Damned If You Don’t

**This post uses gender-normative language. You can assume that anywhere I write “female” and “woman”, I mean anyone who identifies as such.**

This is something I didn’t get a chance to say in class today regarding the notion that game developers are stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding the writing process for female characters. The idea that was presented was that when a game has a female character, audiences will complain that she is either too perfect, blandly written, or Mary Sue-ish, or if she is flawed, that these flaws reflect the gaming industry’s poor portrayal of women.

To me, the fundamental problem here is simply a lack of female archetypes within video games and a saturation of certain tropes regarding female roles. “Damsel in Distress” is not an inherently bad plot device. Having to save someone you care for can be a very emotionally immersive storyline. The issue arises when this, and a few other tropes, are used over and over and over again. It points to a lack of creativity within video game character writing that disproportionately affects those that aren’t heterosexual males.

When I call for more “strong female characters,” I am not necessarily calling for more Jade Aldemirs, who is by any sane person’s definition, STRONG. What I want is more strongly-written female characters. I want character depth and nuance on the same level that male characters get. This means that I am fine with flaws. Actually, I want flaws! Flaws make characters believable. What I don’t want is for these flaws to be central to a character’s femininity in the way that the pure “Damsel in Distress” trope is often used.

This also speaks to the issue of which categories of people get to be transparent. Male characters don’t get criticized on how poorly written they are nearly as much as their female counterparts because who cares about one character out of millions? For every Duke Nukem, there is a Kanji Tatsumi. The scarcity of female protagonists and playable characters necessarily places a greater focus on the ones that do exist. The very act of even having female protagonists is an act of defiance. So how do we fix the scrutiny placed on these characters? Write more of them. Write characters that come from varied backgrounds. Have female characters that are actually written by women. Break from the three or four clichéd portrayals women are given in video games. No matter the criticism game developers get for writing bad female characters, maintaining the gender imbalance of protagonists in video games would be much worse.

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