This post was inspired by a LiveJournal entry by a friend of mine, author Jim C Hines. He did a talk recently on sexism and kick-butt heroines in Science Fiction and Fantasy. We’ve seen them in books countless times, certainly; my favorite is a little more subtle, being Eowyn from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. She kicked butt in the book, wasn’t the main character, but certainly made a big impact – and the movie did a wonderful job of showing that!
His post reminded me, too, that I have a hard time writing strong female characters at all. So far one of my stories has a lesbian bard who goes on quest for a woman she loves in a more courtly love sort of way. Another has a little street urchin from Kritter (same world as the bard), who becomes good friends with the queen of the realm and helps the queen out when she dies. Those are the two examples I can think of where I’ve worked in a strong female protagonist most successfully.
Thing is, the “kick-butt” heroine is pretty rampant in gaming, as much as it is in literature. To my mind it seems to be one of the reasonings behind why we still have so many of the large-chested, va va voom weapons-weilding female characters. Since one of my favorite gaming characters is a female Asura engineer who dual-weilds pistols and worships the Eternal Alchemy, I can pretty safely say that no, the femme fatales don’t have to be the only type of playable female out there. I like range.
In literature, Jim mentions in his talk, one of the reasons behind this trope, seems to be an attempt to empower females. He noted that the trope has kind of ended up overshadowing them, though, pigeon-holing female characters into basically one typecast. He did note that there are several writers who are challenging that idea by now, like Elizabeth Bear.
Since writing and game design in many ways parallel one another, yeah I can agree with this idea. But I also agree that there needs to be a broader view of what a strong female protagonist is. Can we still have the big-breasted numchucks throwers? Personally I don’t know that I see much problem with it, as long as we also have a choice to NOT have them. I like the games where I can choose to have someone with a smaller chest, or to make her outfit be something besides the norm. (As I think I’ve mentioned before, I can’t count by now the amount of times I’ve been in Guild Wars2 and seen other players complaining about the tiny skirt-boot combo that female Humans and Sylvari start out with. It works a little better on an Asura, but it still looks silly). Looks matter; we don’t all want to be staring at girly dress on someone who’s obviously older than that. It’s as bad as chain-mail bikini covers in books, to my mind.
As I mentioned, the women (and girls) of Kritter – and therefore whatever game(s) come out of that land – don’t act that way, and don’t all look like that. I’m kind of proud of that fact, though I know that’s the most mature, most well-developed land I’ve ever written. The rest I need to develop equally well to get near that, and Rubikia will be a special challenge since I started it when I was young and had specific ideas in my head.
The building blocks of a game, I’m learning, are about more than the little details of how Wenterly Hill looks in Minecraft. Story, I already knew, is extremely important to having a game be received well. And so, I need to keep returning to the basics, and the craft I’m coming from – the writing.
Who are your favorite – or least-favorite – female characters, in gaming and/or stories? Do they match up? What would/do you do about it in game design, if anything?