I remember the first time I played No One Lives Forever. Or, more accurately, the first time I watched my dad play it. It was completely unlike anything I’d ever seen. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time, and my parents had recently finalized their divorce. They’d been separated for a while, but for two agonizing years had squabbled over the details of their settlement: alimony payments, child support, visitation rights. It was finally over, but not for me. I was angry at both of them, angry at the world. On top of that, I was going through puberty earlier than any of my peers. As the only 5th grader with boobs, I had become a moody teenager well before turning 13.
In accordance with their joint custody arrangement, my dad got me for two weekends a month. Sometimes I’d refuse to go, just to spite him. It felt like payback and, in my mind, seemed fair: he chose to leave, so I could choose whether or not I saw him. But my dad had one trick up his sleeve that I couldn’t resist: computer games, particularly those my mom would never approve of. Finally, we’d found something to bond over. I cherish these memories of father-daughter time spent playing games together.
Before then I didn’t really play games on the PC . Sure, I had my collection of learning software, “edutainment” like Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, Treasure MathStorm, and the JumpStart series. As a child of the 90s, I was practically raised on the stuff.
However, as much as I enjoyed them, I made the cognitive distinction between these and my PlayStation games. The PC was for learning, if I wanted to have fun I’d just play Spyro or Crash Bandicoot. Even what my dad played on the PC seemed, for the most part, more educational than fun. To my 11-year-old brain, Warcraft II looked really hard, and boring. Not long after, in what I think was an attempt to get me into real-time strategy games, he’d buy me Jurassic Park: Chaos Island. I liked it, but it was still years before I’d pick up RTS games, namely StarCraft, in earnest.
Then, one weekend, I saw him play No One Lives Forever. Different from every other PC game I’d played, it wasn’t subtly trying to teach me logic and math. Its characters and story were genuinely compelling. And, having never seen (let alone played!) a first-person shooter before (other than in arcades), this new perspective was utterly mind-blowing.
Oh, and did I mention that it had an amazing female protagonist? Set in the 1960s, you play as British secret agent Cate Archer. Remember, this was at the height of our collective Austin Powers-fueled nostalgia for the 60s: tie-dye and bell bottoms, lava lamps and bead curtains. Peace signs were literally everywhere. So naturally I thought Cate’s style was groovy, outta sight, etc.
As a character, Cate also had substance, and is perhaps “Gaming’s Greatest Unsung Heroine.” Here was a strong, smart, capable woman who is nevertheless questioned and disrespected by her superiors on account of her gender. Cate’s pretty much the female equivalent of James Bond, yet clearly he wouldn’t be treated the way she is.
No One Lives Forever serves as a striking reminder of gender inequality in the 60s, and how, despite the great strides made during the women’s liberation movement, double standards and workplace sexism continues to negatively impact women today. But it’s not heavy handed in its delivery: like Cate, the game has a sense of humor about it all. Time and again, Cate proves that she’s the right woman for the job, and although she’s rarely given the credit she deserves for kicking so much ass, she never hesitates to speak her mind.
I doubt it’s coincidence that the first two PC games I really got into (No One Lives Forever and The Longest Journey) had likable, believable female protagonists, women who were neither scantily clad nor overtly objectified. These were women with agency, not sidekicks in someone else’s game. Cate Archer and April Ryan were two of my feminist role models growing up, and I’m grateful that my dad introduced me to them.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. My body was changing, becoming decidedly more feminine in a culture that is neither respectful nor caring when it comes to women’s bodies. I didn’t look like the other girls my age anymore, and people were treating me differently as a result. I was bullied mercilessly by the other kids, and grown men, middle-aged men, began to leer. I was deeply insecure.
Once a precocious, outspoken child, I’d become sullen and withdrawn. Feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan calls this the female adolescent “moment of revision,” when girls’ self-esteem and overall psychological well-being plummets. This is at the core of what it means to grow up female in our culture: very few young women make it out of adolescence unscathed.
Which is why I’m so grateful that my dad exposed me to No One Lives Forever and The Longest Journey when he did. Without these positive female role models, whose self-worth is not dictated by appearance and who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
So naturally, I got excited when I read the news last week that new trademarks had been filed for No One Lives Forever. For a while, the series (which includes The Operative: No One Lives Forever, its sequel No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way, and the spin-off, Contract J.A.C.K.) was in limbo. Developed by Monolith Productions (now owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) and published by Fox Interactive and Sierra Entertainment (now subsidiaries of Activision), the rights to the series had gotten lost in the shuffle. Luckily, Night Dive Studios intervened.
The Portland-based publisher is known for resurrecting classic and beloved PC games, making them available for digital distribution on services like Steam. On April 26 they filed 4 separate trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for “The Operative,” “No One Lives Forever,” “A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way” and “Contract J.A.C.K..” Does this mean we’ll see a re-release of No One Lives Forever in the not-too-distant future? According to Night Dive Studio’s CEO, Steven Kick:
At this time we are unable to comment on future plans. I would like to add that our team has a great fondness for these games and our hope is that they will one day be re-released.
I certainly hope so too, and not just because I’d like to indulge my nostalgia by playing it again. Cate Archer was a role model to me. Even today, nearly 15 years later, she’s one of the better representations of women in video games. I’d love for a new generation of young female gamers to have the experience of playing a first-person shooter like No One Lives Forever; one with an empowering female protagonist.