This simple question struck me while I was trawling through old Kotaku updates for info on Dragon Age II, whereupon I caught another look at the new female version of Hawke, the game’s protagonist.
Much like Mass Effect 2’s Commander Shepard, players will be able to choose a male or female version of the same character when the game drops next year.
Supposedly this allows for better immersion as the game’s NPCs and party members can refer to your character as Hawke, rather than having to fall back on “you”, “my Lord/Lady” or “my friend” which most RPGs have to resort to. Of course, its understandable why this has to be the case, but it does sometimes feels as if everyone is treating you like the dullest guy at a party whose name they’ve already forgotten, and not the world’s most legendary of heroes.
This kind of choice is all well and good. Creating a story that fits a male or female character equally suggests that BioWare have left opportunities for love interests open on either side of the gender fence (and the sexuality fence too), a bonus for fans of Dragon Age: Origins pixelated pounding shenanigans.
However, leaving the multi-gender Shepards and Hawkes aside for a moment, are there enough purely female protagonists in games?
Sure, there are some iconic female games characters who immediately spring to mind: Samus, Lara Croft, Jill Valentine, Bayonetta, Nariko. There are a number who are the supreme heroines of their respective adventures.
Obviously there is also a multitude of female characters who are in “supporting roles” rather than being stars of the show, but despite having not sat down to do the math, I think it’s safe to assume that female protagonists are massively outgunned by their male counterparts.
Is this an imbalance that needs to be addressed? As already mentioned, there are plenty of games where the choice of character gender remains open (especially in the RPG genre), allowing players to choose whichever avatar sex best suits their current mood. However, games being developed that are purely from the player perspective of a woman are still few and far between.
Now I’m no PC freak (at least, not in the political correctness sense) and I don’t want a 50-50 split or anything, but a few more top game titles where well-constructed and eminently likeable female protagonists would be a welcome occurrence.
They don’t all have to be kicking ass and taking names either, though playing that sort of heroine is thoroughly enjoyable. The addition of female protagonists in more cerebral games such as your Professor Laytons and Phoenix Wrights would likely be as well received.
Questions concerning sex appeal sit heavily upon female characters. How much is enough? What’s too much? Is that outfit too revealing or that bosom too full? Game developers often get unfairly battered with the “objectifying stick” when bringing out new female characters or models for players to create their own female avatars in RPGs.
There are examples where the sex appeal card has been played as strongly and repeatedly as possible. X-Blades is one such game, since the designers made a creative decision to have the camera stick rigidly to protagonist Ayumi’s ass at all times, regardless of ensuing combat or other such minor distractions.
Certainly, this style of design and imagery can help initially attract a male audience (witness the image choices in this article) as sex appeal sells. However, it’s certainly not a game-saver in its own right. A jiggling pair of butt cheeks wrapped in the skimpiest of leather or mail bands do not distract the player from flimsy plots and poor combat systems forever.
While I don’t believe that creating a female protagonist who is a thoroughly plain and dowdy creature just to buck the trend is necessarily a good idea, they don’t have to be designed to pop out of their bodices every time the player performs a sharp left turn. Mind you, a little bodice-popping action is healthy now and then. Especially if you need something to lighten the mood after a tragic NPC death or town-burning cutscene.
Put simply, there seems to be plenty of room for more games with compelling stories played from a purely female perspective.
Feel free to declare your favourite female game protagonist and a choice moment or aspect of their character that makes them awesome.
Fast Forward to 2019 and things are looking much more realistic!