can access an area. Other M completely does away with that and controls where the player goes and when through the use of plot doors; Metroid isn’t supposed to be linear for 90% of the game!

      1. Will says:

        The lack of nonlinearity is probably the major cause of the complaint at the unlocking mechanic. There is a large section of the Metroid fanbase who dedicate themselves to finding ways to sequence break, and the entire nonlinear exploratory style is even termed “Metroidvania” in honor of the two games that became famous for the style. Not having a nonlinear explorationtreasure hunt component in a game series explicitly known for having nonlinear exploration is never going to go down well.

  16. zob says:

    The problem isn’t about gender or races. It’s about money. When adolescent males buy more games its logical to design your games for adolescent males.

    1. krellen says:

      Adolescent males don’t buy most of the games, though. And if current sales don’t go predominantly to adolescent males, think how much more sales there might be if the market stopped pandering to adolescent males and actually gave some more appealing options to the rest of the market.

      Hey Shamus: maybe you need to write an article about the fallacy that the typical gamer is an “adolescent male”.

      1. mookers says:

        Hey Shamus: maybe you need to write an article about the fallacy that the typical gamer is an “adolescent male”.

        This. Yes!

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          So very much yes.

          1. Jennifer Snow says:

            I fourth that. Because demographic data is actually available and it points to older females being a LARGER group than young males, go figure.

            The gaming populace has matured broadened. Many of us would like our games to do the same.

      2. ehlijen says:

        But a large chunk are still males. The ‘adolescent’ is a fine qualifier we’d all like to think is necessary for marketing like that to work, but really, it isn’t.

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          But ‘males’ in itself is way too broad to meaningfully specify any one type of gamers. ‘adolescent male gamer’ is something you and most folks have a very specific, narrow idea what that is, whereas ‘male’ by itself could be a lot of things.

          Shamus really should write about this..

    2. Tizzy says:

      For the record, I don’t think that gender diversity is a male vs female gamer issue: i.e., I think gamers from both genders benefit when strong (as in well-characterized) female characters are depicted, as they do benefit when strong male character are depicted.

      In that respect, the gender gap is real, but not the overwhelming problem. Most video game characterizations are weak, an afterthought.

      1. Yup, just wrote about this. I really think the problem is with the writing in general– if you have good, well written characters, male or female, you are going to have a more interesting game, and you will sell more copies of said game, regardless of whether the main character is male or female.

        1. Otters34 says:

          Sadly, that isn’t a rule the FPS(most generic in terms of protagonists) genre need concern itself with. After all, the Call of Duty series latest offerings broke sales records.

  17. bit says:

    Unlike a lot of intelligent-ish male gamers, I don’t really mind pandering, and I barely even notice it; I don’t look at Samara’s… thing and think “Open chest with bullets? Crazy!” I think “Heels with biotics? Stupid!” So I’m on the side of the gamers at the panel. I want to play more female characters, because I’m just tired of all the grunting and sweat. That’s why I liked Bayonetta, because it was just so refreshingly feminine.

  18. Atarlost says:

    The big problem here is the victory of the mindless genres.

    Firaxis put more character development into the tech quotes of Alpha Centauri than you’ll find in every brown FPS ever released combined. Heck, Anonymous metagenics lab technician has more character than male Shepherd. And a more diverse cast even though the cast was pretty much just the faction heads.

    Maybe that’s because people designing 4x games don’t all think their customers are immature?

    1. Will says:

      It’s more that the immature customers make up the bulk of the market.

      It is important to remember that half the people in the world are of below average intelligence. If you target your product only to smart people, you’re eliminating a massive chunk of the market.

      1. El Quia says:

        Now I think this is not only arrogant (“most people is stupid and won’t get it”), but also false. A better written character isn’t necessarily “harder for the stupid to understand”.

        When people say that “the public is stupid” because they enjoy “mindless shooting and explosions” they aren’t saying that “intelligent explosions” will make it harder for them to understand and enjoy whatever they are trying to enjoy (be it a movie, a game, whatever). It’s just that explosions satisfy a certain itch that maybe some people don’t really have. For those, a well developed character is better than a well done explosion. Now, does a well developed character makes the “prefers mindless explosions” kind of gamer/audience/whatever enjoy a game less? no, it won’t. Unless they also cut out the great explosions. On the other hand, I don’t think that the other kind of gamers/audience/whatever will enjoy a game less due to the mindless explosions alone, unless they also never bothered to put interesting characters in it.

        The thing is, putting interesting characters in game won’t make the main target of the game to stop buying it, but it has the potential to convince new people to enjoy the game. It is possible to attract both crowds, but you need people willing to risk putting more money into a game and hoping to attract enough of a new audience to not cut into the earnings.

        (and sorry for any error in grammar or inconsistencies you can find, but I haven’t slept at all because of the pain, yet and it’s 7:29 a.m. And add to that that I am doped up with painkillers that only managed to reduce the pain a bit. I hope I could get my point across clearer, but right now I can’t really do, sorry)

  19. Eddie says:

    This subject is sort of tangential to the article, but I’m curious; was there a default box-cover version of the Dragon Age Origins protaganist? I don’t recall there being one, but I might well be misremembering. Certainly, there wasn’t a default look preselected in the character creation screen.

    Frankly, I dislike the idea of there being a default version of a character. It’s not a huge issue I have and I understand that sometimes it’s necessary for marketing or whatever but it just has the implication that there is a canon version of the character and your version is actually wrong.

    Edit: gah, typo in my e-mail address and now my avatar looks all wrong.

    1. Otters34 says:

      There is the default male fighter Hawke, who looks exactly like the man on the cover.

      1. Eddie says:

        I meant in Origins though.

        1. Raygereio says:

          No. There is no default version of the warden, just like there isn’t one for Hawke (there’s just boxart and trailer Hawke).

          In what’s probably David Gaider’s only good DA-related decision (not the mention one of the rare cases where the man didn’t come across as an egotistical jackass on the bioware forums) he nipped the “what is canon?” debate in the but by saying there is no canon for the DA games. The only canon is your personal playthrough in your savefile.

          Then again, he did sort of ruin that by saying certain things like “Oh, yeah; Lelliana is always alive in DA2. You killed her in DA:O? Eh, oh dear, how shall I solve this sticky situation with all my writer’s cunning and forum diplomacy skills? Oh, I know: My writing is awesome and you don’t think so you’re dumb!”. (Yes, he literally said that on the bioware forums)

        2. Jennifer Snow says:

          There was no character in the Origins box art, just the big blood-spatter dragon.

    2. krellen says:

      Stupid Male Revan.

      1. Halfling says:

        Well if there wasn’t a canon version of Revan then he could not appear in any other EU material, wait that would be a good thing.

        The Exile is a thousand times more interesting then Dark Lord of the Boring Revan.

      2. Mari says:

        You, sir, lie. There was NEVER a male Revan ;-) Everybody knows Revan was a chick.

        1. krellen says:

          If only we could get Lucas to stop mucking up his creation, right? :)

          1. Mari says:

            Yeah, then I’ll have to buy manure-proof umbrellas, though.

          2. Tizzy says:

            What do you mean? Star Wars 3D will be AWESOME!


        2. Raygereio says:

          Change the wookiepedia entry on Revan to say that. I dare you; the resulting flame-storm is a sight to behold.
          Heck, just changing Reven’s hair colour on that article is enough to set the SW fanboys over there on fire.

          1. krellen says:

            The only reason people want a male Revan is to romance Bastila.

