"The reason this topic has been so long in coming is that we've been waiting for the industry to provide us an example of a well-done female character."
March 14, 2011 7:59 AM   Subscribe

What it takes to write a great female video game character.
posted by EvaDestruction (284 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Can't watch; could someone summarize?
posted by Nixy at 8:06 AM on March 14, 2011



Can't watch; could someone summarize?


It's safe to assume that this is about polygon breasts.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:07 AM on March 14, 2011


Problem: almost all videogame characters (both sexes) are stupid caricatures of something. Waiting for an actually well-drawn female character is not really to point.

What we should be looking for is an example of a female character who is not just a stupid sexist caricature. How about Faith from Mirror's Edge? Pitfalls averted:

1. No romance subplot, so no suggestion that a woman needs a man. The central relationship is hers with her sister.
2. She doesn't have Maxim-model proportions or pose in sexual display.
3. She doesn't get rescued.

Actually Mirror's Edge is a wonderful game.

. . . and yeah maybe I shouldn't admit this but I don't watch long-form videos from sources with terrible average quality. Summary appreciated.
posted by grobstein at 8:10 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's a good essay. The video adds nothing. Hopefully a transcript will be provided by someone.
posted by odinsdream at 8:17 AM on March 14, 2011


Well, I did watch it all and unfortunately the narrator's quick, zippy presentation makes it extremely difficult for my brain to processes the points he's trying to make. It was something about gender in video games and the "genetic" & societal differences between men and women. I wish I could comment on the message instead of the presentation. I can't get the meaning of what he's saying before he's machine-gunning more words at me in that sped-up quasi-robot voice. When Yahtzee does it in his comedic reviews I can roll right along, but when that style is used to convey information it's very difficult for me to follow.
posted by BeerFilter at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2011


I'm going to go watch this, and then I'll come back and report on whether the commentator mentions Bonnie MacFarlane from Red Dead Redemption.

If they didn't, whatever their argument is, it loses a significant piece of credibility.
posted by pts at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


February's Hey Ash, Watcha Playin'? also discusses this topic in an erudite and insightful manner.
posted by Mizu at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This video is kind of a follow-up to this one.
posted by luvcraft at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2011


This is not a good essay.

After a stack of excuses why one hot button or another will be avoided entirely, the video posits that a truly great female character will reflect circumstances uniquely female (i.e., motherhood) and or pit the character against appropriate societal pressures. After tossing out a couple of half-considered game idea, it then cites the Metroid series as an example of a female character done well. After, the conclusion is that a truly great female character will reflect circumstances uniquely female (i.e., motherhood) and or pit the character against appropriate societal pressures.

So the video assumes a need, posits a possible solution, offers little to establish said need, even less to encourage adoption of change or establish a way forward for said solution, before concluding with a reiteration of the proposed solution.

Mrs Duffy, my AP World History teacher that taught me how to write an essay effectively, would call this effort nothing more than Bovine Scatology.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:23 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


What it takes to write a great female video game character.

1. Evil.
2. An awesome end song.
3. Cake. Moist, delicious cake.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:24 AM on March 14, 2011 [44 favorites]


Oddly enough, a seven minute monologue about the necessity of keeping male characters within a little box between the gender-conforming stereotype and the gender-rejecting stereotype would absurd. This whole thing seems ridiculously patronizing.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:26 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I actually enjoyed the video and was surprised that it was more than "hey female characters should have personality and not just tits". ++ for adding Jade as an example of a good female character.

Also, I would play the HELL out of that motherhood game he described. I imagine they could use some of the mechanics from Ico, hauling around some characters who can't defend themselves from attacks. Related Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin that's not the same one linked by Mizu.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:30 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is it about HUMAN females? Cuz ya know, Ms. Pac Man was friggin awesome.
posted by spicynuts at 8:30 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Motherhood???

Great, I eagerly await all the videogames that focus on fatherhood since, after all, it is a circumstance that is uniquely male!

This felt incredibly, incredibly patronizing. And useless.

Pro tip: to make a great female character, try switching the gender of any old male videogame hero. Odds are you'll get a fleshed out human character who happens to be female, rather than a fleshed out human character who was purposefully male.
posted by lydhre at 8:35 AM on March 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


This is not a good essay.

Fine, I take it back.
posted by odinsdream at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2011


we've been waiting for the industry to provide us an example of a well-done female character."

All these comments and not a single mention of the fact that Portal has two of them?
posted by DU at 8:36 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can't watch this on my phone, but I'll chime in with my nomination for a great female video game protagonist: Jade, from Beyond Good & Evil. Oh, and Commander Shepard from Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. If you played the ME games with a male hero you missed some great voice acting.

On preview: ah, I see Jade was mentioned. Good. That's a great game (albeit with some frustratingly wonky camera problems). Go play it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:37 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I thought Beyond Good and Evil was a terrible game. I got it just recently from steam and just, ugh. The setting was ridiculous, the characters were bland and forgettable and the game play was just lousy. I gave up on it when I got to the hovercraft level. Just horrifically badly designed. I don't understand why it's rated so highly.
posted by empath at 8:42 AM on March 14, 2011


All these comments and not a single mention of the fact that Portal has two of them?

Admit it: you wrote that comment before you even opened the thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:43 AM on March 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Gordon Freeman was the best female game character to date.

What's that, you say? Gordon was male? How do you know? He doesn't talk, and you don't really see him, so his gender is irrelevant. His internal monologue is whatever you bring to the table. Which, if you think about it, is the entire point of an immersive game experience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:46 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Commander Shepard from Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. If you played the ME games with a male hero you missed some great voice acting.

It's telling that one of the best female characters in a game is written basically like a dude.

I thought Beyond Good and Evil was a terrible game. I got it just recently from steam and just, ugh. The setting was ridiculous, the characters were bland and forgettable and the game play was just lousy. I gave up on it when I got to the hovercraft level. Just horrifically badly designed. I don't understand why it's rated so highly.

This is my sad face.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 8:46 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


lydhre: "Great, I eagerly await all the videogames that focus on fatherhood since, after all, it is a circumstance that is uniquely male! "

Actually, there's already a game that features fatherhood, and from what I've heard, it's pretty good.
posted by specialagentwebb at 8:47 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


lydhre: That's exactly what happens if you play Mass Effect with a female version of its protagonist, Commander Shepard. Doing so transforms the game (for the better).

And right on cue, just about 20 or so comments into the forum thread for that video, somebody complains about the female Shepard being a bad female character because she "acts like a man." I'll just... be over here with my head exploding for all eternity, thanks.

Meanwhile, no mention, not even a brief one, of Bonnie MacFarlane. Add to that the patronizing tone, and while I'll give the commentator points for meaning well... that's all I'll give him.
posted by pts at 8:47 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Was Tetris male or female? I forget.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:48 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's telling that one of the best female characters in a game is written basically like a dude.

I think it's a lot more telling your response to a gender-neutral protagonist is that they are "basically like a dude."
posted by pts at 8:49 AM on March 14, 2011 [18 favorites]


the thing about "motherhood" immediately made me think of Dead Rising 2: Case Zero, which is all about a father trying to keep his daughter alive by finding her a steady supply of anti-zombification medicine. I don't know if that plot carries over to the "main game" of Dead Rising 2, but at least Case Zero is centered around "parenthood", and the main character could've just as easily been the little girl's mother rather than her father.
posted by luvcraft at 8:50 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did we establish that men are well written in video games? Because for the most part, it seems like the bar for writing is appallingly low, no matter what the gender of the character.

I don't see that big muscles and a gruff voice is much better than big breasts and a squeaky voice.

I don't know if I care that video games have terrible writing, I don't turn to them when I'm looking for great literature. But if we're going to criticize them, wouldn't a broader scope make more sense?
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:53 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, watched the video. (Which totally wasn't needed, what does this person have against text and maybe a handful of still graphics?) Who is this little cartoon dude and why should I pay attention to anything he has to say? It's early for me so maybe I missed something insightful, but pretty much he spends a few minutes talking about how characters should be realistic products of their social, cultural, and biological environments. What this has to do with being female, in particular, is largely sidestepped. And then there are a lot of unlabeled photos of visually feminine characters from a variety of games with no dissection as to why they are good or bad examples.

The narrator talks briefly about how the gender of many game characters is irrelevant to their personality and response to their environment, but I would argue that's a blinkered viewpoint. If Gordon Freeman were female, she would absolutely not be the same person with different genitalia. To be a physicist you must first endure the highly stratified, still patriarchal, male-oriented world of academic physics departments. All of her childhood idols would have been male. Yeah, the gameplay itself might not be that different, but the subculture built up around her, the fanon characteristics and the response to the game's advertising and instructional materials would be very different.

Anyway, I don't feel like anything said was particularly bad. I just feel like this guy missed his point by a couple of miles.
posted by Mizu at 8:53 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]



Actually, there's already a game that features fatherhood, and from what I've heard, it's pretty good.


Make that two games.
Octodad is a third person adventure game about destruction, deception, and fatherhood.
posted by zamboni at 8:55 AM on March 14, 2011


The great female videogame character is:

1. The star of her own game
2. Does awesome things, appropriate to whatever game it is
3. Actually gets to show off personality and have an opinion (not silent FPS woman)
4. Actually appears female for most of the game (not Metroid)
5. Isn't designed for male gaze

Obviously, though, I can see why a lot of women are cool with Bayonetta or Tomb Raider, since getting to have a female character who a) does awesome things and b) has attitude is hard enough these days.

Oh 2011, look how far we've come!
posted by yeloson at 8:59 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm playing Metroid Prime currently. The plot, atmosphere and "scanning" mechanism leads to a pervasive sense of the player having an intelligent, scientific mind, and a desire to restore the poisoned ecosystem you're in, rather than just blow everything away. (Of course, you have to blow a lot of things away in the process. Power is fun.) The game frequently reminds you of your gender through the visor, without any T+A.

I like Leliana from Dragon Age. She's introduced as naive, kooky comic relief, and then rapidly reveals herself to have unexpected depth, a very smart, earnest, cultured person, with a complex history.

Citing Bioware/Bethesda protagonists is cheating, probably!

nthing Bonnie Macfarlane as the best NPC.

I believe game makers want to have more female protagonists of non-Croft proportions, and in many cases they are held back by a sad history of sales figures. Urban Chaos was a very decent action game on PlayStation with a black female cop protagonist on the box. No-one bought it.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:59 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I watched the video long enough to discover that the narrator's voice is pitched up in the style of the temper-tantrum-throwing-infantile-men in the KFC double down commercials "GIVE ME MORE CHICKEN". And then I closed it because that shit is fucking intolerable.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:00 AM on March 14, 2011


It seems like a lot of people in here didn't watch the video.

Portal's got a female protagonist, but she's as female as Gordon Freeman is male. They're silent protagonists that don't really need to have gender. If your "character" is a male character turned female, then it's hardly a character at all. GlaDOS was at least a female character, but interesting fleshed out female characters appear most often as villains.
posted by explosion at 9:05 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see that big muscles and a gruff voice is much better than big breasts and a squeaky voice.

This is the same argument that people make about mainstream comic book superheroes. The thing is that they're both idealizations from the point of view of a heterosexual male. So, yes, both ridiculous distortions, but not in the same direction.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:06 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't see that big muscles and a gruff voice is much better

THE BABY HAS BEEN FORMED IN YOUR UTERUS

ARE YOU A BAD ENOUGH DUDE TO GIVE BIRTH TO A BABY?
posted by Greg Nog at 9:08 AM on March 14, 2011 [47 favorites]


Kate Archer from No One Lives Forever and No One Lives Forever 2.

Never heard of it? Never played it? Yeah, neither did anyone else. Still great games, and still a great character.
posted by toekneebullard at 9:09 AM on March 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


I haven't played the latest Metroid, Other M, but I'm told it's by Team Ninja, known for their sensitive treatment of female characters in the Dead or Alive Volleyball series (including a breast-size option in the config menu); it features long, unskippable, dire soap-opera cutscenes with offensive voice acting; and the plot mechanism that stops Samus unlocking her powers from the start of the game is: she needs to receive permission from her male superior before doing so.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:10 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


A big problem with characterization in general in games is that fictional characters are defined mainly through dialog and other subtle interactions that don't really translate very well into most types of videogames. Since the protagonist is controlled by the player and sometimes just serves as an avatar of the player, the game designers either have to limit defining them to very limited parts of the game (such as through cut-scenes) or provide the player with rudimentary ways of shaping the character's personality themselves (such as through dialog tree choices). Either way you don't end up with the same level of characterization that you get from a novel or film. You get what they look like (if the game isn't first person) and general traits, but not a very deep character.

With NPCs, there's the issue of incorporating them in the game enough that they are important overall, rather than just a random party member or a temporary gatekeeper. Again, if cut-scenes are the only time they get to be defined, that is going to be a very small part of the overall game experience. And even if they do show up a lot, there's the problem that the player can't really do much to interact back with them. A very well defined and nuanced character that follows the protagonist around the whole time doesn't really seem real if the character can't talk to them the way that the protagonist would talk to a sidekick in a fictional story. The games that succeed in telling stories generally design interactions around these limitations. So in Portal, GLaDOS is a disembodied voice that the player indirectly interacts with by solving puzzles and whatnot. In Ico, the fact that the protagonist can't talk to Yorda and mostly interacts with her by leading her around is a central part of the game and makes sense in the context of the game world.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:11 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Never heard of it? Never played it? Yeah, neither did anyone else. Still great games, and still a great character.

Who the hell hasn't played NOLF? It's an awesome and funny game. I wish games could nail fun like NOLF again...
posted by Submiqent at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that every single game that doesn't explicitly say it's a male character is actually the same gender as whoever is playing it.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:12 AM on March 14, 2011


I just wish that any of Bioware's advertising for the Mass Effect series even acknowledged the possibility of playing as FemShep, aka BestShep. (Of course there's still plenty of issues such as the limited sexuality options with Mass Effect, and Casey Hudson should perhaps be barred from speaking to the public ever, but FemShep is pretty awesome.)
posted by kmz at 9:13 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Besides, isn't Angry Birds a game about motherhood? The pigs are male, the birds are just trying to rescue their eggs.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:13 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]




This is the same argument that people make about mainstream comic book superheroes. The thing is that they're both idealizations from the point of view of a heterosexual male. So, yes, both ridiculous distortions, but not in the same direction.


Agreed. I'm looking more at their literary and aesthetic merits than the social repercussions. Neither one is particularly worthy of defense, and I'd hate to see women in games measured against men, when the entire thing could use some scrutiny.



It seems like a lot of people in here didn't watch the video.

Well. If you read the thread, there are two likely reasons:
1) It was terrible.
2) A lot of people would like to see a transcript or essay.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:14 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just wish that any of Bioware's advertising for the Mass Effect series even acknowledged the possibility of playing as FemShep, aka BestShep.

Especially because I keep seeing them and thinking, "who the hell is this dude? If we're going to get this done, we're going to need Shepherd." Maybe because I played that way first, but Shep's a woman in my mind, no two ways about it.
posted by mrgoat at 9:19 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Bioshock games are basically parenting games, albeit seriously twisted ones. It's more obvious with the second one.

I do notice game worlds where the only women present are named NPCs. I remember playing through Half Life 2 and being startled by the even gender and race balance in that game. Prior to that it was easy to miss the fact that all the target NPCs were male, with the occasional femme fatale thrown on occasion. Some games are worse than others in this respect ( I mean fuck, in Borderlands there is nothing but men, with one female PC option - and don't get me started on Lillith's fucking name and her skill tree - and a grand total of four other women on the whole planet) but women are Named Mobs in too many games - you either have to rescue them, or fight them. And so many of the ones you have to fight are either Whores or Crones, stereotypes of Scary Women that predate gaming by a long shot.

I don't know. I like gaming. I'm female. I notice it when the women in a game universe are either eye candy or there to be a reward for hieing through the game. I hate rescue-the-princess games, or games where the girls get support class powers. I hate military shooters that are all boy affairs, despite real world armies containing a fair few women. I especially hate Chick Armour, where the boys get full plate and the girls get stupid plunging necklines and fishnets. It makes no sense. Really, a lot of improvement can be had by paring off all this stupid window-dressing level bullshit, without having to probe too much into the "makin'-babies female condition."
posted by Jilder at 9:22 AM on March 14, 2011 [8 favorites]


Submiqent: Who the hell hasn't played NOLF?

I've never met a person in real life that has ever even heard of it.
posted by toekneebullard at 9:25 AM on March 14, 2011


Yeah, Shepard is female for me too. I played ME1 with the idea that she was a bit of a wasted youth who got her shit together in the military, but now with the breakdown of order and rules, is starting to wonder what exactly she sacrificed to re-cast herself as a soldier.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:25 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure Q*bert was a woman.
posted by mark242 at 9:27 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pro tip: to make a great female character, try switching the gender of any old male videogame hero. Odds are you'll get a fleshed out human character who happens to be female, rather than a fleshed out human character who was purposefully male.

This is not true at all. Many male characters in games are purposefully made in the type of mold a 15 year-old boy would think of when creating a male video game character. They're ass-kickers. They appeal to that, damn what a living, breathing man would be like. The same sometimes (but certainly not to the same extent) happens in comics: over-sized muscles, guns, and bravado to keep pace with the big-breasted, scantly clad, hyper-bad ass woman. The solution is not to make a super-muscled woman character as it's just as sexist and damaging.

Oh, and blank protagonists like Gordon and the Chell the Portal girl are perfectly fine, but they aren't good examples of male or female characters. They're blank; that's the point.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 9:28 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


. I especially hate Chick Armour, where the boys get full plate and the girls get stupid plunging necklines and fishnets.

Seriously. I'm finally playing the first Dragon Age, and it's not terrible except that every piece of armor seems to have nipple-placed rivets, and Morrigan's outfit makes me want to give the character artist an atomic wedgie.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:29 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Submiqent: Who the hell hasn't played NOLF?

I've never met a person in real life that has ever even heard of it.


And that breaks my heart. Those games were so friggin great. Did you play online a lot?
posted by NoMich at 9:33 AM on March 14, 2011


If characterization that addresses social pressures to act in gendered ways is part of what makes a good female character, then by the corresponding standard, is Duke Nukem a good male character or not? I honestly can't tell.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:34 AM on March 14, 2011


Also, is Ulala from Space Channel 5 a great female video game character?

