Dissertation

Find texts/ writing on female characters.

History of Females in Games

Games for a long time have been a very male dominated media in terms of audience and in-game characters. Females in games used to not be a very important factor and just used to be either someone to save or someone to look at. One of the first female protagonists to be in a game was Samus Aran in the 1986 game Metroid she was awarded “the first playable human female character in a mainstream video game” by the Guinness World Records 2013. For being the first female protagonist in a game I think she is represented in a good way, you don’t actually know what gender Samus is until the end of the game. She has many different sides to her in each game, first thought is that she is a bad ass and she isn’t afraid to disobey orders if it is the right or practical thing to do. In future games when players find out the bad ass dude they’ve been fighting as wasn’t really a guy it was a good twist for gender role expectations which nobody expected, now everybody knows Samus is a female she can be feminine but was criticised for her other suit’s design having wider hips and accentuating her femininity. I do not agree with this criticism I think that you characters can have different sides, just because she isn’t dressed in her big armour and doesn’t appear to be male doesn’t mean that she can’t kick ass.
Another popular way which females are portrayed in games is what I think is the most common now and in past games is the damsel in distress where the female can’t fight for herself and needs the male protagonist to come and save her. One of the earliest examples of this is the Mario series where Princess Peach needs to be saved by Mario, she is nothing but a prize at the end of the game until future games such as Mario Kart where she is a playable character. Princess Peach appears in 14 of the core Super Mario platform games and is captures in 13 of them. Subjects act and objects are acted upon, the subject being the protagonist and the main character in the game doing all the fighting, in video games this is most likely the playable character and mostly male, this relegates the female to the role of ‘object’ in which damselled women are being acted upon often being a prize or treasure to be won or found. In more of old games such as Mario, My Hero, Haunted Castle, Zelda and many more women are seen as a possession which is stolen from the protagonist and needs to be retrieved. If a male character is captured or put in prison during the story they find a way to manoeuvre themselves out of the situation, or just punch a hole in the prison wall on the other hand the captured damsel in distress is seen as not capable of escaping on her own.
Damsels in distress can not always be a bad thing for example in the game The Last of Us the character Ellie was a triumph in storytelling and representation for female characters in games. She is powerful throughout the whole game, not because she has a gun or her physical ability, she began her story in The Last of Us but grown throughout the game to be much more. Her journey from damsel in distress to fully complex character is clear that it is because of her relationships with Joel growing throughout the game, likewise Joel wouldn’t have grown without Ellie. This shows the game isn’t about how male or females are represented but about how two characters need one another in a mutual relationship, it doesn’t show that females are greater than men or men are greater than females but how females are equal to their male counterparts. It’s not about females being portrayed as stronger than men but being portrayed on equal terms.
Sometimes in games the roles are reversed and it’s the female who has to save the male, this is rarely a thing in games but is nice to see sometimes. One example of this is in the game Dreamfall: The Longest Journey where protagonist Zoe Castillo is trying to save her ex-boyfriend and best friend Reza who had been captured, she is a strong minded woman who is very relatable, she had made mistakes in the past but fights for the greater good to find her best friend, she is another character who didn’t need guns and/or muscles to be a strong female protagonist but she is smart and determined. Another example of a different kind is the Jill Valentine, at the very beginning of the game she is looking for her co-worker Chris Redfield, she on the other hand does use guns and is a bad ass female both i feel are still good representations of females in games and shows they can be strong and can fight for themselves.

