[Promoted from our Community Manager’s inbox, here’s another fantastic Guest Writer! This piece comes from community member, Lindsey Weedston. Lindsey has been living and gaming around Seattle, WA for as long as she can remember. Along the way she picked up writing, criticizing people on the Internet, and worshiping at the feet of the Great and Powerful BioWare. She is not affiliated with BioWare in any way. You can email her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter, and find her on LinkedIn.]
As the video game industry struggles to come to terms with all these women who are apparently playing video games now, many developers are making efforts to create games that star or at least include strong women, because, you know, feminism. While this is certainly better than game after game starring rugged white men with stubble and frowny faces, let’s not forget that there is more to women than either sexualized damsel or woman with a gun.
The image of the “strong woman” is quickly becoming its own archetype. Articles that laud feminist video game characters predictably trot out the same examples over and over again. But, as the Tomb Raider reboot has taught us, there’s more to strength than the ability to kick ass. Feminist characters don’t always have to be the star of the game, nor do they have to injure anyone to prove their strength.
To demonstrate this, here is a list of side characters that demonstrate feminist qualities other than the ability to shoot men in the face:
Ellie (Borderlands 2):
One of the most important principles of feminism is acceptance of people as they are, including their appearance and life choices. Gearbox created a profoundly feminist character in Ellie, who abandons the safety of the city to move out to the wasteland where she can live an independent life. Her defining moment in the game is comes when bandits make figurines in her likeness that are meant to mock her, and Ellie sends you out to collect them because she thinks she looks 100% awesome as she is, and wants to proudly display them. That’s what we call body positivity.
Princess Ruto (Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time):
Though eventually made into a damsel during the boss fight, Princess Ruto is a perfect example of a character who demands respect. Though gamers may view her as abrasive and bratty and unpleasant, consider how she might have come off if she were a male character. Men who demand the respect of their title and take the lead by telling you where to go and what to do are considered to be bold and confident. Women are discouraged from acting the same way. Ruto’s rejection of this standard is a feminist act. Plus, she proposes to Link, rather than waiting for the man to do it. Or boy. Whatever.
Claudia Auditore da Firenze (Assassin’s Creed series):
There are several strong women to be found in the Assassin’s Creed franchise (my affection for Mary from Black Flag knows no bounds), but the sister of Ezio is often overlooked. But she proves herself to be indispensible from a very young age. At age 15, she becomes an accountant with no apparent help from anyone, allowing Ezio to build a thriving fortress of a village. Why yes, says Ubisoft, women CAN math. Best of all, Claudia later aligns herself with the sex workers of Rome, despite Ezio’s objections. Claudia’s courtesans then teach Ezio new skills and can pretty much be credited with allowing the game to progress. Even before she becomes an assassin, Claudia kicks ass with her brain.
Eiko Carol (Final Fantasy IX):
Really, you might say, not Freya, the Dragon Knight? No! There’s no doubting that she’s awesome, but her entire backstory and drive revolves around a man. She’s doing everything she does to find the dude she’s in love with. Eiko, on the other hand, is fiercely independent. She’d have to be, having been forced to fend for herself since she was very young. Though she has a crush on Zidane, she demonstrates a maturity beyond her years when she gives up the chase after she recognized that Zidane is truly in love with Princess Garnet. Imagine how awesome she would be as an adult!
Brigid Tenenbaum (BioShock):
Brigid Tenenbaum is arguably the most interesting character in the game of BioShock, despite the fact that you don’t have much focus on her. In fact, this woman is the driver of the entire game. Not only does she invent ADAM, which drives the residents of Rapture mad in the first place, she is the one who rescues you and allows you to escape. She not only survives being a prisoner of the Nazis, she survives the entire experiment that is Rapture with her sanity intact. She is an incredibly tenacious genius who finds her humanity rather than loses it as Rapture falls apart around her. Using no physical violence whatsoever, she is arguably one of the strongest characters in video game history.
GLaDOS (Portal series):
If the video game industry suffers from a lack of female protagonists, it’s positively miserable from a lack of female antagonists. Find me a main female antagonist who isn’t highly sexualized, defined by her relationship with a man, or an actual cartoon witch, and you’ve probably found me GLaDOS. Portal 2 also provides us with a brilliant metaphor for real life when GLaDOS is unfairly supplanted by an incompetent male underling who is corrupted by the power of the position, finds that he can’t replicate what GLaDOS does, and almost destroys everything.
Miranda Lawson (Mass Effect series):
I include Miranda because so many people seem to dislike her as a character. She’s also overlooked as a feminist character because of the way she is dressed. There’s no denying that she was designed for the male gaze, no matter what excuses BioWare might peddle. But there is a feminist lesson to be found in Miranda’s character. Miranda is absolutely confident in her abilities. She was designed to be a superior member of humanity, and she knows it. She doesn’t bow to the pressures that women face to downplay their talents in order to make their male colleagues feel more comfortable. Women who speak highly of themselves are viewed as arrogant and narcissistic, so it’s not surprising that she’s a generally unpopular character. However, demonstrating high levels of confidence and self-esteem makes Miranda a feminist role model.
There’s nothing wrong with female characters who kick ass, but there’s more to life than shooting zombies and aliens in the face. Women and girls in our culture are taught to under-value their skills in math and science, confidence and high-self esteem, and a general take-no-BS attitude that you can find in plenty of male characters. It’s important that the representation of women and girls in media is well-rounded, and that we remember to celebrate strength that goes beyond the physical.