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Old 03-10-2013   #1
Don Chipotle
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Why aren't there any good female leads in games?

Sorry if this sounds like a Kotaku article but whatever.

So I've been playing the new Tomb Raider (which is a pretty damn good game even though there are no actual tombs to be raided) and that game came under a lot of fire before its release. You remember, right? The vaguely sexist comments by the developers saying how you would want to protect and comfort Lara (fucking untrue, she is pretty god damn ruthless in the game) and that whole "do a qte to not get raped" shit that happened (which wasn't even what happened, he wasn't threatening to rape her he was savoring his fucking kill before he killed).

Then there was the whole shit about how it's fine because the game was written be a woman and oh god the internet is stupid.

But this whole Tomb Raider/Lara Croft shit got me thinking.

Why aren't there any good female leads in video games?

When you really think about it how many female leads are there that are actually good, fully developed, interesting characters.

For the longest time the go-to answer was Samus but nah, that don't fly. Samus was never much of a character before...let's say Fusion. I mean sure I guess there's something there about how she was strong despite her gender but then you remember Other M exists and turns her into a literal submissive and whiny joke of a character. So she's out.

Bayonetta is not a good female lead so don't even mention her.

Why do video games struggle with the whole "female lead character" thing? I mean, yeah sure the gaming community is pre-dominantly male but why should that matter.

The best female character I can think of in a game is Kreia. She may as well be the lead for her importance to the game.

But seriously, when are we going to get an actual strong, non-cliche female lead? One that isn't just eye candy and lovey dovey.

For that matter why haven't we gotten one yet?
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Old 03-10-2013   #2
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Havent played much of the game but I think you're forgetting Jade.

The main problem is that women don't go into game design enough. This isn't some sexist consipracy that the male dominated industry has cooked up, they just don't seem to view it as a legitimate path to take, or don't want to be surrounded by lonely guys all the time. In all my CIS and game design classes, there's been one woman, and she left mid-semester to focus on art instead.

The most important thing when having this discussion is to recognize there are, in fact, differences between men and women outside of sexual traits. Women are highly emotion-driven, and this doesn't translate well in a logic-based industry. And so since there is zero estrogen in their field, it's harder to be able to relate with them and portray them respectfully in games.

Then factor in that 90% of games don't give a shit anyway and just put the women there for sales and you see why there's such a low success rate of female characters.
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Old 03-10-2013   #3
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I think part of the issue is how poorly-defined "strong female lead" actually is.

Think about the sheer magnitude of male leads. Think of all the roles, niches, personalities, scenarios, worlds, eras, and ages they've encompassed. What is defined as a "good" MALE lead? Is a "good" character one that is all strong and has problems but solves them, or one that fits their story and setting properly? Does the female lead in question have to be an adult female within a certain age range, fitting a certain set of pre-conceived notions about what constitutes "good?"

A game with a female lead who is strong and solves problems and is competent could be just as well-written and effective as one with a submissive, emotional disaster of a teenage girl making a mess of things. And of course, they'e just as susceptible to being bland, under-developed, or just shitty all-around as men are, with tautological "she is strong because she is strong" type 'character development.'

Do the people calling for better female leads want honest, realistic female characters, or just to take the well-written male characters and stick them in a female body? Because that encounters the problem in the assumption that the equivalent male character would be any more realistic or relevant to people than the female one is.


And this is just a short list of games that come to mind with a female lead of varying flavors:
-Parasite Eve
-Wild ARMs 3
-Suikoden III (well, 1/3 female lead)
-Phantom Brave
-Xenosaga


I'll leave it to you to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of the leads of these games for now.
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Old 03-10-2013   #4
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Originally Posted by Yvl View Post
Havent played much of the game but I think you're forgetting Jade.
Well that's one.


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The main problem is that women don't go into game design enough.
I don't really see why a lack of women should be a deterrent in writing and creating a female character. Men have written great female characters in other mediums, hell the character in my sig is an example of that. Joss Whedon has made a career out of it, though without the 'great' part.

