(Light BioShock spoilers!)
You’ve got your oversexualized female characters: ones with daddy issues, ones that need constant protection and saving, the mere quest-givers, the escort, etc. They seem to be limited to these roles, and even when they take center stage as the protagonist, they’re handled improperly. I’ve discussed how these characters are portrayed physically, and I will now present my observations concerning their psychological and emotional representations within the narrative.
When thinking of what roles I want to examine, I realized the Bioshock series provided a variety of examples, which I will detail below.Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I’d like to hear what other roles you’ve picked up on and the female characters that fit them.
Alas, the main character is still trying to protect a female character (I mean, if he doesn’t choose to harvest one for ADAM), but here that character is a child. This opens up the topic of other representations of females in video games. Throughout the Bioshock series, young girls known as “Little Sisters” are each protected by a Big Daddy. This instance differs since the male guardian is justified given the Little Sisters’ ages, and it’s important to point out the dynamic wouldn’t work as well with young boys, as they are typically characterized as getting into trouble and breaking things. “Little Brothers” would require discipline, not necessarily protection. Also, Big Daddies are not the standard male guard because they are not human, but they are male nonetheless.
Food for Thought: Compare the Little Sisters with Clementine from The Walking Dead. Realize why they have to be girls. How did this come about in the first place? Can this be changed? Is it even problematic? For the male counterpart, consider Duck!
Here we have another non-traditional female role, as Sofia Lamb takes the place of the main antagonist, or what I’ll call the Evil Bitch. She plays the role of a cruel and critical mother, whom you hate pretty much from the start. She is often compared to the villainous Andrew Ryan from the first Bioshock, since she took his place as the leader of Rapture. As a whole, video game companies do not typically characterize females as the main antagonist, as male gamers would have to fight women, who may not be seen as an actual threat. Of course, these companies don’t hold back with violence against women in other contexts. But in general, female villains are not unheard of.
Rosalind Lutece is very strictly the male version of Robert Lutece, so by definition she is a Ms. Male Character. I’m pointing out the trend here, but let me get to my main point. I say that, despite the trope, I making an exception for this portrayal, at least in terms of being unoffensive. Rosalind wasn’t created in an after-thought to supplement Robert, such as Ms. Pac-Man was to Pac-Man. Instead, the two co-exist, forming a union that underlines Infinite’s central theme (you’ll have to play to find out, or… cheat and look it up). While Rosalind is generic, Robert is equally so — but I must emphasize this isn’t why I’m justifying the trope’s use here (as that logic would also say sexualization of women is okay as long as men are sexualized too and vice versa, a line of thought that is wrong and offensive). There’s a way in which the game’s narrative frames it so neither Rosalind nor Robert could exist in the game without the other.
I started writing my thoughts on Elizabeth, as she serves a few different roles. But I realized… she’s going to need her own post. I will provide a brief summary here, though.
As the Escort: Elizabeth accompanies the protagonist, Booker DeWitt, throughout the game. She serves little purpose here other than to give directions and help you find things.
As the Damsel in Distress: Your mission is release Elizabeth from her imprisonment in the tower and then later save her when she is captured and experimented on. Elizabeth is certainly more than a damsel in distress, but she still falls into this category.
As the Reward: Repeatedly you hear, “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” Though not a love interest, Elizabeth is a goal.
As the Main Character: In Burial At Sea: Episode 2 (the second BioShock Infinite DLC), Elizabeth takes center stage! There are differences, of course, between playing as Booker and playing as Elizabeth, both good and bad.
Again, I will discuss Elizabeth’s characterization and development more in-depth in another post — hopefully next week!
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