Before I even begin, I want to offer some full disclosure here: I am a girl, I am a gamer, and I generally do not like female leads.
A growing frustration of mine as a “girl gamer” is the push to make everything in every spectrum of entertainment “all-inclusive,” or as I like to call it, “politically correct.” Society apparently cannot function if every special snowflake in every situation, walk of life, opinion, disability, social status, race, creed, and religion is not represented in everything.
There once was a time in my life when the books I read, games I played, and movies I watched focused on just a few key things: the story, the characters within the story, and the morality behind the story. Classics such as JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings likely never would have seen the light of day in our modern era because there were only two female characters that held any kind of influence within the books. Disney likely wouldn’t get off the ground if it was founded in modern times because, despite the fact that the majority of their stories are based upon classic fairy tales from centuries past, the female characters are typically soft, gentle, and actually behave like traditional ladies as sentimental and domestic rather than grabbing a sword and swinging at the villains themselves. To put it frankly, a lot of stories that laid the groundwork for the nerdy plethora of media that we now allow ourselves to bask in would not have had a snowball’s chance in Satan’s back yard if they had been subjected to the insanity that our society now imposes on games. Frankly, it’s doing more harm than good.
I know there are exceptional characters like Lara Croft, Samus, and Terra as amazing female leads, but they found their foundation before the era of the SJWs. These days when I see a female character on the cover of a game series that I enjoy, I avoid it like the plague until there are at least three reputable reviews out.
In my experience, those crying and screaming for more “inclusive” games are individuals who crawl out of tumblr to find a new subject to campaign for on their blogs. Most gamers in my circle (who, with the exception of my brother and adopted brother, are ladies) never really care about whether or not there’s a female lead. When we go for a game we generally look for something that has a great story, characters that are likable, fun gameplay, and some eye candy in the graphics. Never once do we stand in GameStop and harass the clerk behind the counter in regards to equal exposure of the sexes. If the story’s good, we’ll give it a go. Period.
The problem with “all inclusive” games is that rather than using the world as a foundation for a story and building up to the lead character, these “inclusive” games begin with the character’s gender.
Not the character’s personality. Not their struggle. Not their special abilities or their relation to their world—their gender.
I find that extremely patronizing, especially if this formula comes into play in a game series that has a loyal following, a solid formula, and themes that the fanbase expects from the series. Take for example the infamous Final Fantasy X-2 situation. The ending of FFX was a mess; I get that. People were unhappy; I get that as well. The bottom line is that some games are going to be weaker than others, especially in a series as hyped up as Final Fantasy. I understand why X-2 was created…what I don’t understand is why they went with the angle they did.
Final Fantasy X-2 is so bad that it’s a joke within the community. It’s so bad, in fact, that the series composer refused to compose music for it. It’s so bad that when my friend brought it home and got through the opening sequence only to have the three main females pose like Charlie’s Angels, I threw down my sketchbook and left the room. It only got worse. The three main leads essentially embody every single female lead that Square has put out in the last decade.
First we have Paine, the “butch” girl who doesn’t take anything from anyone. She frequents the fantasy Hot Topic and has so many deep, complicated feels that the only way that she can express it is by wearing tattered clothing, collars, and wielding unreasonably large weapons. Secondly, we have Rikku, the “kawaii desu” bubble gum-vomiting fanservice that falls on her bum because it’s adorkable. She’s a bit of an airhead and a klutz and that’s about it. Then there’s Yuna, the Mary-Sue with the personality of a paper cup nailed to a saltine cracker. She has the sads, and has to find herself in a world that doesn’t think she can do anything, but she’s a strong woman because reasons. I’m not even kidding!
Half of Class Zero in Final Fantasy: Type-0 were clones of these three stereotypes. Lightning was something of a cross between the Paine and Yuna. None of these characters are universally loved by the fan base. Lightning is one of the most unlikable characters of all time, and the cast of FFX-2 were only memorable because of the damage they dealt to the credibility of the series.
I know I’m picking on Final Fantasy here a bit, but that isn’t the only series that shot itself in the foot by trying to cater to a demand that isn’t really there. The Drakengard series, while obscure, has a pretty loyal fanbase. Drakengard I and II are fantastic games that are emotionally charged and while crude, have a good deal of moral fiber to them. Drakengard III, however, is disgusting. The female lead, Zero, is a nymphomaniac and a sadist. The game is so sexualized that the story is laughable at best, cringe-worthy at worst. The game was not received well and, like FFX-2, has become a stain on the series.