            1. Halfling says:

              Well Bastilla does have Jennifer Hale’s voice.

              Even Garrus can’t resist that.

            2. Mari says:

              In their defense, that’s a marginally better option than romancing whiny emo-soldier Carth. Even my 13-year-old kept coming to me asking “Does he ever stop whining? Should I just call him a wahmbulance or something?” She eventually got so frustrated with Carth that she deliberately ticked him off and sabotaged the relationship so that he would stop talking to her.

              Not that uber-%#$%& Bastila is a big improvement but at least she doesn’t whine. When you want to smack her around some you don’t have to worry that she’ll curl up in a ball on the floor and cry.

              1. krellen says:

                There’s always Juhani.

                Also the awesome chance for last minute, non-happy-ending redemption that ended up on the cutting room floor. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the canon ending for Revan.

                1. Halfling says:

                  I am a passionate Revan hater. But if that were the canon ending for Revan she would have been one of my all time favorite stories in Star Wars.

                  The problem I have with Revan is the free pass the character gets. He refuses to come to terms that he was ever Revan and thus never accepts any guilt and he never actually experiences true redemption.

                  That Revan gives into its old self. Only then to finally realize the cost and thus turns back. Actually being a real redemption story then.

                  Why would Bioware cut that fantastic ending…How can a company have both such greatness and such stupidity at the same time.

                2. Halfling says:

                  I made a big old post responding to this and how much I liked this ending.

                  Don’t know what happened to it and I can’t really be bothered to rewrite it now.

                  But want to make sure you know I was very happy you shared it.

                  Edit: Hrm now that I am logged back in my old comment seems to be awaiting moderation. Did I do something bad. So confused.

                3. Mari says:

                  The ending was ok, but I found myself yelling in fury at the talking leading up to it. Really? “I’ll do it. For you.” Gag. And the whole of Carth and Bastila’s dialogue reinforced my basic problem with the romances in that game. Your options are to be male Revan and date a chick who apparently would happily lop your balls off or be female Revan and date Carth, who has a vag just like you.

                4. krellen says:

                  Well, that puts the romances on par with anything Lucas ever wrote, at least. If not still better.

          2. Mari says:

            My threshold for dorkery is a little too low to deal with the SW fanboys. Although my love of seeing multi-fatality wrecks on the information superhighway might just get me to overcome that…

    3. Jarenth says:

      I’m playing default Sardonic Female Hawke now, because I just couldn’t bring myself to change the way she looks after playing through the intro. I like the introduction, both in gameplay terms and in setting up the story (and Varric), but I really would have preferred character creation to take place before that.

  20. ccesarano says:

    A couple weeks before PAX I wanted to gather information to write a confession on my blog about how most female writers (or rather, journalists) in games annoy me. There are numerous “Lookit me I’m a girl gamer!” sites out there, but then you have G4 which is littered with uninteresting and unfunny female hosts on every TV show (Olivia Munn, I despise you), every time I log on to Xbox Live I have Jessica Chobot’s smile just tempting me to commit acts of domestic violence, and even Destructoid’s show has the greater than bland Tara Long (to be fair, both of the hosts suck, but they always use the female to advertise). Even The Escapist has Lisa Foiles. I’ve told myself that I’ll give her show a chance, but seeing a video titled “Top 5 Best Dressed Guys” just seems…well, it seems like the sort of brain dead shlock on all the sites I hate, only with a girl reciting them (and, considering the topic, with a feminine twist this time).

    Then this panel happened.

    In particular, I feel like Susan Arendt and A.J. Glasser really carried the panel the best. Other than being the most vocal, each of them were intelligent and witty in ways that I’ve yet to encounter in…well, in what little exposure I’ve had to this industry, they’re just pretty damn unique on the whole.

    Even so, I feel like I finally have some female writers to look up to in addition to the plethora of male writers (I know, in truth, the differences between the two genders end up being minor. But those small differences can mean a lot, as this panel I think illustrated).

    1. Tizzy says:

      Hollywood has a similar visible vs invisible problem: there are lots of visible females (actresses) because, well, they HAVE to. But when you start looking behind the scenes (producers, directors, writers), the dearth of females and the little recognition they get is truly alarming.

    2. Vect says:

      Well, I know that Lisa Foiles has written some interesting articles about games and did fun satirical piece on the “story” of Devil May Cry 3. She’s not all bad and she’s definitely a gamer.

      1. ccesarano says:

        I’m willing to give her a try, as well as her video series, but…man, sometimes it’s just tough to judge a book by its cover.

        Actually, that does remind me that she was part of another panel on a similar topic, I believe. “The Other ‘Us'” I believe it was called. Did anyone get to check that out? There’s been a lot of attention on the Females on Female Characters panel, but I’ve heard nothing of the other.

        1. We missed that panel–actually listening to it as I type. Thank you for mentioning it. (Found it here: http://www.g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/711019/pax-east-2011-the-other-us-does-gender-matter-pax-east-2011-panel/)

          1. ccesarano says:

            Huh. I could’ve sworn the program guide said Lisa Foiles was at one of these panels, but she was at neither.

            That was a good panel as well, but I prefer the feeling that the Females on Female Characters panel had direction, that half of it was spent discussing multiple points. It also seemed as if there was a greater sense of chemistry between the panelists.

            The “Other” Us stayed on that Metroid Other M review for a while and seemed to linger on the community. The thing about community, especially online, is:

            1) Age doesn’t matter. I’ve read newspaper articles where the 40 and 50 year olds are just as ignorant, poorly written and poorly thought out as the 13 or 14 year olds.

            2) Most of the assholes aren’t going to PAX because they may like video games, but the type of games is limited. I write a column for GameKrib.com, an attempted social network for gamers, but the people on there are primarily Halo and Call of Duty gamers first. The minority are the “regular” gamers that just play a variety and competition is the aside thing. They play JUST for competition, and the campaign is…eh, it’s there. And more than THAT are just your typical gamer frat boys. I brought up PAX East in that community and NO ONE cared. Yet they are always psyched about the next MLG (Major League Gaming) event.

            Part of our community are “athletes”, in that they are basically jocks with a joystick. However, there’s no real system to try and teach them good manners, morals and ethics. While a lot of high school sports out there are, well, like the frat boys in Revenge of the Nerds, there’s also a lot of schools that are all about having fun first. And I think the people that are a bad representation are, well, the asshole jocks, only with a controller instead of a football.

            The only way to make them look like assholes and make them less prevalent in the industry is to stop catering to them, but when Call of Duty, their game, is the highest selling in the industry…you’re going to have some trouble.

            In which case, I look more at the marketing department of other games. If Konami or Visceral/EA bothered to advertise Silent Hill: Shattered Memories or Dead Space Extraction they could have seen great success from a number of adults with the Wii that wanted an interesting and new experience.

            Then again, considering the “Your Mom Hates This” fiasco…

            EDIT: Oh hey, look what’s relevant to the discussion that a GWJer pointed out to me.

  21. Kelly says:

    To be fair to Other M, the whole permission thing is SUPPOSED to be because he’s her commanding officer and she’s running around in a suit of death and destruction. The problem comes in with how they implement this in the story, with sections that, while most likely just put in there for gameplay variation (like the Hell Run), don’t really meld with the excuse the story presents.

    Other M in general doesn’t really feel misogynistic to me. It could certainly be INTERPRETED as that, but I don’t think that was the genuine intention. I think the devs were just idiots throwing the writtens scenes and gameplay sections in without much thought to how it all tied together.

    It’s not hateful, it’s just STUPID!