Case Studies

My first character I look at is Heather Mason from the Silent Hill franchise, she is the main protagonist and playable character in Silent Hill 3. To start of I will look and discuss her clothes and appearance, It is rare for there to be a female video game character who is not over sexualized in both persona and attributes. One example which compares this is between Heather and someone like Lara Croft, from the older games when both were out at the same time. If you compare the two you can instantly see that Heathers body type is much more realistic to an average real-life woman. You also look at Lara Crofts outfit and she has a lot of flesh showing, cleavage, stomach and most of her legs but does she really need to be showing all of that when she’s fighting off bears and tigers. Heather on the other hand is still wearing a skirt but I don’t feel its to show off her legs and give her sex appeal but it’s to giver her some more femininity, she is also wearing a t-shirt and body warmer which is very covering of her upper half and not there to accentuate her breasts like Lara’s for example. I like the fact that Heather actually looks like she’s been though a rough time, she actually looks like she has been though pain and suffering. Throughout the game she acquires bruises and cuts and her clothes become dirty which helps show what she is feeling like and may make you feel sorry for her and want to help her. This is unlike Lara in the older Tomb Raider games, despite what she goes through she still remains to look perfect with no cuts or bruises to be seen on her body, this may be because they want her to remain a sex symbol throughout the game. This has changed though in the 2013 release of Tomb Raider where she was given a major re-design where her body shape is more realistic, she is wearing cargo trousers instead of her signature mini shorts and she actually has cuts and bruises over her body and face, I really liked this re design as she actually looks like she has been jumping around, rolling in dirt and fighting off enemies. Although they did do this to her look she has her tight vest top on and still will always be a sexy female character.
There are also lots of things in game which show Heathers personality and makes her a relatable character for people playing. One of Heathers main traits are that she is moody, sarcastic and she also loses her temper easily which are common traits for a teener like herself who is 17 or maybe someone who is playing the game who can relate, an example for these is when she says “Shut your stinking mouth, bitch!” Another thing like this which a lot of people mostly teenagers could relate with or have been through is at the beginning of the game if you look in the mirror she says she dislikes mirrors and feels her reflection is a false image, the mirror in her bedroom is also covered which shows that she is not comfortable with the way she looks which a lot of teenagers aren’t as they are still finding out who they really are.  Although she is a strong and brave character fighting off the monsters in the game by herself she can also be emotional and sensitive which is bound to happen if you were in the same situation, it’s good that she shows this side to her instead of being carefree the whole time. When Heather finds the shotgun she says that it is ‘gross’ implying that she doesn’t actually like weapons or fighting which most people don’t but she will do it to survive. In the game if you go to pick up a packet of cigarettes she says that she ‘quit for good’ which isn’t very good seeing as she is only 17 and she used to be a smoker but it’s real life, there are probably no other female protagonists or even male strong lead roles who are or were smokers. In the Last Drop Cafe Heather can examine a broken cash register scattered with money, she chooses not to take them, stating she’s ‘no thief’, this shows that even in the circumstances she’s in she is still not a greedy person.
Heather was very close to her dad, the death of Harry Mason comes completely out of left field. For half the game Heather just wanted to make it back to her father who could maybe protect her but then Heather finds her father slumped in his chair, brutally murdered by one of the monsters in Silent Hill, nobody saw this coming and made you feel so sorry for Heather. When she returns to her dad she saysDad… why did you have to die? You told me you were the strongest man in the world… Liar.’ That one quote is so heart-rendering and like a punch to the gut. She often heard his voice in her head and comments about him, when Vincent calls him a ‘sneaky guy’ she yells ‘Don’t talk about my dad like that!’ this shows how close they were as she always stuck up for him but then also makes comments such as calling him a ‘worry wort dad’ when she looks at the stun gun which was a gift from him, this to me is so relatable as a female as my dad always worries about me when I know I will be fine.
When being followed by Detective Douglas Cartland, Heather says “Are you still following me? Do I have to scream?” I feel this quote shows Heather knows what to do or say to get her own way, she knows as a girl if she screams someone will help. She adapts to situations in the game very well, she is not particularly strong but she is smart which helps her get out of certain troubles, she is interested in literature which also shows that she is smart but calls Romeo and Juliet ‘sentimental slop’ which I like because what 17 year old likes lovey dovey Shakespeare. All of these things add up to make Heather more of a relatable character, she has lots of traits which are in real life which you see or you are going through or have been through yourself or ones in which you can feel for the character in the game so its not just someone you are playing as bit someone you feel sorry for and want to help.
Although there are characters like Heather in horror games who represent positive and strong females you also still have the total opposite, not in the protagonist role but in a useless secondary role such as Ashley Graham in the Resident Evil 4. She is the daughter of the US president and the typical damsel in distress who gets kidnapped then has to be saved by the main protagonist Leon Kennedy, it’s his objective to determine Ashley’s whereabouts and rescue her from her captors any time she is in distress. During the game Ashley does help a little by throwing lamps at monsters but mostly just stands there screaming, her most commonly used phrase is ‘Leon, HELP!’ when she screams a lot! Ashley wears an orange turtle neck jumper which doesn’t show any chest, a jumper around her neck and a green tartan skirt, this outfit is in my opinion not trying to sexualize her in any way and is pretty appropriate like Heather’s in Silent Hill but in one of her alternate outfits, the ‘popstar’ outfit, she has a very low-cut top on with her stomach and breasts showing, I don’t feel there was any need for this extra outfit as Ashley was not a sexy character in the game unlike Ada Wong for example who I feel can wear that type of outfit. A few of Ashley’s quotes in the game are mostly things like ‘Don’t just stand there, help me!’ and ‘I’m leaving it to you’ which if it wasn’t already clear enough shows that she can’t fend for herself at all and needs Leon to do everything for her. I would prefer it if she wasn’t so useless and wasn’t shown to be so weak and dependant on Leon, there are other sidekicks such as Jill Valentine with Chris Redfield who is strong and can fight for herself just like her male counterpart Chris.