No, seriously you guys, I wanna know.
posted by Mizu at 9:38 AM on March 14, 2011


Another fatherhood game: Nier, an action-RPG starring a father (brother in the Japanese PS3 version, for whatever reason) trying to save his daughter from a magical disease. The game isn't too smart w/r/t gender issues, but it handles the parent/child relationship surprisingly well.

So yeah, with the recent small wave of parenthood games (possibly prompted by the first generation of gamers having children of their own?), I'm shocked that the only game to even try tackling motherhood is the abominable Other M.
posted by skymt at 9:38 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously. I'm finally playing the first Dragon Age, and it's not terrible except that every piece of armor seems to have nipple-placed rivets, and Morrigan's outfit makes me want to give the character artist an atomic wedgie.

I think Miranda in ME2 has Morrigan beat in terms of ridiculous outfits. It's even lampshaded in one of the missions but that doesn't really make it better. And don't get me started on the Asari...
posted by kmz at 9:39 AM on March 14, 2011


The general gist of the argument is that good characters, regardless of gender, are defined by how they respond to external pressure of expectation on their behaviour, and how they accept or reject those expectations.

In that light, Duke is expected by us, his human controllers, to kick some mutant arse, while the mutants expect him to be gnawed to death.

The glee in which he conforms to the players expectations, while destroying that of his mutant oppressors, is a chief source of his characterisation. What he lacks in depth, he makes up for in joy.
posted by Jilder at 9:40 AM on March 14, 2011


Seriously. I'm finally playing the first Dragon Age, and it's not terrible except that every piece of armor seems to have nipple-placed rivets, and Morrigan's outfit makes me want to give the character artist an atomic wedgie.

Yeah, terrible and fixed in the sequel. I'm playing a female main and her armor is not all boobulous.

I'm actually surprised by all the grar towards this. I think the series in general is the best recurring forum for thoughts about the state of the medium.

And I thought this was a pretty decent entry. The concept of what makes a decent female character recognizably female within the constraints of what makes a decent game is a difficult one all designers are struggling with.

And empath, what would you consider a good game? I'm genuinely curious because I've never met anyone who played Beyond and didn't love it.

(Oh, and thirding the love for NOOLF. One of the classics)
posted by lumpenprole at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2011


The Silent Hill games deal a fair bit with parenting and motherhood, if I recall correctly.
posted by Jilder at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2011


What interesting timing. I was writing up a few links for a gender-in-gaming post. Here's part of Shaylyn Hamm's thesis on the subject (with link to the full document)The Aesthetics of Unique Video Game Characters.
posted by boo_radley at 9:45 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just for you record keepers out there, I played Beyond Good and Evil and I didn't like it, either. I see why it's a cult classic and admit its potential but found its core gameplay mechanics too damn annoying and none of the characters or storylines compelling enough for me to slog through. My BFF loves it and I still rec it to people in "tell me what games to play!" AskMes, but, yeah. There's a reason it's not more widely known.
posted by Mizu at 9:46 AM on March 14, 2011


The Silent Hill games deal a fair bit with parenting and motherhood, if I recall correctly.

Did you mean fatherhood?
posted by naju at 9:47 AM on March 14, 2011


Morrigan's outfit makes me want to give the character artist an atomic wedgie.

Seriously. you live in the woods, Morrigan, you might want to put on a shirt. It's easier than magic-ing away the thorns every two seconds.

On the subject of Miranda's outfit, what about Jack? The tattoo design is cool, but she's literally wearing two belts instead of a shirt.

I think what it comes down to is, there's got to be a way to make a outfit that's recognizably female, but isn't ridiculously impractical. The fact that these two women are running around essentially topless runs counter to their personalities. They're supposed to be good at what they do, but there's a big visual indication that they can't quite manage to dress themselves for it when they get up in the morning.
posted by mrgoat at 9:48 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


explosion: Portal's got a female protagonist, but she's as female as Gordon Freeman is male. They're silent protagonists that don't really need to have gender.
Portal's Chell, unlike Half-Life's Freeman, is visible to the player. She's slim and fit, she's stylishly racially indeterminate. She's got some sort of surgically-implanted, permanent barefoot high heel things and the sexy swaying-hip strut that goes with them. The game mechanics are such that it's a little tricky to get a look at Chell's face but easy to get a look at her hypnotically gyrating behind.

And I suspect the things Portal's GLaDOS says to Chell wouldn't play the same, wouldn't be as funny, if Chell was male:
GLaDOS: There was even going to be a party for you. A big party that all your friends were invited to. I invited your best friend, the Companion Cube. Of course, he couldn't come because you murdered him. All your other friends couldn't come, either, because you don't have any other friends because of how unlikable you are. It says so right here in your personnel file: "Unlikable. Liked by no one. A bitter, unlikable loner, whose passing shall not be mourned. Shall NOT be mourned." That's exactly what it says. Very formal. Very official. It also says you were adopted, so that's funny, too.
I don't think the writers would even have written that if Chell had been Chad.

Portal was/is a terrific, amazing, well-written game. Its female characters aren't exploitative the way so many other games' females are. And apparently it has a lot of female fans. But I'm always a little surprised that people laud Chell as an example of what female characters can be, because she seems so completely defined (to what little extent she is defined at all) by her femaleness. She even starts the game as a prisoner, a victim, a damsel in distress.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


No, there's a plotline involving a forced impregnation and the birthing of a cult god in the third one. The fatherhood stuff's pretty big in that series. I was mainly replying to quips about games involving motherhood and the joking about fatherhood further upthread.
posted by Jilder at 9:52 AM on March 14, 2011


Oh boy, videogame writing! Something I can rant about forever!

I'm just going to leave a small list of female characters in videogames who aren't written horribly. I'm only really doing this because everyone else's examples are always really embarrassing to me. As has already been noted, mostly videogame writing is just plain awful, but I've also gotten the sense that a lot of gamery types have pretty...unusual ideas of what makes a well written woman in fiction. Anyway, here we gooooo!

Elly van Hauten (Xenogears) - Passes the Bechdel Test by not really wanting to have much to do with the male protagonist and kind of doing her own thing for the majority of the game. Elly also goes from being a videogame stereotype (female soldier) to something I've never seen in a videogame before or since (a spiritual/political leader), becoming more influential and important than the male protagonist (who's almost just Husband Guy at times) while retaining a fairly strong sense of womanhood throughout. Maybe it's worth pointing out that Elly was written by a woman.

April Ryan & Zoe Castillo (The Longest Journey series) - Okay, the former is a cliched Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she's exceptionally well written and ends up subverting a lot of standard videogame tropes. Zoe is pretty much deliberately the opposite, and I...honestly found her pretty compelling because she's never really written to be particularly compelling. She's a complex character, but her author never feels the need to shorthand that complexity into some easily digestible quirk or stereotype. Zoe is pretty quiet; her thoughts and feelings are there, but she doesn't shout them.

Various characters in the Persona series - Persona 3 is an abysmally written game (please don't even get me started on Portable I will grar until you go deaf), but the second and fourth installments both have interesting, believable female characters with a pinch of legitimate, realistic femininity that never boils over into stereotypical girliness. The female casts of both games are like people you know, but exaggerated just a little.

What makes these memorably well written characters for me? I've written more than I meant to already, so I'll try to condense this as much as I can, but there are common characteristics that might be helpful to point out:

- The Bechdel Test is important. Love, sex and romance are huge parts of our lives, but female characters shouldn't exist solely to orbit men. Female characters with interests are just more interesting; and realistic, to boot.
- Speaking of love, sex and romance, it helps a lot to address these maturely--they're parts of life, not the butts of jokes.
- Videogames tend to be violent; this leads to cartoonish masculinity in male characters and...cartoonish masculinity in female characters. Most female videogame characters feel like men with breasts to me. Having female characters handle situations in ways other than beating things up might help.
- Dialogue. There is no universal "Manspeak" or "Girltalking," so avoid that like the plague. Express subtle differences in tone instead to indicate gender.
- Women are not girly. Not really. Women are feminine, and that's difficult to define in part because it may not really mean anything more than what we project on it. Still, try to understand that the experience of being a woman--while not wholly alien--is different than the experience of being a man. We all like tomboys, and most of us playing videogames probably are tomboyish, but it's nice to see female characters who are comfortable with femininity, but who aren't offensively stereotypical.

...I could go on. Videogame writing is really pretty terrible, save a few glittering oases here and there. In fact, I should probably add that I don't really play videogames anymore. Blame the bad writing. I want to keep playing videogames, but I find it harder and harder to find anything that's compelling (and, frankly, not offensive) to me as an adult. I think what I want from the medium has never really been what most gamery types imagine are "videogames." Story and characters are more important to me than the mechanics, so I've mostly abandoned the medium in favor of other stuff. C'est la vie, I guess.
posted by byanyothername at 9:53 AM on March 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


Western Infidel: It hadn't occured to me like that before. All the test subjects would have been female; GLaDOS achieves sentience and locks the facility down on the bring-your-daughter-to-work day.
posted by Jilder at 9:56 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm working my way through DA2 right now and it's really uneven on this front. On the one hand, you have Aveline (one of my favorite visual character designs) and Mama Hawke who are written with a fair bit of complexity and conflict. And of course, there's FemmeHawke. The DA2 Flemmeth gets a shitload of nuance and emotion in a handful of short scenes, making her one of the best oracles in the history of the genre.

And then you have Isabella. The best thing I can say about her is that at least she doesn't have Morrigan/Jack's improbably immobile plastic titties as there's something that would (possibly) hold them in place (a design annoyance that leads me to shove them in different armor at the first opportunity). She's the person who just won't shut up about her sex life and asks nosy questions about everyone else's. On my computer, her cheesecake costume has an ugly clipping error that shows her bare buttocks through the cloth while walking. And unfortunately, you can't put different armor on her.

Granted the uneven character writing/direction isn't gender-specific here. Carver is an utter twit with only small hints that we're to have some sympathy for his younger-sibling angst, in contrast to Varric who's gangster facade occasionally cracks with justified doubt and guilt.

But since we're talking games, I'll throw in a plug for Spiderware's Avadon and Genforge series, although certainly the chessecake factor is limited by having only 9 character models.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:57 AM on March 14, 2011


It's worth noting that in Portal, your gun fires holes rather than bullets. You create entrance ways and passages, and at one point, you're attacked by rockets, which you purposefully allow to enter your portals and then redirect back outwards.
posted by empath at 9:58 AM on March 14, 2011 [11 favorites]


Also, sometimes fire comes out the hole.
posted by Jilder at 10:00 AM on March 14, 2011


Many male characters in games are purposefully made in the type of mold a 15 year-old boy would think of when creating a male video game character. They're ass-kickers.

It also helps that kicking ass is what most game characters actually do in the game. In Mass Effect, the protagonist spends most of her time shooting aliens and saving the world. It would be possible to shoe-horn a sideplot about motherhood into that story, possibly as some sort of MacGuffin, but at the end of the day the character is mostly going to be defined by the fact that she flies around in space and shoots stuff. The only way to make a game truly about something like motherhood and make it a central part of the character would be to incorporate the motherhood aspects as a core part of the game mechanics.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:01 AM on March 14, 2011


Male Tetris :

[]
[][]
[]

Corresponding female tetris:

[][]
[]
[][]

and she doesn't exist in the game!

One of the points of the article was that it really doesn't make that much difference in most video games. Most games are just shooting/punching/slashing, with some games allowing you to build up various stats to help shoot/punch/slash. Their is no real need for "character" iin that model. the protagonists tend to be aggresssive, because that only makes sense if you are shooting/punching/slashing, but there is not much else, because there is no need for much else. NOLF was a great game, but they could have subbed in a swinging 60's guy with no real impact on the game. The same hold true for Shamus in Metroid and the Pyro in TF2 -- they may be female, but its meaningless, because all the character does in aggressively shoot/punch/slash.

There may be a few games that have the minimal depth of character to make sex a meaningful factor, Heavy Rain comes to mind (and I've never played a Japanese role-playing game like Final Fantasy, so they may too), but games like that are few and far between. Mostly, the difference is nothing but graphics.
posted by rtimmel at 10:05 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't really agree with that characterization of Chell. I only know her name because the Wikipedia article told me; otherwise I would have never uncovered it naturally. Being fit and racially indeterminate is rather besides the point as neither of them are considered pluses/minuses nor connected to her femaleness. I might have seen her, but always out of the corner of my eye, and getting a good look at her was difficult.

And as for what GLaDOS says about Chell, I always took that as GLaDOS talking to me. That's right, Chell is such a blank protagonist with so little revealed history that when GLaDOS got might pissed for stopping her efforts of murder or attempting to destroy her, it was because GLaDOS was angry at me, not the person whose skin I was wearing. It was great video game emersion, but me as a male didn't feel that any thing GLaDOS said to me was particular to her talking to a female. In the end, GLaDOS is a much more characterized individual than the Portal protagonist, which is okay as Chell does what she needs to as far as the game is concerned: act as a blank slate to act through and put a placeholding body to observe yourself through portals.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:06 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]



...I could go on. Videogame writing is really pretty terrible, save a few glittering oases here and there. In fact, I should probably add that I don't really play videogames anymore. Blame the bad writing. I want to keep playing videogames, but I find it harder and harder to find anything that's compelling (and, frankly, not offensive) to me as an adult. I think what I want from the medium has never really been what most gamery types imagine are "videogames." Story and characters are more important to me than the mechanics, so I've mostly abandoned the medium in favor of other stuff. C'est la vie, I guess.


This is my problem. And I do want to like games, I even spent some time working in the industry.

My most recent frustration was Red Dead Redemption, which I notice has been praised upthread for it's characterization of women. "Bonny" may be a good character, but she's the only good character, and as my girlfriend snidely noticed on her way past, not immune from needlessly pining after the protagonist. And more interestingly, despite all of the heavy handed moralizing about equality, women seem to be in the game to be rescued, and native Americans exist to be shot.

I know I'm picking on one game, but it's just hard to face the genre without constant cringing. I like games like tetris now, at least they're safe.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read an interview about Portal/Portal 2 on Eurogamer today and it had this relevant part:

Eurogamer: We never hear Chell talk, or see much of her. What kind of person is she? Does that matter?

Erik Wolpaw: Personally it doesn't make that much difference. Portal was this intimate relationship you had with GLaDOS, and what we found to a person with playtesters who played the first game, a lot of them didn't even know the character's name was Chell because we never mentioned it. Maybe it was written on her jumpsuit and it was in the file names.

Players didn't care what GLaDOS' relationship was to Chell. They felt like they had this relationship with GLaDOS, and they wanted GLaDOS to recognise them, which is one of the reasons we never have GLaDOS actually say Chell's name.

No one ever says GLaDOS' name either. We've turned that into a thing with the game. Nobody ever mentions anyone's name in the game.

Chet Faliszek: It's to such a point people imprint themselves onto the character Chell. We had a playtester in who played all the way through the single-player version of Portal 2, and then went to play co-op, and during one point of co-op realised the bots have sexes. Immediately you look at it and go, one's a female and one's a male.

The guy got really mad he got stuck with the female. I asked him, you know, in single-player, you've been playing for 12 hours as a female. He goes, no I wasn't. It didn't bother me, but now it bothers me.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:07 AM on March 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh and here's the link to the full interview.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:08 AM on March 14, 2011


The only way to make a game truly about something like motherhood and make it a central part of the character would be to incorporate the motherhood aspects as a core part of the game mechanics.

I was just about to add as an addendum to my gigantic rant that:

Motherhood, sex, love, aging, mortality and any other complex human experience is never going to be able to be squished into a game mechanic. Ever. Game designers are just going to have to roll up their sleeves and learn to write. Attempts at expressing complex themes through mechanics are abstract at best, and seemingly unavoidably embarrassing in most cases.

As far as that thread goes, what would help, mechanically are (yay! another list!):

- Different, subtler, ways of interacting with the environment.
- Attention to detail in every way, including:
- Subtler animation. D2's Laura impressed me by moving like a woman. It's exaggerated, but it's there and I think that's sort of cool.

But, again, I'm not really any game designer's target audience. I'd like to be, but I find most videogames hopelessly alienating.
posted by byanyothername at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2011


The video was pretty good, if maybe a little intro-level. But hell, it was a quick presentation more than a video, and felt like something delivered to a class of undergrads who maybe hadn't thought about this all that much. I'm surprised by all the hate-on here, but nerds gotta gnash, I guess.

In terms of game mechanics, I would play the hell out of a game about a mama grizzly (fuck Palin) who had to take her cubs across, I dunno, something with maybe some platforms or some shit. Maybe make the gender explicit by allowing cubs to heal at the player by nursing or something, and let the mom have a wicked paw swipe as her attack. One idea would be coding it so it looked like Oregon Trail's hunting, only from the bear's perspective — let 'em eat rabbits, squirrels and shit, and kill those stupid pioneers, maybe eat some berries too or something. Every now and then, let 'em rage and kill everything. They could fight zombies too. I'd play that.
posted by klangklangston at 10:09 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


It also helps that kicking ass is what most game characters actually do in the game. In Mass Effect, the protagonist spends most of her time shooting aliens and saving the world. It would be possible to shoe-horn a sideplot about motherhood into that story, possibly as some sort of MacGuffin, but at the end of the day the character is mostly going to be defined by the fact that she flies around in space and shoots stuff. The only way to make a game truly about something like motherhood and make it a central part of the character would be to incorporate the motherhood aspects as a core part of the game mechanics.

Which truthfully I find to be the main reason for sexism in video games: the very structure of most games supports a rather male-dominated action sequence. Even the best female characterization either flouders in the type of game made for her or simply becomes the male character but with a different skin. Replacing Duke Nuke'um with Daisy either will be shoe-horned or just a cosmetic difference.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:10 AM on March 14, 2011


Dead Rising 2 was very much a game about fatherhood. I don't know why but I found myself actually caring about Chuck's little girl and his relationship with her and wanting to make him be a good dad to her.