    1. ccesarano says:

      You pretty much said what I was trying to get across in fewer words, but I wanted to touch on one minor frustration.

      I hate it when people use the word “misogyny” to describe any disrespectful or potentially sexist portrayal of women, and yet it has been a word I’ve heard in this case. Misogyny means hatred of women. Portraying women as weak or vulnerable isn’t misogynystic, though it could be sexist.

      Representing them as traitorous, selfish, scheming and back-stabbing bitches, on the other hand. For example, the first Dead Space had a woman that turned out to be a traitor. Then the beginning of Dead Space 2 has you haunted by the ghost of your ex-girlfriend and the first woman you run into also happens to be a traitor. Now that feels a bit misogynistic, but I’ll just tally it up to Visceral needing to grow up a bit more.

    2. Cineris says:

      I haven’t played Other M, though I have watched some of the videos —

      It doesn’t really bother me that Samus is portrayed in a way that’s at odds with a lot of people’s perceptions of how she should be. Samus has always been a cipher character, and so it’s pretty much inevitable when a game moves from having a cipher protagonist to having a protagonist with actual characterization that people will complain.

      That being said, the execution of how the game portrays Samus is pretty awful. The cutscenes are a chore to sit through, and the monologues are boring. That right there is the real kiss of death, not that Samus has a crush on her commanding officer and is willing to follow his orders to fit into the command structure.

      1. Lovecrafter says:

        Actually, it’s implied that Samus and Ian Malkovich (Adam’s brother) were an item.

  22. scowdich says:

    I’d like to point out a female supporting character in games who is actually interesting and capable: Ellie of Dead Space 2.
    When you first meet her in the game, she’s taking care of herself quite capably, and declines your help – she really doesn’t need it. When you eventually join forces, she’s not just a mute rack with a gun – she does helpful things, offers advice, and makes her opinions known, even insulting/calling you out from time to time.
    She’s the one who provides your way into the endgame, and when you eventually “rescue” her against her wishes by sending her off the station in a gunship, she turns it around on you by crashing back into the station as the credits roll to rescue you right back.
    On top of all that, she’s not even overtly sexualized, and she’s definitely not some perfect little princess.

    If I’m going to mention another great female supporting character, I’ll just mention Alyx Vance and leave it at that.

    1. ccesarano says:

      Speaking of Dead Space 2…

      I have to disagree with you on Ellie. Not that she’s a bad character, but the fact of the matter is she’s a good female character for video games. In other words, they tried to give her personality, but it’s basically the sort-of tomboy that begins to kind-of have a crush on the protagonist. About the most interesting thing that happens with her is she loses her friggin’ eye.

      Then again, I also don’t think Alyx is that interesting of a character. Okay, sure, she’s half-black, dresses like a normal tomboy and builds machines, but Dog was a more interesting character than she was. She’s just…there. She has no particular feats or faults that give her any depth. But that’s a whole other rant for another day. In the end I found the villains of Half-Life 2 to be much more interesting than any other character in the game.

      I guess I’m awfully picky. I find games end up having better settings than anything else, but their characters and plots are constantly lacking. I mean, Quake 2 and 4 have decent settings, and Quake 4’s plot concept of making you one of the enemy, just not reprogrammed, had potential. They just 1) let everyone know the “big twist” in marketing, 2) damn did your character model look stupid, and 3) it changed nothing. Everything played the same. You got no exclusive weapons or abilities or anything. You just looked horrible in cut-scenes.

      Another reason I feel writers should have a lot more power in games development. Designers are a lot better with settings than actually doing anything with those settings.

      1. Eddie says:

        I think the reason people like Alyx isn’t so much that she has a great personality (her personality is fine, especially in comparison to Gordon’s personality, but it’s not super interesting) but because she never does anything to make the player hate her, which is unusual to the point of being almost unique for an AI companion. Her personality doesn’t demonstrate any huge depth but she feels like she could have more depth if you had the time to interact with her fully. What I mean is that she doesn’t do things like endlessly repeat the same combat taunt or die repeatedly and she actually feels like she’s helping you, which makes it a lot easier to think of her as a person rather than just an escort quest. I imagine she wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny if she was in a story that relied much more heavily on character personalities, but she gets the job done for what Half-Life is trying to be.

        1. Tizzy says:

          Wow! This never occurred to me, but it’s quite insightful.

          Also, there are a lot of “free” interactions between her and Gordon. She doesn’t only talk when the game demands it, the conversation seems natural.

        2. ccesarano says:

          This is a good point, though there are some examples of A.I. that I’ve never had an issue with that everyone else hates.

          For some reason I’ve always liked Ashley from Resident Evil 4, even though there’s absolutely no reason for me to. Her personality is just as blank as any other character from the franchise, and because half the game is one big escort mission I should theoretically hate her.

          But, I never had a problem with the escort mission aspect of the game (except for one part where I kept telling her to “stay here” and left her alone for like ten minutes, at which point they spawn random bad guys that grab and steal her. This is actually good design in that the developer is pretty much saying “You can’t just let her hang back like it is convenient. You gotta watch over her by pulling her into the thicket of things”). She typically keeps behind you, and if there’s a situation she’s in front she’ll duck. If you really need her out of the way there are tons of areas where you can stick her in a garbage bin and have her hide. Ultimately the Castle was the only truly difficult part in terms of protecting her, but it made the scenarios interesting (having to protect her and yourself while she tried to unlock a door or something).

          I think having to protect her actually endeared her to me, which is why I actually like the character for some reason. But I seem to be a unique case.

          1. Eddie says:

            I didn’t hate Ashley either; I’m not sure I would say I liked her but she never bothered me. I don’t have any insightful views as to why that is though, maybe I was just having too much fun blasting crazy people in the face to be bothered by the fact that some of that blasting was in aid of escorting her. Also, it is a Resident Evil game, so if a character is even a quarter coherent in its writing it’s probably a high point for the series. Case in point: midget Napoleon.

  23. gkscotty says:

    It’s an oldish and somewhat obscure PS2 JRPG, but Virginia Maxwell from Wild Arms 3 is probably the best example of a female protagonist I’ve seen. (and she IS the main protagonist) Consider that…

    1) She’s fairly sensibly dressed. Yes, that’s a big pinkish skirt, but she’s got what looks like a leather apron over it and big boots on. Most of her hair is tied back too. It perfectly fits the setting. Compare: FFXII’s Ashe.
    2) She’s not sexualised at all. Not an inch of skin shows anywhere aside from her face.
    3) Not once is she kidnapped or needs to be rescued. (aside from when the entire party needs rescue)
    4) She does not have or need a romantic interest.
    5) She is naive and initially does stupid things, but because she’s inexperienced. Not because she’s female.
    6) She becomes the team leader, grows into the role, and the three male party members defer to her judgments and respect her. (even when they probably shouldn’t, see 5)
    7) She doesn’t need to compensate by being “just as good as the guys.” She’s weaker, has less HP and defense, but is also a crack shot, the fastest character and has some of the best support abilities. And she is *fantastically* useful for it and a cornerstone of the team. Compare to say, Lightning, who is basically a female Cloud/Squall and unconvincing at it.

    1. Jarenth says:

      She’s dressed like a clown on laundry day, really. But I’ll take your word for the rest of those traits.

      Is the game itself any good?