My second character I will look at is Claire Redfield who is a playable character on the game Resident Evil 2. At the start of the game Claire is trying to find her brother Chris in Raccoon City, she says to an injured cop she finds “Mine’s Claire. Claire Redfield. I came to find my brother Chris,” which shows she is strong and independent despite only being 19 but then as she runs out of the door gets saved by Leon from the zombies, she didn’t know that the city was over run by zombies at the time so its fair enough she didn’t know what to do at first. As the game progresses she becomes more confident and strong willed, I feel like this is because she is determined to find her brother, I feel like she grows as the game progresses into a better more relatable character as she is separated from Leon, this shows she can fight for herself and doesn’t need him to protect her. Throughout the game Claire responds positively with young girls she meets along the way such as Sherry and Rani, an in game quote which shows this is “Wait, Sherry. Don’t go alone! Sherry! Sherry!” Instead of being protected herself she is the one being the protector looking after the younger girls, she is caring and is inspirational for the girls she meets and helps. She is comforting for the, when she meets Sherry for the first time she says “Easy, easy there. I’m not a zombie! You’re safe now.” I like the fact Claire is the one saving all of these people instead of the one who is being rescued like Ashley Graham who I discussed in the Heather study.
Claire is often quick to draw opinions on people whether it be because she thinks they are hiding secrets or just because she feels the person is sneaky or untrustworthy, she shows this when she tries to warn Sherry about Derek Simmons which again shows her protectiveness for the younger characters. She is initially a character who shows a deep range of emotions from fear to anger and sadness but it’s these emotions which drives her on to find her brother which is why she is there. Although she shows all of these emotions at the time of the attack on Harvardville airport she shows displays a more level headedness which shows how much she has grown as a character. Claire still allows bursts of anger to show through her adult front usually when she is angry at others that mindlessly or selfishly cause harm to helpless which again shows her caring side.
Another more recent character who grows as a game progresses is Ellie from The Last of Us, I feel like she is similar as she starts off as a kind of ‘damsel’ and grows as a character as the game goes on. At the start of the game Ellie if fairly unskilled in techniques on surviving which you would expect for a 13 year old. She only has a switchblade for a weapon as she is not trusted by Joel to use a fire arm, that is until she saves him by shooting a hunter which is when Joel teaches her how to use it properly, later on her abilities grow and she can use a range of weapons, she grows throughout the game and becomes more confident with them which is shown when she says, ‘I shot the hell out of that guy, huh?’ Instead of being pretty much useless when fighting like Ashley in Resident Evil, Ellie actually helps out Joel by calling out enemy positions, she can also help to actually attack the enemy by throwing objects to stun them which gives Joel the opportunity to attack. Sometimes Ellie needs Joel if she is unable to wrestle herself free, it is both of them helping each other to survive.
Claire has a variation of different outfits in the games she’s in, in the first one she starts off riding a motorcycle in the shortest pink shorts you will ever see with some black undershorts to cover her modesty, she also has a turtle neck t shirt on and a body warmer which when you think about this being her most skimpy outfit isn’t that bad. In the up and coming Resident Evil Revelations 2 game it has been released that Claire will be the main character and shows her new outfit, it shows how far the game has come and how things may be changing, she wears a more casual outfit with a pair of jeans, a dirty shite shirt and a blazer, it’s not like the first one where you have to show a bit of skin for example, the revamped version of Lara Croft which I discussed before may look better and she may have trousers on but she still  has a skimpy vest on with her big boobs showing which is why I much prefer the new Claire in the new Resident Evil game. Like Claire in RE: Revelations 2 I said how her outfit is casual and everyday which is how I like my characters, I like them to be like real life people like the Heather Mason example, these two characters are much more relatable to me other than someone like Lara Croft.

 

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