E3 and Women as Game Protagonists

Alice closeup

I had a different article typed up and ready to go for today. I’d planned on discussing my view that it’s healthy to have opinions about the things you enjoy – including criticism. In short, feeling that a game/book/movie could be improved if only [thing] does not automatically mean you hate the game/book/movie, and I get tired of folks being so quick to jump all over each other based on that faulty assumption. I still might talk about that either here or on my personal blog, but I’ve gotten distracted enough with E3 news to type up something a bit different.

Dreamfall ChaptersI’ll be honest, I don’t always watch E3. Generally I’ll catch any big announcements whether I watch it live or not, and in some ways watching social media explode is more entertaining. 😛 I think I watched Video Games Awesome’s E3 streams the last few years, but I could be misremembering. In any case, I wasn’t able to watch yesterday or today thanks to work and other offline obligations. Belghast did a nice, compact writeup of the Bethesda news from last night, and that was the part that really got my attention. Besides being pretty tickled to see my social media light up with gamers excited about upcoming news, one announcement got me thinking about a topic I keep meaning to write about.

Other than Fallout 4 news (and believe me, I am super excited about what I’ve been hearing), one of the announcements that social media glommed on to was that there will be both a male and female playable protagonist in Dishonored II. That sort of news tends to make my ears perk…though I haven’t always realized or admitted it.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in plenty of conversations about male vs female playable characters in games. I’m a woman who games, so it’s unsurprising that friends would occasionally be interested in what I think on the topic. Surprising was when I realized I hadn’t been totally honest about my opinion for most of that time, though not intentionally.

Lllyd trenchcoat croppedSee, my answer for years has been versions of, “I think it would be great to have more women as playable/main characters in games, but I never really noticed it growing up and it never really bothered me.” It’s a good answer, an interestingly “safe” one. It admits that there is a lack of female protagonists in gaming, but with the implication that I’m not one of “those” women who would complain. It’s very go along to get along when I look at it, very, “I’m not a complainer, don’t worry about me.”

Something bugged me the last time I gave that answer to a friend. It was what I’d always said, and I assumed it must be true if I’d been saying it for so long…but I started wondering if it really was. After all, as soon as I started playing MMO’s I started making female characters. All my alts in The Secret World are women. My Minecraft skins are all of women. My Dungeons and Dragons Online character…woman. Final Fantasy XIV…catgirl. DC Universe Online…ok not always “women” per se, but definitely female characters. I tend to like variety in my alts, so you’d think I’d eventually have made a male character, right? If not, then maybe there was something else going on.

Then I looked at the games I tend to buy…a lot of them have either a female protagonist or the option to choose. The Dreamfall series, American McGee’s Alice and Alice: Madness Returns, Child of Light, Ittle Dew, Recettear, They Bleed Pixels, and others. Not all the games I own, of course. But those that do, I can nearly always remember thinking, “Oh cool, I can play as her!” while I don’t think I’ve ever been super excited to play as a guy. I might be excited about the game itself, but not so much playing as the character.  Hrmmmmm….

BoomboxAt that point, I started thinking back to my early experiences in gaming, trying to remember how I really felt instead of how I assumed I felt. I could remember, once I thought about it, being excited to play women the times that it was an option – though often being disappointed that those characters weren’t as interesting (to me, and at that time) as the male characters. I remember a vague sense that the women were usually boring characters so it was better to play as the guys.

I definitely remember having zero interest in the Donkey Kong games until Dixie made an appearance. Donkey Kong Country 2 became one of my all time favorite SNES games and if I’m being honest, I DID only ask for the game because I’d seen Dixie and thought she looked like an awesome character to play. So, yes; in that case, having a female playable protagonist got me into a game that I otherwise would not have played.

The conclusion I’ve come to after time and thought, is that while I’ve gotten used to playing primarily male characters in games, that doesn’t mean it never bothered me. All it means is that at one point or another I had a choice – I could deal with most of the playable characters being guys or I could stop gaming. Just because I chose to keep playing doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked more options. (And yes, male animal characters count. I made enough female animal characters in DCUO, it still matters.)

Minecraft Pirate Queen skinIt’s odd and disconcerting to realize that what you thought was your honest opinion really wasn’t, you’d just gotten used to saying it. I’m curious at what point I decided to stick with the, “everything’s fine” response, and why. Was I worried that my friends would think I wasn’t a real gamer if I complained? Was I trying so hard to fit in as “one of the guys” that I lost track of my real thoughts? Was I just trying to be diplomatic? Trying too hard to be, “not like other girls”? That part of the story, I don’t remember.

I look at relevant gaming news differently, now. I’ve realized that I’m hoping kids growing up today really won’t care who the main character is because they’ve seen different options often enough that it’s the norm. (I’d also hope that the same can eventually be said about other sorts of variety in protagonists, but for today I’m focusing on just this one.) Right now, it’s still newsworthy when games either offer the option or have a main character who isn’t a guy. Here’s to things balancing out enough that “not caring who I play as” becomes a bit more of an honest answer for myself and for others. It seems like we’re moving in that direction, and I’m glad and excited to see that.

(PS: Also Doom looks awesome! And while I don’t mind the gore factor in a Doom game, I totally support and respect folks who do mind. It’s ok; differing opinions is part of being interesting adult humans. If everyone always agreed, life would get super boring super quickly.)

Ittle Dew


Dark Gryph
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Dark Gryph

Blogger/Staff Writer at LFGryph
Most folks know me as Gryph, shortened from my regular screenname.

I live in the American Midwest with a black lab mix named Loki, three cats, and a chinchilla. I’m in my 30’s, and I’ve enjoyed reading, writing, gaming, and assorted geeky pursuits my entire life. I’m a panelist on Beyond the Veil, a regular guest on a few non-Holosuite livestreams, and have a gaming/writing blog over at www.lfgryph.com.

Other than writing and gaming, I’ve worked at a few different Renaissance Festivals and I used to be on a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadowcast in the Twin Cities.

I love otters, ST:TNG, D&D, Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and setting zombies on fire. My Twitter is @darkgryphon42 if you’d like to keep up with what I’m doing.
Dark Gryph
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