Out of the Kitchen (And Into the Fire): Female Protagonists in the World of Gaming

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Author’s Note: I’m writing this article both as entertainment and a way to introduce something odd I’ve found lately in video games. Jokes will be told, ideas will be lightly obscured, and sandwiches will probably not be made. Take the humor lightly folks, and instead read the article for the point made.

…Besides, what do I know? I’m just a stupid man.

Women have come a long way throughout society. As they’ve left their kitchens (without making me a sandwich!), put on shoes, and begun to slowly conquer the world by showing men just how wrong they are the fairer sex has invaded every section of the world that was formerly a boy’s club with sexy, smart outfits and “Warm N’ Fuzzy” women’s logic.

They’re even allowed to vote now! Crazy, right?

Beyond that, as more females have donned the “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better” approach to life, we’ve seen them excel in ways that men never could. Women have proven over the past sixty-plus years that they certainly can do everything we as barbaric, meathead men can do — not because they share our same strengths and weaknesses, but because they have the ability to approach those same problems not only with a fresh outlook (and cute shoes) but in different ways than we’re able to.

It’s probably at this point in the article that you’re wondering what the infinite battle between the sexes has to do with videogames and, better yet, if I’m clinically insane for attempting to write this.

While the answer to the latter is most definitely in the affirmative, the first is a bit more challenging.

As gaming has evolved closer and closer towards the pinnacle of realism that every developer strives for, one thing has itched at the back of my head — one little detail that seems to slip through the cracks as graphics improve, violence becomes more, well…violent, and the entire experience that we interact with on our consoles (or PCs) of choice becomes more like something we could experience any day of the week instead of in our wildest dreams:

Female main characters do everything like their male counterparts.

Of course, this isn’t the case for every female lead; Final Fantasy XIII, Heavenly Sword, and even Super Princess Peach all have females in unique, strong roles that — although still a bit over sexed in skimpy armor (or frilly pink dress) that in no way would protect ample bosom (or vital organs underneath) – can define a clear separation of gender abilities. These games, while certainly delivering good graphics, dwell purely in fantasy; they don’t make you eat to survive, don’t have you specializing in speech-craft, and don’t attempt to give you a look at “an actual day in the life of a hero” – in other words, at no point do they ever strive for realism in these titles save for aesthetics.

At the opposite end of that spectrum, we see games like Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls V allowing you to don armor (or form-fitting spacesuits) as children of Venus for little more reason than to give you a shapelier figure to look at from behind – these are games that dwell in realism to an extent; the weight of your inventory, what time it is in the game, and a number of other things that are real-life worries actually affect your gameplay experience.

These games strive for realism in graphics, during combat, and offer up soaring, moving instrumentals that really make you feel like you’re a part of the action but are ok with giving you the graphical equivalent of a transsexual to play with – they might look like ladies, but when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it all they’re exactly like their male counterparts; dialogue choices and actions taken still lean heavily towards the masculine with very little (if any) change between the genders. In Bethesda’s newest installment of the Elder Scrolls series, they recognized that I was a Redguard (a race of character that just so happens to be black), but never once commented about me being a woman.

While that sounds like a good (albeit slightly racist) thing, in what medieval world would that actually happen? Better yet, in what time period ever would someone not make a sexist comment towards a female character wielding a sword bigger than her?

But, just like anything else, it always comes down to popular opinion. The games industry is still a boy’s club (though that is slowly changing), and with that masculine worldview comes the idea that men do everything correctly. So, what do you think? Should female characters be transformed into different characters than their male counterparts, or is that too much work, time, and money to sink into yet another feature?

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