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Thread: Female Representation & RPGs - Editorial

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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    Female Representation & RPGs - Editorial

    Have you ever stopped to examine how male and female roles are portrayed in your games? Most keen observers would be able to point out inaccurate representations of woman throughout the gaming landscape, but one genre boasts a number of strong female characters.

    Editorial!
    Last edited by InstaTrent; 01-17-2013 at 08:49 AM.
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    BEARSONA Administrator Paws's Avatar
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    I suspect I'll get flamed to the ground, but here's a crazy thought: video games are predominantly done by heternormative males (especially in Japan). I don't think they deliberately diss anything outside of that zone as much as they're just not thinking about it -thoughtless, just not in a cruel way.

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    複線ドリフト!! RPGamer Staff Quin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paws View Post
    I suspect I'll get flamed to the ground, but here's a crazy thought: video games are predominantly done by heternormative males (especially in Japan). I don't think they deliberately diss anything outside of that zone as much as they're just not thinking about it -thoughtless, just not in a cruel way.
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    Member flamethrower's Avatar
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    If you change the medium to "any medium there is," then one of the observations, that "female characters are sexualized," holds up somewhat. See the large body of evidence below.
    I feel that other media forms do not suffer from weak female characterization though.

    Evidence:
    Hollywood Homely
    Men are Strong, Women are Pretty
    From TVTropes

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamethrower View Post
    I feel that other media forms do not suffer from weak female characterization though.
    (1) TvTropes isn't a credible source to cite on the subject of woman studies.
    (2) http://bechdeltest.com/statistics/ - of the 3279 films listed on this database, only 53% pass the Bechdel test.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paws View Post
    I suspect I'll get flamed to the ground, but here's a crazy thought: video games are predominantly done by heternormative males (especially in Japan). I don't think they deliberately diss anything outside of that zone as much as they're just not thinking about it -thoughtless, just not in a cruel way.
    I believe this holds true for many RPG games, but definitely not gaming in general. Jiggle physics exist precisely because they were looking to sexualise the characters and most certainly not out of a lack of though.

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    Wild Arms 4 had a really good balance in this respect. Raquel was definitely the strongest character in the game, both in stats and personality wise.

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    Given that a lot of developers are, as Paws puts it- heteronormative males, and we tend to play to what we know. Most men don't understand women and will freely admit as much (any who claim otherwise are liars). And given those points, I think its very difficult for men to create a strong female character that doesn't play into some biases or preconceived ideas. Then there are some that just want to play into what will get the best response from their target audience- teenage males. The problem is that when a game developer specifically targets female audiences, it usually comes across as being incredibly contrived and usually sexist- I mean, all girls want to play with Barbies and have a pony, right? Of course not, but what does a big group of men know?

    Maybe the solution is to get more women involved in the development process- the design of characters and stories, if not the actual software development portion. But this gets down to more of a science/engineering culture problem we have already.

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    What I find hilarious is that it's not that hard to understand how a woman acts in public, nor how they act in private. To be honest it doesn't seem to be that different from how guys act.
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    is not declawed RPGamer Staff Ocelot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smacd View Post
    Given that a lot of developers are, as Paws puts it- heteronormative males, and we tend to play to what we know. Most men don't understand women and will freely admit as much (any who claim otherwise are liars). And given those points, I think its very difficult for men to create a strong female character that doesn't play into some biases or preconceived ideas. Then there are some that just want to play into what will get the best response from their target audience- teenage males. The problem is that when a game developer specifically targets female audiences, it usually comes across as being incredibly contrived and usually sexist- I mean, all girls want to play with Barbies and have a pony, right? Of course not, but what does a big group of men know?

    Maybe the solution is to get more women involved in the development process- the design of characters and stories, if not the actual software development portion. But this gets down to more of a science/engineering culture problem we have already.
    There are plenty of male authors who write excellent female characters. The problem is that a lot of game companies don't hire strong writers (or any qualified writers at all) and/or have a disconnect between writers and character designers. It's not difficult to write decent female characters if you have actual writers on staff and a general basic idea of how not to completely objectify women. The folks at ArenaNet have created an entire world full of diverse and not-offensively-written female characters, and that game doesn't come near to being the pinnacle of RPG storytelling. All you have to do is write a character who is a character first and a gender second, then dress her in an outfit that is reasonably practical for what she's doing.

    Japanese people know how to do this as well as English-speakers do. There are plenty of good female characters that I've played in Japanese RPGs, from the ton of 'em in the Suikoden series to Estelle in TitS to the girls in Persona 3 and 4. Overly sexualizing and/or making vapid/helpless female characters is a conscious choice on the part of developers on both sides of the world, and everybody can do better.

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    What I find most hilarious is that many of these so-called writers who bemoan about how hard it is to write believable female characters never seem to get the idea that they could save themselves a lot of time and agony by making a well-developed, well-rounded, and believable character first and THEN making them female. But no, they'd prefer the Aeris Gainboroughs and Rinoa Heartilys instead of the Terra Branfords and Celes Chere.

