Feminist Moments in Video Games …

So, Anita Sarkeesian was asked to list some of her favourite moments in video games. She came up with five. What’s noteworthy about the list is that only two of them deal with what feminism is actually about — gender equality — and are examples that, reading her description of them, are essentially “And this game has a female protagonist”. The others are essentially about other forms of inclusivity, and while yes I have heard about intersection I don’t think that intersection means that you get to claim issues in those other areas as rightly being specifically feminist, especially considering the issues that feminism itself has had with inclusiveness wrt some of those areas. Anyway, the last two aim at LGBT issues that happen to involve female characters, while “Thomas Was Alone” seems to aim at general diversity in a manner precisely like we’ve seen over and over and over again in most cartoons, as by her description it’s essentially a “character is different and can’t do what the others can do but discovers that they have a different talent that becomes incredibly useful and saves the day!” kind of thing.

Suffice it to say that these examples are particularly impressive.

So, it got me thinking, and I decided that I, despite having only a casual interest in both video games and feminism, would create my own list. I’m not going to say how long it is, but it will be at least five and will have examples at least as impressive as hers, if not more so. These are in no particular order.

AD&D inspired games: Because they were based on the original PnP D&D system, pretty much from the start they allowed players to create female characters, and thus potentially all female parties. I don’t know if the Gold Box games ever got to the point where they dropped the difference between the genders in at least human characters (I think that went out in 3.5 or somewhere around there, but can’t track that down), but by the time Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate arrived on the scene for at least human characters the games were explicitly pointing out that the difference was cosmetic, not functional, meaning that you could put either a male or female character in any role you wanted, from front line fighter to fragile mage. Gender didn’t matter. And this was incredibly important for a number of reasons. The first is that because the popularity of these games had an impact on the other RPGs that existed at the time, and seems to me to be one reason why most of the other RPG series — like Wizardry and Might and Magic — went with the same sort of model. Even if they weren’t inspired by the games, they definitely were inspired in some way by the PnP system that created them. Thus, this inspiration and how dominant these games were as RPG series made it so that a Western RPG that doesn’t allow for the player to create their character(s) with the gender of their choice is considered limited compared to its companions, which would even extend to series like the Elder Scrolls, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, among others. You can compare Western RPGs to either JRPGs or FPSs and see just how dramatic a shift in attitude exists there.

Bioware RPGs: While the AD&D inspired games created a fantasy world where the difference between a male and female character was merely cosmetic, Bioware, moving on from Baldur’s Gate, created fantasy and sci-fi worlds where the difference between a male and female character mattered, but not in terms of functionality. Female characters still didn’t have any mechanical differences from male characters, but the relationships they could have were different. Starting from Knights of the Old Republic, where a dark side female character that romances Carth could get an extra and potentially satisfying scene for those who hated Carth, through Sith Lords and into games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, female characters were not only seen as objects of desire, but were able to express romantic impulses of their own … and, more importantly, to choose to not do that. Which has carried over quite dramatically to The Old Republic, as those sorts of romances are a big part of the game and even was a selling point for at least some gamers.

Dragon Age: Origins, Female City Elf Starting Story: Essentially, in this story a woman rises up against an oppressive Lord who wanted to rape her and some of her friends, fights her way out of captivity, and rescues herself and them. No damsel in distress, this. Since Sarkessian was impressed by a game where a character was thrown a staff and told to free herself, surely she’d be more impressed by one that was thrown a sword and saved herself and everyone else. I talk more about this scene here.

X-men: Madness in Murderworld: This one is no where near as impressive as the others, but as it does feature the X-Men, it features two popular female characters, Storm and Dazzler, whose powers are necessary to advance in the game and who can easily engage in melee combat without being considered weaker in any way, as far as I remember. It also was a departure from the other Paragon games which didn’t feature any female main characters, which was also true of many of the other Marvel franchises, like Avengers.

X-Men Arcade Game: Which means I should add this one, as it had the same line-up as “Madness in Murderworld” which was a contrast to the Avengers arcade game that preceded it.

Fatal Frame series: A horror series that really promotes a competent, brave and yet still vulnerable female lead, which is a contrast to a game like Clocktower 3 which presented the female character as much more frightened and panicked. It also has more female protagonists than male by a large margin. I’ve gushed about the protagonist before.

Suikoden III: A playable female character that you can make the main character by giving her the main Rune of the game.

Silent Hill 3: The first playable female character in the series, it follows on from the original and was the inspiration for “Silent Hill: Revelation”, which is the movie that actually does, in my opinion, the lore of Silent Hill the best of the two movies.

Final Fantasy X-2: They’ve had female protagonists after and might have had them before, but putting aside the dress sphere system that made it seem like dress-up, this game features three strong and popular female characters.

Persona 3 PSP: The first game in the series to allow you to choose to play as a female protagonist, despite the fact that this required a lot of rework. And while people may criticize it for some of its changes and possibly for introducing the ability to save a male character through love — a typical female trope — I don’t find at least the last one problematic, because the notion was introduced with a male character in the regular game. In that instance, all the main character can do is encourage Junpei, and can’t do it directly, while in this case the main character can do it herself. It’s still landmark, especially considering that it was done to satisfy the requests of fans.

Ms. Pac-Man: Putting aside that Sarkeesian uses this as an example of a “Ms. Male Character”, at the time it not only was an instance of a female character, but even had more actually characterization in her model than the original Pac-Man had.

Note that, in general, it looks like Sarkeesian’s examples are of moments inside a specific game, while my examples actually aim at moments in the history of video games. I’d feel bad about that, except that the article itself is titled as being about the history of video games, and Sarkeesian’s examples often talk about the game overall and then grab one moment to highlight. Anyway, this post is about feminist moments in video game history, and are all about gender equality.



2 Responses to “Feminist Moments in Video Games …”

  1. Neio Says:

    Pokémon, whenever it started getting worse?

    Is this not in the correct subculture?


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