Your Plot Device is Turning Me On – Part 3

Okay kids and cadets, I’m eagerly reading your comments on part 2 of The Damsel in Distress article and I see that not only did a lot of you do your homework, but you guys are also really grooving on this discussion format. I love it! I love it when you guys challenge me and say exactly what you think in response to one of my articles. It makes the discussion a lot more fun and in the end, I get to learn a few new things.

For part 3 I called in a dude friend of mine that I’ve been wanting to write with for about four years now. We play games together, and we know each other quite well at this point – but he also happens to be one of the most talented writers I know so he was a natural to ask to accompany me in writing this piece because we often talk about female protagonists and honestly – I really just wanted him to work on this piece with me because I thought that this could benefit from a male perspective. I’ve listened to your criticisms and I wanted things to become more balanced. Without further adieu, I give you all CB. I’d tell you all to be gentle with him, but I doubt he would have any fun that way.

Today, CB and I are going to be talking about one of our favorite conversation topics/regularly used plot devices – “The ‘Broken’ Female Protagonist.”

What does this mean? Because it’s not exactly a “Trope” per say – just something that has been repeatedly used in geek culture when approaching female characters as leads in their own pieces – and it’s something that has become all to prevalent in geek media – be it video games, comics, even reviews.

There’s plenty of female protagonists out there in games, and all of them written by a collaborative group, often working towards a goal-unless they royally screw up. I’m talking about a female protagonists that feels pretty flat. Who feel like we were playing the damsel in direction, instead of the heroine. The woman who was supposed to be strong, but doesn’t feel strong like, let’s say, Samus Aran. Good God the awesomeness that is Samus. I fully remember the sheer and utter joy I felt when that helmet came off and beneath it was this beautiful blonde. Then later on you could play her, while in a sexier outfit, she kicked no less ass, and blew the fuck outta Mother Brain.

~ All Images Link Away From ~

Your Plot Device is Turning Me On - Part 3

Until you hit Other M. Holy shit, when did Samus suddenly need ‘permission’ to use her powers? To suddenly monologue and feel mopey? When did she look at her situation and go “I would be lost without that guy, who’s on the other side of a microphone, kinda distant, and makes me hold back?” That’s some Stepford wife shit. The gameplay, while average and okay, did nothing to support the feeling of Samus suddenly being this subdued murder machine, who only felt confident against the “Other”, and not against those who were just opposite her gender. That sucked, and ruined every fantasy I had of Samus Aran kicking some ass to save me, and leading me away be the top.

This whole scenario seems to play out in geek media more than most of us would like to admit. They create this amazing, dynamic, sassy female character and then somewhere in the franchise she becomes this thing that – while she never had to before – now must ask for permission to use her powers/be the badass that she has already shown herself to be. This isn’t a question of IF this is happening or not – because there are COUNTLESS examples we could elaborate on to the nauseating point of it occurring – but the question we, as consumers of the media (who – if the reaction to the last trope discussion was any clue at all) – should be asking very directly is WHY is this still happening with the regularity it does and moreover WHY do we still keep BUYING it.

The very simpleness of that is the male power fantasy does not exactly translate well when a pair of tits are on top and a minge on the bottom. In fact we still think that the market is just that- a male power fantasy situation, despite many times we are told the opposite. We have roughly 30% of the women in the industry, almost 50% of the consumers are women, and we’re looking at a 51-55% female ratio for online gaming, particularly MMOs. Yes, by a small margin, there are more chicks in MMOs than guys. Frankly that makes me wonder how hard it is to get some tit pics online at that rate, but the problem is, most publishers, or investment backers, don’t like this reality, and outright ignore it. Which leads to problems like the last Lara Croft game, where she was sort of strong, but the major focus was “So your Lara Croft has died 88 times to gunfire, 17 times to crocodiles, and 3 times to falling in a pit you could have easily avoided! Haha, clumsy broad!”

Your Plot Device is Turning Me On - Part 3

Though another problem is, something that we’re still a little in the dark with, that may be hit or miss, is what’s the female power fantasy? Or what’s the female protagonist mindset? Anita Sarkeesian suggested her idea of a game, where a woman breaks herself free from the castle, goes back in through stealth, and talks as conflict resolution. Or praises Gone Home, as investigative, and telling a story. I don’t know whether she’s talking to the ladies I talk to while raiding, but they wanna blow some stuff up. Like 99% of the time if you’re in an MMO you’re there to murder something that looks at you funny and steal the contents of his pockets. Hell, it’s what made Samus, Lara, Dragon Crown’s Amazon/Sorceress, and many others work. But they still continue to be hit and misses, like shots in the dark. And does that translate to all women, or just a certain type of woman?