      1. gkscotty says:

        I like it a lot, but I admit it could be an acquired taste. A lot of its game mechanics are old fashioned (turn based combat) or not quite thought through. (some abilities are fantastically imbalanced) Many are unique or progressive for the time – a limited ability to skip random battles; a magic system that uses MP that needs to be built up and replenished, but which can never run out; a dependence on guns as weapons for all characters with limited bullet counts that need to be reloaded. And the turn based combat is at least zippy and visually interesting, with constantly moving characters and camera. And of course, it has a great soundtrack.

        I’d say the biggest problem is the plot is really wordy. (drink every time someone uses a flight metaphor) Really really damn wordy, and in the end it just goes off the rails and stops making sense. Oh, and the Wild West aesthetic, while stronger than other games in the series, is uneven – a lot of the time it looks like science fantasy and people say “nanomachines” way too often. It’s a shame its not voiced or they might have been encouraged to edit the script so they could pay the actors less.

        But at the same time I love all the characters, who really break out of the typical molds – a big tough guy whose physical attacks are the worst in the party but whose magic is the best, a husband and father who is happily married with a good home life instead of the typical broken marriage/complete lack of family, and the required angsty loner is treated like an angsty loner would be and isn’t given leadership for no good reason.

        Personally I rate it above any FF game since 9, but I imagine plenty of people would disagree of course.

        1. ccesarano says:

          I never got to beat Wild Arms 3 myself, but even with the first one the combat was hardly ever the game’s strong suit (by the way, I favor the Princess from the first game over the character in 3).

          However, there’s a LOT of other stuff that the Wild Arms franchise did well. When you get your boat vehicle, you end up having combat by having each character assigned to different sections of the ship and have to sort of strategically battle huge ass “sea” monsters. It’s actually a great way to level grind and is a Hell of a lot more fun than the usual combat.

          Dungeons are also incredibly fun in Wild Arms 3. Since the first game each character has had abilities for helping to solve puzzles, making the dungeons a bit Zelda-esque, but Wild Arms 3 the dungeons are never overly long and every other room is a new puzzle. In other words, dungeon crawling is fun!

          If I were to ever design a console style RPG, I would borrow heavily from Wild Arms 3.

  24. 3 Questions To Ask Yourself When Viewing Any Movie Or Video Game (that contains cinematic elements):

    1) Is there more than one woman?
    2) Do the women talk to each other?
    3) Do they talk about anything other than the male characters?

    How many movies or video games can you think of that pass this test?


    1. Retsam says:

      Yeah, that’s called the Bechdel test. Though sometimes you could apply the rules:
      1) Is there more than one detailed character that’s not the main character?
      2) Do those characters ever talk to each other?
      3) Do they ever talk about something that’s not: about the main character, revealing plot to the main character, or giving a “hint” to the main character.

      Many games would fail this test, so failing the Bechdel test is a given as a result. Mass Effect and Dragon Age both have some interesting (and often hilarious) exchanges between party members that serve no purpose than to give the other characters more definition. (I think Joker was very well done in Mass Effect. He could have very easily been replaced with a redshirt, but instead they made him an interesting character and gave him some memorable lines and moments)
      But in general, many games simply don’t. Granted, far more pass this test than the Bechdel test, but it is a problem as well.

      1. Irridium says:

        Its why I adore Dragon Age. Hearing your party talk to each other is just awesome.

        Wish Mass Effect had more of that. In ME1 they did it in the elevators, but it was sadly absent in ME2.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The bane of voice acting.In the olden days,you had pretty fleshed out party members that bantered all day long(baldurs gate),and had their own agendas to follow,not just be stray dogs you lure with a piece of bacon.

          1. Eddie says:

            Hey now, you’re not being fair to modern games and their companion characters there; I don’t think anyone was trying to lure Miranda with anything, she just wouldn’t bloody well leave you alone.

          2. Nick Bell says:

            Have you played Dragon Age? Especially Dragon Age 2? Bioware still does exactly that with the companions, just like Baldur’s Gate. in fact, I would argue that the depth and personal goals of your companions in DA2 is far beyond anything you say in BG. All with complete voice acting.

            I don’t think voice acting is the problem. I think it is simply something that developers don’t care/won’t invest in. Even in ’98 this kind of depth in characters was a rare thing.

            1. acronix says:

              But the player-character interaction is a bit on the “scarce” side. You can´t go to them and have a talk any time you feel like; you need to wait until the game tells you they are ready. If you go before time, you get a one-liner.

              Though we could argue that the scarce ammount of interaction let the writers make them better, but again, it leaves the player a bit interaction-starved, either wishing for more or playing impatiently through all the ambushes for the next piece of dialog.

            2. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Played 1,just started 2.Yes,its nice to have party banter,and they kind of have their agendas,which arent really that important,because you can just disregard them.And the only married couple you get,gets broken up 5 minutes after being introduced.Theres just no relationships between your companions.They all revolve around you.In baldurs gate,you are a god,but they still dont all revolve around you.

              1. krellen says:

                Aveline will remarry, Daemian. And she will not marry Hawke. Later on, you’ll see more of their interactions with each other (but only glimpses, because you weren’t there for all of it.)

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  That is a very good thing then.

                2. acronix says:

                  I wonder if it`s possible to ruin that marriage…I guess my next character will be a jerk Hawke.

              2. Swimon says:

                Actually I disagree. One of the things DA2 did well (I liked the game but I don’t think it’s up to bioware standard) was that the relationships between the characters was really fleshed out. Even if you use the same characters throughout the game they still have things to say to eachother and the small scenes where they visit eachothers “homes” made it seem like they had a lot going on outside being your companion.

                Maybe it’s not up to BG2 standard (I assume you mean BG2 most seem to and I didn’t see anything like this in the first baldur’s gate) I wouldn’t know since I haven’t finished it yet but I don’t think you’re giving the characters of DA2 enough credit you’re not the only thing on their mind^^

              3. Halfling says:

                Watch Anders and Varric as the game goes on. I have my suspicions that they are closer friends with each other then either one with Hawke.

    2. ehlijen says:

      I think that test should be expanded by one more step:

      4) Repeat questions 1-3 for men. Compare results.

      If the result’s the no for both, that’s still some form of gender equality after all. Boring, but equal.

    3. Alexander The 1st says:

      For the record, Harem-genre Anime/Manga (One guy in an all-female area) do this.

      Or, Lucky Star/Azumanga Daioh do this, with no male characters that I know of. Don’t know if there’s movies for these, though.

      But then there’s the reverse Bechdel test – for males.

      Or, actually, for movies, wouldn’t the End of Evagelion movie do this?

  25. Ben says:

    I’d like to see more video game characters of either gender be well-written and interesting. I think that pretty much covers all the usual complaints.

    On an almost completely unrelated note, I, a straight male, always play as a female when given the choice. I’ve done this for a long time thanks to Diablo II and Tomb Raider, but it’s been deliberate ever since Guild Wars, when it occurred to me that if I’m staring at an ass for several hours at a stretch, it might as well be a shapely one. I don’t need my avatar to truly represent me; what do I care if some people I never meet get confused as to whether I’m a guy or girl? If I wanted a true representation, it’d be scrawny and pale, and that’s not a combination I choose intentionally, even in games with full character customization.

    1. Mari says:

      I occasionally play male characters when given the choice but by and large I opt for female for surprisingly similar reasons despite being a female myself.

      As long as we’re putting a wish-list out there for game designers: guys can have nice butts, too. Try drawing them that way once in a while because I’m tired of my camera following around some chiseled stud with NO REAR END. And while we’re at it, designers, I just want you to know that while I appreciate a buff bod on a boy bulging veins and the Mr. Universe look in general? Not so much a turn-on.

