I recently had a conversation with an old friend and since we hadn't talked to each other in a while, I asked her what games she's been playing to pass the time when she isn't at work. More specifically, I asked her if she had been playing the Uncharted series for PS4 after I had gotten it for her for Christmas.
She replied that she wasn't. She didn't really have time but it reminded me of another conversation we had years ago when I asked her what kinds of games she liked. And she responded by telling me that she couldn't really get into games that didn't have strong female characters, or more specifically, a female protagonist.
And after that thought re-entered my brain, I was reminded of how "easy" I have it as a male gamer. Most, if not all, video games cater to me and "things I like". And 9.9 times out of 10, I get to play as a character who has the same gender as I do. Most guys don't see this as a problem or make weird excuses about games with female protagonists don't really sell all that well. That it's simply a business decision. I personally don't believe that to be true.
Especially in the case of Lara Croft.
At first, she was a sexualized version of an adventure. Only wearing a tank top and khaki short shorts. That was, until she was redesigned a couple of years ago (you can see her redesign above). Now, she's just an adventurer. She's dressed for the environment she finds herself in, which is something that didn't occur in the previous Tomb Raider games.
But female protagonists aren't only important in terms of their physical appearance. Sure, we can have games have female protagonists but if they're represented poorly, it doesn't really make female gamers (like my friend) get attached to who they're controlling.
A lot of time and effort goes into creating well-rounded male characters in video games, so why can't the same happen for female characters?
Before Lara Crofts redesign and return to the spotlight. There was one character in the Uncharted Series who has been, in my opinion (which, should not really matter because I am male and speaking on these issues isn't really my place, so if you come to disagree with me, I won't get all man-splainy on you) one of the better representations of women in video games. And that's Elena Fisher.
She's very much her own person outside of Nathan Drake's life. There are moments that get a little stereotypical between Elena and Drake but the way she's introduced and returns to the series isn't in the way that women usually do. I never thought of her as a damsel that needed saving. From the start of the first game, it's easy to see that she has her own motivation and drive for being there. To put it simply, she's not there to just support Drake, she's trying to further her own career by documenting it all.
But even then, there's still an issue. Elena Fisher isn't a playable character. She's not someone that female gamers can play as and identify with in the same way that male gamers identify with Nathan Drake (or any other main character in a video game). I'm sure my friend is excited and pleased with Elena's representation in the games but I know things would be more fun for her if she could actually control Elena and not see her on the sidelines, so to speak.
Even though there are more well-rounded female characters in video games today than there ever was before there are only a few that are playable (this is not including games that allow you to choose your gender at the start).
But then there's Faith from the Mirror's Edge series.
Honestly, I don't know too much Faith or her personality or anything other than she's good at parkour. But there's something really awesome about her character and the way the game tackles male and female language in as told to us through living in a heteronormative society.
Mirror's Edge Catalyst is not a game based around combat. But after the last couple of videos the company has been putting out, it's obvious that combat plays a role in the world of the game. And if you've seen any of those videos, you'll know that most, if not all, of Faith enemies are armor clad, gun-toting, men.
We can safely assume that the metaphorical male language expressed in this game relies on the use of guns/weaponry while the female language doesn't. Both languages express violence -- which is not uncommon for video games -- but the way they do that is important to look at under a certain lens.
Faith is capable of speaking the language of violence but she does it her own way. She doesn't rely on the male language of guns and weaponry. She understands the language of violence (the one the male enemies use in the game to communicate with Faith) and learns how to speak the language in a way that is more concise and more clear. And this never comes of as a disadvantage.
We can see that Faith's understanding of the male language is one that is better than most of the male enemies she comes in contact with. She's more proficient than her enemies who have it coded into them.
Characters like Faith are important to video games, not only because of her diversity in the game industry, but because her existence and the way she plays can be seen as empowering.
Words by - Paul Masbad