A woman wrote the new Tomb Raider and Lara Croft is not better off for it. Like yeah she has an arc and is better off for it but the game has such a large disconnect between her reactions and the happenings on screen that it practically ruins the character. But that's more of a gameplay perspective and not a story telling one.

But you bring this up and all I am reminded of is that Jade Raymond comic back when the first Assassin's Creed game came out. And the whole Jennifer Hepler thing. Sometimes, and I admit I am generalizing here, it feels like gamers are running one of those "NO WOMEN ALLOWED" clubs that kids had back when they thought cooties were a thing.

This type of stuff is why I am interested in the Anita Sarkessian stuff. When she isn't grasping for misogyny when there isn't any, anyway.



Oh wait, I thought of another great female character. Kaine from Nier.


Does it count if she has a penis, though?
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Old 03-10-2013   #5
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I can name a lot of good female characters. I just can't name good female LEADS. As in, I can name very good supporting females, and even females with a degree of story emphasis, but never a good female "main character," really.


One example that comes to mind is Ellis from Record of Agarest War.

The game basically opens with her as a child, and Leonhardt, the "first" main character (the game has a generation system) betraying his forces to save her from his own men, due to being an elf in a war largely coming down to a human nation vs a nation of elves. So right away things don't look good, she's just a plot device to change the main character's allegiance and make him rebel against a corrupt power, right? And she'll also surely be a powerul mage (check) possibly a summoner (check; she technically only has one summon who's permanently with you as a party member, but she DID summon him) and fall in love with her rescuer? (check.) Things really not looking good for her so far, right?

Well here's the catch. Leonhardt literally dies saving her, and is only revived by the literal power of a god, through a mysterious woman named Dyshana. Dyshana is calculating and devoid of much emotion. And Leonhardt is now her property. Her goal is to let him do his thing, and then effectively sacrifice him. But not before forcing him to have a child she can continue to use for her own ends. And this cycle of Leonhardt's descendants being raised as cattle to the slaughter was all Ellis's fault. As she raises each child (a promise she made to Leonhardt, before he died) she knows that they'll die young, not knowing their child. And it's a guilt she carries with her every day of her life, as revealed by one scene in the 4th generation where Ellis comments on something, and Dyshana flat out tells her that it's all her fault in the first place, and she has no one to blame but herself. Ellis doesn't even have an angry retort - she knows Dyshana is right.

Ellis is a multifaceted character. While so far she might seem like one of those "too good to be true, angel on earth" types, from her devotion to generations of children from her love for one man, it's worth noting that she gets pissed. A lot. Her emotions are played straight and par for the course. While admittedly, as a child, her efforts at keeping a smile when things get rough seem cliche, as she gets older and learns not to just act the way others want her to, well... she might be one of the kindest members of the group, but she's also one of the first to express outrage. She's not all smiles and sunshine, but she's not a rage-a-holic. She has her vices and weaknesses like anyone else (she gets drunk more than once, which is to be expected seeing as she's easily over 100 years old by the end of the game, assuming elves reach maturity as fast as humans, which seems laughable) and while she may be an overdoting foster mother at times, you can really see her frustration when the child doesn't turn out as planned (Thoma, the 3rd generation protagonist, is a huuuuge womanizer. Ellis regularly snaps at her foster son for hitting on her.)

All things considered, Ellis is far from what I'd call a "great" female character simply due to communication; the format of the game's presentation doesn't allow her a full reveal of her emotions or motivations, and a lot of it is basically inferred. To make matters worse, each generation focuses more on the protagonist and three possible love interests - so Ellis is largely mainly around for "main" story scenes but absent from a lot of the side events that actually add depth to the cast. But considering how she actually pulled at my heartstrings and got me emotionally invested in a "bad" (I love it and all, but the gameplay is too grindy/repetitive/blargh, I burned out hardcore and am unlikely to ever play it again) game? She does a lot right, even if she could be done better.