    2. ccesarano says:

      I’ve never been able to buy this common argument, or at least using it as a good argument. No one says “I didn’t like G.I.Joes, I preferred Barbies because if I’m going to be feeling up plastic it may as well have boobs”.

      I think Dragon Age was one of the first times I played a female character, and it was my second playthrough. I enjoyed it in the regard that I was developing a character, but romancing Alistair was awfully awkward. On one hand, I liked the story I was creating. On the other hand, due to the interactive nature it just felt…weird and repulsive.

      Then again, most games don’t try to provide such a deep experience as Bioware Games, so I imagine playing a game just so you can be horny the whole time from your main character is legitimate. At which point one must wonder, like George Costanza from Seinfeld, do you REALLY want to combine your love of sex with your love of a sammich?

      1. Ben says:

        I see what you’re saying with the Barbie analogy, but I don’t think it’s entirely applicable. As a start, we’re talking about rather different ages between playing with GI Joe and making aesthetically-based decisions about gender.

        More to the point, though, GI Joe is an action hero, where Barbie is a fashion model. You might be able to get some action accessories for Barbie, but it’s plainly out of her comfort zone (and I don’t think you can get her a gun, anyway). With games, this gap doesn’t exist, because you’re doing exactly the same thing with your character, carrying the same equipment and blowing up the same stuff, regardless to gender. If Barbie were available with all the BDUs and guns and grenades and Jeeps you can get for GI Joe, it’d be a more apt comparison, aside from the fact that when I was playing with GI Joe I barely knew why girls ought to be interesting.

        1. Mari says:

          Nope, you can’t buy Barbie guns (although I recently saw a Barbie pink AK-47 at a gun show which is a whole other topic) but you can MAKE them. The only time my Barbies were ever fashion models was either when they were deep undercover in the fashion industry as spies or when I was doing really twisted things with my Barbies that involved slumber parties, Ken as a kidnapping sadist, and Barbie later as a bondage-loving brainwashed slave.

          For the most part, my Barbies were action heroes (bear in mind that this was the era of teeny GI Joe, not Barbie sized Joes or I might have just played with GI Joe) who kicked butt and looked good doing it. It required a fair deal of inventiveness on my part to completely redesign her wardrobe, occasionally cut her hair, and make her better accessories than the stupid purses and lap dogs she usually came with.

          At worst I once took a shimmery white dress, cut it off to mini-skirt length, used toothpicks and clay to fashion a sword and scabbard, and my Barbie became He-Man’s sidekick Teela (who totally kicked He-Ken’s butt even in his “exalted” form and forced him to do housework in his wimpy form). At best, my Barbies were GI Janes (complete with the haircut) long before that movie ever came out.

          Meanwhile, I’m sure some guy out there will never admit it but he forced GI Joe to cook and clean and raise tiny Joeys. They’re all imagination-based toys and it might not be as refined yet (or as sexually/hormonally driven, obviously) but those seeds of imagination are there from a very young age.

          1. ccesarano says:

            My sister and I figured out how to play together by having the Ninja Turtles ride My Little Ponies onto the battlefield.

            Most colorful cavalry in history.

  26. Amarsir says:

    I’m having trouble thinking of a male protagonist that I’ve liked, so it seems like maybe the genders are on equal footing after all.

  27. Susie Day says:

    something I’ve been wanting to do for a while is to hack prince of persia so that you could play it from the princess’s point of view. Instead of weeping in her room, she would start off by defeating the vizier, and running through the dungeons backwards until you get to one of the first level where the prince is stuck in a pit somewhere :-)

  28. BeamSplashX says:

    One thing I like about both Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors is that all characters are given a pretty even deal visually. The woman that wears the least lives a tribal lifestyle in the jungle and is married to one of the game’s few non-beautiful men, which I think is fair.

    Speaking of which, why did JRPGs lead to more games with effeminate men but no one pushed women with more traditionally masculine qualities? I understand that David Bowie and Gackt both had the androgynous thing going on, but that’s one piece of a bigger puzzle as far as I’m concerned. Granted, this issue is odd for me since I actually find the whole amazon deal attractive, but even if I didn’t I’d be curious as to why a very specific body type for women is practically non-existent. In fact, games could be more progressive than other media by doing this first, since no one else seems to really notice it either.

  29. Vect says:

    Interesting female characters?

    Well… Kaine from Nier’s an interesting character. Think kind of like Jack from ME2, only with a more obvious softer side (particularly her interactions with fellow social outcast/adorable Abomination of Nature Emil). They’re both violent foul-mouthed women who wear physically exposing clothes (though Kaine is more obviously “attractive”) and are quite bitchy. They both have their reasons however for being harsh, even though Kaine didn’t go through life nearly as craptastic as Jack (raised in a xenophobic village who hated her for being a Hermaphrodite until she was adopted by a violent and foul-mouthed old lady who taught her not to take shit, her grandma dies at the feet of a giant monster and she’s possessed by an evil being who constantly mocks her and tempts her with power but who by the end reveals that he cares about her and in one ending gives the hero a chance to “save” her).

    Also, I’m the kind of guy who usually tries choosing female characters as protagonists if the option is given. I like female protagonists. Gives the fight a different flavor so to say.

    1. ccesarano says:

      It wasn’t until I started a New Game + in Nier that I felt like there was an actual purpose for Kaine’s outfit. I think. Considering the death of her grandmother and the surrounding circumstances, it would make sense if Kaine’s dress was basically a remnant of her childhood. It might have been her only piece of clothing, and thus she continued wearing it into adulthood. Viewed that way, it’s still absolutely ridiculous, but it makes a sick sort of sense.

      But there are other ways to convey similar concepts and emotions.

      As for her personality, she was another character that walked the line between “independent” and “total bitch” a lot. I’m still not sure if I liked her or hated her, and her foul mouth just seemed obnoxious. I wouldn’t necessarily call her a good character. Developed? Certainly. Well-developed? Maybe not so much (unless we’re talking physically, because damn).

  30. Matt says:

    I think you might find that Mirror’s Edge has a very vocal minority that love the game. Faith’s first adventure was flawed (gun combat, story as afterthought), but I very much hope that both the game and its heroine get a second chance.

    I enjoyed the female characters (NPCs, mind you) in Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption. In general, Rockstar’s character writing (and acting) manages to find an interesting balance between cliché, parody and rounded character, more so than is often acknowledged.

  31. Rodyle says:

    The only character which pops in my mind instantly when thinking of a well-characterized female lead in a game is Jade, I’m afraid.

    And yeah, we need more variety. Not just in the genders, but also away from the (already much talked about) brown-haired grizzled white guy.

  32. Raygereio says:

    Personally I think this debate is focussing on the wrong thing. We don’t need well-writeen, fleshed out, 3-dimensional, believable female characters in videogames.
    We need good characters in videogames. Full stop. Let’s work on that first and worry about gender second.

    Shamus: one comment on your article.

    Even characters that should hail from the dark side (like the Persian Prince) end up in the “would be played by Ethan Hawke in the movie adaptation” part of the pigmentation spectrum.

    Erm, you do realise that Persians weren’t black, but fell into the white-olive coloured spectrum? Heck, the actor in the PoP movie even had the right ethnicity for the role (Jake Gyllenhaal is from Iranian decent).

    1. acronix says:

      I think he was being sarcastic.

      1. Raygereio says:

        He might have been; but I do remember there being some non-sarcastic hubbub when the movie was made about Jake Gyllenhaal being “too white” for the role.
        So I erred on the side of caution and decided to go with an attempt to be informative.

