I’d like to think that society has moved on from sexism within entertainment, especially concerning video games, but I would be a bit mistaken in assuming so. With the recent controversy in the media surrounding a promotional poster for X-Men: Apocalypse among other overblown claims, it’s worth addressing the female heroine in video games. This isn’t necessarily a rant on sexism, but rather a focus on the aspects that confuse me regarding the mindset of gamers in a predominantly male-centered industry, and how a female character may challenge the stereotypes associated with them.
On several occasions, namely RPG games like Fallout 4 and Dark Souls that allow players to create either male or female protagonists, I was given a furrowed brow by some of my friends at my choice to create a female. When I asked what was so wrong with it, I was told it was “gay” and “playing as a female is weird”. Typical responses from friends who want to get under your skin, so I shrugged it off.
Then I started doing a bit of research on forums and social media, and to a bit of shock, it seems that many gamers (both male and female) find it strange for a male to create a female character, or even vice versa. These are the same gamers that don’t raise complaints when the latest Tomb Raider or Mirror’s Edge games hit the market either. So why was it such a problem? It seems there’s two sides of the same coin.
On one side, gamers see the created avatar or character as a reflection of themselves. Games are an interactive medium, so it’s only fair to assume the role of a character that mirrors yourself when you want to delve into an epic journey or quest that subconsciously puts you in the seat of the hero. However, some prefer to simply role play as a predetermined hero that they want the story to shape itself around. In my personal case as a struggling writer who enjoys fiction, creating characters is a hobby. I like to imagine the story not from the perspective of myself, but from another individual who has to brace the ordeals of the game. It’s almost like writing a piece of fiction, only the narrative is in the hands of the developers. For that reason alone, I love creating female heroines. I find it, from a narrative standpoint, more fulfilling to create the game with a central female. I’ll explain why in a bit.
In Fallout 4, the plot of the game revolves around a parent traversing the wastelands to find their son. In the shoes of a male, the story is about a father/son bond. The father, sticking to the role of a heroic male figure that will likely tear apart the world to find his child, it’s perfectly believable and quite normal. However, in the shoes of a female, the story seemingly changes to a maternal mother/son bond, and instead becomes about how the unlikely female figure rises above her stereotypical “female” tropes to overcome the challenges.
We’ve seen this countless times in films like Alien and Terminator, and they’ve been all the more memorable for creating iconic female heroines in Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor, respectively. While this may be one of the main reasons males create female characters, there would be other less imaginative excuses. Some men just want to stare at fan service for their playtime, while others get a fetishist kick out of it. Who knows.
However, back down to the issue at hand; is it so wrong to play as a female in games? Perhaps limiting it down to custom-created female characters would be a more logical argument. The answer is a resounding no. We’re at a stage in society where gender equality should actually mean something, and not be an agenda for elected officials and angry social media users. There’s many perfectly acceptable reasons for female characters to exist as much as the male stereotypical hero, and go beyond their preconceived labels. Maybe we need to motivate the creation of the next Lara Croft.