Sadly, most of the women that rise above just a stereotype don't get that much time in the sun. Take Anise from Tales of the Abyss. I swear she was designed to make me hate her. Until her arc late in the game. It threw me for a loop. Anise might very well be the best character in the game from a purely backstory/ reasoning standpoint, but it doesn't stop her from being that bitch you hate for 80% of the game, and once that growth happens, there's too little time to see it shine. (Anise was so good I did an Anise Solo Challenge playthrough and was so BS uber that I could kill the final boss in a single combo. And I don't mean goofy loops. I mean 7 basic hits - base - arcane - mystic - extension.)


I don't think the problem is the lack of decent females. The problem is that these women don't get enough time to show that they're not bad characters. Oh, and most of them being trapped in niche games doesn't help. The mainstream does have a distinct lack of good females.
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Old 03-10-2013   #6
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I think part of the issue is how poorly-defined "strong female lead" actually is.
When I say strong female lead I mean someone like an Ellen Ripley or a Lisbeth Salander. A woman who isn't just there to be ogled and sought after. A female who isn't just written as a male with tits (like, say, Shepard from Mass Effect). But at the same time a character like Neytiri or Katniss aren't strong female leads.

I don't just mean a woman who is physically strong otherwise I'd just say that any given Final Fantasy girl counts as a strong female lead.

A strong female character doesn't have to be an asskicking savior of the world, but she shouldn't just be a plucky sidekick eye candy either. I consider Sonmi-451 to be a great female lead and she never fires a gun or utters a one-liner.

But then again I have kind of a thing for those physically strong dominating types of girls. It's why I like Sully from Fire Emblem so damn much and also why I like characters like Tatsuki Arisawa. But those are strong female characters and not strong female characters.



Quote:
Think about the sheer magnitude of male leads. Think of all the roles, niches, personalities, scenarios, worlds, eras, and ages they've encompassed. What is defined as a "good" MALE lead? Is a "good" character one that is all strong and has problems but solves them, or one that fits their story and setting properly? Does the female lead in question have to be an adult female within a certain age range, fitting a certain set of pre-conceived notions about what constitutes "good?"
Age doesn't matter in a female lead. Clementine is eight years old and is a female (and child) lead.

Why can't a good character be both a problem solver and fitting the world he/she comes from? Father from Nier is both of these. He is physically strong but also strong as a character.

Too often 'good character' becomes synonymous with 'memorable character'. They aren't the same thing. Mario is a memorable character. Link is a memorable character. Lara Croft is a memorable character. Jill Valentine is a memorable character. They aren't good characters.

Quote:
A game with a female lead who is strong and solves problems and is competent could be just as well-written and effective as one with a submissive, emotional disaster of a teenage girl making a mess of things. And of course, they'e just as susceptible to being bland, under-developed, or just shitty all-around as men are, with tautological "she is strong because she is strong" type 'character development.'
This is exactly what they do with the new Tomb Raider and I am sorry for using this as my point of reference but it is fresh in my head still. Lara is tasked with solving every single problem in that game through increasingly ham-handed reasons. She is presented as being this tough problem solver who always saves the day. But at the same time they present her as this mopey wreck of a person who constantly looks towards the male characters for help. It is some weird combination of female empowerment and damsel in distress.

You're right that a good female lead character doesn't have to just be one of those problem solving hero types. But more often than not in video games the female is kicked to the side and given the barest strand of a personality and that's enough. Like Faye from Binary Domain. She is the love interest and the only character she has is "She looks like a porn star" (actual line of dialog in Binary Domain) and "She can shoot a gun good."

Look at any given female main character in a game these days. Most of the time they are just different versions of a Kratos or Dante. Or they are like Lightning.



Quote:
Do the people calling for better female leads want honest, realistic female characters, or just to take the well-written male characters and stick them in a female body? Because that encounters the problem in the assumption that the equivalent male character would be any more realistic or relevant to people than the female one is.
A female in a male body is how you get characters like Shepard or Nariko. When it comes to a female lead I'd be happy just getting a female character who has more development and actual character than what is presented on the surface.