But, because this was Dead Rising 2, one of the most gleefully ridiculous games this side of Saints Row, being a good dad involved giving her a fully-grown live tiger as a present and then leaving her alone in a room with it while I put on a Lego minifigure mask and that thong from Borat and ran out to get her medication holding a kayak paddle with chainsaws on either end.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:12 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I favorited, but I'm repeating for emphasis:

I don't know. I like gaming. I'm female. I notice it when the women in a game universe are either eye candy or there to be a reward for hieing through the game. I hate rescue-the-princess games, or games where the girls get support class powers. I hate military shooters that are all boy affairs, despite real world armies containing a fair few women. I especially hate Chick Armour, where the boys get full plate and the girls get stupid plunging necklines and fishnets. It makes no sense. Really, a lot of improvement can be had by paring off all this stupid window-dressing level bullshit, without having to probe too much into the "makin'-babies female condition."

and 1. The star of her own game; 2. Does awesome things, appropriate to whatever game it is; 3. Actually gets to show off personality and have an opinion (not silent FPS woman); 4. Actually appears female for most of the game (not Metroid); 5. Isn't designed for male gaze.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was pretty good about this. The framing character Alexandra was pretty and blonde, but she was fully clothed, pretty clever, and the hero. She's solving a puzzle and being generally bad-ass. You play 7 or 8 male characters and two female characters (One of which is a predictably half-naked slave girl but the half-nudity made sense contextually--way more than nipple armor does--and hey, half-nudity can be fun in recreational context.). Also, that was just a really cool game. The sanity meter stuff was much fun. There was some jawing about family ancestors but, seriously, the character's uterus never entered into it.

Honestly, I can't imagine anything more unnecessary to a videogame than "motherhood". And sure, an FPS where I got to gun down some of the more sexist attorneys I've worked for/with might be cathartic, but a videogame based around having to wear skirts because khakis are okay for the men on casual Friday, but not the women would be deadly boring, as would one about fertility tests and dodging the "when are you having kids" questions. None of that would "solve" any "problem of women in videogames".

Admittedly, the Path (which a lot of people hated, but which I loved) truly did explore issues of girlhood and a world that's supposed to just feel safe and usual suddenly becoming dangerous at unexpected moments simply because you're female. But that's all it did, so it lacked a certain progression and payoff that you usually get from playing narrative games. For many many gamers, there was no There there and it failed to live up to the needs of a videogame in the mechanics of playing. In the story telling and art, it was superlative, but the gameplay at times was awkward--even if you were completely willing to buy into the relinquish control aspect of the game mechanic.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:13 AM on March 14, 2011


also, wow I'm incoherent.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:14 AM on March 14, 2011


Really, kickass women is not the problem here, I think. Shepard from Mass Effect still manages to be an awesome character with that firmly in place.

Why can't the ladies get their kickass on, anyway? I enjoy playing female kickass characters. I am particularly fond of playing sniper class characters - plenty of evidence women can kick ass with the best of them in that field.

I just don't want to be a reward or something pretty to look at. Really, I don't think that's so much to ask.
posted by Jilder at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could also totally make a decent flash game out of Hang On Bill, by Little Lisa (itself a rewrite of another song, but whatevs).
posted by klangklangston at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2011


Motherhood, sex, love, aging, mortality and any other complex human experience is never going to be able to be squished into a game mechanic. Ever.

You haven't played the Sims, then?
posted by empath at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a woman gamer, I love Chell. I love her in proportion to how much I HATE the commonly-stated assumptions behind the silent male protagonist: that everyone can relate to him, because he is the blank slate.

I don't know about other female gamers, but I never saw myself reflected in Gordon Freeman. At least when male protagonists speak I can relate to their emotions, thoughts, fear, anger, aggression, whatever. Dead Space 2 Isaac is a hell of a lot more relatable to me than Dead Space 1 Issac. Assuming that a mindless, voiceless white male body is the ideal universally relatable figure is so absurd.

Chell is at least a step in the right direction. I get the comment about the bouncing ass. But look at the lady. Practical realistic non-sexed-up clothing. No absurd makeup our pouty face. Sheesh, that's how I'd look in her shoes. I love that this is our hero.

Anyway, I get that it's merely a difference in graphics most of the time. And I get that most characters are poorly written. But I think people underestimate how nice it is to see yourself REPRESENTED at all as a character with agency.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:16 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think the writers would even have written that if Chell had been Chad.

Why not? Honestly don't get what you're saying.

Also don't understand where it was decided that GLaDOS is "female" because it has a female voice. GLaDOS is a computer. It's as female as my GPS device. The entire impact of the character is in the delicious evil it has in having no humanity whatsoever.

My most recent frustration was Red Dead Redemption, which I notice has been praised upthread for it's characterization of women. "Bonny" may be a good character, but she's the only good character, and as my girlfriend snidely noticed on her way past, not immune from needlessly pining after the protagonist.

(Spoilers) Bonnie MacFarlane is the definition of a failed Bechdel Test. The entirety of her existence in the game is to talk about or to one of two characters: John Marston or her father. There is one single moment in the game when she converses about anything with another female character, and that's when she's talking with Marston's wife about him. I don't understand why she's held up as a strong female character icon. She's not a playable, nor is she a supplemental hero. She teaches you how to rope cows, then gets beat up and kidnapped. Then you don't see her for the rest of the game except for one scene where she realizes she might want a man after all.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:17 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Motherhood, sex, love, aging, mortality and any other complex human experience is never going to be able to be squished into a game mechanic. Ever.

Also -- Passage and Gravitation.
posted by empath at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2011


I'd also play the hell out of a game where I was Pavilchenko. But I'm also a big fan of sniper shooters (much more than general FPS — when there's an option to play snipers in squad FPS, I always go for it).

A game with a female sniper protecting a male medic would be fun as hell too.
posted by klangklangston at 10:19 AM on March 14, 2011


The entire time I watched my roomie play Read Dead Redemption, all I did (in between napping, doodling, and snacking) was shout "Can you kill Bonnie yet?" and whenever she was on-screen, "Murder her!!!!!"

Admittedly I did that with pretty much every character but with Bonnie I was particularly vehement about it. She offended something deep within me.
posted by Mizu at 10:21 AM on March 14, 2011


You haven't played the Sims, then?

You'll seriously claim the Sims handles these things in a way that's (1) not abstract and (2) not embarrassing? :P

The Sims is cute, but says nothing about the human experience except that if you spend the whole day eating pizza in your room, the night will be full of weeping and someone will poop on the furniture.

Also -- Passage and Gravitation.

Both good, but undeniably abstract.

Really, I'm pretty serious about this being an impossible goal. Writing is important, if you want to tell a story or express a complex idea; you can't condense it into nonwriting or hide it under a blanket of vague, lazy pseudo-symbolism without losing a great deal.
posted by byanyothername at 10:24 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, so, in this game, you fight off giant aggressive zombie aliens that have murdered everyone but you -- with your fists."
"Okay, sounds sweet. Who's the chick?"
"That's your character, Isabella."
"WHAT?! No way could a GIRL do that! Unbelievable!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:25 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really, I'm pretty serious about this being an impossible goal. Writing is important, if you want to tell a story or express a complex idea; you can't condense it into nonwriting or hide it under a blanket of vague, lazy pseudo-symbolism without losing a great deal.

This is bullshit. There are plenty of concepts which cannot be expressed in words. Artists don't make paintings because they don't know how to write. Musicians don't write songs because they are failed novelists. And game designers don't make games because they really want to be film directors (or they shouldn't, anyway).
posted by empath at 10:26 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


No love for Zoey and Rochelle from Left4Dead 1 & 2, respectively? Their characters -- like their male counterparts' -- are revealed from their many in-game comments, whether a human is playing them or not.

Besides, Rochelle is a Depeche Mode fan.
posted by Gelatin at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2011


I also liked how Chell looked frazzled and had maybe a slight hint of a scowl the entire time. Like she was past annoyed and just at the point of "Another bullshit day. All right."
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


grabbingsand: After tossing out a couple of half-considered game idea, it then cites the Metroid series as an example of a female character done well. After, the conclusion is that a truly great female character will reflect circumstances uniquely female (i.e., motherhood) and or pit the character against appropriate societal pressures.

MotherBrainHood?
posted by Brackish at 10:29 AM on March 14, 2011


Game designers are just going to have to roll up their sleeves and learn to write

While this is undoubtedly true, one of the tough things about this is that writing for games is not equivalent to what most writers do when they sit down and write. Clive Barker is the only one who's seemingly managed to make the jump at all and you could have a spirited argument about his quality on either side of that divide.

Part of the point of this series in general is that games are an evolving medium and we need to look at it that way and not just plunge headlong and blindly.
posted by lumpenprole at 10:30 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Motherhood, sex, love, aging, mortality and any other complex human experience is never going to be able to be squished into a game mechanic. Ever. Game designers are just going to have to roll up their sleeves and learn to write. Attempts at expressing complex themes through mechanics are abstract at best, and seemingly unavoidably embarrassing in most cases.

I didn't mean to suggest creating a great game character who is a mother would involve making a game that is some kind of motherhood simulator or that the mechanics of the game have to capture what it's like to raise a child per se. My point was that because of the way games work, the actual gameplay is going to be a lot more important in establishing what a character is like rather than whatever fluff the designers tack on. To go back to the Ico example I brought up earlier, saving the princess is not some abstract backstory element, it's a core part of what the player actually does (rather than seeing in a cut-scene) throughout the whole game. If you take a character like Lara Croft and give her a more nuanced appearance and backstory, it isn't going to change the fact that 99% of the time spent playing the game involves silently exploring a cave filled with puzzles or whatever that has absolutely nothing to do with that backstory. To make a game that where something like the protagonist being a mother actually matters in a significant way, the player themselves would need to actually do things in the game itself that directly relate to being a mother.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:32 AM on March 14, 2011


burnmp3s: All the fatherhood games mentioned upthread could be easily turned to motherhood ones without it impacting the quality of them one iota.
posted by Jilder at 10:34 AM on March 14, 2011


The Sims is cute, but says nothing about the human experience except that if you spend the whole day eating pizza in your room, the night will be full of weeping and someone will poop on the furniture.

Or as I like to call it, "Saturday".

I have to agree with you though, last time I played the sims, my sim got a job in early adulthood, and I figured I'd fast forward through a few weeks time to build up a little cash - but it turned out I'd left the "aging" option on by accident, so by the time I'd saved enough for a few nice things, she was getting old. I bought her a nice TV, a guitar, she peed on the floor and died of old age.

And this is how I learned that time in the sims is somewhat scaled.
posted by mrgoat at 10:35 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


>: "As a woman gamer, I love Chell. I love her in proportion to how much I HATE the commonly-stated assumptions behind the silent male protagonist: that everyone can relate to him, because he is the blank slate."

Gender issues aside, mute player-viewpoint characters are tricky to write for, and one of the things that made Portal take off so hard was that their, Valve managed a triumph (huge success!) in it. The silence didn't serve as blank slate so much as it was appropriate; the only NPC interacting with you was an insane thing that wanted you dead, after all. There were moments that would support remaining totally silent was deliberate; one springing to mind as a laugh-out-loud moment for me was at one dramatic turning point, GlaDOS mocking you, wherever you think you're going won't help, etc., and she trails off into an almost plaintive I-know-you're-ignoring-me "Hello?" before going silent herself for some let-the-player-concentrate game beats.

In contrast, Half-Life's Freeman muteness just doesn't work at all, and I'm pretty sure that the gender of the player doesn't make much difference to it. Umpty NPCs interacting, and only a few of them are actually hostile; guards offering to buy you a beer, scientists relieved to see you, to the goofy and embarrassing hero-worship on display in the sequel. Just doesn't fit. I remain on record as saying what they should have done, especially in Half-Life 2, was keep Gordon entirely mute, but have the NPCs fully aware of his total muteness and immense capacity for improbably effective personal violence, and be constantly anywhere from wary to barely-keeping-it-together freaked out around him. (When you held the view too long on an NPC, they should have started fidgeting, and it should have played the Friday the 13th tsh tsh tsh Jason's stalking sound.) But Alyx being flirtacious and locked-in-orbit interested and boo-hoo oh-thank-god-you're-okay? Nope, doesn't play.

Bioshock 2, and to a lesser extent the first, did the silent protagonist pretty well, and would be much stronger arguments for the project-into blank slate appeal, by the way the simple "save or harvest" choices built into both game results and characterization in the last acts.
posted by Drastic at 10:36 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are plenty of concepts which cannot be expressed in words. Artists don't make paintings because they don't know how to write. Musicians don't write songs because they are failed novelists. And game designers don't make games because they really want to be film directors (or they shouldn't, anyway).

Let's look at both examples more carefully. How do visual artists express complex ideas? By evoking recognizable (not necessarily familiar) imagery and manipulating lighting, coloration and spatial properties to represent an idea, event, place or life, or to evoke particular emotions. A large part of the meaning and response to visual art lies in the audience.

What about musicians? Musicians layer structures of sound in a similar way, hoping to convey certain ideas or call up certain emotions in their audience; again, the meaning is partly in the audience's response.

So, what about videogames? How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning? I'll leave that as an open question, but I will clarify that "writing" is not "words" alone, and that an artist who scorns every tool at their disposal except for one is probably either a minimalist genius or just a bad artist.
posted by byanyothername at 10:37 AM on March 14, 2011


The entire time I watched my roomie play Read Dead Redemption, all I did (in between napping, doodling, and snacking) was shout "Can you kill Bonnie yet?" and whenever she was on-screen, "Murder her!!!!!"

Wow, that's... awful. That is really awful.

Bonnie MacFarlane is the definition of a failed Bechdel Test. The entirety of her existence in the game is to talk about or to one of two characters: John Marston or her father.

That's admittedly a good point, and gets to the crux of my frustration with her, which is that thanks to background hints, character design, and good voice acting, she felt (to me) like a remarkably deep and nuanced character despite the fact that she doesn't do very much of interest or consequence in the game. It pissed me off when she got kidnapped, because I felt like the Bonnie I knew would've shot those sons of bitches dead before they had the chance to touch her.

She was a character who deserved to be the center of her own story, and every time she was on screen I was kind of annoyed I had to be playing this jackass outlaw instead of this awesome lady. I kept holding out hope for a "The Adventures of Bonnie" DLC back, but apparently Rockstar is more interested in zombies.

Sometimes characters are better than their writers mean them to be; bigger and more interesting than the parts they're given to play. It's a peculiar tragedy, but there it is, all the same.
posted by pts at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


In contrast, Half-Life's Freeman muteness just doesn't work at all, and I'm pretty sure that the gender of the player doesn't make much difference to it.

Yes, that's exactly my point. It doesn't work for many obvious reasons, but developers apparently stick with it because they argue it will make a character relatable. This assumption only makes sense if you think the only -- or most important -- people playing your game are those who would look at someone at Gordon Freeman (bespeckled thin white man) and say, "Ah! Yes! How relatable!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:41 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Writing is important, if you want to tell a story or express a complex idea; you can't condense it into nonwriting or hide it under a blanket of vague, lazy pseudo-symbolism without losing a great deal.

I'd strongly consider playing through Ico or Shadow Of The Colossus before making a claim like that.
posted by mhoye at 10:42 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]




While this is undoubtedly true, one of the tough things about this is that writing for games is not equivalent to what most writers do when they sit down and write. Clive Barker is the only one who's seemingly managed to make the jump at all and you could have a spirited argument about his quality on either side of that divide.


On the other hand, they'd be enormously served by following a lot of the rules about writing that they currently ignore.

...I suspect that the real problem isn't the difference between mediums, but the difference between business models. A book written by dozens of people, under the management of a corporate team might be kind of awkward and shitty too.

The gaming companies do hire accomplished writers, but under the circumstances it's hard to expect much quality writing from them. Besides, even if Margaret Atwood herself wrote the dialogue, you'd still end up with bouncing breasts all over the place. The writers just don't have that much creative control.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:43 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, is Ulala from Space Channel 5 a great female video game character?

Hell yes. I don't know why, though.

The other half and I have been playing SC5P2 lately, and decided that if we were Sega we would make Space Channel 5 Part 3: Back on the Streets. Five years after the events of Part 2, a new technology makes dancing news reports obsolete and puts Ulala out of a job. Fortunately she was a canny investor and has enough saved up from the golden years to live in luxury for the rest of her life. But then news reaches her that Pudding, who was not so fortunate, has gone missing, and it's time for Ulala get back out there and find her one-time rival. Once back on the streets, Ulala will find her considerable skills in investigative reporting and dancing pushed to their absolute limits.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:44 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning?

Through the design of systems that humans interact with. If the systems are well designed, we'll imbue their representations with meaning, no matter what symbols are used to represent the actors of the system.

"Realism" in terms of the design of the symbols that represent the actors is just icing on the cake, and can distract from flaws of realism in the behavior of the actors that the symbols repesent. It's like focusing on on type-setting and cover design when talking about the merit of a novel.
posted by empath at 10:45 AM on March 14, 2011


Bioware. Ridiculous outfits that are part and parcel of the genres aside, they're just damn well written.

Aveline and Isabela are both pretty damn amazing, the latter being basically a believably female Jack Sparrow.
posted by unigolyn at 10:46 AM on March 14, 2011


Maybe Your Shepard spent the majority of her time shooting monsters. My Shep spent her days romancing physically incompatible aliens And shooting monsters. Player plays.

More on topic, I played a LadyHawke in Dragon Age 2 and I noticed that she has a very "female" run animation. I remember DA:O got some flack for having one generalized animation set for the single skeleton everyone shared. It makes sense as a dev but some people had a problem with their female Warden walking "too butch." Apparently, women don't read as women without a suitably floaty, limp-wrist run. With the new female idle animations (long, slow stretching and childish foot twisting), I was somewhat disappointed to see the overt telegraphing. I think the enormous breasts on all the females were plenty of telegraphing, thanks.

Which is all very strange. The actual interactions and dialog of either Hawke was very straightforward and gender irrelevant. Hell, most of the love interests are bisexual. The devs worked hard to provide a Hawke in which just about any player could invest but made a lot of the LadyHawke's animations downright girly in way that, to my eye, doesn't carry over into the MaleHawke more neutral animations.
posted by cheap paper at 10:48 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, one of the worst possible flaws of video games is when they're over written and the writing attempts to layer a meaning on a game that the underlying systems don't support -- a prime example of this is GTA IV, which was fantastically well written, at least in terms of cut scenes and the general through line of the story. You had a tragic hero as the main character who reluctantly is drawn into a life of crime after escaping from a warzone -- but the systems in the game encouraged you to commit anarchic, consequence-free mayhem at every turn.

