The climate for women to take center stage in video games could not be more perfect. Our culture is prone to outrage over any random thing that is worth complaining about and one of them is the whole sexism in video games. I play an absolute unreal amount of video games and to be honest with you… it’s not a hedonistic den of debauchery that Anita Sarkeesian would have you believe. Can we just pause and appreciate her for a moment?
She is absolutely gorgeous. Dammit, Anita! Why do we have to fight on opposing sides of logic and reason? Imagine her tenacity shedding light on the truly lopsided aspects of video games that could use work.
For instance, there are still a great deal of games without the focus being on a lead female protagonist. This isn’t sexist. This is just simply an area that is left unexplored for the most part. Think of all the lead female protagonists you can. There are quite a few but the primary ones generally include Lara Croft, Bayonetta, Jade, Nariko, Alice… and it starts to trail off. You start clutching at straws. Some say Resident Evil but Claire appeared with Leon and then Chris. Jill appeared with Chris. It is no different than Commander Shepard. Women or the female world are very rarely highlighted in the digital world. No matter which game you’re playing, generally the game is going to appeal to the male for whatever reason. The male is the failsafe. We’re into some funny stuff we think women will think we’re weird for. When Bayonetta came out and every man got the demo … we knew the presentation was a little over the top be we argued the mechanics were amazing… because they are. But do you really need to be over the top to get the lead? Nariko certainly wasn’t but she ran around in a band-aid for five hours.
Lara Croft says no. Really? Ms. “OG” Double-D Triangle cups doesn’t think you have to be over-the-top to get the lead? Maybe with her reboot. The sexy was toned down and she’s just a lady trying to survive. Mechanically, Nathan Drake has demonstrated her “femininity” isn’t really a driving point. In fact, other than this scene:
her femininity isn’t even really that big of a deal. Ubisoft attempted to capture some of what would make a woman a unique assassin with AC:Liberation…
Aveline can wear one of three outfits which affect her movement as well as combat. A neat way to approach the topic. Men were men, they did men stuff. However, a black woman has options in New Orleans. Since the game originally appeared on the Vita, it does not have as much flair or focus as a traditional title. It works absolutely phenomenally as a portable Assassin’s Creed game, admittedly. Then of course there is Fetch:
Fetch is all personality… She is mechanically no different than her male counterpart so kudos to Laura Bailey for infusing her with so much flair, she is remembered for being a rockin’ lady.
Women are everywhere in video games…
Just to show off a few… All these ladies are great. They all add character to the world; a great world. They are all players in the world just as much as me holding the controller. They all do their part. How interesting would it be to play as one of them with their motives? I’d imagine the theoretical game would be heavy on ethical and moral choices and more emphasis would be put on playing “the social game” with the characters but what about their environment?
That is exactly where Life is Strange nails it. Light spoilers to follow.
Life is Strange has you interacting with women 90% of the time. This mystery unravels from the perspective of women. Honestly, this game is more like a subtle nightmare you just can’t escape from. Sure it is an adventure game but the constant torment from bullies and seeing their effects play out is downright sinister. It is only fitting the climax to a plot arc from episode two to play out during a rainy day. It all seems so dark and ominous. But the situation in question wasn’t plucked out the the mind of a creative writer. It is a situation many girls and women have to face during their lives. They are either bullies, bullied or comforting a friend that has to cope with being the victims of bullying. A different type of bullying mind you. It is more emotional and cerebral. With boys it is generally a more physical thing. I cannot imagine which would be worse but at least with boys you know that after each ass kicking, it is over. The earliest you will face it is tomorrow. The solution is always crystal clear; either keep running or defend yourself. This little slice of life from womanhood borders on and then fully crosses into criminal territory.
The freaky part is despite the engaging writing the story author comes up with, college girls getting date raped and then slut shamed is not an uncommon idea. Unless you are a soulless sociopath, playing through this portion of the game is a nightmare. There are no zombies, no sirens, phallic monsters, ghosts, creepy mansions or reality melting away. The game simply puts you in the shoes of a friend witnessing a situation that is far too common. And then there is Chloe…
She’s not even a cliche. She is somebody you know. Somebody with ridiculous amounts of potential but they do not have the best environments to thrive. That is Chloe. Due to her mother’s choice in men, she is not as free as she wants to be. It is quite amazing to watch her be bad-ass, see her kryptonite and then watch her continue to be a bad-ass. Maybe her attitude starts rubbing off on Maxine, as attitudes tend to do between friends.
I played Max as a friendly introvert at first. By episode 2 she’s a real Sherlock Holmes complete with interrogation skills and throwing wits back at Victoria.
Just look at Victoria. You want to punch her in her stupid throat don’t you? But don’t do it. That’s not cool. But picture, in your mind’s eye, Victoria getting hit across the face with a bedpan. Find your zen when dealing with her because, again, you know Victoria already and while you may feel sorry for her, that’ll always change in the blink of an eye. Some people just do not deserve loved. I refused to allow Max to get picked on by her. If I was going to continue to have Max be a quiet introvert, she’s definitely going to always speak up against Victoria.
Sometimes I notice things in the environment that cement the idea that I am existing completely inside the female bubble with no male in sight. Other times I see things in the environment that I never really considered how a woman would feel seeing it, such as the graffiti in the last screenshot in the set above.
Life is Strange throws you into the female bubble and their world is compelling. I mean, there is a lot to be said about being a male hero, even a vulnerable one using your guile to save the day. But playing as a woman, seeing things not uncommon to female culture and doing what women across the globe do daily, fight through the emotional pain, injustice and violations to serve a higher purpose. Some of the plot points were so eerie that I felt like this was a feminine nightmare playing out. In some ways I guess it was.
There are so few games out there that are not only so much fun and engaging but also so weighted with emotion that it gives you a link to find a stress counselor in your area in case the game stirs something up in you.
I hope Life is Strange kicks off a newfound interest in an area that really does not get explored enough in video games: Womanhood. In a world where we only want to understand each other, games like Life is Strange help bridge the gap a little. Walking away from just two episodes, I feel as though I learned a little something about women.
The Jaded Gamer