Also it'd be real nice if they could stop using "survived childhood sexual abuse" or "survived sexual abuse" as a means of empowering a female character because god damn that is the wrong way to go about everything.


Quote:
And this is just a short list of games that come to mind with a female lead of varying flavors:
-Parasite Eve
-Wild ARMs 3
-Suikoden III (well, 1/3 female lead)
-Phantom Brave
-Xenosaga


I'll leave it to you to discuss the merits (or lack thereof) of the leads of these games for now.
Aya Brea might be considered if The 3rd Birthday didn't take a massive dump on what actual depth and interesting personality she had.

I can't speak for the next three.

Who is the female lead in Xenosaga because if you say Shion I will probably kill myself with laughter.

---------- Post added at 07:59 PM ---------- Previous post was at 07:58 PM ----------

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I can name a lot of good female characters. I just can't name good female LEADS. As in, I can name very good supporting females, and even females with a degree of story emphasis, but never a good female "main character," really.
The only two good female leads I can think of off the bat are Jade and Kaine.


And I hesitate to call Kaine a female because technically Kaine is an it.


Well shit now I sound like a bigot.
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Old 03-10-2013   #7
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Aya Brea might be considered if The 3rd Birthday didn't take a massive dump on what actual depth and interesting personality she had.
I can't speak for the next three.
Who is the female lead in Xenosaga because if you say Shion I will probably kill myself with laughter.
Well, we could always look at the games individually, and this ignore games like The 3rd Birthday (which I haven't played, anyways). Just because a single game might've ruined the character's overall depth and personality doesn't immediately destroy that character in previous games that don't factor in the bad game.

I only included Shion because I was listing games with female leads, not necessarily GOOD leads.

The other three:

Virginia (Wild ARMs 3) is a novice drifter (people that wander the world for a variety of reasons, from good to bad) who is naive and has a somewhat idealistic sense of "justice." Over the course of the game, she learns that the world isn't as black and white as she initially thought, and also learns how to assert herself and actually change the world, in whatever small ways she can, to help make her own vision for what the world should be work more effectively, while clashing with other people with other goals. She's supported by three males, though, but she's definitively the leader. Far from the "best" female lead, no doubt, but she's still portrayed as strong in her convictions, even if she starts out a complete greenhorn, and is competent enough in battle. One item of note is she doesn't seem to be designed to have sex appeal as one of her main aspects (at least not traditional "skimpy clothes and big boobs" sex appeal), and in fact has no real romantic aspects to her character at all. No potential relationships of any kind are even much hinted at, or any sexual tension between her and the guys that accompany her (or the enemies she fights).


Not gonna get into the other two because I don't recall enough about Chris to make an accurate description and I don't feel like typing up about Marona in Phantom Brave right now
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Old 03-10-2013   #8
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And this is just a short list of games that come to mind with a female lead of varying flavors:

-Phantom Brave
Holly is not a strong female protagonist.

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-Suikoden III (well, 1/3 female lead)
Yeah, Chris definitely counts. It's exactly what Droog is looking for.
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Old 03-10-2013   #9
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Holly is not a strong female protagonist.
Poor Holly. Though as I pointed out to Droog, it wasn't a list of STRONG female leads, just female leads at all. Though I'd argue that Marona does fairly well for a little girl, all things considered.

But still, poor Holly.


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Yeah, Chris definitely counts. It's exactly what Droog is looking for.
Yeah, she does, though she does have to share the lead role with two other male characters. Better than nothing, though, even considering that.
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Old 03-10-2013   #10
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I'm rather unwell today so I havent been able to give as much effort into my thoughts on this as I'd like, but a thought just occurred. What happens when you include antagonists, as well, or compare the two? I feel there are a ton more strong female antagonists than protagonists.
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