    True fact: FF6 passes the Bechdel test when Celes asks Terra about her power and how wondrous it is.

    Has any of the other female protagonists done the same? Possibly, as someone who hasn't played any of them in a long while, I'm unsure as to where XIII, XII, and X stand.

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    XIII passess the Bechtel test easily just between Lightning and Fang alone, X and XII do too if I'm remembering correctly.

    But I agree with Ocelot and Iliya, the big mysterious secret to writing a 'good female character' is to write a chracter first and worry about what's between their legs second.

    The very act of going 'oh noes we poor mens can't understand dem crazy womens' is kind of terrible and mysoginistic by itself. The female human is still human and going to act like it and vaginas aren't an alien transplant that turns 'human' into a different species. If you trully believe men can't understand women simply because of gender then you've alredy given up before you've even tried, and its rather dehumanising to both gender groups.

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    Well, outside of FFVI...

    VII - I can't recall anytime Aerith and Tifa were together and discussing anything beyond Cloud; Yuffie never really interacts with anyone but Cloud. ...Um... does the interrogation and fight between Tifa and Scarlet count...?

    VIII - I don't think any of the female characters are ever seen interacting with other. ...Then again, most characters are not seen interacting with others, since it's such as Squall-centric game.

    IX - I think Dagger and Eiko mainly talk about Zidane; Dagger WANTS to talk about more plot-based events and her origins, but Eiko's too busy to be boy crazy and tends to hijack the conversation(s) to gauge if she has a shot with the teenager.

    X - Yuna and Lulu have a few moments together discussing Yuna's role as the summoner. There might have been a small scene with Lulu trying to discourage Yuna hooking up with Tidus, mostly because of any negative effects it could have on Yuna fulfilling her job. I can't recall Yuna and Rikku being shown together in a scene talking.

    XI - ...Passes with flying colors if your avatar is female.

    XII - No one talks to each other in this game, period, for the most part, at least not on screen. The few exceptions are like 3-5, usually with a male-female set (though usually about the plot and not their romance, or anything, and most scenes with Ashe are about her own character drive and choices).

    XIII - There are some scenes with Lightning-Fang and Vanille-Fang that's focused on the plot. That said, Fang herself was originally written as a man, so take that as you will.

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    That Guy You Hate RPGamer Staff omegabyte's Avatar
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    IX - I think Dagger and Eiko mainly talk about Zidane; Dagger WANTS to talk about more plot-based events and her origins, but Eiko's too busy to be boy crazy and tends to hijack the conversation(s) to gauge if she has a shot with the teenager.
    I think there might be some stuff with Freya and the other characters. And if you consider that Quina is (officially) female, there's some really weird stuff there too. Mostly food/frog talk, but still.
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    I always thought the problem with most female characters in games was the fact that they weren't really written to be characters but to fulfill roles instead. There are plenty of male characters who aren't well-written or well-rounded either, but the writers at least tried to make them characters and not just moving stereotypes.

    Sure, I love my strong female characters and would love more of them, but I don't mind "weak" female characters as long as they actually feel like characters. I feel like when game writers write "strong" females they take extra care to make them feel real, while with "weak" females writers don't know what to do with them (perhaps because they aren't movers and shakers) and they get no personality whatsoever.

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    Treatment of females is part of expanding of the medium I think. Part of the reason that Mass Effect has more traction with females than some other series is the relatively even-handed way they handle "fem-Shep". She winds up having more depth and is a stronger female lead than just about any other game out there. Even with romantic possibilities built-in, the treatment is typically very mature and doesn't sacrifice Shepard's character for the sake of that plot.

    I also think the treatment of female protagonists in games like Baldur's Gate (Nalia, Viconia, etc.) is pretty even-handed. I don't want to say it's bad in eastern games exactly, but the treatment of women in games like Xenosaga (as the article suggests), Star Ocean, or the sexualization in Shadow Hearts are... not winning awards let's say. In some games with some better treatment (Suikoden perhaps), the cynic in me thinks that it might just be a law of averages or effort to fill out the 108 stars with every type of female they can think of. The females in Persona are handled well, even though the meat of the game involves high school relationships - so that's saying something. The depth of females in the series proper (Nocturne, etc.) is even better.

    Games like Final Fantasy VI are a mixed bag in my opinion. If you go back that far in the medium, sexualizing characters is hard because of the graphics if nothing else. However, Celes and her maybe/maybe-not relationship with Locke becomes a plot-point, as does her dropping the general outfit to sing in an opera about her hero - which is also her musical theme in the game. Terra has an odd role as she's not human, strictly speaking, but a large part of her latter game role is taking over as a mother for children. I don't know that any of that is "sexist" exactly, but it wasn't what I'd consider trailblazing for females either. I say this while considering Final Fantasy VI one of my favorite games, and thinking VII almost certainly took a step back with the magazine ads focused mostly on Tifa's breasts in a skimpy top.