        1. Tizzy says:

          Is Gyllenhall of Iranian descent, really?

          And if the Iranians I know are not super dark-skinned, nevertheless they all look more like Ahmadinejad than Gyllenhall. They’re probably saner than both though :-)

          1. Raygereio says:

            Actually; no he isn’t. I could have sworn his father was of Iranian decent, but google tells me Jack Gyllenhaal comes from a mixed Swedish/eastern europe Jewish background. Shows me that I can’t trust my memory, I guess.

            My main point still stands though; Ahmadinejad is certainly more tanned then Gyllenhaal, but the former’s skin pigmentation can’t be called “darker” then the latter’s.

            1. Irridium says:

              I figured Gyllenhaal was of Hebrew decent. At least thats what I’ve heard.

              1. Raygereio says:

                Yes, from his mother’s side: eastern europe Jewish.

  33. Jeysie says:

    I dunno, personally I’ve never really gotten that upset over there not being many female protagonists. Probably due to a combination of two factors…

    One, I guess I’m kind of weird in that I never project myself into the player character/identify myself as the PC anyway. Instead, I tend to see myself as a sort of guardian angel/guide helping directly shepherd someone separate from me through their goals. Or to put it another way: see myself as a puppeteer controlling the PC puppet. So the whole “changing genders” mental factor never comes up for me.

    Two, I like looking at attractive or otherwise appealing guys, and most video game protagonists who aren’t AFGNCAAPs usually are appealing on some level (at least in the turn-based RPGs and adventure games I like to play).

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t welcome more female protagonists, or, really, better-written female video game characters in general. Just that the question of what sex a protagonist is has never been a big issue for me.

    1. Mari says:

      There’s actually an entire line of market and demographic research into this phenomenon. Apparently way back in my childhood when Choose Your Own Adventure books were starting up one of the publishing houses started looking into it. Have you ever noticed that some of those things were gender specific male protagonists while others were gender neutral or that almost all of them had boys on the covers? That’s because the publishers started researching and discovered that apparently while pre-teen girls don’t mind too much being projected into the male role, pre-teen boys refuse actively to be projected into a female role. Basically girls said, “Ok, yeah, whatever, can we get on with the story now?” while boys said, “Wait, what? You’re telling me that through this whole book you’re calling me ‘her’? No way. This book is stupid. I’m just gonna go play with my GI Joes now.”

      That bit of research has survived and thrived down to the present day (where it’s probably just as true as it was then) to influence game design.

      1. Jeysie says:

        Now that you mention it, I do think I came across that whole thing once myself. At the risk of sounding militant-feministy, there is a weird trend in general where it’s OK for women to be masculine at times but not OK for men to be feminine at times (although men have been trying to change that in recent times, which I support).

        Although for me it’s more that I don’t project myself at all. So male or female protagonist from that perspective is all the same to me, since I don’t think of it being me personally living through the game anyway.

        Maybe it comes from being far more of a graphic adventure game/JRPG fan than a FPS fan or such. Those types of games usually have protagonists with already strongly-defined personalities, so it’s inherently harder to think of yourself as “being” that character even if it’s a female one.

        1. Will says:

          It also probably has something to do with the fact that modern western culture comes from heavily male dominated roots and the male sex is typically considered the ‘default’ or ‘norm’. I can’t speak for other cultures, although i imagine it’s fairly similar across them too as i don’t think there are any major female-dominated cultures.

        2. Mari says:

          I really don’t mind or disagree with the research but it strikes me that the research subjects used were 8-11 year olds. In my experience those tend to be the ages when boys (certainly not universally or exclusively, but in far greater numbers than other times) strongly dislike girls (aka “the cooties factor”). It makes me wonder how different the research would have been had the subject group been a step older or a step younger. I’ve seen evidence that by adulthood men still prefer playing masculine characters by a decent majority but it’s far less of a sticking point for them. Which makes me wonder why we’re still mired in the muck of research with limited applicability.

          1. Retsam says:

            I think you’d find roughly similar results with all ages, that females are more willing to be cast into the role of males in general. Part of it is that they’re probably used to it, but on the other hand, I think that it’s true in general of our culture that there are more things specifically labeled “female” than there are things specifically labeled “male”, so there’s a little less weirdness. I mean, look at fashion. Virtually anything a guy wears can be worn by a woman without going against any social conventions. (Though they often do wear them in a different style) But the same isn’t true the other way around. It’d be pretty far against social convention for me to come in to class one day wearing a skirt, dress, high heels or anything like that. (And in my opinion, good riddance. You all can keep them)

            And, I wonder if the same doesn’t apply beyond fashion. That in many areas it’s appropriate for women to fill in either the male or the female role, but inappropriate for the male to fill in the female role. The “family provider” role is one that comes to mind. “Stay-at-home” mom’s and working mom’s are both pretty commonly portrayed, yet how often are “stay-at-home” dads portrayed?

            1. Jeysie says:

              Yeah, that’s been my experience as well; it’s more a societal thing than an age thing.

              I think maybe the only difference is that in boys it manifests as girly-things-have-cooties, while in men it’s more of a the-way-things-are-done matter.

  34. Ben Munson says:

    I’d blame women myself. My thinking here is that to have good female characters in a game you need a female input in the design or writing process, something woefully lacking in this industry. Female characters in games don’t really work well in my opinion because games are so very long compared to other media; when you play a game for 8 – 40 hours you get to examine the characters in a lot of detail, and for me at least the women in them tend to end up coming across as men in womens bodies.

    1. Vi says:

      It’s a good point that a lot of people struggle to write the opposite sex without filling in numerous psychology gaps incorrectly, while input from the subjects themselves could make a significant difference. But I wouldn’t go so far as to blame female game developers for their lack of presence in major companies. I’ve heard it’s a very difficult environment, especially for demographic outliers whose mere existence can designate them as social toxicity sinks. I wouldn’t want to throw myself into such a situation merely on the slight chance that someone might want to hear my perspective. The fact that plenty of people already dislike my opinions is reasonably comfortable to live with–as long as my livelihood doesn’t require me to spend (upwards of) eight hours a day actively spamming them with those opinions. Many people might falter under such conditions, not just female writers in particular.

      I guess what I’m saying is thank God for freeware game engines.

  35. guy says:

    You know, one thing that tends to come up in these debates that I’ve never really bought is that there’s some additional restriction on female characters where they can’t be too aggressive and confrontational or the fans will hate them. Mostly because that’s struck me as a gender-neutral trait. That is, if you took the aggressive female characters people hate on and did a find-replace on everything specifically gender related, I would still want to punch them in the face.

    For example, in NWN2 I detest Quara because she’s a pyromaniac who attempts to solve all problems by setting everything on fire and has an incredibly irritating strain of anti-intellectualism and superiority complex (Which led to Sand, who is pretty much the best character, totally bluffing her with a spell he completely made up). I dislike Elanee because she’s a creepy stalker and a fantasy enviromentalist who complains about everything you do. Also, Neeshka intermittently irritates me via kleptomania and getting catty towards Shandra when the main character so much as occupies the same room (Same reaction towards Elanee, but I don’t actually like her, so anything that involves insulting Elanee is good in my book). None of these traits would be any less irritating on a male character unless they were better written.

    Actually, I kind of have to wonder if part of the problem is that, due to long-term gender discrimination, a bunch of traits that I’d place in the catagory of “Positive, gender-neutral” have ended up in the catagory of “Postive, masculine” in popular conciousness.

