Anita Sarkeesian’s Kickstarter project has kicked a hornets’ nest in the process. Her proposed series of videos on women tropes in gaming has invoked the ire of gamers everywhere, resulting in everything from insults to death threats.
It’s what we’ve come to expect from certain circles of the Internet, but let’s take a step back.
Sarkeesian is strongly emphasising the point that females are primarily represented as sexual objects with little to no substance. Her Kickstarter image references characters such as the grossly disproportionate ninja Mai Shiranui from The King of Fighters and the eternal damsel in distress Princess Peach. Yes, I agree that these characters are over-sexualised or adhere to certain stereotypes, but I feel like the perspective of her proposed series is heavily skewed.
She promises to discuss characters that oppose the standard cliche, and in her video she made reference to Chell from Portal 2. Unfortunately, Chell is a poor example of a strong female character in a video game. Despite her perseverance through adversity that comes with being trapped with a homicidal AI, there aren’t really any definable personality traits that identify Chell as a woman. The only indication the player receives that their character is female is when they happen to see Chell’s body at a certain angle through a portal. That’s it. The player could have been controlling a rotting 2×4 with a portal gun and would have otherwise been none the wiser.
Here is a better list of examples showing strong, capable women in video games. Instead of beating on current negative representations, let’s encourage the positive ones.
1. Faith (Mirror’s Edge)
Despite a lack of coherent story, Mirror’s Edge was an interesting concept for a non-confrontational First Person Action title. Rather than charge in guns akimbo, you’re expected to use speed and reflexes to elude your pursuers. Faith does a great job playing the role of a determined messenger – she is capable of handling herself in bad situations without blimp-sized mammaries or high-heeled boots. Faith can give and take punishment, and doesn’t rely on a miniskirt to get you on board. A great role model for other strong female characters.
2. Anya (Gears of War 3)
An unlikely candidate, but the final game of the series underscores the point that women can also take up arms and fight when their homes are threatened. Anya, previously an intelligence officer with a tight ponytail, chooses to don some oversized armour and rub shoulders with the rest of the boys. She’s not alone, either: there are other female Gears that know their way around a Lancer. Surprisingly, Gears of War 3 turned out to be an example of equality not normally seen in video games.
3. Jade (Beyond Good and Evil)
Beyond Good and Evil was a commerical failure, yet it is regarded as an excellent action RPG. Female hero Jade has all the hallmarks of a Disney heroine: fiercely independent, highly capable, lacking in overt sexualisation, and perseverance through tragedy. Her quest to uncover the truth behind a series of human abductions reveals a character and personality that actually you actually care about as you play. Jade is one of gaming’s greatest triumphs for female representation.
4. Alyx Vance (Half Life 2)
Alyx holds several similarities to Jade, from the boyish looks to the inclinations to incite revolution. What’s remarkable about Alyx is her capability. She is inspirational and demonstrates leadership. She is intelligent and resourceful. She’s attractive, but she isn’t constantly in your face about it. Most importantly of all, she and Dog manage to drag Freeman’s ass out of trouble on more than one occasion. The female support for one of gaming’s greatest game just so happens to not be a complete dead weight. Freeman lucked out.
5. Commander Shepherd (Mass Effect)
The notion that you could have a female character in Mass Effect is not an uncommon one across games, yet it was incredibly progressive in this case. Suddenly, gamers were presented with a female character that could broker intergalactic peace, protect the innocent, fight with conviction, lead with authority, and yet be fallible. But what made the FemShep experience remarkable was that the universe accepted that a female human would be capable of doing these things. Whether this was intentional or due to technical constraints, it’s heartening. (GamesRadar have a nice feature on this phenomenon.) She was hardly an unpopular choice, either – 18% of gamers went with FemShep for their campaign, and several gamers praised Jennifer Hale’s voice acting to bring the character to life.
If there was ever an argument for female leads have more presence in games, Mass Effect has one of the strongest female leads around.