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 NSFWGamer.com ~
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!”
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.
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.
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