Whatever realism and meaning the writing was supposed to add by the game was completely undercut by the actual game play and made it a weaker game as a result. If the designers wanted to get across the tragic aspects of a life of crime, they would have been better served to ignore the 'writing' and make the systems of the game include real negative consequences for criminal behavior rather than making it the most fun pat of the game.
posted by empath at 10:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


"So, what about videogames? How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning? I'll leave that as an open question, but I will clarify that "writing" is not "words" alone, and that an artist who scorns every tool at their disposal except for one is probably either a minimalist genius or just a bad artist."

While I think that you oversell the intentionality of artists, I'd point out that all of the options available to visual artists and musicians (and film makers) are available to game designers, with the important addition of agency and choice to the tool set.

The only way that "writing" really plays into this is that, as far as I can tell (IANAGD), there's far less improvisational process that goes into making games and a lot more explicit planning.

But there's nothing inherent in games that means they can't express complex ideas or themes, especially given that they have access to all prior media.
posted by klangklangston at 10:58 AM on March 14, 2011


Oh, and Okami featured one of the best female characters around.
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd strongly consider playing through Ico or Shadow Of The Colossus before making a claim like that.

I have. I like them. They're abstract.

The writers just don't have that much creative control.

Yes, I think you're right that the difference is more in how the mediums are written than any vast unbridgeable chasms in how they can be written. See Mother 3 for an example of what videogame writing could be.

Through the design of systems that humans interact with. If the systems are well designed, we'll imbue their representations with meaning, no matter what symbols are used to represent the actors of the system.

"Realism" in terms of the design of the symbols that represent the actors is just icing on the cake, and can distract from flaws of realism in the behavior of the actors that the symbols repesent. It's like focusing on on type-setting and cover design when talking about the merit of a novel.


I'm sorry, but this is all cold and dead to me and pretty much the antithesis of meaningful storytelling. We just clearly disagree; I honestly have no idea how what you described here could provoke a meaningful emotional or intellectual response in someone and while I love reading into things, I like to have something to read into to begin with. I mean, I adore Yume Nikki, which is sort of like what you described, but the symbols are specifically drawn to evoke particular emotions; which is writing, basically.

In fact, one of the worst possible flaws of video games is when they're over written and the writing attempts to layer a meaning on a game that the underlying systems don't support...

I agree with you here, but I look at it the other way around. The story, the characters, the setting, atmosphere, emotion....these are the meaningful parts. Collecting coins and hitting people is dull and uninteresting. I do think the writing is pretty bad in most games, but the way you interact with the world is even worse. I'd rather experience a good story, and interact with its world in subtler ways, than have a well tuned punching simulator with all the superfluous story parts pulled off.

I guess...if this stuff works for you guys, then I shouldn't be trying to take away your enjoyment. As for me, I can count the number of genuinely meaningful videogames I've experienced on one hand (and I'm a huge nerd!). Am I totally alone in this? Do all of you really find something truly, lastingly meaningful in things like Passage and Shadow of the Colossus, let alone more mainstream games? Because I don't, I guess.
posted by byanyothername at 11:00 AM on March 14, 2011


I played my Shepherd as being excessively maternal and I liked the open ended nature of the dialog trees because you got to play a character according to your perception of gender, not someone else's.

However what really struck me is the beautiful animation on the female faces compared to the disasters for the male characters in ME2. Part of this was the choice to have one of the females alien characters to be a basically human shaped life form, but they really screwed up Jacob's nose, and all the other life forms/love interests lacked a facial muscle structure. Basically Miranda and the Asari were lovingly rendered while even the human males had mask faces (except for Shepherd). As a mostly straight woman it was a little off putting for the romance sub-plot, but I think it was more a matter of comparison that the facial mapping on the women had been better.

I have very mixed feelings about the race of slutty smurfs, but I decided that since they were an alien life form, my perception of them being slutty and female was more how, as a human I perceived something where the concept of gender was going to be something I was inferring onto them. I decided that the heavy sexualization was probably something they were taking advantage of with other races since they seemed to have good luck hitting on anything and everything, even races that didn't have their body proportions at all. The gentle comments about the bluest bits of the body being the most attractive was open ended enough that I figured that you could be talking about cross species nerve induction tissue pads, just as easily as vulvas.

Also, as an aside, it's that jerk Joker who gets you killed. I find it hard to believe that there wasn't a reliable, reachable escape hatch and I'm surprised you don't resent that you had to talk the damn fool into the life boat enough that you insist that next time the cabin includes a captain controlled eject pod so you don't have to shlep half way across the Normandy to give him a lecture on cutting your losses next time.
posted by Phalene at 11:05 AM on March 14, 2011


"I'm sorry, but this is all cold and dead to me and pretty much the antithesis of meaningful storytelling. We just clearly disagree; I honestly have no idea how what you described here could provoke a meaningful emotional or intellectual response in someone and while I love reading into things, I like to have something to read into to begin with. I mean, I adore Yume Nikki, which is sort of like what you described, but the symbols are specifically drawn to evoke particular emotions; which is writing, basically."

Wait, you overdefine "writing" to cover everything involved in manipulating symbols, but then deny that videogames have that at a meaningful level?

Provoke an emotional response? Tetris does that without any story at all.

God, where's Kid Ichorous to leap in with his handy list of all the awesome storytelling in video games? I feel like we just had this fight with Roger Ebert, and it was kinda silly then too.
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but this is all cold and dead to me and pretty much the antithesis of meaningful storytelling.

Games. Are. Not. Stories.
posted by empath at 11:10 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Never mind video games. This is the best female character in a game.
posted by Decani at 11:11 AM on March 14, 2011 [7 favorites]


As a woman gamer, I love Chell. . . . I don't know about other female gamers, but I never saw myself reflected in Gordon Freeman.

I don't understand this. Neither one says anything. Neither one has any motivation other than to run ans shoot. And for the vast majority of the of the games they look pretty much the same (Chell, Gordon). The games are different, the characters they interact with are different, but Chell and Gordon are blank slates.
posted by rtimmel at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2011


Games. Are. Not. Stories.

I guess really my best example of a game being a game with absolutely no writing, but tons of meaning is Minecraft.

There is absolutely no way in which a writer could improve that game. Any writing or narrative would make it substantially worse. Hell, I was disappointed when he added pop-up text for your inventory.
posted by empath at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the experience of playing minecraft -- the loneliness, the fear, the creative fulfillment, the pride, etc -- are feelings that can only be evoked by games, and no amount of written cut scenes or characters could do it.
posted by empath at 11:15 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Games. Are. Not. Stories.

I would argue that sandbox games are empty journals, and you make the story. Minecraft? It's you against the night. It's primal. Part of its success stems from that, I suspect. Hell, people even worked in the bogeyman.

Personally I don't particularly like sandbox games. I like a bit of railing to mine. So I like games with narrative in them. I like a little push, and decent characters to work with. And I like to be able to feel like that world welcomes me. I game to unwind; I don't want to be reminded and subjected to the same shit women have to put up with every day out here in the real world.

I like games that are violent, where I can blow up a muthafucka, because out here in the real world women are expected to be polite and demure and kind and nurturing. Fuck that. I work my agression out on mobs, blow them to bits. The rush of satisfaction from a perfect headshot from the other side of the map...priceless. Then I can go back out into a world where I'm a bitch if I refuse to talk to random pervs on the bus, or when I'm snooty for not giving my number to any dick that wants it.

I like games where I don't have to be looking at an improbably perfect size 0 arse crammed into an impossible g-string, because out here in the real world I'm costantly soaking in the message that I can't ever be pretty enough, can't ever be thin enough, perfect enough to matter. I like looking out of a face that is so inconsequential to the outcome of my game that I often don't even see it.

I like games with solid rewards for kicking ass, instead of having to downplay my achievements so my male employer doesn't get his girdle in a knot that a girl half his age can run his website just as well, if not better, than he can.

I like those stories. And I like games that let me into that world for a little while.
posted by Jilder at 11:23 AM on March 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


Games. Are. Not. Stories.

Counterpoint: pretty much all of the Final Fantasy games. Yeah, some of them were crap, but I'll defend FFVI to the bitter end. Hell, FFVI might even pass the Bechdel test. I'm pretty sure two of the female characters talked about something that wasn't about a man at some point.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:24 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: pretty much all of the Final Fantasy games.

Yeah, but the cut scenes are not games and have nothing to do with game playing. The game, such as it is, is the combat and exploration. How much story is left in FF if you skip past all the cut scenes? And would the game still be good without them?
posted by empath at 11:28 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the experience of playing minecraft -- the loneliness, the fear, the creative fulfillment, the pride, etc -- are feelings that can only be evoked by games, and no amount of written cut scenes or characters could do it.

Conversely, the microwave corridor in Metal Gear Solid 4 has the emotional depth it has (and the meta effect, too: you exhaust yourself complying with the need to hammer a button because Snake himself is exhausted and at the end of his life) only because of the story that has gone before; without it, it is Daley Thompson's Decathlon.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:32 AM on March 14, 2011


The story, the characters, the setting, atmosphere, emotion....these are the meaningful parts. Collecting coins and hitting people is dull and uninteresting. I do think the writing is pretty bad in most games, but the way you interact with the world is even worse. I'd rather experience a good story, and interact with its world in subtler ways, than have a well tuned punching simulator with all the superfluous story parts pulled off.

Isn't this basically writing off the only aspect of games that actually make them games though? Without the gameplay they are just computer-generated, possibly slightly randomized, films. Playing a game can not just be an experience, where the player passively observes a scripted fictional world or maybe has some subtle impact on it, the player has to assume some agency and play a role (and the mechanics of the game determine what exactly that role is). Ultimately the player's interactions are what matters, and you can't make a great game by simply writing the player out of it.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:38 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Games. Are. Not. Stories.

More full stops makes it true.

You're taking terms far too literally, empath. 'Game' is being used as shorthand here - and practically everywhere - for 'mixture of interactive, semi-interactive and non-interactive experiences such as might be found on a modern console or PC'. The word means something else, and something that can be found within video games but that doesn't describe the totality of them, and I'll stamp my feet and shout as much as anyone about 'game' being a hopelessly inaccurate term for this medium/selection of media (I think defining Shadow of the Colossus as the same sort of thing as Peggle is daft, especially in a world where TV and film are considered different media), but it's the term we have and there's not much to be done about it.

Games aren't stories, but many Video Games are. The interactive game part and the noninteractive story part are often separated, but they're both part of the video game. Which, itself, is not necessarily a game.
posted by emmtee at 11:39 AM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Tetris does that without any story at all.

I guess really my best example of a game being a game with absolutely no writing, but tons of meaning is Minecraft.


Ummmm....yeeeeeeeeah. Obviously I have no place in videogame culture.

Have a nice day (/morning/evening/whatever works), guys. Thanks for humoring me, I guess. I'm not sure why I still want to talk about videogames sometimes; I'm clearly just too old and have expectations too high to really enjoy them.
posted by byanyothername at 11:40 AM on March 14, 2011


Yeah, but the cut scenes are not games and have nothing to do with game playing. The game, such as it is, is the combat and exploration. How much story is left in FF if you skip past all the cut scenes? And would the game still be good without them?

This is why I'll defend FFVI on the Super Nintendo and not FF7 and later, because they are full of cut scenes (to the extent of making me sleepy). There are cut scenes in 6, but much of the game has to do with learning the characters strengths and weaknesses, and much of that is gleaned through the dialogue. If you cut out the dialogue and don't consider that part of a game as a package, then sure, it would be boring. A hell of a lot of games would be boring. There is storytelling as part of many games. Storytelling is as much of an art in games as are the graphics, the music and the game mechanics.

Imagine playing a FPS where there was no music, no sound effects, no conversation, no cut scenes, and graphics were blandly colored walls with faceless opponents. Even if it were the most balanced FPS on earth where the different nameless, shapeless weapons were perfectly harmonized, I'd throw the game directly into the trash and go back to playing Team Fortress 2.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:43 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Games are not stories in the same way Dungeons and Dragons is just throwing some dice.
posted by munchingzombie at 11:44 AM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, what about videogames? How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning?

Interestingly, Marylin Yalom documents the diffusion of chess across Europe first, via laws banning it, and then through the use of chess pieces as a metaphor for a medieval European social structure. She also suggests that that Vizier was renamed to the Queen and given expanded powers to flatter strong female nobles and patrons of the game.

And I'll point out that a game with the thinnest of narratives that can be played with non-representational pieces to accomodate the most severe religious restrictions on idols has inspired hundreds of artistic interpretations across the arts.

Collecting coins and hitting people is dull and uninteresting.

That depends on the perspective. Coin collectors are passionate about developing complete collections, using coinage to explore history, and/or looking coins as a medium of artistic expression. Meanwhile the Rumble in the Jungle has a mythic status in sports history as a comeback story bringing two phrases into our popular language. Combat sports of various flavors still seem to be very popular, even on the amateur level which lacks the added narrative drama provided by sports journalists.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:47 AM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Storytelling is as much of an art in games as are the graphics, the music and the game mechanics.

I think storytelling has as much to do with games as graphic design and typography does with writing novels. Yes, all things considered, I'd rather read a well designed book with a nice cover and a readable type, but in a novel, the words are the thing. Storytelling is decoration when you are talking about a game.
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on March 14, 2011


Games are not stories in the same way Dungeons and Dragons is just throwing some dice.

What, pray tell, is the story behind:
tetris
solitare
scrabble
online poker?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, what about videogames? How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning?

And, just as importantly, is that actually what videogames should be trying to do? Would adding a narrative to, say, chess, or go, really make them better games? Why is it that people aren't comfortable treating games as games?

There is a vast, thousand-year history of games in our culture, and if you ask me that is the tradition videogames should be building on. Narrative is not the medium's strength.
posted by IjonTichy at 11:51 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Storytelling is decoration when you are talking about a game.

Okay, okay, last comment because you've distilled perfectly my point here--I want videogames where this isn't true, because the type of game in this example is profoundly boring to me, personally, and lots of other nongamers.
posted by byanyothername at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]



What, pray tell, is the story behind:
tetris
solitare
scrabble
online poker?


This is a ridiculous tangent in a discussion about the portrayal of gender in games.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:52 AM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


I want videogames where this isn't true, because the type of game in this example is profoundly boring to me, personally, and lots of other nongamers.

Then, respectfully, why not just watch movies or read books?
posted by IjonTichy at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2011


I want videogames where this isn't true, because the type of game in this example is profoundly boring to me, personally, and lots of other nongamers.

Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.
posted by empath at 11:53 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


How did we get on this derail, anyway? The topic is how to write a great female video game character, not "I like games that have no writing."

It's like saying, "How do I write great dialogue?" and having a bunch of people respond, "Who needs dialogue? Look at the beginning of Wall-E."
posted by naju at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]



Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.


In all of the hissing and spitting, we're totally overlooking that a properly designed game's art, sound, writing, and gameplay would all support each other to build the experience.

And I'm still waiting for that dissertation on the portrayal of gender in tetris.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:54 AM on March 14, 2011


Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.

I love video games where the story is an integral part of the whole experience. I could list dozens upon dozens but I suspect there would be no point.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 11:56 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.

Blatant trolling. Out of this thread due to Rule 14.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:57 AM on March 14, 2011


Blatant trolling. Out of this thread due to Rule 14.

Well, better than 34, I suppose.
posted by mrgoat at 12:01 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Then, respectfully, why not just watch movies or read books?

I do. It isn't either/or. Also, to respond to your previous post, videogames can be lots of things--they don't have to have a strong narrative focus, but they can, if that's seen as something the designer(s) wants to do. Videogames can be traditional games in an electronic medium, but they don't have to be, and shouldn't exclusively be; diversity is good, isn't it?

This is a ridiculous tangent in a discussion about the portrayal of gender in games.

I don't think it is, since the original topic was an aspect of storytelling in videogames. A lot of videogames avoid this problem altogether by not really having stories at all; it's a good thing to bring up.

Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.

And you seem to want to be an aggressive jerk who assumes too much and makes me feel like I have to either speak with the same level of aggression or embarrassedly back out of a discussion I want to be a part of because I have a minority opinion. Just stop responding to me right now, please. I'm aware of how you feel, but your responses increasingly make me feel that you aren't really trying to be aware of my POV.
posted by byanyothername at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Without a narrative every game is going to be, essentially, a shiner version of Quake.
posted by hellojed at 12:02 PM on March 14, 2011


Then, respectfully, why not just watch movies or read books?

I wrote about what I like in games here. I cannot blow the head off a German soldier in All Quiet on the Western Front, I can only experience what the words on the page tell me I am experiencing. I can, however, end some enemy soldiers in just about every military FPS on the market. I like working out aggression by shooting things in the face. Your actions have an immediate, often visceral impact.

I do read, and read a lot, and on a wide range of subjects. Games just occupy a different mental niche for me, and for a lot of folk.

posted by Jilder at 12:04 PM on March 14, 2011


I cannot apparently close my italics, either. Apologies.
posted by Jilder at 12:05 PM on March 14, 2011


Without a narrative every game is going to be, essentially, a shiner version of Quake.

Creativity in game mechanics is possible. There's a reason why game genres are for the most part named after the game mechanics, not the type of story being told.
posted by IjonTichy at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Without a narrative every game is going to be, essentially, a shiner version of Quake.

Except that most games with narratives ARE shinier versions of Quake. Look at Call of Duty. It hasn't advanced a bit from Doom, in terms of game play -- it's point at the enemy and he dies, get the key, open the door. It's the same game. Except it's got an overlay of story that makes you forget that all you are doing is clicking on things to make them disappear.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2011


Storytelling is decoration when you are talking about a game.

Okay, okay, last comment because you've distilled perfectly my point here--I want videogames where this isn't true, because the type of game in this example is profoundly boring to me, personally, and lots of other nongamers.


Although I still think you are basically arguing that games should not be games, you might enjoy some Interactive Fiction (aka text adventures). The focus, especially in modern IF, is generally more on storytelling because the mechanics of IF tend to help make it possible and the fanbase around them is receptive to that style.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:06 PM on March 14, 2011


So, what about videogames? How can videogames evoke specific emotions and present us with ideas, events or aspects of life with genuine depth and meaning?