  36. Bubble181 says:

    HMmm…While there *is* a clear lack of good, interesting, female lead characters (etc etc), I don’t think it’s *quite* as bad as some people make it out to be.

    First of all, in a lot of cases, a man makes more sense and/or is the only “logical” or even “possible” thing. Playing a female soldier in World War Two has a slight problem in that there weren’t any. Even nowadays, the military is very much a male world – female marines/soldiers/… make up what percentage of all organized, western armed forces? I don’t know and I’m too lazy to go look it up – but I think we can all agree it’s not 50%. Added to that, the females who *are* in the army tend to be smarter, higher-educated etc than the men, so tend to find themselves more in command or support roles than active combat. I’m not -at all- saying I think this is the way it should be or whatever – and if a game is set in, say, 2250, I think female marines are perfectly possible and should be there.
    As far as it goes, it’s a much clearer problem that practically all protagonists of FPS and similar are *white* marines – the US army and Navy are mainly black and coloured these days.

    Ignoring the “complete blank slate marine”, who might as well be a robot, a woman, a martian, or whatever to hold up the gun, though, I think there’s still a second problem with female characters. Partly because most writers/designers are male, mind you, but anyway: when there *are* female characters, they tend to get way more flack about their shortcomings than a lot of men do. Imagine Carth as a female. Now, he’s a crappy whiny bitch anyway, but if he were female, he’d be “the stereotypical whiny female”. A female character gets seen as bitchy or annoying faster than a man – a man with the same lines is “snarky” or “sarcastic” or “witty” or whatever. A “strong” woman is almost always either seen as a bitch, or a tomboy. Like I said, this has to do with most writers being male…But also because, in our general culture, both by men and women, strong women are ill-accepted.

    1. Otters34 says:

      I’d say the acceptance of Gunnery Sgt. Willams in the Mass Effect series undercuts that a little, but then I remember her joking about how her appreciation of poetry doesn’t mean she isn’t a good shot. So I’d say it is a problem of writing being a difficult thing to make appeal to all people.
      For some that joking comment cemented Williams as being a great character, but for me it came off as forced and pretty silly.

      1. evileeyore says:

        You mean Ashley “rascist* punch-first-ask-questions later must redeem family honor” Williams wasn’t made more well-rounded by liking poetry?


        I think her attitude in ME2 makes her an even stronger candidate for best written video game female.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          “I think her attitude in ME2 makes her an even stronger candidate for best written video game female.”

          Really?I hope you are not serious,because she was completely devastated in 2.Yes she was racist,jealous and a bit bitchy in 1,but in 2 she is just this whiny crazy illogical bitch-for-no-reason zero-dimensional cutout.I mean “Why didnt you call?!;I was dead,and when I tried contacting you after being alive again,you were unreachable on a secret mission;Well you still shouldve called!” is the worst dialogue I have ever heard.And that was with liara as my romance,which just makes it worse!

          The only worse offender is kaidan who has this bitch-ashley personality pasted over his own personality(if he had one).Not even the extremely furious binary choice in the end made me as angry as that idiotic dialogue on horizon.

          1. Monojono says:

            That scene could definitely been written better, but put yourself in Ashley/Kaidan’s shoes – the commanding officer you respected/person you had a relationship with dies. You mourn and then move on. Then, they turn out to be alive but are working for an evil terrorist organisation, an organisation who you had previously fought against together. Acting crazy and illogical is probably the closest you could get to how a real person would react in a situation that insane.

            1. Irridium says:

              Well I’d like to explain everything to Kaiden/Ashley, but the game won’t let me.

              Its like in Fallout 3 when you find your dad, but can’t tell him that the Overseer went insane and tried to kill you.

              1. evileeyore says:

                And that in a nutshell is the main problem with these games.

                Ashley was pretty damn sane and made what to me were good, logical decisions.

                In my case her commanding officer, her friend whom she thought dead suddenly pops up, right where and when the Alliance thought Cerebus would pop up. And working for them.

                She doesn’t go all “Blarg! I hates you!”, she just agrees to disagree and leaves, saying “Cerebus can’t be trusted, good luck”…

                In other words unlike all your other companions, she doesn’t back down from convictions to go galavanting across the galaxy with old friend. She has a job and mission of her own.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  No,she does go “Blarg! I hates you!”.Check out how the rest of the people react.Tali is angry,but trusts you,because she was working with you for so long.Anderson trusts you as well.So do garrus and liara.They all hate cerberus,but you are commander shepard,their commander(except andersons),someone who theyve stolen a ship with to stop a huge threat,someone who theyd give their lives for.

                  And then theres bitchy mcbitch,who hates you for not calling back when you were dead and when she was sent to a secret mission of which no one informed you.

                2. guy says:

                  What’s extra irritating is that she does it when you’ve taken Garrus along. Considering that he’s both unlikely to join Cerberus and unlikely to be allowed to join, his presence is a red flag that there’s something pretty majorly unusual.

                  For that matter, how does she immediately know you’re with Cerberus if you don’t take any actual Cerberus members along? Showing up at places where trouble occurs is what Spectres DO. It’s not incriminating by itself.

                3. Irridium says:

                  @Daemian Lucifer: Actually, I remember hearing that in the novels that now Anderson is basically anti-cerberus. According to the Wiki, he organizes several strikes against Cerberus bases and all that.

                  And knowing Bioware, he’ll be pissed at you for being with Cerberus, call you out on it, and Bioware won’t let you adequately defend yourself. Or let you say that you don’t work with Cerberus.

                4. Daemian Lucifer says:


                  You can speak with him in game,and I accept that as more of a canon thing then a novel.And he still is cool with whatever you do,he helps as much as the rest of the council allows him.

    2. False Prophet says:

      Well, Medal of Honor:Underground and Velvet Assassin were both set in WWII and both had female protagonists. Both were loosely based on the real-world exploits of female OSS/SOE agents as well.

  37. ccesarano says:

    Rewatching the panel, something that occurred to me but I forgot about when the girl in Q&A mentioned RIFT.

    For a game like Dragon Age or Mass Effect or any Elder Scrolls game, what would people think about being able to adjust your character’s bra size? It just seemed like a sort of “adjust ’em how you want ’em” concept, but this could end up looking…bad.

    Though I’d also like to adjust the body-type of my character altogether. I don’t want the muscular guy that looks like he can take anyone on. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up watching anime, but I prefer characters with a more stealthy-ninja style appearance. I guess the closest to a male character whose body type I prefer is Altair or Ezio’s, where it’s muscular but not beefy. Or the villain in Hellboy that had the blades (forget his name). I’d love to adjust that as well in a game.

  38. PurePareidolia says:

    I want to once again propose that the main character in Half Life 2 is Alyx Vance because Gordon doesn’t have a character.
    She’s not playable but Gordon is a boring mute who’s only role in the plot is shooting lots of things while not dying, and occasionally piling up weight on one side of a see-saw.
    Alyx gets the data, contacts White Forest, unlocks doors, navigates the citadel, built Dog, worked on the teleporter and reprograms the rollermines. Gordon is basically her meat shield and chaffuer.

    The way I see it, male characters can be even more cardboard than the female ones, but nobody complains too much about that. Because playing a mute pair of floating arms is “IMMERSIVE!”

    1. ccesarano says:

      I just want a game where I can play as Dog. He’s the best character in the whole damn franchise.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        And then someone can say to you at the end “Youre the man now Dog”.

        1. Irridium says:

          This would make me very happy.

      2. Integer Man says:

        And your nemesis could be a squirrel! Or the UPS / FedEx / Mail guy. Still, you need to be randomly distracted by squirrels at key moments of the plot.