    Final Fantasy XIII did a better job than most FFs in providing a strong female protagonist that focused more on saving her sister than any sort of romantic inclination. Consequently, Lightning was one of the better liked characters to come out of that installment (How a game with just her will be handled remains to be seen).

    This is a good discussion to have I think. People steer away from these things sometimes to avoid getting into the controversial elements, but I'm glad to see any attempt at addressing it.

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    Taking the Final Fantasy example, I think another issue, at least in with some more high-risk developers, is a reluctance to make female main characters.

    This is a tad ironic for FF, since arguably most of the series has starred female main characters since FFX. Yuna is by narrative role the hero by traditional standards, and parts of her personality even fit a classic chivalrous knight--but she is also fairly equal parts traditional Japanese feminine. To counterbalance this, Tidus is made narrator/PoV character, hijacking the hero role (though he at least is an important character in the plot, though more later on). The next offline game gets completely bizarre in this matter. Vaan is presented as the main character in a similar way as Tidus, but without any substance or rhyme to it. According to some mixed messages from the developers, Basch and Balthier were originally considered the main character. Regardless, at the end of the day, the plot itself is the hero quest of Ashe, the most important female in the game (and one of a handful with character development). Instead, Ashe is pushed aside by SE in marketing, unless they need her sex Asshe.

    Then we get to FFXIII, which does finally admit to starring a female character. ...Just the incorrect female character. Lightning is a pretty cool character over all, but she is arguably inconsequential, along with Snow and Hope (Serah is more important in the plot than her big sister). The story is about Vanille. It's not initially apparent, but it becomes so farther in, especially toward the end. It is her choices that matter. As such, her best friend serves an important role as part of Vanille's incentive for certain actions. Similar, Sazh is arguably more important than the other half of the party for the moral support and bonding her had with Vanille when they were together; Sazh was a foil to her, and she needed his example when making some of her own decisions later on. Now, according to the Ultimania, Vanille was going to be named main character after they wrote the plot and realized what had happened, but, because of the 2006 trailer, they kept with Lightning as the main character for consistent marketing reasons. Incidentally (or not, don't know), Lightning is a masculine character (hell, the MOST masculine character in the game) while Vanille oozes dangerous levels of girlishness, more so than Yuna did before her.






    P.S.: FFXI largely escapes this. The gender of the PC does not impact anything; regardless, the PC will be the main character. However, much of the series features prominent woman as the co-protagonists for different story arcs. The core plot of FFXI (the original Shadow King + Zilart Princes arcs) is a bit more nebulous with main characters, with more equal roles between Lion, Zeid, and Aldo, supporting the PC. However, almost every plot line afterward notably co-stars a female character with the PC (Prishe in CoP, Aphmau in ToAU, and Lillisette in WotG; can't wait to see if the trend continues for Adoulin). Furthermore, in marketing via Dissidia and whatnot, the face of FFXI to those outside of its fans is the female character Shantotto (who is largely an extra that's a complete scene stealer when she occasionally pops up in mostly non-important instances) and, to a slightly lesser degree, Prishe.

    P.S.S.: I am not terribly familiar with FFXIV, though in marketing, generic black haired Hyur dude seems to be the favorite.

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    Quote Originally Posted by riulyn View Post
    I always thought the problem with most female characters in games was the fact that they weren't really written to be characters but to fulfill roles instead. There are plenty of male characters who aren't well-written or well-rounded either, but the writers at least tried to make them characters and not just moving stereotypes.
    I could not agree more with this statement. More often than not, I think many video game writers approach female roles like they are slots to fill with stereotypical archetypes. They *could* take the time to flesh out the characters themselves and give them unique personalities, but it's much easier to give them one or two defining characteristics and leave them to collect dust throughout the plot.
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    I am loving this discussion, and in fact I finally am inspired to start up the Mass Effect games to see how Femshep plays. Personally, I have really enjoyed Lightning's character, although (as a guy) I wonder if it's because she is somewhat masculine...in any case, I really enjoy that she is a strong independent leader who has a take charge attitude. In fact, in FFXIII it is Snow's character whose rash actions seem infantile, while Lightning is the stalwart wise leader. I'm really interested in the notion that Vanille was the original lead character, and I can see plot-wise how this is true. But of course, gameplay-wise you are forced to use Lightning for the whole first portion of the game.

    The one comment I would make to add to the discussion is just to say that Lightning has become one of my top 5 lead characters overall, and as a guy that is pretty remarkable. I don't usually enjoy role playing as a female lead...I would think the reasons are obvious lol. But I really enjoyed her character, and I also enjoyed that she was not oversexualized. She was important as a person, and as Serah's sister, not just as sexual advertising.

    In any case, I think it's writing like this editorial that can make a difference in the future. Thank you so much for dreaming of ways to make my favorite medium even more successful
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    RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff InstaTrent's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by retrodragon View Post
    In any case, I think it's writing like this editorial that can make a difference in the future. Thank you so much for dreaming of ways to make my favorite medium even more successful
    This comment. SO nice.

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