The design of a game determines what power you have within the context of the game world. This presents you with the choice of how to use it. By making careful choices about what power you get, when, and what you have to do to get it, a game designer can manipulate a player into facing difficult choices. These have emotional resonance for a lot of people, even in those cases where the choices are really illusory; but with sufficiently clever design, games can make those choices real, and force the player to live with the consequences.

For more information, read Millions of Peaches at Lost Garden.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:07 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except that most games with narratives ARE shinier versions of Quake. Look at Call of Duty.

What? You're going for games with narrative and you pick Call Of Duty? That's a pretty thin argument. How is say, Psychonauts a shinier version of quake?
posted by lumpenprole at 12:08 PM on March 14, 2011


"Games. Are. Not. Stories."

Books are not stories. Some books have stories in them. Others have instructions or pictures or any number of other content types in their pages. But yelling "BOOKS ARE NOT STORIES" would rightly get you looked askance in any discussion of literature, because most books have stories in them.

"I'm not sure why I still want to talk about videogames sometimes; I'm clearly just too old and have expectations too high to really enjoy them."

Yeah, the problem is that your standards are just too high to talk about games *eyeroll*.

There are plenty of games that have stories and even incorporate the game mechanic into their meaning. I know there was one posted about moving past a bad relationship, but I can't seem to find it right now. Anyway, searching the games archive here is pretty instructive. You can also look into all of the text-based games and interactive storytelling to see that side of things.
posted by klangklangston at 12:09 PM on March 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Except it's got an overlay of story that makes you forget that all you are doing is clicking on things to make them disappear.

What's wrong with a bit of immersion?

This may be a tangent, but I sometimes wonder if a lot of the problems game devs have with writing in their games come from an attitude they observe in many gamers (and I know they must, because it's everywhere) that games are something to beat, not enjoy, and if you allow yourself to be drawn in by the story or the art or if you start to like the characters enough that you laugh with them and you fear for their safety then that game has beaten you.

It's like going to the movies and sitting in the back row thinking, "Well that's not real, there's a bloke with a camera filming that, and thirty seconds after mourning her dead friend that actor's off back to the trailer for a coffee and a bourbon cream."
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:11 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Then you don't want games. You want movies that you hit buttons to watch.

Blatant trolling. Out of this thread due to Rule 14.


I really don't think that's trollling. I think that's evidence that "video games" is such a huge, diverse category, that there can be whole groups of "hardcore" gamers who come to video games wanting absolutely completely different things.

Some people say they play RPGs only for the story. Others say they hate the stories in RPGs and only care about the gameplay. ArmyofKittens says "story" is an integral part of the whole experience. OldManMurray says:

Likewise, story lovers should just accept the fact that non-interactive media such as books, television, movies, and, in case all of those somehow disappear, plays, have stories and dialogue pretty much covered. Games are something else altogether. They require a new and as yet unformed way of creative thinking. Note to super-smart adventure gamers who never fail to mention that they’re too smart to for TV but will gladly spend two hundred excruciating hours wringing any itty-bitty bit of plot out of Jane Jensen’s latest crappy opus: Watch some television, they put stories on there now.
posted by straight at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who doesn't love games with good stories? It doesn't even make sense to offer that as an opposion to games without stories. Games with stories do not clash in any way with storyless games. They are both primarily (in theory) good games with solid ways of interacting with and entertaining the player.

I personally heart heart heart roleplaying games for the story elements but there's no way that the very best story ever made will be supported by a game that has given no thought to its "gameness." We enjoy Games. We also enjoy the stories some of those games have.

If you add sugar to bread, you have cake. That doesn't demean bread nor does it elevate cake.
posted by cheap paper at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Although I still think you are basically arguing that games should not be games, you might enjoy some Interactive Fiction (aka text adventures). The focus, especially in modern IF, is generally more on storytelling because the mechanics of IF tend to help make it possible and the fanbase around them is receptive to that style.

I appreciate the suggestion but, weirdly enough, have never been able to get into (but have never tried very hard, I suppose) interactive fiction because it's a medium that's neither really games nor literature.

Maybe examples will help illustrate what I mean? Take Shenmue or Dreamfall--there are some videogamey elements in both, but the interactive focus is mostly environmental or conversational. The player interacts with small details in the environment, explores and converses with other characters to advance the story. This is interesting to me, and a lot of games do this to some degree, but most games feature this only as something peripheral and instead place the focus on competitive goal achievement. I don't like competitive goal achievement, so when I play a videogame I feel like a vegetarian picking bones.
posted by byanyothername at 12:12 PM on March 14, 2011


ArmyofKittens says "story" is an integral part of the whole experience.

I say it can be, and is in most of my favourite games. But then I was just playing Tetris on my ipod, too.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:13 PM on March 14, 2011


What? You're going for games with narrative and you pick Call Of Duty? That's a pretty thin argument. How is say, Psychonauts a shinier version of quake?

The point of picking Call of Duty is that it's an example of a game with narrative not fundamentally adding anything to the quality of the gameplay, only disguising what it is that you are actually doing.

Psychonauts is kind of a unique game and I'm not really sure what to say about it. I really enjoyed it, but it bombed in the marketplace.
posted by empath at 12:14 PM on March 14, 2011


"I don't like competitive goal achievement, so when I play a videogame I feel like a vegetarian picking bones."

The "video" might be what's confusing people: You sound like you just don't like games.
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011


Lord Chancellor: Being fit and racially indeterminate is rather besides the point as neither of them are considered pluses/minuses nor connected to her femaleness.
I was trying to point out that despite her lack of cleavage and lipstick, she's a more likely target of male lust than her female fans may imagine. I believe some Rule 34 searches will (horribly) demonstrate this further.
...as a male didn't feel that any thing GLaDOS said to me was particular to her talking to a female.
That's great, but it surprises me a little. I think the reason the humor and writing in Portal works so well is not because it ignores gender but because it implicitly acknowledges and uses the gender-based assumptions the player (male or female) is likely to hold. Without being insulting about it.

The companion cube is bespangled with little pink hearts and is insistently personified by GLaDOS. The punchline of the companion cube sequence is when GLaDOS forces Chell to "painfully euthanize" the cube, then immediately congratulates her on being the cruelest, most heartless, least-hesitant-to-murder-a-friend person to ever take the companion cube test. That is, the least loving, least nurturing, least motherly companion cube custodian ever. Would that punchline have any oomph if Chell had looked like Marcus Fenix? The whole sequence would have been utterly surreal. Maybe even funny, but very different.

When GLaDOS tells Chell she's "unlikeable," the humor (for me) doesn't follow because Chell is likely to be emotionally immune to such barbs, but because it's so ridiculously out of scale with the life-and-death struggle that's happening at the time. It's catty; it's a nasty, potentially effective attack on Chell's self-esteem, but delivered with such tone-deafness and such bad timing that it becomes absurd. (Push it a little bit and you can even see it as an attempt to crush any hopes Chell has of finding true love one day.) Can you imagine a scene where Bob Page taunts JC Denton by explaining that it's unlikely Denton will ever know true love?

My point here isn't that Portal is bad or that its portrayals are reprehensible, just that the reasons we see its portrayals of females as positive may be complicated. Which is part of the reason its success is exceptional and rare. I don't think the characters were concieved as neuter entities, then given superficially female decor and sound effects. I don't think that's really what anyone wants.
posted by Western Infidels at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


byanyothername, I think you're playing the wrong interactive fiction games. Emily Short writes a lot of IF that's heavily focused on the same exploration-style gameplay as Shenmue and friends; her best known work is Galatea, although I think Metamorphoses might be a better introduction to the genre.
posted by LogicalDash at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, I gave up on Psychonauts because I can't beat the final boss. Boo.
posted by klangklangston at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011


This tangent reminds me of how people feel about Reiner Knizia's boardgames. A lot of people accuse him of overlaying bare minimum themes over abstract math games, but honestly I wouldn't play his games at all if not for the thin framing. As it is, I greatly enjoy Ra or Tigris & Euphrates, even if they are basically abstract math games.

And I think there's a place for both relatively abstract videogames (my favorite time-waster in high school calc was Tunnel on my HP48G) as well as videogames with rich storytelling. If story doesn't matter to you in a videogame, that's fine, but don't act as if videogames should only be targeted towards you. Similarly if you just want an interactive movie, that's fine too. But don't denigrate abstract games with thin or no story.

There's room enough for go and Heavy Rain in this world. (Though both are too extreme in one direction for my taste.)

Any kind of trying to define what a "real" video game is is just as ridiculous as the "can video games be art" discussion.
posted by kmz at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look at Call of Duty.

The COD engine is actually based off the Quake 3 engine, as are most modern engines. Which is why I made the previous assertion.

That said, COD doesn't play much like Quake. But in neither game you're not mearly "clicking things to make them dissapear." There's immersion and...stuff.

There's the Marathon Series, which has the same look as the Doom series but with a bit of a story, but the gameplay is pretty much the same. It's the narrative and the environment that differentiates it.

Man I don't even know why I bother with stories. I can barely make a game, much less worry about the motivations behind the charachters.
posted by hellojed at 12:15 PM on March 14, 2011


Can you imagine a scene where Bob Page taunts JC Denton by explaining that it's unlikely Denton will ever know true love?

I want that game. "JC, those stupid sunglasses make you look so unapproachable!"
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:17 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


The distinguishing feature of Psychonauts, for me, was not really the writing (however great) but the level design. Being able to explore every nook and cranny of a person's mind, all in the most bizarro graphical style this side of Yume Nikki, was... really something.

Damn, I think I need to reinstall it now...
posted by LogicalDash at 12:17 PM on March 14, 2011


Okay, okay, last comment because you've distilled perfectly my point here--I want videogames where this isn't true, because the type of game in this example is profoundly boring to me, personally, and lots of other nongamers.

I don't think this is the case. "Gamers" are largely defined, at least by the gaming media, by investment (in both money and time playing) in big high-production games with deep narratives. Nongamers are perceived to desire "casual" games that often don't have a narrative to them. Of course, I think this distinction is bullshit, but that's the running fold theory out there.

But non-narrative games still might raise issues of gender representation in that they often have gendered characters and avatars. And of course, when you get into online play there's a whole new can of worms were gender is concerned.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:18 PM on March 14, 2011


The point of picking Call of Duty is that it's an example of a game with narrative not fundamentally adding anything to the quality of the gameplay, only disguising what it is that you are actually doing.

Yeah, but you claim 'most games are shinier versions of quake' and then pick the game that is most like that. That's not most games. There are lot of them to be sure, but it's just one segment of the market. Mass Effect 2 is not a shinier version of quake, Dragon Age 1+2 are not, neither are any of the Elder Scrolls series, Harvest Moon isn't quake, and neither is No More Heroes.

And this is just as far as I feel like typing. "Shiner Version Of Quake" is a totally limited view of the videogame market without even factoring in the weird rise of social gaming.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:18 PM on March 14, 2011


The guy got really mad he got stuck with the female. I asked him, you know, in single-player, you've been playing for 12 hours as a female. He goes, no I wasn't. It didn't bother me, but now it bothers me.

I've seen this lots of different places and it is completely bizarre to me. Apparently there are a large number of guys who feel uncomfortable playing a first-person game when the protagonist is female. 3rd person games, where you look at the female character are fine (Tomb Raider), but first person makes some guys uncomfortable.

I've seen at least three different stories online of dudes trying to return games like No One Lives Forever and Mirror's Edge because they didn't realize they were going to have to be playing as a girl.

I have trouble even imagining that mindset. I loved those games, and it never even occurred to me that there would be anything weird about playing a game with a female protagonist.
posted by straight at 12:20 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've seen at least three different stories online of dudes trying to return games like No One Lives Forever and Mirror's Edge because they didn't realize they were going to have to be playing as a girl.

That's extraordinary! I can't decide if it makes me want to go get a psychology professor or a large plank of wood with a nail in it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:21 PM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


But oh, anything made my Zynga is in fact not a game. They are evil incarnate, soul traps from which you can never escape.
posted by kmz at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2011


I've seen at least three different stories online of dudes trying to return games like No One Lives Forever and Mirror's Edge because they didn't realize they were going to have to be playing as a girl.

Wow, really? That may be a new filter question for new friends. It's seems like a pretty good douche detector.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have to be one or the other, Army.
posted by Jilder at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What, pray tell, is the story behind:
tetris
solitare
scrabble
online poker?


None. But how are most of the games mentioned in this thread not stories? Many games contain stories. Some do not. Trotting out a subset of games that don't rely on story as evidence that Games.Are.Not.Stories is absurd.

This is a ridiculous tangent in a discussion about the portrayal of gender in games.

People are questioning whether or not games are stories. Gender in games isn't much of a conversation if we can't even agree that games have narratives with which to portray gender.
posted by munchingzombie at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2011


Games are not stories in the same way Dungeons and Dragons is just throwing some dice.

To use another D&D analogy though, game designers face the same challenges as a GM in terms of constructing a story. Give the players too little freedom, and you railroad them, making them feel as if they are not actually getting to play their characters and do the things they want to do. Give the players too much freedom, and they can easily derail the entire plot and getting rid of whatever narrative aspects are supposed to be built into it. With videogames, it's all of these sorts of problems, compounded by the fact that the focus of most games is not as much on storytelling, and the fact that a computer program is nowhere near as good at interacting with the player and making things up as the game progresses.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:22 PM on March 14, 2011


I'll check those out, LogicalDash! Thanks!

What's wrong with a bit of immersion?

This may be a tangent, but I sometimes wonder if a lot of the problems game devs have with writing in their games come from an attitude they observe in many gamers (and I know they must, because it's everywhere) that games are something to beat, not enjoy, and if you allow yourself to be drawn in by the story or the art or if you start to like the characters enough that you laugh with them and you fear for their safety then that game has beaten you.

It's like going to the movies and sitting in the back row thinking, "Well that's not real, there's a bloke with a camera filming that, and thirty seconds after mourning her dead friend that actor's off back to the trailer for a coffee and a bourbon cream."


This! All of this. This is where I'm coming from, and why I'm so frequently disappointed with videogames. I like to simply enjoy things--to empathize with characters, to learn something meaningful about myself or the world or to surround myself with beauty for no reason except how that affects me. I like art that moves me to tears; every artistic medium is full of wonderful and profound works that can affect me deeply and powerfully, haunting me for a lifetime, except videogames.

The "video" might be what's confusing people: You sound like you just don't like games.

No, I like chess and checkers and traditional games. But we're not talking about traditional games.
posted by byanyothername at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but you claim 'most games are shinier versions of quake' and then pick the game that is most like that

I was responding to someone ELSE saying that games without narrative would be a shinier version of quake by pointing to an example of a game WITH a narrative being a shinier version of quake in as literal a sense as it could be.
posted by empath at 12:24 PM on March 14, 2011


When GLaDOS tells Chell she's "unlikeable," the humor (for me) doesn't follow because Chell is likely to be emotionally immune to such barbs, but because it's so ridiculously out of scale with the life-and-death struggle that's happening at the time.

I think you've hit exactly what makes that line so ridiculous and funny, but like Lord Chancellor, I don't agree that it is particularly gendered. It's the sort of taunt a kid would make to another kid, and "nobody likes you, you have no friends" is a taunt that gets aimed at boys as well as girls.
posted by straight at 12:25 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have trouble even imagining that mindset.

I had a boss like that. He couldn't even handle the third person ones like Tomb Raider. I found it very very strange.
posted by kmz at 12:25 PM on March 14, 2011


I like to simply enjoy things--to empathize with characters, to learn something meaningful about myself or the world or to surround myself with beauty for no reason except how that affects me. I like art that moves me to tears; every artistic medium is full of wonderful and profound works that can affect me deeply and powerfully, haunting me for a lifetime, except videogames.

Have you played Shadow of the Colossus? Braid? Flower? All games that do those things with only the barest hint of writing.
posted by empath at 12:27 PM on March 14, 2011


I've seen at least three different stories online of dudes trying to return games like No One Lives Forever and Mirror's Edge because they didn't realize they were going to have to be playing as a girl.

Okay, you're going to have to cite, because I can't seem to find an example of this.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:30 PM on March 14, 2011


I have trouble even imagining that mindset.

And more on topic, I hope game companies never find out about these people, or it's going to do even more damage to the roles women in games are relegated to.
posted by mrgoat at 12:32 PM on March 14, 2011


I don't really understand the criticism that games are too "abstract". Art is frequently abstract, even if we're restricting ourselves to talking about stories. How many novels have you read where the hero's family was never even mentioned? Their job? Their eye color?
posted by LogicalDash at 12:33 PM on March 14, 2011


I like to simply enjoy things--to empathize with characters, to learn something meaningful about myself or the world or to surround myself with beauty for no reason except how that affects me. I like art that moves me to tears; every artistic medium is full of wonderful and profound works that can affect me deeply and powerfully, haunting me for a lifetime, except videogames.


They'll only give back what you put into them, you know. Gaming has allowed me to explore my competitive side and my preference for precision applied violence. It's also taught me that I'm a fairly good team player. I play in teams, sometimes, and I've learned that victory is a great unifier, that even if you don't speak the same language as the other team mates you can still glory in your victories and mourne your defeats. I've learned that I'm capable of obsession, of firey hatreds towards things like spider splicers and late I shaped Tetris blocks. I have wandered lost through dead worlds, surrounded by the shattered ruins of humanities dreams. I've been a liberating wind, freeing frozen cities from their prisons.
posted by Jilder at 12:33 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have you played Shadow of the Colossus? Braid? Flower? All games that do those things with only the barest hint of writing.

It's an interesting point (though Braid had tons of text in it), because it beggars the question of what is writing in a video game. Is it just dialogue? Or is it the entire concept of the game? In Shadow.. there's definitely a story being told that you can debate the merits of, but it's not told through dialogue.

I would argue that when we talk about 'writing' in a video game, we're talking about more than what the characters say. We're talking about plot, world and motivation. But it's not cut and dry where that ends and game mechanics begin.

I guess that's one of the things about a new medium, you can't necessarily judge it by the same lights as older mediums.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:36 PM on March 14, 2011


klangklangston: But yelling "BOOKS ARE NOT STORIES" would rightly get you looked askance in any discussion of literature, because most books have stories in them.

The last I checked, there were more non-narrative microgames getting published out there than big storytelling games. Largely because the development time is much shorter.

kmz: If story doesn't matter to you in a videogame, that's fine, but don't act as if videogames should only be targeted towards you.

