By Ray L Martin
Editor at Large
7th August 2012, 15:03 GMT
As both a critic of mainstream media and a gaming buff, I still find myself very concerned about how various sexual and ethnic images are portrayed in gaming media. Now I know there are some out there who are reading this and thinking to themselves “these are just video games, so who cares?” – Well I’m here to tell you that video gaming is a multibillion dollar industry which rivals traditional mainstream media outlets – and like tradition media outlets, modern video games often depict women in roles and situations that are less than dignified.
Then there are games which portray women in more stately roles, but often work in the interests of the patriarchal or authoritarian establishment i.e., federal agents, military personnel, police officers, etc.
There are very few female characters out there that are both empowered and feminist. So I decided to do some searching in order to find a least five feminist game characters.
Actually, I know of no game characters that actively promote feminism. That said – I do believe that there are some characters that imbue some elements that challenge sexist perceptions. So in the absence of traditional feminist roles, how does one create a list of feminist game characters? The best way to formulate this is to establish a set of criteria that best reflect feminist ideology. So it goes as follows:-
- Fights for a Noble Cause: The character would have to fight for a cause that is just and noble, which is a rather broad term and ultimately, if the character’s role is to destroy evil, then virtually every female character’s cause is noble. But for a character’s motives to be considered feminist, certain “self-serving” interests would not apply. This means that one who fights for money, fame or power over others could never be considered a feminist game character, as this is more in keeping with historically male philosophies.
- Own Philosophy of Life: It is important for a woman to have her own mission and purpose in life; that men and in general patriarchy do not define these foundations for her. The same is true with a female character. When the female lead plots her course for the game, it’s done by her will.
The lead should have complete control over her actions and her actions should never be defined by the state, an agency or any other type of patriarchal institution.
She should have sole discretion over her decisions as well as be able to manifest her own destiny.
- Sexy yet Dignified: Once it is established that the lead is both fighting for a just cause and is in complete control over her decisions, the lead should appear strong and dignified; in other words, no form of sexual objectification is allowed for this character. While this is not exactly a dominant requirement for all waves of feminists, in a video game world filled with huge breasted women with tight skirts and bikinis, it helps that a strong female lead is also the least exposed and visually exploited.
Now that we have established the criteria, the number 5 game is as follows:
Heather Mason is the daughter of Harry Mason, the protagonist from the first game. While Silent Hill 3 is not one of my favourite horror games – for plot and characters tend to be poorly constructed – I must say that the game does an adequate job of sort of “feminizing” the series a bit. Taking place several years after the first, Heather is now a typical, headstrong, stubborn teenager who doesn’t like to be told what to do by anyone – and this is best demonstrated in the first five minutes of the game. As the game progresses, Heather notices that some horrific changes have occurred around her town (primarily, it becomes infested with monstrous creatures). Heather attempts to rush home to her dad – all the while killing and evading monsters along the way. When she finally arrives home, she finds her father lying dead on his chair, filled with puncture wounds from a monster’s blade.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is not exactly the strongest when it comes to plot development, yet I was somewhat impressed by Heather’s character transformation – going from a somewhat a-typical brat to a strong-willed young woman with a sense of duty to avenge her father from a senseless, unjust death. These kinds of transformations are more common among male characters in media as a whole, so to see such a transformation in a game was refreshing. There are times throughout the game where typical adolescence filters in and Heather shows her vulnerability and confusion, at which point, a private investigator shows up periodically to assist her during these moments. Again, I didn’t write this story. But for the most part, Heather is her own woman who chooses her own actions and manages to muster enough courage and will to make it through to the final chapter – vanquishing the leader responsible for this madness.
When the game isn’t busy trying to scare you to death, it presents you with a sort of female indie rock theme to the table; like Juno meets The Shining.
Heather wears regular plain clothes – a jacket and a skirt – which is quite refreshing considering most female leads of the genre are required to promote some sort of sex appeal, and teenagers are especially not immune to this.
To see a young girl mature into a woman with a mission makes this a feminist character to note.
Stay tuned for the number 4 Feminist!