As a guy, it’s pretty easy for me to tell you what I wanna do in a game. Beat the hell out of something, and feel excited about it. I get to win. To a male, a win scenario is easy. Physical conflict, extremely physical resolution. For the female gamer community this applies to…how much? 50? 75? 10? Therein lies the problem. When writing for a female protag, you’ve got guys guessing, and hoping it works. It worked with Samus, as she was in the armor until a certain point. It worked for Lara, because she was considered a british indiana jones with tits. They weren’t gambles, so to speak, as Lara’s focus was obviously her breasts, and with Samus, you had to get really damn good to see she was a chick. Everyone else WAS a gamble. Gambles that paid off or not.

Your Plot Device is Turning Me On - Part 3

Are we still at a point where we are gambling on these things? Really? With ALL the data we have, all the women we have actually PLAYING and READING and BUYING the media – why the hell does no one just…I don’t know, focus group this stuff before spoon feeding us the same tired crap all wrapped up in a new package?

Why? Of yeah – because people are buying the games (sometimes in alarming billion dollar quantities) without them doing it. We all forget sometimes that this media that is so personal to most of us, and so very life impacting – is, at the end of the day, a business. We don’t give them money, they don’t have games to sell. That or they have to actually retool some things in order to play to the incredibly different demographic that exists today than did twenty, ten or even five years ago.

When I first started gaming, even in MMO’s it was rare to meet another female player (not a female avatar because A LOT of those are played by men) And now you can’t throw a gold coin without it smacking a woman and bouncing off another one. We are Legion. We are coming to make your games more interesting,

Sarkeesian’s attempt at concocting a female power fantasy, I can say, as a woman was still flawed. Some of us really like bowing shit up too. Some of us like to shoot out enemies until they are bleeding and dead. Some of us don’t want to go and negotiate and talk through conflict resolution. In fact – Some of us are expected to do that enough in our REAL LIVES that when we go into the pixelated versions of ourselves, we want to go and BLOW SOMETHING UP.

Your Plot Device is Turning Me On - Part 3

The interesting problem here though, is that if you were to concoct a game that played to the female power fantasy – which fantasy would you pick? Unlike a lot of male power fantasies, which we have been spoon fed enough to know it is about killing something, fucking something and saving something – Female fantasies, especially female power fantasies are WIDELY varied and just as different and complex as the women themselves. Surprise kids – women and men really do think differently.

I’m all for the realm of Gor (Hahaha no I’m not I can’t even believe that’s still a thing). But we’ve seen places where we’ve had proper female possibilities for fantasy and power, without sacrificing what we all really want- something to lust over, or fantasize. Dragon’s Crown, Skyrim, plenty of MMOs, the Smash Bros’ games to a degree. Women kicked ass, and had a great ass while doing it. It’s NOT impossible to do, we’re certain of that. The problem is, doing it consistently.

– Lexxx ~ Bio

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9 Responses to “Your Plot Device is Turning Me On – Part 3”

  1. Raven Buchwald says:

    Well, I really liked this writing about how the original female protagonists were given being shown as “Indiana Jones with tits” but you forgot the ass part! I was laughing here and there at it and thought this seems like it could be onto something!

    The anime industry also has a heavy yet awkward spotlight on females, some of them being shown as powerful but most being depicted as inferior. It’s amusing… Most anime tend to be predictable and extremely repetitive as you switch from series to series.

    There are also characters like Cortana in Halo whom the Protagonist come to heavily rely on. Were it not for that single character to guide the player through, they would never have sequels. There would be nothing to get attached to.

  2. Scond says:

    AS much as i love strong sexy female protagonists, two things are often sacrificed, a character of any kind, or a story. i am a story junkie, its essentially the next more important thing next to the game actually working. while i appreciate the strength of characters like Amazon/Sorceress i don’t know of any real development in their characters, now granted their game is a side scrolling beatumup adventure, but still alittle back-story at least. Samus and Laura’s story’s dont really get told until a second game as to their motivations. they’re both hunters, Samus hunts bounties, Laura hunts treasure simple enough. I think there have been characters that look great, are powerful and dont have shit taken from their stories.

    All around great articular, cant wait for another!

  3. SirChazbot says:

    I think the failure for Samus is a failure for the writers to understand the character that existed. It must have been very easy to think “Hmmm not much dialogue to speak of in previous games, the world is well detailed but Samus herself is a blank slate! Let’s go!” They never really understood that some logical things had to flow from those other games in the series. The first is that she’s chosen what’s essentially a lonely position. Any bounty hunter working solo is very much alone; we see that with modern examples. There’s a level of distrust so inherent to the business that you don’t really let people get close. And the level of tools and equipment she brings to that job prove that she has been very, very good at it. Bounty hunting requires reputation, too. She has to be known for getting the job done, regardless of other concerns. We can theorize that this may be to the detriment of other “normal” things. She may not be good at any games, and small talk may be a particular agony.

    Lets be blunt, Samus Aran should have been Boba Fett, but better.

    Without the Fettster’s daddy issues and the revenge motive. Just a businesswoman, focused on her task. And the fact that we didn’t get that means, essentially, that no one on the writing staff really said to themselves, “Guys [and as I understand it, they were largely guys] maybe she’s not SAYING anything, but there’s a lot of story in just the way she interacts with the world here, maybe we shouldn’t be so fast to cast her in this new mold without a lot of look at the old.”