No one's claiming this. But people are claiming that only storytelling games matter in this kind of analysis, and I'm unconvinced that we can't talk about, oh, gendered character design in Torchlight which has all of a one-paragraph story.

Meanwhile, the peril of talking about games as stories is that it inevitably leads to wank in which game narratives are compared to literature, cinema, and/or comics rather than looking at games as games.

munchingzombie: Gender in games isn't much of a conversation if we can't even agree that games have narratives with which to portray gender.

You need to have a narrative to portray gender?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:36 PM on March 14, 2011


And I'm still waiting for that dissertation on the portrayal of gender in tetris.

Clearly Tetris is a phallo-centric game that models the fantasy couplings of the most debauched fraternity bro stereotype. The purpose of the game is to find the tightest possible coupling of protrusion into concavity as quickly as possible. The successful insertion of the four block long straight piece into the four block deep straight channel is the height of achievement in the game. Skilled players are already mentally negotiating the possible geometries of the next coupling before the current is even completed.
posted by Babblesort at 12:37 PM on March 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


Regarding gender ambiguity, Graham Nelson's Jigsaw is somewhat well known for a long and involved storyline with romantic elements, where neither the player's gender nor that of the mysterious stranger in black are specified, letting the player's imagination take hold.

This is probably where I make a comment about our fascination as a society with replacing documents with videos, and everything having to be graphical, 3-D, and polished; and how this forces us into situations like this gender one where even though it may not have been an issue at all previously, now it requires a lot of work to reach minimum acceptability. Not to mention heralding the decline of a civilization which came to greatness through literacy.

More charitably, one could simply say that going from a world where the player is represented simply as "you" (text adventures) or "@" (roguelikes) to one where the player and his — heh — world can be rendered in glorious full-color 3-D from any angle presents more challenges than just rendering all the polygons in time. Even things like eye contact have significance now that the resolution and format can present them. And where before one might simply select "male" or "female" avatar, now the developer must provide a variety of characters with different races, body shapes, breast/penis/bicep sizes, voices, etc., or shoehorn everyone into a single limited choice which by its nature makes someone feel "other".

It's an interesting challenge and one worth solving right. It causes us to wonder why the player cannot simply view the avatar as they might a protagonist in a movie: a character on a stage, who doesn't reflect on the viewer/player. At the same time, the choice of avatars and gameplay styles and story trees presented by the developer can either provide a valuable insight into the milieu the player is to be experiencing, or indict the developer's stereotyped perception of N% of the userbase, or both, depending on your perspective.
posted by vsync at 12:39 PM on March 14, 2011


All games that do those things with only the barest hint of writing.

Do you mean that the games are such that the writing that went into the game is done well enough that it's transparent, or that it isn't there to begin with?

Because Shadow Of The Colossus has a lot of writing, it even has it's own made up language.
posted by hellojed at 12:42 PM on March 14, 2011


Stagger Lee on Red Dead Redemption:
And more interestingly, despite all of the heavy handed moralizing about equality, women seem to be in the game to be rescued, and native Americans exist to be shot.

I disagree. The game opens with two old ladies talking about how we have brought civilization to the savages - they may have lost their land, but they have gained access to heaven. This sets the tone for the whole game. There is a series of missions where the protagonist partners with an idiotic, drug-addled anthropologist, and with Nastas, a Native American, one of the few unambiguously heroic characters in the game, who bluntly observes that the relentless exploitation of the land (which your character is constantly participating in) is destroying it. There is even an optional achievement for killing every buffalo on the Great Plains. Even for players choosing the heroic route, the game bears a sardonic sense of being a minor cog in a greater banal evil.

Regarding women, the game features plenty of ruthless female criminals, and just as many helpless men that you have to rescue. The irony-laced newspapers in the game are positively dripping with acid regarding society's treatment of women and minorities. If you're looking for a depiction of equality in the workforce, you should look elsewhere than a game set in the 1910s American West.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do you mean that the games are such that the writing that went into the game is done well enough that it's transparent, or that it isn't there to begin with?

Because Shadow Of The Colossus has a lot of writing, it even has it's own made up language.


Where is the writing that tells you that you should feel bad for destroying the creatures?
posted by empath at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2011


In contrast, Half-Life's Freeman muteness just doesn't work at all\

I disagree.

It maybe requires a bit of imagination or suspension of disbelief, but I think it's definitely worth the trade-off. By not having Freeman talking, you feel like it is you, alone, in the situation, not you sitting there with Gordon, on his shoulder, watching his reactions to the situation.

I remember playing the first Half Life and at one point glancing at a ladder leading down into darkness and thinking, "There's no way I'm going down there." And then laughing at myself and how immersed I'd gotten in the game. If Gordon had made some comment out loud when I'd looked at that ladder, the moment would have been completely ruined.

Not every first-person game has to be a "the protagonist is YOU!" style game. I love games like No One Lives Forever or Left For Dead where the character you're playing has a personality that asserts itself and make comments and has conversations. But for games like Half Life (the Myst series also does this) where conversations are not the point, I think the mute protagonist is very effective. Arguably, Valve dropped the ball a bit in HL2 by having too many situations with Alyx and others talking to Freeman, but overall I think it's a good artistic choice for that game.
posted by straight at 12:44 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


"No, I like chess and checkers and traditional games. But we're not talking about traditional games."

If you don't like competitive goal achievement, I'm not sure why you'd like chess.

It reads to me like the only way to make your argument coherent is to draw a line between "traditional games" and "video games" that doesn't actually exist — BattleChess is pretty much just animated chess.

But even there, it's easy to create a narrative around the game, where each player plays a game that represents their identity — there are plenty of stories about chess playing that take that tack.

I'm giving you a hard time about this because I think one of the biggest, most encompassing shifts in aesthetics over the last 200 years has been the rapid, unceasing expansion of what can be regarded aesthetically, i.e. as art, and almost all of the arguments that you're making are ones that have already been dismissed from the art world as preventatives to something being regarded as art, whether it's abstract expressionism, photography, abstract sculpture, etc. Art will be different in games, as they're another metamedia (like film), but there's nothing in the medium that precludes it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you played Shadow of the Colossus? Braid? Flower? All games that do those things with only the barest hint of writing.

Yes, and I like them, but I consider each more or less abstract art. What is Shadow of Colossus about? The environments are beautiful and you can draw a deeper theme of the cost of keeping beauty in a transient world if you force it, but mostly it's about fighting big monsters. The art direction is wonderful, but that's all it's essentially about.

Braid's trickier, because it sort of looks like it may be about relationships and how time changes us all until someone points out to you that the writing just explains the mechanics in a flowery way.

Flower is best, since it's the most minimal, and doesn't really try to force any particular meaning upon itself beyond the experience it provides. I like Flower. I have nothing mean to say about it, and it does move me.

Minimalism is fine. My whole point of view is that writing is one element of what can make a game interesting, and one of the most important. That's why it's a shame that writing is so neglected in videogames. I don't know why the suggestion that writing could be improved or that all videogames don't have to be the exact same thing is so upsetting, but a lot of the standard knee-jerk replies are very bizarre. No, not every videogame needs quality writing, but why shouldn't some have higher standards? Why is writing or storytelling the first thing that needs to be changed, deemphasized or thrown away when considering game design?
posted by byanyothername at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2011


No one's claiming this.

Really? How do you interpret this?

Storytelling is decoration when you are talking about a game.
posted by kmz at 12:49 PM on March 14, 2011


Not every photograph needs writing.

And for every videogame, in every one of them, the soul of it is that the creator is forming a subjective experience intentionally for the player. That's it. It doesn't have to be fun, it doesn't have to have a story, all it has to do is present a view of the subject interacts with the setting.

Again, I feel like you're overbroad with what you think "writing" is, when you really mean "forethought," and then just arguing against everyone who has a more narrow view of "writing."
posted by klangklangston at 12:49 PM on March 14, 2011


Yes, and I like them, but I consider each more or less abstract art. What is Shadow of Colossus about? The environments are beautiful and you can draw a deeper theme of the cost of keeping beauty in a transient world if you force it, but mostly it's about fighting big monsters. The art direction is wonderful, but that's all it's essentially about.

The game is about evoking a feeling, and its a feeling that only could have been evoked through the medium of games. Adding a story explaining who the character was and his relationships and motivations would have added nothing to the game -- it probably would have distanced you from it, and you would have complained about the poor writing. Most game writing is poor not because the writers are bad writers, but because there should be no writing there to begin with.
posted by empath at 12:50 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand the criticism that games are too "abstract". Art is frequently abstract, even if we're restricting ourselves to talking about stories. How many novels have you read where the hero's family was never even mentioned? Their job? Their eye color?

To clarify, by "abstract," I mean there are no easily identifiable themes beyond what the audience projects. Novels and films are very, very good at communicating things without openly saying them. That isn't what I mean at all. To illustrate:

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

This tells a story. There isn't much there, in terms of wordcount, but the implicit heartbreak is clearly present.

The dog is red.

This doesn't tell us anything. It's just descriptive. It's "abstract." We can appreciate it, as a sentence, but it doesn't say anything deeper than the words used to express it.

Does this help?
posted by byanyothername at 12:50 PM on March 14, 2011


Where is the writing that tells you that you should feel bad for destroying the creatures?

I'm going to assume the game's design document, since the way the game presents itself and the emergent guilt of the player aren't an accident. I had the same feeling of guilt playing it as you did, so I assume that's what the developer intended.
posted by hellojed at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2011


Really? How do you interpret this?

Storytelling is decoration when you are talking about a game.


In context, it means that storytelling is an artistic design choice that may or may not add value to the game.

It certainly does not mean "videogames should only be targeted towards you."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2011


After watching this video, I realized that my gaming interests of late have been gender neutral games such as the Hidden Expedition and Mystery Case Files series. I'm a sucker for hidden object games :-D It seems upon casual observation that a lot of the hidden object games have female protagonists. Awakening features a princess, but she doesn't need anybody to rescue her - just her wits and magical objects. Magic Encyclopedia is much of the same vein - where smarts are valued. Asylum Conspiracy has been a personal fave because the heroine is named after me, but she's on a mission to rescue her missing grandfather, so I think that's a very human storyline. And lastly, there's even a Murder She Wrote one for cryin' out loud :-D Go grey power!
posted by Calzephyr at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2011


Most game writing is poor not because the writers are bad writers, but because there should be no writing there to begin with.

Couldn't disagree more. Most game writing is bad because it's bad writing. I think the metal gear series would have been better with better writing. Without any writing at all, I never would have bothered to pick it up.

Just like I never picked up Shadowrun.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:54 PM on March 14, 2011


It certainly does not mean "videogames should only be targeted towards you."

Actually, you're right, I did misspeak. What I really got out of it was the equally wrong: "videogames where story matter aren't real games".
posted by kmz at 12:57 PM on March 14, 2011


This doesn't tell us anything. It's just descriptive. It's "abstract."

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:57 PM on March 14, 2011


What I really got out of it was the equally wrong: "videogames where story matter aren't real games".

It doesn't remotely say that either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:57 PM on March 14, 2011


"You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means."

1. thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances: an abstract idea.
2. expressing a quality or characteristic apart from any specific object or instance, as justice, poverty, and speed.
3. theoretical; not applied or practical: abstract science.
4. difficult to understand; abstruse: abstract speculations.


Not really. It's not the best word to use, but I couldn't think of anything better, so I just glued some "quotes" on it when trying to clarify to suggest that I'm aware it's not perfect but I assume everyone will know what I mean now.

Not every photograph needs writing.

And for every videogame, in every one of them, the soul of it is that the creator is forming a subjective experience intentionally for the player. That's it. It doesn't have to be fun, it doesn't have to have a story, all it has to do is present a view of the subject interacts with the setting.

Again, I feel like you're overbroad with what you think "writing" is, when you really mean "forethought," and then just arguing against everyone who has a more narrow view of "writing."


I agree with this, and I am doing this, but I also always end up wading against a tide of grar arguing that videogames shouldn't have writing any time I talk about them, so I overshoot my argument a lot.

I would kind of have preferred to just talk about gender in videogame writing, but I don't think there's enough common ground to establish for even having that conversation. At this point I feel like I'm just flapping my arms around. I'm not arguing for anything extreme and I'm not arguing against games; I'm arguing for better writing in videogames and different kinds of videogames than really exist right now. These are things that would make me--an interested nongamer--willing to spend more of her time playing videogames. Being told I'm wrong in my personal preferences over and over gets so grating and leaves me with a bad impression of game culture.
posted by byanyothername at 1:04 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, you're going to have to cite, because I can't seem to find an example of this.

I'm sorry. They were just forum posts from people claiming to have worked at video game stores and seen dudes complaining about having to "play as a female." I'm pretty sure one of them was in a discussion of the rumor that Activision has a policy of no female lead characters, and I thought it was at Rock Paper Shotgun, but I can't find it.
posted by straight at 1:05 PM on March 14, 2011


byanyothername, "the dog is red" is a concrete statement, which is normally the opposite of abstract. Dogs really exist. Red really exists (at least, as a known and documented perceptual phenomenon). When you say "the dog is red" I know what that means... probably... assuming you're using those words for their usual meanings.

"For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." is a series of concrete statements, but one with more emotional implications than "the dog is red," because we know that babies are emotionally significant, and we can guess that if you have never-used baby shoes for sale, that means you were expecting a baby.

If what you want is games with emotional implications, Shadow of the Colossus should do just fine. Google a bit and you'll find miles-long discussion threads over what the colossi are, exactly, and why that ominous voice wants you to kill them.

It's all to do with what you, the player, already have in your head at the time you play the game. For some people, games have lots of emotional meaning.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:06 PM on March 14, 2011


What I really got out of it was the equally wrong: "videogames where story matter aren't real games".

What I meant was that storytelling is orthogonal to gameplay, and that no amount of good storytelling will make a bad game worth playing, and that a lack of storytelling will not make a good game worse. (although bad storytelling certainly can make an otherwise decent game unplayable).
posted by empath at 1:07 PM on March 14, 2011


I would think that as a medium, gaming would be broad enough to accommodate a diverse audience. (I seriously hope that kicks the feet out from under this argument? please?)

Whether the industry can accommodate that is probably a more important question

When you're talking about the portrayal of gender in gaming, that seems to be where the issue is. I'm sure that you'd go a lot further comparing the portrayal of gender in other mass media to gaming than comparing it to literature.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:08 PM on March 14, 2011


I think about narrative all the time when I play chess. I think about the history of the game, about invaders sweeping out of central Asia, and the shifts in tactics and strategy that accompanied them. I think about the rapid spread of a game through both invasion and trade, and the mother-of-pearl inlaid chess board from Damascus that I once saw in the treasure house of Todaiji temple in Japan. I think about the primarily equestrian aristocrats that adopted the game, and the tensions between infantry and cavalry tactics that are played out in abstract on the board. I imagine how a knight in the court of Aquitaine, having returned from the crusades with this new entertainment might have played the game, versus a cavalier in Timurid Samarkand- what sort of battlefield scenarios did they play out in their heads? To them, what was the importance of a rook or a queen? Would this have been a leisurely pass-time, or an essential component of one's military education?

I'm not very good a chess.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:09 PM on March 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


...or spelling for that matter.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2011


Do all of you really find something truly, lastingly meaningful in things like Passage and Shadow of the Colossus, let alone more mainstream games? Because I don't, I guess.

You didn't?

There's a moment in Ico where the bridge recedes, right after panning off a shot that emphasizes the enormous height of that bridge, and in a fraction of a second your reflexes decide if you run back and jump for the princess or bolt for the safety of the far side of the bridge. If you hesitate for more than a breath, you don't make the jump. If you run for safety, you get to the end of the bridge and find there is nowhere to go, and all you can do is wait for the bridge to slowly pull itself out from under you. What happened, in that instant? What did your muscle memory decide? Did you ever ask yourself what that moment meant, or what it told you about you?

You played through Shadow Of The Colossus, a game that with only the barest hint of a motive sends you to cut down majestic, sometimes beautiful and sometimes sleeping creatures, that opens with a faceless entity saying "the price you pay may be heavy indeed", and your character replying "It doesn't matter", that concludes with your finding out in the end that despite the reasons that you (not the character, but you) brought to finishing the game that you were ultimately used, and to free a monster no less. I could talk for an hour just about the last colossus, in that game - as a parable of the journey so far, as the climax of an interactive narrative, as foreshadowing your own end - and the last ten minutes of that game were absolutely visceral. Abstract, my god, you could not be more wrong about that.

And that didn't speak to you at all? Really?

I suspect that a fair bit of art manages to move you to tears, then, for this reason only: video games do not permit you to enjoy them without engaging them. You can listen to music, watch a play, but the enjoyment of a video game comes both from playing it, and reflecting on it afterwards. If you are only moved by having pathos poured over you like gatorade over winning coach, then video games will never be for you, and you'll need art that lets you sit very still and let it happen. Video games aren't that, and can't be. And done poorly, they can be less than that, but done well they can be much more.
posted by mhoye at 1:10 PM on March 14, 2011 [12 favorites]


So anyway, female characters in video games...

I mostly play puzzle, casual, and JRPG games, and I've been trying to think of a non-RPG solid female character, that I couldn't just swap out for male, in the past five years that I've come across and liked enough to remember. The only one I can think of is Princess Rosalina (from Mario Kart, natch. Sweet bike!)

It's kind of driving me a little bit nuts that I can't think of a more recent or more playable one. I suppose that when you discount platformers and action titles, pretty much anything with a gun that isn't strictly turn-based, you lose the glut of characters, let alone female ones. I do have to wonder how much of my taste in games has developed from a lack of representation.
posted by Mizu at 1:11 PM on March 14, 2011


Meanwhile, the peril of talking about games as stories is that it inevitably leads to wank in which game narratives are compared to literature, cinema, and/or comics rather than looking at games as games.

I'll bring up the Path again, because examining videogames as narrative was part of the point of developing the game and the root of much of the criticism of the gameplay. It's a particularly interesting point in light of your question: You need to have a narrative to portray gender?

The Path ultimately failed as a game for a lot of people because it required complete surrender to the narrative. Certain objects could only be interacted with if you let go of the controls. Moving through the levels brought about very subtle changes in the map and changes in the end cut scene, but no change in goal or strategy. You inhabit six different characters in playing, but the changes from playing one character to the next were simply the things you could or could not find in the woods or the house at the end of the woods. In some ways, it was the above-criticized "movie that let you push buttons."