When I heard that the newest installment to the Tales series, Tales of Berseria, will feature a female lead, I was hard pressed not to take a long walk to re-think my life. Fans threw a temper tantrum over the fact that Alisha was not the main character, as was long rumored during the game’s development. But…I can see why. Alisha isn’t nearly as bad as a Yuna, but she still doesn’t really define herself apart from an interesting side-character at best. As a lead, she’s woefully underdeveloped. It’s rumored that the lead for the new game, which takes place in the same canon as Tales of Zestiria, is the studio’s way of satisfying their fans who had wanted a female lead. While I’ll be playing the game, I already dislike what I’ve seen. The female lead looks like a Paine cookie-cutter and the game has come out so quickly following the release of Zestiria that I have reservations. It seems far too similar to what happened to FFX-2.
Now is it the fault of the characters that the games sucked? Of course not. The characters are just one aspect of the story itself. What ruined these games is that the creators didn’t focus on building the character, they instead focused on building a narrative. The narrative is important, yes, but if the narrative is being rammed down the throat of the player rather than subtly revealing itself through the course of a story then the overall message suffers.
Here’s the thing: if you build a good character, it shouldn’t matter what their gender is. In the end, what really matters is how the character is presented. I aspire to be a writer myself and I have actively sought out textbooks, seminars, and even enrolled in college writing classes to better understand the process of creating a memorable story. One thing that is repeated over and over is the process of character building. You never, ever, start with the political message of your story or any other soap box message that you want to get out there. Characters need to be built as human beings. You need to start, first and foremost, with the core of your character. At the heart of every person are desires, dreams, experiences, memories, and talents that make them individual. We are shaped by the world around us, influenced by the people in our lives, and we grow through adversity. If you build a character starting with adversity that character has nothing to strengthen them against it. Everything from that point will feel forced and victory will fall flat.
Politics have honestly tainted this aspect of gaming. When gamers sit down to play a game they typically don’t want current issues to slap them in the face. We get enough social justice drama every time we turn on the TV, go to class, sit on the bus, or even log into social media. Gamers generally sit down to get away from this world and the drama within it. When you start throwing divisive issues into games you start to divide the gamers. It’s already happening within our communities, and it seems to happen more when developers make “inclusiveness” the cornerstone of any project. In trying to be inclusive, these developers are actually being divisive and sending their own fanbases at one another’s throats. What really doesn’t help this problem is that 9/10 games featuring female leads focus, CONSTANTLY, on the fact that they’re women and the world doesn’t think they can do anything. The greatest struggle of a female lead is so rarely anything but her own gender and which pretty boy she should date that it’s an expected cliche at this point.Video games are fantasy worlds where we write the rule. Create a world where being a female isn’t a big deal and find a new plot point; it isn’t that hard.
No, really, it isn’t. Take for example Suikoden V. The main character is a male, yes, but he is the prince of a QUEENdom.
In his world, females are regarded as the stronger sex and males are looked down upon. Is it touched upon? Yes. Is it the only problem that the protagonist faces? Nope. Is it even a big deal? Not at all. The game focuses on political sabotage, intrigue, treachery, family, friendship, and yes even a little romance. The gender issue takes 5 minutes to address and it’s only to set the context of the world being presented. It’s a fantastic game and through showing, not telling. It brings the player into the main character’s struggle and presents an argument of strength of character.
Here’s the bottom line:
There are games in which you can have your personal inclusion. Games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect, Dragon’s Dogma, etc. all let you create your own character, and you can come up with a whole plethora of personal feels to inject into those characters and they’ll still be good games. There’s a whole realm of games with stories that are modeled in such a way that anyone can feel included regardless of how they see themselves and the world around them. There obviously is a demand for it and there’s several developers and studios have taken great lengths to ensure that that demand is satisfied. However, there are other games whose formulas suffer by trying to add inclusion into them.
Games like Final Fantasy, Tales of, Legend of Zelda, Drakengard, etc. all focus on telling the story of someone else’s character. Just because the character isn’t a brunette girl with a mild case of OCD and a pet cat named Mudkip doesn’t mean I can’t still get invested in that character. When I sit down to play a game like Zelda, Final Fantasy, Tales, etc. I’m in it for the story of an established character in a world that I enjoy. I know what to expect out of the formula, I appreciate the game’s brand of story-telling, and I enjoy being able to pull away from the drama of this world for a time. As a gamer, I just want a break from all the divisive garbage going on in the world. If the character that I reach out to as a way to pull me away from this world happens to be a guy, I’m not going to take offense to it. Just take me away from the nonsense and into a different world until I’m sane enough to face reality again.
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