    I can’t speak to Lara Croft, for I hath never a fine tombe beraided. But Samus at least could have been SO MUCH MORE!

  4. Lexxx says:

    @Scond I definitely agree. As a writer and all around fan of RPG’s the story is one of the most important things IN a game – especially one with a female protagonist. I think that the story in more than a lot of these games is what is lacking severely and stopping them from being “Great” Games. All in all – I see a lot of really one or two dimensional characters that try and coast by on the “novelty” of being a female main. That just isn’t good enough for me anymore. I want to see dynamic women. I want to see less gimmicks and more actual power behind it. I want to see dimension.

  5. Lexxx says:

    @Raven – I love that you touched on the Anime thing because while we were writing this article – that came up A LOT.

    And Cortana – for being MOSTLY incorporeal and gradual serious hotness factor is actually one of my favorites. I just wish they would do more with her and honestly make her a character that ISN’T dependent upon the male protagonists to do things. She has SUCH badass potential.

  6. Musical Anti Hero says:

    Agreed with all of this, with the female developers, players, etcetera we have in the market, why are we ignoring them or drowning them out when it comes to game and character development?

    On my channel right now (#YouTube4Lyfe) I’m playing through Tomb Raider 2013 and Lara Croft (taking the fact that this is apparently her origins into account) is really pitiful as a character. One moment she’s calm, collected, and thought provoking, and when something happens she FREAKS RIGHT THE FLYING F*CK OUT BECAUSE F*CK IT!

    It often doesn’t make sense from a character stand-point; it is a solid game, but as a writer this drives me nuts. Completely. I’ll be looking at all the credits for a female writer, just to see whether or not thought was applied to this.

  7. SirChazbot says:

    Also, to the larger point; I cross-game quite a lot. My Shepard is always FemShep and it weirds me out when I read male pronouns ascribed to her. (In fairness, it also weirds me out when I hear about the other Virmire survivor, Renegade options, etc.). I don’t feel like being female necessarily played into the game, though. There is one moment in ME3 that does work on that dynamic, between Shepard and Garrus; it is easily the most heartbreakingly perfect line deliver. I don’t think that’s bad for the series.

    A: I understand the more you differentiate the two, the more work multiplies, costs go up, etc.
    B: Two military persons, of differing genders, still likely approach work in very similar ways. Let’s be frank, the meme “Break you down and build you into the individual the organization needs you to be” DOES have some basis in fact.

    In general, for Mass Effect, I feel like what I saw was a realistic portrayal of a woman in circumstances that are extreme and really winnow out the sort of male/female dichotomy in our culture in favor of efficiency and control. However, I would argue that this, the basis of a lot of military paradigms, while useful feels more masculine than feminine. This is a feeling and I am certain I’m treading on some dangerous implications here.

    In MMOs it’s somewhat different. I cross-played in WoW for a long time, but gender meant even less there. My female tankadin could easily have been a male with only the Valentine’s Day events (and the awesome pirate outfit I had) any different.

    I cross-play in TOR sometimes as well, where there are romantic options etc. but frankly TOR has always felt like the weak-tea version of Mass Effect – Similar conversation style but much broader (that is to say that the characterization is broad and stereotypical, everything lacks DEPTH).

    While I feel like the programmed experiences of these characters was a little light, it was the UNPROGRAMMED experiences that I think have highlighted for me issues of feminism and reputation. I had a quite good friend who didn’t know my gender outside the game, and we got into a very public argument about the value of representation, which lead to a discussion of the rape culture, and though I would never claim I feel these things as deeply as a woman who must always deal with them, I certainly felt the sense of attack and condemnation from someone I’d considered to be a good friend. When more or less all of the men came in on his side? I understood far better why women drop out of groups like that.

    All of this doesn’t really hit on the central point, however, which is that to have a genuinely female experience in a game brings up a question I can’t answer: what is it to be female, culturally? I don’t know what it is to be male, and I happen to be one; I’d not dream of trying to create a feminine experience. I am certain the answer lies in part with greater representation of women on the creative side, and I am further certain there are a lot of women eager for those roles.

  8. GLCORP says:

    Another good read Lexxx, I am waiting for that day when a strong female character is put in a game to appeal to a strong female. However the sad fact remains that until one of the big game companies takes the risk and truly markets something like that we will always be left with the strong female character through the eyes of men.

  9. Lord Redek says:

    One of my favorite FPS characters is Joanna Dark from Perfect Dark. Perfect Dark was such a awesome game with a excellent atmosphere. And what added to that atmosphere the best was Joanna. The game without a doubt would not of been the same if you where playing as a male character. And whst made it work was the fact that the gender of Joanna wasn’t drawn out into the plot. It wasn’t like ” Look we have this chick with guns! Let’s base our entire story on this! “. And then Microsoft had too go buy Rare and then kill of Perfect Dark and Joanna with that game know as ” Perfect Dark: Zero. ” I’m getting angry now so I’m going yo finish this comment.