It was, however, extremely successful in creating a female videogame character who was not awkward to inhabit. Sort of like American McGee's Alice. Unlike with the Dead Space or Half-life avatar, you knew the character was a girl, with particular girl backstory things. In the Path, the uniquely feminine backstory is implicit in all the play--if a little hamhandedly. Unfortunately, it can easily be read as not at all empowering (after all, the point is to betray the good-girl edict of staying on the path and in order to advance to the next level, you are required to die at the hands of the big bad wolf, after you do all the things good girls must not do: talk to strangers, explore the world on your own, ignore your "good girl instinct" as she tries repeatedly to drag you back to the path). On the other hand, the Path can be seen as deconstructionist, but then you have to accept fully the idea that first-person videogames are inherently narrative and part of the cultural dialog.

There certainly are videogames that don't buy into that idea of game-as-narrative. Tekken, for instance, despite its framing and the little bios of each fighter, really was non-narrative. Guitar Hero, despite its cutscenes and goals, is really non-narrative. Everything I've ever played on Wii is non-narrative. But there is a particular class of videogames which is built around the idea of a narrative. It is a construct of a particular type of gameplay for which videogames are well-suited. It's like choose your own adventure books, only a game.

On another note, I found a lot of the above comments about "motherhood" as some essentially component (even as backstory) of making a successful female videogame character not only absurd but also as offensively reductive as the need to put female videogame characters in nipple armor. Neither of those things works--for me, a woman who plays videogames--to make the game immersive, which I want the game to do. Nor does the blank of Gordon Freeman or Issac Clarke because of the notion--mentioned above--that the universal blank is a bland white guy. When you've had a whole professional life of battering against the cultural default being nonthreatening white guy, it's not an immersive experience to inhabit one.

I know it makes the development of the game more labor-intensive (and I suppose that's really the answer); nonetheless, I have often wondered why something like Dead Space or Half-Life or even Bioshock didn't offer you the option of playing male or female. Or why none of those games just had a generic female avatar. The idea that men wouldn't play Dead Space if the character was a woman is disturbing to me. Why not? How does it change the gameplay, really, if the NPCs "know" you're a girl? I guess it changes gameplay for male gamers the same way having a choice of playing another boy or Lara Croft blow-up doll changes it for me.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:11 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think that games are the best available medium for worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is a useful tool for certain kinds of storytellers. J.R.R. Tolkien wasn't in a position to appreciate this potential, but Final Fantasy is example enough to show that his kind of storytelling finds a good home in gaming.

This is not meant to suggest that the Final Fantasy games are the best examples of fantasy storytelling, but they do include lots of extra detail on the world, mostly in the form of optional side-quests. Letting the player wander around the world and experience it as an inhabitant would has a lot of potential. Shenmue explored it. A lot of people liked Shenmue better as a sandbox game than as an adventure game.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2011


I've seen at least three different stories online of dudes trying to return games like No One Lives Forever and Mirror's Edge because they didn't realize they were going to have to be playing as a girl.

Which is odd, because many of these same guys will play a female character on WoW or similar games (presumably so that they can spend endless hours staring at her digital body).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2011


a lack of storytelling will not make a good game worse

But that's clearly not true. I would have played with Vice City if it was just a game where you could drive around and smash things up, but I never would have put the hours I did into it if there wasn't a compelling main narrative you could go back to.

And believe me, if there was a videogame designer worth their salt who agreed with you, they'd give it up in an instant. All that writing and voice acting out the window would be a huge relief financially.

But if you think Mass Effect 2 would have been better if it was Quake, you're insane.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2011


How is a red dog remotely abstract? When I think about abstract art, what comes to mind is something that might use the word "dog" but doesn't remotely look like one. If anything "the dog is red" is flawed because it is a very concrete image.

And perhaps I'm wired wrong but I've seen abstract art that broke my heart, and abstract art that had me bent over with laughter. Granted, they're not experiences I can explain over a cup of coffee, but they're real.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:12 PM on March 14, 2011


Speaking of Chell: The New Look For Portal 2's Heroine Explained
posted by homunculus at 1:14 PM on March 14, 2011


And I have to say that I don't think issues of gender representation are unique to gaming. Certainly there's lots of criticism of how women are portrayed in cinema, television, advertising, fiction, music, comics, etc.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:16 PM on March 14, 2011


And believe me, if there was a videogame designer worth their salt who agreed with you, they'd give it up in an instant. All that writing and voice acting out the window would be a huge relief financially.

I think after Minecraft and Farmville, a lot of them are thinking about it harder than they had been.
posted by empath at 1:18 PM on March 14, 2011


a lack of storytelling will not make a good game worse.

Portal. Without the storytelling it would be a novel puzzle game. With, it is a massively successful, zeitgeist-defining phenomenon.

In addition, Portal's narrative is almost entirely noninteractive. It may as well be a radio play that happens to sync up with the player's movements. And yet the game would be a fraction of the experience it is without it.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:20 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugh. Forget it. Sorry for sparking the stupid derail.
posted by byanyothername at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2011


And believe me, if there was a videogame designer worth their salt who agreed with you, they'd give it up in an instant. All that writing and voice acting out the window would be a huge relief financially.


And that's interesting to me, because non-narrative microgames appear to be having a huge renaissance right now via mobile platforms and app stores.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2011


But if you think Mass Effect 2 would have been better if it was Quake, you're insane.

I dunno -- what about Borderlands? Barely a story (i don't think i read any of the mission text either of the two times I played through the game), but still huge amounts of fun.

Mass Effect without less of a story would have been a much different game, surely, but it might have been a more _fun_ game if it had only mechanics to focus on.

I actually quit Mass Effect a couple of hours into it because I didn't identify with the characters. The story actually ruined the game for me. I've heard Mass Effect 2 is a better game, but I wouldn't know because I passed on it, because I couldn't finish the first one.
posted by empath at 1:22 PM on March 14, 2011


Portal. Without the storytelling it would be a novel puzzle game. With, it is a massively successful, zeitgeist-defining phenomenon.

Valve are absolute masters of the form -- hell, they basically invented the narrative-based shooter, and they still let narrative take a backseat to gameplay, when there is a conflict.

Portal is about the puzzles, first and foremost. If the puzzles didn't work, the narrative wouldn't matter, and indeed, the fact that the game even has a narrative doesn't become apparent until you're more than half-way through the game.
posted by empath at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2011


You need to have a narrative to portray gender?

Not necessarily. But it certainly helps to have well developed characters of any gender if you have some narrative. Gender can be portrayed in simple games like house (i play the mamma, you play the pappa, and little Stevey plays the baby) but if we want to talk about well done female characters how do we do that without any story?
posted by munchingzombie at 1:26 PM on March 14, 2011


munchingzombie: Gender can be portrayed in simple games like house (i play the mamma, you play the pappa, and little Stevey plays the baby) but if we want to talk about well done female characters how do we do that without any story?

Leonardo DaVinci did pretty well with oil on panel.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:29 PM on March 14, 2011


Mass Effect without less of a story would have been a much different game, surely, but it might have been a more _fun_ game if it had only mechanics to focus on.

Okay. For you. Not for me. And I doubt that it would have sold two million in the first week and been universally well reviewed if it was.

I'm just saying there's a huge amount of the video game buying public who disagrees with you. So proclaiming that all games would be better with less story is just not defensible. I'm not saying all games should be like that. I love Minecraft, and social games are actually my job right now.

But come on, narrative has been a part of video games since Zork and isn't going away.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:30 PM on March 14, 2011


the fact that the game even has a narrative doesn't become apparent until you're more than half-way through the game.

It doesn't? I mean, just the starting situation for the character speaks volumes about the story waiting to unfold. She could have just started with a portal gun in a testing chamber, but they started you off with a whole unskippable minute of Glados speaking to you. I wonder if we even played the same game at this point.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 1:32 PM on March 14, 2011


GAH LONGTHREAD.

There is absolutely no way in which a writer could improve that game. Any writing or narrative would make it substantially worse. Hell, I was disappointed when he added pop-up text for your inventory.

I bet you can't wait for Notch's announced human towns and assigned quests.

(On Ulala)

She's not a great female character. She's just a great character. She is what the game needs her to be. It's a game about dancing and reporting, and it's purposely silly. Space Channel 5 is a bit of a special case, since its setting and superficial elements are inseparable from the game experience. Without the music and space-70s aesthetic it wouldn't be the same game.

Sex is not a bad thing. There is in fact nothing wrong with bikini armor once in a while. Just as there is nothing wrong with a gruff, grunting ass-kicking male protagonist once in a while. The problem is that the game industry will see any hit and fasten upon it with the white-hot intensity of a stalker, and immediately make a hundred games just like it. So, what worked once will immediately become an industry trope, and everyone will get sick to death of it.

Female characters who are just female as an incident of their birth, like Samus (pre Other-M) and Chell, are great, but it is a mistake to think that games have to have empowered female characters. I don't think there is really any wrong way to create a character. (They don't have to have empowered male characters either, but if they had a fainting, panicked, Lovecraft-worthy protagonist they'd be the laughing stock of the forums.)

It must be said that is not the character designer's job to stick up for any social group or movement, unless that is the point of the story/setting/scenario/what you want to call it. Games, as Will Wright and mi amigo Keith Burgun say, are generally not a terrific storytelling medium (although it is possible to tell a story using one it's kind of misusing your medium -- what games generally should have IMO is a scenario), but if you have one then write what works.

If you write it with wit and energy it's possible to make even Torpedotits O'Bubbleass into a good character, if done with insight and consideration. Maybe she dresses like a stripper because she's got really poor self-esteem? Maybe it's an interesting physics puzzle to keep her breasts inside that top? Maybe you have to rely on stealth gameplay to keep her from getting run in on public indecency charges? Okay I'm getting carried away here.

I'd like to say that what matters is the setting in which the character is based. Maybe scant tape-ware is the favorite dress in elf circles this year. Except that it's pretty obvious that these decisions are made more with respect to our culture's standards for attractiveness than world-building, which breaks immersion, which makes slavishly following industry trends and sexist imagery demand bad world design, which is itself a greater crime.

If I seem conflicted here, well, I am. I feel very strongly that writers and designers should not be censored in what they create. But this is for games that are personal expressions. If an indie developer somewhere wants to make a game where you play a stripper who takes down an evil empire, go to it. ("The enemy tank battalions are paralyzed by the protester's gyrating behind!") The games we're really talking about, I think, are those that exist only as wealth-gathering mechanisms where every important decision is made by committee or copying something else, and obviously they have a spreadsheet somewhere that says games sell better if their girls are clad in fetishwear. I find that grossly distasteful and pandering.

It's not that I don't think an intelligent indie developer can't make something grossly distasteful and pandering, but at least their motives are pure. Er, purer.
posted by JHarris at 1:33 PM on March 14, 2011


Hmmm are you a dude?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:36 PM on March 14, 2011


It doesn't? I mean, just the starting situation for the character speaks volumes about the story waiting to unfold. She could have just started with a portal gun in a testing chamber, but they started you off with a whole unskippable minute of Glados speaking to you.

I think you're retro-actively interpreting the story you're presented with. GlaDOS is rather intentionally presented as a stereotypical personality-less 'tutorial voice'. Yes there is a bit of characterization at first, but it's really not until you're significantly into the game as a naive player that you become aware that GlaDOS has a personality that you should be engaging with as a character.

Sure, once you've played the game it's impossible not to immediately engage with GlaDOS as a personality, but going into the game unaware, i'd be very surprised if many people paid much attention to her until several hours in. In fact, the surprise of discovering GlaDOS as a character instead of a generic voice of the institution and a helpful tutorial voice is one of the primary joys of the slowly unfolding narrative.
posted by empath at 1:40 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Leonardo DaVinci did pretty well with oil on panel.

So, narrative is not helpful in having a fuller discussion of gender in games because Leonardo painted well?
posted by munchingzombie at 1:42 PM on March 14, 2011


I actually liked the sped up video, and wish all Internet videos could be sped up like that (or made into a transcript). If you watch the images, he does reference the aforementioned female characters from beyond good and evil and mass effect. There are other images too, but I don't play enough video games to recognize them.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:48 PM on March 14, 2011


I don't understand this. Neither one says anything. Neither one has any motivation other than to run ans shoot. And for the vast majority of the of the games they look pretty much the same (Chell, Gordon). The games are different, the characters they interact with are different, but Chell and Gordon are blank slates.

Is it so incomprehensible that a woman would be happy that the story's hero looks like this person rather than this one, especially since nearly every protagonist in modern gaming looks more like the latter than the former?

(Chell is close to a blank slate, since she's so isolated. No way is Gordon. He has a love interest swooning over him, for crying out loud, not to mention friends and a messiah complex and a whole mythos built up around him. Just because he's silent doesn't make him a blank slate.)
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:56 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Summary for those who can't see the video:

Gender mostly doesn't matter in video games, yet in some cases it's important. To sort that out we have to look at what the real differences are between genders.

There are two sorts of differences. Genetic differences are innate and ubiquitous across cultures. Societal differences are more unique, and express gender norms.

Genetically, women are more dextrous and have a higher pain threshold, neither of which games have really explored. Men are physically larger and have more muscle mass. There is also the female ability to bear children, which could be used as a theme or role within a game. For example, a game could be made in which the protagonist is a mother trying to protect her children while traveling through a war-torn country. Similar male roles haves not yet been explored, so the game industry may generally have some growing up to do.

Societal differences (which are not delineated in the video) are actually malleable. We tend to think of everything related to the feminine as being inherent, like an appreciation of the color pink, or acting demure, although those things are sociologically endorsed. Yet when you assume that those things 'just are,' you take them for being things that can't be struggled against, can't be changed. And change is what makes good characters. What we're talking about is an opportunity to show the effects of societal pressures on women that has not been taken.

That could be done with gameplay, through the setting, or with a few key character moments. The good female characters that already exist neither fully accept nor 'regect' the societal pressures they face, and they and their relationships to those pressures change as their circumstances change. There is as much to learn about a character based on their acceptance of societal pressures as there is to learn about them based on their rejection of them. It's important to note that a character will be completely stereotypical if they reject all societal norms for their gender.

To create a good female character then, you must either brave issues particular to women or show them as a "human being responding to ordinary societal pressure (perhaps under extraordinary circumstances) and coming to their own conclusions about how to integrate them."

"Great characters don't have to be defined by their gender, but gender and how we react to societal pressures are a big part of who we are."
posted by heatvision at 2:02 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you're retro-actively interpreting the story you're presented with. GlaDOS is rather intentionally presented as a stereotypical personality-less 'tutorial voice'.

The second sentence you hear her speak is, "We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one." There's a world of story information in just that one line.

i'd be very surprised if many people paid much attention to her until several hours in.

It depends on how people engage with games. Of course there are going to be people impatiently jumping up and down in the cubicle, waiting for the minute to be up so they can get on with the game, who only notice the story once it's become even more obvious, but apparently unlike you I would be surprised if they comprised the majority of people who've played Portal. Others -- like me -- love world-building and narrative and try to engage with it from the outset.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 2:10 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


The second sentence you hear her speak is, "We hope your brief detention in the relaxation vault has been a pleasant one." There's a world of story information in just that one line.

Yes, but! There are very similar lines in the tutorial to the original Half-Life, and there speaker is just your standard generic tutorial recorded voice. Unless you've read about the game ahead of time, there's no reason to believe GlaDOS is any different just because there are snippets of world-building in her "recorded" lines.

The moment at the very beginning when her voice skips or something is a much bigger clue that maybe something's going on with the tutorial recording.
posted by straight at 2:21 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


There is in fact nothing wrong with bikini armor once in a while.

No, bikini armor is always stupid. Show me a male character wearing armor that just covers his pubic region (and, no, Chuck's g-string from Dead Rising 2 doesn't count - it's clothing, not armor), and I'll withdraw my comment. Sexy armor is possible (see Mass Effect 2), but armor that doesn't cover areas that need protection is not fulfilling its primary function and makes the characters that are wearing it look like idiots.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:22 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


It depends on how people engage with games. Of course there are going to be people impatiently jumping up and down in the cubicle, waiting for the minute to be up so they can get on with the game, who only notice the story once it's become even more obvious, but apparently unlike you I would be surprised if they comprised the majority of people who've played Portal.

I don't know if people doing 'let's plays' constitute the majority of gamers, but most youtube playthroughs of any game I've ever seen has the character running around like a spastic bunny rabbit during any scene we're they are required to stand still for exposition-- that includes Portal and pretty much every other game with narrative.
posted by empath at 2:23 PM on March 14, 2011


Show me a male character wearing armor that just covers his pubic region

You asked for it
posted by lumpenprole at 2:26 PM on March 14, 2011


Yes, but! There are very similar lines in the tutorial to the original Half-Life, and there speaker is just your standard generic tutorial recorded voice. Unless you've read about the game ahead of time, there's no reason to believe GlaDOS is any different just because there are snippets of world-building in her "recorded" lines.

The moment at the very beginning when her voice skips or something is a much bigger clue that maybe something's going on with the tutorial recording.


I played the game the weekend it came out knowing almost nothing about it, besides the premise of the gameplay. I really feel that people who knew anything about the game or the storyline (or even that it had a storyline!) before playing it missed out on one of the best experiences in gaming. I really went into it thinking it was a tech demo more than an actual game. The narrative, when it kicked in, completely shocked me. I didn't pay attention to the narrative at first because the game was rather intentionally designed (and marketed!) for you not to pay attention to it.
posted by empath at 2:28 PM on March 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Show me a male character wearing armor that just covers his pubic region

So you are implying that claims of men wearing bikini armor is... madness?
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:30 PM on March 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


I feel like there are several complex reasons that there haven't been very many impressive female characters, and many exist for the same reason that there haven't been very many impressive male characters in games.

I'm sure people could name plenty of good male characters, but I tend to feel like this is similar to naming good horror movie characters. Sure, there are a bunch that we could name, but overall there are more blank slate characters there than in many other genres. I'm not trying to bash on games or horror--I love both--it's just that they're both relatively new genres and video games strike me as being cornered storywise in many of the same ways that the horror film genre has: both have a unique interest in investing you in the plight of the protagonist, and that means that the very existence of character background can be as hurtful as it is helpful. Both then often forgo character development for action because that's what they're mostly about.

