Yuna from Final Fantasy X was hands down one of my favorite characters when I was younger. There was something magical to see a girl with so much responsibility on her shoulders while still maintaining a great deal of femininity and grace. I love complex and multi-faceted characters and, being eight years old, I thought Yuna was the epitome of a wonderfully written character in general. I resonated with her, how her idealism clashed with her purpose as a Summoner, how her struggle to understand the cruelty of the world she lived in clashed with how she wanted the world to be. She was, I thought, one of the most moving narratives in FFX, even more so than the main character Tidus.
Also, in Final Fantasy X-2, I thought she was a straight-up badass.
As I got older, though, I realized how difficult it was to find female characters in games that weren’t just one particular trope. Yeah, Yuna was awesome and can summon super powerful Aeons to wreck you just by the flick of her staff, but she wasn’t as sexualized as she was in FFX-2. It was either play her as an innocent seventeen year old or scantily clad, pistol-toting power fantasy.
But then I settled with her. I told myself she was something, and I just had to take what they give me.
There is something telling when women in the gaming culture have to settle for things. There’s something telling about the developers of games and the people who consume games where women are expected to just deal with it when we are confronted with problematic characters. As women, we are expected to be given something by the developer and expect to like it by the general consumer. And, more often than not, we are expected to vehemently react to a given view of representation when it does not meet the standards male gamers give to representation.
Take, for example, Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider series.
Tomb Raider has gone through a lot of scrutiny, both by male and female gamers, on the characterization of Lara Croft. Why would anyone where booty shorts into a deadly forest? Maybe they were in season? I don’t know, but I do know that many male gamers found Lara Croft annoying, distracting, and overwhelming as a character. Why is she always moaning like that? What is that accent? Why is trying to be sexy?
After the reboot of the classic game, many gamers took to forums to praise Crystal Dynamics on toning down the sexual nature of Lara Croft. Lara was more focused, more complex, less explicit, and less desirable. Lara was even dressed more appropriately for raiding even more tombs.
But, let me tell you something about women.
We can be sexy if we want to. We can also be awesome at the same time. Those two aren’t exclusive.
Lara Croft is meant to be a sensual, sexy character. That’s, like, her thing. Sometimes there is unnecessary sexualization of female characters, but that’s caused by the strong relationship between the supplier and demander of games and how consumers see female characters. However, sometimes there are wonderfully written, intelligent, and super sexy characters like Lara Croft that are stripped of their sexuality because it is deemed unethical. Women are as much sexual beings as they are intelligent ones and we should be seen as being both.
The struggle in finding representation, then, is when men say we’re looking for it in the wrong places. The struggle comes from when we are told not to see something as empowering because “it just isn’t.” Women are complex. Women are problematic. Women are powerful. Women are damsels in distress. Women are heroes. Women are so many things. Why do we need to make these things exclusive? Why do men have this image of the ideal female game character as someone who lacks sensuality, emotion, and care? Why does the ideal female character have to be the “Ms. Male Character” someone mentioned in an earlier post? Why does the ideal female character lack everything that concerns being a woman?
Women in the real world are so multi-faceted, why can’t we have women like that in the games we play? And why can’t we allow that to happen?