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Veteran Member - Level 12
"Where are all the good female characters?"
"What, did they just take a male character and put boobs on it?"
"Vixen, Ice Queen or Motherly Matron. Take your pick, that's all you've got."
These are just a couple of comments about the current state of games with female characters (or female protagonist custom creation options). While, to some extent, I enjoy the idea of creating female characters that largely have their own backstory and while scantily clad and often very sexy in appearance, they are confident, strong, and capable there is also a large problem when it comes to creating protagonists that are female. In games where a third person protagonist is available, you largely get two different choices.
Choice 1: Male (most likely white, either late teens to early 20's, and if this is a JRPG, has polygonal hair), who then introduces you to many different supporting characters of different genders, races and sometimes species.
Choice 2: You can choose between a custom/premade female or male character and then get pretty much treated the exact same in the game (except for some stuff that I will mention in a little bit).
This is just a test. Ya know, in case you forgot....
Now obviously, Choice 1 is kind of frustrating if it is largely your ONLY CHOICE. Even most non-human anthropomorphic characters tend to be male (Starfox, Spyro, Sonic, etc). While this is not a problem, the main issue that seems to come up is that when a game is made sporting a female character, one is often wondering "did these game designers go to TV Tropes and look up every female stereotype imaginable just to make this character?" Of course, most games nowadays must make the female character "legit" by basically turning her into a ball-busting ice-cube stare shooting vixen from hell who will kill you and flash you her panties at the same time (not only can she shoot three bad guys, but she repositions her bra and reapplies her mascara at the same time!).
Ostensibly, even if you have the choice of a female protagonist character, the chances of having a female arch villain (who isn't either stupidly ineffective or actually an underling working for the ultimate evil-probably male-character), are fairly slim.
You see what I mean?
Now, before people start complaining that I'm slinging the sexism towards my esteemed male gamer collegues, I should explain myself further-
It does not really matter if a character is male or female, but having a compelling backstory and a fleshed-out character is really important. In most critically-acclaimed games, the male characters tend to be defined by their actions, their growth as a human being, etc. In the situation where a female protagonist is involved, this tends to be less-so. Either female characters are brought in using the convenient "well, she's a childhood friend and who else is going to cook them food?" excuse, or it's often one of those "*blush* you saved me and even though I am going to act like I hate you, I actually am in love with you and will demonstrate this by being mean to you all the time and accusing you of doing naughty dirty minded things!" characters.
Exactly! After all, no one would be so heartless as to hit a woman in her perfectly flat stomach that doesn't change shape even when she sits down! EVERYONE KNOWS HOW MUCH WORK THAT TAKES!
Of course, when it comes to Option 2, this is where things get tricky.
You see, while games that operate in the "create your own character and then build skill trees to create a semi-unique gaming experience" sort of way are closer to a truly open and custom gaming experience, you still run into things like this:
MUAHAHAHA I TAKE YOUR MONEY AND STAB YOU IN THE BACK!
Unfortunately, regardless of the attempt to make this semi-egaltarian (there is a "ladykiller" perk that does similar things for male characters), this does play into a very common stereotype of the "evil woman who is out to get your stuff and leave you high and dry."
While the dialogue options are pretty interesting, there is still a feeling of, "really? did you have to put this in here?" because honestly, you're in the future, in a nuclear wasteland. Somehow silly banter about how "soft" things can become "hard" things in that *wink wink nudge nudge* sort of way seems somewhat out of place, and somewhat insulting as an option only available to women.
And here's an example of how to make an NPC speechless.
In games like Mass Effect, there are also specific differences (that thankfully appear to be improved in 2 and 3, although it seems they've destroyed the RPG part of the game that everyone liked and turned it into a primarily third person shooter based game). For example, in the first game, a female Shepherd could develop a romantic/sexual relationship not only with the male characters but also the female characters as well. But the male Shepherd could not. Far from this being a situation where lesbians were being favored, this was largely a nod at the idea that the first thing the target (mostly male) audience would be gunning for the scenarios where they could make girls kiss on their video game (because ZOMG ladies kissing AMIRITE?).
"No! We can't!...." "But we must! 15 year old boys around the world are counting on US!"
Of course, there are other differences as well:
Bro bump 4evah!
Actually...he is kind of huggable....>_>
So I guess I have to wonder, what makes a female protagonist "authentic"? Other than the general physical shape, is it just a question of being somewhat more huggy and emotional? Or is that just another tired stereotype that's been beaten into the ground far too many times?
I started out this post to try and figure out what makes a female protagonist different and authentic. Is it truly authentic to create a female character that is basically a male character but minus the stubble and manly bits? Must we stoop to using things like "PMS" or seduction to prove that a female character is indeed A REAL FEMALE AND NOT JUST A GUY WITH BOOBIES?
As far as I'm concerned, it's not good enough to just create someone who is female and throw a bone to the tally of female protagonists VS male protagonists (it's not a race here, people). But I do think that in order to create real, deep and relatable protagonists, it doesn't simply need to be a question of always making that protagonist automatically MALE so that the majority of gamers can feel they CAN relate.
After all, as far as I know, most of us don't look like a portly Italian plumber, nor do we wear overalls and have a funny looking mustache, but that still doesn't keep most gamers from enjoying Mario games.
The idea is not just to make a fun game that is both interesting and enthralling, but to create a character that you really enjoy guiding through that world. I think that when creating a female protagonist, people should keep this in mind-don't try and create a perfect woman who wears high heels and knows black belt judo while also having a full time career and being the perfect homemaker for her husband and children. We don't need another stereotype. We need a human being-who just happens to be a woman in some (more often than now) cases, that's all!
Dear readers, your thoughts are, as always, much appreciated!