I'm not saying that this is an insurmountable difficulty for either genre. It's just that with that obstacle inherent to the writing, it takes a pretty damn good writer to transcend that issue and be able to speak to everyone--whether through character, dialogue, atmosphere, or what have you.

Some time ago I read that the superhero genre in America (which seems in many ways related to video game superpowers) mainly exists for the benefit of white males, who in absence of many of the real-life barriers minorities face, can more easily look into fantasy to imagine the next frontier. Yet so much entertainment caters specifically towards that group that it skews everyone's expectations.

One of the larger difficulties for female gamers (from what I've heard in WoW trade chat /facepalm) is even proving to the world that we exist. So considering the gamer culture we've all discussed here before, at the moment it seems like an endless cycle of male developers making games for other men and female players quietly participating here and there, hoping someone, somehow, discovers a way to turn the tide. So I tend to agree with the video, except that I find it difficult to imagine video game companies catering to minorites of any kind, until the larger sociological difficulties that those groups face are resolved in real life.
posted by heatvision at 2:50 PM on March 14, 2011



"Motherhood, sex, love, aging, mortality and any other complex human experience is never going to be able to be squished into a game mechanic."

ctrl+F The Boss. No, really? I've played through thousands of video games and this is the only halfway decent female character I can think of besides Elly in Xenogears (already mentioned). I can't believe The Boss wasn't mentioned once in a thread with ~250 comments.
posted by WhitenoisE at 2:52 PM on March 14, 2011


No, bikini armor is always stupid. Show me a male character wearing armor that just covers his pubic region (and, no, Chuck's g-string from Dead Rising 2 doesn't count - it's clothing, not armor), and I'll withdraw my comment.

I don't think you should withdraw your comment. It's a complicated mindset I was trying to communicate, which I had hoped would have been apparent from the way I was undercutting my own statements with jokes. I suppose I should have tried to be more straight-forward, but it is really hard to express this.

There are many kinds of possible games out there, many of which we haven't even begun to mine for ideas, or even suspect exist yet. It is possible that, in some of them, there is a valid use for bikini armor. From your perspective it's always stupid, but that's only because you're thinking about the standard FP shooter/slasher the industry has been dominated by, which are invariably about one or a small group of people in a hostile environment. In that sense, it's arguable that bikini armor is stupid.* But there are far greater stupidities in those games than protective swimwear.

There are many more kinds of games than that, some of which we haven't thought of yet. I'm loathe to forbid anything from being in a game that might be contextually useful, be it bikini armor or naked jockstrap wrestling. (I, or you, don't have to personally like either of those things. It doesn't mean it might not be situationally useful.)

But one might say, "But JHarris, that is so wide a perspective so as to be useless in this discussion!" That one would probably be right. I don't actually play games like these very much; they bore the hell out of me. Sorry.

* Aside:
Actually, the situation is more complicated than that. In many fantasy games, the enchantment offered by an item is of far more value in determining its protective qualities than its physical extent. By which I mean, ordinary items like off-the-rack iron breastplates or chainmail usually offer the minimum defense, and are soon outclassed by the lowest-level enchanted versions, usually available at a low-to-mid period of a character's advancement. By the time high levels are reached, the enchantment bonus from the best equipment available has far outstripped the protection offered by the basic items, and often these are among the scantiest armor pieces of all. The plus is far higher than the base.

But these are supposed to be other worlds and universes after all. So one might argue, in the physics of the fantasy worlds of these games, mere material is less effective for diminishing the impact of blows than artful presentation of flesh.

I would hate to be a physicist in Azeroth.

posted by JHarris at 2:55 PM on March 14, 2011


Zalzidrax: Aaaah, I see what you did there.
posted by JHarris at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2011


I'm sure people could name plenty of good male characters

Now maybe I'm just blanking, but I'm having a hard time coming up with many. If by "good" you mean "not pro-wrestling agressive characture" or mere cipher, i.e., someone you would enjoy having a beer with.

I've got:

Nick from Uncharted
????
posted by rtimmel at 3:04 PM on March 14, 2011


A recent project courtesy of @kirbybits: what (some) women gamers want
posted by juv3nal at 3:06 PM on March 14, 2011


Red Dead Redemption is about fatherhood. The prequel, Red Dead Revolver, had a pretty awesome female character. Samus is one of my heroes. I don't like stories in games - I prefer mechanics.
Aunty Pixelante has made some interesting games starring women.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:09 PM on March 14, 2011


Unless you've read about the game ahead of time, there's no reason to believe GlaDOS is any different just because there are snippets of world-building in her "recorded" lines.

This is probably an agree to disagree thing then, because I think you'd have to plain not be paying attention to fail to see this isn't an ordinary testing centre.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 3:11 PM on March 14, 2011


longdaysjourney: "Show me a male character wearing armor that just covers his pubic region (and, no, Chuck's g-string from Dead Rising 2 doesn't count - it's clothing, not armor), and I'll withdraw my comment."

Wakka, from FFX.
From Guildwars, here is the Paragon Elite Sunspear Armor.
posted by boo_radley at 3:32 PM on March 14, 2011


Also it kinda weirds me out that searching google for "Male Armor" brings up so many amazing examples of hand-blown stemware.
posted by boo_radley at 3:38 PM on March 14, 2011


No love for Chrono Trigger? The female characters drive the plot in basic ways, and are the most complete, competent, and admirable characters (not to mention the most powerful) of the bunch. It's easily possible to finish the game without mute hero Crono at all, and they pass the Bechdel test!

This was released more than fifteen years ago, but it was wildly popular and has been repeatedly rereleased. Did I just... miss its mention in this thread?
posted by tyro urge at 3:48 PM on March 14, 2011


No love for Chrono Trigger?

This times a billion. Few games have complex characters, let alone well written female characters.

But this game is especially amusing in context of this thread. The females aren't the main character (though you can certainly ignore the main character. I did). But the main character is a male blank slate to a degree. Heck, even Marle is a princess who is tough as nails without being a tomboy. Luca is the brains of the operation without being an accessory. Then Ayla should be the sexy blond bombshell cavewoman but is a shrewd leader of her people.

They were great, strong female characters that not only did not fit into stereotypes, but also played with stereotypes. Go on a mission to rescue the princess only to be saved by the princess. It is very well done.
posted by munchingzombie at 4:11 PM on March 14, 2011


There is a pubic armor guy in Cho Aniki. Yes it is not American but most is not all gamers know about it.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:06 PM on March 14, 2011


munchingzombie: So, narrative is not helpful in having a fuller discussion of gender in games because Leonardo painted well?

Of course, it's helpful. But video games are multimedia works that may or may not have an independent narrative structure to talk about, so we shouldn't hang our hat on narrative alone as the criterion on which we judge gender in games.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:11 PM on March 14, 2011


Heh, I don't think Wakka counts (looks like clothing to me), but Conan and Paragon Elite (albeit iffy on that last) do. So, I'll withdraw my comment, but my belief that armor floss (metal or otherwise) makes the characters wearing it look witheringly stupid, regardless of gender, has not been shaken.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:15 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


KirkJobSlunder. I wasn't arguing that narrative alone is the means to discuss gender. Just that it was very helpful. I can't think of non-narrative games that are particularly gendered. Ms.Pacman? Well, yeah, we can talk about that. But how much of a conversation can we have?

If you can point me to a non-narrative game that has a well-developed female character or even does gender well I would be interested in talking about it. But, so far in this thread the good conversations seem to be revolving around games with story lines.
posted by munchingzombie at 5:25 PM on March 14, 2011


thought this might be a response to this horrible list. or this one. (both via GJIAF
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:31 PM on March 14, 2011


I always pick Gina in Crazy Taxi. Such that I only need think of the game and I can hear the announcer say, "Hey hey hey, let's make some cr-- Go ahead and pick a car an-- Gina!"

That and the drums.

I played the re-release. Where is the music I don't even
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:31 PM on March 14, 2011


for detailed analysis of sexist female characters in games, check out Go Make Me A Sandwich.

really, i don't play games for narrative. Bayonetta was awesome mechanically, and would have been just as fun without a lead character so over the top i'm not sure if she's sexist, sexy, or both. you could have stuck at back view of Gordon Freeman in there and it would have worked
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:34 PM on March 14, 2011


If you can point me to a non-narrative game that has a well-developed female character or even does gender well I would be interested in talking about it. But, so far in this thread the good conversations seem to be revolving around games with story lines.

Mighty Jill Off?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:35 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I meant was that storytelling is orthogonal to gameplay, and that no amount of good storytelling will make a bad game worth playing, and that a lack of storytelling will not make a good game worse. (although bad storytelling certainly can make an otherwise decent game unplayable).

A lot of people find Deadly Premonition to be a fantastic game. The gameplay is awful, but the storytelling and world it creates are charming and great.

Some people can get past bad gameplay for a story. You cannot, but that doesn't mean your experience is universal.
posted by graventy at 6:43 PM on March 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Boss. No, really? I've played through thousands of video games and this is the only halfway decent female character I can think of

I agree that Saint's Row 2 is pretty fun and The Boss can kick ass, but like in Mass Effect the protagonist can be either male or female, so I'm not sure that counts.
posted by straight at 6:43 PM on March 14, 2011


Ugh. I can't watch the littlest professor give his super-nice dissertation intercut with nerd in-jokes. It takes the same kind of stuff in games as it does in any other type of fiction to make a good female character. The Bechdel Test is an easy, kind-of-effective litmus test. Remember when Ebert said that the writing in games was turgid, horrible. He was right (except for Portal).
posted by boghead at 8:04 PM on March 14, 2011


No love for Zoey and Rochelle from Left4Dead 1 & 2, respectively?

I always felt like they hit it kind of in the middle. They weren't really a sexist depiction, but at the same time, in their individual casts of characters, they're an obvious reminder of how most female characters need to be young and pretty.

I don't understand this. Neither one says anything. Neither one has any motivation other than to run ans shoot. And for the vast majority of the of the games they look pretty much the same (Chell, Gordon). The games are different, the characters they interact with are different, but Chell and Gordon are blank slates.

Also chiming in to say that I was never able to project into Gordon Freeman because despite his silence, he's still very much man.

On the other hand, I was able to feel more like I was Lara Croft throughout most of the Tomb Raider series, despite her design as eye candy.

The video shows Heather Mason from Silent Hill 3 briefly and she's really a good example of a good female character. She's fleshed out and real, and the player is able to sympathize with her problems as her entire world is skinned alive and turned inside out. I thought the female characters in the Metal Gear Solid series were pretty decent as well: they weren't really stereotypes or mannequins, but individuals with their own back stories.

but it is a mistake to think that games have to have empowered female characters.

Not every game needs an empowered female character, but it sucks when games rely on cheap gender stereotypes to write characters. It's a problem for characters of any gender, but it (IMO*) tends to be more noticeable for female characters because they're less often the protagonist.

* As a girl there is probably some bias in my opinion in this matter.
posted by girih knot at 11:11 PM on March 14, 2011


Kris on Hathor Legacy has a great series of articles analyzing the portrayals of female characters in the Metal Gear Solid games. The Boss is truly immortal.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:15 PM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I gotta say I liked Bonnie MacFarlane, and didn't like how she seemed to be falling for Marston. His wife was a good character, though. And what other game lets you constantly stop violence against women?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:47 PM on March 14, 2011


Up until this thread, I had no clue there was a difference between Bioware and Bioshock (I've never played either).

Also, I'm old. I appreciate everyone who's linked to the stuff they're talking about (esp. the character images) because I have to look almost all of them up.
posted by Eideteker at 1:35 AM on March 15, 2011


straight: "The Boss. No, really? I've played through thousands of video games and this is the only halfway decent female character I can think of"

I agree that Saint's Row 2 is pretty fun and The Boss can kick ass, but like in Mass Effect the protagonist can be either male or female, so I'm not sure that counts
"

I suspect the character straight is referring to is "The Boss" from MGS 3, she's the protagonist's mentor, and is just about the only Metal Gear Solid female character who isn't horribly objectified (MGS4, *ugh*).
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 5:19 AM on March 15, 2011


You got your quotes mixed up, Proofs & Refs. I was the one making the stupid joke pretending to think WhitenoisE was referring to "The Boss" in Saint's Row.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on March 15, 2011


munchingzombie: Much of the appeal of Jade, Chell, and Alyx Vance in the feminist game criticism I've read has focused on the visual aesthetics of the character designs. Chell in specific doesn't have much in the way of character development, serving primarily as a foil for GladOS's increasing anger and frustration. Jade's character development likewise isn't especially deep, or I would argue well-done except as a gendered inversion of the "save the princess" trope.

Especially if we're putting Metroid on a pedestal here. Until the reboot (and possibly even after), the series offered only thin literary twists on top of the standard "kill everything" platformer. Samus' popularity as a female character stems more from the fact that her gender wasn't revealed before the end of the game, isn't represented in exaggerated ways for most of the series, and is largely irrelevant to the gameplay. I take a generally skeptical view of early game narratives, because many of them were tacked into the game manual as a marketing afterthought.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:20 AM on March 15, 2011


No love for Zoey and Rochelle from Left4Dead 1 & 2, respectively?

I always felt like they hit it kind of in the middle. They weren't really a sexist depiction, but at the same time, in their individual casts of characters, they're an obvious reminder of how most female characters need to be young and pretty.


Regardless of their level of attractiveness you wouldn't have an septuagenarian lasting more than a minute or two when the horde strikes. I think that would be the main reason we see mostly young characters. Bill's age is explained simply enough with his military clothes = he is clearly a veteran so his skill at arms and general fitness is higher than that of most equivalent folks. I've been achievement chasing by playing a ton of L4D & L4D2 recently and whilst I generally pick Bill (for his age and misanthropy) or Ellis (for his simple yet positive outlook and the awesomely funny stories about Keith) I'd have no problem playing a female character, I just happen to identify more with those two.

I played Mass Effect 1 & 2 with a FemShep and look forward to finishing off the trilogy with my same character who is infinitely more interesting than the bog standard shaven-headed-space-marine John Shepard. Count me in as one who'd love to see more female characters with the skills of men but not just a swapped in model. Incidentally - this is from memory but the scar options for the male characters are significantly more obvious than the female options in ME 1 & 2. Something I've always considered odd that. Why can't I have a beautiful woman with a scar?

I am also preferring the look of the new Lara Croft reboot. There's plenty of time left for them to spoil it but away is the gigantic bosom and the exposed belly button. They've gone for a vest which I wouldn't suggest given the likelihood of exposure (in both senses of the word) but at least she's got trousers now. It would, however, be nice to see her with some long sleeves and something that covers her decolletage. I'd prefer she be dressed appropriately for the weather and I don't need to see breasts to know my character is female. I'm really hoping they see sense and make her more realistic in every sense.

I'd really like to see a female player character in the next Assassin's Creed too. I think that the style of game, using your wits and preperation to overcome greater force, would be an easy swap-in for a female PC. Playing through AC II as a woman would have made an extremely small difference to the story - why does it have to be Ezio and not one of his sisters who is responsible for taking back the honour of the Auditore name?

For the benefit of games designers out there I'd say that Molly Millions from William Gibson's Sprawl Series is a great female character. She is physically tough, sexy, capable of emotionally bonding (she comes over a wee bit motherly in the 3rd book iirc) but all the time exudes the attitude of being a complete badass*. She's in control and more than a match for any character in the books with the exception of a vat-grown ninja.

*To use a new word I learned the other day - she shows great Sprezzatura - "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it".
posted by longbaugh at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Regardless of their level of attractiveness you wouldn't have an septuagenarian lasting more than a minute or two when the horde strikes.

I agree with the rest of your points, but there are options between "20-year-old hot young thing" and "70-year-old grandma with a walker."

I would have loved to play the Left 4 Dead 3 Soccer Moms mockup!
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:27 PM on March 15, 2011


I've not seen that L4D3 mockup but you know what: that'd be a really interesting addition to the L4D series. Having to not just fight the horde off but also having to escort a frightened child from one safe room to another. I think in practice it'd be hard to do with the AI for the child causing no end of grief but I'd be happy to play an unarmed character whose role is "don't get bitten" whilst four cougars save me from being horde bait :)

I'm absolutely in agreement otherwise about aged characters and in my ME 1 & 2 FemShep appears to be around mid to late 30s (although that could just be the facial textures). I think there should be more aged folk in games. I remember watching the otherwise execrable TV Gameshow "Combat Missions" many years ago and seeing a Vietnam veteran Ex-Army Ranger/LLRP of around 55 years old keeping up with the young bucks with ease.

I love having an old bastard like that as a character - reminds me of James Caan's line in The Way of the Gun "The only thing you can assume about a broken down old man like me is that he's a survivor". Age and experience are a fine substitute for youth and vigour - just look at the Cohen the Barbarian from Pratchett's "Discworld" series.
posted by longbaugh at 2:26 PM on March 15, 2011


I'd have no problem playing a female character, I just happen to identify more with those two.

which is a problem for women gamers. we have no problem playing gordons and issacs and other guys all the time; we'd just like a character we can identify more with. In my 40-year-old-seriously-tired-of-living-in-a-casually-sexist-world, I don't particularly identify with tits on a stick in nipple armor.
posted by crush-onastick at 4:27 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


(not, of course, to imply that you did not say all the things you said about the new Lara Croft not being tits on a stick)
posted by crush-onastick at 4:28 PM on March 15, 2011


No! No no no! Stop suggesting escort quests would make great additions to games! That is the last thing that games need!

"Oh wouldn't it be great if you were a mom escorting kids across a wasteland" NO NO IT WOULD NOT
"Oh if you had to protect kids in L4D3" NO PLEASE GOD NO

One game has done escorts right, and even in Ico it got frustrating after a while.
posted by graventy at 5:54 PM on March 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't think Gabe from Valve hangs on my every word graventy so you're safe.
posted by longbaugh at 6:53 PM on March 15, 2011


I watched this again today, and:
1) no mention of the sims, that made sex and parenthood into key game mechanics?
2) the focus on A-list games misses that there's an entire genre of DASH/Time-management games that's primarily focused on women as players and protagonists.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:54 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Realistically, in the event of a real zombie apocalypse, my kids would be escorting ME. They've got that game down.
posted by misha at 5:45 PM on March 16, 2011


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