    2. Monojono says:

      “Gordon is a boring mute”

      I would agree with you if half life was a book or a film. In that kind of storytelling medium the main character must be an actual character. But videogames can tell stories in different ways. Some follow the classic route and have us play a character who is an already defined personality who makes their own decisions. Some ask us to create our own character, and we choose how they interact with others. Some give us a mute pair of arms and tell the story through action and secondary characters. None of these are necessarily better than the others. Criticising half life because the main character is “boring” doesn’t really hold up when half life tells its story much better than many games with main characters who are actual characters. It just tells its story in a way which is very different to conventional fiction.

  39. Adam P says:

    Perfect Dark, for the N64, is one of those games where the writing is strong. The plot is a bit cheesy, and there is a little bit of railroading towards the end, but overall it works. I bring this up because the main character is Joanna Dark. In case the name didn’t give it away, she is female. (She looks like a clown in the XBLA port, but that’s irrelevant.) She doesn’t really have too much in the way of sex appeal. In fact, the most skin she shows is at the end of the game, but being a FPS her bare legs are only shown for a total of about 40 seconds.

    She’s a good character. She isn’t a dunce, she has a bit of wit, and her dialogue (and voice acting [yes, VA on the N64]) is pretty decent. There is one moment in the game where she is a bit stupified, but anyone in her position would have been. (It’s the big reveal midway through act 2.)

    It’s a well-written game, which is a bit shocking because: it was made 11 years ago; it was on a console; it was made by Rare (which really is only surprising if one’s familiarity with Rare comes solely from their more recent games). That said, Joanna is a gender neutral character; She could have been male and nothing would really change. Despite that, if more developers had followed Rare’s lead, then we might have had better characters since then.

    Moving forward, Rare put out Perfect Dark Zero for the 360 as a prequel. PDZ gets a lot of undue crap. Yeah, continuity was screwed with, and the plot is dumb, but the quality of characters was maintained. In PDZ the protagonist is a teenage Joanna, but she’s a pretty different character from PD Jo. That said, she is not the bad character people say she is. Throughout the game, her father (Jack Dark) treats her like a vulnerable child, and she acts out because she thinks otherwise. The relationship between the two characters is strong, and people don’t really appreciate it. Yeah, Jack is overprotective of his daughter. Sure, Jo tries to rebel against that. But that’s sort of what real people do.

    What people don’t get is that if Jo was male in PDZ, then Jack would be overprotective of his son. That can work, but given the scenario (the Dark family being bounty hunters), it would feel out of place. Besides, how often do you see a father being overprotective of his son in TV or movies? Not often! Males are more often portrayed as being tough, lacking emotions, and having strong comraderie between each other. As far as video game standards go, Joanna could only be female in PDZ. So I think she qualifies as being a decent female character, as opposed to being a decent character in a female skin.

    As an aside, what’s the deal with everyone talking about female characters recently? Extra Credits did an episode on the topic, there was that panel, and I think there was a column on The Escapist addressing the topic too.

    1. krellen says:

      I think the fact that PAX was plagued this year by the “Dickwolves” controversy might have had something to do with it.

      Or it could just be a theme running at the Escapist, which is a common thread through all your examples.

      1. Will says:

        Ugh, don’t start about the damn Dickwolves. I have never seen such brainless and pointless ‘moral outrage’.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The hot coffee and mass effect sex simulator controversies were far worse in the brainless department.

          1. Will says:

            No, they weren’t. At the very least, some sexualised content of some sort did exist somewhere to start that controversy.

            The Dickwolves nonsense comes from misinterpreting a joke about how MMORPG quests work on a website known for having penis jokes as condoning rape.

            The arrogance required to even see that view in the first place is staggering. At the very least everyone could agree that yes, there are sex scenes in Mass Effect, the disagreement was over the nature of the scenes, not whether they existed at all.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              The controversy about mass effect came from people who didnt even play the game,and hot coffee came to be when someone hacked the game.At least the dickwolves thing came from someone who read the unmodified comic,even if they misinterpreted it quite a bit.

      2. Mari says:

        It’s not just a PAX or an Escapist thing, though. The hubs gets GameStop’s monthly sales rag that masquerades as game journalism. About a month ago they ran an article that was very similar to Shamus’s point of “enough already with bland white guys. Add color, change gender, SOMETHING.”

        1. krellen says:

          Maybe we, collectively, have just had enough, then?

          1. Mari says:

            I hope so. I genuinely hope so. I don’t honestly remember the gender thing bothering me until “Fable.” I don’t know why but that game really ticked me off with the inability to play a female. It just seemed like, “Come Oooon already. This is the 2000’s, people. Haven’t we gotten over the ‘only boys play games’ thing yet?” And it doesn’t bother me every time. In FPSes it doesn’t bother me a bit that I’m a cookie-cutter white male space marine because I’m not looking AT me anyway so I’m able to ignore it. But in third-person games with a single protagonist it’s started to really annoy me. Would it really have been that hard to have a gender switch in GTA (which at least gets kudos for avoiding the bland, white guy thing once in a while) or FFX?

            1. Integer Man says:

              Yeah. Fable was a bit heavy on the fart jokes.

              It’d be interesting to play a game where the main character was a total nerd and not in the Gordon Freeman kind of way. More the George McFly kind of nerd.

  40. Am I the only person who really thought Wet was tremendously fun?

    1. ccesarano says:

      Yes, but to be fair I had already played Stranglehold, which was the same thing only better (how could it not be? John Woo and Chow Yun Fat are just better than Eliza Dushku).

  41. Integer Man says:

    Growing up, I enjoyed some of the Sierra games that had female protagonists: King’s Quest 4 (Grr. Still mad at the bridle puzzle), The Colonel’s Bequest, and The Dagger of Amon Ra all had female protagonists.

    The second two of those used this fairly effectively, actually. Having a female protagonist was very different, made you feel a bit more vulnerable in the serial murder mysteries, and focused the game play on the investigative and social aspects instead of on direct action.

    1. Integer Man says:

      Similarly, the 1998 text adventure: Anchorhead uses a female protagonist to offer a sense of vulnerability that makes that world even scarier

  42. Kiwipolish says:

    Holy crap, but I don’t think anyone’s going to read down here. Certainly whenever the debate comes up there is a question if this is passive sexism or just bad writing. There’s certainly enough gravelly-voiced, half-shaven space marines to form an army. The main reason I feel it is a gender based problem is because I, like many, have my share of literary heroes, people I look up to or even just say “What an awesome character!” But they are rarely, if *ever*, a female character.

    It left me in a weird spot for a long while. I had no desire to not be a woman, but I also wanted to be a man, because I didn’t consider women interesting or awesome. I still struggle with that today, where I write or play as women characters out of “obligation” to try and overcome the problem, but prefer male ones. I just can’t put my finger on what it is that I’m not getting from today’s female characters.

    Sometimes I wonder if half of it isn’t an appearance problem. I found myself struck by Big Boss in MGS 3 and Flemeth in Dragon Age (the one in the first game, I don’t know about this new weird one) – and really, Big Boss barely did anything to gain this respect, she just looked cool. Sounds terribly shallow, I know.

  43. neothoron says:

    I know that you probably will not play it – but I would still recommend that you take a look at RPS’ preview about the Witcher II. I am mentioning it here because of a comment thread that precisely adresses the subject of women in that game. (And Tom Ohle even participates in that thread as CDProjekt’s VP of PR.)

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